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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“Politicians don’t care about us here”: Isle of Wight residents on David Hoare’s “ghetto” insult

The Ofsted chief has resigned after calling the Isle of Wight a “poor, white ghetto”, which suffers from “inbreeding”. The Islanders’ response reveals anger at years of neglect by the London elite.

The last Saturday of Cowes Week is one of the Isle of Wight’s busiest days of year. But, east of the regatta, Ryde seafront does not mirror the bustle and extravagance of the major sailing event.

Elderly couples on benches gaze out at distant cargo ships, while others enjoy an ice cream outside the beach café. A huddle of people in their forties crouch beside the sea wall drinking cans of lager. A reclaimed 1930s London Underground train – somewhat incongruous in this setting – trundles up Ryde pier, ferrying passengers to the catamaran terminal.

The Ofsted chair, David Hoare, has just resigned, after describing the Isle of Wight as a “poor, white ghetto”, which suffers from “inbreeding”. He has announced that he will stand down from his position with immediate effect due to pressure on him following his controversial comments, made during a Teach First conference, about the Island, which was judged the second worst local authority in the last round of inspections.

I grew up on the Isle of Wight, before moving to London to work as a journalist. I head back there to find out what people think of Hoare’s characterisation of their home.

“I think he should be put on the bloody dole or something,” says a man sitting on the sea wall as he rolls tobacco from a tin. His dog is sleeping as music blares from a portable radio. “Politicians? They don’t care about us here.”


Island-based eco-fashion brand Rapanui has created a line of t-shirts inspired by Hoare’s comments. Photo: Rapanui

The crowd on the seafront is certainly white (94.8 per cent of the Island’s population identifies as White British) but almost everyone I meet is shocked and offended by the words inbred and ghetto.

“He's obviously never been here and met people,” says Nicola Vaughan, a 45-year-old healthcare scientist, perching on the sea wall with her husband and 11-year-old son. “On the mainland they just think we're a bit backward.”

The Isle of Wight, like the coastal towns of Thanet and Great Yarmouth, voted for Brexit. Leave won with 61.95 per cent of the vote on the Island. It is also the UK’s largest constituency and has been served by Conservative MP Andrew Turner since 2001.


The Island Line train. Photo: Natasha Preskey

“I work at the hospital and they're always struggling,” continues Nicola. “We’re slated completely when it's really not our fault.”

Nicola voted Leave after hearing Nigel Farage’s promise of more funding for the NHS. “I think I regret it,” she says, recalling Farage’s retraction.

Isle of Wight County Press editor Alan Marriott is backing the Fight For The Wight campaign, which aims to secure more funding for the Island. Campaigners accept that the Isle of Wight does not qualify for a rural grant but point to the area’s poverty relative to the rest of the south east (the Island’s average hourly wage is £11.56, compared with £14.39 in the region generally).

The editor believes that the Island’s reasons for voting Brexit were mixed (despite the lack of diversity in the area, many people I meet also express fears about immigration). He says that islanders who are feeling the pinch of austerity may “blame the EU” rather than looking to Westminster.

Marriott expresses disappointment that Hoare’s verdict ignored the beginnings of progress in Island education. “It's a lot better than it was three years ago when virtually every high school was in special measures,” he says.

Anger at Hoare’s words dominates my Facebook feed and is the talk of Ventnor – a traditional seaside resort in the south of the Island, where the annual fringe festival is being held.

“He's trying to blame his failures on people who live here,” hair braider Sally Phillips, 44, tells me in Ventnor Park. “I've just done a week's work at Cowes Week and lots of elite types who have a holiday home here view it as almost disposable.”


Ventnor Bay. Photo: Tobias Penner

“I can’t believe a man in that position has those opinions,” adds teacher Sue Harriman, 49. “That whole vote [to leave the EU] was a backlash against the government and years of underfunding. I don’t think it's the EU at all, it's the one chance people had to give their opinion and it counted.”

The Island exists between two stereotypes, the boat-owning (usually mainland-dwelling) “yachties” who attend Cowes Week, and the poor, 1960s-esque place that Hoare describes. Islanders are not unaware of how they’re viewed by many in metropolitan areas.

“Anything out of London’s just ‘there’,” says 37-year-old Adam Towner, who moved here from the capital. Explaining why he voted Leave, he says: “Everything’s centralised in London and there’s so much money. People want to go back to being a bit small town and more self-sufficient. I don’t want to be controlled by a load of people in Europe that we didn’t vote for.” 

Jack Whitewood, who was raised in Ventnor, launched the Fringe as a teenager in 2010. The 25-year-old went to drama school in London but returned after graduating to focus on the event, which last year featured more than 300 performers.


Artwork ‘The Portrait of a Town’ depicting Ventnor locals, created during the Fringe Festival. Photo: Tobias Penner

“Governments don’t seem to come up with answers for creating an economy in an area like this,” Jack explains, over the sound of a musician performing in the park. Drawing a comparison with former mining communities in the north, he adds: “Ventnor was purpose-built as a health spa and a place for people with TB to come to originally and when that became defunct and the hospital left … the town was left with no real purpose.”

Jack has been asked more than once why he chose the Island for this project.

“Does London really need another fringe theatre or another festival or another arts venue? Not especially,” he says. “What we want to do is work out how to actually sustainably regenerate the area.”

But Jack is optimistic about the Island’s future. “Maybe it seems slow from the cities but actually there has been progress here,” he says. “And when you get a bit of progress you don't want to stamp it out, you need to encourage it.”

Natasha Preskey is a freelance journalist based in London.