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Anita Sarkeesian on the perils of her feminist fight

The Canadian-born media critic—the target of horrible threats as part of Gamergate—spoke at Ottawa’s Broadbent Institute


 
Anita Sarkeesian. (Alex Lazara/AP)

Anita Sarkeesian. (Alex Lazara/AP)

When Anita Sarkeesian arrived in Ottawa to speak at a Broadbent Institute gathering of thinkers and politicians this month, she was surrounded by security. The 31-year-old media critic and feminist has gotten used to travelling this way after being harassed online and targeted with violent threats at past speaking engagements.

Sarkeesian, who was born in Burlington, Ont., and lives in California, was in Ottawa to talk about being repeatedly victimized because of her YouTube videos that challenge the sexism and misogyny in popular culture. Her web series Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, which deconstructs female stereotypes in everything from LEGO to popular games, led to a vicious campaign against her and other women who were targeted in the so-called #Gamergate scandal, a series of orchestrated and anonymous attacks in online forums such as Reddit.

“I get threats all the time,” she told Maclean’s in an interview at the conference. “It’s just the sort of background radiation of my life. Every day, something new happens. It’s become so normal to me. I get death threats regularly via online communications. I [experience] harassment every day—Twitter, Facebook, email.”

Attacks against Sarkeesian have included doxxing—publishing personal information on social media—and she was forced from her home last year after a Twitter user posted her address and sent death threats. There have been fabricated images of her being raped, made-up quotes, attempts to hack her email account and conspiracy theories. But it doesn’t stop there. Vandals regularly alter her Wikipedia entry; she’s been the subject of fake social media accounts and online impersonations; she’s received hate mail and been signed up for pornographic sites; someone created a Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian web game that allows players to punch her in the face and see the bruises.

Another horrible example: Last year, she received the Ambassador Award for her web series and for making positive changes in the industry at the prestigious Game Developers Choice Awards. But, on the day of the event, organizers received an anonymous email threatening to detonate a bomb unless her award was revoked, according to the New Yorker. The email read: “We estimate the bomb will kill at least a dozen people and injure dozens more. It would be in your best interest to accept our simple request. This is not a joke. You have been warned.”

In her acceptance speech, Sarkeesian, who is a videogamer, struck a positive tone and said manufacturers need to “portray women as capable, complex and inspirational.”

Another event had to be cancelled last fall when organizers at the Utah State University’s Centre for Women and Gender received an email threatening “the deadliest school shooting in American history.” The email read: “I have at my disposal a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols and a collection of pipe bombs . . . Anita Sarkeesian is everything wrong with the feminist woman, and she is going to die screaming like the craven little whore that she is if you let her come to USU,” according to media reports.

During her talk in Ottawa at the Broadbent Institute’s Progress Summit on the “gendered minefield of online harassment,” she spoke of the “massive and terrifying” assault on her and others who have spoken up and she called for stronger cyberlaws.

In her speech, she criticized the frequent images of the damsel in distress of female characters and the sexualized clothing of animation in video games, a billion-dollar industry. She said the old boys’ club of gaming is undergoing change by becoming more inclusive—but the attacks on her continue.

She slammed the “information cascade,” where things are redistributed from one social media network to another without people checking the validity of the source or content. And she spoke about our victim-blaming culture. “One of the most radical things you can do is actually believe women when they tell you their experiences.

“It has completely changed my life and completely destroyed the lives of so many women.”

Related: Jon Ronson on the new frontier of online shaming

Sarkeesian began her web series as a side project while studying at York University. Her YouTube series and the harassment has led to widespread media attention and a recent appearance on The Colbert Report.

“I’m glad it has [become so big] that this horrible thing that has continued to happen to me for years is now taking an international platform, where people are starting to take online harassment seriously,” she told Maclean’s.

