It's been a helluva month. We've told you a bit about the crazy situation happening in the gamer world, and a couple of weeks ago things got to such a head that Anita Sarkeesian, creator of Tropes vs Women, a media criticism video series, was driven from her home by specific violent threats. She's been in contact with the authorities about this, but that hasn't stopped the contingent of hateful gamers from continuing to harass her and claim that she was lying about filing a police report. It turned out that they were wrong - the FBI is actually involved in looking into the threats made against Sarkeesian - but the entire situation brought into stark relief a main issue facing women being harassed online - their experiences are immediately discounted and downplayed.
After the threats you could excuse Sarkeesian for refusing to appear in public, but being a hero (and she's our hero here at Badass Digest) requires some bravery. So Anita went to the XOXO Festival in Portland this weekend (with a security guard in tow - she had received more specific threats about her appearance at the festival) and she said something so simple and powerful that it cuts through all the shit being flung at her and Zoe Quinn and thousands of other women online:
"One of the most radical things you can do is to actually believe women when they talk about their experiences."
I like that because it's a wonderful riff on my favorite definition of feminism:
"Feminism is the radical notion that women are people."
Sarkeesian's call for radical belief is important, because so many harassment campaigns are based on basic disbelief. Instead of doing the decent thing - taking a human being at their word that they have received death threats, say - people have attempted to prove Sarkeesian made up the threats, have contacted the police to debunk her claims of filing a report and claimed that she's a professional victim who brings it all on herself. “We are blamed for the abuse we receive and regularly told that we are either asking for it or inventing it entirely,” Sarkeesian told the XOXO Fest goers. It's a second wave of harassment - first come the death threats, next come the dehumanization by wave upon wave of toxic tweets, blogs and videos.
"Falsehoods about me are initially pushed by detractors who use them to post to 4Chan and Reddit to rally more people to the cause," Sarkeesian said. "It's bouncing from Twitter to Tumblr to Facebook to YouTube and back again. Once the cascade reaches a critical mass, it no longer matters what the facts are. It becomes a viral meme."
I've seen this happen first-hand - you can find many #gamergate types who claim I said gamers are worse than ISIS, even though I never said any such thing. It's the way an intentionally decontextualized and misrepresented statement gets bounced around and continuously distorted until it becomes fact. This isn't a web-only phenomenon, but Twitter certainly increases the speed at which truth mutates directly into lies.
The fact that Anita Sarkeesian refuses to be beaten down by the almost unimaginable wave of hatred sent her way is goddamned inspiring. That, to me, is heroism - standing tall in the face of unfathomable nastiness and potential danger, refusing to be dismissed and never, ever backing down from the assholes, trolls and misogynists.
At the end of her speech, before getting a standing ovation from the crowd, Anita Sarkeesian addressed the charge that she was leading a feminist army to take away games. "Where's the feminist army now?" she asked rhetorically. This tweet from the audience at XOXO Fest sums it up:
I think we found Anita Sarkeesian's feminist army. Holla! #xoxofest— alex franceschini (@alexx_rae) September 13, 2014
I'm proud to support Anita Sarkeesian and anyone who is trying to make change in media through thoughtful and smart criticism. Anita Sarkeesian will not be cowed by these terrorists, even after they've driven her from her home. She's a real life badass.
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