I don’t wake up every morning and think: “Time to start fighting with people!” I don’t get my kids off the bus, help them with their homework, and see them out the door to play with friends and think: “Excellent, now I can go back to pissing people off on the internet!”
I never wanted to be a social justice warrior. When I was a kid I wanted to be a scientist or an engineer or an inventor. My hero was MacGuyver, not Martin Luther King Jr. Jules Verne was my favorite author, supplanted by William Gibson when I was a teenager. These were stories of science and inventors and exploration and fascinating cyberpunk futures. That’s what I wanted when I grew up and made the world mine.
I managed to ignore or directly subvert most of the messages I got growing up that those things weren’t for girls. I took every single advanced science class my high school offered except Anatomy, and that’s because it conflicted with Chem II. I participated in mock legislature and the political process, but I did not take that opportunity to fight for feminist values. It’s not because I didn’t care, it’s because. . .actually, I have no idea why that was. I voted for feminist bills and supported them, but I never submitted any of my own. My own bills were fact based number jugglers designed to improve the efficiency of government, the kind of things the media never talks about because they are dull as dirt. Because I had a scientific mind and numbers mattered to me. Math is the closest I’ve ever gotten to any political truth, and I cling to it still like a life preserver in stormy waters.
But as I grew up and entered the adult world, my inability to shrug off inequity and unfairness and ethical violations started to play a much larger role in my life. As a teenager you are forced to accept that adults control much of your world and you just have to work within those boundaries. You are starting to realize that adults are not infallible, and you’re starting to push back, but it’s hard to go full warrior because you still depend on the previous generation to fucking FEED YOU.
Independence made a big difference, because suddenly I wasn’t sheltered from anything. Everything that could affect me, did. I couldn’t shrug off the pervasive T&A all around me. I couldn’t shrug off being underestimated by all of the men in my computer science courses. I couldn’t shrug off the madonna/whore complexes of the men I played role playing games with. I couldn’t shrug off the fact that my IRC warez now came with a side of steaming misogyny so disgusting I couldn’t use a feminine handle on the internet. And most importantly, I could not shrug off the fact that I had to prove myself and my competence to every gathering of technically minded men. It was a combination of awe that I was there at all and doubt that I had any idea what I was talking about. Honestly, for a while it was really fun subverting their expectations. When they started coming to me for help in their programming classes, I felt I’d made great headway for women in computer science. But it wore on me over time, the never ending background radiation of sexism. And I realized: What if I was only average in my programming classes, just like most men are average? (Because that’s what average means) Would I still have their respect? What about all the women in computer science who aren’t fucking wunderkinds who can learn a language in a weekend but nevertheless make important contributions to the industry as part of a development team? They are just as legit, if not more legit than I was, especially because I was only learning to program FOR FUN. It’s come in handy professionally, but I’m not a developer by trade. I can usually prove myself to people because I am just really good at having skills and talking about them. I’ve gotten used to recognizing the opening salvo challenging my competence and responding with overwhelming forces of technical rhetoric designed to shut down that nonsense before it starts. For a long time it was my habit to purposely intimidate any gathering of technical minded men so I could pre-emptively avoid the assumed attacks on my competence BECAUSE I AM FEMALE.
It got old. It got old really fast. I started building a life and having adult relationships. I got even more involved in my community. I realized the importance of getting along. I became more aware of things like social anxiety and depression. I no longer wanted to earn my respect in technical circles by intimidating the shit out of everyone from day one.
I either had to say something about it or gtfo. And I’ll admit, sometimes I chose to gtfo. I found a different gaming group that was less overtly misogynistic, because the misogynistic behavior of the college gaming club was just too much for me to slog through. And I wasn’t very popular in it anyway because I wasn’t very good at keeping my mouth shut. Because I spent a lot of time calling out the bad behavior of men whose mental concept of themselves was that they were the bullied, not the bullies. These men especially did not like to hear that their words and behaviors were hurtful to the women around them because they were the “nice guys” of the world. It’s what they had, what they sustained themselves with through all the bullying and shit in school. They may not have been cool, but dammit, they were nice people. So when I hear about gamers harassing women who criticize them for misogyny, I know exactly where that’s coming from. Criticizing gamers for misogyny hits them where it hurts most: in their fragile sense of self-esteem that is based on being a nice guy. It’s what they have. Often it’s the only thing they have. So when we, as feminist gamers, say “Nope, you’re totally wrong about that. You’re being assholes,” they have to respond “No we aren’t! It’s something else! There’s another explanation! I’m a good person so you have to be wrong!” Except of course, it’s not usually that polite. But that’s where it’s coming from.
