Friday, September 16, 2011

How To Torpedo Your Own Point

Depending on your level of investment in interwed-outrage memes, you may either have forgotten or never been aware of the "#NotRightForAlyssa" incident of a few weeks ago. In which case, Long Version HERE; Short Version: Gizmodo tossed up an altogether-poor article in which an intern publically-humiliated (by name) a guy she'd met on an online dating site because he was a professionall "Magic: The Gathering" player (or, to use her words, "champion dweeb.") Subsequently, the author was made to endure an Internet piling-on that was - at least in the initial moments, more or less well-deserved from my perspective.

Of course, since The Internet tends to accelerate "justifiable irritation" up into "reign-of-terror-level-overreaction" almost overnight; eventually some late-comers to the "event" had to go and take things too far - which means it's now time for the "backlash against the backlash" articles...

Geordie Tait has used the "Alyssa" story as the jumping-off point for a lengthy and overally rather worthwhile (with HUGE caveats that will be dealt with in a moment) article for Star City Games - in the form of an "apology letter" to his own hypothetical future daughter - about the thorny problem of misogyny in gaming culture; primarily focused on the way sexual/romantic "entitlement" often manifests within a culture that paradoxically considers itself to be an oppressed and/or disregarded minority (i.e. the "Women prefer assholes over Nice Guys like me... THOSE BITCHES!!!" mentality.) It's a long piece with a fair amount of rambling, unnecessary digression and cutsie-poo self-deprecation, but I reccomend everyone give it a read - especially if you plan on reading the rest of this.

Seriously. Read it and come back. I'll wait.


All set? Okay, then...

For about half of the piece, I was mainly feeling sad for Tait. See, I'm very much in agreement with his overally point: For all the pride geek-culture has in itself as a "haven" where a certain segement of overlooked-outsiders can find a community of shared-interest... it tends to have REAL serious problem accepting any perspective on the content of said interests that doesn't come from (or isn't willing to conform-to) a white/male/heterosexual/western viewpoint. Too often geeks/gamers are raging against their own ostracization from mainstream society/culture... while in the same breath delcaring that anyone who offers a "feminist" or "race-conscious" criticism of a given game, movie, comic etc. needs to "shut up" and fall into line. So, on that level, I think that the discussion Tait wants to have is vital, necessary and long, long, LONG overdue...

...but, because he chose to "ground" it in what amounts to a defense of fairly indefensible behavior re: Alyssa Bereznak; his otherwise VERY worthwhile points were going to go unheard. When your trying to make a bigger point via a specific example, it's HUGELY important to pick the right example: The fact that O.J. Simpson was made the poster-child for racist-persecution by the  probably did more to ensure that the LAPD's massive institutional-racism and corruption remained in place than anything else possibly could have.

But, yeah... up to that point I was reading and thinking "This is SUCH an important, thoughtful piece... WHY did he have to throw away it's chances of being heard by making it a 'Leave Alyssa Alone' thing?" So imagine my surprise when, about halfway through the piece, Tait opts to simply blow his own point completely to smithereens...

In Part C of Section 4 (it's a loooong article), Tait ascribes a portion of the blame for the "overreaction" to "Internalized Misogyny;" helpfully-explained by a quotation about "House Negros" from Malcom X. Here, Tait criticizes the female voices in geek/gamer culture who wrote/spoke against the article for - as he sees it - attempting curry favor with the overwhelmingly male demographic through their condemnation. Or, as he puts it:

"[Tait] is very interested in integrating the gaming industry and is always ready to encourage any budding Jacqueline Robinsons. However, it is hard for girls to be taken seriously in gaming when dozens of wannabe FragDolls are tap-dancing on top of the dugout and offering opposing players “a shine.”"

He goes on to single-out Gizmodo Australia's Elly Hart, who wrote a response-piece to the original Gizmodo (U.S.) article. Tait psychoanalyzes Hart thusly:

"She's a female writer for a tech website, and that is a very, very difficult job. In order to fit in, she has had to internalize all the ways that boys in her industry treat girls poorly and take them for granted."

The level of presumption and condescension here would make for hillarious irony if it weren't so shocking to find in the midst of an article that not only tries to be studiously even-handed otherwise but is also largely dedicated to telling it's readers NOT to engage in the kind of  misogynist or inflammatory language he is now employing - right down to refering to Hart's article as "shucking and jiving" to "appease the multitudinous, nerd-raging masses."

"In her defense, master's house was on fire, and there was a warm corner in the attic waiting for her if she was able to dump some water on the blaze."

Holy crap. I mean... what do you eve SAY to something like that?

Don't get me wrong - I understand the genesis of where he's coming from: The fact that the "gamer girls" most often focused upon by the media are those willing/able/eager to don a catchphrased baby-tee and/or revealing cosplay outfit as walking embodiments of "sexy nerd" fetish-iconography isn't 100% "helpful" to the problem of intrinsic nerd-misogyny - agreed.

