Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Culture of Silence

This post is going to be long, intensive and likely push some buttons. I make no apologies for this. I own my words and my beliefs.

Note: This conversation has been on-going, fought daily by amazingly brave, wonderful people who have fought incalculable struggles and continue despite adversity, vitriol and trolling. It's time we join in, and support them. I do not mean to say that I'm raising a flag no one else has, I'm saying I add my voice to the discourse, and seek better solutions. 

How was your Sunday? Was it fun? Did you treat the people around you with kindness and compassion? Did you smile? Did you enjoy yourself? I hope you did.

My Sunday was eye-opening, and not just because I finally uncorked the barrel of fresh pickles. Now I am prohibited from naming names expressly, so what I will do is not point angry fingers at individuals, but do one better and join the conversation that will raise us all up.

It's time to join the very serious discussion about gender, about being taken advantage of, and about perpetuating acceptance, silence and acquiescence. Let me make this clear - I am a dude, I have hanging man-parts, I am white, I am straight. I am a gamer. I work within the gaming industry. I am one of the subset of people most often associated with a great many evils in this world. And NONE of that matters right now.

What matters is this - that we stop being quiet about how some people get treated, whether because their gender is different, or because their persuasion is different, or because they don't know as much as you know, or because they look/act different than you in some way, big or small. Or whatever - mistreatment/harassment is wrong regardless of reason.

There exist predators in the world - people who would take advantage of others because they are bullies or feel superior or crave power. And when we see or encounter or hear about these predators, even if they are not directly targeting us specifically, we have to speak up. YOU, you there reading this, YOU must speak up when you see this happen.  Especially if it's not directly happening to you, if for no other reason than you don't want it to happen to you.

So why be silent? Why let women be objectified or homosexuals harassed or racial groups persecuted? Do you like that? Does it make you feel stronger or better than others when you can de-value someone else? Does it make your own pain go away, even if only for a moment?

Now maybe you say, "Oh it's not my responsibility, let someone else handle it." And maybe you're okay with that abject cowardice, letting someone else handle problems just so that you're not bothered or inconvenienced and so you can go about your day.

But when your phone rings and one of your friends is in tears, what will you do then? Hang up because talking to them is totally killing your morning? Not offer your friend help because that means you might have to clear off the couch? Not tell them to call the police or a lawyer (or both) because that means you might not be able to spend the day staring at the TV? How selfish are you?

Yes, you can say, "But that hasn't happened to me." Sure, it hasn't happened to you, but maybe it has already happened to your friend and they just haven't told you because they thought maybe they couldn't come to you, or worse, maybe they thought it wasn't a problem and they should just shut up and take the abuse, take the shame, take the confusing guilt because their abuser, their monster, told them "That's just how things work"?

That's not how things work. Things don't have to be that way anymore. Not for anyone, attacked, harassed, scared or otherwise. Not anymore. Let this post start the conversation. Let people know that it's okay to talk about what happened and what could happen and how it should stop and how to stop it and how things can turn out differently if we all chose sound over silence.

This is not about me. Not about my problems, my demons, my past or anything. I'm not doing this because I have some agenda, I'm not looking for praise or glory or sex or money. I'm having this conversation because it is the right thing to do, and no matter what, that doesn't change.

Men: I don't know if you know this, but women are not your servants, your pets, your property or your disposable toys. They aren't asking for it. They aren't all sluts if they do something or bitches if they don't. They aren't worth less than you are. They don't exist so that you can leer at them, touch them without asking, or get something from them. They're just not. Generalities are damning.

Ladies: Watch out for those generalities. It's not "all" men who are the problem, is it? That fear, that anxiety that some man, someone you may or may not know could harm you, that's not because the entire gender gave you evidence, right? It was one case, or a dozen cases or a dozen hundred cases, but still, not the whole. I ask you, respectfully, don't condemn everyone. It both obfuscates the actually guilty and shame-pressures the rest of us. It's another kind of bullying, though you may not see it as such.

Take note, I am not minimizing the harms you have suffered. I am not saying that what happened to you, man or woman, is unimportant or inconsequential. I am saying that no one should have that happen to them, and it's time we all talk about it, so that it doesn't happen again, to anyone.

Why do we stay silent? Because we're afraid it will happen again, because it may be worse the second time? I admit I was afraid to write this post for fear that either men will storm my house and break my legs or that feminists will crucify me. But the conversation, the act of bringing light to the topic is more important than my legs, or what a little shit I used to be.

We all agree that it shouldn't happen right? That harassment in any form is a bad thing, yes? There's a simple litmus test that even the most self-absorbed can take: Would you want it to happen to you?

Here are scenarios, please ask yourself if you want them to happen to you. I omit genders and names intentionally.

1. You are sitting with a group a friends when a person you don't know walks up to you and begins unbuttoning your shirt. In front of your friends. Without provocation. 

2. You're an artist, you create a half dozen sketches and the person who hired you cannot pay you. They grab your belt and suggest that they have other ways to make it up to you. 

3. You're starting a new job in a new city. On your first night at work, your supervisor comes to you and asks you to work late, promising more pay if you go into the bathroom and have sex first.

4. You are at a convention, a huge place with tens of thousands of people. It's big and noisy and busy. As you walk down the cramped aisles, you're pretty sure two or three people grabbed your ass, and then blended back into the anonymous crowd. 

5. You go to a bar, meet up with some friends, and have a few drinks. You're enjoying yourself, but in the confusion, you're pretty sure you picked up a friend's drink, but you're friends so it didn't matter. Only it didn't taste right, and you're pretty sure now you've been drugged. 

Disclaimer - One of these events happened to me, two happened to women, two happened to men. 

When a problem like this happens, regardless of circumstance, regardless of the "authority" of the person involved, once is too often. These things shouldn't happen.

So why don't we talk about them? Why aren't we every week having these discussions? Chances are because they're uncomfortable discussions. You have to be honest during them. You have to be mature during them. You have to figure out how you feel about things. And it can be scary. It can be difficult. You may in fact discover that you dislike your answers once you've given them.

But there's hope, you can improve your answers. You can do right the thing and stop being silent. You can make your voice heard and you can help other people find their own answers.

Now, yes, let's make a note -- other people may have answers that are different than your answers to whatever tough questions pop up. But unless their answer contributes to hurting people, their answer is not wrong. There isn't only one wrong or one right. The issue(s) are bigger than that. You can have honest discussions where people don't agree AND who aren't hurt by what the other person believes.

But if what you believe is leading to the hurt of others, either because you're acting on what you believe or you're not acting on what you believe, then you still have time to change.

Don't let this go on. Is it really so hard to help, not hurt others? Is it really such a crime not to perpetuate the bullshit beliefs that some people are less capable than others? How big of an inconvenience is it to look after your own friends and all work together to make that all of you are having a good, comfortable, time?

And in the industry, let's stop being quiet. It doesn't matter what company you work for, what game you play, what your position is or how long you've been there. You can make your voice be heard and call out the problems so that we can all work together (man, woman, feminist, whatever) to find the solution that makes the problem go away.

We're starting to have that kind of talk regularly about mental health. It looks to me like gender is the next big issue on the docket. And that's a good thing.

I don't expect this problem to be solved overnight. I expect that changing minds and actions will take time. They are worth it. They cross all boundaries of location, economics, company and product. It goes beyond politics. It's a matter of taking care of other people, not knocking them down a few pegs so you can get your ideas across or make yourself feel potent.

Let's help one another through this. Let's join the discussion. Let's stop being silent.