Where I was wrong

Blizzard, the company that owns the World of Warcraft game, has made a very stupid decision.

The first and most significant change is that in the near future, anyone posting or replying to a post on official Blizzard forums will be doing so using their Real ID — that is, their real-life first and last name — with the option to also display the name of their primary in-game character alongside it. These changes will go into effect on all StarCraft II forums with the launch of the new community site prior to the July 27 release of the game, with the World of Warcraft site and forums following suit near the launch of Cataclysm. Certain classic forums, including the classic Battle.net forums, will remain unchanged.

This is a dumb move that puts people in real, physical danger. The Internet is not filled with a bunch of sunny, happy gamers. A lot of people are dicks. They get pretty crazy about this stuff.

But I don’t play any of those sort of games. I don’t care for them. What I care about comes from PZ (indirectly).

There’s a good discussion going on at Shakesville — this decision is an exercise in privilege by Blizzard. There are a fair number of female gamers who would rather not advertise the fact…because many male gamers are jerks.

I disagree that this is an exercise in privilege. That to me suggests a malicious intent on the part of Blizzard. In reality, the company is trying to cut down on douchebaggery. Its intention is not to adversely affect women – though that’s what will happen. (But this is semantic. I know PZ doesn’t mean Blizzard is targeting or intentionally ignoring women, and I further know the word “exercise” can be understood to mean that. But the connotations suggest something far more negative on the part of Blizzard. If PZ said example, I wouldn’t disagree.)

But PZ has a second post about the fast-paced failure of Blizzard’s experiment. In this one he talks about how this will harm many women, increasing the sexual harassment they will endure in their gaming experience. He links to this article by Jessica Valenti.

One website, run by law professor and occasional New York Times columnist Ann Althouse, devoted an entire article to how I was “posing” [in a picture with Bill Clinton] so as to “make [my] breasts as obvious as possible”. The post, titled “Let’s take a closer look at those breasts,” ended up with over 500 comments. Most were about my body, my perceived whorishness, and how I couldn’t possibly be a good feminist because I had the gall to show up to a meeting with my breasts in tow. One commenter even created a limerick about me giving oral sex. Althouse herself said that I should have “worn a beret . . . a blue dress would have been good too”. All this on the basis of a photograph of me in a crew-neck sweater from Gap.

I won’t even get into the hundreds of other blogs and websites that linked to the “controversy.” It was, without doubt, the most humiliating experience of my life – all because I dared be photographed with a political figure.

In March of 2009, I made a post about Sheril Kirshenbaum. In it I defended some comments by male posters which pointed out her looks.

Let’s keep in mind what the original post was all about. It was an introduction. Is there a specific, pre-approved, politically correct response expected? I see an intro to a new blog, a short description, and a picture – the most prominent thing about the post – and not much else. It is entirely reasonable to comment on the picture.

No, it isn’t.

It is reasonable to expect comments on pictures of attractive women, but it is not reasonable to focus merely on that. Reading over that post makes me cringe. I’m embarrassed.

Some of that embarrassment only comes from the fact that hindsight shows me how easy it is to misunderstand many of my points. In a couple of places, I point out minutiae simply for the sake of accuracy.

First of all, I prefer accuracy so let’s augment that last statement a tad. It’s never acceptable to judge anyone based on appearances and number X chromosomes, in most instances.

That’s true – and virtually everyone agrees with it. No one ought to expect people to go on dates, for example, without any physical standards. Part of a good relationship is attraction, and that comes in much more than a mere intellectual form.

But there I go again. It sounds like I’m saying it’s okay to publicly pass judgement on Kirshenbaum’s looks in the given context. I’m not. At least not now. But unfortunately, for specific comments (i.e., the more benign ones), I was saying it was okay. That was wrong.

This doesn’t mean I’m embarrassed in the least about my response to caricature feminists who think a picture of fat women accompanying an article about fat women is sexist. My response was correct there. Obesity was being objectified, not women. And sexism is not defined as a one-way street.

But, again, I am embarrassed about my response to Kirshenbaum. I’ll stand by some of the details of my post – if it’s sexist to comment on Kirshenbaum’s looks, then it’s sexist when female guests do the same to Sean Hannity – but I do not stand by the primary point I was making. No. It was objectification when those users honed in on Kirshenbaum’s looks.

I was wrong.

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