An environment that is just too toxic and hostile to endure


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.

Emphasis added.

…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.

Comments

  1. Rodney Nelson says

    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.

    QFT

  2. emily isalwaysright says

    Not only has she endured, but she has turned adversity to advantage. To EVERYONE’S advantage. The Force is strong with this one!

  3. Rob says

    …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.

    Yup, now transfer from e-space to meatspace, tweak the mob dynamics slightly and you have what happened (happens) to women in and around Tahrir Square.

    Sure not everyone in e-space would go that way, but then not everyone in Tahrir Square did either. The Mob environment makes the extreme behaviors possible in both cases. Behavior you would not get out of one isolated person in a business or social setting.

    Hmmmm, weak minded cowards maybe?

  4. says

    Yes, even before I read Rob’s comment I was about to note that Anita’s description of her experience echoed those of various foreign female reporters in Tahrir square. The assault is non-physical in this case, but the pattern of males acting in groups and under the cover of relative anonymity is similar. It seems that weak minded cowardice is common not just among Muslims, but also among Gamesters… and yes, a significant portion of the atheistic “skeptical” community as well!

    But I am curious as to whether the tendency towards “piling on” is really more common among males or whether it’s just a matter of opportunity and “tradition”. The case for gender equality was made in many responses to the silly ‘Womanspace’ story by Ed Rybicki (though perhaps not always entirely in the way intended).

  5. F [disappearing] says

    The perps I’m familiar with don’t call it a “Game” as far as I’ve seen

    Some have claimed some varieties of vague meta-trolling at times, which would be the same thing.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    Spam alert on # 6!

    … best … described as a cyber mob.

    The most precise term that comes to my mind is chivaree (aka charivari).

    My widget dictionary defines this as “a cacophonous mock serenade, typically performed by a group of people in derision of an unpopular person … a series of discordant noises”, but in American history it has often been used to describe physical attacks, such as riding someone out of town on a rail, or tarring & feathering.

    Dictionary.com notes that the term derives from the Greek for headache, which adds to the aptness in this context. Even more appropriately, the same source points out that “cacophony”‘s roots are considered by etymologists to probably be connected with PIE *kakka- “to defecate”.

  7. sgailebeairt says

    …in this same vien, the amazing atheist is freaking, about the #hawkeyeinitiative now….just Doesnt Get it at All…

  8. hypatiasdaughter says

    #4 Alan Cooper
    The only 2 instances of woman mobs that I have ever heard of are:
    Women who were a large component of the crowds that viewed the executions during the French Revolution. They heckled and threw rotten food at the victims, but I never heard they personally mobbed them.
    The French women who grabbed the consorts of the German occupying soldiers (after the Germans were forced out), shaved their heads and put them on public display to mock them. It was partially shaming them as “whores” and partially as “traitors” who got benefits from the enemy while their own people suffered. It is notable that women punished other women, and there is a strong component of punishing women as much for their sexual immorality as for their comforting the enemy. Women are often put in charge of enforcing the sexual moral codes that victimize women.
    Aren’t there some Greek plays that have women mobbing and killing some hated individual?? I cannot remember.

    #6 Pierce R. Butler
    That is hilarious, Where I come from (Maritime Canada) a chivarree is when the wedding guests show up at the house of a newly married couple on the wedding night to shout sing, bang pots, etc, to “interfere” with the couples consummation of the marriage. It is meant as a joke, like those embarrassing things you write on the wedding car – sort of like hazing.
    Wikipedia says it was also used to force unmarried couples wed or punish couples who married inappropriately (like a younger man to a much older woman).
    It sounds like the word got used for any noisy public display the community used to enforce social mores.

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    hypatiasdaughter @ # 9: Where I come from (Maritime Canada) …

    You guys can’t even run a good tarring ‘n’ feathering that far up north, being the damn Yankees’ damn Yankees.

    Wedding parties? Y’all prob’ly don’t even bring shotguns to weddings!

    “Charivari” is a French word, btw, which makes me wonder if the sublethal* lynchings it describes in the US South had a particular Louisiana connection.

    *not in 100% of cases then or now, but we can call it that, right?

    Oh, and are you not counting the famous Revolutionary march of the market women from Paris to Versailles as a mob? Louis, Marie Antoinette, & friends had no doubts about that…

  10. Pierce R. Butler says

    hypatiasdaughter @ # 9: Aren’t there some Greek plays that have women mobbing and killing some hated individual?? I cannot remember.

    Euripedes’ The Bacchae uses the legend of women behaving like wolves as part of the worship of Dionysus – the Maenads also dismembered Orpheus, and pop up at various points throughout Greek myths, attacking men and other animals.

  11. yahweh says

    “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.”

    Why do you entertain – and even make up – rationalisations for people who clearly have lost control of themselves and are acting out?

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