I’ve mentioned before that I love xojane.com. So I went on it tonight for a good mix of fluff and seriousness. And I came across this horrifying, but not surprising, article about Brianna Wu. I’m not into gaming so I hadn’t heard of her before. But apparently she’s kind of a big deal in the gaming world because of her professional work as well as her advocacy for women’s rights in the gaming industry and well, really everywhere, because it’s all the same sexist misogyny regardless of what sector of the workforce and world it’s happening in.
So she has been sticking up for other women for awhile but a meme made by a fan really made this group Gamergate (again, never heard of them before this evening) really irate and now they’re sending her death and rape and all sorts of terrifying threats. I read Brianna’s article on xojane and felt both horrified and unsurprised. Because I know that when the people in charge/of a privileged group feel challenged, they tend to try to shut these challenges down. And people with privilege and power who are controlling and very entitled then they will do as much or as little as it takes to get what they want. So in this case, Gamergate wants to shut Brianna down and anyone who threatens their power. Getting their way means that they get to maintain their power and do things as they see fit, even if it hurts others and without facing consequences. Brianna cites other women in the industry who were harassed, threatened and terrorized until they stepped down from their work and/or stopped whatever advocacy/social justice they were doing. But Brianna doesn’t want to stop because while Gamergate members are behaving in a scary way, what they’re really doing is acting childish and bullying her to get their way.
I admit that as I read her post on xojane I wanted to yell, “Just stop, Brianna! Stop and they will stop, this will all stop.” It’s easy to have that immediate reaction. I mean, these people are saying really awful, scary things and most of us just want them to stop and for those they target to stay safe. But. If Brianna stops, their abusive behavior won’t stop. Not really. Maybe the behavior directed specifically at Brianna will stop, in fact, it probably will. But Gamergate, and groups like them, will go on doing sexist (and racist), harmful things and will go on intimidating anyone who challenges them. Their misogyny and bigotry won’t end and it will continue to impact us all, even if it’s in a less targeted and intense manner.
So I’m not suggesting martyrdom here or anything. But what I do want to suggest is that we support those who stand up against harmful social norms and the people who are willing to do whatever it takes to keep those norms in place. I want for us to tell people like Brianna that we stand with them as they do what they need to do and that we not tell people like Brianna to stop. If their courageous actions make us uncomfortable because they scare us, we need to find our own ways to cope with this and recognize that it’s not their courage that scares us, but rather the threats and oppression that scare us. And that while those threats and that oppression are understandably scary, they also aren’t going anywhere without the hard work and bravery of people like Brianna Wu.
When I was in grad school, I had a professor who told us “Feel the fear but do it anyway.” I think that’s what Brianna is doing. It’s not for everyone – especially when facing that fear involves death threats! But we can support those who do, in whatever we are able. There are lot’s of ways to support someone and as we can see with Brianna’s case, it can have real and powerful results. Lot’s of people are speaking out on Brianna’s behalf and the Entertainment Software Association has denounced them. Telling Brianna to stop or ignoring her won’t get groups like Gamergate to stop. Getting others on board and sticking up for her – now, that could bring about some real change and maybe, eventually get this abusive behavior to stop.