Man. Man. I don’t think I’d ever used the word “gender” in a piece of writing until 2010. Wow! What a strange time for me, too. I was three months’ out of my six-year on-and-off romance/cohabitation thing, very freshly single and really bumbling around, extremely “over” writing about video games, and meanwhile I’d begun reading a lot about learned helplessness. You know, just for funsies. Er.
Yep, before 2010, I’d never used the word “gender.” What a dumb word.
Actually, that might be a lie. In school I did write a paper about women who join subcultures: it focused on Flora Belle Jan, the self-identified “flapper” journalist, and also, of all people, Mimi Thi Nguyen, who was a punk zinester and music journalist in the ‘90s. I likened both women to the not-very-fictional Mardou Fox in The Subterraneans, a woman who meticulously works to desex herself (Kerouac tells us she has short hair like a man’s, and that she wears dress slacks), all to be taken seriously as a Beat writer. So I bet the word “gender” must’ve snuck into that college essay somehow.
In Subterraneans Mardou is driven to the brink of her own wits, suddenly all too aware that she is, now and forever, ostracized by her chosen “subculture,” some niche group with which she had once so identified. Jan and Nguyen experienced similar psychological breaking points and very willfully severed themselves from their own established writing careers. In fact, I’m sure in my paper I accused them of “fleeing.”
It was kind of a weird paper to write for Asian-American history class. It was kind of weird that I took the class at all—but I needed a history credit to graduate! Oh, well. I think I got a B.
It would also be weird if, six years after having been suddenly hot-dropped into video games journalism, I were to—very abruptly, and with a personal sense of finality and closure—acknowledge some of my own patterns of experience.
Aha, but that’s just what I did with my current column at Unwinnable, “I Was a Teenage Sexist.”
Oh: what’s the column about? Okay. Well, I was an awful kid, a terrible adolescent girl, and a superficially nice but increasingly hostile young adult, all in spite of myself. I considered myself “one of the guys” and was an absolute horror to other girls.
I also take some space at Unwinnable to describe “internalized sexism,” which is when a woman fancies herself an exception to her own gender—which becomes double-ungood when she uses that same value-set to tacitly condone abuses done either to other women or to herself. I talk about different kinds of hatred, especially a burgeoning, unresolved self-hatred. Basically, it’s like if you combined “Nathan Barley” with Lars von Trier’s Antichrist. Wait. That cannot be the correct analogy. Oh, dear. You had better just read the piece.
The article is honest and heartfelt even at its worst, but I also think it’s way more guarded than it looks. That cautiousness isn’t necessarily deliberate, either: one person remarked “she got a lot worse than what she put in that article,” which chilled even me, the article’s author, and made me rethink what I’d left out.
But then I decided nothing too important was missing after all, and then I felt really good, like I could probably go the rest of my life without owing anyone whatever bad parts of some story. If someone says, “What was it like for you as a woman,” I can just shrug and say, “I wrote about it once,” and then point at the article instead of the experience itself. That lends a nice, healthy buffer.
The essay is four days old now—well, it’s actually two weeks old, but it only went up four days ago—and I guess what I’m saying is, it takes awhile to internalize certain things, un-internalize them, and process them again. And then there’s the question of whether you want that diarist’s hemorrhage all over your editor Stu’s website. Sorry, Stu!
I guess the column eventually works its way around the room to some other stuff, too. I only later heard it called “Somebody Else’s Problem,” which is really accusatory and uncomfortable!, but I do try to carefully describe that feeling of “That’s Not Me.” As in, “I am not a terrible person who anonymously says terrible things to [group], sight-unseen, for no reason.” The very nicest, kindest people have these very polite blinders on. They keep their heads low and their noses clean. Those are the nice people I mean to poke at with my little column.
And this is a trick I’ll very openly cop to using in my writing, with varying degrees of effectiveness. Look how much nicer you are than I! Poke, poke. It’s so easy for you to be kind and ethical! Poke, poke. Boy, if there were a more vocal majority of nice people, you’d sure be the one for the job! Poke, poke, jab.
