We Are All Equal....Until We're Not

This blog primarily focuses on the work/family balance.

As in all things, I feel pulled to put things into a cultural or anthropological perspective, because I believe that many issues that we focus on often go beyond what we immediately see. One example, to illustrate, is the failure of condom promotion as the main staple of HIV prevention in Brazil in the early 1990s. Scholars found that in fact, the flaw wasn't in the lack of education, or the solution in more funding and education. The flaw was in not addressing the cultural norms and expectations between gender relations and cultural rules surrounding sexual interchanges. The problem extended all the way down to the way gender was perceived in that area, focusing on the acts one performs in a sexual interchange as being more important than one's physical gender*

I would like to bring this same level of analysis to the current phenomenon that has become known as "Gamergate." To get a more expanded explanation of what this phenomenon is, and how far it has spread, you can read these articles: Facts about Gamergate or Fixing Gamergate. But, the gist is that  basically there are a lot of seriously pissed off adolescent males who are threatening female gamers, game creators and reviewers. It started with accusations of a female game creator using a sexual relationship with a journalist in order to secure a positive review.  Despite the questionability of the accusation, once it became publicized it became a flashpoint for a larger issue of gender inclusion in gaming. As the phenomenon gained steam the criticism expanded to include all women involved in gaming, to the point where many high profile ladies have had to alter their lives not just by changing numbers or email accounts, but actually leaving their homes and cancelling events they are scheduled to be at. These women have received death threats, rape threats and vitriolic hate spewed at them. In many cases these threats are issued for no other reason than their existence in what is largely considered to be a male dominated community.

Now, as an anthropologist I am dying to unpack this and look at what would cause this phenomenon. It has to go beyond simple misogyny, or the male psyche turning feelings of vulnerability into a more socially appropriate emotion. In my opinion, which can be taken with a grain of salt or ignored completely, is that these men are reacting to a phenomenon that has more to do with our workforce/family balance than anything to do with basic gender relations. The fact is that we have disabused our males in America. We have sold ourselves a bill of equality and by doing so, we have de-valued traditional gender roles.

Time out: Let me take a moment to say, NO, I do not support traditional gender roles in any way. I do not think that women belong in the home, or the kitchen or the bedroom or whatever screwed up ideas people have. I think that women are strong, capable, intelligent and desirous of intellectual stimulation as much as men. That being said, let us return to the argument at hand....

Anthropologists will tell you that social roles are very important to the smooth running of a group of people. They provide structure and guidance as well as giving social participants a boost of self-esteem when they perform well in socially acceptable roles. And herein lies the problem.

American feminism focused on equality. (for a detailed discussion you can read my posts; Working Like a Man, or How American Feminism Failed: Part 1 and Part 2). Women were told that we were equal in all ways to men. We are not equal though. If anything we are very, very different. That is not to say we aren't both capable, merely that we approach things differently. Two tools might get the same job done, but not in the same way.

As a result, women have subsumed what were traditionally male roles. We have become productive and capable workers. We have become providers. We have become doctors, lawyers, construction workers and even soldiers. There is nowhere left that could be considered an unspoiled male domain.

But, here is the key. We took their jobs, their abilities, their roles in the family, but we didn't give them anything back in return. We maintain, as a culture, not necessarily as individuals, that men cannot be emotional, sensitive, caring, vulnerable. We uphold the "be a man" stereotype, but we don't give them anything unique with which to obtain this. We have intruded on their cultural roles and yet we have denied them the same access to ours. How many men are allowed in childcare? Very few. The reason? Well, of course men who wish to spend their days with small children must obviously be pedophiles. Men who stay home with the children are more common, but they are still not always treated as fairly. They are often banned from playgroups or Mom's groups or MOPS (Mother's of Preschoolers). Those are for women only. We are equal to them, but they are not allowed to be equal to us. In fact, they are to be mistrusted as sex driven deviants who could rape, molest or otherwise attack an innocent person at any moment.

The real alarm bells for me were when a parent suggested that the Dads involved with our Watch Dog program in our kids' elementary school (a really great program designed to get Dads back involved with schools and provide involved male role models for boys) should all be background checked because she didn't want strange men around her kids, but did not extend that same request for the PTA moms. Or, my Mom's neighbor whose adult son came to stay with her when his daughter was having a sleep over, because otherwise none of the girls would be allowed to come over if there was another male in the house.

Seriously!? What kind of message are we sending the men (and the women) in our society? We are telling them, women are equal to you, but you are guilty until proven innocent. You can't cry at movies, you can't bear children, you can't be soft and caring because that would be unmanly and you certainly can't say anything bad about a woman because that would be misogynistic. Men are not allowed to ban women from anything, and yet we freely ban them from things all the time.  No wonder they are angry. We short changed them. We took away their path to self-esteem and branded them dangerous. Are we really so shocked that we have created a self-fulfilling prophecy?

I believe this social encroachment is why these gamers are reacting with such spewing hatred. The hatred is, of course totally counter-productive to their ends, not to mention self-destructive and just plain wrong. But, the fact remains, that they are attacking and doing so in force. Real women are in very real danger in many ways just for being a part of the gaming community. I think that these young boys have chosen this as their line in the proverbial sand. They have declared war on women and it isn't going to be pretty. It is going to take at least a generation to remove those resentful roots from men who feel that women have taken over their last bastion of the male-centric social sphere.

Up until the last decade, female gamers were much more rare. As games have diversified, so have gamers and these primarily young, white, males feel the need to fight back, to protect their refuge of male aggression. (This was where I originally had a discussion prepared on the cyber-reality of the gaming world being more real to many of these men because it allows for a release of pent-up male aggression, but I decided to save that for another day so that I can expand it to include interviews and reflections from other Moms).

So, that is my take on the problem from a social critique viewpoint. But, a problem is no good without a solution. And here it is. Simple. Elegant. Easy.

You know that new push to get rid of the phrase, "like a girl?" (The Always Video is here)? Well, I think we need another movement. We need one to get rid of things like, "man up," "grow some balls," "stop acting like a sissy/wuss/faggot," "is that a doll you are playing with?," "real men don't cry." We need to teach men that they are just as equal to women as women are to men. They can be caring, emotional, vulnerable and sensitive without being a geek or a wuss.

There is no superior gender. There are no roles that can't be fulfilled by an individual with those specific talents. All people are born with gifts. It is time we celebrated those gifts themselves, and not what gender package they happen to come in. We need to stop treating men like the enemy and maybe, just maybe they will stop acting like it.

Male anger is not going away. It is scary and damaging and unhealthy, but it is not going away. If anything, mass shootings, rapes, attacks and virtual bullying/harassing has only reached a more fevered pitch. If we don't start raising men; respectful and kind with their own unique path to self-esteem, we are going to find ourselves on the front line of a feminist backlash not seen before.

And with that I leave you with this thoughtful article from The Guardian,  Why Are Some Men So Angry? It discusses many of the same things from a slightly different perspective, but he too cautions that a storm is coming.

(Vera Paiva, Sexuality, condom use and gender norms among Brazilian teenagers, Reproductive Health Matters, Volume 1, Issue 2, November 1993, Pages 98-109, ISSN 0968-8080, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0968-8080(93)90014-K.
Donna M. Goldstein, AIDS and women in Brazil: The emerging problem, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 39, Issue 7, October 1994, Pages 919-929, ISSN 0277-9536, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0277-9536(94)90204-6.