September 24, 2012
Trigger Warning: This article contains graphic language about rape and violence.
Street harassment is nothing new. From the supposedly flattering to the outright threatening, it follows anyone guilty of Walking While Pretty. Or Walking While Not Pretty. Or Walking While Not White. Or Walking. But as the internet brings encyclopedias, music, and friends on other continents into our living rooms and bedrooms, harassment follows. This is particularly evident in online gaming, perhaps the ultimate cesspit of sexism (and racism and homophobia and transphobia and…) on the internet short of communities solely dedicated to those aims. But in a cross between Hollaback (which lets harassees “holler back” virtually at street harassment, not uncontroversially) and Feministe’s Next Top Troll, the women gamers who are the recipients of this constant curdling onslaught are fighting back by naming, shaming, and most of all laughing. And if you have a strong stomach, then you, too, should visit FatUglyorSlutty.com.
The name comes from the three most common tropes in online gaming harassment: the girl (who often just beat our strapping lad) must be fat or ugly, or why else would she bother with games rather than shopping (for shoes or boyfriends)? Or slutty, because (a) girl gamers are HAWT, which means sex object, which means slut, (b) it’s the go-to insult for women “outside their place” and threatening male power, or (c) both at the same time. Given that this is often combined with propositioning, however, coherence decreases even further, but when the messages come from such brilliant usernames as DeAdGiRlZrEasy, and make text messages look Shakespearean, that’s not surprising. And given how much this is about power, about the response to women entering male-coded spaces, not surprising either is the frequency and forcefulness of rape “jokes.”
Beyond those four main categories, Fat, Ugly or Slutty also tags posts with other snarky categories (with ever so many [sic]s). There’s Sandwich Making 101, e.g. the strangely polite “get back in the kitchen please. thank you.” Closely paired is Stepford Mentality, e.g. “YOUR A GIRL ! STOP PLAYING VIDEO GAME CAUSE YOUR AN IDIOT AN YOU SUCK AT THEM !” A step up (or down or sideways) is Crudely Creative: “me and u 1 on 1 in the bed room hows that sound” (also an example of Lewd Proposal). Then there’s Jealous, much?, when the harassment seems a direct response to losing! to a girl!, and Pen15 club, awarded for the nearly-obligatory penis mentions in these messages, which have found their ultimate expression in a text-art ejaculating penis.
And then there’s the Death Threats tag.
What’s scariest are not the simple projections of cruelty but those that bounce back and forth, like this which goes from “am gonna slit your throat you *****…” to “can i have yo number” to “AM GONNA **** YOUR COLD HARD BODY” to “love you x”–all apparently because the woman in questions had more online friends than her harasser.
As might be expected posts usually merit at least four of these tags, sometimes in the strangest combinations. Then there’s the just plain weird, like S1ggit’s important question “this question may sound werid [sic] but what color toenails do you have” or Death Muffins’ “can I butter ur muffin.” Then there’s H I TTTT L 3 R, who interrupts his series of HEIL HITLER and WHITE POWER messages to demand (in one-word messages) GO BACK TO THE KITCHEN.
Online harassment is, however, Serious Business. There’s a danger, here, turning sexism (especially the incompetent faily kind, as displayed) into comedy gold: it can be easy for the focus to be on the stupid people being stupid, rather than sexist people in a sexist society being sexist (and using the power that that sexist society grants them to do so quite invasively). When online sexism is brought up in more general spaces, that’s often the response from commenters: it’s just some bad apples being stupid. Ignore them, or laugh at them, don’t feed the trolls, and poof! all done. Fat, Ugly or Slutty at first seems to encourage this view.
But despite the disclaimer on the About page that this is all for humor (and maybe for the shaming), the comment the submitter can add to her post, and the space for others’ comments below, give room to vent the genuine anger as well as ridicule the harassment generates. Perhaps most importantly, however, for changing this situation, the relentless chronicling by Fat, Ugly or Slutty, even as it encourages laughter and shaming, helps break through that bad apples/matter-for-laughter delusion. And as a recent staff post to the blog points out, things are changing. Kotaku has hired prominent female critics. Game expos include panels on sexism. The Times writes a front-page story. It’s finally becoming a problem that does dare speak its name, or rather one that others (than the targets) are deigning to notice.
Nathanael Deraney is a senior in Yale College. He is a staff writer for Broad Recognition.