On dealing with dudes: An open letter to Penny Arcade

By | February 4, 2011


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These guys are probably not assholes, but are rather just afflicted with dudeness.

Gentlemen,

I read your webcomic. I’ve attended PAXs both East and Prime. I admire Child’s Play, your excellent charity organization. Calling myself a “fan” would probably be an overstatement, but I generally enjoy your work and have had little reason for second thoughts until recently.

I will not re-hash the series of events here — they extend back a good six months and given that other folks have already done the thankless work of timeline-assembly I will throw the uninformed in that direction. It shall suffice to say that you unwittingly upset some people, then made it worse by unwittingly mocking the people you upset, and then made it worse still by raising the mockery to mass-consumption levels, and some regrettable things have thus been said and done on many sides. I knew that some kind of apology or truce would be in the offing; it was a waiting game, for the simple reason that neither of you seem to be callous monsters. Sometimes the injured need only bide their time until the better part of humanity comes to the fore. The people you hurt, the people who experience this sort of shit on a regular basis, they are good at patience, and they are good at surviving — but they are not good at forgetting.

Your resistance was not surprising. It always seems as though these issues will go away if you stop looking at them, which is a function of being one of the fortunates for whom looking at them is optional. But you can’t push these conversations aside; you can’t ignore them away, and you can’t will them out of existence. You fucked up, and this is something that happens to everyone. The only distinguishing characteristic of this particular fuckup is that you did it publicly, in front of a huge audience, and in so doing you both caused injury to some sexual assault survivors whom you never meant to hurt, and created support for some sociopathic violence-worshipping misogynists whom you never meant to encourage. Meanwhile, the majority of the spectators find themselves unwilling participants in a game of privilege dodgeball — either you’re with one side or you’re with the other.

Life is not so black and white. It would be easier if it were. It would be easier if both of you were simple caricatures drawn in broad strokes, because then we could all just write you off. Nothing to see here, nothing to salvage. But you’re not cartoon characters, in real life; instead you are people. Annoying, frustrating, messy, damaged, confused people. Like everyone else.

The hell of it is, none of us spring from the womb with a complete understanding of how our culture works. Indeed, we spend the first several years of our lives being taught how to be complicit in social systems, not how to question them. People who find themselves marginalized later on may develop this skill, as much for survival as for any vague intellectual gratification. Queer folks eventually figure out that our culturally-mandated disgust for non-hetero relationships or non-binary expressions of gender makes them targets for violence and hate. People of color realize how racism in both overt and deeply subtle forms stacks the odds against their success. Disabled folks come to understand that this world is not built for them. People on the fringes learn to criticize because these cultural blocks affect their lives in palpable, measurable ways, and we are quick to recognize unfairness and injustice when it applies to us in a form we can see and feel.

People who identify as feminists and other social justice activists do not live in a different world. We live in the same world, we live in a world that values and privileges certain experiences, abilities, and appearances over others, and that is why we are so angry. Because we are as steeped in the culture that marginalizes and yes, even oppresses us, as everyone else is — we can’t simply climb out of culture like getting out of a pool; we can’t wash it off and go on our way unaffected henceforth. You are at the very beginning stages of understanding this — the fact is, you are as affected by sexism as women are. Same with racism, same with any -ism you can name. It has fucked you up too. When your [male] experience has been privileged for your whole life, it’s like a pair of cultural blinders — you can’t even conceive that the world and the people in it extend beyond the narrow field that you can see. You need help to realize there is more to it. You need someone to tell you, hey, you can take those off, you know.

When social justice activists like me talk about calling folks out on their -isms, we often make the assumption that “good” people will automatically listen and change; that being told once that something is sexist or racist or ableist or insert-offense-here should be enough. But it almost never is, because as human beings we are mostly selfish, and we don’t like feeling badly about ourselves, and being told one has said or done something terribly, terribly wrong is certain to make us feel awful. So we resist. I understand my fellow activists’ inclination to write resistant people off as assholes, and I understand the need to ration one’s sanity points in heated discussions. However, I also think that the first step in helping folks like you understand the complexities of cultural forces like rape culture, or whatever -ism may be at stake, is believing that you are worth talking to, that it is worth the effort to communicate tough ideas to you, with patience and care. I believe that we cannot afford to write people like you off; each time we do, we’ve missed an opportunity to make ourselves heard.

And so, I am unwilling to write you off. Instead, I am going to hold you accountable. I am not the kind of activist who believes in keeping people on the hook for their fuckups indefinitely. It’s not my style. You cannot expect everyone to be as patient with you. I am a battle-hardened veteran of these conversations and yet I do not tire of them — others will feel differently. For my part, I believe negative reinforcement is not effective in encouraging people, especially reluctant dudes like you, to continue a difficult conversation in which you will be expected to admit your ignorance again and again. Talking about these issues is hard. It’s hard for me and it’s hard for you. And here you didn’t even ask for this directly, and yet the conversation is happening to you, and it must happen to you, because this isn’t a single event, but rather a reality that pervades the whole of games culture and culture at large. And as tired of this subject as you may feel right now, imagine how tired those who live with it every day of their lives must be.

Can this situation be repaired? Probably not, not completely. But it can be salvaged. It will take a formal acknowledgment at PAX East from both of you that you handled things badly. Most of the actions that have been taken on all sides have happened for the same reason, and that is a desire to not be socially ostracized, trolled, or left out. And isn’t that what PAX is supposed to be for? It shouldn’t be a space where no one is held culpable for their words or actions; it should instead be a space where we strive to be more sensitive of the differences that set us apart. Like it or not, you are the only people who have any power at all to set this tone.

To employ an analogy worthy of Penny Arcade: When we step in shit, we don’t just keep walking around in those same shoes until the shit wears off, tracking it everywhere we go and hoping that in the meantime no one will smell it or notice. We scrape the shit away.

I will see you in March. Don’t let me down.

Sincerely,

Lesley Kinzel
Game-player, webcomic-reader, and radical activist


86 Comments

Parker Ross on February 4, 2011 at 11:31 am.

As always, beautiful and revealing words. You manage to articulate so much that I often find unable to put into words. Thank you for this.

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buttercup on February 4, 2011 at 11:37 am.

This is a lovely open letter, and with your permission, I will share it with an acquaintance who needs it-he got into some hot water (deservedly) in an online forum over using rape apology, and honestly, I was going to write him off until I read this. If not for him, then for his daughters.

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Lesley on February 4, 2011 at 11:41 am.

By all means! I hope it helps.

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Lesley on February 4, 2011 at 11:41 am.

Also, thank you.

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Willow on February 4, 2011 at 2:11 pm.

Lesley, your letter was razor-sharp insightful. I sincerely hope the PAX dudebros read it and start the process of removing their blinkers. My, but the things men do and say that scare the shit out of women… and how the men enjoy it. I want to move away from this country, but honestly there is no country without rape and pedophilia.

I know you like to keep your standards high, so here are a couple of typos I found in your letter:

“The hell of it is, none of us spring from the womb will [italics mine] a complete understanding…”
“To employ an analogy worth [italics mine] of Penny Arcade…”

I know you are a perfectionist, and so am I, and I hope you aren’t offended that I pointed those out to you. If so, then please accept my apologies.

Blessed be,

-Willow

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Lesley on February 4, 2011 at 2:14 pm.

Ha, not at all! Thank you. I wrote this last night and didn’t edit it much at all. I appreciate the fixes!

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keddren on February 4, 2011 at 4:59 pm.

“My, but the things men do and say that scare the shit out of women… and how the men enjoy it.”

This? This is part of the problem.

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GR on February 4, 2011 at 3:14 pm.

It’s so hard not to just totally lose one’s shit over this nonsense.
Beautifully done.

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James B. on February 4, 2011 at 4:31 pm.

A very thoughtful letter, save for one thing I feel clashes. Near the open you direct “the uninformed” towards The Debacle Timeline — a website that actively pushes the agenda that Mike is some kind of monster. I would hope that a letter that feels like it’s acknowledging fault-by-ignorance rather than fault-by-maliciousness could at least point out that the Timeline is in no way making the same point that you are.

But, again, a very good read.

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Lesley on February 4, 2011 at 4:51 pm.

Thanks much!

I used the timeline in question because it seemed the most thorough account, and it links to all the primary sources, which are super-important in situations like this where things fall into conjecture and hearsay so quickly — “I hear so-and-so said that rape is nifty!” “OMG! I’m telling twenty friends!” and so on. FWIW, I do not think Mike is a monster at all. I think he’s a dude who does not understand why people are mad at him and is super frustrated by that. When it seems you’re being attacked from all sides, it’s hard to separate the wheat (this being the honest assertions and explanations of people who were upset by his comments) from the chaff (the trolls and shit-stirrers, who fuck with controversy for lolz). It starts to look like everyone is just a troll or a shit-stirrer. Right now I’m counting on him — and Jerry as well — to learn to tell the difference.

