Sexism, feminism, Twitch: that Sky Williams video

I don’t even really know where to start with this, but I wanted to quickly touch on the Sky Williams video.

If you haven’t heard of it yet, game comedian and player Sky Williams posted a video titled “Dear Female Streamers.” It’s a tirade against “bad” women streamers – you know, the ones who are too sexy to stream. He didn’t name specific names, but the video did include pictures of women streamers with ample cleavage. Most of Sky’s argument against these women are that they 1) make it too difficult for other women streamers who don’t show cleavage/aren’t sexy enough to get involved with streaming and that it intimidates them and 2) women who stream like this are manipulating young men into giving them money.

There are so many things wrong with these claims that I don’t even know where to begin, but I’ll touch on those in a moment. Sky has subsequently streamed twice since the video was released three days ago, once alone, in an effort to clarify his position, and once Thursday night, with guests Kaceytron and eventually Totalbiscuit. Also on Thursday a special episode of Dropped Frames also took place, with streamers lolRenaynay, ShannonZKiller, Kaceytron, and Dexbonus, all prominent streamers with thousands of Twitter followers each, most of them all strongly against Sky’s views.

All of this made for a really interesting day on Twitter, I’ll tell you that.

While I hesitate to give Sky Williams credit for opening this discussion, as this is a discussion that women have been having among themselves for sometime, it has certainly exploded in just a few days. Williams has claimed he’s receiving death threats now, and this is reprehensible. Nobody deserves that type of fear. What this evolving conversation has shown to me is that it’s now time to leave him out of the discussion and move on to the claims themselves, and to look hard at the root of these claims and possible solutions.

It’s no surprise that Twitch can be a toxic place for women to be in. Women are subjected to intense verbal harassment in chat. I’m a big advocate for safe spaces in Twitch chat, something that I think places like Stream Friends and Feminist Cabal cultivate with care. Unfortunately, not all chats are created equal and more often than not, you are subjected to this harassment for the simple fact of being a woman. This is the fundamental flaw in Sky Williams’ argument: it doesn’t matter if you’re covered up, it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, if you are a woman on Twitch, at some point in your life you will most likely run into harassment.

The only people to blame in this situation are the harassers, not other women streamers.

Let me say that again: women streamers are not the enemy.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. We live in a society that values conventional beauty and relentlessly pits women against each other. When I was younger, this was something I struggled with. It’s easy to see a woman getting a job I wanted, a boy I wanted to like, anything and everything easier than me. It’s no secret that there is an unconscious bias against fat people, against unconventionally attractive people. It’s easy to look at all that and say, “hey, it’s not fair that they get that. They took that from me.” It’s easy to look at this evidence and to look at streamers who use their attractiveness to their advantage and to say, “hey, that isn’t fair.”

It’s not fair. It is the worst thing to see something that you want be taken away from you and feel that it was only taken away because you weren’t good enough.

But that isn’t other women’s faults. As I grew older, I came to know that. I came to meet amazing women, all struggling against the same thing, the sexist and patriarchal society that we live in. These women are not responsible for the harassment that men heap upon women. That responsibility is solely on the harasser.

One of the things that makes me saddest in the world is women who hate other women because they are trying to be seen as “cool” or liked by men. And this feels awfully like that.

Sky’s second point makes me less sad and much more enraged. Listen to me closely: women are not responsible for how men behave.

Listen again: women are not responsible for the actions that men take and the way that they behave when they are sexually frustrated.

One more time: women are not responsible for the gross, inappropriate, and sometimes terrible behavior men display, on Twitch, or in life.

I think that about covers my initial thoughts. I don’t think Sky thought he would get pushback, which is very telling of the type of community he’s engaged in. He’s had problematic behavior in the past with certain eSports videos concerning women, so I’m by no mines letting him off the hook, but this is a complicated issue that should have been handled by women in the industry. He frequently mentioned how he knew women who didn’t stream because they felt intimidated by women who used their attractiveness for clicks and I understand and sympathize with that. He has mentioned that he is working on a followup video and I’m interested to see if he’s learned anything in the past few days.

That being said, it’s time for him to be out of this discussion now. It’s time for men to stand aside and listen and learn. The last few days were fast and furious and have resulted in many conversations in the streaming community, and I’m so invested in seeing where it goes from here.

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Twitch: Behind The Music

Today Twitch introduced Twitch Music, a new site brimming with 500 songs for casters to use, royalty free, on their casts, and to prevent those pesky muting problems that have been happening with VODS and streams. Twitch’s new music library features EDM artists and playlists for your perusal and use.

Last year, Twitch started muting VODS and streams that played copyrighted music “without permission.” Understanding the tenuous relationships between musicians, particularly games musicians, and their copyrights, permissions, and dealings with services like Tunecore is tricky. Services like Tunecore are meant to obtain royalties and, up until Twitch and Youtube, had been used primarily for collecting royalties from songs used in movies and television. Now, services like Tunecore, jointly with services like Content ID, mute videos of games being played, as the copyright maker isn’t being paid for their music being used.

It’s a mess without an easy solution and a host of questions. Music makers, and gamemakers, for that matter, deserve to be paid. But many of these creators want broadcasters to be able to play their games and music without a hassle for the caster. How does that happen without potentially harming these creators financially? Should they be paid? How much? It’s free publicity, right?

