All feminist blogger Anita Sarkeesian wanted to do was create a new project aimed at examining common tropes in video games through a feminist lens. Sarkeesian, who blogs at FeministFrequency.com, was hoping that the new web series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games,” would offer a new, in-depth view on gender representation in video games and throughout gaming culture. She needed $6,000 to fund the venture, so she launched a Kickstarter campaign (the video for the project is after the jump), and pledged to make the web series available free online upon completion.
No big deal, right? It should have been a simple project to get support for and fund. But then her project caught the attention of anti-feminist, anti-woman trolls.
Within hours, a slew of misogynist — and anonymous — Internet trolls descended upon Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter page and her Wikipedia page, leaving comments calling her a slut, a bitch and countless other slurs. As Sarkeesian noted on her own site:
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.
All because she wanted to look at some of the negative stereotypes prevalent in gaming. Stereotypes that these troll commenters tacitly reinforced with their bad behavior, harassment and threats.
Thankfully, the abuse Sarkeesian received only served to bolster her position. She chose to leave the comments up on her site in order to prove that, yes, sexism does exist in the pop culture gaming world. And her outspoken protest of the way that she and other feminists are treated garnered her project extra support. Not only did her Kickstarter project meet its funding goals, it heartily surpassed them. The project raised a whopping $158,922 from more than 6,000 supporters — many of whom were galvanized by the violent attacks made on Sarkeesian.
The fervent attacks have stuck with Sarkeesian, though, who notes: “What’s most ironic about the harassment is that it’s in reaction to a project I haven’t even created yet. I haven’t had the chance to articulate any of my arguments about video game characters yet. It’s very telling that there is this much backlash against the mere idea of this series being made.”
We stand a hundred percent behind Sarkeesian and her project, and look forward to the results, which will no doubt be in some ways tainted by the extreme backlash she experienced at the mere mention of examining gender in video games. The attacks on Sarkeesian also serve to highlight the way that women, feminism and gender are handled — or mishandled — in the virtual space. Too often, Internet trolls get away with “virtual murder” — tearing women down by using misogynist and sexist commentary to bolster trollish opinions and undermine the work that women are doing on the web.
But, as DJ and hip hop video blogger Jay Smooth notes in the video above, hiding behind a virtual identity is no excuse for bad behavior. And it’s up to us — and Jay calls specifically on other men in the gaming community — to make this sort of thing stop. Sarkeesian’s harassment, notes Smooth, “raises a whole lot of questions about why this happens so often and why so many dudes think it’s okay to persecute and harass and abuse women online. … A lot of these dudes if you challenge them will tell you that they don’t really have any feelings about this, and they’re just trolling for the fun of it. That they don’t really hate women, they just think it’s funny to treat women as if they hate them. ” But, Smooth emphasizes, that doesn’t make it better, and “only someone who hates women would think that’s a meaningful distinction.”
Smooth calls on men to start policing each other more, to take more responsibility for the wave of misogynistic commenting that so many male trollers seem perfectly comfortable spouting online, and to create a degree of accountability where none previously existed.
I bring up Smooth’s critique of troll culture — and there are many — because it’s especially vital that men join in the fight against online harassment and bullying of women. Of course, Anita Sarkeesian doesn’t need Jay Smooth, or anybody else to back her up, even though I’m sure it’s some consolation that more than 6,000 people shelled out money to support her project. But the fact that Smooth — who readily admits to being a part of game culture — calls out his fellow gamers proves that change does need to happen from within. It needs to happen with men calling out other men for their shitty, sexist behavior.
“This kind of abuse and harassment matters. And when it happens in our corner of the Internet, we need to treat it like it matters.” Because, “no matter what scene on the Internet is your scene, if you are a dude on the Internet and you see other dudes in your scene harassing women or transgender people or anyone else who’s outside of our little privileged corner of the gender spectrum, we need to speak up, we need to treat this like it matters, we need to add some extra humanity in our scene to counteract their detachment from their humanity.” Well said.