But the idea that Tait can't percieve ANY woman disagreeing with him on this issue other than by assuming that they are lying, kowtowing or suffering some sort of Stockholm Syndrome is the height of arrogance - and the language he uses ("Wannabe Frag Dolls") and the condescending "oh, those poor foolish little girls" tone come perilously close to what actual feminists often call "Slut Shaming." Agree or disagree with their point, but pieces like Emily Hart's condemnation of the Gizmodo article or even the "Apology on Behalf of Ladies of Nerdland" spearheaded by Susan Arendt (the Escapist editor responsible for me look like I know what I'm doing every week) or Skepchick's Rebecca Watson do not strike me as anything deserving of the snide "Wannabe Frag Dolls" moniker that Tait blanketly ascribes to any woman on the "other side" of this incident.

This is the point where it all becomes utterly perplexing to me - clearly, Tait has a solid and well-reasoned grasp on what the problems and solutions to the misogyny he's talking about in his own culture are... so what could possess him to go and drop a misogynistic mini-rant of his own right into the middle of it? I don't know that it completely invalidates the bigger picture - Tait's overall call for male gamers with what could politely be called "issues" in dealing with the opposite sex to grow the fuck up is needed and well-taken, in the end. But still - why taint the point with this AND the unnecessary (and bound to make people miss-the-point) defense of Bereznak; especially when it turns out what really spurred him to action was an entirely-unrelated Todd Anderson article.

So... that happened.


sammyfreak said...

Don't the flaws in his article just prove the point, that sexism really does exist in our community?

Lido said...

I would say yes and that it'd be an ingeniuos piece of evidence if thy weren't totally unintentional and undermining his own points. To over dramatize the point to an admittedly ludicrous level, it's like trying to condemn racism in society when you're a klansmen, it just doesn't quite work and your point no matter how just gets lost in the hypocrisy

Fern said...

Not when he's constantly saying his mysogyny was in the past. There's a whole section about how he used to feel before meeting his wife, and that is sees it differently now. It just makes him come off as hypocritical vice sincere.
Thank you Bob, for a well reasoned response. As a female gamer, I was put off by his article for the exact things you listed. Also the rambling and ridiculous length. (Did we really need a section on his geek card?)

Ronny said...

Its one thing to say "Disenfranchised people often internalize their social oppression and will take on the habits/views of said oppressors" and its another to say "Ya'll house negroes if you don't come to the defense of your own kind". But he basically has that opinion of pretty much anyone who criticized her. Women as house negros and men as blatant misogynist, apologist, or a indifferent backseat passenger to the issue.

In what comes off as partly pretentious and nonsensical he also loses cred when he talks about geeks, and gaming company water coolers talks about how they justify cheating in all different strata. Besides conflating gaming company employees with gamers, his failure at what I can only guess is humor is just perplexing.

I agree with a majority of this article but he did torpedo his point. He did it by making himself unapproachable and intentionally burning bridges. It is just his condensation drives away anyone who considers themselves moderate in nature. I don't need his forgiveness, no one does. We need a dialogue and his open letter doesn't do much to address anyone with a point besides his.

Ronny said...

Lol at me. Condescension not condensation. Dat auto correct.

Ryan said...

I think the real irony here is his own internalized self-hatred. He's no better than he was when he was just spouting misogyny. There's just a patina of feminism and the pretense of self-awareness covering up his continuing struggle to cope with the shame of being an un-manly nerd who girls didn't like. Girls like Alyssa still aren't going to sleep with him no matter how enlightened he sounds, and the nice, normal finance guys she wants are still going to look down their noses at him. He still resents it, he's just hoping he can pretend he's above it by calling out his fellow gamers on the fake courage of calling her names in order to make themselves feel better about the way she confirms all their worst fears.

It made me feel insecure and sad when I read that article. I wanted to call her names, too. I liked that other people did. But really, that's because all she did was tell the truth - lots of women find geekiness to be a dealbreaker. That rejection hurts. It makes me angry. So where should I put that anger? On all women? On a certain type of woman? On the guys those women like? On the world? On myself?

The reality is that there's no appropriate target - it kind of sucks, but that's the way things are...UNLESS some girl decides to publicly attack geek identity and proclivities as shameless, throw around accusations of lying, try to shame a guy in public, by name, and then say that she "lives" to create that kind of shame. I mean...what is slut-shaming other than attacking someone as a human being for specific choices you don't understand?

That girl put a big target on her back, and this Tait dude is like the guy who waits for her to start crying and then comes around with fake sensitivity. He is the uber-nice-guy-nerd-gambit archetype. How ironic.

Ronny said...

