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.
NICHOLAS KAMM / Staff
Show Hide image

Blow-dried and supplicant, Ivanka shows the limits of the power women are allowed in Trumpworld

A new book by the US President’s daughter has surpisingly strong echoes of medieval royalty.

Exactly 500 years ago this month, the apprentices of London rose up, ­angry with Flemish immigrants and the bankers of Lombard Street. The race riot was quelled only when a couple of dukes sent in their private armies. Hundreds of looters were arrested and some were hanged, drawn and quartered. But some rioters were as young as 13 and the city’s residents felt sorry for them.

Henry VIII wanted to look magnanimous, but not weak. And so, at the trial in Westminster Hall on 7 May, ­Cardinal Wolsey first asked for mercy on the youngsters’ behalf. He was refused.

And then three women came forward: Henry’s queen, Catherine of Aragon, and his sisters Mary and Margaret, the widowed queens of France and Scotland. Faced with three women on their knees, the king relented. “It was a scene straight from the pages of chivalry,” writes Sarah Gristwood in her history of Renaissance women and power, Game of Queens. “An intercessory function, of course, had been traditional for queens, from the biblical Esther and Bathsheba to the Virgin Mary.”

Whenever contemporary politics gets too depressing, I take refuge in history. I always hope I will gain some perspective from people whose problems are very different from my own. Yes, climate change is terrifying; but at least I don’t have scrofula! Yet modern life has a way of creeping back. Late-medieval Europe was full of resentment for “aliens”, for example, who were felt to be prospering at the expense of native populations, even if those tensions were often expressed in religious rather than nationalist terms. It was Catherine of Aragon’s parents, Isabella and Ferdinand, who expelled all Jews from Spain in 1492.

Nonetheless, I was surprised to find such strong echoes of medieval royalty in Ivanka Trump’s new book, Women Who Work. I won’t waste your time by attempting to review this seminal tome, especially as it’s largely constructed out of bits of other self-help books. The advice boils down to: be “multi-dimensional”; don’t be afraid to use “architect” as a verb; feel free to turn down Anna Wintour, when she offers you a job at Vogue straight out of university, because your true passion is real estate. If it’s a busy time at work, as it was for Ivanka on the campaign trail, go into “survival mode”. (“Honestly,” she writes, “I wasn’t treating myself to a massage or making much time for self-care.”) Something for everyone.

Still, Women Who Work gave me the chance to contemplate the point of Ivanka Trump. I’ve seen her far more than I have heard her, which is no surprise, as her role in the administration is largely symbolic. What is Ivanka if not a Renaissance queen, tearfully pleading with her lord to show mercy? She is, we are told, his conscience. When his daughter’s clothing line was dropped by the US retailer Nordstrom in February, Trump tweeted: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person – always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!”

Two months later, her name was invoked again. The First Daughter was distraught – “heartbroken and outraged”, she tweeted – at the sight of Syrian children gassed by the Assad regime. This prompted her father to bomb an airbase to atone for the slaughter of what his statement referred to as “beautiful babies”. “Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence,” her brother Eric told the Telegraph. “I’m sure she said: ‘Listen, this is horrible stuff.’”

This is the power that women are granted in Trumpworld: softening, humanising, empathetic. Their tears moisten the oak-like carapace of great leaders, showing them that sometimes it’s OK to be kind – but obviously not too kind, because that’s a bit soppy and girly and gay. Women are naturally prone to emotion, of course, unlike sturdy, ­rational men, who get so cross about the way TV news is reporting their firing of the FBI director that they start sending unhinged tweets implying they have incriminating “tapes” of White House conversations.

In this structure, however, the limits of women’s power are sharply circumscribed. The tears of both Ivanka and Catherine of Aragon only provided cover for something that their lord and master wanted to do anyway. (As New York magazine urged acidly on 13 April, “Someone Please Show Ivanka Pictures of Starving Yemeni Children”.) Ivanka’s whole book is designed to render female power unthreatening by making it “feminine”; merely a complement to male power instead of a challenge to it.

To reassure us that she isn’t some frumpy bluestocking, Ivanka has crafted an image of expensive, time-consuming perfection: perfect white teeth, perfect blow-dried hair, perfectly toned body. Her make-up, clothes and home are all styled in unobtrusive neutrals. Together it says: let me in the room and I promise not to be a nuisance or take up too much space, even on the colour wheel. It’s noticeable that no woman in Trump’s orbit has “let herself go”, even though his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has the complexion of a body that’s been found after two weeks in the water. I somehow doubt he ever makes “time for self-care”.

And don’t come at me with all that garbage about a nice frock and a manicure being “empowering”. Look at Donald Trump, the one with his own military: he has a fat arse and uses Sellotape to hold his ties in place. A president is allowed to have appetites – for women, for food, for power. His supplicant daughter gets to peddle platitudes about how you should “bond with your boss”. (Being a blood relative helps, although, sadly, Women Who Work is silent on what to do if he also fancies you.)

Is this how far we’ve come in 500 years? Ivanka Trump might try to sell herself as a modern woman, but her brand of female power is positively medieval.

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.

This article first appeared in the 18 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Age of Lies

0800 7318496