A few months in, it appears that all hope is lost that #GamerGate was a temporary flare of misogyny. It’s now clear that it is a full-blown reactionary movement aimed at preserving male dominance—and ejecting any women who ask hard questions—in the world of video games.
As such, it’s time to start taking a broader look at what’s going on and to situate #GamerGate in the history of reactionary movements, particularly anti-feminist ones. Specifically, #GamerGate has a lot in common with the country’s largest and most long-lasting anti-feminist movement: the now four-decade-old war on women’s reproductive rights.
That #GamerGate is a classic, if quickly forming, reactionary campaign has been documented in a number of articles on the subject, most prominently by Jennifer Allaway at Jezebel and Kyle Wagner at Deadspin. Allaway used sociological research to show how #GamerGate works like a typical hate group. Similarly, Wagner explained that #GamerGate is driven by angry young white men who are threatened by demands that gaming be inclusive of women, people of color, and LGBTQ people, and who are lashing out in an attempt to keep the white male dominance they enjoy. In this, they are like every other reactionary movement:
The particulars may be different, and the stakes may be infinitely lower, but the dynamic is an old one, the same one that gave rise to the Know Nothing Party and the anti-busing movement and the Moral Majority.
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Or the anti-choice movement. In fact, the parallels between the two are striking—which isn’t really a surprise, given that both are based in a particularly misogynist strain of reactionary politics. Like the anti-choice push, #GamerGate appears to be in it for the long haul, having only gained steam in the past two months. Despite the fact that #GamerGate often appears to “just” be about video games, it’s quickly shaping up to be a potent way for conservatives to reach out to previously apolitical young men and turn them into devoted, hardened misogynists.
And just as anti-choicers played a role in fueling movement conservatism over the past four decades, #GamerGate could very well help to create the next generation of opponents to women’s basic right to equality. Here are five ways in particular that #GamerGate bears chilling similarities to the anti-choice movement:
Origins. The genius of the anti-abortion movement was that it wed general conservative discontent with feminism to the lightning-rod issue of female sexuality and sexual independence. Women’s choice to have sex without “consequences” became the flashpoint of anger for people who were generally upset at seeing women increase their power and influence in the world.
Similarly, #GamerGate started by organizing a mostly male crowd that resents women’s unwillingness to quietly acquiesce to second-class status in the gaming world, and aimed this simmering anger directly at a game developer named Zoe Quinn, whose ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, accused Quinn of cheating on him after she dumped him. The fury over female sexual independence has since been a major factor in the ongoing rage that is #GamerGate.
Facetious claims to the moral high ground. Both anti-choicers and #GamerGate supporters, however, realized that being really mad that women might have the same sexual liberties as men basically marked their movements as misogynist. And so it became important, early on, to deny publicly that this was about sex (while continuing to sexually disparage their targets) and paint themselves as moral crusaders. Anti-choicers decided to claim that they’re actually about preserving “life.” #GamerGaters, meanwhile, claim their goal is “ethics in gaming journalism.”
Both claims are laughably easy to pick apart. Unfortunately, though, both groups have been able to successfully bamboozle plenty of well-meaning people into thinking they are sincere—which is, of course, the reason for claiming the moral high ground that they don’t actually believe in.
Overwrought rhetoric. Because their central claims about themselves are dishonest, both anti-choicers and #GamerGaters tend to use the “hard sell” in pushing their claims to the moral high ground. That often leads to over-the-top self-aggrandizement and lurid, preposterous rhetoric about their “struggle.” Anti-choicers, for instance, like to make fallacious comparisons between themselves and the Civil Rights movement. They also accuse abortion doctors of “murder” and compare legal abortion to the Holocaust.
As far as #GamerGaters go, well, here’s a typical example of some of their rhetoric:
Because an army of sociopathic feminist programmers and campaigners, abetted by achingly politically correct American tech bloggers, are terrorizing the entire community—lying, bullying and manipulating their way around the internet for profit and attention.
How are these sociopaths supposedly terrorizing gamers? By making videos no one is forced to watch that point out that sometimes video games, like all other media, can be pretty sexist.
Harassment of individuals as a central organizing strategy. Anti-choicers have, for decades now, made harassment their central recruitment and visibility strategy, camping out at clinics to dish out abuse to staff and patients. For abortion providers, living under such a constant barrage, at home and at work, is just part of life. In some cases, abortion providers have been attacked or murdered.
#GamerGaters are showing an enthusiasm for similar tactics. Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and Brianna Wu are all women who have been subject to so much abuse and harassment that they’ve been driven from their homes. Though no one has been physically assaulted, to the best of our knowledge, Sarkeesian had to cancel a speaking engagement because of a terrorist threat.
The reason anti-choicers keep up the harassment—in the grand tradition of reactionary bad faith, they call it “sidewalk counseling”—is that it works. If the price of doing your job as a game developer or critic is being endlessly afraid, constantly browbeaten, and told day in and day out for hours on end that you are worthless and deserve to die, well, a lot of people aren’t going to pay it. That is clearly the hope of #GamerGate: to make gaming a space that’s safe for misogynists by making it incredibly unsafe for feminists.
Posturing as the protectors of the very people they hate. Of course, all this harassment reminds the public that you are a bunch of misogynists, and being known as a hateful bigot tends to erode your reputation in the public eye. So both anti-choicers and #GamerGate try to confuse the issue by accusing feminists of being the “real” woman-haters and posturing as the protectors of women. Anti-choicers claim that all women secretly want to have tons of babies all the time, and therefore need to have abortion taken away for their own good. Similarly, #GamerGaters created another hashtag called #NotYourShield to push the claim that feminists are exploiting women for their nefarious plots, and that only the anti-feminists in gaming are looking out for women’s interests.
A lot of people continue to be confused about what #GamerGate is, and whether it’s a well-intentioned movement spoiled by haters or actually a reactionary hate movement. It is definitely the latter, and hopefully the parallels with the similarly disingenuous anti-choice movement will make that fact a little easier to understand. Fighting back against a diffuse, insincere faction of people isn’t easy—as anyone who opposes anti-choicers can confirm—but the first step is knowing exactly whom you’re dealing with.