A few weeks back, pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian launched a kickstarter campaign in an attempt to raise $6000 to fund a web-video series for her website Feminist Frequency. In the video series, Sarkeesian wanted to discuss the sexist and stereotypical representations of women in video games, to which I say, “well, duh,” as well as, “get it, girl!” Unfortunately, it would be an understatement to say that not everyone shared my same opinion.
In response to her campaign, Sarkeesian’s efforts were ironically validated by an alarming amount of backlash, included a flood of misogyny and hate speech on her YouTube video, her Wikipedia page being vandalized, attempts to flag her videos as "terrorism", and even sending personal messages that threatened her well-being. According to Sarkeesian, These messages and comments have included everything "from the typical sandwich and kitchen 'jokes'” to threats of violence, death, sexual assault and rape. ” Some programmers even created a game that allows players to beat her up.
At this point, most of us can pretty much guarantee someone is going to disagree with or judge pretty much anything we post on the Internet, which has made a lot of us too quick to write these comments off or make excuses for them. In this day and age, where “trolling” and negative comments are ubiquitous (if not entirely expected), I would argue that maybe we haven’t become oversensitive, but maybe we’ve become the complete opposite. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that every YouTube comment should be taken to heart, but I also think Sarkeesian’s experience draws a clear and important distinction between expressing a different opinion and flat-out harassment. (And let’s get one thing clear, this type of behavior is undoubtedly harassment.)
Sarkeesian decided to leave the comments on her video so that people could see the extent of the harassment first-hand and refused to back down from her project. While you’ll be happy to hear this story has a happy ending (or at least a silver lining), as the harassment campaign inadvertently drew hordes of attention to her project and Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter campaign ended up raising more than $150,000, ultimately her experience is still pretty hard to believe. Though her project itself is an undoubtedly important and admirable step in the right direction by exposing sexist attitudes and portrayals in video games, the problem with the shockingly strong backlash against Sarkeesian is a helluva lot bigger than just sexism in the gaming world, in my humble opinion.
On her website, Sarkeesian writes, “I am certainly not the first woman to suffer this kind of harassment and sadly, I won’t be the last. But I’d just like to reiterate that this is not a trivial issue. It cannot and should not be brushed off by saying, 'oh well that’s YouTube for you', 'trolls will be trolls' or 'it’s to be expected on the internet.' These are serious threats of violence, harassment and slander across many online platforms, meant to intimidate and silence. And it’s not okay.”
Yes, on one hand her Kickstarter campaign brought to light just how much further we really have to go in many respects, but we can also choose to look at her experience as inspiration to speak up against harassment and negativity in our own lives. At t the end of the day, in the battle of Sarkeesian vs. The Internet, Sarkeesian came out on top- and I’m taking a page out of her book.
Image courtesy of Feminist Frequency