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James B. on February 4, 2011 at 4:57 pm.

Oh, absolutely. I agree with you on a fundamental level, and I *do* like the fact that the Timeline provides links to every primary source is mentions. What I don’t like about it are the bits that seem to be reaching, like including his music selection during a livestream.

There is an interesting, albeit.. sometimes harsh look at the Timeline and other things on a blog at “skrattybones.tumblr”.

Ignoring the fact that that particular blog is obviously attacking from a specific point of view it does mention something that I think you may have brushed on in your reply; “it’s hard to separate the wheat (this being the honest assertions and explanations of people who were upset by his comments) from the chaff (the trolls and shit-stirrers, who fuck with controversy for lolz)” — but from the other side, in that nobody seems to be mentioning the fact that a lot of those trolls on both sides are coming out of 4chan, who apparently have a history with the participants.

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Lesley on February 4, 2011 at 5:08 pm.

Hey, interesting fact! I did not know that. I’ll check it out, thanks.

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Living400lbs on February 4, 2011 at 6:16 pm.

Another writeup with a good outline of the situation is from gamer / comic nerd / life blogger JetWolf at http://blog.jetwolf.com/2011/02/02/the-boys-club-part-2/

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Lesley on February 4, 2011 at 9:26 pm.

Good read, thanks for linking it.

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Mike on February 4, 2011 at 5:07 pm.

Possible error in your reasoning:

Mike and Jerry have, as white males, received many of the privileges you assume they did, but they are also nerds of extraordinary calibre. They have mentioned time and again their experiences of being bullied and ostracized in school, and Mike has discussed his issues with anxiety. Problem- and adversity-free they are not, and perhaps not blind to being on the fringe, having existed on part of it themselves.

I am curious, and this question is not meant to undermine any of the hurt, pain, trauma or reasoning that rape victims and their loved ones have endured (in other words, I do not ask this to undermine the validity of the complaints): Why now? PA has absolutely included rape in their comics before, and arguably more blatantly. In this comic, the dickwolves were a sidebar to the punchline. In another, an airport security guard informs Tycho to expect being raped “through the pants.” Why the reaction to this comic? Was this complaint against them a long time coming, or is there something unique about the ‘wolves that created this controversy? I can understand their initial reaction of perplexity and derision; after so many years of tacit approval, surely this seemed like a run-of-the-mill controversy they’d dealt with before. What changed here?

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Lesley on February 4, 2011 at 5:22 pm.

Oh, great comment! I think Mike and Jerry’s epic nerdery is a huge factor here, for sure, because when you’ve been bullied and ostracized it makes it EVEN HARDER to understand that being white dudes still gives them certain advantages — because where the fuck were those advantages back then?

The “now” of this, I would argue, owes less to the specific comic originally criticized and more to the progressively more wrong-headed handling of the situation on Mike and Jerry’s parts. The original comic, okay. The followup comic, eh, okay. The SHIRTS. The shirts were a tipping point, because instead of simply being Mike and Jerry doing what they do, they were now enlisting vast numbers of fans to assist them in their mockery of the people who were upset by the original comic. It was a sudden and dramatic escalation — like we were all just shouting at each other, and then suddenly somebody goes and shoves someone else, really hard, or cocks a fist.

The sad thing is, I don’t think Mike and Jerry had any concept that it would be perceived this way. It’s clear at this point that the very notion of Dickwolves is the height of absurdity so far as they’re concerned, so why would the t-shirts matter? But the t-shirts mattered. They mattered because, from the perspective of the folks who expressed misgivings about the original comic, it seemed like Mike and Jerry were actively using their platform to attack them.

Given that most fans of Penny Arcade and PAX — even the sexual assault survivors — are themselves nerds who have suffered some degree of social pariah-hood at some point in their lives, seeing legions of people you once thought of as your “friends”, if only in the vague sense, suddenly turned against you, wearing shirts expressly aimed at making you feel bad? Has to be devastating. It’s like a teenage nightmare, FFS.

This is not the story and experience of every Dickwolf opponent, but it sure seems like this is where things went wrong, from my perspective. And that’s why it can still be salvaged, if Mike and Jerry are willing to try.

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Mike on February 7, 2011 at 12:32 am.

Fair answer to the first point – past suffering can lead to present blinders when you feel that you’ve got quite enough perspective to be going on with, thank you. It can be hard to get past that pretense, especially when it’s not deliberate or malicious.

As to the second point, why ‘now’, obviously their reaction to the whole thing brought things to where they are. However, it doesn’t explain why this comic, of all their comics touching on this topic, was the one to generate these complaints in the first place. Maybe there just isn’t a satisfactory answer to that question, but as an academic pursuit, I’m very curious. I know it’s moot relative to the actual discussion going on, but if you have any insight on this, I’d be interested.

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Lesley on February 7, 2011 at 9:09 am.

Oh! For that, I have no idea, but I suspect it was a just perfect storm of the comic getting picked up by Shakesville and Mike’s engagement there being seized upon by opportunistic trolls who dig on fanning the flames of that kind of thing.

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Babaganoosh on February 10, 2011 at 6:41 pm.

The “why now,” argument is flawed for three reasons:
1). Someone who is offended may not regularly read the comic but “The Sixth Slave,” might be the first PA comic read by that person.

2). People are not obligated to be offended by everything. One does not need to be offended by depictions of homicide in a comic to also be offended by depictions of rape. In reality, there is no rule governing what one must and must not find offensive.

3). The argument ignores the fact that “The Sixth Slave” has little to do with the controversy. The actual controversy, as Lesley accurately pointed out, has to do with the hostile attitude Mike has displayed towards a portion of his fan base, and the lack of an attitude displayed by Jerry for most of it.

If Mike and Jerry had simply ignored all of the complaints caused by “The Sixth Slave,” we wouldn’t have the current controversy. Everyone involved would be more worried about all of the other more important things. If they had simply stopped after, “Breaking it down,” we wouldn’t have the current controversy. Everyone involved would be more worried about all of the other more important things. If they had issued a proper apology regarding the Dickwolves shirts, we would not have the current controversy.

ADMITTEDLY, I think, the whole “Rape Apologist,” thing is also completely flawed on the other side. I have not yet seen a good argument for why anyone can consider Mike or Jerry “Rape Apologists,” and yet this hyperbole often appears among the ranks of the opposition.

Finally, I think this letter does a great job of parsing through everyone’s exagerations and hurt feelings to really address the base issues, which most people seem to be ignoring whenever the subject of Dickwolves are discussed.

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Babaganoosh on February 10, 2011 at 6:43 pm.

****ranks**** of the opposition.
Oops.

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Lesley on February 11, 2011 at 9:21 am.

Heh, I fixed it for you.

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Colin on February 4, 2011 at 5:12 pm.

This is a very fair, well reasoned letter. I was unfamiliar with this whole controversy until yesterday when I happend upon the debacle timeline, and I have to say, some rational discussion is welcome. As much as the attackers (on both sides) are reprehensible, what really bothered me was the Shakesville blog entries and comments . I can’t recall the last time I was so frightened by such bald-faced anger. Reading through those posts and comments literally made my stomach hurt. As bad as Mike and Jerry have screwed the pooch, they didn’t make me want to sleep with the lights on.

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Not A Feminist on February 7, 2011 at 12:42 am.

Maybe not, but also, maybe if you had post-traumatic stress syndrome after a rape you might feel a bit different. For some people, rape jokes are a trigger. If you don’t care about people and their triggers, that’s your prerogative. Shakesville’s prerogative is to provide a space where if you DO have such triggers, you will not be subjected to them so flippantly as you would in the the rest of the internet. Shakesville is a safe space, and generally the rest of the internet is not. And of course, their argument follows that rape jokes minimize the full context of pain that rape causes, which is basically what rape culture is.

I guess that’s the problem with privilege though, people assume that others are hyper sensitive when they have no. frickin. clue. what they have gone through, and what they are going through everyday of their lives. People who have been raped hear it everywhere – ‘that girl is asking to be raped in that skirt’; ‘that test raped me’; ‘people only complain about rape because they’re too ugly to get raped themselves’; etc etc etc. It’s everywhere. It exists. The writers of this comic were clearly not aware of the damage rape culture does, probably through the privilege of not being affected by rape or post-traumatic stress disorder. They’re not bad people, I believe, they’re just privileged and haven’t really understood what feminists are whining about. A little life experience and a little reading will clear that up.

I mean, until a month ago they probably could have written a comic about killing other people’s wives and children. Now that one of them has lost the privilege of not having that joke directed at them, it’s suddenly not a joke for him.

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The Rotund on February 4, 2011 at 5:43 pm.

