Stand By Me, Not In Front Of Me

This year has cast some strong, unwavering attention on being better stewards, opening the gaming community up to women, making our products and our gaming groups multicultural, and being allies to others. Much of the coverage of sexual harassment and prejudice in gaming focuses on particular events (sexual harassment at specific cons), ways to address con harassment (creeper cards, sexual harassment policies), and specific spaces that have bred abusive language (online multiplayer games with voice chat.)

There are things I see again and again in dialogue, and I think of it as others standing in front of me instead of beside me. I want to lay out how these things make me feel. If you hear these things when others say them (or say them yourself,) this is for you. To understand both sides.

  • I can walk you back to your room.
  • I can walk you to the awards show.
  • I can talk to that person for you.
  • I’d totally be your stunt boyfriend.
  • Just scream and fight back if someone tries something.
  • You should have punched that guy. Maybe you should take self defense classes.
  • I would have punched that guy if I heard him say that.
  • He’s really a great guy, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

 

While these statements  are often on a conscious level well-meant, what I hear as a woman in those statements is different. If a guy unbidden offers to walk me back to my room or to an event, I will immediately flowchart that inside—something I’m culturally conditioned to as a woman. Do I know them, and if so, how well? Do I trust them? Do I feel like I need a walking buddy? Do I have any reason to suspect them of motivations that may bring me to harm? Do they know something I don’t about the level of safety (or lack thereof) of this space? I have asked people to walk with me to events, but my motivations came from living with a post-stroke brain: I find it very easy to get lost.

Offer to walk with someone if they say they’re unsure of how to get somewhere or are worried about the hour. If someone expresses discomfort about walking alone, that’s an appropriate time to say “I’ve got five minutes. Do you want me to walk you over?” If they say no, say “Cool, okay” and move on. You offered, they said no, end of exchange.

When people offer to talk to someone for me, I feel that I am perceived as weak.  But the order that offer comes in, is very important. If it is the first thing they say as a response, I regret telling them. I think they only want to fix my problem, and I feel unheard.  But if I hear a response in the following order, I feel heard. I feel like I have done the right thing.

 

  • I tell them the issue I’m having.
  • They tell me it is sad/upsetting/emotional to hear someone having that problem.
  • I may say something more about my feelings.
  • We pause to either let me breathe or to discuss what I want to do about addressing the problem, if anything. My feelings are respected.
  • They offer to talk to someone on my behalf/go with me to talk to someone about the issue, if either action would make it easier to deal with.

 

That’s not a perfect order, but the essentials are there: I am not told my feelings are invalid; I am given an opportunity to approach the subject now or later. I am not blamed for the event, and I feel heard because I have been given time to talk.

If I am told someone would physically defend me the message I hear is that someone is angry about something that has happened to me. I feel like I need to defuse them, and that I need to fake being okay. I stop processing whatever has been upsetting me, and focus my emotional resources on helping them. I feel like their anger is my fault, in no small part because I told them about what happened. If you can stop yourself before saying things like “I will beat the crap out of that guy!” you can immediately change the tenor of our conversation. It is valid and perfectly okay to tell me that someone’s violence or harassment makes you angry or upset. When you share your feelings with me, I think “We’re having a real conversation. They’re upset too. I don’t feel as bad—someone else thinks this was a bad thing.”

When someone suggests that my response to harassment should have been violent, and that perhaps I could take self defense classes, I hear “You should have fought back.” I hear that it is my responsibility to end an encounter of harassment, and that the correct answer is violence. For a variety of reasons, violence may not be an option. Self defense classes often take money, and offers to “teach me how to defend myself” make me feel like a victim. That I am seen by someone as weak and incapable of taking care of myself or dealing with harassment. If I am scared by my experience, you can tell me “You did great. You’re here, and talking about it.” I don’t need suggestions of violence. I need someone to be there for me while I figure out how I feel.

When I’m told that someone couldn’t have been harassing me, that it isn’t so bad, it could have been worse, or that the thing that made me feel uncomfortable isn’t a “big deal,” I feel like I cannot take my problems to that person.

The people who tell me those things the most, are men. And it stings, because it feels like a personal betrayal. I feel belittled when those things are said to me. That my experience is not real, and does not merit compassion or response. Instead of telling me someone you know or respect couldn’t have been harassing me, ask me if I want to talk. If I need something. Help me focus on taking care of myself and feeling safe, so I can address my feelings, address what happened, and do so trusting that you won’t tell me “Well, your dress was pretty short.”

Inappropriate comments, online “flirting” that I refuse to respond to, comments about my body in physical or virtual spaces, repeated sexualizing by others, or being targeted because I am a woman who games and reports on games is wrong. I do not want men or women to offer to be my champion, my gladiator. I want people to stand beside me, not in front of me. I do not need rescuing. I am not Princess Peach.

Be my ally by standing beside me, by telling people of either genders that harassment is wrong. By providing good examples of an ally, who hears me out and asks me about what I want to do to deal with harassment or threats. Walking beside me isn’t about protecting me. When you walk beside me you show solidarity. Being my ally means trying to understand my feelings, and helping me find what will get me past it. You do not replace my words with your own, or guess what mine are. You ask me for my words about my experiences. You do not speak for me. You speak with me. Ending harassment in all spaces, especially in our community, our industry? It’s a cooperative mission, not a solo game. And it’s one I’d like us all to do together.

Are there blog posts or articles you feel explore harassment in a meaningful way? Have examples of being supported by fellow gamers? Feel free to share in the comments, or e-mail me.

About l

L is a freelancer currently working as a writer, editor, journalist and game designer. She hauls a suitcase decorated in stickers as she blogs, travels, and tours. She makes her home in Washington, California, and wherever the tour stopped last night. You can follow L on twitter (@lilyorit )

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