[NB: Not only women are subject to harassment, but this is a general post in response to a specific woman's experience, hence the use of "woman" and "her" throughout the post.]
Yesterday, activist Shelby Knox linked to a story about a female MMO gamer who regularly received rape-threats from other MMO players, refused to be brushed off by support-staff who told her to simply rename her character to a male-coded name, escalated her complaints to the game company's CEO, and was then banned by the CEO because he was "tired of hearing about" female gamers reporting rape-threats to him. The story was submitted with a pseudonym for the banned female gamer and with no naming of the CEO and the game company he represents.
What then followed in the article comments was the same harmful and harassing dynamic I have seen fully eleventy-billion times: people claiming to believe the female gamer (and some who probably actually do, because this isn't just a Troll Phenomena, it is also an Ally-Fail Phenomena) demanding with increasing aggression that the pseudonymous gamer "name-and-shame" the MMO company and CEO.
Love that half the comments call her a liar; half shame her for not naming the company. Ugh. @ShelbyKnox @amaditalks
— Ana Mardoll (@AnaMardoll) August 2, 2013
PEOPLE: Aggressive demands to Name-and-Shame are shaming and abusive. And it centers YOU over the victim. Don't do that.
— Ana Mardoll (@AnaMardoll) August 2, 2013
Every time -- literally every time -- a woman reports harassment, whether it be online or from a company or at a convention or by a well-known activist -- there is immediately a flood of comments from people claiming to be supportive and allied and on her side yet criticizing her intensely for talking about her experiences in the 'wrong' way and aggressively demanding that she disclose her experiences in ways that make them comfortable. This itself is harmful bullying behavior, and it must stop.
I completely understand the desire for women to name-and-shame their harassers. We, the audience to her lived experiences, want to be able to do something productive and active in response to her marginalization. We want to punish the people responsible with social activism: boycotts, blog posts, and other outlets of social pressure to try to rectify a bad situation. We also want to protect ourselves: we want to know which MMO company, which CEO, which convention, which well-known activist so that we can avoid them and so that we might avoid being victimized in the same way.
But. We also must realize that this perfectly-understandable desire for proactive outlets for ourselves and defensive positioning for ourselves is quite literally a process of making HER story about US. We are centering ourselves in the midst of her marginalization when we demand that she accommodate us; we are saying that her marginalization was very tragic and all, but it's in the past and the important thing now is us and our desires for social revenge and self-protection. We are suggesting that our feelings as non-victims are much higher priority than her feelings as a victim.
And when we allow ourselves to bully someone for not naming-and-shaming, we provide a cover for trolls to bully them simply for speaking up. The calls to name-and-shame become a protective cloak for suggestions that she is lying, that if she really cared, if it really happened that way, then she would provide more details. That she does not is not viewed as personal self-care for a variety of legitimate reasons but is instead used to cast aspersions on her character. It's not a coincidence that the comments on that article which aren't bullying her into naming-and-shaming are outright calling her a liar: these comments are all on a spectrum of behavior that is hostile to her story and to her self-care.
No one, absolutely no one, is required to believe everything they read on the internet. I choose to believe this story for a number of reasons, but I could have chosen differently. What I will not do, and what I will call out as abusive and harassing, is demand that this person release more details, provide more information, and cater to my needs as an audience member. If she is telling the truth, those demands can only wound her; if she is lying, those demands will accomplish nothing and will only convey to the watching world that if something similar ever happens to them, they can expect the same harmful treatment. That is not the mark I want to leave on the world.
Almost every day someone asks me what makes a good ally. This isn't the blog post for that; I'm not even sure it can be answered in a single blog post. But one thing I can say, and something we all need to remember, is that the human tendency to center ourselves as the most important person in the room is something we must overcome if we wish to be good allies. When someone shares her story of harassment with me, it is my job to listen and to provide comfort and succor (should she desire it). It is not my job to demand more details to satisfy my curiosity or my desire for social vengeance or my need for self-protection. It is not my job to harass her with aggressive demands that she tell her lived experienced in a manner tailored to my needs instead of to hers.
It is my job to listen.