Penny Arcade's dickwolves problem is part of a bigger issue: misogyny

Categories: Geek Speak

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Geekdom has a dickwolf problem.

Now, most of you -- even perhaps some of the geekiest among you -- are asking, "What the fuck is a dickwolf, and what kind of problem is it having?" The dickwolf got its start as a throwaway line in a comic strip from the immensely popular -- and influential -- webcomic Penny Arcade. In its second panel, the strip in question contained a joke about some poor bastard being raped by these mythical dickwolves. (Which, by the way, are wolves made of dicks. Of course.) This lamentable rape joke was part of a larger joke about some of the odd situations that crop up in video games. The main joke, lampooning video-game tropes, was actually pretty funny. The rape joke ... not so much.

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At this point in history, you have to live in a cave (or perhaps Fox News headquarters) to not realize that rape jokes are almost never appropriate. There are ways to make a rape joke that is both funny and non-offensive, but you don't do it by poking fun at the victims of rape, which is what this particular comic was doing. Anyway, there was a big Internet kerfuffle (you can read all about it with a simple "dickwolf" Google search, or check out this timeline of the incident), and the guys (of course it was guys) at Penny Arcade defended the joke, even going so far as to push things further by making and selling a Penny Arcade-branded Dickwolves shirt. Eventually they got tired of all the fighting and offered a typical non-apology and pulled the shirt. Okay, kinda squicky, but whatever -- they backed down. Agree to disagree on what constitutes a funny rape joke, nothing to see here, move along.

Until this past weekend.

Then, during a panel at the massive gaming convention they sponsor every year, Penny Arcade co-founder and artist Mike Krahulik stated, on stage, that they never should have pulled the Dickwolf shirts at all. Non-apology rescinded, and all of you people who have an issue with rape, well, fuck you! Naturally, this got a roar of approval from the crowd. And that is precisely why geekdom has a dickwolf problem.

Let's parse this a bit. Even if you don't find the initial comic that offensive -- I'd argue that it's offensive, but not horrifically so -- the sale of Dickwolf shirts is just ... WTF? These dickwolves, in the mythology that Krahulik and his partner Jerry Holkins dreamed up, exist solely to rape. They are a mythical embodiment of rape. What kind of fucking sleazebag, then, thinks it's a good idea to wear a shirt proudly proclaiming their fandom of the mythic embodiment of rape? Worse, what kind of sleazebags think it's acceptable to profit from the sale of these shirts? And the biggest problem of all: a room full of guys who roar their approval when Krahulik proudly defies his critics and announces that, if he had it to do all over again, he never would have stopped promoting rape in the first place.

Fuck those guys. Seriously.

Yes, okay, he couched it in terms of not backing down, not engaging with critics, etc. Honestly, that probably makes it worse, not better, because it shows that he just does not get it -- that he refuses to get it. And so do the legion of fans gathered to hear him speak, which is the real problem. He enables their mouth-breathing misogyny by standing up there and telling them, "Hey, if we find rape funny, we have a right to laugh! We have a right to promote it, and to profit from it, and anyone who has a problem with that isn't worth even responding to."

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12 comments
xcountry331
xcountry331

I've read many an article about this topic and this has to be the stupidest I have seen yet.  You think this comic is misogynistic?  Even though the imaginary victim of the imaginary rape in the comic is clearly male?  Your take away is that this comic promotes rape and is misogynistic?  Thank you for lowering the level of discourse on this topic to the stupidest of all possible conclusions.

Who the hell is even defending anything rape related here?  You gloss over the point that the "joke" of the comic is aimed squarely at the peculiarities of certain hero video games and suggest that the comic even contains a rape joke. Please point out the joke being made about rape here.  

Your mis-characterization of the entire series of events is also the worst kind of shoddy journalism possible.  It's clear that you've had an article in your mind about misogyny in "geek" culture just stewing about in your little head and decided that, applicability be damned, this was going to be the impetus to get your views on the subject vomited onto a computer screen. You diminish legitimate discussions on both topics of rape and misogyny by this lame attempt to shoehorn your agenda into a wholly unrelated controversy.


Samuel Gault
Samuel Gault

First of all, this is a great article. Well written and very interesting. I think as geekdom has become more 'mainstream' as it were, (with more accessible media like Big Bang Theory, video game culture on the rise and the 'coolification' of geekiness) you see a backlash from men who believe that this subculture is 'theirs' and once women become a more pronounced part of that subculture it has the undesired consequence of pop culture - so in response, you see a lot of men trying to alienate women in an attempt to keep it their own. It's an unfortunate reaction, but I do think with progressive thinking articles like this and Anita Sarkeesian's 'Tropes vs Women..." project, you're seeking a backlash against that backlash.

