Failing to Defend Anita Sarkeesian

Can you debate a critic of Anita Sarkeesian? Is discussion even possible on the topic?

As a casual fan of Sarkeesian and her well-constructed, well-argued, and entertaining Feminist Frequency videos, I’ve been appalled to read about how relentless cyber bullies have been in condemning her work, threatening to rape and torture and kill her, and generally trying to silence her and drive her off of the internet. (This is one of many articles on the topic.) The handful of times I have visited the @FeministFrequency Twitter feed since finding out that death threats drove her from her home, I’ve been heartened to see the number of journalists who have publicly supported her with tweets, as well as noted the positive shout-outs from nerd heroes and fellow feminists like Joss Whedon. The problem is that, while there are a lot of nice comments to contemplate, mean remarks are – sadly – always more memorable. Also, some of the most appallingly aggressive bloggers post dozens of comments to every nice comment, and engage in some long, cringe-worthy debates with her defenders.

Ever since 1994, when I had my first, fruitless online discussion of a controversial issue, I’ve tended to lean towards the following two rules of thumb: 1) don’t read the comments section and 2) don’t feed the trolls. I like to have reasonable conversations with reasonable people, and I am concerned about how over-the-top and cruel we are to each other when we discuss even the lowest-stakes issues – such as whether or not Ben Affleck will make a good Batman – let alone how we talk to each other about critically important issues, such as feminism, climate change, and the second amendment. However, the recent online harassment of women who study and comment upon nerd culture has made me concerned that my not engaging in debate with “trolls” has somehow helped empower them. So I recently made an attempt to dive into the debate to defend Anita Sarkeesian.

I failed at what I set out to do.

I had two goals: one was to make a strong public statement on her behalf, defending her, and condemning sexual harassment, violence against women, and crimes against freedom of speech. My second goal was to take one of her more “reasonable” (?) critics and try to convince him to get off her back using my silver tongue. These two goals were incompatible, but speak to my two main instincts – I think of myself as both a crusader for social justice and as an educator. Partly because I can be a bit wishy-washy at times, I failed to make a strong enough statement of support in my Tweets to help truly condemn the architects of Sarkeesian’s suffering. And, during the course of my efforts to have a healthy, reasonably toned debate about her with one of her relentless critics, I made so many concessions about the “questionable” quality of her work that I essentially threw her under the bus in the process of winning the argument. So I am left feeling that I let down the very person I was trying to help.

I want to tell you about this debate I had to see what your feelings are about it.

Before wading into the Twitter maelstrom, I tried to get a sense of what the main “criticisms” were. I didn’t want to begin by assuming that all of the so-called trolls were rabid lunatics and horrible people, though many, many, many are. From what I have been able to tell from my here-and-there visits to the feed, there seem to be several kinds of negative posters. A number of those who have directed remarks (at) @FeministFrequency are clearly sexist, mean-spirited men. Some are just video game fans that are so committed to the medium that they can’t imagine that anyone would criticize it. After all, if video games are their whole lives and poor Anita tells them that video games can be imperfect, if not crappy, and are, generally, in great need of improvement, then what they hear is that their whole lives are imperfect, if not crappy, and are, generally, in great need of improvement. Perhaps the truth hurts, which is why these folks doth protest too much.  Other “trolls” haunting her feed have read some conspiracy articles about her that have since been discredited, but which they still believe. (She and Joe Wilson should get a beer together and commiserate about the high price of bringing information to the public.) Then there are those Twitter commenters who claim to be women who dislike radical feminists. Some of these women may be real women. Some of them may be 18-year-old boys in disguise, hoping to deflect charges of sexism and jack up their credibility. I’ll bet real money a couple of the most vicious and constant critics are members of various video game companies’ public relations departments, but I have no proof of this.

Ultimately, I decided that Sarkeesian has apparently committed four cardinal “sins”:

  1. She’s a public intellectual, and god-fearing Americans hate smarty pants types.
  2. She’s condemning aspects of the status quo, and god-fearing Americans fear change.
  3. She’s a woman with a strong opinion, and god-fearing Americans hate opinionated women.
  4. And she’s critical of mass-marketed corporate products – the crap merchandise that multinational corporations shove down our throats every second of every day. And they do this even as they lobby every second of every day to destroy the public support and funding of real, genuine education, art, and culture in America. And god help anyone who says anything bad at all about multinational corporations and their crap products they shove down our throats. God-fearing Americans love their crap products.

