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Thursday, March 6, 2014

My privileges (ENG)

So, the reception and reactions to my first blog post has been quite overwhelming. Far greater than I could have possibly expected. I'm very happy and excited that you would want to read about my experiences and learnings, and that I can reach so many, but I want to make sure to clarify that nothing of what I write is really news. I am merely re-telling wht others have taught me, against the backdrop of how I came to seek this knowledge. For those of you who want to dig deeper in theories and find more information, there is a wide variety of brilliant blogs and other forums out there that have helped me and I will try to link these whenever I can in my posts.
"The truth is that as a man I am privileged even as a feminist blogger"
I've been a bit indecisive as to what to bring up next, but in a way the massive response led me to want to talk a bit about privileges. Because the truth is that as a man I am privileged even as a feminist blogger, strange as that may sound. If my wife had been the one to write my first post, and she very well could have, I'm pretty sure that she would not have gotten as strong a response or as big a spread as I did. Many tell me that I am brave for writing about this, but I personally find my bravery fairly modest when lined up against all the non-male feminists that have talked about these things for years, in the face of massive opposition. For example I was quite sure when writing my first text that I would not get any sexual threats from readers because of it, something my wife would definitely not have been able to rule out. This post (in swedish) from tweeter @taggigt provides some interesting examples of how men putting forth feminist arguments are treated differently from women putting forth feminist arguments.

Realizing and acknowledging your privileges can be extremely difficult. I have for instance never attended a job interview worrying about my last name sounding "wrong" and thus it has never dawned on me that this is a very real concern for an alarmingly large group of people. I have always felt treated in a (fairly) reasonable way and that is the only reality I know of. But my reality as a white heterosexual cis male is not that of everyone else. I am privileged, even if it took a long time for me to realize just how much. As mentioned before, it wasn't until my daughter came into the picture that I started to fully realize my privileges when it came to my biggest interest, games, and whether or not she would be able to approach them under the same terms that I had.
"In ten years time it could be my daughter who without provocation whatsoever will be called whore or asked to flash her breasts "
I remembered an article we published in PC Gamer magazine many years ago, where we examined how horribly women were spoken to and treated in online games such as Counter-Strike. I've read several similar articles since and in the meantime seen some examples first hand. Even so, the issue got even more unnerving to me when I realized that in ten years time it could be my daughter who without provocation whatsoever will be called whore or asked to flash her breasts. This while she as a man would likely have had the same positive experience that have made me promote the social benefits of gaming as media run horror headlines on isolation and socially misfit gamers. This is one of the examples of how I as a man is privileged as a gamer. I and many others have usually explained this with the fact that a few bad eggs are ruining the image for the rest of us, rather than as a symptom of a structural norm in the way women are portrayed and spoken of. But then something happened that would make me realize that something bigger lies behind the attitude towards women in games.

It all started with one of my own blog entries at pcgamer.se. It was the spring of 2009 and Swedish television had just shown an embarassingly bad headline-inducing debate show, where they had taken the very worst clips of violence they could find from a bunch of more and less popular games and proclaimed it as representative of "the games our kids are playing". The show was obviously intended to attract viewers by frightening ignorant parents rather than have an actual purpose of public information. I should have disregarded it as such, but after years of constant defensive service of the medium I love and my choice of profession, from family dinners to official events, I was caught up in the role of defender.

"Emil Kraftling, what a little jerk!"

I wrote a long blog entry where I criticized the phenomenon and that I felt that mostly irrelevant experts had been invited to either side of the debate, which in turn devalued the debate in a subject that I actually found to be important to talk about. One of the invited participants was Swedish journalist, writer and feminist Hanna Fridén. She was invited to talk about the gender perspective and sexually themed uses of violence in games, but was barely allowed to speak at all. At this point I didn't know who Hanna was. Memory is a bit shady, but I think she was introduced as blogger and writer, possibly even feminist blogger. I felt that her participation was irrelevant to the subject at hand and questioned why she was even in the debate at all. I went to her blog and read up on it to find out more, but couldn't see anything that indicated a gaming profile or gaming interest, so I published my blog post and asked "what the hell was Hanna Fridén doing there?" As it turned out, Hanna was (and is) a gamer at heart and has more than enough experience and knowledge for me to acknowledge her place in the debate. She found my entry and was obviously quite pissed at first hardly getting an opportunity to speak in the debate, and then being questioned by me. She wrote a blog entry of her own where she basically outed me as a condescending sexist.

