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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Is Google Maps discriminating against people with disabilities?

Its walking routes are not access-friendly.

“I ended up having to be pushed through a main road in London, which was really scary.” Three weeks ago, Mary Bradley went to London to visit her daughter Belinda, who is just finishing her first year at university there. Her other daughter joined them on the trip.

But what was supposed to be an enjoyable weekend with her two children turned into a frustrating ordeal. The apps they were using to find their way around kept sending them on routes that are not wheelchair-friendly, leading to time-consuming and sometimes frightening consequences.

Bradley has been using a wheelchair – when having to go longer distances without a vehicle – for over a year, due to a 45-degree curve in her spine, severe joint facet deterioration in her back, and other conditions.

She lives in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, and has made the trip up to London to visit her daughter a handful of times. Each visit, they use Google Maps and the transport app Citymapper to find their way around, as neither of them know London particularly well.


Belinda and Mary Bradley. Photo: Belinda Bradley

“It was just horrible,” says Bradley of her most recent trip to the capital. “We’re following the maps, and we go along, then find we are faced with a footbridge, and realise there was no way I was going to get over it, so we had to go back the way we’d come. At one point, we were faced with a strip of narrow pavement the wheelchair couldn’t go down. That was something we found all weekend.”

While Google Maps did highlight accessible Tube stations, they found that once they had alighted to do the rest of the journey to their destination on foot, “it took us three times as long, because the route that it takes us just wasn’t passable”.

They ended up having to try different routes “having no real idea of where were going”.

“It meant that it took so much longer, the girls ended up having to push me for longer, I got more and more embarrassed and frustrated and upset about the whole thing,” Bradley tells me.

At one point, her daughters had to take her down a main road. “Being pushed on a road, especially in London, is scary,” she says. “It was scary for me, it was scary for the girls.”

When they returned home, Belinda, who is a 19-year-old Writing and Theatre student at the University of Roehampton, was so furious at the situation that she started a petition for Google Maps to include wheelchair-friendly routes. It hit over 100,000 signatures in a fortnight. At the time of writing, it has 110,601 petitioners.


Belinda's petition.

Belinda was surprised that Google Maps didn’t have accessible routes. “I know Google Maps so well, [Google]’s such a big company, it has the satellite pictures and everything,” she says. “So I was really surprised because there’s loads of disabled people who must have such an issue.”

The aim of her petition is for Google Maps to generate routes that people using wheelchairs, crutches, walking sticks, or pushing prams will be able to use. “It just says that they’re a little bit ignorant,” is Belinda’s view of the service’s omission. “To me, just to ignore any issues that big needs to be solved; it needs to be addressed almost immediately.”

But she also wants to raise awareness to “make life better in general” for people with disabilities using navigation apps.

Belinda has not received a response from Google or Citymapper, but I understand that Google is aware of the petition and the issue it raises. Google declined to comment and I have contacted Citymapper but have not received a response.

Google Maps does provide information about how accessible its locations are, and also allows users to fill in accessibility features themselves via an amenities checklist for places that are missing that information. But it doesn’t provide accessible walking routes.

“There’s no reason that they couldn’t take it that bit further and include wheelchair accessible routes,” says Matt McCann, the founder of Access Earth, an online service and app that aims to be the Google Maps for people with disabilities. “When I first started Access Earth, I always thought this is something Google should be doing, and I was always surprised they haven’t done it. And that’s the next logical step.”

McCann began crowdsourcing information for Access Earth in 2013, when he booked a hotel in London that was supposed to be wheelchair-friendly – but turned out not to be accessible for his rollator, which he uses due to having cerebral palsy.

Based in Dublin, McCann says Google Maps has often sent him on pedestrian routes down cobbled streets, which are unsuitable for his rollator. “That’s another level of detail; to know whether the footpaths are pedestrian-friendly, but also if they’re wheelchair-friendly as well in terms of the surface,” he notes. “And that was the main problem that I had in my experience [of using walking routes].”

Access Earth, which includes bespoke accessibility information for locations around the world, aims to introduce accessible routes once the project has received enough funding. “The goal is to encompass all aspects of a route and trip,” he says. Other services such as Wheelmap and Euan's Guide also crowdsource information to provide access-friendly maps.

So how long will it take for more established tech companies like Google to clear the obstacles stopping Mary Bradley and millions like her using everyday services to get around?

“You can use them for public transport, to drive, you can use them if you’re an able-bodied person on foot,” she says. “But there are loads of us who are completely excluded now.”

Sign Belinda Bradley’s “Create Wheelchair Friendly Routes on Google Maps" here.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.