Who's To Blame: Toxic People vs Toxic Men

As I sat on a roundtable talking about removing toxicity in gaming, a lot of the topic kept swinging back to men in the community. Specifically, straight white men. I'm the first in line to do a call in with a toxic dude or a dude exhibiting toxic behaviour. I'm also regularly concerned when I'm at a table with all dudes, or when I'm at a con with mostly dudes, or when I'm in a space with only dudes. Whether these men have done anything to me or not doesn't matter, it's the memories I have of other men who have.

Whether it's the threats I've received, the doxxing, the harassing, the stalking, or the straight up sexual harassment, I've received enough problems from men in the community that I don't need more. I don't need to blog and podcast about problems in the community that often are committed by men. But I do it in hopes that our communities will get better and do better and ultimately be better. It opens the door to a lot of issues though, of people taking what I say as an attack against their personhood because they see it as an attack against their hobby. Almost all of these people have been men.

So when a roundtable host looked at me and asked: "Kate, is it about being a better human or being a better man?" when it came toxicity in RPG culture, besides panicking because I was put on the spot, I felt a moment of fear. If I said it was about men and being better men, then I was fundamentally pointing the finger at a whole bunch of people who had zero to do with it and were fine, lovely people. If I didn't point the finger, I was excusing a whole swathe of people who behaved toxically, in part, because men are raised toxic.

It's an important question. Are men to blame? 

When I posted a thread recently about my fear of toxic male culture, one person added: "Would anyone be surprised if a woman didn't like men?" It made me sad, because I don't blame women when they don't like men. I know how it feels to inherently feel unsafe in an environment because men have hurt you so much not much feels safe anymore. There's a permeating belief in our culture that men are a problem, or at the very least, that men are frightening and there are valid reasons to blame them for the problems in our subculture or culture as a whole.

Between missing stairs, abuse, harassment, toxic practices, entitlement, mansplaining, doxxing, swatting, threats, rape, sexual assault, verbal assault, physical assault, leers, stares, sexualization, gropes, invalidations, misrepresentations, dismissals, and belittlement, there are plenty of cases and reasons for women in the community to hate men. There can only be so many times you get burned before you stop touching the oven. It's a toxic world out there in the wilds of gaming land. Would you blame an adventurer for retiring if they'd been hurt one too many times? Do you think their favoured enemy of the patriarchy is wrong in social justice ranger?

The stories I've heard and the things I've experienced have made me wary around men. I know so many women, trans, and enby folks who won't go to certain cons anymore, who have to email organizers to tell them they can't be around certain people, who have to be told they're not important, and who have to be ignored in favour of big names. It's the same old story over and over again. The stories don't change. They don't have fresh material that isn't the old material because abuse is still abuse.

And after the month I've had, of harassment and abuse and gross treatment on multiple fronts and men not being held accountable, it was almost impossible for me not to want to lash out and say that men were the problem. They had been my problem for a month now, constantly and consistently. It's still not over, the issues from con season. I'm tired and I want to be done with it but people won't let me be. It's bullshit on so many levels and it all comes from men.

The internet is on figurtive fire as men throw bombs at each other. I see women, trans, and non-binary friends scatter, afraid of falling shrapnel. They're preparing to be a target because men are fighting on the internet. It's not a reflex that is without cause. They're scattering because it's happened before and it will happen again. When men get angry on the internet, it's not usually men who are the ones taking the heat.

Is it about being a better human or a better man?

In that moment, after everything this last month and men throwing me under the bus to take responsibility for their mistakes, I was ready to say men. The part of me that was wounded and hurt wanted to. I didn't, though. I pushed through my own pain to the answer I knew was more true and more about what I believed in ultimately. It wasn't about better men. It was about better people. Toxicity isn't limited to a single cis-gender. Everyone has the potential and socialization to be toxic. And toxicity impacts us all. 

It's true that it impacts some much more than others. On the scale of all the power and privilege to none at all, we can see easily who's got the most and who's got the least. It's folly to think that those without power suffer less toxicity than those with all of the power. In the case of modern culture (and historical culture), straight white men have had all the power. And because of this power, a really toxic culture has been built around the maintenance and continuation of it. This includes a lot of -isms and the abuse of others with less power.

We're all in the same gaming community. We've seen it, heard it, felt it, or at least heard someone else talk about it. Hell, we might've even been one of those people who have said "I've never seen x-ism in a community, so it must not exist" even though we wouldn't have been the target of that ism. At some point or another, almost all of us have done something toxic. We've erased, invalidated, whitewashed, demanded emotional labour, invaded space, perpetuated an ism, participated in a phobia, or simply reacted poorly when our privilege got pointed out to us.

