Men Writing About Sexism (Well) and the Phenomenology of Doing Feminism

This recent article from the video game site Rock, Paper, Shotgun (RPS)  is a well-written article about sexism in the gaming industry.  (All quotes below are from the article.)

Game Developers Conference 2013

Even if you are not particularly interested in the intersection of feminism and video games, the article touches on an emotionally charged sub-topic: the phenomenology of social justice, a.k.a., the weird psychological and epistemological stuff that happens when we partake in these discussions.

“In having written about the subject of women and games over the years, I’ve received a significant amount of abuse. (I’m not going to fret about saying, “But of course not as bad as…”, because of course it’s not as bad as…) Most of the abuse I receive is lazy insults, and until recently I tended to assume them fairly innocuous. Some has been extreme, such as forum threads dedicated to associating my name with acts of child molestation to skew Google results, personal threats, and deeply personal insults. All of it has one purpose: to intimidate.”


It is reassuring and interesting when other people talk about the psychological effects of the backlash for talking about the -isms.  Also, it’s impressive when a guy writes about the backlash he receives and I find myself genuinely sympathetic because he ‘gets it’.


“Generally the motivation for my writing any sort of polemic on RPS is because I’m angry about something – constructively angry about something a person should be angry about – and I want to see positive change. That’s what causes me to start typing, including this piece. But as I go along, those words creep in. “You’re just saying this to win the approval of others.” “You’re just trying to make girls like you.” “You think women need you to stand up for them.” And so on. They get to me. They’re getting to me right now. They’re evil spells, cast to insidiously infect.”


So I want to ask people about their own experiences with studying the -isms.  I find the phenomenal and psychological aspects of engaging in social justice projects fascinating because I am going through a (for lack of a better term) paradigm shift in how I understand the norms of human action.  In short, I’m shedding the worldview of pull-your-self-up-by-your-bootstraps atomized individualism that I grew up with and adopting a more…sociological?…understanding of human interaction.  Things I used to hold as mantras I now see as false:  It does matter what other people think of you; words can do more than break bones–they can rend souls; and there is no such thing as a self sufficient person–only a really privileged person who gets to enjoy the illusion of self sufficiency.


Have other people experienced things like this?  Do you look back five or ten or twenty years in the past and realize you had a completely different understanding of how the world works?  Do you struggle with managing the psychological aspects of using feminism in your work? (e.g. intimidation, isolation, social disapproval, wondering if you are insane or totally misled, etc.)  I find these things creeping in whenever I write or say anything about the -isms. They get to me.  It helps to know they get to other people, too.

4 thoughts on “Men Writing About Sexism (Well) and the Phenomenology of Doing Feminism

  1. “…I am going through a (for lack of a better term) paradigm shift in how I understand the norms of human action. In short, I’m shedding the worldview of pull-your-self-up-by-your-bootstraps atomized individualism that I grew up with and adopting a more…sociological?…understanding of human interaction.”

    This is not really related, but this bit stuck out at me, because I’m right now reading Alasdair MacIntyre, who – well, the book in question is ‘Dependent Rational Animals’, and I guess that speaks for itself. MacIntyre is many things, but he is no advocate of atomistic individualism. He is also very definitely in a tradition which is similarly anti-individualistic in that way, so his is a good place to go to find other reading on the matter. Anyway, if you haven’t read him, here’s a pointer.

    A bit more to the point of your post, people often give me looks when I tell them how active a feminist I am, because I amn’t really part of any oppressed group that would give me an ‘in’; but I’ve never found it seriously got in the way of anything (it’s led to some good-natured and constructive fights, but that’s hardly a problem); among the younger generation of academics, artists and classical musicians, those with whom I spend any time, feminism is basically acceptable. I don’t know if this helpful or the kind of thing you were asking for.

  2. “”You’re just saying this to win the approval of others.” “You’re just trying to make girls like you.””

    When people considered me a boy, I was applauded for the writing I did on gender, feminism, human rights. Now that people consider me a girl, I get told – pejoratively – for the same writing that I’m a radical feminist. Curiously, when people previously considered me to be a girl, my experience then of radical feminists was one of a ‘corporeal nationalism’ against certain values of ‘woman’, which precluded me entirely. Confusion, much?

    (yes, I enjoy maintaining anonymity.)

  3. To paraphrase: ‘I am tired of men having to be exceptional for doing what an ordinary woman does in the course of things.’ ~ Adrienne Rich

    I understand the importance of male allies, but I think it is still important not to give them too much credit and for them to understand that they shouldn’t think of themselves as being due a lot of extra reward in exchange for them being fair and decent. Having been completely disillusioned with liberal activist groups by the phenomenon of the “feminist man,” who is having sex with half the young women in the group who literally sit at his knee as he pontificates on feminist issues, and later beating up his girlfriend, I am wary.

    When he says that he likes “getting laid” and brings his wife into the discussion he is asserting his manhood to other men by using his wife’s willingness to have sex with him. To the degree that men are allies in any feminist struggle, they must be held accountable and must not use women to bolster their masculine cred.

  4. I’m right there with you; it pisses me off when a guy gets a friggin parade for saying the same thing about feminism that I said five minutes ago, but while he’s gracious and wise for saying it, I’m a self-interested fanatic with an agenda.

    I don’t think I’m giving the writer too much credit though, since I thought he was particularly articulate in terms of communicating the psychological experience of writing about this stuff on the internet. And I don’t think he gave any evidence that he thinks he deserves a cookie for wanting to uphold a basic level of decency. He says,
    “I like people, and I like it when people are treated well. I abhor it when people are treated badly. The root of my caring about this subject isn’t any more sophisticated than that.” He also says, “I just have the bare dregs of empathy for human suffering.” Also, the fact that he didn’t suggest that he’s more of a man for being a feminist caught my attention. He didn’t try to shoot down his abusers by suggesting that they were all pathetic wimpy men living at home with their parents; he just pointed out that people were defending their privilege. And when he encouraged other men to speak out, he didn’t say to do it “because everyone will love you if you do.” He said, ‘you’re going to get shit for it by some people, but it’s still worth it.’

    I understand the being wary, though. A lot of guys (and people trying to dismantle their privilege in general) start to get it and mistake that for understanding all the intricacies at play. I’ve definitely done that myself. (I probably still do at times.)

    And I also agree: if he didn’t really think it should matter whether he was gay, he would have no reason to assure everyone that he is straight. And if he didn’t really think (on any level) that sleeping with women was a mark of status, then he wouldn’t have mentioned his wife. I guess that didn’t bother me so much in his article because he avoided so many other pitfalls. It is worth pointing out and criticizing, though.

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