I’ve always subscribed to the principal that those who own land, businesses and entertainment venues have the right to decide who is permitted access to their property, for whatever reason they choose. However, whether it’s entirely reasonable in every circumstance is another matter. What if, for example, a land owner chooses to ban avatars with blonde hair, simply because they don’t want blondes around? Many would equate that to discrimination – it’s rife within SL, despite which, I think it would be a tough (and expensive) argument to pursue in a court of law. Yes, you might have some success if you could prove discrimination on the grounds of gender, ethnicity or sexuality, but it becomes a lot more complex when we’re considering spaces that are ‘privately owned’, and involving entities that are entirely virtual.
Let’s imagine, for example, that I’m a caucasian woman whose SL avatar is a male. I’m complaining that I’ve been excluded from an inworld female-only club. My motives are without malice: I prefer the company of women and find mixed clubs threatening, I prefer to use a male avatar because it protects me from being constantly hit upon by men, who seem unable to see a woman without being suggestive, I’m happy to chat in voice, and it’s obvious that my RL sex is female; yet the club owner has banned me, simply because my pixels don’t fit.
Now, there’s lots to unpick here, and I’m not saying any one conclusion is the correct one to draw. You can, for example, say that rules are rules – if you’re not going to stick to them, you pay the consequences. However, just because I don’t fit a stereotypical picture of what a female avatar should look like, despite clear evidence that I am, indeed, female, should I be excluded? Isn’t that a form of discrimination in itself? To add to the confusion, we’re talking about virtual representations of people in a virtual setting, where – at it’s most fundamental – absolutely nothing is real anyway.
Yes, of course that’s a fairly contrived situation – I merely use it to illustrate the point – but it’s not entirely unlikely. And we know, well enough, that a decent proportion of those females in that club are going to be male in RL anyway… They’re just not letting on! So what’s really been achieved?
However, this being SL, that’s not the whole story. Today’s post has arisen out of a thread I came across discussing the practice of banning furries and non-human avatars from clubs. You could question whether that could be considered discriminatory or not – it does, after all, fit into the rationale of ‘you’re not allowed in because I don’t like the way you look’ – but, since we’re talking about an avatar here, you could also argue that it’s something that we choose to put on or wear, and therefore falls into the same category of ‘no jeans, no trainers’. Then again, you could counter that by saying that your avatar is not clothing, it’s an identity, and if you happen to identify as a rabbit or a robot – which you obviously may struggle to recognise in RL – then, when we get to the virtual world, we’re back to the the discrimination debate!
If I’m honest, I don’t entirely understand the logic of banning non-human avatars from any location, apart from some very limited scenarios, such as historical sims where the ambiance and authenticity of the environment would be compromised by any anachronism. I suppose it could also be difficult if you happen to operate a venue with a dress code, how would you enforce a formal dress code when there’s not exactly any frame of reference for formal dress for a dragon or guinea pig… Indeed, you could argue that formal dress in those circumstances could be a good grooming, or a polish of the scales! So, yes, there may be limited situations where I can see non-human avatars could be problematic, but these aside, what’s wrong with having your club open to humans, furries, tinies and hyper-intelligent shades of blue? Nothing, at all, as far as I’m concerned.
You however may feel otherwise and subscribe to the opinion that clubs and other such venues should be segregated – clubs for furries, clubs for other non-humans, clubs for people, and so on. Well, you want venues for avatars who look like people then, do you? If that’s the case, then I’m here to challenge what exactly you mean by that!
If, by human/people, you mean avatars that closely resemble the average person in RL, and which fit into the usual biological and physiological constraints that humanity conforms to, then you’re going to struggle to admit a good half of the humanoid avatars that populate SL. Nine feet tall is not normal, neither are men with tiny heads and mammoth shoulders; or women with figures that, if real, would result in complex, severe, and probably life-threatening medical conditions… Many of the ‘human’ avatars I regularly see in SL are as far removed from normality as any furry.
Whilst many of the – frankly hideous – representations of the human form that are now common in SL don’t float my boat at all, I have no problem with people who wish to adopt them. That surely is the whole point of SL? Be who you want to be, dress as you want to dress, explore your dreams and explore your imagination, and even if it doesn’t fit in with somebody else’s perceptions of beauty or normality, so what? I’m all for letting everyone be themselves, however they may wish to interpret what that may look like. And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s great.
But a reason to exclude them? Hell no!
And I don’t want to ball about like everybody else
And I don’t want to live my life like everybody else
And I won’t say that I feel fine like everybody else’
Cause I’m not like everybody else
Jimmy & The Boys – I’m Not Like Everybody Else