Contemplating all this made me angry, and I couldn’t imagine how it felt to be Anita Sarkeesian. She’s a lot stronger than I am, let me tell you, but I think it is high time folks stopped putting her strength to the test and let her go about the business of being a critic. So, I thought I’d dive into the Twitter battlefield by firing a shot directly at the worst offenders – the easiest and most evil targets. I like my two tweets from September 8, around 6:40 am:

@DiPaoloMarc @femfreq too many Americans doubt the existence of pollution, poverty, sexism and racism while raging about how hard it is to be a white man

‏@DiPaoloMarc @femfreq I wonder if it is easier to teach science to religious fundamentalists than it is to educate male-chauvinist gamers about feminism

These tweets got a favorite or two, but were ignored for a couple of days until:

joy grrl syn ‏@magdelyn @DiPaoloMarc @femfreq Nobody wants your re-education, comrade. #gamergate

@DiPaoloMarc @magdelyn @femfreq  ha! What I was saying.

Then a new person appeared, who would become the main one I would engage with:

@TheCheeseAlone @DiPaoloMarc Tough to learn about Feminism from a very poor critic like Anita.

Who was this person? Who knows? All I had to go by was @TheCheeseAlone, an address paired with a picture of Magneto and the name Eric Lensherr, which is Magneto’s “real” name spelled slightly wrong. The anonymity of the online identity, and the cheesiness of it, bothered me, but I felt like a masochist, so I decided to engage.

Here’s where the debate begins. I will edit my tweets and @TheCheeseAlone’s together to make it easier to read. If you want the original posts, warts and all, they should still be findable in the Twitter-verse.

Me: I don’t get it. She uses mountains of evidence. Too much. Her arguments seem unassailable. Just because you can play the Princess in Super Mario 2 doesn’t mean she’s not correct. She underrated Mockingjay because she puts feminist perspectives over class studies. So? That’s her right. Read Virginia Woolf, Marina Warner, Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem and Margaret Atwood for context. [Note: the above are four tweets combined]

@TheCheeseAlone: Star Fox vs Mario 2- same situation, Anita contradicts herself by critiquing both for opposite reasons. Her arguments are far from unassailable. Look at her atrocious critique of Bayonetta.

Me: let’s say she got that bit wrong. How does getting that bit wrong invalidate her larger thesis? Stabbing at errors – that may not be totally wrong – doesn’t poke enough holes to destroy the tapestry, only damage it

TCA: She applies appalling double standards to ensure that her unfalsafiable statements are confirmed. She dismisses context to confirm her presupposition. She cites op-ed pieces as proof.

Me: Op-ed pieces provide a framework for the discussion. Everyone cites op-ed pieces in scholarship – no matter their ideology. She seems consistent to me. What is at stake for you in this? Why do you care what she says? You like video games. Play them and let her be. I love the novel Dracula. From a feminist perspective, it is a loada horseshit. I accept that, love it (& feminists) anyway

TCA: I am a feminist and a gamer. I don’t want some hack being the face of that.

Me: If you are named after Magneto, why pick on a rebel? You should respect her fighting for mutant rights (read: female)

TCA: She is Magneto in that she would see the humans destroyed. that is she is not pro-woman, she is anti-man and anti-sexuality

Me: Well, that’s just absurd. She wants better representations of women. You really think we can’t do better? Attention video games! Stop improving! Don’t make any worthwhile women characters! Stay at your current quality level, which is perfect and above criticism! You’ve convinced me. Anyone who says video games need to be better should be bullied into silence

TCA: I’m all for better female representation in games. I also think Anita Sarkeesian is a charlatan. Games not perfect. Sarkeesian is a shit critic. I think feminism deserves better than the club with a nail in it that is Anita Sarkeesian.

Me: She’s funny. Funny. Not a club with a nail in it. Did you see that bit when she pointed silently at the actor who played Peeta? Hilarious.

TCA: Her sort of Biased, utilitarian feminism only serves to further alienate both men and women.

Me: What’s utilitarian feminism?

TCA: Feminism that refuses to acknowledge feminine beauty or sexuality. Sarkeesian sees all displays of sexuality as being ‘for men’

Me: What do you think of Marina Warner’s essay “Boys Will Be Boys?” She knows nothing about video games but is still largely right.

TCA: Haven’t read it yet.

Me: Who is a good feminist critic who skewers video games? Who models what she does successfully?

TCA: Not Anita, anyway.

