Monday, April 16, 2012

Learning can be very depressing

I read an article last night about broadening gender and racial representation in Dungeons and Dragons and got to thinking a lot about racism and sexism.  In that particular article it was pointed out that historically DnD books were filled with white men fighting evil; Tolkien wrote all dark skinned people as evil and most women as helpless and that 'style' certainly has continued.  There is a real ray of hope in the more recently issued Pathfinder series which contains a good mix of men and women and also has plenty of people who are very much non white.  My immediate reaction was positive; of course it is good to portray minorities and women in game books, particularly if you want your gaming group to be welcoming to anyone other than white dudes!

The comments were an interesting read but I encountered a position I found really puzzling.  Some commenters really believed that these changes to break the white man mold in DnD were actually a problem:  They thought that this was basically rescue fantasy because the real problems in the world were not the ones being addressed.  I get that.  When we make sure that a paladin in the next DnD book is a black woman we aren't helping minorities and women have income equality, equality before the courts, or even equality in how they are viewed by other people.  Changing pictures in DnD books is a small thing.  I think though that enormous projects covering decades or centuries and involving nearly every living person are not something people can deal with head on.  I can't set out every day with the goal of saving everyone from prejudice; it is too much and too impossible.  I can set out to try to make sure that roleplaying games have diversity though, that is a goal that can be accomplished within my lifetime and which feels like something I *should* do.

Wendy linked me to a post about George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.  I love this series.  I have waxed eloquent (or not so eloquent, depending on the reader, I suppose) about it in the past.  Reading the extremely angry post about how sexist and racist ASoIaF is made me mad.  Not rational mad, mind you.  Irrational mad.  My toys!  Stop saying that my toys suck!  When you call something I love sexist and racist and creepy it gets me really keyed up, unlike if you call something I love 'of poor quality'.  You don't have to agree with me on quality but words like sexist and racist really do have a huge impact.  I had a desperate urge to write a comment something along the lines of "Argh you are wrong and here are the million reasons why and you SUCK!"  That wouldn't have been especially useful.  Instead I looked up a post that refuted it and felt a lot better.  I can totally understand why the author of the first post got a tremendous amount of hate from the fans of ASoIaF though as I attempt to be aggressive but civil on the internet but many, many people have no such goals and less self control.  Not that I am condoning being an asshat on the internet but I can totally see where it comes from.

Discussing this eventually led me to this post by John Scalzi about how female writers and bloggers face anger and bitterness much more than males on the internet.  The discussion in the comments is extremely long and filled with a lot of back and forth between generally well meaning men who try to grapple with an issue they have a fundamental blind spot on and a lot of women trying to make them understand.  Of course there are also plenty of horror stories of the terrible messages containing death / rape threats and brutal put downs that get sent to women online.  It drives me bonkers because I *want* to understand.  I want to be able to see how women who are really afraid every time they go outside see the world.  I can't get a grasp on the topic unless I can be in their shoes at least to some extent but that worldview is inaccessible to me.

I am not afraid of alleys, or nighttime, or strangers.  I will walk pretty much anywhere without concern.  In my mind, the world is a fairly safe place and other people are often an inconvenience but practically never a danger.  I know rationally that huge amounts of that is male / white / hetero / cis / large man privilege (some of it is surely just confidence / overconfidence) but I can't just shake that off at will.  How can I even engage in this sort of discussion given that blindness?

It is depressing as hell.  It is depressing because there is so much crap out there happening to people.  It is depressing because try as I might I just can't see it from the victim's perspective and my brain continues to tell me that things can't be that bad... since my experience tells me things aren't that bad.  It is depressing that even though I think of myself as more enlightened than the average bear I still reaction to reading these things with internal aggression and disbelief.  The world is sometimes a crappy place and the conviction to do right is not enough.  Reading about all this stuff for hours and hours seems like a good education but it sure does make me feel like crap.


  1. You might find this interesting...

  2. I liked that article. A fair bit of the time when I read feminist articles I end up being really frustrated and feel like they are very wrong in many respects... but I know I don't have the complete picture. That article though I liked from start to finish. I don't know exactly what the difference is though.

  3. I read this post of yours and this post ( by a friend of mine on the same day. Interesting to see basically the same opinion on an issue from two different worldviews. You might also find her older blog interesting.