Note: The author of this post emailed me last week to talk about his decision to make sure no one would ever be able to assume he’d be okay with misogyny or sexist hate-speech again. He elaborates his thoughts here.
By Ryan Steiner
Last week must have a roller coaster for Anita Sarkeesian. On the one hand, her Kickstarter project (a video series exploring the portrayal of women in video games) raised $158,917 of $6,000 goal. On the other hand, in the same week she was cursed at, threatened and insulted by appallingly hateful trolls.
I don’t want to address the trolls today, though I do not excuse their behavior. Far from it. The death threats, the obscene insults and the rape insinuations are more than I can stomach. There is no way to justify this response to Sarkeesian. I can’t relate to these people, so I doubt I will be able to say anything to change their minds. I can’t talk to the trolls, but I can talk to other men like me who have watched this mess unfold without knowing exactly how to respond.
The instinct is to say, “Well, what did she expect? This is a male-dominated industry, of course she’s going to get that response. Sure, what those guys said was awful, but come on!”
I’ve seen this happen before. I’ve played games where a woman has decided to reveal her gender and waited to see the inappropriate comments come spilling out. I’ve seen the comments left by readers on gaming blogs that skittishly ask whether or not video games generally portray women in an unhealthy way. I’m not at all surprised that this happened.
And, I would not be surprised if Anita Sarkeesian didn’t expect this to some degree, but I don’t know. Whether she did or not, my final response to the hatred directed toward Sarkeesian can’t be “it’s too bad, but you had it coming.” Instead I have to make a point of saying “what these people said is not OK.” Because the bottom line is that there is no excuse.
It doesn’t matter if the men making threats against Sarkeesian are teenagers, white trash, terrorists, bullies, men with mother issues, or irredeemable deviants. My response to these men has to be “this is not OK” because when I say that Sarkeesian should expect hatred from the trolls, I give the trolls an excuse to go ahead and do what they do best. I have to say “this is not OK” because it moves the responsibility away from Sarkeesian (the victim) and puts it onto the trolls (the aggressors. This may sound incredibly simple, but I’ve been amazed by how often the ‘what-do-you-expect’ comment has come up.
While writing this, I have asked repeatedly myself “so what? The trolls will be trolls no matter what I say.” And that may be the case. But, by actively calling out terrible behavior and not allowing excuses, I can start to change the expectations. If trolls know that they are not going to be excused for their behavior, maybe some of the more timid ones will think twice about what they say. Either way, we won’t know until we make an honest effort at condemning this hatred without exception or equivocation.
I encourage the gamer population at large to pay attention to stories like this. The Internet is filled with places to make your voice heard, and many of us participate in forums, Twitter,Facebook or other gaming communities. Instead of letting the trolls have the run of the show, make some noise. Let everyone know that the sexism and vitriol is not OK. Don’t let the trolls off the hook. And certainly, don’t make it easy for them to keep trolling.
Of course there is always a place for discourse and debate. Disagreement is fine and healthy. If you would like to debate Sarkeesian on the merits her ideas like an adult, please do. There’s always a place for healthy discussion. If you disagree, however, and respond with threats or insults keep it to yourself.
Ryan Steiner lives and writes in Seattle. You can read more on his blog, Somehow Doomed.