10/15/14 Update: On Tuesday morning, an anonymous person claiming to be a student at Utah State University threatened the “deadliest school shooting in American history” if the school continues with its plan to feature Anita Sarkeesian as a guest speaker at an event being held by the university’s Center for Women and Gender Studies on Wednesday, October 15. While Sarkeesian was still willing to carry forward with the event as scheduled despite these threats of terrorism, USU police’s refusal to conduct firearms searches or enact extra security measures like installing metal detectors (due to Utah’s open-carry law) has forced her to cancel her appearance at the event.
BACK in 2012, gamer and feminist pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian created Feminist Frequency,a video web series that analyzes female representations in the mainstream media. As described on Feminist Frequency’s Kickstarter page, the crowd-funded series explores and deconstructs “female character stereotypes throughout the history of the gaming industry” and serves as a critique of “the larger recurring patterns and conventions used within the gaming industry.”Sarkeesian’s latest video series, “Tropes vs. Women,” specifically analyzes video games that portray women as “damsels in distress, ornamental eye candy, incidental victims, and other archetypes” that exist solely in relation to and “in service of” male characters, as Adi Robertson of The Verge points out.
Unfortunately, since Feminist Frequency launched in 2012, Sarkeesian has received a steady stream of opposition in the form of an “incessant, deeply paranoid campaign” against the site. Sarkeesian has documented all manner of violent and threatening comments, angry videos accusing her of propagating “lies,” and various personal attacks on Feminist Frequency’s Twitter page from fellow gamers who argue that her critique of the generally-misogynistic mainstream media and gaming culture discredits her as a “real gamer.” Last August, the threats against Sarkeesian became so sexually violent that she was driven out of her home and contacted the police when a viewer named the location of her apartment and threatened to kill her parents.
The backlash and threats against Sarkeesian are not only frightening and extremely disheartening, but the reasoning (if you can call it that) behind this behavior is completely absurd. In a hopeless effort to prove that misogyny is a lie propagated by pesky women who can’t seem to stay out of conversations about gaming and tech — i.e. *grunt* MAN WORLD *grunt* — and that the real problem are women like Sarkeesian “terrorizing” the gaming world, these “users” have provided even clearer evidence as to the prevalence of misogyny in the gaming world. Do they know? Or are they too caught up in the idea that GIRLZ DROOL, GAMEZ ARE FOR BOYZ to realize that they’ve gone out of their way to be incredibly misogynistic while attempting to disprove the existence of misogyny? IT DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE! You don’t see women beauty bloggers, for example, sitting around creating “beat up the male beauty blogger’s face” video games, or writing hate-mail to male nurses, because that would just be beyond the realm of rational behavior. Also, don’t these people want to like, have sex ever? Misogyny is like, a serious boner deflater, dudes. But I suppose anyone who makes rape threats in the name of proving misogyny “isn’t real” can’t really be called a rational human being. As Sarkeesian said, “The perpetrators do not see themselves as perpetrators at all[…]They see themselves as noble warriors.” LOLOLOLOLOL. Clearly, the “noble warriors” “defending” the gaming kingdom aren’t living in the realm of actual reality.
Though Sarkeesian’s experience is a prominent, glaring example of the misogyny many women and queer people in the gaming and world face, her story is, sadly, one of many. Proponents of the #Gamergate phenomenon argue that they want “equality” and “integrity” in the gaming industry, when, in fact, they’re really arguing that anyone who doesn’t fall within the cis/straight/male gender majority should just stop talking. As Tom Hawking writes for Flavorwire:
“the temptation is to offer sympathy, to shake your head at what these women go through. But this, too, is disempowering in and of itself[…] the fact that women like Sarkeesian and [Zoe] Quinn — along with contemporaries like Molly Crabapple, Laurie Penny, Amanda Hess, and many others — continue with their work despite being subjected to this sh*t every f**king day, is both humbling and inspirational. But I look forward to the day that it has to be neither.”
As disheartening as it is to read the ubiquitous coverage on #Gamergate and other instances of online misogyny and queerphobia, and to realize that, on some level, this gives online abusers and rapists the attention they seemingly crave, Sarkeesian says that the most radical way to end abuse and support women online is surprisingly simple. At XOXO Festival in Portland, Sarkeesian made her first appearance since being forced out of her home last August, and told the audience, “One of the most radical things you can do is to actually believe women when they talk about their experiences.” Just because something happens on the internet, or in the “virtual” realm, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.