Duck and Cover: It isn’t always safe even being a cis-gendered, white, heterosexual female online


flickr photo shared by jiva under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

This might seem like an odd post title. Duck and cover? I’m pretty public in my online participation, I’m in favour of social media and public tweets. So what the heck? And what does it have to do with being cis-gendered, heterosexual, or female? Well, mostly it has to do with identifying as female.

Last week for EC&I 832 we were asked to read Young Canadians in a Wired World. Reading the executive summary, I came across a section on online safety:

  • The majority of students, especially girls, are aware of the risks of talking to strangers online. However, almost all students are confident in their ability to protect themselves online and a majority feel that the Internet is a safe place for them.”
  • Girls are both more likely than boys to agree with the statement that they could be hurt by online strangers (82% compared to 63% of boys) and less likely to see the internet as a safe place (51% compared to 61% of boys).

That definitely highlights something that has become more and more apparent in the past year. If you are female, you should be way more careful on the internet.


flickr photo shared by wheat_in_your_hair under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

To unpack my privilege, being cis-gendered, white, and heterosexual means I am coming from at least three places of privilege. I do not need to fear being harassed about the choice to identify as female, and I don’t need to fear being harassed for my sexual orientation. Even more, I’m middle class. I’m pretty well protected, pretty safe in my bubble. So when I say that I understand being afraid on the internet, know that I mean that I have a tiny little understanding about it and I know for so many people it is so much worse.

After a few comments with Ashley Dew last night about the gendered experience of online, today I read Jenn StewartMichell’s blog post about online friends being real. I agree with the article she brought up, that online relationship can be completely real, and then she mentioned a particular YouTuber and shared what she’d learned of him (including a really moving video). But she also mentioned GamerGate because he did and had posted about it. I immediately zeroed in and also internally got ready to duck and cover.

If you don’t know about GamerGate, then there is a whole lot of catching up to do. The beginnings are important. The Wikipedia entry on the Gamergate Conspiracy includes a whole lot of material (and I am fairly certain that it has been a contested space over the course of the past year with one side or the other making changes). In the beginning, there was a guy who decided to make allegations online that his ex-girlfriend, Zoe Quinn (no longer having an online space because of what happened), had slept with a video game journalist, resulting in positive reviews of the game she was developing and about to release. This became a call to arms. Lots of people jumped on the bandwagon. Others spoke out about what was happening. GamerGate was said to be about journalistic integrity about video games and there was a call to arms that there be changes made around how journalists reviewing video games handled that. Okay, that’s great. I don’t have a problem with it. (Except that as it turns out, Zoe Quinn was not sleeping with the video game journalist in question at that time – they dated later – and he never reviewed her game.) It got ugly. There were some critiques of her behaviour or the game itself that could be totally valid (my husband saw more of that side than I did and had some issues). Regardless, she ended up receiving death and rape threats. She had to leave her house. She was not the only one. Lots of other women, both known and not, received major online harassment. Some, like Quinn, were doxxed. Anita Sarkeesian, known for critiquing sexism in video games, had to cancel an appearance due to threats of violence that Utah State University said they could not protect against.

Anita Sarkeesian on the Colbert Report talking about GamerGate

The long and the short of it is that I have never tweeted using the hashtag #gamergate. Why? Because I’m afraid. I know that if I ever did, it would be quick work to recognize that I identify as female. And that would make me a target. There were people combing Twitter for a long time, seeking anyone who spoke out against GamerGate. And there were women who agreed with the publicized premise of wanting journalistic integrity. There were people who were moderates. But there were a lot of really horrid things done and the horrid things came from the origin of Gamer Gate and they were all around targeting women.

How can I support that? Former Minnesota Viking Chris Kluwe posted a rant about GamerGate (Warning: strong language ahead). And he didn’t get doxxed, he didn’t receive rape threats. Actually, he was pretty much left alone.

(Quinn did create some good, building Crash Override to help other victims of online harassment.)

This is the online world for women. Now imagine the online world for those who also experience racism, classism, ableism, religious persecution, discrimination based on sexual orientation or chosen gender.

The identity we choose to take matters. While Katia mentioned during last night’s class that choosing identity online can be freeing, that there can be positives out of it for people who struggle in person, there are also a lot of reasons some of us may choose to hide. If you play a video game and are female, you may or may not reveal you are female. It can result in very different treatment, both good and bad. I was open about being female when I played World of Warcraft and I had people offer me (in game) money, help, etc much more easily than if I had been male but I also dealt with sexual harassment and awkward situations.

I have an issue with online being scarier for girls than boys, for women than men. I hope you do too. And this is our mess to clean up. We make choices when we are online. All of us are responsible for those choices, for being good digital citizens. We need to not just teach girls to be careful, to fear the strangers, to be careful what they say or do, but also teach boys not to be the harassers, to stand up against others they see being harassers.

So have you experienced online issues because of a part of your identity? What did you do? Have you seen it happening? Have you been the one who joined in? Or been the one to stand up against it?

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