We’ve written about our experiences with online misogyny and mentioned how—despite being generally unsettling and totally unacceptable—the misogynistic trolling we’ve experienced is child’s play compared to what others face on a regular basis.
Anita Sarkeesian’s story is a chilling example of what we mean by that. Sarkeesian is an established media critic whose video web series Feminist Frequency—which explores the portrayal of female characters in video games—has nearly 150,000 YouTube subscribers. And while she’s no stranger to a shocking—and constant—array of graphic, violent harassment, the responses to her latest episode of her series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” she released on Monday took things to a whole new level of fucked.
Sarkeesian’s vlogging commentary discussing games and their portrayals of women through the lens of feminist cultural commentary—you know, analyzing the societal and psychological implications when we frame women as damsels in distress, eye candy, and sexualized victims of depraved violence. Truthfully, her analysis is nothing particularly inflammatory—or even that groundbreaking—she's simply shifted the focus of the lens to a newer medium, i.e. video games.
The video released on Monday addressed what Sarkeesian sees as a growing trend in gaming: women’s bodies being depicted as “sexual playthings and the perpetual victims of male violence.” She cites “Hitman: Blood Money” as an example. Why? Its marketing campaign shows murdered women, adorned in lingerie, on a bed of satin sheets. Oh, and the caption reads: "Beautifully executed." She contrasted these visuals to the bodies of slain men, which appear in non-sexualized environments like meat freezers.
And the response from trolls to this kind of analysis has been nothing short of horrifying.
Like we said, Sarkeesian already deals with a tremendous amount of violence on a daily basis—there’s always been a steady stream of violent comments, emails, and social media attacks. (Not to mention someone devoted time and energy into creating a game where you can punch her in the face.) But on Monday a string of very specific and very graphic death and rape threats flooded her Twitter feed. She alerted the authorities and was forced to flee to a friend’s house.
Now it's time for the depressing reminder that this sort of thing is all too common for women online. Let’s see, there was Eron Gjoni’s recent online slandering of game developer Zoe Quinn. And Model View Culture CEO Shanley Kane just relayed to us in a recent interview that misogyny in tech is everywhere; even the women who are highest upon the proverbial ladder—the CEOs and venture capitalists—are not immune from harassment, threats, and rape.
Not that threats against women are resigned to the tech community. You may recall Caroline Criado Perez’s plight last summer. She successfully campaigned to change British bank notes to include a photo of Jane Austen. A seemingly awesome way to highlight one of England's literary greats, no? At worst it was a rather innocuous change in currency and historical representation of the nation's great minds. Apparently not everyone agreed—the backlash against her campaign was filled with so many specific death threats that she was forced off the internet for weeks (fortunately at least one perpetrator was arrested).
Sadly, we could go on with a bevy of other examples.
As for gaming, though, reports emerged this week that ironically, lady-gamers are now 48 percent of the average video game players in the U.S.—which means that there are now more adult women glued to the glowing screen than teenage boys. Perhaps we're totally delusional here, but we're hoping this influx of women into the gamer sphere could translate into a less violent, less gendered, and more inclusive online community.
You can't blame us for dreaming right? We need something to latch onto amidst all this garbage. Game over.
Watch Sarkeesian's shit-storm creating analysis here.