When I first took a Gender Studies MSc, I was aware that it wasn't popular. I mean shit, I actually experienced violence at home because of what i wanted to study and was chucked out of my home. Until I was accepted at a prestigious University, I was absolutely in the dog house for my interest in the field. I remember my aunt trying to talk me out of it. That there was 'no future' for me there. That was the main reason why I applied to a prestigious University, to get my family off my back. Despite all of this negativity, something inside me knew that this was right I was determined to do this. Even though the outside world did not appreciate it (this was around 2013), I knew it was profoundly important. That it was intrinsically vital to the world and to my own future to study gender studies. The reason I knew it was pivotal was because I have spent my life witnessing and being harmed by gender-based violence. But even though I had this feeling it was quite a stigmatised area, I have to say, the extent and the depth of the hatred, the resistance, the ignorance, around these themes has been quite tough, isolating and exhausting to navigate. I'm sure many of you know what I'm talking about.
It has been a mixture of horror, surprise and relief to see feminism rise in popularity and diversity issues begin to come to the fore. But, we must never assume that from now on this is a steady, linear line of progress. We must also never forget how this is only happening because of exceedingly high amount of disturbing reports that have been released to the public. Because nothing else worked. That these things have been brought into the spotlight by brave people, so it's not exactly like it's - as someone put it to me - a 'success'. Many of us knew things were this bad for a long time, we have been speaking about it for years and have been ignored. It is exhausting seeing more vulnerable people have to talk about their most difficult experiences to the public (which will cause re-traumatisation for them at the very least) to get people to actually HAVE TO GIVE A SHIT. I don't really think that can be so easily considered 'a success'.
At the same time, I was in many ways not surprised to see this happen At the same time: thank goodness that tackling power dynamics is considered more seriously. More of a priority. A privilege, (a gift and a curse), of studying gender studies is that these areas almost give you a sense of foresight. The whole point of gender studies is to see what is unseen. To see power dynamics, assumptions, the status quo, and how different categories of people and things - everything in our world - are devalued and valued. Often this is unfortunate and upsetting foresight. Things have had to change in relation to these issues. They have to be addressed, there is little alternative. Things certainly could not have stayed the same any longer.
What many people who have any interest in power dynamics, intersectionality, feminism, gender studies (they are all related) will understand is the immensity of the stigma against the subject. The often undisputed hatred towards it and its proponents. Some of the reason for this is because it is not understood. This education around gender studies has historically been a privileged form of knowledge that it is quite inaccessible. It is one of many reasons why. If I use my own experience as an example: anytime you mention anything to do with it, you can be attacked, cast aside, judged or many other behaviours can happen. Don't even get me started on if you mention the word 'feminist'. Jesus. It's like Armageddon. Like it is a dirty, toxic, deathly word. You will get the same patterns of aggression, or defensiveness. People shutting down the conversation. 'Huh? You think men and women are the same do you?!' 'Why is it called feminist, why can't it be called equalitiest?!' 'What about men though?!' WHAT ABOUT MEN THOUGH?!' 'YOU MAN HATER'. -_- sigh. I have had people try and start actual fights with me about it. Ridiculous.
The Curse of studying Gender Studies
These have been said to me hundreds of times for just mentioning the field, and it would be common for someone to start getting aggro for me just referring to what I studied after they asked me 'so, what do you study?'. I have to be careful about whether I mention my MSc, or how to phrase it. Judging by the context, I often avoid mentioning what I have studied. I have even been socially humiliated for this interest. We must question why this happens? There is sometimes such thick hatred towards feminists which is linked to the same hatred that exists towards women, and any other marginalised group or any work pertaining to improving their standing in society. There is a documentry called 'Follow This' and an episode on Men's Rights groups and it also states that these kind of behaviours and kinds of anti-feminist groups do not seem concerned with actually improving the lives of men, which is what feminist work is actually about. It is about improving the lives of everyone.