I find myself less forgiving given Mike’s recent tweet that he plans to wear his dickwolves t-shirt to PAX. I don’t know – that feels a lot more aggressively fuck-you than just not getting it.

And it makes me sad – I have enjoyed their creative efforts over the years, though I’ve never been a PAX attendee.

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Lesley on February 4, 2011 at 8:13 pm.

SFAIK, Mike’s only comment to that effect was on January 29th (it’s on the timeline, I believe), which was prior to his mea culpas of the past few days. I think it probably goes without saying that NOT wearing the shirt would certainly help mend fences, but I’ll say it anyway. :)

I’ve seen several folks on Twitter idly wondering, but not in @ replies to Mike directly, if his position on wearing the shirt has changed since his more recent posts — if he’s responded I haven’t seen it.

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Don on February 5, 2011 at 6:10 pm.

I have not seen any further mention from him either, which is a growing problem. There’s some clown on twitter going by “teamrape” (which should tell any marginally reasonable human being everything they need to know about this individual) who is not only encouraging people to wear their shirt but providing artwork to be used in making their own shirts for PAX, now that PA has pulled theirs.

That’s messed up on so many levels, but what’s insanity personified is that Gabe and/or Tycho (or their business manager Robert) could solve THAT problem with a simple DMCA takedown request. It’s a clear violation of their intellectual property rights and something they have the power to stop.

Of course the other half of that is that they really should put out a statement that people should leave their Dickwolf paraphernalia at home when they come to PAX. Which it seems to me they can do by asking people not necessarily to agree or understand, but to accept that some people are put out by them and they should live without them for three days in an interest of making a welcoming and peaceful space.

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Lesley on February 5, 2011 at 6:45 pm.

I agree. My awesome husband makes the same suggestion over on BitMob, in fact!

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JeninCanada on February 4, 2011 at 6:59 pm.

Fucking A. Well said and I hope they listen.

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Arashi-san on February 4, 2011 at 8:06 pm.

Okay, Lesley, I’ve checked your blog every day for years, because I love your writing and the points you make, though I am just a huge lurker and never leave comments (okay, maybe once or twice). I pretty much always agree with you, as a fat female feminist (though I know you generally don’t call yourself a feminist). I also adore your podcast!

And I am a geek – I am a fan of Penny Arcade, I read their comic every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (though I only read their blog posts probably 10% of the time), and being that I live in Seattle, I have gone to PAX Prime for the past six years.

And you know what? It didn’t even occur to me to be offended at their original “Six Slave” comic when it came out…I guess it just never crossed my mind that people would think that the rape part was the part you were supposed to laugh at. Even after I read their apology comic, I still wasn’t offended, nor after they came out with their dickwolf shirts. Dickwolf just struck me as a typical silly/clever Tycho turn of phrase. I thought that the whole joke was that the structure and mechanisms of video games place you in situations where you, as the hero, are compelled to do ridiculous things and act in ways that a true hero never would, which stand in opposition to your morals and the morals that a hero should have. As Tycho says in this post (http://www.penny-arcade.com/2011/2/2/matter-dickwolves/), that strip “is about how empty, amoral, and borderline vile electronic heroism actually is”. Reading Amanda Marcotte’s post on Pandagon (http://pandagon.net/index.php/site/comments/how_not_to_reply_to_an_accusation_you_think_is_unfair/), her reaction in the first two bullet points is pretty much how I reacted.

Now that I read through some of the responses of the Penny Arcade guys, I do think that most of them were not as sensitive as they should have been, but…I really, really don’t think they’re rape apologists, or that that comic was pro-rape, or that it even really involved something that I would call a “rape joke”. As Amanda said, “I did not think this was a ‘rape joke’ in the classic sense of the term, which is a joke where the punch line expresses the idea that raping is awesome. The joke of the comic was that the moral universes painted in video games are often horrific in a way that contrasts with the light-hearted nature of gaming. That strikes me as a perfectly appropriate thing to make fun of, tame even.” All of that said, though, I will definitely be mulling this over…

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ataggata on February 4, 2011 at 9:48 pm.

Thanks for being reasonable. At this point, I can’t help but feel it isn’t about Mike and Jerry not understanding the issue, but refusing to admit to a mistake. And having people on both sides yelling as loudly as possible doesn’t exactly encourage sincere apologies.

What I don’t understand is how some of the feminist blogs I’ve read seem to want to turn this in the wrong direction under the pretense that they’re educating people, or that since they’re morally right (how could you disagree?), they are entitled to be as disrespectful as others have been to them. It seems hypocritical and self-righteous to me, to say the least. And well, if you want to get your point across to sensible people, if you actually intend to educate people on a subject, then the way to do that isn’t by fighting fire with fire, or by pointing fingers, or by being rude. If you want the PA guys to be reasonable, then shouldn’t it follow to treat them with the same amount of reason?

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Lesley on February 4, 2011 at 10:17 pm.

Yes and no. Sometimes people just want to raaaaaage, and I think that’s okay so long as it is kept within reasonable boundaries. I dig the rage instinct, and I fully support feminist blogs that want to create space for raging, especially considering that many of the most outspoken critics deal with this subject constantly, without a break. So sometimes raging is damn necessary! But you are correct that raging is not educating.

And honestly, I still think Mike and Jerry are not thoroughly clear on what they’ve done wrong — Jerry practically says as much in his response. I think all the noise has made the salient points almost impossible to discern, at least for now. But I have faith in these guys, that they will eventually come to a fuller understanding of these issues.

If I’m wrong, well, I’d rather have faith in people and be wrong once in awhile, than give up hope in humanity altogether.

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Andy on February 4, 2011 at 10:43 pm.

Amen! It took forever for me as a PA reader to figure out what the fuck actually happened, and I have great faith that Jerry and Mike will get to the bottom of this too. I’m 99% sure that someone presented NLP to Mike, and he said it sounded like it could be helpful for shy people, and that it was all right, until he dug deeper and realized it was all about manipulating women into sleeping with you, and then he rejected it.

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Andy on February 4, 2011 at 10:44 pm.

That was not very clear, I meant just to point out a similar situation where they did their research and realized that they had been mistaken about something, and copped to it.

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Lesley on February 4, 2011 at 11:16 pm.

Yep, which is why I continue to be optimistic about this.

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littlem on February 5, 2011 at 2:00 am.

Sorry.

That’s the tone argument.

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ataggata on February 5, 2011 at 11:15 am.

So the solution is to be as relentless and abrasive as possible until people cave into your beliefs? Like I said, it’s not as if you could disagree with a feminist on the concept of rape culture without making yourself look like an ass. It just makes the whole argument futile, and doesn’t help anybody come to an UNDERSTANDING rather than a begrudging concession. I suppose all feminists are always right? After all, how could they be wrong?

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Andy on February 4, 2011 at 10:40 pm.

This is the best ‘open letter’ to PA I’ve read so far; I wish it were different in two respects:

1) I wish it were shorter
2) I wish you would extend the olive branch

People seem to spend an inordinate amount of time telling PA that they fucked up, how much they fucked up, that they really shouldn’t fuck up like that any more etc., and this post is no different. That said, every goddamn conflict resolution class/text/essay I’ve read starts with LISTENING, and very very few critics of PA on this issue have demonstrated a thorough understanding. From the letter above, I get the sense that you really get where they were coming from. If so, PLEASE LET THEM KNOW, and let all of the other PA fans know too. Replace one of the paragraphs that explains yet again how they are ignorant of all kinds of stuff with something along the lines of:

“We get it, it’s bullshit that someone going to penny-arcade.com would ask you to apologize for an offensive comic, even if it triggered them. They came into your sandbox, which they should know touches on a number of difficult topics such as rape. It was satire, and you didn’t promote rape culture with the original comic. Maybe it seems like nobody asking for apologies now stood up for you then, but we do.”

“We get it, Mike’s trigger warning was directed at people who expected you to add disclaimers to your comics, or to self-censor by avoiding difficult subject matter because someone somewhere might be offended, trigger, or otherwise be negatively impacted without your intent.”

“We get it, the dickwolves shirt was intended as an F-You to people who willfully misunderstand your art, and possibly also struck you as absurd, dark humor.”

“Unfortunately, just as the context of the original dickwolves joke was important in making it satire, the LACK of context for the trigger comment and T-Shirt meant that they came across to most people as, well, dick moves. You made fun of triggers, which makes people devalue the experience of being triggered, and then you released the dickwolves shirt into a social context where people were still feeling bruised about the trigger comment, so it looked to them like you were just pouring it on, not like you were defending your art. You know what? They were right to be offended at that point, and they deserve an apology.”

Maybe you don’t actually agree with my little outline, but if you do, even in part, please say it. It’s SOOOO much easier to apologize to a sympathetic audience, and then we can all start recovering from this mess.