“There is still a lot of, ‘Oh, it’s just the Internet, just go offline.’ I don’t know how anyone can do that. But I think that attitude is slowly changing, especially to understand the way women, in particular, are harassed online [and how it is] incredibly destructive—emotionally, professionally, and personally.”


 

Anita Sarkeesian on the perils of her feminist fight

  1. I might have sympathy for her if she wasn’t the epitome of the Post-Modernist academic. She strings together scientific sounding phraseology and makes garbled, nonsensical statements. She then comes to “scientific” conclusions without any actual empirical evidence. her ideology is generally to become a “victim” in every area of life. It’s not healthy.

    • Yes, I can see by your reasoning that Ms. Sarkeesian deserves to receive death threats for surely there can be no bigger crime than to be the “epitome of the Post-Modernist academic.”

      • Of course she doesn’t deserve death threats. The issue is that she squeezes any possible publicity out of the death threats. she’s literally touring on the publicity it’s gotten her. I can’t feel sympathy for her when she is making a profit from it. It’s the same thing all other post-modernists do: say something nonsensical and outrageous, everyone gets mad, point out that you are persecuted and therefore your views are confirmed, make money from the press. The woman is a charlatan and a bullshitter.

        • She’s a public intellectual who has been producing video essays for years. The fact that the media is more interested in her after a bunch of mouth-breathers started harassing her is more indicative of a dysfunction of modern media (and its consumers) than it is a statement of Sarkeesian’s exploitation of… Of what? Her victimization? So she should be a good victim then, and not one who talks about what happened to her or, heaven’s above, earns money at her job?

          Your sexism is not so thinly-veiled as you might think.

          • “public intellectual” is where this all started going down hill. Like I said, she’s just a post modernist who says absurd, inflammatory thing in search of publicity. Making videos doesn’t means you have a foot in the door of theory. They call themselves anything from “Marxists” to “Feminists”, you can tell them apart from the actual members of their field by looking at a single one of their sentences. Is it full of scientific-sounding jargon, followed by a conclusion not based on actual scientific evidence? tada! you have a post modernist on your hands. I myself don’t see inanimate objects such as video games as actually exploiting women. I align myself with Sex-Positive Feminists, though the post-modernists have essentially run them out of any university positions.

  2. Travelling security – a nice piece of theatre, but how much of it is true?

    For example, a Pew online harassment study, based on a survey of nearly 3,000 Internet users last June, found that 44 percent of men and 37 percent of women had experienced some form of online abuse, from name-calling to physical threats and stalking. The biggest gender gap was in the fairly mild category of being called offensive names, experienced by nearly a third of men on the Internet but only 22 percent of female users. However, more men—10 percent, compared to 6 percent of women—also reported being physically threatened. Women were more likely than men to say they had been sexually harassed (9 percent versus 6 percent) and stalked (10 percent versus 7 percent); sustained harassment was reported by 8 percent of men and 7 percent of women. Interestingly, the survey also found that people perceived most online spaces to be female-friendly; 18 percent even said that the social media were more “welcoming” to women than to men, while only five percent agreed with the reverse.

    • Do you mean the 2014 Pew study that listed, in its Key Findings the following:

      “Young women, those 18-24, experience certain severe types of harassment at disproportionately high levels: 26% of these young women have been stalked online, and 25% were the target of online sexual harassment. In addition, they do not escape the heightened rates of physical threats and sustained harassment common to their male peers and young people in general.”

      That Pew study?

  3. If #GamerGate is about attacking women and not ethical standards for professional game journalists, why hasn’t it driven any women out of the industry and why have almost all gaming sites updated their ethics policies?

  4. If she wants to get cyberlaws adopted by the Canadian Government, she’s going to learn its not easy. She’s all to prove everything she says. She’s have to give hard evidence on everything she says about that law and just stating (yelling, screaming) “MEN ARE MYSOGYNIST, THIS NEEDS TO STOP” wont be enough. If she gets through all that, then good for her because it wont be easy in her case.

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