And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, one girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.
-Douglas Adams, Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy
A couple weeks ago I read an article from The Mary Sue discussing the fact that cultures of harassment can be changed. The article was a quick reflection on a larger article from Wired magazine about Curbing Online Abuse, and discussing how some of the same ideas can apply to harassment at San Diego Comic Con. I have been wanting to write an article about the findings from the Wired article for a while, but just had not gotten around to it. With the occurrences of Saturday and the #yesallwomen movement, it seemed like a great time to discuss my reactions to this article and what it means for online harassment.
The study mentioned in the Wired article displayed some interesting statistics. Now they did not mention any specifics about the behavior that they considered negative, so it is not necessarily just abuse targeted at women. In some ways this makes sense because we should not just focus on ending abusive behavior towards women, but all abusive behavior. The most important take away is the fact that abusive behavior is not just isolated to a small number of players who are always abusive. The truth is that a large portion of abusive behavior is done by players who normally do not act that way, but something sets them off, which sets someone else off, and so on and so forth. This means it is not just about taking care of those people that are always abusive, but changing the culture of the community as a whole.
Online to Real World
Now the example is obviously for one online game, but I cannot imagine that other online communities do not run on a similar ratio. Then that begs the question, does that same sort of ratio play out in the real world? Part of the point is that we would not tolerate the type of behavior we see online in the real world. Some of the problem is that people who are consistently abusive now have more outlets for that abuse and can more easily find others who feed the flame. At the same time there are probably also people in the real world who do not normally act in a negative way, but on a bad day might end up saying something they never would in real life.
We need to as a society try and agree what is acceptable behavior and it should be the same online and offline. Online people can digital speak to you and stalk you, but while they can potentially find you physically they tend to not be able to actually touch you. Some of the problem is that when you do get in to physical spaces suddenly they are not just saying things to you, they might actually be touching you and you might not appreciate that. We need to be able to say no to behaviors that everyone can agree are inappropriate.
Now some of the problems with this is that we somehow have to reach a general agreement that things are inappropriate in general society. We cannot seem to imagine that people would disagree about certain behaviors, but it happens all the time online, and in the real world (don’t even get started on politics). Part of the problem with some of the behavior we see that happens to women and men is that there seems to be an idea that it is acceptable.
It is not acceptable to call someone names, to hit someone, or to touch them unwanted and yet it still seems to happen and in public places. Maybe if we as a society decided that we are not going to stand for it anymore things would change. If people felt like they had support from others around them if they find themselves in an uncomfortable or precarious situation then how much more would you have people speaking up about a problematic situation instead of trying to run home or slink away? The big thing is that if we call people out about behavior in the real world we need to do the same online. The idea is to create an environment of mutual respect where we treat each other like human beings; really, is that so hard?
If you are interested in continuing conversations like this head over to Part-Time Monster on Friday to read the Feminist Friday discussion #yesallwomen.