Why should Anita Sarkeesian have to work for free in return for misogynistic abuse?

The reaction to Anita Sarkeesian's Kickstarter project is one of staggering hypocrisy.

The most common excuse for how Anita Sarkeesian has been treated is that she was asking for something she did not deserve. “She could have done it for free!” In spite of the fact that Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter project - which asked for funding to better examine women in video games - was clearly voluntary, some hang on to the idea that she crossed a terrible moral line. Even if we take this argument at face value, and ignore the implicit excusing of the aggressive and shameful behaviour which she was subjected to, it presents us with serious problems.

It has become dismally common for those supporting “Free Culture” to suggest one’s creative desires be funded by another job, or two jobs if that is what it takes. If you want to create, well that is the price that you have to pay. The assumption is that part-time work produces the same quality as full-time work. Historically it has rarely been the case that a hobbyist - even a talented one - is able to produce the same quality of work as a professional. Relieving a person of the pressures of an unrelated job (or two), and freeing up time to focus solely on creation unsurprisingly results in better work.

Whether this is through traditional methods, or direct funding from those who benefit most, the important thing is that creators are able to dedicate themselves to their job. Some things need more effort than a couple of hours on evenings and weekends to complete. This may be the reason why Anita Sarkeesian asked for funding. Perhaps she does not enjoying working for free. Perhaps she does not like the idea of subsidising others’ consumption by working extra hard for less result. Perhaps she thought the subject was important and demanded a full-time effort. It takes a special kind of solipsist to think that demanding Anita Sarkeesian to work for free, on punishment of intimidation, harassment, and threats to her safety is anything but deranged. It is not likely either that “doing it for free” would have avoided the sexist nonsense we have seen, given the subject matter.

The internet, digital technology and platforms like Kickstarter have removed many barriers for artists and creators. They inspire due to their low cost for entry in comparison to the severely restrictive nature of more traditional methods for reaching an audience. If “Free Culture” is argued from the basis of freedom of information and ideas, and not simply benefiting the individual who likes free things, then the reaction to Anita Sarkeesian is one of staggering hypocrisy. This has been at its bottom a concentrated effort to censor unpopular views within the video game community. Sarkeesian hoped to take advantage of the supposedly open nature of the internet and found instead new barriers that would discourage most human beings with emotions.

This is also, obviously, a result of extreme misogyny. One who thinks a woman being gang-raped is justified or amusing, is not excused by calls for free speech, or some mangled interpretation of irony. Perhaps women in video games, whether in development, criticism or their representation in the medium, do not interest you. Perhaps you feel that this is an overreaction. The elements which allowed this to happen though are powerful tools of censorship. If the video game community - which is thankfully not solely defined by the people who excused, encouraged or participated in this assault - wish to truly progress then we will need platforms like Kickstarter. We will need people like Anita Sarkeesian.

This affects many areas, particularly the development of quality criticism which is not so beholden to the interests of advertisers, or those who make products for demographics and not for individuals. We will need people to invest their time, and sometimes their money. It is no good though if to take advantage of the freedom of the internet, people have to either tow the line that does not offend the violent, deranged and morally bankrupt, or to accept being degraded and threatened in good humour. This is not just about women in video games. It is about facilitating new ideas, and empowering all kinds of divergent, minority and undervalued creative people to become involved in video games. Enough supported Sarkeesian’s project to fund it, but the attempts to silence her continue. Thankfully she seems up for the fight, but not everyone is going to be as strong as Anita Sarkeesian.

Paul Casey writes for the TN2 Magazine (Trinity News Supplement), which is available in digital form here, and for popshifter.com

 

A screenshot from Anita Sarkeesian's original Kickstarter video.
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Britain's commemoration of Partition is colonial white-washing in disguise

It’s much easier to focus on the indigenous perpetrators of religious violence than on the imperialist policies that facilitated it.

While in London a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t help but notice a curious trend in the British media’s coverage of the upcoming 70th anniversary of the end of British colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent. It wasn’t the familiar think-pieces about "the jewel in the crown", thinly disguised nostalgia for empire masquerading as critiques of colonialism (see for example, The Conversation’s piece on how colonialism was traumatic for, wait for it, officials of the British Raj). It wasn’t the patronising judgements on how India and Pakistan have fared 70 years down the road, betraying the paternalistic attitude some of the British commentariat still harbours towards the former "colonies". It wasn’t even the Daily Mail’s tone-deaf and frankly racist story about 92 year old countess June Bedani and her “loyal Indian houseman” Muthukanna Shamugam, who doesn’t even speak a word of “Indian” (that’s just classic Daily Mail). What got my attention was the British media’s raging hard-on for Partition - a flurry of features, documentaries and TV specials about one of the biggest and bloodiest mass migrations of the 20th century.

