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.
ANDREY BORODULIN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
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Letter from Donetsk: ice cream, bustling bars and missiles in eastern Ukraine

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it.

Eighty-eight year-old Nadya Moroz stares through the taped-up window of her flat in Donetsk, blown in by persistent bombing. She wonders why she abandoned her peaceful village for a “better life” in Donetsk with her daughter, just months before war erupted in spring 2014.

Nadya is no stranger to upheaval. She was captured by the Nazis when she was 15 and sent to shovel coal in a mine in Alsace, in eastern France. When the region was liberated by the Americans, she narrowly missed a plane taking refugees to the US, and so returned empty-handed to Ukraine. She never thought that she would see fighting again.

Now she and her daughter Irina shuffle around their dilapidated flat in the front-line district of Tekstilshchik. Both physically impaired, they seldom venture out.

The highlight of the women’s day is the television series Posledniy Yanychar (“The Last Janissary”), about an Ottoman slave soldier and his dangerous love for a free Cossack girl.

They leave the dog-walking to Irina’s daughter, Galya, who comes back just in time. We turn on the TV a few minutes before two o’clock to watch a news report on Channel One, the Russian state broadcaster. It shows a montage of unnerving images: Nato tanks racing in formation across a plain, goose-stepping troops of Pravy Sektor (a right-wing Ukrainian militia) and several implicit warnings that a Western invasion is nigh. I wonder how my hosts can remain so impassive in the face of such blatant propaganda.

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian-backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it. If the TV doesn’t get you, the print media, radio and street hoardings will. Take a walk in the empty central district of the city and you have the creeping sense of being transported back to what it must have been like in the 1940s. Posters of Stalin, with his martial gaze and pomaded moustache, were taboo for decades even under the Soviets but now they grace the near-empty boulevards. Images of veterans of the 1941-45 war are ubiquitous, breast pockets ablaze with medals. Even the checkpoints bear the graffiti: “To Berlin!” It’s all inching closer to a theme-park re-enactment of the Soviet glory years, a weird meeting of propaganda and nostalgia.

So completely is the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in thrall to Russia that even its parliament has passed over its new flag for the tricolour of the Russian Federation, which flutters atop the building. “At least now that the municipal departments have become ministries, everyone has been promoted,” says Galya, wryly. “We’ve got to have something to be pleased about.”

The war in the Donbas – the eastern region of Ukraine that includes Donetsk and Luhansk – can be traced to the street demonstrations of 2013-14. The former president Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, had refused to sign an agreement that would have heralded closer integration with the EU. In late 2013, protests against his corrupt rule began in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) in Kyiv, as well as other cities. In early 2014 Yanukovych’s security forces fired on the crowds in the capital, causing dozens of fatalities, before he fled.

Putin acted swiftly, annexing Crimea and engineering a series of “anti-Maidans” across the east and south of Ukraine, bussing in “volunteers” and thugs to help shore up resistance to the new authority in Kyiv. The Russian-backed rebels consolidated their power base in Donetsk and Luhansk, where they established two “independent” republics, the DPR and its co-statelet, the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). Kyiv moved to recover the lost territories, sparking a full-scale war that raged in late 2014 and early 2015.

Despite the so-called “peace” that arrived in autumn 2015 and the beguiling feeling that a certain normality has returned – the prams, the ice creams in the park, the bustling bars – missiles still fly and small-arms fire frequently breaks out. You can’t forget the conflict for long.

One reminder is the large number of dogs roaming the streets, set free when their owners left. Even those with homes have suffered. A Yorkshire terrier in the flat next door to mine started collecting food from its bowl when the war began and storing it in hiding places around the flat. Now, whenever the shelling starts, he goes to his caches and binge-eats in a sort of atavistic canine survival ritual.

Pet shops are another indicator of the state of a society. Master Zoo in the city centre has an overabundance of tropical fish tanks (too clunky to evacuate) and no dogs. In their absence, the kennels have been filled with life-size plastic hounds under a sign strictly forbidding photography, for reasons unknown. I had to share my rented room with a pet chinchilla called Shunya. These furry Andean rodents, fragile to transport but conveniently low-maintenance, had become increasingly fashionable before the war. The city must still be full of them.

The bombing generally began “after the weekends, before holidays, Ukraine’s national days and before major agreements”, Galya had said. A new round of peace talks was about to start, and I should have my emergency bag at the ready. I shuddered back up to the ninth floor of my pitch-dark Tekstilshchik tower block. Shunya was sitting quiet and unruffled in his cage, never betraying any signs of stress. Free from Russian television, we girded ourselves for the night ahead.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war