Me: That’s no answer. By what standard are you judging her? You need a benchmark or you just sound like a video game fan with no perspective or distance. Look at music, movies, pop culture before 9/11 and look at it now. Women were given much more respect before the wars

TCA: Simply as a critic that 1) Contradicts herself 2) Manipulates data to confirm her presupposition 3) Ignores positives in order to push her agenda and 4) Engages solely with abusers while ignoring legitimate criticism of her work. She only engages with trolls, disables all comments on her website and YouTube.

Me: How do we know she ignores legit criticism? I think her opening disclaimer should disarm most people. It doesn’t. She is under no obligation to acknowledge other perspectives. Her role as a critic is to build her case well. She does

TCA: Watch that Bayonetta critique and tell me that she is not terrible at what she does.

Here I hit my first stumbling block. I don’t know who Bayonetta is. Frankly, I don’t think that matters. I remembered, back in high school, I saw a New York Times article that mentioned that Jim Carrey played the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman. Since I’m a comic book and movie fan, I knew that was an error, and my first thought was, “Aha! Caught! I know more than the New York Times! I’m smarter! They have no credibility! I will believe in nothing they write from now on!” While there are many reasons to take stories printed in the NYT with a grain of salt, I was not wise for thinking the above, but dumb. I was convinced that TCA was making the same kind of mistake about whatever he spotted as being wrong about Bayonetta in Anita’s essay. I decided to assume that Anita was, indeed, wrong about Bayonetta, but defend her anyway, since the criticisms he was leveling still seemed misguided and overstated, whether or not this Bayonetta critique was truly objectionable.

Me: What’s wrong with pushing an agenda? Don’t we all? You are pushing yours. If you are harping on Bayonetta, you are missing the big picture. Do you read the news? Do you know about the war on women?

TCA: And what is my agenda?

[Aha! The Cheese Alone is trying to trap me! I won’t fall for it.]

Me: What you say it is. I don’t know you personally and can only go with how you present yourself. You seem to know enough about video games as a fan to find a few minor errors in her work that you are using to prove evil. if you are on the same side as her, don’t waste your time fighting an ally. Go after the real enemy. Who are you trying to impress? Conservative men by being a more moderate feminist? You won’t win them over

TCA: My criticism of Sarkeesian is because of her very poor critical skills and confirmation bias. Feminism is incidental.

Me: I think a liberal confirmation bias is excusable in a far right-wing society. I’ve written books with confirmation bias. Sorry, I don’t want to say anything nice about Dick Cheney. I just don’t.

TCA: I am left wing. Doesn’t stop Anita being a rubbish critic though.

Me: No academic can know as much as a fan does. What critics have over fans is distance. Fans know more trivia but are less wise than critics. It is a trade-off. I say this as a fan and as a critic.

TCA: Rather patronizing statement!

Me: But true considering you still haven’t named your benchmark. Look, some errors may be real errors. Some may be differences in perspectives. Different perspectives are not wrong. Write your own essay making a different case and only mention her in passing, respectfully, to show where you diverge. Don’t join the nut squad haunting her twitter feed

TCA: I’m fine with differences in perspective! I am all for more complex representation of women in video games. I just think that Anita Sarkeesian is terrible at what she does. I can disagree with someone but respect their talent. I don’t respect her talent.

Me: I can’t reconcile your last few tweets. You seem to be picking the wrong enemy.

You know she’s broadcasting scholarship to a mass audience instead of hiding it in an academic journal. She’s performing a public service. Her citations would be stronger if not watered down for a video for mass consumption. I’ll bet her writing has all the citations and rigor you want but YouTube isn’t the Journal of Popular Culture. I think the problem you have is with YouTube. The format, not her. It is just my guess. I don’t know you. I’m asking you to consider that possibility and protest athlete rapists instead of her

TCA: I am not anti-feminism, I am anti-Sarkeesian. She is rubbish. Feminism is important. There are more than a few minor errors in her work and the standards she abides by (or doesn’t). Harassment is wrong. Anita seems to have set herself up as the guru of feminism in games. I just wish it was someone better. And that’s why she should be called out if she’s engaging in lazy critique. Otherwise, people will just assume she is right without examination.

Me: My worry is the opposite. Silencing her will discourage other, smarter feminists from risking making their work public. Write to her with your opinions on where she’s wrong and leave the charlatan hyperbole out of it. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. A few questionably applied examples does not warrant public shaming

And that is where Magneto, a.k.a The Cheese Alone, stopped tweeting responses to me.

I won! I won!

Or did I?

Did I convince him? Did he run away? Did he just have to poo and then he forgot about me? I ended with a good point, but it was marred by the fact that I threw him a big bone at Anita’s expense that maybe I shouldn’t have. Certainly, Julian Darius felt that way.

