by Jed Pressgrove
Online Sexual Harassment Is a Public Fight
Online sexual harassment toward women could become part of a Civil Rights issue, as eloquently stated by Amanda Hess. But two groups of people might threaten this development: those who blame the victim and those who encourage women to play the weak (and often silent) victim.
Last week video game journalist Josh Mattingly sexually harassed a female game developer on Facebook. Although this incident raises serious questions about personal and professional integrity, the response of the online gaming community was often dumbed down by victim blamers and people who believe women are weak victims. To illustrate my stance, I want to highlight a particular exchange between Mattingly and the anonymous female developer. Note that Mattingly had already sent at least two sexually harassing messages before the following exchange:
Mattingly: Let me know if you need a penis for anything in the [near] future.
Female Developer: If you do get interested in press coverage for them let me know because I know people there and I can point you in the right direction.
The statements above are ludicrous together and lack any semblance of personal and professional integrity. Mattingly is obviously the major reason this conversation was ugly, unless you buy the victim blaming argument that might characterize his words as “flirting.” Victim blaming is a relatively easy thing to reject, though. Mattingly clearly showed no professionalism or sense of morality with his advances. No matter what anyone says, he sexually harassed the woman and deserved punishment.
But the female developer shouldn’t come out of this incident without a lesson. After cringing through Mattingly’s harassment, I was shocked by the female developer’s lack of moral remonstration and outrage. My shock was due to the fact that I know many strong, self-respecting women, including my wife, mother, sister, aunts, and grandmothers. If you know strong, self-respecting women, you know they don’t take immorality lying down: they speak up and tell people what they’re doing wrong. So seeing the female developer pretend that nothing happened was a bad joke. Her weak responses also gave victim blamers (in their minds) more ammunition to acquit Mattingly. (Why do you think some lawyers advise potential victims of harassment in the workplace to tell their harassers, in person and/or in writing, that their advances are unwanted?)
Yet some believe the female developer behaved like a normal woman. People like Genevieve LeBlanc say fatalistic things such as “[It] is how women are socialized to behave. It is extremely difficult to tell a creep he’s being a creep.” The idea is that women are conditioned to be weak victims. This notion is a gross generalization of women and encourages sexual harassment to continue. That is, if women like the female developer can’t bring themselves to say “Don’t talk to me like that,” their weak behavior will reinforce the status of women as prey.
Then we get into the nasty reality of the female developer’s anonymity. I can understand the fear that justifies the principle behind the woman remaining anonymous. It is entirely possible that the female developer could receive further harassment if her identity were revealed; thus, the solution is to fight anonymous harassers with anonymity itself. But taking the easy path slows down the political fight against online harassment. Thankfully, the female developer recently shed some of her fear by granting an anonymous interview with Kotaku. Although I still believe she was too weak when she responded to Mattingly, the developer’s interview could serve as inspiration to other women who need to make their fight more political than personal.
Hunter S. Thompson was right when he said that “politics is the art of controlling your environment.” People throughout history have had to fight for basic rights, so the case against online sexual harassment requires strong individuals, not weak victims. Women like Amanda Hess have taken a public stand to punish online harassment. If you’re a woman who has been harassed online, Hess encourages you to share your stories here to help build the legal case. The case needs more public voices.
Jed Pressgrove is an editor and writer at Fate of the Game.