Dear Internet: If You Must, Harass me for What I'm Doing -- Not for What I Am
This past weekend I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in a charity streamathon, an event where people essentially play games for an online audience to raise money. I was playing and watching others play alongside a slew of outstanding guests. We raised a hell of a lot of money for an incredibly worthy cause, and the whole thing was a resounding (if exhausting) success. I'm not going to name the event here -- though it's not hard to figure out -- because this post isn't about the streamathon. We contributed to something amazing, and nothing can or should change that.
This post is about the creeps and the jerks; the ones who donate under names like "JanineMakeMeHot", who look for any opportunity to embarrass a woman no matter what the context, who may even think they're being flattering. The people who left their bitter little marks on an otherwise amazing event.
For all I know, this post may be about you.
I should admit right up front that I considered actively sabotaging this article.
My own article. Initially I wasn't going to write it at all, but my closest friend convinced me otherwise. He generally wants to do everything in the most ideal form possible, and my rebuttal to him is almost invariably that "doing something is better than doing nothing." He threw that right back at me this time, and no matter which way I look at it, writing something about this is far better than writing nothing at all. Even so, I considered squeezing this article into a dead time slot or hiding it on a low-traffic day. I considered putting it up quietly on my Tumblr and letting that be that. I didn't want to seem ungrateful, I didn't want to be that person.
"I don't want to make a big deal out of this," I said.
"But it is a big deal," he replied.
I haven't been streaming games for very long. It's not even something I consider a hobby so much as it is a whim from time to time... Usually late at night when I have nothing else to worry about. Considerate housemate that I am, I keep my voice low on those occasions to avoid waking anyone up. Last week when I was on a stream with a few friends, I was told that my hushed voice sounded like I had "gargled a bag of fagdicks". People tell me to get some tea or clear my throat, while other people tell me I sound great or even sexy.
When my friend's voice is low, they tell him to turn up his mic.
In a tone approaching admiration for how little it seems to affect me, he says, "As a dude, I never have to worry about someone in chat talking about how my voice is their everything."
Wait a minute... "Sexy" and "great"? Aren't those compliments?
I guess in some sense they are, or they would be were they coming from someone I know and like (and am comfortable with) already, but coming from faceless randos they're fucking creepy. There is a whisper of threat to some of those compliments, and a long history of mixed intentions behind them. I don't know you, and you don't know me. Let's keep a semblance of personal distance between us, okay? It's hard to explain how it feels to know that almost everything you do could be getting some random stranger off, but for most of us it's not a good feeling. It makes you want to wear baggy pants in the summer and cloister yourself indoors on a beautiful day. It's the kind of thing that makes you hide a cute skirt you really like in the back of your closet because someone followed you for a few blocks the first time you wore it. You're not really a person to them; you are a thing, or a collection of things.
I would trade 100 compliments about my voice or my face or my body for one compliment about my sense of humor or my work.
I'm a person. I value my thoughts and actions much more than I value the relative appeal of my voice.
Given that complaints or compliments about my voice are usually the worst of it, I consider myself lucky. I think about popular female streamers and the shit they must have to put up with, especially the ones willing to be on camera (a trend with streamers of both genders.) I'm nowhere near as brave as they must be, and thankfully I've been fortunate enough to stream for a damn good crowd most of the time.
I am grateful for the minimal harassment I've experienced. That in itself is sort of fucked up.
I suppose I was just a bit less lucky this weekend. There were several donations from people requesting that I moan on stream, a donation outright from "JanineMakeMeHot" (which the stream host later refused to read out loud, because he's a pretty great guy) and chat messages that I never saw before they were moderated, so who knows what else. I didn't react to any of it at the time. I didn't want to sour the mood of the stream, since things were going relatively well during those segments. The other folks streaming and moderating had my back completely, so I could afford to ignore it altogether. I didn't let myself feel particularly affected, we just kept things moving and for the most part pretended it had never happened.
I tell myself I don't give a shit about the comments, but the more I think about it the more I realize that I do in fact give a shit. Telling myself that I don't is just an easy way to avoid any awkwardness or regret. They're far from the end of the world, but they're what Patricia Hernandez might call a pebble in a shoe.
But hey, at least those people donated money to say those things, right? It's all for a good cause. This in itself is also sort of fucked up.
That is what I told myself more than once. I accepted money in exchange for bullshit because it was for a worthy cause, and I said absolutely nothing about it. Even now, as I write about it, I'm still wrestling with ever hitting the Publish button.
I'm not a bold and brassy internet lady like Leigh Alexander. I don't think I have the spine to call that shit out in the moment, and it's so very easy to come up with reasons to avoid confrontation. It would be bad for the event, we might lose viewers, they're just trolls who want to get a reaction, it could have been worse, at least they donated something... But those are just excuses, and they're little more than passive acceptance of that behavior.
It doesn't put make me above it, it makes me complicit in it.
I'm not asking for all harassment to stop completely, that's not quite the issue here. It's totally shitty that people are so strongly inclined to be assholes to each other at every opportunity, but I accept that people are fucking stupid on the internet, and I'm not optimistic/naive enough to think that will ever change. I expect a degree of harassment as do the male streamers, so don't dismiss me by saying that I simply need to grow a thicker skin. I have one. It could always stand to be thicker, but it gets the job done.
The issue is that there is a massive difference between the kind of harassment they expect and the kind of harassment that I expect. They expect it based on their performance in a game. They'll get joke donations from people telling them to play better, to do this that way, or to do that this way. People will yell at them in the chat about their aim or their weapon choice or their stats or their gear or any other number of technical issues.
No one really seems to care if or how I'm playing, though. I can't recall a single instance of being directly scolded for my lack of skill in a game. They just want me to moan over a playthrough of Megaman.
So please feel free to harass me as much as you want; just consider basing that harassment on what I'm doing, not what I am. If after this whole article you still don't understand why I might prefer that, well, that's on you now. I've said my piece.
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Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.