The Rabbit Hole I Went Down – Feminism in the Gaming Industry

“Courage in Women in Often Mistaken for Insanity”

I love celebrating strong women, women who make change in either a big and public way, or in a small subtle way that is sometimes not recognized immediately.  Recently I found Anita Sarkeesian’s web series Ordinary Women Daring to Defy History :  I knew of some of the women she highlights, Emma Goldman, Ida B. Wells, Ching Shih, but the others were a new revelation.  The web series is quick (3-6 minute) synopsis of each woman’s mark on history and I felt it was a good medium to share with my daughter, friends and other parents I know with kids.  So I posted a link and received one remark; that Ms. Sarkeesian is vile, that she fabricates stories and is part of a core group of feminists who are caught trying to frame the entire gaming world as potential murderers and rapists.  WHOA there!  Isn’t that a bit harsh, I thought to myself.  So I went down the rabbit hole of trying to find out why this person felt that way.  And what a rabbit hole it was.

I searched the web. And I found so much information I was lost in the YouTube and article world of the web for the greater part of an afternoon.  The first hits that pop up, after the Wiki, Twitter YouTube etc., are actual journalistic articles written by solid sources: Washington Post, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, Time and the Houston Press.   All of the articles are about the GamerGate controversy and the subsequent backlash of hatred against Ms. Sarkeesian; assault threats, pornographic manipulated imagery of her, death threats against her and her family to the point of her having to leave her home due to someone claiming to know her home address and threatening to kill her at her home.  Some of her speaking engagements had to be cancelled due to death threats.  Again, WHOA there!  Isn’t this a bit harsh, I thought to myself?

Back to the web search I went for the opposing side of the issue and found mostly YouTube videos, as no one seemed to publish actual articles condemning her.  Oh wait, there is one, The Federalist, claiming Ms. Sarkeesian likes to stir controversy and is boring and then proceeds to describer her in a physical non-appealing (schoolmamrm-esque) and unintelligent 80’s like Valley-Girl manner.   The YouTube videos seem to be equally as rambling and condemning of Ms. Sarkeesian based on sexual appeal or sexual ideologies.  Gad Saad’s YouTube video condemns her lack of scientific content analysis by comparing her research to research done by others looking at romance novel titles to understand women’s mating preferences of their idealized man or of porn and the types of sexual depictions targeting heterosexual men do determine their sexuality preferences.   He goes on to say that Ms. Sarkeesian “…cherry picks to show what she wants, saving the damsel in distress as patriarchal oppression and isn’t submitted to scientific journals because it won’t pass the rigorous requirements.”  Mr. Saad, I don’t recall Ms. Sarkeesian ever claiming she was doing scientific research or had any sort of formal scientific research training.  Naked Ape’s YouTube video (aggressively named “Why I HATE Anita Sarkeesian/Feminist Frequency) is a bit more objective, and although he doesn’t come right out and say, he alludes to agreeing with Anita on some points, even going so far to say “Yes, the gaming industry is pandering” toward white males.  Yet, he refuses to acknowledge her points other than saying he despises her because she says “If you support these video games, you support sexism.”

It seems the argument against Ms. Sarkeesian is based on her lack of sexual appeal to those who are opposed to her, or is a violent, threatening reaction to her claim that the gaming industry creates sexist images of women and by and large creates games geared towards males.  Both arguments, in my mind, seem to make her point even sharper; an intelligent woman, who calls out an obvious observation, is harshly condemned by those who feel threatened by her.  Ironically, even the gaming industry is beginning to question the sexist culture of the gaming industry, as written about in this article on Gamasutra.  Even the big names in the gaming industry like Wil Wheaton are speaking out against the sexism and trolling remarks.

Unfortunately, history continues to repeat itself.  Part of the problem, as Sarkeesian sees it, is a historical one. “I’ve talked to mentors and older feminists and they say, ‘We were dealing with that, but they were throwing rocks at us.’  And it’s true, our Foremothers fought hurtful words and violent actions, and sadly, it’s still happening today.  We haven’t evolved from being violent against those we perceive as a threat against our comfort zones.  So, let’s keep talking about it, and calling it out, and let’s celebrate the brave people who are leading this movement.  And doing so with humor, Stephen Colbert, is a great way to break the ice.

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