TEDxWomen Talk about Online Harassment & Cyber Mobs

December 5, 2012

 

I was excited to participate in this year’s TEDxWomen in Washington, DC, an annual event organized by the Paley Center for Media. I presented a 10 minute talk about sexist online harassment, cyber mobs and both the destructive and uplifting power of online communities. In this talk, I use the analogy of an MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online Game) to explain how these types of large scale harassment campaigns operate.

After my Kickstarter project began to attract a huge amount of media attention this summer, I made the strategic decision to try and use that as an opportunity to highlight the larger problem of online harassment faced by many women in gaming spaces and on the internet more generally. To that end, over the past several months I’ve devoted a substantial amount of time and energy giving talks (like this one) and doing dozens of media interviews as well as communicating with a handful of game companies on the topic. There have been many inspirational women speaking out about online and gaming harassment issues for a long time and my hope has been that I can use my personal story to contribute to this important and critical conversation. In some ways this was a difficult decision because it means I’ve become an even bigger target and also because I’ve had to take time away from working on my Tropes vs Women video series (which frankly I’d much rather spend all of my time on). Still, I believe the trade off is ultimately worth it if by sharing my experience it can be a small part of moving us towards systemic change and a more inclusive digital world.

Also don’t anybody worry, my Tropes vs Women in Video Games series is currently in production, we’re working hard make these new videos as comprehensive and expansive as possible. And I’m pleased to say that progress is coming along nicely! As always, project backers will be the first to know of updates and details on the project so if you are backer make sure to regularly check the Kickstarter page!

Full transcript below the cut

Television Interview about Harassment in Gaming

November 3, 2012

Recently, I was interviewed for a TV segment on Canada’s Global News about my experience and the wider epidemic of harassment women face in gaming spaces. Also interviewed were Grace from the website Fat, Ugly or Slutty, Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch founder of game studio Silicon Sisters Interactive & James Portnow from the gaming web show Extra Credits.

I have selectively chosen to do media interviews like this one because I feel it’s important to use the opportunity to highlight the extreme levels of harassment many women face when gaming. While it does take some time away from production work on my Tropes vs Women project (and also makes me more of a target), I hope that by telling my story in the media it will spark wider awareness of this critical issue and ultimately be a small part of moving in the direction of systemic change in the community and in the industry.

The Tropes vs Women in Video Games project research and pre-production is going well and we are currently in the middle of working on the first video in the series! Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more news and updates.

Quick Tropes vs Women Project Update

August 1, 2012

I recently shared a long update with our backers over on the Tropes vs Women in Video Games Kickstarter page detailing our progress on pre-production and game research as well as equipment, software and website infrastructure upgrades. We also revealed more about the expanding scope of this project including another bonus video we have in the works. Since that update was only for backers of the series I thought I’d make a very quick post here to highlight some of our progress.

Anita with some of her research materials. See larger image on Flickr.

The researching phase has begun! So far we’ve purchased well over 300 games for this project. As of now we can play games from the following systems: SNES, Gamecube, Wii, PS2, PS3, PS Vita, Xbox, Xbox 360, iPad and PC/MAC. We are also looking to acquire a 3DS XL when it becomes available next month. Note that not all of the games being researched for this project are pictured above. All the digital games downloaded via Steam, PSN and XBLM are sadly not nearly as photogenic, but rest assured we are looking at classic titles from throughout the history of gaming.

As a result of the unexpected extra Kickstarter funding I can now commit full-time to Feminist Frequency and to this video series which is truly a dream come true for me! I can now also hire my producer full-time for this project. Plus we are in the process of bringing another writer/researcher on board part-time. So far I’ve chosen to keep my small crew out of the limelight to try and shield them from any potential harassment. When I feel it is safe and appropriate to introduce them I will.

Obviously each video in this series requires a tremendous amount of research, writing and production time so we are planning to release one video per month. We anticipate the launch of our first Tropes vs Women video in late fall or early winter and we’ll be kicking off the series with the Damsel in Distress trope!
Thanks again to all my supporters everywhere for your incredible encouragement. I’m extremely excited about the opportunity to create this video series. It will now be bigger and better then I could have ever imagined possible!

As always backers of the project can read the full detailed update on Kickstarter and will always be the first to be notified of our progress.

There has also been a fair amount of press coverage surrounding my fundraising campaign and resulting harassment. The New Statesmen, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, Forbes and The New York Times have all written articles. Additionally here are a few interviews I’ve done recently.

Woman Vs. Internet: How Anita Sarkeesian beat the trolls – GamesIndustry
Women and Gaming: Smashing Stereotypes – CBC Radio’s The Current
Tropes vs Women in Video Games – Gaming as Women
Interview: Anita Sarkeesian, games, and Tropes vs. Women – Destructoid

Anita on CBC Radio’s “The Current”

July 4, 2012

On July 3, 2012, I was interviewed on CBC’s morning show “The Current” about sexism in gaming and online harassment.  Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch of Silicon Sisters Interactive, a videogame studio owned and run by women, is also on the show discussing her experiences working in the industry.