Just take a look at the major headlines from the past couple of weeks - "They Captured And Forced Him Out Of His Home: This Isn’t Syria In 2017, It Was India In 1947" (Huffington Post UK); "Partition: 70 Years On" (The Guardian, BBC and Independent, each with a different subhead); "The Real Bloody Legacy Of Partition" (The Spectator); "Remembering Partition: 70 Years Since India-Pakistan Divide" (Daily Mail) and many more. It isn’t that - unlike some of my more reactionary compatriots - I believe that the Partition story shouldn’t be documented and spoken about. On the contrary, I think India and Pakistan have failed to grapple successfully with Partition’s scars and still festering wounds, and the way it still haunts both our domestic politics and our relationship with each other. But the overwhelming focus on the grisly details of Partition by the British press is deeply problematic, especially in its unsubtle erasure of British culpability in the violence. Even the Guardian’s Yasmin Khan, in one of the few pieces that actually talks about the British role in Partition, characterises the British government as “naive and even callous” rather than criminally negligent, and at least indirectly responsible thanks to its politics of "divide and rule". Of course, it’s much easier to focus on the indigenous perpetrators of religious violence than on the imperialist policies that facilitated it. That would require the sort of national soul-searching that, even 70 years on, makes many British citizens deeply uncomfortable.

Rose-tinted views of empire aside, the coverage of Indian and Pakistani independence by the British press is also notable in its sheer volume. Perhaps, as some commentators have suggested, this is because at a time of geopolitical decline and economic uncertainty, even the tainted legacy of colonialism is a welcome reminder of the time when Britain was the world’s reigning superpower. There is certainly some truth to that statement. But I suspect the Brexit government’s fantasies of Empire 2.0 may also have something to do with the relentless focus on India. There is a growing sentiment that in view of historic and cultural ties, a post-Brexit Britain will find natural allies and trade partners in Commonwealth countries such as India.

If that’s the case, British policy-makers and commentators are in for a reality check. The truth is that, despite some simmering resentment about colonialism, most Indians today do not care about the UK. Just take a look at the contrast between the British and Indian coverage of Independence Day. While there are a handful of the customary pieces about the independence struggle, the Indian press is largely focused on the here-and-now: India’s economic potential, its relationships with the US and China, the growing threat of illiberalism and Hindu nationalism. There is nary a mention of contemporary Britain.

This is not to say that modern India is free of the influence - both good and bad - of colonialism. Many of the institutions of Indian democracy were established under the British colonial system, or heavily influenced by Britain’s parliamentary democracy. This is reflected both in independent India’s commitment (in theory, if not always in practice) to the ideals of Western liberalism and secularism, as well as its colonial attitude towards significant sections of its own population.

The shadow of Lord Macaulay, the Scottish legislator who spent four eventful years in India from 1834 to 1838 and is considered one of the key architects of the British Raj, still looms large over the modern Indian state. You can see it in the Penal Code that he drafted, inherited by both independent India and Pakistan. You can see it in Indian bureaucracy, which still functions as a paternalistic, colonial administrative service. And you can see it in the Indian Anglophile elite, the product of an English education system that Macaulay designed to produce a class of Indians “Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.” It was this class of Anglophile Indians who inherited the reins of the Indian state after independence. It is us - because I too am a Macaulayputra (Macaulay’s child), as the Hindu right likes to call us. We congratulate ourselves on our liberalism and modernity even as we benefit from a system that enriched the few by impoverishing the many. This class of brown sahibs is now the favourite punching bag of a Hindu nationalism that we have allowed to fester in our complacency.

Still, ghosts of the past aside, the UK no longer holds sway over young India, even those in the Anglophile upper classes. Today’s young Indians look to the United States for their pop culture references, their global aspirations and even their politics, both liberal and conservative (see the Hindutva fringe’s obsession with Donald Trump and the alt-right). We still want to study in British universities (though increasingly strict visa rules make it a less attractive destination), but we’d rather work in and emigrate to the US, Canada or Australia. We drink coffee rather than tea (well, except for the thoroughly Indianised chai), watch Veep rather than Yes Minister, and listen to rap, not grime.

Macaulayputra insults aside, the British aren’t even the bogeymen of resurgent Hindu nationalism - that dubious status goes to the Mughal Empire. Whether this cultural turn towards America is a result of the United States’ cultural hegemony and economic imperialism is a topic for another day, but the special "cultural links" between India and the UK aren’t as robust as many Brits would like to think. Which is perhaps why the UK government is so intent on celebrating 2017 as the UK-India year of Culture.

Many in the UK believe that Brexit will lead to closer trade links between the two countries, but much of that optimism is one-sided. Just 1.7 per cent of British exports go to India, and Britain's immigration policy continues to rankle. This April, India allowed a bilateral investment deal to lapse, despite the best efforts of UK negotiators. With the Indian economy continuing to grow, set to push the UK out of the world’s five largest economies by 2022, the balance of power has shifted. 

The British press - and certain politicians - may continue to harbour sepia-tinted ideas of the British Raj and the "special relationship" between the two countries, but India has moved on. After 70 years, perhaps the UK will finally realise that India is no longer "the jewel in its crown". 

 

Bhanuj Kappal is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.