These questions, and more than I can think of right now, will need to be answered, and soon. Twitch is taking preliminary steps to try and present a solution with their free music library. It leaves much to be desired, though. On their site, they welcome musicians to apply to be part of the library but with a pretty steep catch:

If you are an artist, label or other music copyright holder and are interested in making music freely available to the Twitch audience and you have a minimum of 250,000 subscribers or followers on YouTube, Facebook and/or Twitter, we would love to hear from you.

What? Twitch pls. 250k followers? You have to have some serious public trajectory to get on that list. Games musicians generally do not meet that limit. Most musicians in general do not meet that limit. I’m baffled at why Twitch would ask for such a high following to be allowed to use their service – I can only imagine that they’re paying these artists or labels, and so don’t want to open it up to everyone, as that would open the gates to having to pay everyone, too. I’m on the side of “pay for what you use,” so if Twitch is paying those people, cheers for them. At the same time, you’re cutting off a community that has been thriving and building its own music scene, that can’t participate and will be punished for trying. Streamers will resort to the library to make sure that their VODS and streams don’t get muted, leaving these musicians out in the cold. What strikes me more is that popular games musicians don’t make the cut, either. People like Austin Wintory, who scored Journey, or Grant Kirkhope, who scored iconic games like Donkey Kong. Their follower counts fall far below the necessary 250k required to be part of Twitch’s library.

The second part of Twitch’s announcement today had to do with an experimental “beta music category.” Which, I have to say, isn’t that experimental, as “Music” has been an option as “Game” for months now, with games musicians creating music for games on Twitch already. Still, it’s nice to see Twitch opening up to broader horizons. I hope they go far with this. Once again, though, this seems aimed at already high profile musicians, as they namedrop Deadmau5 and Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst, to name a few. While I’m heartened by this change, I hope Twitch doesn’t lose focus on the community that made it what it is today.

Twitch provided an FAQ, that you can read here, if you so choose.

Twitch’s New Rule: Cry More, Boys

Multi-million dollar company Twitch changed their Rules of Conduct recently (not to be confused with their Terms of Service – a distinction worth noting). The new rule is below.

Dress…appropriately
Nerds are sexy, and you’re all magnificent, beautiful creatures, but let’s try and keep this about the games, shall we?

Wearing no clothing or sexually suggestive clothing – including lingerie, swimsuits, pasties, and undergarments – will most likely get you reported by the community, as well as any full nude torsos*, which applies to both male and female broadcasters. You may have a great six-pack, but that’s better shared on the beach during a 2-on-2 volleyball game blasting “Playing with the Boys.”

* If it’s unbearably hot where you are, and you happen to have your shirt off (gents) or a bikini top (ladies), then just crop the webcam to your face. If your lighting is hot, get fluorescent bulbs to reduce the heat. Xbox One Kinect doesn’t zoom? Move it closer to you, or turn it off. There is always a workaround.

We sell t-shirts, and those are always acceptable. #Kappa

(it’s worth noting, also, that the third paragraph, the one starting with an asterisk, was added after the initial post).

While Twitch’s new rules seem designed to specifically make streams family friendly, in terms of nudity, at least, the response has been anything but heralding the now Amazon-owned property as “friendly.”

People don’t have problems with male nudity, it seems – only problems with girls who do it for the attention.

Listen, guys, I get it. You don’t have lady parts. You know, instinctively, that breasts are attractive – most people do, myself included. Ain’t no shame in that (unless you’re the weird, grabby, oversexualizing type of person, in which case, yet, get the hell away from women). I can, maybe, see why you would call it an “unfair advantage” if women have their breasts prominently displayed on a cast, especially with Twitch being such a cutthroat place do business in. What I don’t understand is why you take it personally.

I get it! It’s a tough place for men out there who feel personally victimized by a woman’s success. It’s a tough place when you think that women are successful solely based on their sex appeal and not on their merits or entertaining personalities. It must be tough, going to the front page of Twitch and constantly seeing rows of men on the front page every single day, knowing that you’ll never achieve their success and somehow thinking it’s because their entertaining and maybe one day you can be them, if only for those damn breasts. Must be tough, in a world where men make 23% more than women (not including women of color – a number far more grim, where men make something like 32% more). Must be tough, in a world where women now make up more than half of people playing video games and your special toys are no longer so special.

Twitch has its problems, don’t get me wrong. But it isn’t women who stream with low cut shirts. If people complained half as much about the hate-speech filled language that fills chats, maybe I would care more about what they said. But no, the hill that people are choosing to die on is the hill filled with sexist, misandrist speak, already on fire and burning from an industry that already turns its face away from women suffering.

Livestreaming, I firmly believe, is the new frontier, the understudy in the wings waiting for its chance to shine, and Twitch is at the very forefront. Amazon and Google seem to believe this too, if you remember the chatter when Google was first rumored to buy Twitch. With all this press and the pressure to live up to, we need to be vigilant about the precedent it will set when it bursts onto the stage of mainstream consciousness. Girls with low cut shirts isn’t what we need to rein in if we want to keep the image of games as art progressing forward – it’s the sexism, the racism, the homophobia, the hate speech that lurks in every Twitch chat and around the corner of every stream. If viewers on Twitch want to burn something at the stake, let it be that.