Dev Adams
Dev Adams

As a female geek (and nerd, BTW), I definitely have seen and have personally experienced the misogyny from those who should be my peers. Guess what? We are all in this together. Wil Wheaton is my hero for standing up and calling out all of the geeks who think that, just by possessing female parts, we aren't as worthy or geeky or "in to it." Will I stop being a geek because I feel like I'm not wanted? Hell no! Will it make me reconsider what I'm cosplaying as or what conventions I go to? Yeah - possibly. And it certainly will make me avoid certain sites, no matter how brilliant, if they decide that their straight, white, male readership is all that matters.

Andrew Cleair
Andrew Cleair

i disagree. simply put, two "geeks" in a room can make all the jokes and comments they want. put a girl in that same room and those two geeks would shred each other for her. who has the power there?

cory.casciato
cory.casciato

@xcountry331 The joke about rape is in panel two, i.e. the center panel in the excerpt shown on pg. 2 of the article. I do not gloss over the central point/joke -- I mention it in my first full paragraph and acknowledge it is pretty funny.

The comic is not misogynistic per se, but the article is not about the comic. It's about misogyny in geek culture. Krahulik's insensitivity to concerns about rape jokes and promotion of and profiting from a t-shirt promoting rape (and intended as a "fuck you" to anyone who found the original joke offensive) is misogynistic. His audience's roar of approval is also misogynistic.

If you have specific concerns about my supposed mischaracterization of events, let's hear them. 

For the record, this is my weekly column and I get to write about whatever I want, whenever I want. I didn't need an excuse to share my views about misogyny in geek culture. The incident in question disgusted me, and I wrote about it. It's that simple. 

cory.casciato
cory.casciato

@Samuel Gault Thanks for the kind words and for sharing your thoughts.

cory.casciato
cory.casciato

@Craig Hawkins True, but I see more acceptance of female fans among, say, NFL fans than I do among geeks. What's up with that?

cory.casciato
cory.casciato

@Dev Adams Agreed: Wil Wheaton is awesome for this reason and many others. Also, thanks for sharing your perspective.

cory.casciato
cory.casciato

@Andrew Cleair Sure, and the second that they decide that neither of them can "have" her (notice how icky that language is, by the way?), they will both team up to tear her down and be shitty to her. Now, who has the power here?

xcountry331
xcountry331

@cory.casciato Panel two isn't a joke.  Clearly neither of us are comic artists but from mere experience i think we can all agree that the second of a three panel comic is not where the joke can be found.  The outrage over the rape joke is egregious in this case because there is no joke about rape.  The outrage is essentially that you can't even mention rape when trying to make a joke.  In this case the "rape" was hyperbole to illustrate the suffering of the victim character.  Are you suggesting that the comic was making fun of the clearly pitiful victim character?

I am still missing your point, even if one were to concede that this comic was making a joke about rape, that this is an appropriate diving off point to discuss misogyny in geek culture.  Are you suggesting that women are and can only be the victims of rape?

Also, where is the outrage about the "joke" about slavery or captivity or whatever the hell situation the victim character finds himself in?  Why no outrage over the morning beatings? It's cool to make a joke about beatings as long as no rape is involved?

I am curious if you have seen the post by Mike Krahulik today http://penny-arcade.com/2013/09/04/some-clarification and if you'll be dismissing that as a non-apology as well.  Your statement that the "non-apology" was rescinded and Krahulik said fuck you to everyone offended is clearly not what was said  in the recent PAX panel.  You make these bald interpretations without so much as providing actual quotes.  Do you really think that either the statements or actions of Penny Arcade are meant to promote rape and profit from it?  That's just lazy writing.  

cory.casciato
cory.casciato

@xcountry331 Is a discussion of whether or not a second panel of a comic can be considered a "joke" really germane to this discussion? Whether you call it a "joke" or not, it is clearly supposed to be funny and it makes light of rape.

Women may not be the only victims of rape, but rape is clearly an issue that affects women more than men. Men can get raped, but I do not believe that many men live every day of their life wondering if this is the day they get raped the way that many women do. At least, not those who aren't in prison anyway. Rape and misogyny are inextricably linked, a point I made throughout.

You conflating rape with beatings and wondering where the outrage for that can be found is absurd. The two are not similar at all. if you really think they are, and aren't just trolling, you need to educate yourself. Explaining this to you is beyond the scope of a comment thread on a website.

This is an op-ed piece, and yes, I was presenting my interpretation of what he said. I think that was pretty clear. I saw his post today. It was about as much of a non-apology as it could possibly be: he says he regrets making the shirts AND he regrets stopping selling them. That makes no sense: I regret this awful thing I did, but I also regret stopping doing it. WTF is that?

I do think the Dickwolves shirt was made to profit and promote a cavalier attitude toward rape. And also as a "fuck you" to anyone that expressed an issue with the original comic, which makes it worse, not better. The message is "Hey, rape is funny, and putting a pro-rape message on a shirt is acceptable, funny and a good way to make money. Also, it pisses people who are offended by our making light of rape off, so BONUS!"

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