How To Prove You’re A Man: Violence, Harassment, And Toxic Masculinity On The Internet


On Monday, I wrote about Christy Mack’s assault at the hands of her ex-boyfriend and the slut-shaming and victim blaming that resulted. It’s a complicated and tangled enough topic that it’s difficult to fit every angle and wrinkle in. But there was one topic that I wanted to get into that didn’t quite fit: how the concept of “manhood” and masculinity ties into the abuse.

So of course, the universe decided to drop yet another opportunity to talk about sex, masculinity and violence… and wrapped up in the ongoing drama that is the geek community. Practically all of my favorite topics, wrapped up in one! Because if there’s anything I needed, it’s another reason to take a whack at the Nerds and Male Privilege hornet’s nest one more time.

Still, never let it be said that I don’t use every part of the news cycle buffalo, because I can’t help but notice similarities between the Christy Mack assault and the harassment of women in the video games industry. Confused? Hear me out…

The Insidious Quest To Steal Your Manhood

One of the ongoing narratives surrounding Christy Mack’s assault — especially the one forward by Koppenhaver himself — is that Mack provoked him by cheating on him with Corey Thomas. In fact, according to the police report, Koppenhaver entered the house at 1:30 AM and found the two of them in bed. As a result, he “did what he had to” — “what he had to” in this case being “beat the ever-loving fuck first out of Thomas and then Mack.”

The important part here isn’t whether Mack was cheating on War Machine — she had broken up with him months ago and had recently started a relationship with Thomas — but the way that he saw it. In his delusional mind, she was still “his property;” as far as he was concerned, Christy Mack and Corey Thomas were cuckolding him — and that is an insult that simply can’t go unanswered. Someone else fucking your wife or girlfriend, you’ve gotta correct that shit. Preferably with your fists. Because otherwise it’s time to turn in your penis because you’re clearly not a man anymore.

See, one of the unspoken tenets of hypermasculinity is that masculinity is an external creation — and that means it’s something that ultimately taken from you. Not just lost, mind you, actively taken. Hypermasculine men — and men who wish to be seen as “manly” are always afraid that their manhood is being taken from them, that they’re being forced into being a bitch.

But there are few acts that are intrinsic to being a “real man” than sex… both in establishing his man-card and in its removal. A “real man” is defined by his sexual conquests. The more women (Because only straight men are “real” men according to this philosophy) he’s slept with, the more of a man he is. But at the same time, those women need to stay his. More importantly however, is that a man can control his woman; after all, he’s supposed to be her superior. A man who isn’t in charge is “pussy-whipped” — he’s beyond pathetic, forced to be servile in hopes of being granted access to sex. When his woman has sex with someone else, it carries the implication is that he’s unable to either please her or keep her under control — all of which insults and degrades his masculinity. Someone else now has access to his woman — his “property,” as it were. This other man has functionally stolen her from him, and with her, his manhood.

In War Machine’s eyes — and those of his many supporters on social media — he was cuckolded, betrayed, wronged. Corey Thomas and Christy Mack being together functionally stole his manhood from him.Of course, it’s bad enough when a man steals your masculinity from him. As twisted as it may be, at least it’s a contest between equals. When a woman — someone who is by your definition lesser — robs you of your manhood, it’s an outrage.

This is part of what informs so much of the response to the assault; Christy Mack didn’t just provoke War Machine, she castrated him. To someone who markets himself with the tag of “I do alpha male shit,” this is a sin to great to be borne. It’s an injustice that must be redressed; his manhood must be reclaimed.

And the fastest way to do that? Violence.

As I write this, there is one guy in here for slapping his wife, one here for yelling at his wife, and one here for beating some guy’s ass that disrespected his wife. WTF!? If your wife is being a bitch you can’t slap her, if your wife is yelling at you, God forbid you yell back, and if some asshole hurts your wife, you can not protect her! LMFAO!

Corey Thomas touched Koppenhaver’s property and so he is beaten but allowed to leave. Christy Mack’s participation in his emasculation, however, is the insult on top of injury and so warrants the brunt of his fury. He has to reclaim his masculinity, show that he can control his bitch and re-establish that this is indeed his pussy. And so he breaks her face. He fractures her ribs. He kicks her so hard her liver bursts. Because he’s been made lesser by someone who’s supposed to be beneath him.

But not every man who is looking to re-establish his masculinity is willing or able to inflict it on the woman who’s insulted him and this reclaim his manhood… what is he to do then?

Well… who ever said that the violence needed to be physical?

