After releasing her newest web series Feminist Frequency’s “Tropes vs. Women,” which focuses on how women are depicted in pop culture and video games, Sarkeesian has suffered an onslaught of online harassment. Immediately following the series’ latest installment, “Women as Background Decoration (Part 2),” that harassment escalated, causing her to call law enforcement and flee her home:
She later posted responses from one particular user who claims to know her parents’ names, where they live and where she lives. He threatened to “rape [Sarkeesian] to death.”
Sarkeesian’s experience with violent, gender-based online harassment is all too common. According to a Pew Research survey, about 12 percent of people say they have been harassed online, with women bearing the brunt of it. And even when those online threats are reported to the police, or to social media sites such as Twitter, they’re often met with little to no follow-up.
Twitter has been heavily criticized for not taking online threats seriously. In 2013, the microblogging site changed its policy so that blocked users could still follow and see posts from the users that blocked them. The policy was quickly reversed after a flood of complaints said the change made victims of harassment feel trapped and less safe. Moreover, critics said the move was a direct product from Twitter’s white male-dominated environment.
Complaints of anti-woman policies have plagued the heavily male tech industry. Tech and gaming circles have struggled to shed their reputations as boys’ clubs that shut out and abuse women and minorities. Even former GitHub web developer Julie Ann Horvath, who worked to recruit more women into tech, quit her job due to online and in-person harassment from co-workers.
When it comes to gaming and comics, content creators play into the stereotype that their core audience consists of teenage boys. But women make up nearly half — 48 percent — of all gamers, and twice as many adult women play video games than teenage boys, according to a recent study by the Entertainment Software Association.
Despite those figures and growing criticism from the gaming community, female lead characters are rare. When women do appear in video games, they’re frequently over-sexualized, and being beaten, kicked, stomped on, or shot. Sarkeesian homed in on the issue in the video that sparked her harassment, criticizing game creators over reliance on domestic violence and the sexualization of female tropes — even in death — simply for shock value without actually critiquing the scenarios or circumstances surrounding the gender-targeted violence.