Saturday, September 7, 2013

Getting In/Staying Out

Do you know the Penny Arcade Dickwolves thing?

If you don't, this is the general idea. And this is Mike Krahulik's recent apology. And you can find the original strip in there somewhere. Links upon links upon links!

For the record, I don't go to PAX. I do read Penny Arcade. I love the comic's absolute lack of decorum. I have to admit I chuckled at the dickwolves joke. It was so bizarre and over-the-top. As I read it, I realized it could be offensive to rape victims. I didn't think that was the intent, but I was interested to see what conversation would come of any backlash.

Once that backlash arrived, the PA guys reacted in an utterly stupid, immature, disingenuous way. I think they've finally realized that.

And I know why. I've been accused of rape humor when I really meant something else entirely. Not just using it in an over-the-top way like Penny Arcade did--in this case I meant something completely different. When someone took my humor as a rape joke, I immediately sprang to my own defense, and painted myself as a victim, and said "how could you think that of me..."

I should have just said, "Oh, I didn't mean it that way. I'm sorry to have hurt you or brought up bad feelings. Please forgive me." That easy.

But hey, it was a nice awakening, and I was embarrassed, and I started to become aware of rape culture and all the subtle cues I had absorbed growing up about rape. I don't get to decide what should and shouldn't be a trigger. So I thank my friend for working with me (and still being my friend) on the whole thing.

Point being, the conversation is less about whether or not Krahulik was being an idiot, and more about PAX itself, and whether the gaming convention fosters rape culture and culture hostile to women. Would you be better off quitting PAX in protest? Or should you stay, trying to use your influence to change the organization from within? This is much like another conversation I am very familiar with. It has to do with a large institution, staffed by committed volunteers, and driven by deep passion for the material. (Not SFWA, but that applies here too.) This institution is rife with problems, deep-seated in rape culture and homophobic culture, and yet it has great potential.

The Mormon Church.

I'm what author Samuel Woolley Taylor called an "eating Mormon"--I'll go to events where food is served, but you'll have a hard time catching me in church. I don't get a lot out of the services themselves. I've been to congregations where I really enjoyed the services, because we talked about the things that interested me--feminism, LDS history, the Church's tendency to rewrite said history to "safer" versions.

Around here, at least in church, people stick to the safe stuff. I get bored.

The Internet has opened up a lot more dialogue than Mormons used to tolerate. So while many LDS people I know glommed on to the deep-in-rape-culture post FYI: If You're A Teenage Girl, this satirical rebuttal was written by a Mormon mother. Since Proposition 8, the gay-rights-Mormon minority has been more and more vocal.

But the LDS Church fosters an unhealthy (in my humble opinion) near-worship of their leaders, so that few people are willing to talk about issues in the Church for fear of undermining the Brethren and going against the general grain. This is why many moderate Mormons supported Prop 8 in California, and thirty years ago, opposed the Equal Rights Amendment. Because the leaders said so. Only liberal Mormons seem to have a problem with, for instance, "The Tolerance Trap." The leaders are supposed to be modern-day prophets, so while they are not infallible, you'd have a hard time figuring out where that "not" begins with orthodox Mormons.

If you're interested in the ex-mormon/liberal, doubting Mormon point of view, the Mormon Expression podcast gives a lot of good overviews. (If you want to know the orthodox LDS viewpoint, just find the guys on their bikes.)

My wife attends every Sunday although, like me, she is bored a lot, and sometimes offended. Unlike me, though, she believes that she can change things. She may be right. She works with teenage girls, and has determined to create a sex-positive, inclusive, tolerant (gasp!) curriculum. This is great, considering that most Mormon girls grow up with damaging messages about sex. For instance, the leaders in my congregation in the 90s would lick the frosting off a cupcake, ask if any girls in the audience wanted it, and then explain that the cupcake symbolized a girl robbed of her "virtue." I'm not alone. A particularly choice verse in the Book of Mormon describes extramarital sex as "the sin near unto murder." I knew missionaries who spent their two years in deep, crippling depression and anxiety because they could not stop masturbating. Some tried to commit suicide. A good leader can intervene before these attitudes develop.

Mormonism offers a rich history and a profound set of opportunities to serve. Even from a pessimistic point of view, that church ain't going NOWHERE. It's huge, it's rich, it converts at a rapid rate.

Returning (finally) to PAX, a volunteer, blogger or participant has a certain sphere of influence within their organization. So... stay in or get out?

In any organization that fits this strained comparison, it might be helpful to ask yourself a few questions:

1- What do I get out of this organization? Is it fulfilling for me?
2- Am I in a position to mitigate damage that might come from leaders, other members? Am I willing to speak up and isolate myself when these messages are shared?
3- Am I willing to choose my battles?
4- If I leave and criticize the organization from the outside, will my criticism be more effective than my presence would be on the inside?

There are other questions but this blog post is turning into a book. Which reminds me. I read books. Next time I post, it will be a nice simple book review. Amen!


  1. This is a problem for so many communities. I'd add to your checklist "Am I willing to listen to others in the community who say they've been hurt, and give their experiences a fair hearing, without dismissing them out of hand?" Because it's often easier to admit problems in theory than to be a friend and ally when one is faced with them in reality.

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    1. Mouse malfunction, went to hit Cancel ended up hitting Delete instead. Let's try this again, with less typos:)
      A major problem with PAX (and other conventions for that matter) is the conversation is never had in the open. Earlier this year there was an editor was accused of sexual harassment by a writer at a convention (or something like that, I don't know the details). And all the writers were talking about it on message boards and by email. Conventions have put together anti-harassment policies, in fact Norwescon announced theirs today and do you think they will have a panel to discuss this problem at Norwescon? Probably not. We need to talk about this stuff in a panel type setting if not other reason to get some clarity. I'm pretty sure that if you ask five people what they think harassment is you will probably get five different answers.
      Case in point I have seen the dickwolves comic and thought it was hysterical.

    2. Yes, exactly--oftentimes the issue is relegated to the borderlands of the Internet. Bloggers, Facecbook, etc, all after-the-fact because the problematic people are the ones hosting the event that causes the trouble.