In the last couple of days I’ve seen a report from the Washington Post about a study that finds that men who are not so good at video games are more likely to be abusive to women. The study recognizes that women, far more than men, are likely to be targets of abuse online. It sought to find a reason for this sexist behaviour and used video game play as an example domain. Their conclusion is that men who are not good at those games feel threatened, but only (or much more so) by women than by other men. Hence the lashing out.
Its been bothering me. I saw it shared several times, and each time, I wondered why I felt bothered by it. I’ve just listened to Mary Beard’s lecture for the London Review of Books, and so I tried to think through this study using her lens. Her explanation of why women are subject to so much abuse explores how women’s voices have been silenced in the public sphere for the better part of 2,000 years. How practices of oratory in use today build on a lengthy tradition of associations with male voices and that we are still culturally raised to accept the voice of authority as being masculine rather than feminine.
In putting the study and Mary Beards lecture in dialog I came to see points of intersection though. The idea that men feel threatened comes out strongly in both Dr. Beard’s lecture “its not what you say, its the fact that you’re saying it” and of course the loser gamer. But I find myself preferring Dr. Beard’s explanation. I think we can potentially feel sorry for a loser, but that risks that we dismiss or excuse their actions as being those of a pathetic fool. And if we do that, we continue to reinforce patterns that make the public silencing of women’s voices acceptable as a response to something that threatens a man.