It's unfortunately no surprise that media critic and Feminist Frequency blogger Anita Sarkeesian receives hate mail. When she canceled a speech she was scheduled to deliver at Utah State University last October after threats of a "Montreal Massacre style attack," the general public was rightly indignant and disappointed — but still not surprised. After all, harassment and obscenities are expected when one declares themselves a feminist in this day and age (sadly enough). But when Sarkeesian posted an exhausting list of a week's worth of death threats on her blog Tuesday, readers were appalled.
Back in 2012, Sarkeesian posted screenshots of threats and harassing comments from her YouTube channel — many which seemed unusually aggressive for a series of videos that pragmatically pointed out sexist flaws and narrative tropes in popular video games. But with her rising public profile and a more vigorous discussion of feminism in the media beginning to take hold in popular culture, the number of horrific death and rape threats seemed to rise as well. On Tuesday, Sarkeesian wrote on her blog:
Ever since I began my Tropes vs Women in Video Games project, two and a half years ago, I’ve been harassed on a daily basis by irate gamers angry at my critiques of sexism in video games. It can sometimes be difficult to effectively communicate just how bad this sustained intimidation campaign really is. So I’ve taken the liberty of collecting a week’s worth of hateful messages sent to me on Twitter.
Below is a sampling of some of the disgusting Twitter messages she received on her @femfreq account between Jan. 20 and Jan. 26 (Warning: graphic language and death/rape threats):
The list of threats went on and on.
In a Business Insider post Tuesday, Julie Bort wrote, "This never ceases to be shocking. If you are a woman talking about sexism in video games, you will be showered with the most horrific threats, particularly via Twitter." It sort of makes you wonder what these trolls are doing with the rest of their free time (if they have any left).
Sarkeesian's vehement critics often cite her willingness to pick apart video games as evidence of her hatred for "real gamers" and the gaming community as a whole. Some of her fellow female critics have even written that, while they sympathize with her, Sarkeesian should stop talking about it. In a 2013 blog post for The Learned Fangirl titled, "I'm a Feminist Gamer and I’m Over Anita Sarkeesian," self-described feminist gamer and academic, Kristin Bezio writes:
As a female gamer, I’ve been subject to sexist, harassing, and misogynist comments and assumptions whenever I play online. I understand and sympathize with her desire to lash back, and with her desire to see that it stops. I just think it’s time that the conversation move somewhere more productive.
Unfortunately, solving the problem of continued death threats and harassment won't be solved by simply moving the conversation to a more "productive" place. Exposure is vital in a situation like Sarkeesian's in order to force the public to instate real change — the more attention paid to a movement's nasty, stomach-churning underbelly, the better.
Fortunately, there are a few high-profile individuals who are trying to lend a hand to the cause. In a September speech at the United Nations headquarters in N.Y., UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and Harry Potter actress Emma Watson broached the topic of exposure eloquently:
I don’t know if I am qualified to be here. All I know is that I care about this problem. And I want to make it better. And having seen what I’ve seen—and given the chance—I feel it is my duty to say something. English Statesman Edmund Burke said: "All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men and women to do nothing." ...
Because the reality is that if we do nothing it will take 75 years, or for me to be nearly a hundred before women can expect to be paid the same as men for the same work. 15.5 million girls will be married in the next 16 years as children. And at current rates it won’t be until 2086 before all rural African girls will be able to receive a secondary education.
While Watson was addressing the generally negative connotations of the term "feminism", the rule still applies. In the meantime, Sarkeesian has opted to take the high road and focus on her upcoming project, which focuses on representations of men and masculinity in video games, rather than respond to angry threats or aggressive non sequiturs: