This is a thing that happened.
Helen Lewis wrote an article on the New Statesman yesterday on the online harassment experienced by Anita Sarkeesian, which I’ve been following for a while. To recap:
American blogger Anita Sarkeesian, who launched a Kickstarter programme to raise $6,000 to research “tropes vs women in videogames”. Donating was - and I really can’t stress this enough - completely voluntary. There are Kickstarters for all kinds of things: for example, a “dance narrative featuring some of NYC’s most compelling performers that celebrates the pursuit of love and the joys of imperfection” doesn’t sound like my kind of thing, but God Bless Them, they are 89% funded towards their $12,000 goal.
But a big swath of the internet wasn’t prepared to live and let live in Sarkeesian’s case, and began spamming her YouTube video comments with a pot-pourri of misogynist, racist and generally vile abuse. Each one individually was grim; together they constituted harassment. (You can read the full story in my blog here).
Since then, Anita Sarkeesian has been subjected to a good deal more harassment…
Read her post for the full rundown, but it includes: image-based harassment, rape threats, hate sites, and death threats. One man, Ben Spurr, created a game in which users could punch Sarkeesian’s face and bruising would appear. Now Ben Spurr is, as far as I know, just some dude. I don’t know anything about him except that he has a Twitter account and that he made this game and is thus, probably not an awesome person.
His description of the game reads as follows:
Anita Sarkeesian has not only scammed thousands of people out of over $160,000, but also uses the excuse that she is a woman to get away with whatever she damn well pleases. Any form of constructive criticism, even from fellow women, is either ignored or labelled to be sexist against her.
She claims to want gender equality in video games, but in reality, she just wants to use the fact that she was born with a vagina to get free money and sympathy from everyone who crosses her path.
We’ve got a few things going on here: slander (Sarkeesian didn’t scam anyone, she simply asked for funds for a project like everyone else on Kickstarter); a profound misunderstanding of what sexism is; jealousy (because who doesn’t want to raise over $100,000?); ignorance; I could go on, what I’m most concerned about is the painfully obvious hatred.
The vicious nature of the attacks on Sarkeesian are telling. It isn’t terribly often that an entire group of people on the Internet band together to harass someone to this degree. In keeping with the vitriolic comments that are seemingly reserved for feminist ideas and initiatives—and feminists themselves—there’s no real argument here, just hatred. Spurr makes no reference to why he disagrees with the project, he’s just eager to give Sarkeesian what he thinks she has coming to her. A charmer, this guy.
So where’s the hate coming from? Well according to Spurr, who became the target of an impressive Twitter pile-on yesterday, the fact that Sarkeesian won’t listen to his disagreement. That’s right—he made a game about beating her up because she wouldn’t debate with him.
I shouldn’t have to go into too much detail on why this is disturbing and weird, but I’m going to anyway because Spurr isn’t alone—there are countless people who think the way he does—and frankly, the stupidity of his arguments cannot go uncriticized.
So let’s go through some of his pile-on responses, shall we?
Yeah. Because ladies always listen to dudes who make games about beating them up. And notice here that Spurr didn’t express his distaste with what Sarkeesian is doing, he expressed his distaste for her as a human being. By creating a game in which people could actually punch her face.
But he just wanted to get her attention! And it works because it’s a digital depiction of the very real violence women live under threat of our entire lives—what with being more likely to die and be injured at the hands of men and all. No better way to upset us or get our attention than imply that we deserve a good beating. Speaking of upsetting:
Here we learn that Spurr knows his game is kind of fucked up, but he defends it because he was trying to get a “strong emotion.” (Also note the use of the word “slam.” Interesting.) If you think about what it takes to motivate a person to create something just to upset another, like in this case, your brain goes to a scary, dark, misogynist place. But it’s okay guys, because Sarkeesian deserves it for not engaging with Spurr.
Ah, real talk: SHE WON’T PAY ATTENTION TO ME SO I WILL RESPOND BY SPENDING MY FREE TIME MAKING A GAME SO OTHER ANGRY PEOPLE LIKE ME CAN VIRTUALLY PUNCH HER IN THE FACE.
