On Friday afternoon, I had the opportunity to see Anita Sarkeesian give a presentation as the keynote speaker at Loyola’s Fourth Annual International Symposium on Digital Ethics. Sarkeesian is a feminist media critic who is the founder of Feminist Frequency, a video blog which provides commentary on misogyny in video games and other related media. Response to Sarkeesian and other female video game figures such as creator of Depression Quest, Zoe Quinn, have led to what is now known as GamerGate.
Throughout her presentation, Sarkeesian provided thorough examples of the cyber abuse she had had to endure as a result of her feminist commentary – harassment, conspiracy theories based around her supposed denial of her Armenian background or based on ideas that she herself is behind the abuse, death threats, rape threats, online impersonation and hacking. She also brought up the idea of an “information cascade,” which is when information spreads without validity and the idea of “loaded questions” which is when media outlets phrase slander in the form of questions in order to “justify” their accusations. A lot of the images she showed were quite shocking and graphic.
Sarkeesian labeled the people behind GamerGate as a “misogynist cyber mob” and seeing the abuse she has had to go through based on simply expressing her beliefs, it is easy to understand why this term is appropriate. She mentioned in her speech how the gaming industry, which she says is bigger than Hollywood itself, has faced a new reality where it has become a more inclusive environment. She said this cyber mob has “figuratively and literally concluded that I am some sort of Disney villain responsible for the shift in the industry.”
In many ways it does appear as though Sarkeesian has been created into a scapegoat by those behind GamerGate. It is inspiring to see how despite continuous harassment, she has not once backed down from stating her opinions. This endurance, in my opinion, matches some of the key points from her presentation.
Sarkeesian used her speech to state that neutrality is impossible when it comes to fighting sexism. One quote she said that I found powerful was that “one of the most radical things you can do is believe women when they tell you about their experiences.” She described sexism as a “big, toxic cloud we are all breathing.” While only a select few may be the cause for this cloud, we all hold a responsibility to help out. This notion explains a quote she used from social activist Howard Zinn: “you can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
In my opinion, I thought it was great that she put attention on the fact that she cannot be the only person speaking out against the treatment of females in the gaming industry. GamerGate has shown the public that there is a problem and while the industry may be becoming more inclusive, there is still a ways to go as long as this type of harassment continues. The events that took place on Oct. 17 make this most evident. Sarkeesian was scheduled to give a presentation at Utah State University when the school received threats of a school shooting. Due to concealed carry laws, the university said they would not be able to protect Sarkeesian from concealed weapons so she cancelled.
During her speech, Sarkeesian also referenced Danielle Citron’s Hate Crimes in Cyberspace to advocate for cyber civil rights:
- Stalking laws should include online social networks.
- Non-consensual publication/distribution of sexual photos and videos should be considered a criminal act.
- Civil rights need to include gender bias.
- Plaintiffs should be able to sue under pseudonyms to avoid further harassment.
- Social media websites should have options for sharable block lists, allow friends to report harassment, have options to block new users and autoblock users who use certain words.
- Sarkeesian said “these sites need to make reporting functions actually functional” or they force victims to relive their abuse.
Overall, I found all of her points to be effective. Change can only occur when an effort is made by others to advocate for what is right.
My questions would then be: What do you believe was the most meaningful quote from Anita Sarkeesian’s key note speech, and why? How effective do you think the cyber civil rights laws would be if put into effect?
By William Tolan