Anita Sarkeesian

Anita Sarkeesian: One Brave & Controversial Woman

The CDEP Symposium certainly was very interesting and quite informative. I came out liking and also gaining more knowledge on Anita Sarkeesian and what she goes through because of her “controversial” statements. Being a person that loves to play games, not a gamer, I came out with a different perspective on games that I played previously. I played them to have fun, not really paying any mind to the hidden controversies that they may hide. I also came out with a perspective of just how vulgar and disgusting some individuals can be on one woman who expresses her opinion and yet at the same time plays those very same games she talks about; she doesn’t judge or criticize the people that play but rather the game itself and how women are portrayed in them.

Anita started her talk by talking about a game that was in development, Dinosaur Planet, for the Nintendo 64 (one of my favorite consoles!). One of the main protagonists was a female, named Krystal- she was a strong hero that was capable of fighting even the strongest of foes. The game was in development, but unfortunately never got released on the market. The game designers joked about making Krystal a damsel in distress rather than a hero and soon enough the Star Fox game came along and Fox ended up being the hero and saving the would have been heroin. Fox had now gotten all of her attributes and even her own weapon while the only thing that Krystal was given was more provocative clothing.

Anita was able to shed some light on just how the female protagonist would have been given the lead but was canned and was made into a character that needed all the saving from the villains and the man would be there to help aid her in escaping. She was rather the prize for the male for being able to beat all of the enemies rather than being her own brave self. Back then, the white male was the main audience for game designers and they had to modify things that would be pleasing to that audience no matter what.

Nowadays, however, there has been a major shift in the gaming industry, but it has certainly been a slow shift. The concept of female characters still being portrayed just  like Krystal was is an issue and many women do voice there opinion on that. They voice out that the female character should not be subjected or portrayed liked that but rather with an equal role. Anita still plays video games and does not bash the players who play them but rather the games way of showing the female. Many of those gamers and those involved in Gamergate, though, see her as a threat- as she said they made me into a folk demon or rather “a Disney villain”. People attack her and threaten her by the things she says; they defame her by putting her face on porn pictures and by making fake accounts with her name to bring this negative light.

These people are relentless and do these harsh acts because of what she says. Rather than listen to what she has to say, they go in for the attack. Going back to the whole talk about Krystal and her portrayal, Anita does not say that the game is wrong and that all who play it think the same way about women but rather that women in video games seem to be belittles- they are given a certain role to fulfill. Those cowardly males that don’t bother to even acknowledge her voice simply think that the way to get rid of her is to frustrate her, give her a bad reputation, and to send negative information to everyone. Anita, however, does not let this get to her; yes it is brutal but she learns that even though this all goes on, she is still able to say what she would like about the gaming industry. She is not defaming the gamers or those who play video games, but rather critiquing the industry itself.

Questions:

In class, we spoke about what if that person that is behind that computer screen was brought out to a street corner. Personally, what do you think they would do? Would they still rant and use vulgar language to talk about Anita?

What is your personal view on how women are portrayed within the gaming industry? If Krystal had stayed the main protagonist in that would-be game, would people have received her with open arms or with hostility?

Gender Socialization in Regards to Video Games

Anita Sarkeesian’s started her website “Feminist Frequency” in an attempt to create feminist media criticism. She later went on to create a YouTube video series “Tropes Vs. Women” that focuses on stereotypes concerning women. She actually began her talk at the Digital Ethics Symposium this past weekend by showing one of these clips, “Damsel in Distress” which emphasized stereotypes on women in video games. This Damsel in Distress that Sarkeesian talked about centered on the idea that women are unable to be heroes and are instead dependent on males to be their heroes. On video games, women are so often placed as simply just sexual beings. Sarkeesian actually stated in her talk that the video game industry makes millions of dollars each year and is surprisingly bigger than Hollywood. All in all, placing women in these roles on video games indicates a larger social problem. While video games are portrayed virtually, they represent a very ‘real’ world. They indicate that our society views women as sex objects and ignores the fact that there is so much more depth behind just our image.