The views against it are often factually incorrect, tiresomely repetitive and simplistic. They also licit such passionate and strong emotions in people that when there are conversations about it, people aren't actually listening to each other. So why should I waste my time? I won't anymore. Not only is all the above difficult and exhausting, but the actual experience of learning about power dynamics can be very disturbing in itself.
So, in light of these struggles, remember to support your local feminist! ;D
Another thing that these conversations do, time and time again, is work to just silence people or to put the focus souly back onto men immediately (as if we are not all linked). Focusing on marginalised groups is not mutually exclusive to the interests of men. The binary is not real. People assume that by helping one group that you are 'oppressing' the other. That is simply not true. Firstly, the oppositional way that gender is thought of allows the oppression to happen in the first place. Investing in marginalised experiences does not oppress the privileged. The valued, masculinised side of traditional notions of the binary (men) is considered human and the devalued feminine side (women) is de-humanised. So, re-humanising women does not make men any less human. It might mean that they loose some privileges but losing privilege is VERY different to being oppressed. It is not fair in the first place for those privileges are lumped onto only a few people.
Why the Haters?
Why there such intimidating behaviour towards people who understand power dynamics? Well, the first reason is because they are seen as a threat. And they are. But it's good that they are. They are threatening to the status quo which damages everyone. They are stigmatised because they understand the status quo and are doing effective work to change it. Any progress that has been made in terms of the rights of marginalised groups is directly because of their work on this. And anyone that is a threat to the status quo will receive a huge amount of resistance. Anything can be said or done to stop this from happening will be said and done. To shut them down. This includes death threats and cyber-attacks. The same can be seen with Anarchism. The amount of stigma out there that exists towards Anarchists is huge, and most Anarchists I've met are lovely, anti-fascist, earth loving people who would probably sort the world out much faster than current politicians. The stigma is very strong against them because they challenge the fundamental makeup of our current society. That is why there is such a reaction. Even though it is precisely what we need: a drastic change of society and culture is needed for the kind of future that we are heading towards.
'Men's Rights Activists' and Anti-Feminist Trolls
Online the behaviour is even worse. People often talk say 'Whatever you do! Don't read the comments section!' on YouTube. But, have we ever really questioned why it is so disturbing and toxic there? Can't we start to change and challenge that dynamic? You can easily see this for yourself. Any pro-equal rights or feminist content online is bound to have a lot of trolls attacking, commenting, harassing, disliking, and threatening the people who make that content. We can see that some serious work is being put put into devaluing these kinds of people and this kind of content. So much time, energy and work is being put into making those producers, presenters and people feel disempowered and at risk. Fearful. They are often done by MRA's. These are so-called 'Men's Rights Activitsts'. As I have said a thousand times, feminism is not attacking men. It is actually doing the opposite. And usually MRA's are radical, oppositional, and the belief systems that they preach is exceedingly toxic for everyone, men included. They are actually harming work on improving the lives of men. Their main goal seems to be preaching hate towards women, feminists, and blaming them for everything. This kind of work exacerbates, not improves, the damage on people – whatever gender they are.
This is the opposite of what we all need. Women are already dehumanised and hated in our misogynistic world. That's what misogyny is. Any time you talk about a marginalised experience, MRA's will jump in and try and shut it down. They will blame marginalised communities and identities for any suffering that men go through. They hide the real issues behind these opinions. They will tell you off for not focusing on men. How dare you talk about anyone else?! Yes, men are important, but they shouldn't be focused on at the expense of everyone else. No. These are NOT opposite initiatives. It is not mutually exclusive. By speaking about people that are never spoken about, who don't sit in government, who aren't on the board, who aren’t managers, who don't have a voice: that is NOT squashing men at all. When this happens online, the MRA's or rolls will continue till they shut down the positive work being done. As the world starts to pay more attention to diversity and damaging power dynamics, the radical groups against this are getting more popular, radical, and worse. One MRA is even responsible for a terrorist attack in Toronto (MRA van attack).
