A year or two ago, something like GamerGate would have been little more than another sad blip on my radar. Back then, I'd have viewed it as further proof that we've still got a hell of a long way to go to end the discrimination women face simply for being women. Then I'd have moved on.
Today, however, I'm a mother to twin baby boys, and GamerGate is really sticking with me. It's not the particularities of the online assault on female gamers, critics, and reporters that have got me thinking — I'm not a gamer and I've probably known maybe two people in my life who are. I didn't know video game criticism was even a thing until I started reading about the death threats that feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian recently received for pointing out examples of misogyny in video games.
Instead, I've been thinking about how GamerGate is just another piece of evidence that a significant number of young white men are growing up with feelings of powerlessness, intense insecurity, and an alarming lack of emotional maturity. Combined, those things can congeal into a petulant, bully mentality that gives rise to both real-life and virtual assaults on women.
We saw that mentality at its most extreme in the tragic shootings at UC-Santa Barbara earlier this year when a young, mentally unstable man killed two women and four men after posting a manifesto saying that he was going to punish women for not accepting his advances and men who were more sexually successful than he.
His actions were insane, the product of a sick and disturbed mind. The feelings that prompted them, however, are surprisingly run-of-the-mill. You can easily find expressions of them in varying degrees of aggressiveness with some quick browsing on forum sites like 4chan, 8chan, and Wizardchan, all of which cater to so-called nerds and gamers.
But those feelings are hardly confined only to men who've been unsuccessful with women. Take A Voice for Men, an organization that promotes things like an end to "rape and domestic violence hysteria" and "feminist governance." (Apparently a country in which women only make up 18.5 percent of Congress and 24 percent of all state legislators, and do not receive equal pay for equal work, is one that is governed by feminists.)
I’m safe. Authorities have been notified. Staying with friends tonight. I’m not giving up. But this harassment of women in tech must stop!— Feminist Frequency (@femfreq) August 27, 2014
The Washington Post sent reporter Monica Hesse to the group's inaugural International Conference on Men's Issues back in June. She found a collection of mostly white men of varying ages who felt strongly that society was out to get them (mainly, it seems, through their ex-wives). What they wanted, she heard repeatedly, was "the same rights as 'the privileged women,' as various male attendees described the female gender. The entitled, increasingly 'narcissistic' women." There were discussions of legitimate issues as well — unfair treatment during custody battles, for example, and the need for men to listen to and support one another better.
But then, there was also stuff like this: College students who've had the guts to speak up after being raped were said to be expressing "buyer's remorse." (That one came from a woman, no less — a conservative Canadian columnist named Barbara Kay.) One attendee said, without irony, that men were second-class citizens.
So, OK, I know that A Voice for Men is a fringe movement. I know that there have always been men and boys with feelings of rage toward women and that the internet makes it a lot easier for those people to gather and stoke each other's fires. But it's still an incredibly troubling thing to see.
In combination with the recent legislative assault on women's reproductive rights, attitudes like the ones we've seen in GamerGate and A Voice for Men make me think that we're living in a strangely reactionary historical moment. It's paradoxical, really, since we're making such progress in other areas — marriage equality, for one.
This is the moment in which I'm beginning my journey as a parent. And while my first concern in raising my boys is raising them to be kind, compassionate human beings, my second is raising them to be kind, compassionate men. I can't help but worry that somehow I'll fail them. That they'll somehow buy into this idea that as white males in America, they are the ones who have the most to fear. Plenty of intelligent, otherwise levelheaded men have. I've encountered it firsthand myself.
So I'm asking the same question every parent asks herself: how do we counter the craziness out there? How do we raise boys who grow up into confident, caring, just men? How do we raise boys who are confident enough in their own masculinity that they don't feel the need to bully or threaten or terrorize other groups of people?
There's no way to know exactly what's behind this cycle of hate and anger. It's a complex problem. But here's one optimistic possibility: maybe these ugly expressions are the dying gasps of the patriarchy. Maybe the fury is a sign that we're moving closer to true equality. It's always unpleasant when the reigning group feels its power start to slip.
One can hope, at least.