Tone arguing

An argument recently blew up on my gaming forum, truegaming, concerning the treatment of female cosplayers in the community.  For those of you reading who don’t know, cosplaying is like Halloween, except all year round.

The gist of the post can be summarised as “gamers tend to be nerds who can’t find a girl, so that’s why they hate women”.  The board, predictably, exploded at this assertion, prompting all kinds of responses.  Those deeply offended by the post called for its removal, calling the poster a shill for the evil feminist agenda.  Those who make a point of pushing for equal treatment in the gaming community voted in favour of the post, though their comments were generally voted down.  So what did I do?

I deleted the thread.

It didn’t quite have the effect I assumed it would.  I thought the detractors would commiserate, opining that it was a tough call but had to be done.  I thought the supporters would agree enthusiastically.  The result was quite the opposite: some of the detractors (who I never particularly agreed with in the first place) were glad to see their moderator sticking it to the feminists.  On the other side, I was accused of using a “tone argument” in my justification for removal.

A tone argument is one in which those in a position of privilege basically say “calm down dear, we can’t take your complaints seriously with all this female shrieking”.  I’d never encountered the term before I was accused of employing the tactic, and when I found out about it, I went into a pretty deep funk for a while.

I’ve come out the other side, though, and I’m willing to tell myself that I didn’t, in fact, use the tone argument – or rather, if I did, it wasn’t simply to avoid the issue.  That, to me, seems to be the crux of the problem, that those on the defending side derail genuine concerns by dismissing the argument as ‘hysterical’.

Sexism in the gaming community is a big problem, and it’s not going to go away any time soon.  If someone came onto my board and posted in a profanity-laden rant about how the treatment of women was utter bullshit, that we have a severe “boy’s club” mentality, and that it exists directly as a result of our collective apathy, I’d allow that.  I’d welcome it.  It’s confrontational, sure, but it’s a point.

I don’t think calling an undefined group of people “dateless nerds” achieves anything.  I think it reflects badly on those who push for progress, because the vocal, backwards segment of the gaming community already thinks of feminists as ridiculous, easily-offended, man-hating hippies with too much time on their hands.  I believe that reinforcing those notions – when there is no genuine point to be made – will result in that vocal, backwards segment retreating further and further into their narrow lines of thought.  And that’s just going to make it harder the next time you try to convince them this is a very real and serious issue that needs to be addressed, not only by liberal faux-intellectuals, but by themselves.  It seems to me that the stonewalling we receive is a direct result of being incredibly defensive, and making them more defensive for no appreciable gain only hurts the cause.


I don’t know; I’m still pretty upset that I might’ve crossed a line.

4 Comments on “Tone arguing”

  1. I once heard a guy express the thought that women were less likely than men to sit down and take the time to master something. He used the guitar as an example (can we say “The Black Belles”). He very much personified (at the time) the mentality you explained at the beginning of the post (dateless and allowing insecurities to rule his opinions). While there were many times I would have loved to rant in his face about his misogynistic behavior and rude commentary, it would not have helped. Instead my boyfriend and I patiently remained his friend, and I simply tried to offer a good example of how there is no difference between ability in women and men, only a difference in effort between people. It was far more effective than any ranting or finger pointing ever could have been. You cannot stop behavior fed by insecurity in this way because it will only increase that person’s insecurity, and thus shut them down and make the behavior worse. So, I don’t think you did a bad thing.

    If you keep feeling badly about it though, continue to explore it in other posts. This was an interesting read!

    • Ryan English says:

      Thanks for this, genuinely. I’m still in two minds about whether or not I made the right decision, but it’s nice to hear that my choice wasn’t wholly without merit.

      The story about your friend resonates with me, because although I’ve never been quite so ignorant to say “women are less likely than men to sit down and take the time and master something”, I wasn’t as perceptive as a teenager as I might’ve been. I don’t know where you find the patience, but good on you.

      If you’re interested, I wrote a comment in my forum a couple of months back which attempted to explain privilege and how it seeped into gaming. It’s on the blog here:

      Thanks for visiting!


      • I’ve been visiting ever since I read your breakdown of Idiocracy (love that movie!).

        All right, all right, I have to confess too! I would have taken the rant in his face approach had not my boyfriend (now fiancee) taken me aside and reminded me about why the high road matters (as in it would make both me and the other person feel worse if I ranted and raved, but remaining friends and accepting others for both the good and bad actually has the potential to change people).

        I was one of those teenagers that felt like I was smarter than everyone (so maybe it was good college beat that out of me), and this came with a false sense of moral superiority as well (surprising college didn’t beat that out of me, wasn’t exactly a “good” girl). Without my fiancee’s help I would not have handled the situation well at all. Even with his help I probably could have handled it better; but hey, hindsight’s 20/20 while the moment is mostly blind, right?

        Thanks for your honesty, it prompted some of my own!

  2. Okay, a confession: There were a couple of times I ranted in his face. But usually the rants came out about completely ridiculous and unrelated things (like Firefly, the tv show). Yeah, I know, displaced anger is weird.

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