Listen to the full interview – Women and Gaming: Smashing Stereotypes

 

Image Based Harassment and Visual Misogyny

July 1, 2012

I’m making it a point to strategically share some of the online harassment I’ve received after launching my Tropes vs Women in Video Games Kickstarter. I’ve already posted about the harassment via YouTube and Wikipedia but these were not the only abusive cyber mob tactics employed to try and silence me.

After struggling with whether or not to make the extent of the attacks public I’ve decided that it’s ultimately important to shed light on this type of abuse because online harassment and bullying are at epidemic levels across the internet.

In addition to the aggressive actions against me that I’ve already shared, the harassers launched DDoS attacks on my site, attempted to hack into my email and other social media accounts and reported my Twitter and YouTube accounts as “terrorism”, “hate speech” or “spam”. They also attempted to “dox” and distribute my personal contact info including address and phone number on various websites and forums (including hate sites).

In this post I will detail some of the image based online harassment and visual misogyny I have been subjected to over the past few weeks. Image based harassment is another common weapon used against women and members of marginalized groups online – often in conjunction with other forms of harassment. It’s certainly not unique to my situation. Recently Bioware writer Jennifer Hepler, Shakesville’s blogger Melissa McEwan and British columnist Laurie Penny have all been targeted by similar image based harassment campaigns.

Humorous photoshop manipulation, cartoons and image macros are a legitimate and important part of a healthy political discourse online especially when used to challenge powerful institutions, leaders or regressive social norms (the Privilege Denying Dude and Boehner’s Woman Problem are two of my recent favorites). It’s important to remember though that these same tactics can be employed as tools of oppression to lash out at or bully members of marginalized groups. There is a difference between using ridicule to challenge power and using it as a weapon to police the status quo by reinforcing sexism, racism or homophobia.

The image based harassment I’m discussing here is not part of any legitimate discourse but instead falls squarely into the category of misogynist abuse. It’s a critical distinction and is evidenced by the fact that all of the images are attacking my gender or presumed sexuality and rely heavily on pre-existing sexist stereotypes.

Image based harassment includes everything from vulgar photo manipulation to creating pornographic or degrading drawings of rape and sexual assault with the target’s likeness. These harassment images are then sent en masse to the target through email, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook or any other online service with messaging capabilities. Part of the trolling strategy with these images is also to try and get them to appear in search results for the target’s name as a way to attack their online reputation.

This harassment is best classified as a cyber mob attack as it’s a hate campaign loosely organized through various internet forums. Participating harassers will share these images as a way to show off and gain validation from their peers as well as to try and recruit others to join the harassment campaign.

The ultimate goal of this behaviour is to try and intimidate, scare and silence women by creating an online environment that is too hostile, toxic and disturbing to endure.

**SERIOUS TRIGGER WARNING**

The following images are vile, hateful, pornographic, and disgusting. Some rise to the level of what could be called imaged based threats or visual sexual assault. You should not feel obligated to read any further. I have taken steps to blur out some of the more graphic images and placed detailed text descriptions of the content underneath.  Keep in mind that these are only a selected few of the harassing images that have been sent to me.

(more…)

Kickstarter Project Funded with 6967 Backers!

June 17, 2012

An absolutely astonishing 6,967 of you pledged $158,917 to support Tropes vs Women in Video Games!

Who knew running a Kickstarter campaign could be such a roller coaster ride!? I am truly and sincerely honored by the outpouring of support for this project.  It gives me great hope to see that so many people of all genders are concerned about the way women are represented in gaming.  I’m also deeply moved by the fact that so many of you are standing with me against this staggering tidal wave of hate and harassment.  After the last two weeks, I have to say, I’m pretty exhausted but so very excited about what is to come with the future of Tropes vs Women in Video Games.

Backers can keep up to date on my Kickstarter page where I will be posting regular production updates and details about the evolution of the project and how it will expand given all the extra funding.

Media Round Up

Below I’ve posted a few of the interviews and articles that have appeared on blogs and news sites discussing this project, the recent attacks on me and some thoughtful commentary about online harassment in gaming and on the internet in general. (A word of warning before entering the comments in some of these articles)

Note: This list is regularly updated

INTERVIEWS
From Samus to Lara: An Interview With Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency – Gamespot
How Anita Sarkeesian funded a project about video game sexism – PMSClan
Tropes Vs Women in Video Games – Gaming As Women
Feminist Take on Games Draws Crude Ridicule, Massive Support – Wired
Interview: Anita Sarkeesian, games, and Tropes vs. Women – Destructoid
Women and Gaming: Smashing Stereotypes – CBC Radio “The Current”
Woman Vs. Internet: How Anita Sarkeesian beat the trolls – GamesIndustry International