Oh, and I don’t want to seem ungrateful or overly critical here. I agree with your open letter, I just think it could be better. How could I not? I’m an anonymous poster on the internet.

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Lesley on February 4, 2011 at 11:15 pm.

Hi Andy! Thanks! And hey, I approved your comment in lieu of replacing paragraphs. ;) I feel your pain about the length, I do — I am a big wall o’ text in a TL;DR world, my friend. But hey, part of what I love about blogging in my own space is that I get to edit as much or as little as I want.

My letter above is mostly intended to try to give our boys Mike and Jerry a little insight into the brains of the activists who have been madly flailing at them for months now — I think they are already familiar with most of the stuff you mention. There shouldn’t be anything shameful about simply being ignorant on these issues, and I hope I don’t come across as shaming above. I just want Mike and Jerry to understand why people like me can both generally appreciate their work AND be peeved (or enraged, or saddened) by their recent behavior.

Thank you for the thoughtful comment!

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mythago on February 7, 2011 at 1:27 am.

Why is it always the people on the receiving end of fuckuppery who are expected to ‘be the bigger person’, to extend the olive branch, to try to fix things?

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The Rotund on February 8, 2011 at 2:42 pm.

“expected to ‘be the bigger person’”

It’s because we’re fat.

*snerk*

I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it.

Honestly, I think it’s because, in a culture based on privilege and power negotiation, making education the responsibility of the oppressed party is a means of perpetuating the oppression. Because, you know, then you can dismiss the oppressed as being too angry, of not speaking the right language, of whatever the hell you want in the interest of not listening to them.

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Jessica on March 9, 2011 at 2:43 pm.

Because it’s impossible, on a visceral level, to be friends with people who are treating you like an enemy, even if you want to/try to. It’s not a ‘means of perpetuating the oppression.’ Sorry, but that strikes me as b.s. It’s just a truth of nature that if someone attacks you for doing something that you were genuinely unaware was causing offense, you’re not prepared to be sympathetic to them.

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Paula on February 4, 2011 at 11:41 pm.

Seriously, the male privilege in the comments is pathetic. I realize this is your blog, Lesley, so you deal with it as you see fit, but what I’m hearing in the comments is a lot of “Oh, noes, why are the wimmins so ANGRY?” and “You aren’t listening.” How does it feel, dudebros, to be on the receiving end?

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Lesley on February 5, 2011 at 12:08 am.

In fairness, by posting on this subject I’m basically opening the doors here and saying, “COME ON IN, DUDES, and let us talk about marginalization, oppression, and privilege!” This is a 101 class, because that seems to be necessary at the moment.

I often think back to when I was first learning about racism and how I constantly made an ass out of myself — I didn’t know better, and I was deeply resistant to the idea that my being white gave me any kind of cultural and social oomph that people of color didn’t have, ESPECIALLY as a geeky fat girl. I remember what it was like to struggle with these ideas, and I suppose that contributes to my deep well of patience here. People simply don’t learn this stuff on their own, you know? They need help, and I try to offer it.

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Andy on February 5, 2011 at 12:43 am.

And it is much appreciated. Your comment above about being a peeved fan really resonated with me. It’s OK to love PA and still be peeved, or even really mad at them.

I also like VidHero’s call to attend PAX for thie same reason (http://vidhero.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/dickwolves-rape-culture-penny-arcade-fans-and-fanatics/#comment-158). Mike and Jerry have long said that PAX is bigger than PA. I think this is the time to show that that’s the case by attending and continuing the PAX tradition of being the best in gamer/geek culture. I understand why some people make a point of not attending, and I think that’s a valid stance, but if everyone boycotts, we lose far more than we gain.

Besides, if no one shows up, who can they apologize to? :P

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Kristin on February 8, 2011 at 5:59 pm.

You are a much more patient person than I; and your willingness to 101 the masses is commendable.

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DudeBro on February 10, 2011 at 6:58 pm.

Heh, the recieving end of what, exactly?

How many guys do you think waste their time on the feminist blogosphere? Of those guys who do, how many do you think classify as “dudebros?”

“If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Or,

“If a feminist complains on a feminist blog, are any dudebros affected at all?”

Your answer is no, of course.

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littlem on February 5, 2011 at 2:19 am.

Alex shared what, in my view, transformed the original perpetrators’ sustained behavior from reprehensible to irredeemable:

“Mike posted on Penny-Arcade that his wife and child had been threatened, which is reprehensible. No excuses can be made for it. But he uses language like “them,” which is a time-honored way of declaring “the other side that happens to be wrong,” and he equates the people upset about the rape joke with the people verbally taunting them, which is, in my opinion, ugly and dishonest.”

http://www.ign.com/blogs/arthur-ign/2011/02/03/on-dickwolves-ethics-and-why-im-not-attending-pax-east

This also goes back to what’s mentioned above here WRT the 4chan trolls.

Those are the same trolls harassing Melissa, and Courtney Stanton, and other bloggers who are survivors.

Mike – I now believe deliberately – not only fails to make the distinction, but elides the two groups (the trolls and the bloggers).

So maybe you’re seeing something I’m not, Lesley.

I don’t hold out a lot of hope for that, though.

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Lesley on February 5, 2011 at 9:47 pm.

That’s an excellent post, thanks for linking it. There’s been so much amazing discussion to come out of this, it really does make me hopeful.

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Jenny on February 5, 2011 at 10:31 am.

I don’t know, I am really reluctant to give this guy any benefit of the doubt at this point. It seems to me that he only made the apology once people started making comments eluding to violence against his family. That is unacceptable. But this *entire* time Mike and his supporters have been saying that you can make jokes about everything/nothing is off-limits/it’s just a joke/can’t you take a joke, and AS SOON AS someone makes a joke with HIM and HIS FAMILY as the butt of the joke? Then it becomes, dude that’s not cool. And that does not speak well of his character at all. Either we can make jokes about raping dickwolves, *and* raping his wife and children, or we can’t make jokes about either. Mike seems to think that you can make jokes about dickwolves, and “team rape” but draws the line when the rape jokes finally affect the women he loves. That’s fucking selfish and sleezy.

Also, I read his apology as a non-apology of the “I’m sorry you’re offended” type, with a healthy dose of “WAAAAAH leave me alone!!” Again, doesn’t speak well to his character.

It’s going to take much, MUCH more than another shitty non-apology at PAX in order to make this situation right.

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tricia on February 6, 2011 at 10:28 am.

So much “yes” to your 1st paragraph.

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DudeBro on February 10, 2011 at 7:10 pm.

“But this *entire* time Mike and his supporters have been saying that you can make jokes about everything/nothing is off-limits/it’s just a joke/can’t you take a joke, and AS SOON AS someone makes a joke with HIM and HIS FAMILY as the butt of the joke?”

1). The twitter comment was hardly a joke.
http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lg25s4ld1T1qfjiio.png

2). You mistake Mike’s actions and those of his “supporters.” Maybe you are unfamiliar with how the internet works, but no one can control the anonymous hordes of assholes who creep around on 4Chan and SomethingAwful. To assume that the disgusting things that have been said against Shakesville and others are endorsed by Mike is incorrect.

It would also be incorrect to assume that those are more than vacuous comments engineered specifically to hurt and maim. People like Shakesville like to pretend there is actually a misogynist behind each of those comments because it makes her look more correct and less like a conspiracy nut. What she doesn’t realize is that she’s getting the same treatment that 4chan gives Gene Simmons and Scientology.

“Either we can make jokes about raping dickwolves, *and* raping his wife and children, or we can’t make jokes about either.”

Right. There isn’t a degree of difference between the dickwolf joke, which features as background information regarding a mythological animal that rapes mythological beings as part of a “hell unending,” and making a joke about specific real people in the real world? Nevermind that the “joke” about raping Mike’s family was not a “joke” but rather a direct threat?

Not that I disagree, though I expect your sentiment was actually sarcastic. I believe that a person is entitled to put whatever the fuck they want on the internet. And everyone is entitled to ignore it.

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Andy on February 5, 2011 at 1:45 pm.

Now that I’ve gotten a better feel for both sides of this argument, I’m starting to feel for Mike (and Jerry) and their supporters in a different way:

Mike and Jerry were just acting in plain-old run of the mill ignorance. They were also misinformed. Think of it from their perspective, as in, how they saw events unfold:

1) They get complaints along the lines of “Your comic triggered me, so it promotes ‘rape culture’ and should not have been made. I will not return to PA until you take it down.”