This is a prime example of what we call entitlement. Spurr feels that he automatically deserves response and ultimately, validation. This is common among people raging against feminist initiatives, who try to invalidate arguments by complaining that people aren’t responding or listening to their “criticism.” Here’s the thing, White Guy Who Grew Up Thinking He’s Entitled to Everything and Everyone, and I know this might totally rock your world, but people don’t have to respond to anything. They don’t have to read what you write, watch what you film, or hell, even acknowledge your existence on the Internet. You are not entitled to engagement. That’s a person’s choice, not an automated response. And out here in the adult world, disagreement doesn’t culminate in vicious harassment, it happens via discussions that don’t involve, you know, images of a bloody face.
So what did Spurr ultimately hope to accomplish?
“Um hi, Ben? Yeah it’s Anita. I heard you made a game in which people can brutalize me and I was just wondering what I could have possibly done to provoke this? Because it’s totally my fault and I really want to know. All I want to do is listen to you, because you’ve so clearly earned it by making light of violence against women.”
WHAT IS GOING ON IN YOUR HEAD THAT MAKES YOU THINK SHE WOULD WANT TO ENGAGE WITH YOU, EVER? Naturally this statement inspired a lot of “you’re totally deranged” comments, which I can’t disagree with.
But let’s get to what’s really important: The Menz.
No. No. No. First of all: false equivalence. Sarkeesian has nothing in common with the lead singer of Nickelback. If the game had been made for the latter, it would still be weird and creepy. Because only people who think physical violence is a response to disagreement with or dislike of someone would approve of such a thing.
Secondly, people who constantly do the “what if this were a man” thing have no understanding of systemic oppression or violence. It’s misdirection, plain and simple.
Finally, people aren’t defending her just because she’s a woman, but dismissing it as such makes it easier for you to continue ignoring the real criticisms of your game, and helps you go on feeling self-important and righteous. How convenient.
And that self importance comes up again and again.
Even after admitting that he created the game to upset Sarkeesian and get her attention, Spurr cries freedom of expression and tries to make this an issue of censorship. Sorry dude, but everyone knows you didn’t create this out of some artistic need—you did it to frighten, intimidate, mock, and shock. Sounds a lot like something an actual abuser would do, doesn’t it?
As Ian Miles Cheong just wrote:
In a report published by the CDC last year, domestic violence is a very real problem faced by billions of women worldwide. One in four women has been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in her lifetime. One in six has experienced stalking victimization—which is not unlike the stalking Sarkeesian faces. Her private details, including her address and phone number are being published on forums filled with irate ‘gamers’ who wish for nothing more than to silence her voice—all because she had an opinion on space marines.
The game Ben Spurr has created may not have been the intended subject of Sarkeesian’s documentary, but they do much to prove her points about the inherent sexism—and misogyny in particular—in gamer culture. It goes without saying that gamers internalize sexist ideas which demean and threaten women. Thanks for that, Ben. I hope you’re proud of yourself.
Well, he sure seems to be.
A lot of people have expressed feeling bad about this pile on, and I’m sure countless others are wondering why I took the time to document such a basic example of standard ignorance/misogyny. The answer is that these beliefs are so prevalent that I cannot ignore them. Spurr isn’t the only person who thinks threatening violence—even virtual—is an appropriate response to someone ignoring him. In fact, there are a lot of men who feel entitled to all kinds of things because they grew up in a culture that tells them that’s the way it is.
Entitlement is the root of many a terrible thing. It’s what fuels the rage behind “friendzoning;” what makes some men feel okay with shouting at or touching women’s bodies without their consent; and why they use the phrase “get some.” And apparently, what justifies the making of a game targeting a woman who simply asked people to contribute to a project that doesn’t exist yet and by extension, advocating for already-prevalent violence against women. And we can’t allow that.
So pile on, friends—but remember this is much more than one person.
i just love how these asshole gamers are continually reiterating why this project is necessary. luv u anita. i’m so happy i backed this project and i can’t wait to see the videos.