A poster on the RooshV Forum asked an interesting question yesterday: why are so many male nerds so eager to White Knight for women on the internet whom they’ve never met?
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, a white knight is a man who “rides to the rescue” of a woman, any woman, who is under attack on the internet. No matter what she’s done, no matter how horrible a person she is, the white knight is there to protect her against her enemies. Usually this is limited to internet posts, but occasionally it extends to bizarre threats of real-world violence. Here’s Greg Costikyan, writing at the game site Gamasutra, threatening to get on a horse and shoot you if you say mean things about women he’s never met:
“To defend the honor of Anita Sirkeesian, Zoe Quinn, Leigh Alexander, or yes, Anna Anthropy, I will be willing to meet any of you, on horse or afoot, with sword or pistol, at a time and place of your choosing.”
If you’ve followed #Gamergate at all, you’ve doubtless seen dozens of similar examples, some of them even here at our own site.
What makes them do this?
The standard explanation for this bizarre behavior is that the white knight wants to have sexual intercourse with the women he’s defending, and he’s trying to get into her pants the same way Han Solo wins Princess Leia in Star Wars: saving the day and earning her undying love and gratitude. This belief goes all the way to the late 2000s, and you can see it in the quintessential White Knight image below, which shows a knight sitting at a computer in an empty room, with several strikes under a sentence reading “Maidens that I’ve Rescued on the Internet”, and no strikes under the sentence below, “Rescued Maidens that have Rewarded Me With Sex.”
You can also see this in the “know your meme” page for White Knights, which defines the term as: “a pejorative term used to describe men who defend women on the Internet with the assumption that they are looking for a romantic reward in return.”
Under this theory, Mr. Costikyan’s bizarre theatrics above are an attempt to win the love of Zoe Quinn, Leigh Alexander, et al. This theory has held for almost ten years, and has been repeated uncritically by any number of commentators, many of whom are far smarter and far more widely-read than I. I believe, however, that I can refute it with a single picture:
This is a picture of Zoe Quinn. This is the woman Mr. Costikyan is supposedly willing to risk his life in a cavalry duel for. This is the woman knights everywhere are rushing to defend. (And this was the first picture when I googled her name, so no accusing me of picking and choosing.) The idea that they’re doing it for a chance to take a roll in the hay with her seems… improbable, to say the least. There are all sorts of jokes that could be made here, but the “Zoe Quinn is ugly” horse was beaten to death months ago, so I’ll refrain from making any here.
Zoe Quinn is hardly the exception to the rule, either. The majority of the women a white knight protects will look similar to her. Some will look even worse. It’s impossible to imagine men in any number lining up to sleep with them. So if it’s not sexual attraction, what is it?
All Women Are Video Game Characters And Movie Princesses
I submit that the white knight is a product of the desocialization of the modern American man. This is particularly true for the American nerd, a class from which the vast majority of white knights are drawn. At any other time before, say, the 1980s, an introverted young man would’ve had a very large circle of women he knew. He would know women at his church or some other social group. He would likely have grown up in a large family, with sisters, aunts, and cousins. This is no longer the case, however.
Contrast this with a nerd who grew up in the days of video games, which we’ll say is anybody born after 1982. Take Arthur Chu, noted #Gamergate opponent and white knight. He’s said in interviews that he was very socially isolated growing up, and that he moved from school to school because of his dad’s job. It’s safe to assume he had few, if any, female friends, and if he had any sisters he never mentions them.
So where would he have formed his ideas about what women are like? Mr. Chu was born in 1984, which means he would’ve been in middle school when he first saw this girl:
For those of you who may not know her, that’s Tifa Lockheart, heroine of Final Fantasy 7, our second best game of all time. She’s the stuff of every young boy’s fantasies, if you can look past her rather boxy appearance: a kind, caring martial arts master with triple D breasts that bounce when you do her special moves.