If you are unfamiliar with this kind of behaviour (lucky) and want an example of the kinds of things that I'm referring to, check out any feminist-related content on YouTube, reddit, and/or read up on women's experiences on gaming. The comments will be filled with aggro dudes and/or tons of trolls and people from the MRA community women-hating and feminist-bashing to their hearts content. Comments upon comments of hate and abusive, misogynistic and usually sexualised messages. I've experienced that many times myself, including on my conference talks on ecofeminism. Even with my own YouTube content. One on how Feminism Loves Men - seriously. How can that be an issue for MRA's? If they actually cared about men? They didn't even watch the video or listen to what I said. They were just there to intimidate and silence me.
Abusive Behaviour in Gaming
The privilege and difficulty of learning about power dynamics is you can apply it to so many things and see disturbing happenings. The same can be seen in the gaming community. As soon as anyone seems to be from a marginalised grouping (women, black, and/or queer) they are soon harassed by this seemingly huge amount of MRA's and hyper aggressive gamers. They have seemed to convince themselves that now the offline world is becoming more diverse, the online and gaming world is 'theirs'. A last stronghold where they feel they have the right to be disturbingly oppressive. That it's 'their territory'. Even though it was a woman who was the first computer programmer. Even though statistically (if we include mobile games), women play more games then men. The idea that this is 'their territory' is an illusion. And it's not okay. The digital world should not belong to the smallest and most privileged sectors of society. Computer programming was the world of women until the industry became more lucrative. Then, low and behold, men started to taking over the field. And now the tech industry is as it is today.
Threats whilst I've been gaming have included violent and sexualised threats. Time and time again, I have been harassed whilst gaming. Initially I just carried on as it was so normalised and I didn't think much of it because I was so used to that kind of bullshit. At some points I would pretend I was a boy to get people to leave me alone. I have stopped gaming before because of it - which is exactly what this kind of behaviour is trying to do. It is trying to make spaces too dangerous for us to exist in. As I have gotten older - as I have learnt about feminism and diversity - I can see how messed up this was. And that is another reason why people think feminism is a threat. Because, learning about these things allows us to see through lenses that we didn't have before. It means we stop damaging accepting behavior that was always considered acceptable. That is another reason why there is so much reaction against it. People rise up against what is oppressive when they know what is up. That power is what is threatening, that knowledge. The people that fear this don't realise that it good for them as well.
Remember: Support your local Feminist ;D
Why would people be so resistant to people being treated like people? I ask you to start supporting and helping these people who are speaking up about inequality, diversity and damaging power dynamics. The point of these reactions and these kinds of radical groups of people is to silence marginalised communities. They don't seem to understand that losing privilege is not the same as being oppressed. It is not a bad thing for privileged people to start questioning and losing some of their privileges when those privileges cause so much harm and damage to themselves and. They don't seem to make anyone happy - the privileged included.
The Future Better be Diverse - Deal with it. Celebrate it
Can you imagine the future if we don’t address inequality? When the shit hits the fan environmentally and socially the most marginalised people - which is most of the people in the world – are going to really suffer. So yeah, we better start giving a shit.
The online community and the gaming community are comprised of a certain demographic. Largely because of neo-colonial history, these are the countries who have the biggest online presence. This is usually Anglo-American or European people. White Anglo-American men are usually the most vocally. There is an illusion that this is space is 'their space'. It has become another site of patriarchy and now a small demographic dominates online world. Digital world is very important, and some might say equally important, than the non-virtual world. But it will become more diverse in the future, as there are going to be millions more joining the internet in the future, largely from countries such as africa (only 17% regularly accesses the internet at the moment) and other groups that are rarely represented.
The gaming industry is also aiming to spread itself more into diverse markets – primarily to make more money from varied users and audience members. These issues need continually addressing, therefore, so that we make sure that these spaces aren't colonised by oppressive groups of people. We should all have the right to play and access the internet, and any attempts to express a view that is not in line with MRA, or neo-colonial toxic masculine modes of thinking should not be threatened and silenced. They should not be policed. Surely, that represents how very bad these power dynamics have become? I would urge people to support their buddies who explore gender studies, power dynamics, and feminism. It is not an easy field to exist in, I can promise you that.
Rant over :) <3