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Jun 27 2012

Why women can’t have nice things

The gaming article linked to Helen Lewis in The New Statesman: Dear The Internet, This Is Why You Can’t Have Anything Nice.

A Californian blogger, Anita Sarkeesian, launched a Kickstarter project to make a web video series about “tropes vs women in videogames”. Following on from her similar series on films, it aimed to look at women as background decoration, Damsels in Distress, the Sexy Sidekick and so on.

What a good subject. Women in the media – it’s such a mess these days, there can’t be enough work done on this. Hooray for Anita Sarkeesian.

Except some kind of Bastard Klaxon went off somewhere in the dank, moist depths of the internet. An angry misogynist Bat Signal, if you will. (It looks like those charming chaps at 4Chan might have had something to do it.)

In Sarkeesian’s own words:

The intimidation and harassment effort has included a torrent of misogyny and hate speech on my YouTube video, repeated vandalizing of the Wikipedia page about me, organized efforts to flag my YouTube videos as “terrorism”, as well as many threatening messages sent through Twitter, Facebook, Kickstarter, email and my own website.  These messages and comments have included everything from the typical sandwich and kitchen “jokes” to threats of violence, death, sexual assault and rape.  All that plus an organized attempt to report this project to Kickstarter and get it banned or defunded.

Thank you. Thank you misogynists. Thank you for making it so unpleasant for us to do anything in public. Thank you for making us pay a huge price for saying things. Thank you for punishing us for the crime of being female and in possession of an opinion.

Lewis takes a look at the Wikipedia page.

There are also references to Sarkeesian being “of Jewish descent”, an “entitled nigger” and having a “masters degree in Whining” (because why stick to one prejudice, when you can have them all?) More than a dozen IP addresses contributed to this vandalism before the page was locked.

Meanwhile, her YouTube video attracted more than 5,000 comments, the majority of them of a, shall we say, unsupportive nature. The c-word got a lot of exercise, as did comments about her personal appearance, and a liberal sprinkling of threats of violence.

Check, check, and check.

Sarkeesian decided to leave the comments on her video, as proof that such sexism exists. I think it’s important that she did, because too often the response to stories like this, “Come on, it can’t be that bad”. There are two reasons for this: first, that if you don’t experience this kind of abuse, it’s difficult to believe it exists (particularly if you’re a man and this just isn’t part of your daily experience). Secondly, because news reports don’t print the bad words. We’ve got into a weird situation where you have to get a TV channel controller to sign off a comedian using the word “cunt” after 9pm, but on the internet, people spray it round like confetti. We read almost-daily reports of “trolls” being cautioned or even jailed, but often have no idea what they’ve said.

This story should be shared for several reasons. The first is that a horrible thing happened to Anita Sarkeesian. She did nothing to deserve the torrent of abuse, and the concerted attempts to wreck her online presence. It’s not the first time this happened: Bioware’s Jennifer Hepler was similarly hounded out of town for expressing some fairly innocuous statements about videogames. Every time this happens, more women get the message: speak up, and we will come for you. We’ll try to ruin your life, tear you apart, for having an opinion.

Check.

18 comments

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  1. 1
    Austin

    I think it’s important to note that her kickstarter project ended up being more than funded– 6,000 people ended up backing it, with 4,000 of those signing on within two days of the word getting out that she was getting a huge amount of backlash for it, most of them following up with explicit support for her efforts. She ended up making $150,000 when all she asked for was $6,000! Very much an example of the Streisand effect in action, and a major victory for feminism! I think that that is worth pointing out.

  2. 2
    Captaintripps

    Yesterday I was a bit heartened when I posted Skepchick’s article on World of Warcraft on Facebook. I’m not personally much of a gamer, my girlfriend is, but my gamer friends (male and female) were unanimously disgusted at the behaviour present in the video. That’s not to indicate this is representative of a sea change in gaming culture, but it was certainly heartening.

  3. 3
    Godless Heathen

    “of Jewish descent”

    And people say anti-semitism doesn’t exist anymore.

    Just the idea that of being Jewish is so insulting that they don’t have to use any slurs.

  4. 4
    earwig

    This is so wrong.

    And this is slightly OT but still relates to mob misogyny: Natasha Smith’s account of the horrific assault she suffered recently in Tahrir Square. It is graphic and triggering, but sadly no great surprise after what has happened to other women there.