When I told Julian about my discussion, he took issue with me for mentioning “better, smarter feminists” in my last tweets to the cheesemaster. “We’ve no evidence Anita has failed and would require us to hypothesize a ‘smarter’ feminist critic, so I feel that’s a little throwing her under the bus, or bowing to criticism of her, even though neither of us seem to know of a criticism of her that’s legitimate.”

He also thought that I gave the benefit of the doubt to someone who was not debating in good faith, “You might also be aware that those organizing this #GamerGate conspiracy theory stuff have issued talking points advising people to pretend to be feminists and to claim that Anita is just a bad scholar, whom they’re out to destroy by any means necessary. So this person on Twitter is following the party line, and it doesn’t strike me as fair play or good-faith discussion at all.”

“Man,” I thought. “I didn’t know that. ‘New shit has come to light’ that I wasn’t ‘privy’ to. If I’d known that, I would have handled the whole thing differently. ”

Julian added, “And the end result of this [Twitter user's] quibbling over nonsense (without evidence) is obviously to endorse or be seen to legitimize Anita’s treatment. So to me, this person on Twitter is part of that movement — that attempt to shut Anita up — and you can tell by this person’s lack of citation or evidence. The real agenda is obvious, to me, and no strong feminist interpretation is going to be acceptable or not reach this backlash.”

“I guess I just wanted to see if it was possible to have a discussion with one of these people,” I said. Then I thought to myself, without saying to Julian, “Maybe if I was a more seasoned Twitter user, I’d have a stronger bullshit detector.”

He seemed to read my mind, “I’ve also spent a lot of time on social networks (and in life) assuming others are arguing in good faith. Over time, I’ve learned that this [good faith] is the issue, and an awful lot of the time, when people seem to me to be being unreasonable, or seem unresponsive to what I’m pointing out, it’s not really that they’re coming from a different place. It’s that they’re arguing in bad faith, and they’re immune or even hostile to actual discussion or argument.”

Is that what happened? I wondered if I’d had any effect on @TheCheeseAlone at all. I thought I’d see if he’d moved on to other topics, or softened his stance on Anita. Well, lo and behold, since our discussion @TheCheeseAlone has continued to Tweet negative assessments of Sarkeesian and engage in debates with her supporters. So I failed to convince Magneto that Sarkeesian, like all women, is a human being with a soul and deserving civil rights and some goddamned respect. I’m shocked – shocked that all those “progressive” video games he plays didn’t already teach him that women deserve respect.

As it happens, I like and agree with Anita Sarkeesian’s scholarship. At this point, her treatment is so appalling, that even those who don’t like and agree with her scholarship should stand up for her and defend her freedom of speech, because way too many insecure folks seem to want to take it away from her.

On the one hand, I’m glad that I at least tried to be reasonable and to talk to someone on the other side of a hotly debated issue. On the other hand, I think I was taken in by a con artist and a bully and tricked into saying more bad things about Sarkeesian on her Twitter feed and adding to her years’ long migraine. I really didn’t want to add to her pain. I had set out to help.

So I have a new message I want to send out there, into the world of the Internet:

If you think that you are justified in joining in with those who have designed arcade games in which the object is to beat Sarkeesian up or rape her, I have a message for you.

If you have tweeted her death threats because you don’t like how she discusses Bayonetta, I have a message for you.

And if you think she should be shouted down and bullied into silence because she doesn’t appreciate artistically rendered sexy women enough, then I have this balanced, reasonable, intellectual message for you:

Fuck all of you.
Get off Anita’s back.
Go read a book once in a while.
Go out and get some fresh air.
Try talking civilly to women for once, for a change, you nuts.
Get professional help.
Go to jail.
Get a life.
They’re just video games, you assholes.

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Marc DiPaolo is associate professor of English and film at Oklahoma City University. He wrote War, Politics and Superheroes (2011) and Emma Adapted (2007). He is editor of Godly Heretics and Unruly Catholics from Dante to Madonna, and coeditor (with Bryan Cardinale-Powell) of Devised and Directed by Mike Leigh (all 2013). His personal web site is here.

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  1. I’ve been a victim of bullying. It sucks, but no one has ever threatened to rape me. The video game industry I follow very closely and it’s a shame that it’s fans are so one-sided. Indie developers make some well rounded characters. Valve made Half Life 2, which featured Alex Vance, another great female character. It’s just too bad that everyone plays the bullshit that get published these days that overshadow these other great games.

