There are many ways to drive someone from polite annoyance to blinding insane berserker rage. One of the best ways is to tell them that their mild annoyance is completely out of line and they should shut up because It Was Just A Joke and they have no right to an opinion about it.
Along with several other people, I recently became mildly annoyed by a line in this article. It’s a review of Skyrim, the new Elder Scrolls game. It’s quite a long article, and makes a number of interesting points. Now, I love playing Skyrim like a Khajiit loves moon sugar. Like a Nord loves making racist remarks about how much Khajiits love moon sugar. So I read reviews of Skyrim even when I’m pretty sure I’m not going to gain a skill point from it. You just have to open that thing and click through every page of it anyway, because you never know.
But right at the beginning, my interest in this particular review got thu’umed right off a cliff by the reviewer’s statement that if you, the reader, haven’t heard of Skyrim, you’re probably (gasp!) a woman.
It was a joke. Just a joke! So I’m not going to talk about why it was a dumb joke (it was) or why it was a little misguided to think women gamers wouldn’t get annoyed by it (they did). What I want to talk about is what happens on the Internet when people who are the target of a joke dare to have an opinion about it.
A number of women, including me, commented on that joke. The last I saw of the article’s comments thread, none of our comments went beyond polite annoyance. We all just wanted to point out that we didn’t find it funny, it was dismissive of every woman reading the review or playing the game, and that such jokes are out of place. And the reviewer got the point and apologized. That’s all this whole thing should have been: a writer uses a throwaway gag not expecting to upset anyone, readers politely say it kinda did, writer says oops okay sorry. Everyone is happy and we can all continue killing bandits in caves and taking their stuff. But the responses from male gamers in the comments thread … well, that was something else again.
- “There’s no intimation of discrimination or gender superiority.” — a guy.
- “That comment isn’t sexist at all.” — a guy.
- “Luckily, many adult women don’t show this total lack of irony. Now go report me.” — a guy.
- “Women, it was a goddamn joke. Settle down. No one’s trying to take away your right to vote.” — a guy.
- “Relax, people. If anyone should be offended by that line, it should be guys like me. But I’m not.” — a guy.
This sort of response creates a perfect 10 on the blinding insane berserker rageometer. Best of all, it shuts down all possible further rebuttal. The women who weren’t particularly upset or angry when they posted their original comments are now completely unable to express their further annoyance at being told to shut up and go away, because if they do, they’re just going to prove they Can’t Take A Joke.
So, here we are. By expressing an opinion that a joke about me was perhaps a little insulting to me, I have become that worst of all creatures, a woman with an opinion on the internet, otherwise known as a humorless bitch who needs to get a grip. I have a total lack of irony. I should settle down. I should relax. I should realize that people who were not the target of the joke have a much better right than me to decide whether I should be annoyed by it, and in fact, that they were the ones who should be offended, if anyone.
And they weren’t! So that’s all right, then.
Edit: Wowwwwwww. When I wrote the above post during a five-minute break earlier today, I had no idea it would get this many comments, let alone a mention on Kotaku. Reading through the responses at Kotaku and elsewhere, I’m even more struck by the amount of heat generated by something I thought of as very simple. Many people seemed to automatically assume that I, and the other women who commented, are all crusading idealists who devote huge amounts of time to being angry about gender roles, gamer culture in general, or Tom Bissell’s review specifically. It has all been very interesting and it really does confirm the original feelings that made me write this post. Thank you all for my few minutes of Internet fame, and while you’re here, you might as well read the only other blog post I’ve ever written that a lot of people thought was cool. It has Vikings in it!