The Trouble With Teabagging

Teabagging has been a gaming staple for at least two decades, but it's back in the news again. That's after Dilly was Apex Legends tournament organiser Fate Legion threatened to disqualify and permanently ban from Apex Legends Fate Legion tournaments for teabagging his own teammate. This was swiftly followed by what I can only describe as a Twitter rant from FPS streamer Gladd, whipping up the debate around teabagging – which has always swirled for as long as it has been a thing – back up again. There's usually very little nuance to these debates, but I think in this specific instance, I stand in the middle and can offer a more measured view. The disqualification was silly and unnecessary, but I also feel Gladd's tweet, which speaks to the loudest and most obnoxious attitudes in esports/online shooters, was equally silly and unnecessary. Sometimes teabagging is fine, and sometimes it's bad, and it's in this 'sometimes' where all logic and balance gets lost.

I think of teabagging as being similar to pulling someone's pants down. If you're all in a group of mates having a laugh, it's basically fine. The victim might get embarrassed or upset, but they're always a chance for them to get their own back next time. Even in a group of lads who don't really know each other but are all having a laugh, if you pull down someone's pants, chances are you get a big cheer and there's a nice team bonding thing going on. If you pull down a woman's pants, you know you've crossed a line. I don't want to hear any egalitarian bullshit about how if women truly want equal rights, they should simply allow men to pull down their jeans so everyone can have a big laugh. We all know, from living in the real world, that pulling down your best mate's trousers is very different to pulling down a random woman's trousers.

Teabagging is not pulling down someone's pants, of course. It's the act of squatting over someone's avatar while they lay on the floor, dying or dead. The teabags are your balls, which I suppose makes their mouth the teacup. It's a very patriarchal act, and one shaped by sexual dominance. Gladd says that it's wrong to compare teabagging to sexual assault (I'm paraphrasing the rant slightly), and he's correct. It's irresponsible and trivialises sexual assault to compare it to what is, in isolation, a fairly harmless act. Dilly did not sexually assault his teammate in Fate Legion. He was just having a bit of a joke with his friend. It's the old adage – no harm, no foul.

But of course, sometimes there is harm. Teabagging a female player can have a new context. If you're teabagging all of your kills, and one of them happens to be a woman, I think that's fine. If you're the type of person to teabag everyone over and over again, then you're probably the type to laugh at your own jokes, but that's not a particularly heinous crime. The issue is that women are frequently targeted by this (as well as most other forms of griefing) for having a femme voice on mic or some other cue on their profile that they are female. When women are harassed with teabagging over and over again, often accompanied by demands to "suck my dick, bitch", it becomes a lot less amusing and far more draining. You're not just laughing at your own jokes anymore, you're laughing at your own rape jokes.

The esports world is not a level playing field for women, and teabagging is clearly based around sexual dominance, in the way a lot of homoerotic-adjacent banter among young men is (see also: joking about penis sizes, drawing a cock and balls everywhere, and of course, pulling down each others' pants). Esports already feels like a toxic space for women, and while the disqualification in question is not linked to that, it feels like the community response is.

Gladd told his followers "[if you don't like teabagging] You’re a fucking soft ass pussy bitch twat. Put down games. Go somewhere else." Let's look at 'fucking soft ass pussy bitch twat'. Three of those words are explicitly gendered, while another ('soft') has an implicit gender. It's likely subconscious, but this message is aimed at women – or men who sometimes agree with women and see them as fully rounded beings, which to a lot of people like Gladd, is even worse. Then there's 'Put down games. Go somewhere else' – raise your hand if you've ever been told that? You'll notice, if you look around, that virtually every woman's hand went up.

Teabagging, a lot of the time, is not a big deal. You're playing with friends, you're having a laugh, and you saw that at Fate Legion and are surprised, maybe outraged, at the disqualification. Again, I think it's pretty silly. But there are also times when it's more of a big deal, and it's a sign of how toxic things are that no conversation on the matter is tolerated – at least, not unless you're 'a fucking soft ass pussy bitch twat'.

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