  2. Well, this is a shame. I discovered this website fairly recently and was enjoying its articles. Unfortunately, this type of bias writing is not welcomed and I will remove myself from ever visiting it. I’m not going to be part of a website that promotes lack of objectivity, weak research, and the pontificating of a known crock and liar.

    And Mr. DiPaolo, with you being an associate professor, you should raise yourself on a higher standard. As a supposed learned professional, you should know when to research things. Just because you “like” this person is not enough for writing this tripe. Those last lines, your “message” is full of the same hate you are supposedly trying to stop others to fling on the person referred on this “article.”

    For shame.

    • It’s a shame, wilfred, that you would discredit a powerful resource for advancing comics as legitimate art because of one solitary article that you disagreed with. Way to throw the baby out with the bath water. I didn’t stop watching when they gave Rome 2 a bad review…

    • Dern says:

      I agree, it does not make sense to write off a whole website because you dislike one editorial.

      Besides, I think the Sarkeesian case is pretty clear-cut. Regardless of whether you agree with her research on video games, the threats she has received are so over-the-top that they’re profoundly disturbing. In fact, the threats tend to prove her point about the poor treatment of women in our society. Anyway, as someone who has played maybe 150 video games either obsessively or casually, I must say that I agree with her thesis that they (generally) contain poor, stereotypical female characters. Pointing this out doesn’t necessarily constitute an attack on games or gamers – but rather, is an effort to improve the games.

      As for the angry conclusion of DiPaolo’s article – well, he’s trying the “fight fire with fire” approach. As in – “how do all you people attacking her like having your own bile thrown back in your faces?” It’s a crass tactic, but it makes some sense. Besides, the rest of his editorial is pretty calm.

      At the end of the day, I find the people who are attacking Sarkeesian (and here, DiPaolo) to be the really narrow-minded ones. In fact, I’m downright creeped out by this whole controversy, and the fact that anyone would attack people in such a vitriolic fashion for making academic criticisms of video games! The whole incident feels like a nail in the coffin of human society…very depressing stuff.

    • Caio Marinho says:

      “Biased” does not, necessarily, mean “bad”. One must differentiate between ‘neutral’ and ‘reliable’. An article can be biased (not neutral) and still be reliable (cite their sources and make verifiable claims).

      I thoroughly enjoyed this editorial. The text is about the author’s experience in engaging with one of Anita Sarkeesian’s many bullies. He clearly isn’t canonizing Anita Sarkeesian, nor is she a “known crock and liar”, despite what, unfortunately, many on the internet will have you believe. These sweeping, unreliable claims only serve to polarize the conversation: you’re either for her or against her.

      Which leads to your assertion about Sequart. Like Warren said, just because you disagree with one article, you don’t have to discredit the whole institution. Sequart has many different opinions floating around it, even polar opposite ones. Check out, for instance, the varying views on Guardians of the Galaxy.

    • Everyone else has addressed the issue of bias very well, but I’d like to add that I’m not sure what the bias is here, except rejecting the appalling treatment of Anita Sarkeesian (which isn’t bias) and finding her arguments convincing overall (which doesn’t affect much, because the piece is concerned with her treatment and how the debate is conducted).

      As for the ending, it’s true that it’s hostile. However, there is a WORLD of difference between (1) slandering someone or threatening them and (2) condemning abuse and crimes and harassment. The first is hate and harassment. The second is standing up AGAINST hate. Strongly, yes. Perhaps you or others don’t like the tone. However, to equivocate between these two is a bit like equivocating between the KKK and someone who said “fuck racism and racists.” Not the same; condemning hate crimes — even angrily — is not itself hate. But again, perhaps this editorial’s ending is over the top; we’re all free to come to our own conclusions about that. However, to say it’s “full of the same hate” is fundamentally wrong.

      But Wilfred, your own agenda is the real issue of your comment, because you call Anita Sarkeesian “a known crock and liar.” That’s your real argument here: that saying other than your opinion (again, no evidence is provided) about Sarkeesian — or defending her against the indefensible treatment she’s received — is an indication of the editorial’s bias and lack of objectivity. That’s not a reasonable argument, and it aligns you with the indefensible treatment of Sarkeesian, which is what this editorial focused on. If you want to have a discussion of Anita Sarkeesian’s arguments, that wasn’t this editorial’s agenda, and I’d personally prefer to save that discussion for a day when the death threats and rape threats and vitriol she’s endured are a dim memory.

