A Disappointing Reality

I read metafilter.com relatively regularly because aggregators help funnel information and their filter bias is not completely exclusive. An article that popped up recently dealt with the Kickstarter project of Anita Sarkeesian, who was asking for $6,000 to make a web series about “tropes vs women in video games”. There’s a New Statesman link here that you can follow for the whole unpleasant story but, assuming you’re in a hurry, let me summarise it for you.

  1. Blogger sees, from copious amounts of evidence, that video games seem to have trouble depicting women in reasonable and non-stereotyped ways.
  2. Blogger decides to set off Kickstarter to get money to produce a web series discussing this, money to cover research, playing more games and producing videos. (Blogger already has a track record in doing similar things for film.)
  3. Blogger becomes the target of attack, persistent, personal, vicious, violent, sick and twisted attacks from a skulking pit of suck that we call the Internet.

Anita Sarkeesian in her Kickstarter movie. (This image from newstatesmen.com.)

Here is a direct quote from Sarkeesian:

The intimidation and harassment effort has included a torrent of misogyny and hate speech on my YouTube video, repeated vandalizing of the Wikipedia page about me, organized efforts to flag my YouTube videos as “terrorism”, as well as many threatening messages sent through Twitter, Facebook, Kickstarter, email and my own website.  These messages and comments have included everything from the typical sandwich and kitchen “jokes” to threats of violence, death, sexual assault and rape.  All that plus an organized attempt to report this project to Kickstarter and get it banned or defunded.

You know what makes my heart sink? “The typical <x> jokes” because, of course, as a woman, I’m sorry, as a known woman on the Internet, she has seen and heard at least some of this before, just because she’s a woman. On her Wikipedia page, to quote the New Statesman article:

There are also references to Sarkeesian being “of Jewish descent”, an “entitled <racial epithet>” and having a “masters degree in Whining” (because why stick to one prejudice, when you can have them all?)

I can’t give you any more quotes because I try to keep this blog generally readable and there’s not much more I can say without having to ‘Adult rate’ this post.

Last year I attended a public seminar given by Professor Caroll Seron, who was a visiting international scholar in sociology and law at Flinders University, usually at UC Irvine, with talk entitled “The Changing Landscape of Women in the Professions: Why women study law and not engineering”. I went along, as an educator in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), I’m always looking for insight into why our female enrolments are so low and how we can improve them. What was most depressing about Professor Seron’s talk was that young women have similar reasons for going into engineering, they tend to do better financially but they tend to get relegated to gender roles once they go into work experience or work place environments, and then they leave. That is, a big group of mostly men will get the women to do what they think women should be doing, rather than letting them practice as engineers with their male counterparts.

It should come as no surprise that if you run a two-speed environment, or a free/constrained partitioning, the people that you are excluding will get the message and then they’ll leave. Which leaves fewer women in engineering, which gives us the same ‘women’s work’ nonsense workplaces.

So, much as I would like to think that it’s only the mindless Internet trolls that would act in such an obvious way, Professor Seron’s work suggests that the insidious attack on the validity of women in certain parts of the workplace is happening everywhere, every day. Until we address it, until we fix our culture, until we recognise that professional qualifications represent a capacity to do a job, regardless of which genitals we have, then what happened to Anita Sarkeesian is just a more obvious and, in some horrific ways, more honest account of how women are thought of every day, if they have the audacity to enter a ‘male sphere’.

Someone asked me for a name for a metadata repository today – for research and education. I suggested Hypatia. 2000 years and we haven’t got this rubbish sorted out yet? Seriously? Let’s strive for better.

2 Comments on “A Disappointing Reality”

  1. Sadly, this happens to almost every woman on the Internet who dares to voice an opinion. Any opinion. On any topic. Membership of women is way down this year for The Amaz!ng Meeting (annual skeptics conference in Las Vegas, Nevada) because a number of women were made to feel uncomfortable at last year’s meeting–by other (male) attendees. When they talked about it online (the nerve!), the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation (sponsor of the conference) basically said, “Nobody was made to feel uncomfortable to my knowledge.” This in spite of the fact that he personally got involved with one of the incidents of harassment! (He had the offender thrown out, incidentally.)

    What does it say when men who are supposed to be rational, critical thinkers can’t seem to figure this out? Not just the other people attending TAM, but its own management?

    A good question to ask, here, is: what can we do about this? There are, I suspect, more of ‘us’ than there are of ‘them.’ At least I certainly hope so.


  2. Peter kelly says:

    Pretty amazing to see the amount of money she’s raised – ironically probably because of all the publicity the negative comments have generated. I would have put a few bucks towards the project myself if it hadn’t already been closed. Hopefully she can expand her documentary work into examining what it is that drives all the trolls.


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