Sarkeesian also points out that many people often have the mindset that if a woman does happen to make it in a male dominated field, like business or engineering, she must have cheated to get there. This typically known stereotype is similar to the relations between video games and women. Video games are not typically seen as ‘for women’. In fact, society basically tells us that games are just not for us. Sarkeesian’s parents did not allow her to have a Gameboy in that Gameboys were for boys. I can definitely relate to this in that I grew up around two brothers, where a large part of their childhood and teenage years involved playing video games that I was never invited to play. I was a girl so I just wasn’t skilled at video games, according to them. Instead I was given Barbie’s and EASY-BAKE ovens to play with, because those are what girls are supposed to play with. But in reality, there is a large community of female gamers who the video game industry fails to take into account.

However with every opinion especially those regarding controversial topics like feminism, there is an opposite opinion. Because of Sarkeesian’s strong opinions and all the ways in which she made/ continues to make these opinions public have resulted in her receiving death threats. In fact, an actual group of gamers who use the hashtag #gamergate has formed in response. This group of hashtagers hold the idea that the world of gaming should be exclusively men. Basically, it is a group of sexist men who are the very reason women are portrayed as sexual roles in video games in the first place. These men believe that games are only for guys, which is the reason that Gameboys have the word boy in it rather than girl.

In my opinion, everything that Sarkeesian touched on directly related to the concept of gender socialization or in other words, the process by which society tells us how females and males ‘should be’. Society tells us how we should ‘do’ gender, and in turn, certain things are assumed to be primarily for girls while others are primarily meant for boys. Video games is one of those things that seems to always be targeted to men, however, I was extremely shocked to the fact that there are men out there who felt the need to send her death threats just because she expressed her opinion on a situation. I think these death threats and groups of gamers who have formed against her are the reason in which security is such a significant part of Sarkeesian’s everyday life. It’s a horrible thing to feel unsafe, and something that nobody deserves to feel, especially as a response to trying to encourage gender equality through a simple online video.

On Anita Sarkeesian and Security

It was really cool to see Anita Sarkeesian in person at Loyola. We had read about her in class and I had seen her on the Colbert Report, but it was strange to see her in person speaking at our school. I only saw her in person briefly, as I had to sit in the overflow room, but it was cool nonetheless.

One thing I would like to comment on was the security. First, I think it is unbelievable that someone like Sarkeesian should even need such extensive event security. I have watched her videos before and I understand that she is somewhat of an incendiary speaker, but the fact that her safety is that much at risk is just plain sad to me. I strongly believe that no one should feel that unsafe, especially in a university. I completely understand why they had the security measures, but the fact that they are necessary is abhorrent.

Another thing I’d like to say about the security is that I actually never even went through it. I work in Lewis Towers, so I was there early in the morning and I walked right past security and scanned my id to go to the elevators. Later, when I did sign in to go to the event I did not have to go through metal detectors. I had left my backpack at my desk so I did not carry a bag and I also do not look like the sort of person who would be carrying a gun, but I still expected security to be stricter. The workers behind the front desk may have recognized me and I suppose I know much more about getting into the building than the average person, but I still felt it would have been really easy to get through unchecked.

Security aside, I found Sarkeesian’s speech had really good points. Not only is it infuriating to me that people would threaten and degrade her online, but the fact that the majority of it was based around her gender was truly vile. If she were a man, she wouldn’t have to block comments and posts to her Facebook that contain any variation of spelling (or misspelling) of the word “sandwich” or have people photoshop sexually explicit pictures of her.

One thing I initially didn’t love about Sarkeesian’s talk was how it mostly surrounded her own experiences with online harassment. I was more interested in hearing about the content of her videos on FemFreq and the portrayal of women in video games. However, once I thought about it I began to see how the fact that she has to talk about her harassment is such a sad fact. I believe this is more to the fault of the misogynistic gamers who harass Sarkeesian. Sarkeesian faces so much hatred that she has to spend great amounts of time and energy dealing with trolls and threats.