    • Marc DiPaolo says:

      Ask yourself, Wilfred, why a man with a doctorate who has published six books and presents himself as a thoughtful person averse to conflict would end the article in such a shocking and abrasive way. Yes … why would I put so many curses at the end of the piece? Why do that and risk “proving” myself a hypocrite, mirroring the evil I see in others, and undermining the sensitive, reasoned argument I have so carefully constructed over the course of a long article? What might motivate such an outburst? Well, I did not write that ending lightly. I put a lot of thought into it. I wrote the piece in anger, but it was a sober, thoughtful form of anger. My words were shaped for dramatic and pedagogical effect.

      Yes, there was a pedagogical aim there. So, class … what was I trying to teach by using gutter language like that? Can anyone guess? Like you, Mike Philips is right to be disturbed by the way in which I seem to be reversing my stance from the opening. Perhaps those vile words have the potential to illustrate what happens when all reasonable voices are ignored or silenced or turned unreasonable when it seems like that is the only way anyone ever listens. He who shouts the loudest wins. I hate that. But maybe it is the only way anyone will ever listen to me online, eh? Perhaps I am also trying to show the folks who use that kind of horrible language when they talk to (and about) Anita what it feels like to have those words directed at them. If you don’t like me talking that way to you, #GamerGate folks, don’t talk that way to folks like Anita. This is what the world looks like when NO ONE – not me, and not you – does unto others how they would want others do unto them. It isn’t pretty.

      Secondly, I am aiming those closing remarks very specifically at people who think that this sort of thing is okay:
      I think this sort of thing warrants a strong condemnation, not wishy washy “can’t we just get along?” stuff. If you don’t think that sort of thing is okay, then I’m not addressing you. Sure, you can prefer that I wasn’t quite so vulgar when making my point. Jesus wouldn’t have been so vulgar. But if you don’t think that “Beat Up Anita” game is okay, then you should understand on some level why it raises my ire.

      Thirdly, consider how many calm, logical points I made during the course of the exchange reprinted above that are not truly addressed, because many people who like video games uncritically and hate Anita uncritically have their fingers in their ears and hear none of what she says and none of what I say. A person would have to be a saint to be ignored at length before they get a mite bit annoyed. And you have done the same thing @TheCheeseAlone did by choosing to believe that I acted only out of personal like for Anita. That suggests that you read none of my points carefully. That is irksome. Should I be so irked that I am driven to curse like that? Maybe not.

      But, you know, I keep coming back to this…

      Yes, there are smart video games out there she’s not discussing. So what? Just because Tender Loving Care and Gabriel Knight exist, doesn’t mean she’s wrong or deserves this:

      Oh, and by the way, a lot of critics of Anita are presenting themselves as experts on literary scholarship and feminist studies. Before you set yourself up as the judge of good taste in academic writing, read some of it first. If this article is the only piece of writing by me you’ve ever read, you have no idea who you are dealing with when you question the quality of my thinking and research. And when you question whether Anita is a man-hater or a charlatan and you have never read a page of literary criticism or feminist theory, then you haven’t the first clue what you are talking about. Instead of talking nonsense, talk about what’s really bothering you — she hurt your feelings because she made you feel dumb for liking video games. Begin with that sentiment, and leave out a lot of uninformed posturing over how academic arguments and citations have sure been watered-down by these young scholars lately. Read Molly Haskell, Gilbert and Gubar, Julia Kristeva, Marina Warner, Gloria Steinem, Simone de Beauvoir, Margaret Atwood and Trina Robbins, and then we’ll talk about where Anita ranks in the grand tradition of feminist cultural criticism. Not before.

  3. It’s an editorial, Wilfred. It’s allowed to be biased. I agree with you on the “hate” stuff at the end, though.

  4. Capraro says:

    I created an account just to tell you how disappointing this was.

    I searched “Anita Sarkeesian criticism” and wound up here after clicking through a few pages on Google. I looked at your staff page and was very impressed. Wow, here’s an educated man! A critical thinker! Finally, someone who will offer substantive criticism! Or so I thought to myself.

    Then I read the article, and I was embarrassed for you.

    Editorial or no, there’s no excuse for not doing your research. Let me help you:

    Criticism of her Tropes vs Women in Video Games series:

    Criticism of Anita herself (and one of her videos toward the middle):

    Bonus criticism of her Bayonetta video:

    And as a contrast, here’s a real feminist talking about damsels in distress. Notice how much more substance it has:

    Here’s a female indie dev criticising her:

    There’s plenty more material out there. You were lazy. This article may well not be indicative of the quality of your publication, but I don’t know you or it at all, and I now have no reason to believe you have any authority on “geek” culture. I won’t be visiting again.