For better or worse I don’t think the column ventures into any really strong opinions: it doesn’t take a real stance on the Anita Sarkeesian furor, except to imply that it’s wrong to abuse people on the Internet; it doesn’t explicitly name “rape culture” or use too much gnostic feminist vocabulary; it doesn’t take “female representation” to task in the way you might initially worry; Tosh.0 isn’t mentioned once.
Instead, I am a young feminist, standing on the ground floor, eyeballing the drawing board.
The basic takeaway of the thing, which is the part Kirk Hamilton wanted to share with Kotaku, is the rather benign notion that feminism is simply about anti-sexism.
Of course, the passage Kirk quotes has a very long lede—3500 words go far, spatially, in padding the conclusion’s punch—and although the article itself isn’t too marvelously incendiary, perhaps this little set of parentheses really does make for too punchy an excerpt. Readers will especially be on their guard anyway, so I guess the reader reactions aren’t surprising, even though those reactions are very different from other responses the piece elicited.
A couple people did come to me directly with concerns, and I agree my handling of some subject matter is problematic. Most imminent for me is that needling worry that any mishandled language will cause a type of pain, and I am still trying to decide whether I pass or fail. (This is to say nothing of the brief, sharp, immediate backlash Unwinnable received for including a screenshot of Anita Sarkeesian’s fictionally-but-alarmingly-bludgeoned face, itself a subject for an entirely different article, which already exists, by the way.)
So… why even write about all this stuff now? Just now? So suddenly?
I mean, I sure cooled my heels on this one. Way to hop on that gravy train!
I think Leigh is absolutely en pointe when she addresses a broadening dialogue about the mainstream’s latent, persistent sexism. “Maybe we’re making up for lost time,” she wonders, adding, “People who’ve been silent for a long time are louder when it’s finally time to be heard.”
“We women are learning and exploring too, assessing our own roles in the landscape and how we want to express ourselves,” Leigh continues.
I think that’s also true—not even in a “oh, suddenly we’re all feminists!” way, necessarily.
Like, for my own part I’ve been noodling with creative nonfiction for a (long) while, and even though I don’t think of that genre as particularly gendered, in video games, where this style of writing is still blushing and nascent and new—and probably more the purview of Gus Mastrapa, Tom Bissell, Tim Rogers—I’ve already heard the “personal essay” referred to as a style of “women’s writing.” Ha! That’s weird!
But I get it. There’s a subset of us—although it’s a pretty even sex split, here—who are enthusiastically and supportively yelling at one another to keep it up with this type of writing, and what a strange feeling to stake our flags right in that crevice. And it isn’t exactly “Kotaku Core,” but it isn’t really niche anymore, either!
Wow! We live in such a maddening time! Look at all these people writing, making videos, making video games! A lot of them are very good at it! It’s all very exciting! That is why a lot of people, including women, are very serious when they stress what they have to contribute, and then daringly contribute it. Everybody ought to live that way, with that sense of adventure and passion!
But about that landscape: some terrains still seem to have more silt, or less. What attitudes will be grown in those barren spaces? Why do some people—people who possess passion, the right sense of adventure—get shouted down always? That hardly seems correct. That unnerves me. And now there is this new unnerving thing happening, with all the extra shouting over the din that was already there! I think they’re battle cries, or battle hymns maybe.
For a self-avowed feminist (oh, that word!) I am not very vocal, kind of the way you’d never want to admit to being Lutheran or Libertarian or Occupy. But then I see really good writers and makers being shouted-down. Well, never mind, then; go ahead and add my voice to their numbers! Ah, I’ve again tried to write a concluding paragraph, and it’s just too punchy. Well.
Finally, the darling image up on top—in which an anonymous woman ponders her childhood idol, Rambo—is from Kotaku. (I think that is Kirk’s doing, as well.)