One thing that really struck me about Sarkeesian’s speech was when she said that she shouldn’t have to explain Twitter to the police. If police and law enforcement don’t understand social media, how can they appropriately deal with threats and harassment made on such platforms? How can we protect victims if we don’t have the proper social media functions, resources, or knowledge? If the police don’t understand Twitter, is it truly something they will take seriously?

Ella Henning

The Battle for Virtual Rights and Equality

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 This past weekend, I saw featured keynote speaker, Anita Saarkesian, speak at the annual Digital Ethics Symposium. Saarkesian runs a Youtube channel called Feminist Frequency that speaks out against sexism in the gaming industry. Because of this, she faces death threats on a daily bases from a group that started a hashtag trend called “gamergate”. This ‘gate’ keeps the gaming world exclusively male. It is a cyber mob that throws sexist temper tantrums in an attempt to keep up with the status quo, which is this notion that games are for boys; it is a domain for young men, hence Gameboy and not Gamegirl.

There is, however, a gaming spot where girls are welcomed. That spot is the causal and mobile games that are looked down upon by the intense gamers. Because those games are considered for women, they are marginalized. To be called a gamer one has to play masculine and testosterone infused games that develop very unhealthy mindset and perspective towards the female population. It also reinforces this myth that women are sexual objects and sexual playthings for male amusement. Women become disrespected and dehumanized. For women who do not identify themselves as gamers or who do not view the game beyond the story line, it can create an unhealthy mindset for them. It can lead to this idea that the stereotypical women is someone who wears skimpy outfits and is always the damsel in distress. They view the men as their savior, which not only enforces the patriarchal system but is also does not leave any room for independent thinking.

The woman does not always have to be the damsel in distress. She can save herself. However, this idea does not fit the patriarchal box. For example, The Legend of Krystal, was a Nintendo 64 game based around a female fictional fox character called Krystal who fights off demons on her and saves herself from any distress. The game developer, however, did not think the game would sell. He modified and altered the game into Star Fox Adventures. The protagonist becomes a male fox, Star, while Krystal trades her independence for the damsel in distress. In other words, if the game perpetuates misogyny and sexism, it receives the green light.

When women, like Sarkeesian, speak out against the misogyny and sexism, they are threatened. Because Sarkeesian holds a high profile and is one of the leading women to address this issue, she becomes the main target of gamergate. She is called a “feminazi” who steals money from hardworking men to buy shoes. In this case, she is “stealing” money from the hardworking gamers. As Marwick puts it, “when people with likeminded beliefs congregate together, they collectively move to a more extreme position”. There is an underlying fear among the gamergate community that women do not deserve an authoritative position in the same community. To me, it shows that these men are not only immature, but also very insecure about themselves. They work out their frustrations by hating on someone else.  We need to stop alienating women and believe what they say when they talk about their experiences. We need to stop shutting them down and speak against their defense. I would think that progressive games come with a progressive mentality. Therefore, games of any type should cater to both men and women and women should be allowed to speak up without feeling the repercussions. Women have the right to speak up and be heard in the gaming industry.

Anita Sarkeesian and an End to Cyber Discrimination

For most of my 21 years of living I have had a younger brother who loved video games. Growing up and being so close in age to my brother, we had a lot of the same friends and spent a lot of time together – we always got along and had a lot of the same interests. I remember being so frustrated that our friends would come over to our house and only want to play Mario Kart or Madden 2006 in his room with him while I was forced to sit and watch, typically just leaving the room out of boredom after 20 minutes. I never thought it was fair that they would rather sit in silence on the floor of Jake’s room than want to do something “actually fun” that I enjoyed. As a young girl, video games were a source of alienation between my only sibling and myself. I gave up entirely on trying to spend time with him if he had any friends over and found other ways to entertain myself, other friends (always girls) who detested video games like I did. As I grew older I began to even wonder if the gaming world was still relevant at all. After attending Anita Sarkeesian’s speech at the Digital Ethics Symposium however, I began to shift my view on this world I had always rolled my eyes at. The gaming world is still alive and active, and it is at the expense of many women that it continues to do so.