Ryan, I am not sure he is as much of a white knight as you make him out to be(not that you overly do so). But you are right about his archetype. I am surprised he titled it as "a future letter to his daughter" and not "hello ladies who might sleep with me after finding out how sensitive I am".

Alyssa should be afforded the same civility you would give her if you were in a room with her and she just told you her story. If your impetus is to say to her "You're an asshole for judging someone on a hobby just because it is XXXXX" then so be it. You should say no more but you should say no less.

Atomic Skull said...

As if Tait will actually have children lol.

Mads said...

thank you for the article writeup bob.

Andrew said...

"... because he chose to "ground" it in what amounts to a defense of fairly indefensible behavior re: Alyssa Bereznak;..."

Not necessarily in support of Tait's piece, but I personally think the highly virulent backlash is far more reprehensible than the dating perspectives Alyssa is entitled to have and whatever way she may choose to express them. To condone/support the hate and bile directed towards her is to condone/support the same hate and bile spewed by online multiplayer brats.

Sure Alyssa deserves some measured of reproof, but what was delivered was far in excess of what was necessary, and I do think Tait's right that there's a deeply uncomfortable issue and cancerous ideology embedded in the "nerd/geek/gaming culture" that very much needs to be addressed. I'd sooner thank Alyssa for bringing it to light (however unwittingly) than join the angry mob raging against her. The difference? Alyssa may have underestimated just what sort of trouble she was getting herself into, but the mob was in a conscious position to decide how to react and respond. Instead of using the tact and grace I'm led to understand Finkle himself did, you reacted with the characteristic and ugly nerdrage by which the world at large has come to identify you.

So if Alyssa's point was that dating a "nerd/geek/gamer" is trouble, then congratulations, you just validated her opinion.

David (The Pants) said...

Eh, I took away good teachings in this article. I didn't notice the part you wrote about here, Bob, but that didn't hamper my understanding of the big picture of the article.

Atomic Skull said...

Really he's still a misogynist. "Women are just normally like this and any women who claims not to be must either be lying or has something wrong with them" is what he's basically saying. He's dressed it up with fake sensitivity and "understanding" but in reality it's just a passive aggressive "Take that" at women.

Bobby said...

I just finished reading Tait's whole article, all the comments, and then wrote one myself. Below is that reprinting-

"Mr. Tait, this is the first article of yours I have read, and based on this, I don't think I shall ever read another. Let's break this down, in no particular order:

"When the article came out and men started hating on it, many female tech/gaming writers were eager to present themselves as an alternative to the evil and shallow Alyssa Bereznak. One such instance was this piece by Elly Hart of Gizmodo Australia, criticizing Alyssa for saying “bitchy things” and spending an entire paragraph shaming her for “not knowing her limits when it comes to alcohol,” an assertion not in evidence anywhere."

I bring this up, because it's my major problem with Mr. Tait's article. Alyssa does talk about being drunk, in her first two paragraphs. She was drunk when she created her OKCupid account. We are given no reason for her being drunk (ie- birthday party, family is visiting, etc.), so we must conclude she got drunk because she could. Whether you are a man or woman, just getting drunk for no reason is a turn off. So you clearly don't even know the source of what you are defending. This is a terrible start.

Next point = "I was so sick of the avalanche of sexism that I wouldn't have criticized Alyssa if she'd set Jon on fire during the date."

WTF? Seriously? The actions of the trolls that backlashed makes you wish someone was set on fire? I don't understand this at all. Based on Alyssa's article, Finkel was a nice, decent looking guy that she got along with, save for one hobby of his. Why does he deserve to be set on fire?

This makes you look like an ass.

Next point= You are stereotyping the entire gaming community in an article about not stereotyping.

I never got MTG, but have several friends that play. Two of them are engaged to each other (to be married next summer), and only one of them lives with their parents. Only one of them is overweight. I have heard the horror stories from the select few douchebags that decide they can mean to anyone, but that doesn't make every single male gamer an asshole, as you seem to think.

Next point= The backlash was against Alyssa's actions, and you couldn't care less.

Did the backlash against Alyssa's awful article get out of hand and ugly? Absolutely, but there were still several level-headed responses, including the ones by various prominent female gamers that you dismiss because they don't fit into your tiny mold of how the world works.

What Alyssa did was shallow, but that's not the problem. It's that she was so spiteful and angry at him. The fact that she took glee out of writing about him as some sort of asshole (the original final lines of her article). What did he do to deserve such a mean spirited, angry, and volatile reaction to his hobby? Nothing.

Alyssa admits that he was nice, they got along well, and until MTG came up he was still her type. The fact that she did not probe any further than three very basic questions shows that she is actually shallow.