Zoe Quinn and the Pretty Internet Hate Machine

On Saturday, April 16th, Eron Gjoni posted an extensive — 10,000+ word — blog post detailing his relationship and subsequent break-up with Zoe Quinn, the developer of the critically acclaimed indie game/interactive novel Depression Quest. In and of itself it’s the typical writings of a bitter and resentful ex, made more uncomfortable by the repeated postings of private communications between the two. Over the course of the rant, Gjoni accuses Quinn of having cheated on him repeatedly with journalists and members of the gaming industry — calling her “Five Guys Burgers and Fries” in an especially classy moment — illustrating his point with (equally classy) annotated screenshots of their conversations as proof. Gjoni implies repeatedly that Quinn’s alleged relationships with these men was “ethically murky”‘ at best.

Zoe Quinn was already a controversial figure, having endured repeated harassment over the publication of Depression Quest on Steam, Valve Software’s web-based gaming network. Gjoni’s post — and the implications that Quinn didn’t just cheat on him but was whoring herself out — was enough to stir the Internet Hate Machine to life once more, focusing it’s inchoate rage on her. Since then, Quinn has been the subject of repeated harassment including having her personal information shared online, her Tumblr and Twitter accounts being hacked, distribution of nude photos of her via social media and repeated death and rape threats.

The given explanation for this ongoing assault is that it’s about “ethics” and unearthing “corruption in video games journalism”, except for the inconvenient fact that there is no proof of any wrong-doing. Others insist that it’s about Quinn’s “integrity” — as though her sex-life were at all relevant to anything. All we have are accusations of infidelity and a relationship gone bad; a shame if true but ultimately not anyone’s business but the individuals involved. Except it was Gjoni who decided to make it the Internet’s business. Gjoni who decided that the world needed to know about his ex — violating her privacy to parade it around for the judgment of strangers. This has nothing to do with any alleged “corruption” and everything to do with whipping an Internet mob into a frenzy.

And in doing so, make Zoe Quinn into the avatar of every woman who ever did a gamer wrong.

See, just as with War Machine, Gjoni is telling the world that he has been cuckolded. He’s been insulted. His manhood has been stolen from him. He’s been hurt, wronged even and must exact retribution for her sins against him and his masculinity. Unlike Koppenhaver, Gjoni outsourced the avenging of her “crimes” against him instead. Cry harlot! and let slip the blogs of war.

And as we see so many times, the Internet responded with vigor, eager to savage a woman with threats and accusations, promising rape, promising death, promising to end her career. Demanding to shut her down, shut her up and erase her from the community until she’s nothing but a legend of yet another uppity slut, trying to take advantage of good men with her whorish ways.

They’re Coming For Your Penis! OR: Toxic Masculinity and the Internet Mob

It’s a pattern we have seen over and over again — women attacked, harassed and threatened for the crimes of being a woman online – especially one daring to enter a “man’s” domain. If a woman dares to participate into those worlds deemed the sole province of masculinity in any way other than for the pleasure of men, then she’s seen as suspect at best and malignant at worst. Fake geek girls prowl conventions and nerd gatherings, looking to prey on unsuspecting geeks, exploiting them for nebulous values of “attention”. Anita Sarkeesian — bro-gaming’s Public Enemy #1 — seeks to neuter video games because fuck you, penis! Dina Abou Karam is hired as a community manager for Mighty 9 and suddenly is part of a feminist conspiracy to take over the game. Alice Mercier is harassed by a games journalist and is blamed for maliciously destroying his reputation. Janelle Asselin critiques a comic cover and is deluged by rape threats. Women become instant targets for harassment simply for the crime of saying “hello” during a Halo 3 deathmatch.

All in the name of taking geekdom back from those eeeeeeevil feminists who’re coming to take away your penis games and your comics and other “man stuff.” Women are coming to steal your manliness! Push back! Strike back!

The narrative of the toxic and fragile masculinity can be seen all over these debates, from the attacks on Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian and others. It’s the battle of “real” men, manly men vs. the White Knights and Social Justice Warriors. The term “White Knight” is tossed about to shame men into not defending women or challenging the sexist harassment. It’s a form of gender policing; “conform to our way of thinking or get your masculinity taken away.” After all, the only possible reason someone might disagree with the gatekeepers of gaming is because they’re trying to ingratiate themselves to women in hopes of sex. White Knights can’t possibly be real men. Real men don’t put pussy on the pedestal; they wave their disgust and resentment of women loud and proud! And what quicker and easier way is there to validate your manliness in the eyes of your peers than by striking back against those emasculating feminists? It’s not enough to simply not purchase Depression Quest — you need to call Zoe Quinn a whore, buying non-existent reviews with sexual favors. You need to threaten to rape women you disagree with because they dare to show their faces online. You need to punish women by threatening to doxx them, to humiliate them with nude photos and use their sex lives as reasons to invalidate them.

This is why the need to prove one’s “manliness” are so toxic; because it’s a never-ending excuse to lash out at others — women especially — in the name of avenging any perceived, even imagined, injustice. The geek community is supposed to be better than this. We need to be better than this.

But we never will be until we stop letting geek culture be defined by fear and hate.

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