M&J think, A: the comic does not promote rape culture (and here we all seem to agree, at this point), and B: what long-term fan comes to PA without knowing that there will be satire involving all kinds of extreme content? Ergo, this fan is full of shit, and the ‘triggers’ and ‘rape culture’ they mention must also be shit. (this is a logical fallacy, but one we ALL commit from time to time)

2) PA’s reaction is logically correct, though still ignorant of the meaning of ‘rape culture’. They say, “The comic does not support rapists, and if you’re dumb enough to come to a site that is known for using extremes subjects like rape in satire and expect not to be offended, then that’s on you.”

3) They get more flack, and at this point, maybe Mike and/or the PA fans decide to google Rape Culture. What are the two top links? Wikipedia and Shakesville.

The wiki article is very short, and the definition sounds very much like the “Video Games Make People Violent” fallacy.

Shakesville is a rant-fest. The definition of rape culture there is without boundary, and the vitriol level is mighty high. It puts topics like triggers and ‘rape culture’ in the hands of people who are the intellectual equivalents of Birthers. It’s BAAAAD.

I had the benefit of reading the posts of cooler-headed feminists before I landed on Shakesville, but let me tell you: that place is a cesspool, and if I’d landed there first I’d have written off the whole ‘rape culture’ and trigger issue as well, which would have been VERY BAD for me, and anyone else I discussed these issues with.

The third link defines rape culture in the context of Ben Roethlisberger raping a hotel hostess. While accurate, it’s hard to connect that to a joke that doesn’t promote rape culture anyway.

The fourth link finally gives a solid definition: http://www.marshall.edu/wcenter/?page_id=295

4) At that point, they start mocking triggers, and making shirts, and acting on their ignorance, and that’s all on them. We get why they made those mistakes, and they are still mistakes, and we’re asking for an apology.

I’m not excusing what they did, it was still wrong, but the context makes me much more sympathetic: they were attacked by a group of extremists, and then when attempting to mock the extremists they ended up being really offensive to another, larger group of people, who fire back, and now Mike must be thinking “how can these people be in the same camp as Shakesville? Are they all nuts?!

Mike and Jerry weren’t being plain old ‘ignorant’, they were ignorant AND misinformed. Their strawman came pre-packaged

I think that Jerry’s latest post on the subject backs up this assessment. He says that he thought that dialogue between himself and the Shakesville crowd was impossible. I agree with him: I thought the same thing when I read the site, so while I’ve commented on a number of other blogs, I didn’t even try to comment there. It seems like a complete waste of bytes.

I’m not sure how things could have gone differently, but I do think that in the absence of Shakesville, this mess would never have happened, and in an ideal world we’d all call them out for their role in this debacle too.

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Willow on February 5, 2011 at 3:12 pm.

I’m not trying to detract from the earnestness of your comment, but the phrase “a complete waste of bytes” made me laugh out loud. (I’m an IT major.) I own a ThinkGeek tee shirt that says “There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don’t.” :D

Erm, anyway. I’m quite an awkward geek, so I’ll just go back to watching “The Big Bang Theory.” (I identify with Sheldon, in case you were wondering.)

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Lesley on February 5, 2011 at 5:07 pm.

Shakesville has taken a beating of its own throughout this, and I’d like to point out that the folks behind that site are no more inhuman monsters than Mike and Jerry are. Shakesville is an occasionally-radical space with very specific, very firm boundaries and politics, and it serves a very important purpose for many people in that way. When Mike went in there, treating it like a public online space like any other, without a full grasp of what Shakesville does and why they do it that way…. well, catastrophe was unavoidable. It is not a space for newcomers, or for people who need a lot of patience. And really, it doesn’t have to be.

And I think one of the more hopeful points to be extruded from Jerry’s post in particular is his growing understanding that feminism, even radical feminism, is not a monolith. Guys who are new to these concepts will find themselves disagreeing with one feminist idea or one feminist-identifying person and will often assume that they must then disagree with all of it. I have been an activist in feminist circles for well over a decade and I disagree with other feminist activists all the time. It’s okay, so long as we’re respectful of each other.

Social justice politics are not a lockstep movement, and the suggestion that they are largely comes from a dominant culture that is threatened by them. So it is important to note that there will be feminist-identifying people falling on all sides of this issue, and none of them are not practicing “real” feminism, because “real” feminism is not a strictly defined thing that exists, except for the central idea that women (of all genders, I am bound to note) are people who should be regarded on an equal platform with men. Beyond that? Lots of room for interpretation.

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Andy on February 5, 2011 at 10:11 pm.

That’s a good point about shakesville: they are entirely within their rights to have as rough-and-tumble a site as they like, and it is now clear that people who jump in blind are asking for trouble. PA is very similar in that fashion. Mike (well, and I too…) was completely unprepared to grok what he saw at Shakesville as anything other than a misandrist stomping ground, and MANY more people than those at shakesville seem incapable of understanding the dickwolves shirt as anything other than an attack on rape victims.

Mike should apologize for mocking trigger warnings, they both should realize that their inside joke shirt didn’t play well with the public (well, they eventually did), but it kills me that for those offenses they’ve gotten this shitstorm, with all of the fall-out for Child’s Play and PAX.

These are REALLY great guys who 1) made an inappropriate dig at trigger warnings, and then 2) sold dickwolves shirts as an F-You to people they saw as ignorant of the concept of satire, and were subsequently (and I think legitimately) seen as just being pro-rape culture shirts.

And at this point, if they did those things, I’d hold them in just as high esteem as before. That said, their ability to understand the complexities of feminism is not why I read the comic, or why I attend PAX, or why I donate to Child’s Play:

http://www.penny-arcade.com/2010/2/26/

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Don on February 5, 2011 at 6:23 pm.

“but I do think that in the absence of Shakesville, this mess would never have happened”

I think you’re right, but not for the reasons you think. Mike is the one who decided to go over to Shakesville and stir shit in the comments. Just as he’s free to make PA the space he wants it to be, Shakesville has a right to self-determination. It’s a site with links all over it to the sort of feminist thought they’re interested there and with “101″ pages.

And Mike ignored their rules and got into a brawl. Which I get, people get hot under the collar. Then with some time past he takes swipes at the concepts of trigger warnings over on PA. And then the shirts and the drawings etc etc etc.

Sure, Shakesville and its participants might have pushed over the first domino with their attention and commentary. But Mike and Jerry had multiple opportunities to stop kicking the can down the road. I don’t know that they even ever needed to do more than the lamest of non-apologies (“we’re sorry if you’re offended”) if they’d just dropped it.

It’s a hard lesson to get; I can trace my own learning of it to a friend of mine who didn’t like a pet name of sorts I was using. The second time she called me out on it I said I just didn’t get why it bugged her given X, Y and Z. She responded “isn’t it enough that it does?”

Mike and Jerry didn’t have to agree or even understand. They just had to accept that some folks were put out or flat-out hurt and stop picking at it. They didn’t, and nobody at Shakesville forced them to keep it up.

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Andy on February 5, 2011 at 10:15 pm.

SOOOO true. Even the die-hard PA fans I know wish that Mike had just kept his mouth shut.

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martini on February 5, 2011 at 3:43 pm.

Another feminist PA fan here, loved your post so much. I’ve been surprised throughout this whole thing about how tone-deaf the stuff coming from PA has been. Makes me feel like the arbiters of geek culture (not just M&J) have decided that it’s not *for me*, even though I’m a geek too, and that feeling sucks.

BUT, it took time for me to understand stuff like rape culture and how we’re all soaking in it. And your post reminded me that it’s worth it to give people a chance to learn, and to make things right. Hoping that a more inclusive culture is what comes out of all this!

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john on February 5, 2011 at 7:13 pm.

Hi Lesley,

A beautifully and clearly written post.

I agree “Talking about these issues is hard. It’s hard for me and it’s hard for you”, but you know, now I’m not so young and silly and in my 20s and thinking with my dick (to exaggerate for effect) I don’t mind “hard” and think that these kinds of issues need to be raised and debated and the pain should be shared. Thank you for holding your head up and just doing it, you’re far braver than I am. God knows it is easy to retreat into one’s privilege and avoid any debate or questioning of one’s mindset.

I lived in east Asia for many years and could see many of the ‘unenlightened’ attitudes there but it was a much worse shock coming back to the West and seeing clearly the heinous attitudes to women held by many here (and this is in a West that prides itself of its “enlightenment and progress”) and the sexism that is still clearly embedded in our culture. I see it all around now, and can’t deny it, and it frankly makes my bloody world (swearing cos it makes me angry) less pleasant too. I now have an inkling of what women and minorities put up with everyday. It isn’t nice, and as you pointed out above it makes the world a less pleasant place for all.

I also appreciated your description of Shakesville too. I’ve read some Shakesville posts before, and as a white male, they’re not for the faint-hearted :-), so knowing more of the context of the site beforehand definitely assists in one’s understanding.
thanks
regards,
John

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Jenny on February 6, 2011 at 5:55 pm.

