So there’s Anita Sarkeesian’s TEDxWomen talk on online harassment and cybermobs.
Gee I don’t know why I would be interested in that…
Now, I’m a pop culture critic, I’m a feminist and I’m a woman. And I’m all of these things, openly, on the internet so I’m no stranger to some level of sexist backlash. I’ve sadly gotten used to sexist slurs, and sexist insults, usually involving kitchens and sandwiches…
But what happened this time was a little bit different. I found myself the target of a massive online hate campaign.
Gee I wonder what that’s like…
What’s even more disturbing, if that’s even possible, than this overt display of misogyny on a grand scale, is that the perpetrators openly referred to this harassment campaign and their abuse as a “Game”. They referred to their abuse as a game.
So, in their minds they concocted this grand fiction in which they’re the heroic players of a massively multiplayer online game working together to take down an enemy. And apparently, they cast me in the role of the villain. And what was my big diabolical master plan? To make a series of videos on YouTube about women’s representations in games. Yeah.
That’s interesting. The perps I’m familiar with don’t call it a “Game” as far as I’ve seen, but they do treat it as a game, as well as thinking of themselves as heroic players.
Where is this game played? Well, the perpetrators turn the entire internet into a battlefield. So, in my case they came after everything and anything that I possibly ever had online. They also have a home base where they coordinate their raids and work together and communicate and this usually takes place on largely unmoderated, largely anonymous message boards and forums. And these are places with no real mechanisms for accountability.
Check, and check.
So what is the goal? Well, the immediate explicit goal is to stop the villain and save video games from…me and my crazy feminist schemes. And they tried to do this by silencing and discrediting me and my project.
But the larger implicit goal here is that they’re actually trying to maintain the status quo of video games as a male dominated space and all of the privileges and entitlements that come with an unquestioned boys club.
The chief of which is being surrounded by mostly males, which is a privilege and entitlement because females are…you know, such a drag, talking so much and everything.
Now we don’t usually think of online harassment as a social activity but we know from the strategies and tactics that they used, that they were not working alone, that they were actually loosely coordinating with one another.
This social component is a powerful motivating factor that works to provide incentives for players to participate, or perpetrators rather, to participate and to actually escalate the attacks by earning the praise and approval of their peers. We can kind of think of this as an informal reward system where players earn “internet points” for increasingly brazen and abusive attacks. Then they would document these attacks and they would bring them back to the message boards as evidence, to show off to each other – kind of like trophies or achievements.
So, we have a general structure of a social game. We have players, we have the villain. We have a battlefield. We have this informal rewards system.
But the thing is…Its not a game. It’s an overt display of angry misogyny on massive scale.
Its not “just boys being boys”. Its not “just how the internet works”. And it’s not just going to go away if we ignore it.
…the usual terms that we use to describe online harassment such as “cyber bullying”, “cyber stalking”, even trolling, don’t adequately describe a hate campaign of this scale.
What happened to me, and sadly other women as well, can best be described as a cyber mob.
And whether it’s a cyber mob or just a handful of hateful comments, the end result is maintaining and reinforcing and normalizing a culture of sexism — where men who harass are supported by their peers and rewarded for their sexist attitudes and behaviors and where women are silenced, marginalized and excluded from full participation.
A ‘boys club’ means no girls allowed. And how do they keep women and girls out? Just like this. By creating an environment that is just too toxic and hostile to endure.
Emphasis added, again.
On the other hand – she’s still here.