Dear The Internet, This Is Why You Can't Have Anything Nice

Anita Sarkeesian's project to expose stereotypes in video games attracts a maelstrom of hate.

Something wonderful happened on the internet this week. And something horrible happened at the same time.

A Californian blogger, Anita Sarkeesian, launched a Kickstarter project to make a web video series about "tropes vs women in videogames". Following on from her similar series on films, it aimed to look at women as background decoration, Damsels in Distress, the Sexy Sidekick and so on. Her pitch is here:

 

 

Sarkeesian was after $6,000 to cover the cost of researching the topic, playing all kinds of awful games, and producing the videos. Seems reasonable, doesn't it? Even if you don't like the idea - or don't believe that women are poorly represented in games (in which case, you would be wrong) - then isn't it fine for other people to give money to something they believe in?

Except some kind of Bastard Klaxon went off somewhere in the dank, moist depths of the internet. An angry misogynist Bat Signal, if you will. (It looks like those charming chaps at 4Chan might have had something to do it.)

In Sarkeesian's own words:

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.

Let's take a look at that Wikipedia page, shall we?

As the pixellated pinkness might suggest, that's what tabloids call a "sex act" happening in the top corner. There are also references to Sarkeesian being "of Jewish descent", an "entitled nigger" and having a "masters degree in Whining" (because why stick to one prejudice, when you can have them all?) More than a dozen IP addresses contributed to this vandalism before the page was locked.

Meanwhile, her YouTube video attracted more than 5,000 comments, the majority of them of a, shall we say, unsupportive nature. The c-word got a lot of exercise, as did comments about her personal appearance, and a liberal sprinkling of threats of violence. 

Sarkeesian archived a picture of the abuse, and you can find it here. I'm sorry to subject you to it, but I think it's important that you see the kind of stuff you can get called for the crime of Being A Woman On The Internet. Shall we play sexism bingo? Here goes:

Tits or GTFO

You're a bolshevik feminist Jewess

LESBIANS: THE GAME is all this bitch wants

Why do you put on make-up, if everything is sexism? ... You are a hypocrite fucking slut.

Would be better if she filmed this in the kitchen.

I'll donate $50 if you make me a sandwich

... and so it goes on. The only light relief is this one, because I don't think this is quite the threat this chap thinks it is:

Sarkeesian decided to leave the comments on her video, as proof that such sexism exists. I think it's important that she did, because too often the response to stories like this, "Come on, it can't be that bad". There are two reasons for this: first, that if you don't experience this kind of abuse, it's difficult to believe it exists (particularly if you're a man and this just isn't part of your daily experience). Secondly, because news reports don't print the bad words. We've got into a weird situation where you have to get a TV channel controller to sign off a comedian using the word "cunt" after 9pm, but on the internet, people spray it round like confetti. We read almost-daily reports of "trolls" being cautioned or even jailed, but often have no idea what they've said. 

This story should be shared for several reasons. The first is that a horrible thing happened to Anita Sarkeesian. She did nothing to deserve the torrent of abuse, and the concerted attempts to wreck her online presence. It's not the first time this happened: Bioware's Jennifer Hepler was similarly hounded out of town for expressing some fairly innocuous statements about videogames. Every time this happens, more women get the message: speak up, and we will come for you. We'll try to ruin your life, tear you apart, for having an opinion.

The second reason this story deserves wider attention is that in Britain, a law is being debated which will encourage service providers to identify internet trolls, without their victims having to resort to costly legal action. Until now, the perception has been that you can say anything you like on the internet, without any consequences. Recent cases, such as that of Liam Stacey (jailed for mocking footballer Fabrice Muamba) show that is getting less and less true.

A man who targeted Louise Mensch was yesterday given a suspended sentence, and banned from contacting a list of celebrities. Few papers reported Frank Zimmerman's full remarks, with the notable exception of The Guardian: they included a reference to the film Sophie's Choice, in which a mother is forced to choose which of her children dies, and the following: "We are Anonymous and we do not like rude cunts like you and your nouveau riche husband Peter Mensch...  So get off Twitter. We see you are still on Twitter. We have sent a camera crew to photograph you and your kids and we will post it over the net including Twitter, cuntface. You now have Sophie's Choice: which kid is to go. One will. Count on it cunt. Have a nice day."