When your [male] experience has been privileged for your whole life, it’s like a pair of cultural blinders — you can’t even conceive that the world and the people in it extend beyond the narrow field that you can see.

This speaks to Michael Kimmel’s “Men and Women’s Studies: Premises, Perils, and Promise”:

“[...] women’s studies has made men visible. [...] Women’s studies has demonstrated that gender is one of the axes around which social life is organized, one of the most crucial building blocks of our identities. [...] By making women visible, women’s studies decentered men as the unexamined, disembodied authorial voice of the academic canon and showed that men, as well as women, are utterly embodied, their identities are as socially constructed as those of women. [...] American men have come to think of ourselves as genderless, in part because gender privilege affords us the luxury of ignoring the centrality of gender. [...] Gender is about power. Just because both masculinity and femininity are socially constructed does not mean that they are equivalent, that there are no dynamics of power and privilege in operation.”

Etc.

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Andy on February 6, 2011 at 9:13 pm.

That is a pretty awesome set of quotes. I meant to say earlier that I really like how Lesley put the [male] in square brackets, to make it clear that this is true of any life-long experience.

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Lesley on February 7, 2011 at 9:12 am.

Yes! Privilege works in this way for anyone with a “default” experience/identity. Thanks for the quotes, I totally have a new book to read now!

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Andy on February 6, 2011 at 10:15 pm.

Lesley (and any of her apparently awesome readers),

I have two questions I have about rape culture that don’t seem to be clearly answered by, well, anything I’ve found on the internet so far. I am hoping that you can help me to find answers.

1) What are the boundaries of rape culture?

What I mean is, after reading a few definitions, I came up with the idea that rape culture is a subset of any larger culture, and defines how that culture views rape, the act, the assailants, the victims, justice, the path to justice, etc. By that definition, I could also isolate “marriage culture” as the ways that different societies or supercultures deal with marriage, marriage roles, divorce etc.

By this definition, though, there are multiple ‘rape cultures’, and some could be net positive, i.e. a society in which rape and the perpetrators are universally condemned, and victims are respected and cared for.

Examples given on various blogs, though, seem to take a different tack. I get the sense that the definition is more restricted to anything that perpetuates the idea that rape is normal, and does not include the healthy ways in which a society or culture at large deals with rape.

If that’s the case, then it is from there that my second question arises:

2) Do all incidents of rape culture, by virtue of being part of a greater whole, lead to increased incidents of rape.

and I guess, closely tied to 2, but I don’t want to lump too much together, there’s a third question:

3) Do all incidents of rape culture, by virtue of being part of a greater whole, lead to increased fear and pain among rape victims and people who see themselves as potential rape victims.

In the interest of full disclosure, the thing that spawned this line of questions in my own head, is the fact that I FEEL like I’m hearing two incompatible arguments, particularly at shakesville, but also elsewhere:

1) Accusing PA of promoting rape culture isn’t the same as saying that they encouraged rapists.

2) Promoting the rape culture leads to increased incidence of rape.

It’s possible that this has framed my questions in a way that is unhelpful, and if so, I’m open to re-framing. Well, at least I think I am.

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Shinobi on February 7, 2011 at 1:25 am.

“I FEEL like I’m hearing two incompatible arguments, particularly at shakesville, but also elsewhere:

1) Accusing PA of promoting rape culture isn’t the same as saying that they encouraged rapists.

2) Promoting the rape culture leads to increased incidence of rape.”

I would change #2 to say “promoting rape culture creates a climate that facilitates rapists.” It makes life easier for people who would rape, it makes life harder for the victims. I would argue that facilitating, isn’t the same as encouraging.

However, I can see why you are confused, these two points do seem to be in conflict, even after my adjustment.

I think it is important that one consider the perspective of the feminists trying to make this argument. If I or any other feminist said that by making rape jokes via webcomic, The PA guys were encouraging more men to rape women, most of people would find that claim ridiculous. There would be endless jokes. No one would want to discuss rape culture, they’d just be talking about the crazy feminists who thought jokes caused rape. I can actually hear the jokes in my head now, coming from people I consider friends.

Feminists have a lot of experience at making points so that people who aren’t really interested will listen. Sometimes this means moderating claims.

Most importantly ONE website is like a drop in the rape culture ocean. It is impossible to tell whether their actions would result in additional people being willing to rape. Until we’ve winnowed it down to a rape culture pond, it will be impossible to claim that the actions of any individual are really encouraging rape.

In the end, the people who cause rape, are rapists. The best thing the rest of us can do, is make life harder for them.

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Andy on February 7, 2011 at 9:19 am.

@Shinobi

Thanks for your response. I see your point about the difference between facilitating and encouraging rapists; there is a significant distinction there. At the same time, both still lead to more incidents of rape, and because of that, the two arguments are still in conflict.

I also see why feminists would be careful NOT to say “PA’s comic lead to more rapists”, and why they would say “PA’s comic promotes rape culture.” The idea that how a debate is framed is critical is very sound.

However, BECAUSE feminists (myself included) also trace a logical line from promoting rape culture to higher incidence of rape, RC => IR, I think it’s also valid for respondents to such criticism to re-frame the argument in terms of that conclusion. So, Shakesville makes the allegation:

Comic => ++ Rape Culture

PA takes this given:

++ Rape Culter => Incidence of Rape

and re-frames the argument as

Comic => ++ Incidence of Rape

And then they reject that argument. Re-framing the argument without saying that’s what you’re doing is confusing, but the logic still seems sound, if less concise.

Incidentally, while talking with some friends about this issue, I found a good introduction to the concept of rape culture. In Malcom Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” he talks about the NY subway system, and how crime was rampant on it. The transit authority finally managed to reduce crime by… cleaning up the graffiti. In essence, the fact that the stations and trains had been visibly vandalized gave the subway system an aura of crime, that made people feel like “this is a place where people commit crimes and get away with it.” The atmosphere of the stations facilitated (and in some ways encouraged) crime. Once they changed that atmosphere, crime went down.

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AnthroK8 on February 7, 2011 at 12:09 pm.

“In the end, the people who cause rape, are rapists. The best thing the rest of us can do, is make life harder for them.”

Shinobi, this is the best fortune cookie sized reply to “why what you say matters” I have ever read. And you can apply it to so many things. Thank you for putting it so well!

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Jeff on February 7, 2011 at 8:59 am.

I just find it so defeating that everyone accepts without question that what P-A did is wrong.

P-A invoked the concept of rape, and, like magic, it spurred on the rape culture. Then when the good folk came out to accuse them of rapecraft, ready to burn Mike and Jerry at the stake if they didn’t renounce their ways, they mocked the concept of propagating rape culture. Surely, only a rape protector would do that.

If I ever say the words: “She was asking for it.” And because of that someone calls me a “rape apologist.” I would feel shame.

If I make a joke about rape that is unexpected, but in no way approving, and someone calls me a “rape apologist.” I’m afraid that I’m going to mock them, for that is mock-worthy.

You can’t just go around accusing every person who jokes in and around rape of rape apology. Shit, Wanda Sykes has a ten-minute standup routine about “detachable pussies” that is focused on rape. It deteriorates the strength of the accusation — in a “boy who cried wolf” sorta way — if people are throwing that term around at anyone who makes them uncomfortable.

I’m simply in the camp that feels P-A still hasn’t done anything wrong, and that it’s actually more disgusting to accuse someone who is completely innocent of being pro-rape.

This isn’t how you convince people to hear reason. You don’t accuse them when they’ve done nothing wrong, and then wear them down until they sign a confession that they don’t really believe in.

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Lesley on February 7, 2011 at 9:17 am.

That Wanda Sykes bit is hilaaaaaarious, for the record.

And honestly? Most folks I’ve talked to about this aren’t upset about the comic — they’re upset about how Mike & Jerry reacted to the criticism, which initially was pretty minor. It’s astonishing how many people I’ve talked to who found the original comic totally non-offensive, or even funny, but who are upset at the guys NOW, simply because they’ve behaved like insensitive jerks in the aftermath. I am actually one of them — I smirked at the original comic because as a former MMO players, it rang so true. I only became upset and angry when Mike (and Jerry, by his silence) seemed to go out of his way to provoke the people who originally protested. It was just a jerk move, for no good reason.

It would have made far more sense to just say, “eh, we do what we do, and not everyone is going to like it,” and to leave it alone. I still don’t understand why this particular round of (fairly common) PA criticism was worth mocking so furiously.

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Andy on February 7, 2011 at 9:23 am.

@Jeff

What Lesley said. I think it’s actually pretty clear from Lesley’s post above, and the comment of mine that she approved, that Lesley and others agree that the original PA comic is totally OK.

Then again, I posted my comment because I felt like this was a safe place to say that, so maybe I understand why you took the time to make your post. It’s nice to get that out.

