Geek Girl Con: Building a More Positive Geek Culture

by | August 18, 2012
filed under Feminism, Pop Culture

Geek Girl Con Cosplayersby Jarrah Hodge

This is Part 2 of my Geek Girl Con posts recapping the panels on online sexism and harassment. To read part one, click here.

If you found Part 1 depressing, know Part 2 is more action-oriented. Even though what’s going on online in an attempt to silence and intimidate women speaking out on feminism and geek culture is terrible, Geek Girl Con panelists did have some suggestions. I’ve broken it down into two areas: suggestions around dealing with the online misogyny directly now, and suggestions about how we can work to change systems to build a more positive, feminist online culture for the future.

Dealing With the Current Situation – Protecting Yourself and Your Communities:

Having gone through this the most recently and most publicly, Anita Sarkeesian had concrete tips for anyone who’s experienced online threats and harassment or who is considering creating content that might be subject to these kinds of attacks:

Regina Buenaobra of Arenanet seconded the recommendation to seek out your community manager if you’re having a problem with abusive people in online gaming communities:

“What helps is if players let us know what’s going on…reporting is probably one of the biggest things you can do,” she said. Buenaobra noted that harassment is a problem for the whole community and the business’ bottom lines as well as the individuals who are directly targeted.

Grace of hopes that gamers and geeks online can get some relief and help to change the sexist culture through submitting to her site. She said readers’ major reaction is laughter, followed by a sense of kinship realizing that they’re not alone in being subject to these attacks. She took issue with those who tell targets: “Don’t feed the trolls.”

“They’ve been told don’t feed the trolls so they don’t talk about it. That’s what don’t feed the trolls does. It’s silencing and it’s been an absolute failure,” Grace said. Panelists generally agreed but clarified that responding to trolls doesn’t have to be about engaging in hours of pointless online dialogue with someone who hates you – it can involve taking it public to rally support against the attacker as people do on Fat, Ugly or Slutty or as Anita Sarkeesian did by reporting her harassment online.

Geek Girl Con She-RaChanging Online Culture – Acting Now to Build a Better Future

But protecting yourself online can only go so far.

“The answer is systemic and collective,” Anita Sarkeesian said on the “Go Make Me a Sandwich” panel.

Part of what panelists identified needs to happen is forcing a change in major social media sites’ policies toward harassment and hate speech.  Sarkeesian reported she spends a lot of time going through her Feminist Frequency Facebook page to delete harassing comments because you can’t set up moderated comments on a public page.

“These sites need to step up and take responsibility for the fact that this is the way we communicate and this is the way we engage,” she said.

Grace saw possibility in the fact that social media sites and online games are essentially software that collects data. She noted for example that one platform is thinking about looking at how often a user is muted in-game by other users, and once they hit a certain threshold, automatically muting them for everyone.

In the misogyny online panel, Rebecca Watson mentioned that she’s interested in supporting others going through similar bad experiences and there was audience discussion of starting a formal network where feminists can mobilize their online supporters to come to the defense of women bloggers being attacked.

Another panel presented by on “Navigating Geekdom as an Outsider” provided suggestions for calling out fellow geeks on any kind of prejudiced behavior and making sure you aren’t doing things that are making the situation worse (the panel covered multiple forms of inequality including racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and briefly touched on ableism and classism).

“Keep pressing,” Geekquality’s Lois Payne encouraged people confronting others on prejudiced behaviour, “Sometimes discomfort is a very good sign because you’re actually hitting at something they haven’t thought of.”

On being an ally and making sure you’re not perpetuating discrimination and inequality, Payne added: “You gotta listen. That is the number one thing. If someone tells you there is a problem, there is a problem.”

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