There’s an article making the rounds right now called To My Someday Daughter. The articles takes the form of a letter from gamer Geordie Tait to a daughter he may someday have, apologizing to her for the ways gaming culture will ostracize her, punish her and just generally treat her like crap – unless some things change between now and then, of course.
Tait zeroes in on a recent incident in the gaming community: Gizmodo recently published an article in which one of their interns, Alyssa Bereznak, discussed feeling duped by a man she met through an online dating service because his profile didn’t mention that he was a hardcore gamer – in fact, a champion gamer with many gamer fans. Bereznak talked about quizzing him to determine that he gamed often and gaming was a big part of his life, and that was when she lost interest. In response, many members of the gaming community called her all manner of gendered slurs, harped on how “shallow” she was, and just generally punished her for suggesting their champion wasn’t a good catch. [ETA: Bareznak did not name him in her article (found here). Gizmodo later edited the article to include his name, for reasons I cannot fathom. Any comments criticizing Bareznak for publicly naming him will be deleted, even though it's perfectly understandable why people are confused, because it won't make for a worthwhile comment thread if there are lots of comments about something that never happened, followed by lots of comments clarifying what did happen.]
Except Jon Finkel, the gaming champion she briefly dated. According to Tait, he never put her down as a person for deciding he wasn’t her type. I’ll have more to say on this in a minute. [ETA: based on this, Finkel may well be an actual nice guy as opposed to a Nice Guy (tm). The article title comes from my feeling that the gamers who punished Bareznak see him as a Nice Guy (tm) and therefore one of their own kind, and is not meant to impugn Finkel as a Nice Guy (tm).]
Here’s the thing: sexual freedom means you get to choose who you date. If you choose to date only within your race, then even if that’s a racist choice, sexual freedom demands that you be allowed to make that choice. If you refuse to date people who aren’t conventionally gorgeous, that’s your business. And if you don’t want to date gamers because you believe they will put gaming way ahead of you, then even if you’re wrong about that, it’s still your sexual choice. And you know why? Because the only person who stands to lose or gain from your fussiness is you.
In business situations, the law is intended to force bigots to hire qualified, quality workers no matter how they feel about those workers’ races, beliefs, orientations, etc. This is because people need jobs to feed themselves – it’s a matter of survival. It’s also because employment biases tend to be widespread, so it’s not like a worker rejected for his race can just go to another employer and expect a fair shake. Dating, on the other hand, is not a matter of survival. Nobody ever died of not dating. And while one person may refuse to date gamers, chances are someone else will consider your gaming a neutral or even positive factor.
Basically, your right to date is trumped by someone else’s right to pick and choose who they will date. This is really an issue of safety as well as sexual freedom: if someone you’re dating has no boundaries, they might hurt you physically, steal from you, deliberately chip away at your sense of self-worth, isolate you from friends and family, persuade you to make big life choices you’ll later regret (such as moving to a new city or giving up a career opportunity you really wanted), etc. Your dating choices don’t just impact your love life; they can potentially impact your whole future.
Finkel understood this. He may have disagreed philosophically with the way she seems to have painted all gamers with one brushstroke (as do I), but he managed to separate that from her right to pick and choose who she will date. He also managed not to take her rejection personally.
But now let’s look at the other side. I have to say that Bereznak’s article is inflammatory as far as I’m concerned, and had she left something like this snippet as a comment on this site, it would have been deleted by a mod based on the first sentence alone:
Just like you’re obligated to mention you’re divorced or have a kid in your online profile, shouldn’t someone also be required to disclose any indisputably geeky world championship titles?
I later found out that Jon infiltrated his way into OKCupid dates with at least two other people I sort of know, including one of my co-workers. Mothers, warn your daughters! This could happen to you. You’ll think you’ve found a normal bearded guy with a job, only to end up sharing goat cheese with a guy who takes you to a one-man show based on Jeffrey Dahmer’s life story.
Let’s break this down. More than likely, Finkel was neglecting to mention this facet of his life because he’s had negative knee-jerk reactions to it before, which are probably based entirely on stereotypes. But Bareznak treats this as a deception rather than a strategy for negotiating your way around stereotyping (the original version of the article said “This is what happens when you lie on your profile” – it has since been edited to “leave things out of your profile). By that logic, if Barenzak has ever been overweight, which means all those fat cells are still there just waiting to balloon up again even if she’s slim now, she should be sure to put that on her profile so that fat-phobic men can avoid her. And for heaven’s sake, if you’re a “feminist”, you should put that on your profile so that people who think “feminist” means “man-hating woman with butch appearance” can be sure to avoid you, even if you don’t hate men at all and look quite feminine. I mean, it’s up to all of us to protect stereotype thinkers from being confronted with the people they stereotype! Won’t someone please think of the stereotypers?
I do think the gaming community had reason to take offense at her thinking on this. The problem was that they conflated her thinking with her rejection of Finkel, and punished her for rejecting him – as if all would have been well if she’d just continued to go out with him, thinking perhaps, “Well, maybe this is an exceptional gamer, even if all the rest of them are immature, socially maladjusted people who aren’t worth knowing.” It’s as if gamers didn’t really care what she thought of them, so long as she puts out, so it was the not putting out that really bothered them. And that’s familiar, sexist territory for women – having men not care what’s in our brains as long as we provide them a sexual outlet.
And then there’s one last little thing, which is undeniably sexist: gamers chatting on about how stupid Bareznak is for not dating Finkel, on the basis that Finkel is in very good financial shape. Right, because what every woman wants is a man who will spend money on her, and when we unwittingly reject rich guys for any reason at all (valid or otherwise), the joke’s on us! Yes, guys, thank you for meeting Bareznak’s stereotyping of gamers (who, as mostly white, educated guys, are really not as disadvantaged a group as they might believe, as Tait points out) with the patriarchy’s 1950′s stereotypes about me. Screw how often a gamer games, or how good he is at it: if I ever find myself on a date with a gamer, I’ll be alert for signs he’s a sexist jerk. But then, I’m alert for those signs on any date, because instead of stereotyping people by how they spend their time, I actually try to get to know them. It’s neat, and so much more accurate than broad, baseless assumptions.