Sarkeesian is fighting for what women have been striving towards for hundreds of years –  an end to objectification. It is honestly baffling to me that it has taken so long for this issue to begin to receive publicity. It is common knowledge that since the earliest years of “gaming” the culture has been strictly a “mens club” atmosphere, with little regard for the outlook of females and a way for men to live out their cyber fantasies. The fact that Sarkeesian receives death threats and verbal attacks from the anonymous online gaming community can and will not be stood for. As we discussed in class, anonymity is one of the biggest hinderances in the progression of positive online digital spaces. People use their shield of their online identity to say completely sexist and discriminatory things that they would never even think to publish off line. The issue becomes no longer a “gamer” related problem and becomes so much more of a women’s issue and a human rights issue. So many of these games have blatant graphic and offensive content against women and goes beyond the simple “damsel in distress” idea that Sarkeesian’s critics claim they support. The threats and opposition that Sarkeesian has received as a result of her speeches and work against this sexism only makes other women more afraid to speak out as well. The gaming community has a mob-like mentality that is extremely intimidating and needs to be stopped. The fact that modern technology has come to far yet age old gender issues still stand is extremely ironic to me and I can only hope that more women will have the bravery that Sarkeesian has to speak out.

Anita Sarkeesian-

Watching Anita Sarkeesian enter Regents Hall was a surreal moment. Seeing a woman who has been in the center of much controversy and news take time out of her busy life to be the keynote speaker for the Fourth Annual International Symposium on Digital Ethics at the University I attend was amazing!

Anita seemed calm and collective as she stepped up to begin her speech about her research on women being portrayed in pop culture narratives. She began by stating that the gaming is a bigger industry than the movie industry and that gaming does include misogyny. She gave her personal story about the amount of threats and harassment she undergoes which proves her point further regarding how woman are treated/portrayed in these games. The aggression she deals with daily comes from men who believe that the gaming industry is a “Boy’s Club”. These individuals look down on other video games such as Guitar Hero or WII and don’t consider those “real video games” or the players who use them as “gamers”. That is not accurate.

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Best moment at Loyola: Getting to meet Anita Sarkessian

She continued to explain the online harassment she has endured.  These have taken in forms of 1) online impersonation and 2) creation of conspiracy theories. The online impersonation has been hoaxes created by men who view her as a threat to the gaming community. They create fake Facebook and Twitter accounts and state absurd comments in order to try to cease Anita’s Feminist movement. The conspiracy theories created about her have blurred the lines between what is true and false, which unfortunately create a false portrayal of her. This causes her work to be ignored and a false representation of her is out in the web. The individuals that create these elaborate and straight out crazy theories are doing this because they are aware that there is a change in the gaming community cycle. They become paranoid and alarmed and thus act in this terrible manner in order to try to be “heroes”. The information cascade they create causes Anita to repair the false information created about her and unfortunately once the false information reaches a certain mass, it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing she can do. Her trying to repair the information cascade makes her look like an “irrational feminist” who is justified in the amount of harassment she endures.

So what can we do as a society in order to stop women from being harassed online? Anita suggested legislation change needs to be implemented in order for the harassment to cease. Stalking laws need to be updated to include harassment online. This can be done by updating civil rights to criminalize threats online. A Cyber Civil Rights needs to be added to criminalize sexually intimate images as an invasion of sexual privacy. Civil Rights is not only a racial bias, but also a gender bias.

Anita Sarkeesian’s speech really hit home when it comes to the harassment women have experienced on the internet and how the law has really done very little in order to stop the violation women feel online. She brought up an excellent quote that really made sense, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train”.  I certainly realized that my view on feminism could no longer be neutral after seeing all that Anita has done to educate others about women in popular culture.

Anita Sarkeesian at Loyola University Chicago: Disney Villian or Gaming Hero?

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.

AnitaThroughout 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.”

Photo credit: disney.wikia.com

Photo credit: disney.wikia.com

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