There are, of course, varying degrees of toxicity. Someone who summons hordes of internet supporters to dox and bully someone is more toxic than the person who fucks up and makes a sexist joke. Neither are good or okay, but one has a lot more impact than the other for the community as a whole and the normalization of both will have different long term implications. And while it is often men who are the ones normalizing and supporting this toxic behaviours, they aren't the only ones.

All of us have internalized something problematic. All of us can justify a gross view because it impacts us. We live at different intersections of privilege, meaning a white woman, who is oppressed by being a woman, may still be racist, ableist, or homophobic. We can't usually feel these intersections of privilege until someone smacks us upside the head and points out at that while we are oppressed, we are also oppressors. I've seen cis-women negate a trans woman's identity in the community. I've seen a trans woman negate a woman of colour's oppression. And I've seen a person of colour invalidate a woman's experience of sexism.

These blindspots in our lens of the world lead to internalized toxic views. Combine that with our ability to associate our experiences with our beliefs, we sometimes fuck up and associate a group of people with the behaviour of one person we encountered. It's normal, unfortunately, for most of us not to see the struggle other minorities have. In that space, we don't think about the language we use, how we communicate, or what we're saying about groups sometimes. We've all had the moments when someone we thought was super woke fucks up and says something awful. We stare, mouth agape, stunned.

I've been that person who's said the wrong thing. I was raised in small town Ontario, rife with racism, sexism, ableism, trans and queer phobia, and a general hate for anyone different. I've said some awful, horrific things in my life, that I still remember because I look back on them in shame. I've hated people based on their ethnicity. I've called other cultures words I will never again say. I've defended abuse. I've kept an abusive friend because I wouldn't believe they were capable of it despite what someone else told me. I've flaunted my privilege without realizing it. It's all so gross and yes, I strive to be a better person than where I'm from and who I was.

But that doesn't mean everyone is striving and it doesn't mean I won't continue to grow and learn about the many, many nuanced ways my privilege influences how I perceive the world. Maybe if I was a paragon of goodness and light I would think it was men. Maybe if I hadn't witnessed women cutting each other down. Maybe if I hadn't accidentally invited abuse into another woman's life because I didn't think about it. Maybe if my trans friend hadn't dismissed a whole group of queer folks because they weren't queer enough. Maybe if I hadn't seen or heard or felt so much, first, second or third hand, then maybe I'd look at how much sexist trash I've picked up this week and go "Fuck men."

I can't though. I mean, I'll be honest, it's been a really really rough year and month. Men have hurt me a lot. Men I trusted. Men I thought knew better. I'm not in the best headspace to be asked, point blank, is being a better man or being a better human. When I was asked, I stopped. I had to stop myself from saying yes. I knew better but I was hurt and vulnerable and wanted to say yes. Why didn't I? Because men feel it too.

Funny thing about toxicity, is it also applies to the spaces we give those men we want to blame. The toxic culture we hate so much impacts them. It bleeds into them, socializing them to help uphold the power they have without them even realizing it. They were born and bred to be this way. Some have seen the behaviour and working to be allies in the fight against toxicity. They're using that privilege for good, while also undergoing this amazing process of beginning to see just how much toxic culture has hurt them. It's told them not to have feelings, which is a fundamental core thing about humans. Toxic culture as told men not to have humanity.

Can you imagine being told you shouldn't behave like a human being? This is the one that gets me every time. Baby boys are left to cry longer than baby girls, because we as a culture see them as tougher. That breaks my heart. That men feel a need to play women characters so they can play emotional without being bullied. That men are nervous about exploring emotional games. That men are told consistently they are a problem. That they will never be good enough no matter if it's trying to be a good ally or giving into the toxic masculinity and trying to be the perfect man. None of us are good enough when measured up to the toxic ideal. But fuck, I don't think I could hack it as a man.

These tin-men we've got walking around looking for their hearts suffer too. It may not be the same as others who are more oppressed, but that doesn't mean it isn't real. It's just another part of toxicity that needs to be broken down. It's not going to be at the top of the list because men need to do that work, for themselves and for everyone else. When the toxicity that drives men to be oppressors and abusers is gone, things will get better. Absolutely. Saying it's just men that are the problem though? Bullshit.

It's all of us. We're all guilty. We all have work to do. We, collectively, need to be better humans, across the board. We need to examine ourselves, help those we can and are able to, and continue to recognize that a toxic person is a toxic person, regardless of what intersection of privilege they are at. Toxicity is everywhere. It lives and breathes our hate and our venom. Love isn't always the way forward, I'm never going to say loving up a Nazi will work. But a little bit of love makes people better humans.

If we act with love and kindness, we will be better humans and we will make a community full of better humans. I know that's not the ultimate answer. Too much in the world is burning for us to say love is enough. Even if I want to believe it. That doesn't mean that love isn't a good start and anchor though. Love and kindness isn't going to save the world, but it is going to help it save itself.

So, is it be a better human or be a better man?
A better human. Every time.