NEWS
Dear Internet This Is Why You Can’t Have Anything Nice – New Statesman
Think sexism’s OK in games, you may be in the wrong century – Guardian
Winning Without Cheat Codes: Jay Smooth On Gaming And Harassment – Forbes
Feminist pop-culture critic faces off against sexist gamers – Globe and Mail
Tropes vs. Women: How misogynist trolls accidentally funded feminism – Macleans
Online Misogyny: Can’t Ignore It, Can’t Not Ignore It – Slate
Lara Croft battles male jerks – Salon

GAMING SITES
Tropes Vs. Women In Video Games Vs. The Internet – Rock Paper Shotgun
This Week In Harassment – The Borderhouse Blog
Kickstarter Video Project Attracts Misogynist Horde – The Escapist
Tropes vs Movie Bob – The Big Picture, The Escapist [VIDEO]
Feminist Frequency Kickstarter project smashes target – Games Industry
Awful Things Happen When You Try to Make a Video About Video Game Stereotypes – Kotaku

BLOGS
When There’s So Much Bullshit Online, You Forget How to Feel – Jezebel
Backlash to the Feminist Frequency Kickstarter – Geek Feminism
The All-Too-Familiar Harassment Against Feminist Frequency, and What The Gaming Community Can Do About It – The Mary Sue

Harassment via Wikipedia Vandalism

June 10, 2012

As some of you may know a harassment campaign is being waged against me because of my Tropes vs Women in Video Games project on Kickstarter. This coordinated attack was launched by various online video game forums and has included attempts to get my accounts banned, a torrent of hate on YouTube, plus countless threats of violence, death, sexual assault and rape. As part of that intimidation effort the Wikipedia page about me was vandalized with misogynist language, pornography and racial slurs.

I went back and forth about whether or not to share this publicly because I don’t want to inadvertently encourage this kind of behavior or scare other women into staying silent out of fear something similar may happen to them. But ultimately I’ve decided I’m going to document and strategically share what is happening to me because these types of online harassment tactics are used against women, feminists and people from oppressed and marginalized groups every day.

About a year ago I noticed someone had made a Wikipedia page about me. It’s a simple stub in the Women’s Rights Activist category and contains two short paragraphs mostly pulled from my online bio. Very little had changed on the page since it was created, that is until last week.

[TRIGGER WARNING]

The image below shows the result of the vandalism that took place over the course of June 5th and 6th, 2012. This was not done by just one or two trolls but was a coordinated cyber mob style effort involving a whole gang working together. The screenshot below was downloaded directly from one of the internet forums organizing the harassment. They were proudly posting this image as a trophy to boast about what they were doing and to encourage others to join in.

(more…)

Harassment, Misogyny and Silencing on YouTube

June 7, 2012

Here is a very small sample of the harassment I deal with for daring to criticize sexism in video games. Keep in mind that all this is in response to my Kickstarter project for a video series called Tropes vs. Women in Video Games (which I have not even made yet). These are the types of silencing tactics often used against women on the internet who dare to speak up. But don’t worry it won’t stop me!

[MAJOR TRIGGER WARNING]

NOTE: These 100+ comments were left over the course of a two hour period on YouTube. They represent only a tiny fraction of the hundreds and hundreds now thousands of similar comments left on my video. The screen capture is unedited.

See comments below cut

Help Fund Tropes vs Women in Video Games

May 18, 2012

NOTE: The Kickstarter campaign has ended. Thank you everyone for all your support!
See the final results here.

Earlier this year, I was invited to speak about developing female characters in video games at the BUNGiE offices in Bellevue, WA (you probably know BUNGiE as the developers of the Halo series). It was a great experience engaging with creators and developers in the gaming industry so I decided it’s time to dedicate an entire series to female characters in video games.

Because last year’s Tropes vs Women series was so successful, I’m bringing it back with Tropes vs Women in Video Games… And this is where you come in! I’m gonna need your help to make this new series come to life. Check out my Kickstarter Project – Tropes vs Women in Video Games and please donate any amount you can!

UPDATE: Wow! I’m honored and excited by all the positive feedback and support. Thank you all so much! First, we reached our initial funding goal in less than 24 hours! Next, we achieved our first set of stretch goals in under 1 week! Now we have met our second set of expanded goals in just 2 weeks!

Latest News: OMG! 1000 backers! (oh and about all that harassment stuff)

Kickstarter doesn’t have the means to include subtitles on their videos so I’ve included a full transcript here
Transcript below the cut

The Hunger Games Movie vs. the Book

April 12, 2012

The Hunger Game is one of the most popular young adult novel series rivaling Harry Potter and Twilight. As the first of its film adaptations was just released in March 2012, readers and audiences have been pleasantly surprised at this fresh, dynamic, young female protagonist. In the second of my two part series on The Hunger Games, I’ll compare the book to the movie and talk about some of the shortcomings of the adaptation and a few things that the film actually did better than the book.

Check out part 1: http://www.feministfrequency.com/2012/04/the-hunger-games-katniss-part-1-the-novel

Related Links and Articles:

** This video is available to be translated into other languages by volunteers like you. Please visit the subtitling page on Universal Subtitles and click TRANSLATE to get started.

Full transcript below the cut