Recently I was told by a fellow LARPer, at LARP event that [Ed- redaction due to a disagreement about tone and intent. The gist was that he wasn’t a feminist because nobody had managed to convince him to be one yet, and because I was educated in the subject he’d like me to try.]
I’m sure that the guy meant nothing of it, but I am full of regret that I didn’t make some kind of pithy comment as my reaction. Instead I stood there frozen, like a deer in the headlights, before scampering off to the portaloo (which I was on my way to anyway, just to clear up any confusion). In fairness I was more than a little tipsy at the time so I should proberbly forgive myself for not having my usual level of cutting sarcasm ready to go at the drop of a misogynistic insult.
But the incident reminds me that I have to be constantly on my guard at events. You see, I know about gender politics. As well as having a background full of my own experiences, I have a degree where I specialised in feminist and queer methodologies in my subject which I guess means that I’m more equipped than most to tell people to ‘quit it’.
I also know that most other people won’t speak up. They don’t have the confidence or the tenacity to wrestle with these individuals who bring the big, bad, outside world to LARP. And it is a big, bad outside world. Realistically there isn’t a day go by when my life isn’t made more difficult than a cis man’s life because of the gender I was born with.
No. What happens instead is that others just suffer quietly, or they simply don’t come back. We must lose so many amazing people to the insidious sexism that penetrates the hobby, and it’s impossible to count those numbers and keep track of what’s happening.
And that’s just it – the appropriate word is ‘insidious’. It’s a slow moving problem that gradually strangles the life out of peoples fun. And when people object they are told that actually they are the problem because they are the ones getting offended. The word ‘offended’ is used like some kind of insult. As if it’s a problem to resent a perceived insult.
Well I’ll level with you – you should absolutely be offended when someone slurs a whole gender, sexuality, or race. It’s not acceptable. And if you’re not offended then I question why you’re ok with that kind of behaviour.
You see, if you’re encouraging people to just try and get along and accept the status quo, then you’re doing almost as much damage as the people who actively throw out the kind of comments as the guy in the first paragraph above. By saying ‘oh, they didn’t mean it like that’ or ‘they’re a really great guy, just a little misguided’ you’re dismissing the experience of the person raising the problem. The very least you can do is try to understand why the comments were hurtful to an individual.
But sometimes the comments are not as obvious as this. Something they are as simple as gendered language in a game setting where men, women, and others are specifically considered equals. The often heard excuse is ‘sorry, I’ve always spoken that way and I don’t think I can change it after all these years.’ I have some sympathy. Ingrained behaviour is hard to change. It took me ages to change a load of bad habits I have, but I got there eventually because I wanted to make myself a better person (and I also wanted my nails to stop being bitten down to ratty stumps).
As if these comments, that make many feel unwelcome, weren’t bad enough – the worst is yet to come. The problem is that being told ‘that’s sexist, please don’t do it’ forces you to examine the fact that actually, you’ve been being sexist for years it’s just nobody has told you or you haven’t realise. So when someone kicks up a stink because they feel like their ‘right’ to use whatever language they please in a communal setting is taken away, what they’re actually fighting back against is the implicate that they’ve always been sexist. And nobody wants to hear that about themselves.
And the problem with that, as pointed out to me by a friend, is that by kicking back against some perceived ‘political correctness’ (isn’t it awful to take peoples feelings into consideration and try to make the world a better place?) they are in fact missing a valuable opportunity to examine their own behaviour and try to understand how the things that they say are hurtful. We should never stop learning as people, we should always strive to keep growing. And we should never stop finding out about ourselves.
Of course it’s human nature to be defensive when our ideologies are challenged. And those of us who routinely challenge others on their behaviour know better than to expect an instant Damascene style conversion. But we have to hope that every time somebody kicks back against a suggestion of sexism (or racism, homophobia, etc) they will, in the future, examine their behaviour and understand why people in our community hurt when they are excluded through language and actions.