I never wanted to be this, but I have to be. The other option is seeing it everywhere every day and ignoring it. It’s hard to be friends with me. It’s hard to date me. Because if you think I come down hard on random strangers on the internet, you should see the merciless way I call out my friends on absolutely everything. I let very little slide. What’s the cliche? Change starts at home. Be the change you want to see in the world? I’m merciless with myself too. I think “your mom” jokes are hilarious but have to admit they’re problematic. I catch myself using gendered language more often than I like.
I never set out to upset people, to start arguments, to ruin people’s fun by pointing out the problematic elements of that fun. I’m not a buzzkill or a negative nancy. I want nothing more than to participate in a culture of shared stories and innovative projects and positive groups that make everybody feel good about themselves. But you have to understand that those things can’t exist if people like me shrug off casual misogyny. From the outside it will look like those stories and projects and groups are positive and happy and inclusive, but every woman in them will be mentally facepalming and sighing and resolving to “not let it bother them” for the sake of the group. And that’s not okay. Positive integrated projects can’t exist if half their members have to deal with that kind of constant background negativity. (And now is a great time to point out that racism and heteronormativity also manifest this way.)
So I’m not a social justice warrior because I want to be. I’m a social justice warrior because I have to be. The other option is silence. Tacit permission for the world to continue being horrible to women and minorities and LGBT people and basically anyone our culture has programmed us to be a jerk to. (Note: I originally wrote “dick” there instead of “jerk”, but I’m trying to remove negative sex based language from my writing and speaking because sex positivity is important to me. Dicks are great. I love dicks. I won’t use them to express something negative. See? I’m very hard on myself. Little things matter. I do my best.)
I wish I didn’t have to do this. I wish I could wake up in the morning and read the technology pages and spend the day chatting about 3D printing on a cellular matrix. I wish I could see my kids out the door to play and then go give Windows people a hard time about Linux being a superior OS and then get outflanked by a small cadre of FreeBSD aficionados. Those are the things I want to talk about on the internet. Unfortunately, just existing in those spaces forces me to wade through a sea of misogyny (and lets be honest, white male privilege that white men are totally oblivious to) just to participate in the things I want to participate in.
Sorry not sorry. I can’t keep my mouth shut. I can’t suck it up. I’m too tired. I don’t have enough left to lose. Unlike most women in the workplace, I don’t have to worry about being discriminated against for protesting sexual harassment in the workplace. (Want to tank your career? File a sexual harassment suit against your employer.) Being an unemployed Libertine is good for something, and that something is the ability to call it as I see it, all the time, every day, every conversation, 24/7.
What I want people to get out of this writing is that our culture made me. If I were a man, I might not have ever noticed any of this, because it just didn’t interest me when I was younger. I probably would have gone to grad school and become an engineer or something and right now I would probably feel like the behavior of some geeks and gamers was unfortunate and horrible but not really anything to do with me. You know, the same way most geeky men feel about this whole thing. But I wasn’t born a man. I was born female, and it IS about me. I wasn’t born a social justice warrior, I was forged. You made me. Yes, you. My current lifestyle is a direct result of a culture you failed to question, and now you resent me for trying to force you to do so.
What I want you to get out of this is that the vast majority of women and minorities you know operate under a veil of silence. They notice this stuff just as often as I do, just as often as the most annoying social justice warrior on the internet. They can’t call it out all the time though. They want people to like them. They want the trust and positive regard of their bosses and co-workers. They want promotions and good performance reviews that don’t use the word “abrasive.” And to get these things, the same things white men like to think are primarily about merit and skill, they have to be silent about all the wrong they see all around them every single day. Because if they speak up, if they are not silent, you will see them the way you see me, and you will treat them the way you treat other social justice warriors on the internet.
So if you want to see less of me and my SJW brethren, spend more time listening to THEM, and make your workplace and social groups safe spaces for them to speak.
In the meantime, you get me. And so do they.