When I found out more about her and her gaming interest I apologized and explained that I hadn't been able to see an obvious gaming background on her and since she didn't get much speaking time it was hard for me to make sense of her part and value in the debate. Our conflict was eventually "sorted out" and I left it with the conviction that I had expressed myself carelessly and stupid, but not having meant anything wrong and certainly without any sexist motifs.  Ever since that day however, a googling of my name results in one of the top hits proclaiming "Emil Kraftling, what a little jerk!" and leading to her post, that paints a less than flattering picture of me. It's been a stalking black mark on my digital resume and many times I've wished for it to just go away. Because what if someone saw it and didn't know the whole story? What if someone actually thought that I was a sexist?!
"As a man I have never ever been questioned in a games related situation" 
And so one day not that long ago, I googled my name again, as you do every now and then. As usual one of the top hits were Hannas entry, but this time something had changed. I had changed. I had open a door inside and started asking myself questions. I revisited this situation in my mind. What had really happened? Well, I had assumed that Hanna didn't have any relevance in the debate because I couldn't find any proof of a gaming interest with her. I assumed she didn't have an interest and experience in games, since it wasn't obvious. Now however, I asked the question I didn't realize needed to be asked before: Would I have made the same assumptions had she been a man? The realization fell on me like a large boulder of shame. I don't think I would. Too late have I realized one of my biggest privileges as a man, considering my main interest and line of work. That as a man I have never ever been questioned in a games related situation. Not as a player, not as a member of a gaming forum, not as a games journalist and not as a developer. This is of course how it should be for everyone, regardless of sex, but the reality is that women are being questioned daily and I can no longer blame bad eggs, because I would then be one of them. Me, who was supposed to be good hearted, intelligent, empathical. But there it was, black on white. My assumptions had hurt another human being and unfortunately I'm pretty sure that this wasn't the only time that has happened.

Because I had seen it, even if I didn't understand my own place in it. I had seen it and I still see it, in online games, on web forums, at press events and game expos. In the work place. Women who first has to prove that they are "real" gamers, before anything they say and do can be taken seriously. Female developers mistaken for PR people. Women whose suggestions often get slightly more questions and interjections than I think my own would have. I had seen it, but not realized the scope of it. I haven't seen how privileged I am to never have to take my sex into consideration when I'm presenting a design, writing an artile or writing a sentence in an in-game chat window. It shouldn't be a privilege. It should be an expected reality for everyone, but it isn't.

There's a fairly easy way to open ones eyes to your privileges, and it can be applied to more than just male privileges. Ask yourself how you would have experienced a certain event or how you would have been treated in a certain situation if you had had another gender identity, sexuality, ethnicity or belief than what you have now. Would you have had the same experience on your job interview? Would you have been addressed the same at your local grocery store? Would your surrounding have reacted differently if you had kissed your partner openly?
"I started looking back at games I'd played and loved through the years and wondered how I had experienced them as a girl?"
As mentioned before, to me it was my daughters future entry into the world of games that made me open my eyes. This was around the same time that Anita Sarkeesian launched her (brilliant) Tropes vs Women-series on Youtube. Inspired by Sarkeesian and the thoughts on my daughter, I started looking back at games I'd played and loved through the years and wondered how I had experienced them, or aspects of them, as a girl? Would I have appreciated the game The Witcher as much despite the nude pictures showing the main characters sexual partners, if these pictures had instead depicted naked and half-naked men? Had I as young been as competitive in Turtles II when it came to being the one who got a kiss from April as you rescued her, if April had been a guy? (And this illustrates many more issues than just male privilege, such as heteronormativity and women portrayal, but more on that in future entries). Had I reacted more strongly if all women in fantasy games had been equipped with full body armors, while the men hade armors that looked like this?

Maybe I had still loved games and wanted to work with them, but I'm pretty sure that I had enjoyed fewer games, felt less interested in the business, have had to work harder to get where I am today and had to put up with a lot of sexual innuendo or even threat along the way. That is not the future I want for the game industry and it is definitely not the future I wish for my daughter.
"How can we help those who are worse off, if we don't realize that they exist?"
To emphasize what I said in my first entry: this is mainly a question of unknowing and not of malice. The games industry isn't male dominated and excluding to women because the men in it hates women (even if there are probably some representatives of those as well), but because social norms has taught us that games is a medium by men for men. That is why 90% of the industry is male and that is why the generation of today will grow up in the same reality unless we break the pattern. The first step of breaking a pattern is realizing that there is one, and that it gives us privileges that are not logical. This doesn't only apply to the gaming industry of course, even if it is a clear example. Privileges are everywhere in society. Ask yourself: Would I have had the same opportunities in my life regardless of sex, ethnicity, belief or sexuality? If the answer is no, and it probably will be, then it means you have certain privileges, (or is affected by someone elses privileges). Maybe not as many as me or the king, but they are there. They don't mean you are "better off" as much as they mean that someone else is "worse off". That's why it is so important to realize our privileges.

Because how can we help those who are worse off, if we don't realize that they exist?

I'm going to talk more on privileges in general and the games industry in particular, but if you want to read more on the phenomenon then I can recomend this blog entry at Kultureliten (in Swedish).

Update: For more perspective on the matter, check Kerstin Alex interesting text on her own experience as a female gamer and games journalist here! (Also in Swedish)


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