(Thanks Lesley!)

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ataggata on February 7, 2011 at 9:03 pm.

I think that at this point the only people still mad at the comic are those who were mad about it in the first place. You aren’t going to change their minds. But PA’s reaction, no matter how understandable given their position, is still unacceptable to many, and they can either own up to it and win some respect back, or just ignore it and possibly make things worse. Either way, they’ve lost the faith of some PA fans because of their actions, and because of their inaction in preventing the troll problem from escalating to the point that it did.

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Virgile on February 7, 2011 at 1:23 pm.

Not in my habit to comment blogpost but yours is truly excelent and reflect pretty much my own opinion (I admit the second comic made me laugh but, on the contrary to the first one, I totaly see why someone would feel offended by it and I respect that).

This whole contreversy left me conflicted as both a gamer and as someone who was raised by feminist parents and has read some french feminists work from the 60′ and 70′: on one hand, the shirt and the whole twitter debacle were pretty assholish from the guys at penny arcade (but at the same time more in a “we are nerds and don’t understand why you call us horrible names” fashion than woman-hating or what not) but on the other hand, I felt, entering Shakesville, that I stepped in a strange bizarro world where stereotypes about angry, humorless feminists became reality. To be clear, this is not excusing the horrible stuff some of the 4chan and PA-crowd did: no one deserve this sort of treatment and G&T should have put a stop to it right away, or atleast try to. Of course, I also totaly agree when you say that the people at Shakesville are not monster, it would be pretty hypocritical of me to make this argument in favor of the PA guys and exclude the other side.

That being said, the sad true about people is that sometimes, they are wrong (and maybe I’m about to be to, who knows?). I get that Shakesville is intended to be a safe space and not for everyone, but if this is the case, why pick up a fight openly on the great wide internet? Perhaps this is some sort of language barrier but for me the first thing about being a safe space is that it’s secluded from the outer world. And it’s fine and a good thing that such space exist, even online, but if I go and yell at someone then retreat to a public bench declaring that this is a safe place and he can’t respond because of it, it’s not going to hold much weight in the discussion. Right now I picture the people at Shakesville like the french in Holy Grail, but without the great wall between them and the attackers.

To be able to critic art is important, both for free speech and for art itself, but so is an artist’s right to answer those critics if he/she feels they are unwarranted or wrong. In this case, the rebuttal happened to be in very poor taste, afterall everyone make mistake. But I got the vibe reading the comment from Shakesville (the blogpost are ok, even if I disagree with most of it) that even the act of objecting was an aggression in itself. This left a pretty bad taste in my mouth and this is why I’m glad there’s actually people in the feminist blog community that have a more nuanced point of view and are open to debate.

To summarize this wall of text in horrible english (for which I’m sorry): I feel that, as you more eloquantly said, the PA guys faulted by ignorance and not by malice and that Shakesville was wrong to pick up a fight publicly if they wanted to keep their space safe, and that they are not shining a positive light on the feminist community right now. You, amongst others, have on the contrary presented arguments and viewpoints which challenged me and reassured me on the state of the woman right’s movement. For that I am thankfull and I’d shake your hand if we were not an ocean apart.

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Amy on February 8, 2011 at 12:26 am.

As far as I know, there was no “fight” picked on the great wide internet–a post went up on Shakesville calling out PA, Mike went over there to post some really inflammatory and baiting comments, got annoyed with how he was received, and made the T-shirt. You tell me who picked a fight.

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Zanna77 on February 8, 2011 at 10:16 am.

I don’t think critiquing a piece of pop-culture, e.g Penny Arcade, is “picking a fight” in fact Melissa’s original post on the PA comic was something like 120 words. It sooo wasn’t the big story of the day. As far as being “humorless feminists” — you know, I don’t care about that. I happen to think Melissa is hilarious. But Shakesville is a place where people can go and express exactly how angry we are, how tired we are of being marginalized, how damn fed up we are with having our entire experience dismissed out of hand. Many of us are dog-tired from putting on the god-damn happy face in our day to day lives and Shakes exists! A place where we can say, whenever we need to, exactly how much it sucks.

That is the most positive light I can see, a feminist safe space where YOU CAN BE MAD and not have someone tell you to “cheer up” or “don’t take it so seriously!”

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Kristin on February 8, 2011 at 6:04 pm.

Correction – it wasn’t even Melissa McEwan writing the post. It was a guestpost by another Shakesville regular. So. I sort of feel doubly bad at the amount of shit heaped upon her and her space in recent days.

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DudeBro on February 10, 2011 at 7:28 pm.

I have a question:

Why do the topics of rape and rape culture keep creeping into discussions when everyone has agreed that 90% of the problem was the immature handling of things by the PA people. In reality, Dickwolfgate has nothing to do with rape, but everything to do with one demographic being misunderstood and mistreated by another.

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tintoytarantula on February 12, 2011 at 7:47 pm.

Because rape and rape culture are the reasons why PA’s immature handling of the situation matters so much. It’s not that the original joke was objectively horrific. It’s that dismissing the concerns of those who’ve experienced rape and those who live with the fear of rape is a *huge* part of rape culture. The PA guys aren’t being jerks in a vacuum – you can’t separate their behaviour from its context. Those affected by rape have their voices disrespected and ignored at every turn (because even when we as a society manage to concur that rape is terrible, we quibble like hell over what *counts* as rape, and what she was wearing, and did she kiss him, and did she scream for help, and blah fucking blah).

The PA guys had an opportunity to act decently, and instead they basically went with the lousy, stinking status quo. This wasn’t a one-off – we’re talking about a demographic that is *constantly* misunderstood and mistreated. And that’s why it’s particularly important to behave with maturity and compassion when you’re dealing with a topic like rape.

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tintoytarantula on February 12, 2011 at 7:48 pm.

(Uh, that should have been a reply to dudebro. Fail.)

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Stan Gellner on February 12, 2011 at 10:11 pm.

The simple thing of it is, if the PA guys were to always consider who they might offend with a strip, they wouldn’t be able to do what they do. They need to have full creative freedom and not have to worry about possibly triggering someone’s PTSD or causing some kind of shitstorm.

You could argue that that reasoning at-best only covers the very first comic, and not their behaviour from then on. I disagree. As a creator specializing in edgy and controversial content, when someone takes offense to something you create, you basically have two options: 1) ignore it, or 2) up the ante.

Apologizing simply isn’t, and shouldn’t be, in the cards. If you do, you only set yourself up for attacks by other groups you no doubt will offend in the future.

I know it’s a cop-out to say “if you don’t like it, don’t read it” but the simple truth of the matter is that if you suffer from any kind of PTSD (whether brought on by surviving a rape, witnessing the murder of a loved one, being involved in an assault, or whatever) and find that certain content can be triggering, you probably shouldn’t consume envelope-pushing content like Penny Arcade.

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Lesley on February 13, 2011 at 12:21 am.

Hi Stan! I think you’ve totally misunderstood the point of my post: I am not asking Mike and Jerry to apologize for the strip. I don’t give a fuck about the strip. I am asking them to apologize for behaving like assholes in the face of criticism, months AFTER the strip. These are two smart guys, who have MANY times in the past responded to similar criticism in thoughtful and dignified ways, even when they did not agree with their critics. This criticism was no worse than these other instances. I expect better from them.

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Stan Gellner on February 13, 2011 at 8:14 am.

Hi Lesley, thanks for replying.

I believe I understood your post. I just disagree that they should apologize for any of their behaviour during this entire ordeal. My second and third paragraphs above sums up my feelings on the matter, and they apply to everything that’s transpired from August 11th, 2010 until the present day.

With that I’m not saying they couldn’t have handled the whole thing better. They absolutely could have. From my perspective it seems their biggest fault was being ignorant of just how serious an offense they had committed in the eyes of some of their readership.

Had they realized that, I don’t think they would’ve progressed further than that original strip, and I think they would’ve picked option #1 above (ignoring it) as opposed to option #2 (upping the ante.)

So, yeah, they’re guilty of being ignorant and they’re guilty of continuing to upping the ante when they should’ve fallen back to option #1 once they realized what was happening. But apologize? Not a chance.

If they were to acknowledge their mistakes and apologize to those who are attacking them, I really think they have no choice but to dial the tone of their entire comic strip back a bit.

As it stands, I already fear this whole affair may have had a negative impact on their creative output, and that future strips from them may be coloured by them wanting to avoid causing this kind of ruckus again.

And I’m sure that can be seen as a victory of sorts for one side of this fight, but I for one think that’s very unfortunate.

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tintoytarantula on February 13, 2011 at 6:49 pm.

