It's been a crazy couple of years for feminist pop-cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian. Since launching her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series on Kickstarter in 2012, she's been on the receiving end of a ceaseless din of threats and verbal abuse, thanks to a collection of gamers who apparently couldn't tolerate a woman's polite, nuanced works of criticism. And she spoke out about it last month: Anita Sarkeesian's XOXO speech on harassment and believing women won't give you the whole idea about what it's like to be in her shoes, but you'll definitely get a little closer.
It's no small feat for Sarkeesian to stand up in public and talk about these things at this point, considering the tenacity of her feverish harassers, and some of the serious, terroristic threats she's received — when slated to receive an award at the Game Developer's Conference earlier this year, she was the victim of a bomb threat, forcing the San Francisco Police Department to search the Moscone Center with explosives-sniffing dogs.
However, the threats didn't silence her then — she accepted the award as planned, the first time it had been bestowed to a woman — and they clearly haven't silenced her now.
Sarkeesian's goal from the start was a simple one: make a series of videos analyzing common, sexist tropes which recur regularly throughout the history of video games. And for the effort she's become, as she described it, a sort of "folk demon."
Over the last two years, I've been made into something of a folk demon by some very angry men. Especially those that hang out on certain parts of Reddit, and 4chan. They have figuratively and literally concluded that I'm some kind of Disney villain, who is personally responsible for the ongoing transformation of the video game industry. Of course, I'm definitely not in charge of this cultural shift, no one person is. But in their delusion, they've chosen to believe that if they take me out, all will return to normal.
Sarkeesian specifically addressed some of the extremely disgusting behavior that's been directed at her — death threats, rape threats, and Photoshopped pornographic images, among others — before getting around to addressing the conspiratorial thinking that underscores this ongoing harassment campaign.
After pretty telling sigh, Sarkeesian detailed a few bizarre claims from one YouTube personality.
So, conspiracy theory number one: Anita Sarkeesian bleached her skin, to appear more white, and she learned how to "smile like a white person" in order to become popular. ... Then she used sophisticated Neuro-Linguistic Programming techniques to brainwash members of the gaming industry into seeing sexism where none really exists.
This one comes from an obsessive fellow fond of ranting into his webcam while sporting a bathrobe — he has made over 60 YouTube rants about me, and some of those diatribes clock in at over four hours. Yeah, I wish I was kidding.
If this sounds at all familiar, it could be because this guy's pretty vocal — his name is Jordan Owen, one of two men claiming to be producing an entire documentary aimed at discrediting Sarkeesian for... something. It's not entirely clear what.
While doing an interview with fellow YouTuber MundaneMatt about his project, Sarkeesian's so-called "obsessive fellow" did indeed suggest she'd lightened her skin, and started to "smile like a white person," whatever that means. To call it gross would be complimentary.
Perhaps the major takeaway from Sarkeesian's talk, however, was the minimization and reflexive distrust of women's experiences online. In her case, this reality sits right on the surface — Sarkeesian's been endlessly accused of faking threats against herself, to the point that the other of those two "documentarians" erroneously suggested she'd lied about contacting the authorities over death threats made against her in September.
Her big plea to the XOXO crowd — which earned her a huge ovation, so it's safe to assume they got the message — was this: when women talk about their experiences being harassed on the internet, believe them.
What I've voiced to you today is not unique to my experience. Every day, many women voicing their opinions online are met with a similar flood of slander and defamation designed to undermine their careers, their credibility, their resolve and their confidence. So I leave you with one simple thought: the most radical thing you can do is to actually believe women when they tell you about their experiences.
Her full talk is embedded above, as well as available here — at just over 16 minutes, it's a fantastic watch (if a tiny bit depressing), and well worth your time.
Images: XOXO Festival/YouTube