He also might very well have seen this anime girl:
That’s Rei Ayanami from Neon Genesis Evangelion. She’s a beautiful, introverted girl who secretly loves you but is just too shy to express it. (At least, I think so anyway. I’ve actually never seen Evangelion, and her appeal is mostly lost on me.) It’s hard to overstate what an immense pull she had on boys in the 1990s. I once read an essay by a Japanese manga editor who described how every week when the TV show was airing, he would write hundreds of pages of fanfiction about the imaginary adventures he went on with her. When she died near the end of the TV show he went into his room for 2 weeks and wouldn’t come out.
Even if he didn’t play Final Fantasy 7 or watch Evangelion, a nerd like him probably read hundreds of fantasy books and played dozens of video games which featured similar female characters: all attractive, all kind, and all virtuous. The fact that they aren’t actually real doesn’t really matter, what matters is the fact that the number of fake women a White Knight encounters through video games, books, and TV during the first 20-25 years of his life is far greater than the number of real women he’ll get to know.
No one will accuse me of sexism, I’m sure, if I say that real women are very often flawed creatures. Some women are nigh-angelic beings whose very presence enriches the lives of everyone around them. Some are monstrous bitches who should’ve been thrown in a river to drown at birth. A wide circle of female acquaintances will introduce a growing boy to some of the former, hopefully only a few of the latter, and a great number of women who aren’t as close to either extreme. He’ll know good women and bad women, pretty women and ugly women. This means when he sees a woman like say, Zoe Quinn, he’s unlikely to be impressed.
A man who knows only fictional women, though, may have a very different opinion of Ms. Quinn. Video game, anime, and movie heroines all have one thing in common: they’re all written to be perfect, and to be worth defending. Princess Leia is worth battling Darth Vader for. Tifa Lockheart is worth a fight against a guy with a 15-foot long samurai sword. Ayanami Rei is worth… whatever you do for Ayanami Rei. Something involving giant robots, I assume. If these heroines were by-and-large the only girls you “knew”, you might very well assume that all women are like them, and all women are perfect. And this assumption is even easier to make over the Internet, where you don’t know anything about the woman you’re defending beyond a few paragraphs of text. I submit to you that nerdy White Knights reflexively defend women because the vast majority of women they know are perfect (and completely fictional) creatures.
I don’t claim that this pathology explains every White Knight, particularly those are older, or those who are more socially adept. But I think it may explain a large amount of the behavior we see on the internet, and particularly surrounding #Gamergate
So if this is true, how do you fight a white knight?
If this theory is correct, there’s one obvious and immediate application: stop accusing white knights of wanting to have sex with the “maidens” they’re protecting. It’s not true, at least, it’s not their conscious motivation. And telling them that the maiden they’re protecting is flawed she-beast isn’t likely to work either; their ideas of feminine perfection are simply too ingrained for that to work.
I believe that one answer is simply to laugh at them. White Knights are socially malformed creatures, and so are extremely vulnerable to social ridicule. (Arthur Chu, for example, has blocked me on twitter despite my never contacting or mentioning him before this article; he’s so afraid I’ll say something mean to him.) Ridicule them as utter losers, who defend women only because they’ve never actually known any real ones.
If readers have any thoughts on this, or alternate theories as to why White Knights behave the way they do, I would be very interested to hear them in the comments.
As an aside, there is a certain degree of tension between differing groups in #Gamergate as to the attractiveness of fictional characters. If you are among the camp who would rather look at pictures of naked anime girls than date one of the women around you… well, if the women around you look like Zoe Quinn, as they increasingly seem to in some parts of the western Hemisphere, more power to you. (Though if you’d like to try your hand at finding a real-life woman, Roosh has a very nice program here.) You are allowed to make your own choices in life, and I’m certainly not going to hassle you about them. It’s when you start confusing the fictional and the real, and pretending to be the hero of your own personal real-life, white-knighting video game, that you open yourself up to ridicule.