There is an absolute need to discuss the inequality of women in all gaming aspects, but trying to do so through someone that was so shameless and mean-spirited because she doesn't like one of his hobbies, which according to her, makes him a 'liar' and, apparently, a 'predator'.

Her article is indefensible, and it has jack all to do with her being a woman. It's that a very human level, what she did was malicious and cruel."

Conrad said...

If a person makes some inconsistency in an article, i don't see any point in spending half a write up talking about a few stupid lines. I didn't even realize this when going over it (might show hidden misogyny to my end).

Bob, i know your not one who would ever want to deflect something away from the core debate, i also know that for a very long time you have wanted to have this debate. But is making half your post about this, rather than detailing the importance of the debate really spearheading the debate in any meaningful capacity?

It means that in the end this comes off a bit like your saying you want the debate to move forward and then bog yourself down in a small section of the thing to avoid doing such.

That being said, yeah it does reek a tad too much of positive sexism with the whole "Oh the scared little dear" aspect to that part.

Der Sven said...

If anything this article just made me feel depressed about myself because I recognize a lot of "nice-guy" traits in myself.

I want to be honest, I never had a similar situation wher I was rejected because of a hobby but I raged when I first read about if on NeoGAF so I guess some of the stereotyping is correct

I dunno

Daystar Eld said...

I agreed with you, actually, up to one part near the very very end... when he blew my mind by making me actually UNDERSTAND and AGREE that Alyssa's decision, even if her manner was coarse and mean, was completely justified and within her rights to do.

Reread the last few sections of that article: no matter how much you may disagree with the stereotype that gamer guys are neglectful of their girls, keep in mind that it DOES happen, some people KNOW it happens, and thus her making that terribly prejudiced assumption of all gamers or geeks is understandable, even if we as gamers and geeks object to it.

Let's put it this way: if a geeky girl was to dismiss the idea of dating a guy because she found out he loves football and bodybuilds, dismissing him as a "meathead jock," would that be prejudiced? Sure. Would it invite nearly as much vitriol, let alone from the gaming community? I think the opposite is more likely.

I still think the author of the article made a few mistakes in it, but overall his message was not contradictory.

Popcorn Dave said...

I'm with you there, Bob. That section just came off like he was accusing those other female writers of being "house negroes". I think the article as a whole raised some good points that shouldn't be dismissed though. It's pretty distressing how many nerds have the exact kind of bitter, misogynistic attitudes he describes.

The Bagwellian said...

I read that tome of an article and your assessment of it and here is what I took away:

There is no such word as overally.

Anonymous said...

The fundamental problem with the article is that its a straw man supporting an ad hominem. Which kind of buries its good points.

It is founded on a huge straw man, in that Tait presents the Berezenak backlash as a backlash from male gamers. In reality, the Finkeldate was covered by Washington Post, Forbes, LAWeekly etc. The comments in those place, male and female, gamer and non-gamer were equally harsh. The median response of gamers did not seem harsher than the median response of non-gamers.

Taits pretense that gamers were much worse than anyone else is a straw man.

And it basically supports a huge ad hominem against gamers, who are...:

...knuckle-dragging apes... gamers and their terrible attitudes towards you...probably the least-valuable intelligence out there—the smirking, arrogant synaptic pep... an entire race of squanderers, of keen minds turned to inert and even flagellatory ends…The tech industry is among the most [sexist] in America... male keyboard warriors, many with the welts of social ostracization still open and weeping upon their hairy backs...Gamers are always trying to “Next Level” things and fancy themselves the Smartest Boys Club in the World. Pick a societal stricture that might actually prevent philandering and a gamer will give you a reason that he can just shrug it off... boys in her industry treat girls poorly and take them for granted…the subway-groping attentions of the otaku... all manner of ignorance, stereotyping, and hate from male gamers... in the romantic arena, male gamers still act like a cringing minority... scornful, entitled males... fancying themselves unappreciated, intelligent, and more worthy than other males of female attention…their fetishistic gamer culture…[gaming is] an obsession…in their soggy underdrawers... they rot in their basements... [a woman who dates a gamer] don't have to accept his guilt-tripping and the cruelty of his friends, all of whom play, all of whom resent you for the loss of their raiding buddy or playtest partner. You don't have to accept his culture and that culture's ignorance to your needs, nor do you have to subject yourself to their biase... [if you’re a gamer] you voided a black pool of nihilism down your own unsteady leg at age 16, and you've been floundering in it ever since...

The whole piece seems to be more about Taits externalized self-loathing than anything else.

Although at one point he does go into a rationale for Berezenaks actions that is entirely imaginary. The guy actually sat down and constructed an imaginary justification for Alyssa, and seems to have convinced himself that he knows what she was thinking.

Anonymous said...

PS the long cut-out about gamers is from the article. I cut and pasted every reference to gamers except the one about admiring Kasparov (Which was meant as an insult, too)