You really don’t think they could say something like “We stand by the original joke, but we realise we could’ve handled this much better despite our disagreement with the criticisms aimed at us. For that we apologise. We also don’t condone the cruel and threatening behaviour of some of our fans”? That wouldn’t involve conceding the point at all, but I think it would go a *long* way towards rectifying the situation.

And I don’t honestly see that their creative output is the holiest of holies and should never be affected by the world at large. Creativity doesn’t come purely from within, unsullied by outside influences, and it doesn’t exist just for the creator – it also exists for the audience, who have no obligation to either like it or keep quiet. It’s not a disaster if a creator takes feedback on board and changes as a result. Creativity evolves, and so it should. Change isn’t inherently negative. Even limitations aren’t always negative. Every behaviour has limitations – there’s simply no such thing as “full creative freedom”, because humans set rules for themselves all the time, without necessarily even being aware of it.

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Robin on February 19, 2011 at 9:00 pm.

Lesley, I think you may be missing part of the point in this whole debacle. Seldom is the possibility for civil discourse obliterated as quickly as when one side employs pathos-laden, sanctimonious arguments that claim the moral high ground. Indeed, why respond with civility to someone who is apt to not only dismiss your reasoning, but also deride your character and worldview? I recall a few particularly vituperative postings from Shakesville and its ilk, becoming harsher in tone when the authors of the comic refused to kowtow and recant their work.

Indeed, you do not really strike a very conciliatory tone for an open letter that purports to extend an olive branch; you dismiss the authors of PA as ignorant and “dudes,” lacking some special understanding on the nature of human empathy that you imply you must explain to them. They are wearing blinders, and you claim that you might deign to show them the way. In my opinion this is no way to approach someone who you would seriously like to reconcile with, and gloating, halfhearted demands for apologies are almost invariably met with scorn.

By your own analysis, people are defined by the circumstances of their upbringing and life; such things shape much if not all of our outlook on society – in particular, which issues we prioritize. You are no doubt aware that radical feminism, which typically identifies the systematic oppression of women as one of the most crucial issues facing human society, is only one of many schools of thought in terms of the power-structure in human society. As a product of my upbringing, I personally favor theory with a Marxist tone that focuses on the interactions between different social classes. What I ask you to remember is that these other worldviews do exist, and feminist theory and the related issues are not crucially important to everyone, nor ought your fixation upon said issues to make them so.

While I think any decent human being can identify rape as a horrific crime, there are a number of other crimes and atrocities that this species is known to commit. Murder, torture of almost every form imaginable, enslavement, systematic genocide (remember genocide includes not only murder, but also extirpation of a culture or nation in various ways) What is troubling is that feminists sometimes give rape a special position among these crimes.

Indeed, while I see many complaints about rape culture, I see none in your community about the culture of violence, the culture of oppression, the culture of torture, the culture of murder. All of these things appear in the trappings of our modern societies, oftentimes becoming the subject of entertainment and humor. Just about all of these subjects have been referenced multiple times in PennyArcade. So, why was The Sixth Slave the only comic to disturb you and your coterie? Is rape really special, and is it defensible to object to oblique references to rape while laughing at direct jokes on bestiality, pedophilia and mortal illness?

You are of course free to object to humor you find offensive. You are not, however, free to impinge upon the liberties of other people by attempting to coerce and scorn them into recanting their work and apologizing for it; for such behavior you will be vilified, and trolled vigorously. Ultimately, you cannot expect the internet to conform to your community’s idea of political correctness. Remember that you aren’t without those blinders you mentioned in your letter, Lesley.

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Lesley on February 20, 2011 at 10:07 am.

Man, I never say this, but….. did you read the whole post? I mean, I know it’s really long, but you might have saved yourself some typing if you had.

1. This ain’t Shakesville. I don’t do things like Shakesville does. Shakesville and I are cool, but we operate very very differently.

2. I never purported to extend an olive branch. On the contrary, I state that I am holding the guys responsible for their fuckuppery. If any of this “derides their character,” then it’s their own behavior that’s doing so.

3. “Dudes”, around these parts, is sort of a code for “mired in unchecked privilege”. I prefer “dudes” because “privilege” tends to distract the hell out of people who aren’t familiar with the social justice useage of the word.

4. Marxism and radical feminism are hardly mutually exclusive. Indeed, they are often associated, and the critical mass of radical feminists I’ve known over the years were also Marxists, including a number of professors and other authority types. I’m kinda surprised YOU don’t know this.

5. I daresay you and I will have to part ways on the “rape ain’t that bad compared to other stuff” argument, if that is what you’re arguing here, and it sure seems like you are. I guess we’ll just ignore that rape is used in both genocide and torture pretty routinely.

6. And this is why I am pretty sure you didn’t read the whole post. For the ten billionth time, and I here I shall type in bolded caps for all to see: I WAS NOT OFFENDED BY THE ORIGINAL COMIC. NOT ONE BIT. NOT OFFENDED AT ALL. WASN’T UPSET, WASN’T PUT OUT, WASN’T SURPRISED. I have been offended by the way Mike and Jerry have responded to the criticism, mostly because it seemed completely out of character compared with how they have responded to similar criticism in the past. So, again: NOTHING TO DO WITH ORIGINAL COMIC. NOT SAYING COMIC SHOULD BE TAKEN DOWN. NOT SAYING HUMOR SHOULD BE POLICED. READ THE POST OKAY. Thank you.

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Robin on February 20, 2011 at 2:48 pm.

To respond to a few of your points – Regarding #1, I am not comparing you to Shakesville; they’re an example making the point that both sides have been vitriolic at times in this debate. Item 3 only makes me feel more certain that you are being narrow-minded on this issue. Maybe I am, too, but calling people who don’t share your worldview or who aggravate you as the PA authors have “mired in unchecked privilege” is not very classy.

As for #4, please don’t misinterpret me by suggesting I think people can’t have a multifaceted worldview. It’s common and probably not a bad thing. However, your particular sensitivity to this issue, and your insistence that rape is an exceptional crime, suggests my initial suppositions weren’t unfounded.

Which leads me to item 5. I am not arguing rape is “not that bad” compared to other things. I am saying that other crimes can be equally negative in their impacts, and it is logically inconsistent and ethically unreasonable for you to expect everyone else to recognize rape as the most heinous crime possible.

And lastly, regarding #6, I responded to what I thought to be the subtext of your letter as well as the text itself. You want them to apologize and ‘admit’ that they were wrong – ostensibly for that comic, for disagreeing with the tirades of angry internet feminists, and for riffing on the issue by making a shirt out of it. You know as well as I that they are not responsible for the open rape-apologist trolls that have descended on the debate; there is even evidence that they tried to quiet these trolls. They’ve responded as any satirists might to unreasonable criticism of their work.

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Lesley on February 20, 2011 at 3:50 pm.

It seems to me that we are talking at extreme cross-purposes here. I’ve never made pretenses to being classy — far from it — but even that aside, I think it’s obvious that Mike and Jerry are indeed mired in unchecked privilege. At varying points throughout this kerfluffle, they have each acknowledged as much in their own words. Having unchecked privilege doesn’t make them bad people — all of us, myself included, live with varying degrees of unchecked privilege throughout our lives. It’s a fact of life. Social justice activism is a movement to help recognize that privilege, but it will never be erased, and anyone who tells you they’re privilege-free is not to be trusted.

Moreover, you seem to be assigning me positions I’ve never taken. I’ve barely talked about rape, much less identified it as an “exceptional crime”. The word “rape” is used once in the above post. Once. Fact is, rape culture is not an area of my expertise. If somebody asks me to define rape culture, I have to consult better-spoken explanations on the internet before I can answer. I think rape is a gruesome expression of violence and hate for sure, but I don’t possess a hierarchy of horror within which rape has a particular slot above or below other offenses — it is terrible and that is enough. There are lots of feminist bloggers and writers out there who have a stronger investment in discussing rape and rape culture, and who can do so brilliantly, but I am not among them. My investment is in bringing people to the concept of social justice politics, and things like privilege, using language that is accessible, which was the point of my original post — to make clear the over-arching cultural perspective of the people who are being critical.

And, again, I neither ask nor expect an apology for the original comic. How much clearer can I be? The apology I would like to hear is one that acknowledges that openly mocking people who are expressing pain is kind of a dick move. Trolls on both sides are irrelevant; it is the nature of the internet that they will turn up, but they have nothing to do with th crux of this conversation. There were plenty of non-troll people who said, calmly, to PA, “this hurts me,” and instead of nodding politely and letting the matter drop, as they have in the past, they felt the need to provoke the people who were expressing honest distress. If I cause you accidental injury — say I drop something on your foot — and you tell me, “Hey, that hurt,” if I were to then mock your pain, and to enlist the help of others to mock it, that would make me an asshole. The appropriate response is to say, oops, I’m sorry, and then we can all just let it go and get on with our lives. I don’t see how this is any different.

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