    If you want to redeem yourself and the site, write another article with some actual effort displayed. Or contact me and I’ll do it; you have my email address.

      • I looked at some of those links and wasn’t particularly impressed. They certainly didn’t demolish Anita Sarkeesian the way some think they do.

        Also, Sequart readers should be aware that those against Sarkeesian have organized on boards and been told to represent themselves as feminists, cite stuff, and behave themselves.

        And at the end of the day, the editorial was really about the harassment of Anita Sarkeesian, which can’t be defended and which has nothing to do with minor criticisms of her work.

    • You have completely missed the point of the article you’re responding to. It wasn’t about the strengths or weaknesses of Sarkeesian’s critique of video games. It was about the abhorrent response of many people to her critiques.
      Whether you disagree with her or not, there is absolutely no reason, whatsoever, for anyone to engage in threats of physical violence, rape or death threats.

  5. Marc:

    2) don’t feed the trolls.

    I used to think this was a wise policy to adopt.
    I don’t any longer.
    Don’t get me wrong-I don’t think people are under any obligation to engage trolls, but I do think that engaging the trolls can be beneficial.
    But not to the trolls themselves.

    I know that might not make sense at first, but hear me out and think of the lurkers.

    I’ve engaged in many online arguments with people over various arguments. As an atheist, I’ve argued against theists, creationists, and Intelligent Design proponents. As a gay man, I’ve argued for marriage equality. As a feminist, I’ve argued for full, unrestricted abortion access for all women. I’ve argued these positions against not only trolls, but more intellectually honest opponents (who, despite their greater ability to argue a point, are still fundamentally wrong and engaged in arguments that oppress marginalized people). I’ve watched fellow atheists, LGBT people, and feminists engage in the same types of arguments that I have. One of the things I’ve noticed is that while the opponents don’t necessarily change their opinions, well constructed, supported, and reasoned arguments benefit the lurkers-the people who read but don’t comment.

    They could be the atheist who learns to respond to a co-worker spewing creationist talking points. They could be the lesbian who learns an effective rebuttal for arguments against marriage equality. They could be the newly minted feminist who finds the bodily autonomy argument to be the strongest position with which to argue for abortion rights.

    There’s also another benefit to engaging the trolls-among the lurkers are going to be people who may be on the fence…undecided about marriage equality, abortion rights, and creationism in the classroom. Seeing effective, well sourced, and well reasoned arguments may be (and I know for a fact has been) enough to get these people off the fence and take a side (ideally one on the progressive side, IMO). These people may not comment much (if at all), but they do read and they do learn. I’ve read many comments by people over the years who say they’ve lurked on various sites and learned a lot and become better people bc of the quality of arguments presented.

    There’s one other benefit to engaging the trolls-standing up for the little guy. Among the lurkers are women who live in oppressed societies where they have little support and little hope…bisexual people threatened with being beaten, imprisoned, or even killed…atheists who live in repressive regimes that would imprison or kill them for having used logic, reason, and evidence to reach the conclusion that none of the thousands of gods humanity has ever worshiped exist. In all of these cases, it can be a ray of light for people to see harmful arguments shredded and NOT tolerated…to see people stand up for women, LGBT people, or atheists, where they so rarely do…that can do wonders for people. Again, I’ve seen it happen.

    Yes, engaging the trolls doesn’t bring readily available positive results, but you have no idea who you can reach…who might be affected…simply by speaking up.

  6. Eternal says:

    This was terrible. You call yourself a professor?

    Show us her research! A video of “tropes” doesn’t make for research. She doesn’t cite other works, about her idea on male gaze, or female agency. She just asserts it’s true while providing a passing name of some feminists giving speeches. She doesn’t address counter arguments. Don’t call yourself a researcher if you refuse to address counter arguments. She hasn’t stated why she hasn’t included context. Is it not valid? Is it not the point of her research?

    If she doesn’t include context how does that cause issues of bias in her review? How does she remove bias? Can she prove that it’s these games are anti-women to the average person without showing or influencing the person? Essentially, can she provide a blind test that shows non-feminists agreeing the characters are portrayed badly if they were switched to men?

    If it is anti-women we should have proof. Brain scans of aggressive thoughts with damsel in distress women. A strong correlation of men treating women worse due to their gaming habits. A strong correlation of men in other societies treating women bad due to large gaming habits or at least significant changes in the numbers. Proof that men and women have negative views of women from playing video games in double blind tests would have a really good start.