  5. 5
    eric

    @2:

    my gamer friends (male and female) were unanimously disgusted at the behaviour present in the video. That’s not to indicate this is representative of a sea change in gaming culture, but it was certainly heartening.

    I doubt there’s a sea change coming. The more likely answer is that your friends were non-bigots before they gamed, and are basically still the same now that they game.

    I think in terms of playing such games, the 80% solution is already here: the ability to form clubs, guilds, etc… and to turn off chat channels within these types of games allows regular folk to play with (and, effectively, only with) those they choose to play with.

    But the issue of how women are represented in the programming of these games is still a legitimate area of criticism. I’m glad Ms. Sarkeesian got her funding (and more!). I’m continuously baffled by people who object to her sort of study. Seems like just another sociology type thing to me. Maybe it’ll be a quality study, maybe not. Maybe it’ll tell us something interesting and new, or maybe not. But whatever way it turns out, how could anyone get so upset over the idea of someone looking into it?

  6. 6
    baal

    Youtube should auto-close the false flaggers. the rule could be as simple as if a video is about an issue related to a protected class and false flagged terrorism (or equivalent) then the auto-ban hits the flagging IP.

    On a related note, there is a related problem where a group is flagging all gay adult sites on blogger. Google has a close first ask questions later policy with regard to adult content so it’s acted as a silencing mechanism that’s anti-gay.

  7. 7
    Deepak Shetty

    Ah it must be her fault.

    Slightly OT
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-18589737

  8. 8
    martincohen

    I chipped in to support her, and am glad others did too.

    Good for her.

  9. 9
    karmakin

    Me too, mainly as a reaction to the harassment.

    However, to be honest, I feel like the video series is probably going to end up doing more harm than good, but I’ll wait and see.

    I think an exploration of various tropes, how they’re portrayed, what’s more positive and more negative, and how those tropes are present in other forms of media and how they’ve evolved, and if they can be evolved/improved upon would be very interesting.

    I’m expecting a sledgehammer, to be honest. I hope I’m proved wrong.

  10. 10
    Ophelia Benson

    Thanks, Deepak – I saw that yesterday and never got around to posting it.

  11. 11
    rroseperry

    @9

    If you check out more of Sarkeesian’s work (she’s been doing videos for a while), you’ll get a better idea of her work.

    More important maybe, is that she’s a gamer herself and is coming at this from the inside.

  12. 12
    Deepak Shetty

    @Ophelia
    yeah it reminds me about bars and what women should expect if they go to them. The social constructs around wearing “revealing” clothes is similar.

  13. 13
  14. 14
    Hazelwood

    I’m not a fan of video games but I donated to support to cause. I’ve always loved her videos and the harassment and misogynistic response is disgusting.

    I’m also a huge fan of ill doctrine (Jay Smooth) and thought it was very interesting to note the difference in the like/dislike ratio on his video in support of Anita, compared with the ratio on his many other videos.

  15. 15
    kagerato

    @Dave:

    I was really amazed at the statement at that link that the Starcraft community, of all things, was held up as an example of better behavior. If Starcraft is setting our standards, we have a long, long way yet to go.

  16. 16
    Mikey

    This is a great site that more people need to know about. It’s a blog of one woman gamer’s experience in online gaming, mostly xbox first person shooters.

    http://www.notinthekitchenanymore.com/

  17. 17
    Dave

    @ kagerato

    Honestly not sure what the SC2 player base scene is like – Blizzard forums are generally scary. Might be a reference to the gl hf & gg standard, not sure. Can’t be worse than League of Legends though.

    There’s just such a huge culture against female gamers and what is deemed acceptable behaviour. Fairly sure Microsoft has done some positive things to try and clean up X-Box Live (vague memory of an article sometime) – not sure about Sony. But yeah, it’s fairly endemic across all platforms, and you see it in many different ways. Pretty sure girls just want to be labeled as a ‘gamer’ and not a ‘girl gamer’. Females shouldn’t have to worry about incessant ‘joke’ marriage proposals, inappropriate flirting, hateful slurs etc, simply because they have a social hobby.

  18. 18
    fiks

    The backlash against her is absolutely ridiculous but I wish she would give the money to someone else or something. Her videos arent that analytical, most are fairly disappointing and make some huge jumps. That money could be used so much more efficiently for feminist intellectual goals.

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