Friday, August 15, 2014

On Being Objective: You Can’t

Recently I wrote up an article about how much of a bummer it is to want to be a part of the gaming industry while knowing that just being a part of the gaming community as a woman pretty much guarantees you harassment of some kind. Any time I write something like this and put it up in a space that isn’t dedicated to feminists, I get the ol’ “you’re not being objective” bit. Sometimes it seems like all you have to say is “sexism in the gaming community exists” to have some dude ride in on his Super Smart Guy Intellectual Horse and tell you you’re not being objective as though this is one of the Seven Deadly Sins of Intellectual Gamer Dudes.

It’s not just with gamers, though. Whether it’s a space about politics or atheism or science-y doodads or philosophy pontificating or any number of infinite possible topics, talk about sexism (or racism or homophobia or transphobia) and out comes the speech about objectivity.

Here is the thing that these guys are missing – the thing that I would like to shout from the mountaintops for all eternity:


When these dudes use the word “objective,” they mean, “not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice.” Well, what they really mean is “I will latch onto any excuse not to listen to what you have to say,” but the definition of objective is, basically, unbiased.

To anyone who thinks that they can ever not be influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudices, I say, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA get real.

Honestly, I don’t really blame people all that much for mistakenly thinking that they are aware of or can control everything that goes on in their brains. People don’t know how the brain works, at least not in the US. This is why, as dictator, I would institute mandatory psychology education in every classroom starting from fucking Kindergarten.


The first mistake of these Worshippers of the Objective is to demand objectivity where objectivity was never the goal. Striving to be as objective as possible has its place – in research papers, lab experiments, informational news stories, etc. The piece I wrote about sexual harassment in the gaming industry wasn’t meant to be objective at all. In fact, it was about my personal feelings on the matter. I explained this to the objectivity demanders multiple times, but this was ignored in favor of demanding objectivity some more.

What’s also fun is that the same people who would demand objectivity from me would not do the same toward an emotional piece that they agreed with. You never see commenters on pieces of writing that are railing against the latest perceived attack on video games (whether it be another study linking gaming and aggression or politicians mentioning anything about age restrictions) insisting that the author be more objective in their assessment of the situation. That anger is totally justified and okay. Mention sexism and any hint of emotion is grounds for immediate dismissal.

The second mistake they make is to assume that because an issue doesn’t directly affect them (or not in the same way that it affects you), they are objective observers and therefore better qualified to speak on it.

I love this gif
Nobody is completely objective. The men who read my article about women in the gaming community being sexually harassed are not objective. The negative emotions and general defensiveness of each of the Objectivity Disciples was clear as day. One was demanding that I be objective in one breath and whining about how offended he was in the next. Even men who weren’t offended were going to have some emotional reaction to it. If you are driven to care enough to comment, there’s emotion behind that. If you don’t care, that’s still not objectivity, just apathy.

And no one is without prejudices. No two people interpret something exactly the same way. Each individual person has their own unique mind shaped by a unique collection of experiences. Our emotions affect our prejudices, which affect our interpretations, which affect our emotions, round and round again constantly each moment of our lives until we die. This is the human subconscious – the functions of the brain that happen without us knowing. If you don’t believe me, please feel free to consult any Psych 101 textbook.

Such a good loop
The third mistake they make is to assume that not being directly affected makes them at all more objective. All this does is give them a different perspective which has its own flaws. Do my strong emotions about sexual harassment skew my perspective on the issue? Sure, probably. At the same time, the fact that a man has a much lesser chance of being sexually harassed and therefore doesn’t really have to worry about it makes it impossible for him to know what it’s really like. This is also a flaw in perspective – he is likely to underestimate both the scope of and the damage caused by the issue.

It’s also false to assume you’re ever not in some way affected by an issue like this. Privileged people are still affected by issues of marginalization, especially when things finally begin to shift away from their favor. The people who took issue with my lack of perfect objectivity then went on to talk about how men fear doing something that will be interpreted as sexual harassment and be unfairly fired. This fear would naturally lead to a desire, whether conscious or subconscious, to stifle conversation about sexual harassment that might lead to stricter rules, thereby increasing the chances that their fears come true. Their interpretations, prejudices, and emotions around the issue make them just as un-objective as I am.

So from here on out, I’m going to call out anyone who misuses the word “objective.” In fact, I’m just going to send them a link to this post. If you’re reading this after chastising me for not being objective, well, to be honest, I’m surprised you read the whole thing. Good for you!

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