We can argue all day about the sentence handed to Liam Stacey, but Frank Zimmerman made an unequivocal threat. He no more deserves anonymity than those who targeted Anita Sarkeesian with rape and death threats. But, of course, they will never be found out.

I said at the top of this blog post that something wonderful happened on the internet this week, at the same time as something awful. You'll be pleased to know that Anita Sarkeesian's Kickstarter project has gained 2,301 backers and a total of $55,671 at the time of writing. It's more than enough for her to make a whole series of shows about tropes and women in games, and luckily, she still plans to do so despite all the abuse

I am certainly not the first woman to suffer this kind of harassment and sadly, I won’t be the last. But I’d just like to reiterate that this is not a trivial issue. It can not and should not be brushed off by saying, “oh well that’s YouTube for you“, “trolls will be trolls” or “it’s to be expected on the internet”. These are serious threats of violence, harassment and slander across many online platforms meant to intimidate and silence. And its not okay. Again, don't worry, this harassment will never stop me from making my videos! Thank you for all your support!

Anita Sarkeesian in her Kickstarter video.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Poverty Britain calling Labour: Get radical or lose your heartlands to the right

Moderate policies don't reflect the extremity of the times.

If you woke up on the 24th June in shock to the news that Britain had voted to leave the EU, you won't have been alone. Perhaps you also felt similar feelings about the Labour party last September, when it elected its most left-wing leader in a generation.

I am an ex-charity leader and Labour party activist who ended up leading the Remain campaign in the North East. What is happening politically in the UK is less of a shock to me.

I know a world you probably will never see. In my 12 years of working in North East communities, I have worked with children who lived three miles from the beach but who had never seen the sea. I have supported grown women who had never been to a restaurant. I counselled boys who had never left the town they were born in, and handed out food parcels to widows whose benefit sanction meant they had no food. This is Poverty Britain, and people are hurting.

I knew the EU referendum was going to be tough, when on the first day of the Stronger In campaign trail in the North East, we hit the town of Washington, close to Sunderland. Boarded-up shop fronts, grey faces and eyes on the floor all told of hardship and decline. The people here were already converted - they wanted out. These people, like those I had worked with, had been ignored for too long. Their story overlooked, their lives forgotten and their plight becoming harder and harder.

As situations become more extreme, so do the solutions people turn to. Moderate middle ground policies don’t speak to the pain of someone living in the backwaters of a post-industrial city. Saving your NHS, reducing migration, taking back control and blaming “others”, does. It offers a simple solution to complex problems.

Corbynism grows against a similar backdrop. Corbyn has a message of hope. He is calling out for a new type of society, for tackling vested interests, going after the bankers, offering free education for all, speaking up for the vulnerable and doing politics differently. To some, he might seem as extreme as voting for Brexit or UKIP. But to the disability activist fighting welfare changes, or the cleaners and teaching assistants fighting for better pay, or the women's group fighting cuts in domestic violence services, a more radical Labour party offers hope. Like Brexiteers, these people are disillusioned and fed up of the status quo. They too want change. 

Centrists in the Labour party believe a Corbyn-led Labour party means any chance of change will be impossible, because Corbyn will keep them out of power. Corbynism is only for those middle-class, liberal lefty types, they say. He doesn’t speak to the mainstream.

The reality is less clear cut. On the campaign trail, speaking to working-class voters, I sensed confusion. They liked some of what he has to say, but he didn’t chime with their deeply patriotic and nationalist identities (or what they had read in the right-wing press). 

The biggest problem for Labour, though, is the focus on a leader to take them to the promised land. But the Labour party is as much about those within it as the leader. The real radical politics is as much about ownership and engagement as policy.

We can collectively decide the future, working together from a grassroots level, and rebuild the Labour party we want to see. There are some brilliant ideas within the party -  radical and practical, innovative and traditional. Harnessing these ideas could enable the Labour party to be the central force in British politics once again.

One thing is for sure, without a new left-wing offer that speaks to the dissatisfaction many British citizens are feeling, radical right wing ideas will continue to take root and grow. If that happens, I dread what type of country we could become.