    I don’t see any of that whatsoever from Sarkeesian. She has no numbers, no valid research, just a generic study of tropes. It’s can give us a glance at some over arching themes but in no way provides proof of sexism. She couldn’t get published with this trash research. No real university would have given her money for research which was why she had to fund it through kickstarter. Her methods aren’t detailed, she doesn’t even mention why her idea of the male gaze,or the subject object dichotomy is even applicable.

    Imagine when scientists saw the atom and had to prove their argument that not only does it exist but the current rules of newtonian physics didn’t apply due to reasons X. Y, and Z. That violence in video games doesn’t make for violent gamers due to hard research and data. Not a video on commonly used thematic elements.

    She doesn’t provide any good evidence and doesn’t even consider other viewpoints. As a feminists and scientist myself I think she was terrible. Look at Christina Hoff Sommers, a professor of Feminism.

    This is what real feminism in academia looks like. Not this juvenile, freshmen style of research.

    • Christiana Hoff Sommers — whom I’ve read and think is smart — is, I think, on the outskirts of mainstream academic feminism. In fact, she’s very critical of a lot of feminism. So perhaps she’s not the best representative for you to cite here. It’s a little like saying “here’s a good feminist” who happens to be most known for claiming to be a feminist while famously criticizing feminism. It’s like saying “here’s a good Democrat” who happens to sound a lot more like a Republican than most Democrats. So it’s not a very good strategy on your part, and it suggests your problem is less with Sarkeesian and more with feminism more generally.

      Anita Sarkeesian makes YouTube videos. There’s not a lot of room there for citation. The point seems to be to assemble an accessible, well-produced, visual guide that can be easily shared, not to do the kind of quantitative analysis you’re suggesting. Of course, quantitative analysis is rare in literary criticism, and its lack is certainly not a reason to say something’s not academic or good criticism.

      The level of proof you’re demanding is absurd. Critics can call a black stereotype a “step-and-fetch-it character” and say it’s racist without having brain scans that demonstrate racist thinking. It’s precisely this way that Anita Sarkeesian says this is anti-women. And by the way, a discussion of brain scans or double-blind tests (which you demand as “proof”) would be a totally different work of criticism with very little room to discuss video games. That’s not how scholarship works. It can’t be. It’s an utterly absurd demand. That stuff would be cool to see, but it’s a totally different form of criticism than what Sarkeesian has done. That doesn’t make Sarkeesian’s work any less legitimate. It just makes you silly for insisting that an apple be an orange.

      You’re just wrong about what constitutes academic and intellectual production. Of course, her work isn’t quantitative! Of course, it’s focused on tropes! Lots of criticism is, and that doesn’t invalidate it.

      This is all straw man stuff. And it’s hypocritical, because these absurd complaints are not leveled against discussions of other tropes or kinds of representations.

      And I don’t see why Sarkeesian’s work is inspiring this kind of massive double standard. You’re right that her work isn’t quantitative. It mostly shows how common these woman-as-passive-sex-object tropes are and to characterize the nature of these depictions. She does that very well. And it’s Sarkeesian’s belief that these are anti-women. Now, we can respond to her work by saying some video games don’t use these tropes, that this is a side effect of video game culture, that people make these games to sell them to an audience that seems to want this content, etc. And we can have a discussion about whether or not this is part of rape culture, or whether it spurs men to think of women as objects (which Sarkeesian claims, but which I think is problematic and potentially dangerous, since it’s very close to claims that video game violence inspires real violence). Equally, we can have a discussion about whether these depictions are anti-women, how much of our objectification of women is genetic and how much is cultural (obviously, the specifics are cultural, but I do think Sarkeesian’s statements imply a kind of cultural constructionism that’s not in line with an awful lot of data, though she’s not alone in this potential error). We can have all of these discussions, and they can disagree with Anita Sarkeesian, and they can be passionate. However, these are mature discussions that have absolutely nothing in common with claiming that Anita Sarkeesian isn’t a scholar, or isn’t quantitative, or deliberately misrepresents things, or anything of the sort.

      No, Anita Sarkeesian’s work isn’t definitive. It’s excellent, and it’s powerful precisely because it’s accessible (instead of the morass of citations and brain scans you’re demanding it be, to be taken seriously). But it’s clearly not meant as a final statement about these issues. It ought to spur all of these discussions I just alluded to. But instead of a reasonable discussion about what constitutes being “anti-women,” given male evolutionary psychology and how our culture is capable of particularizing and tempering it, we’re instead told… that Sarkeesian’s points aren’t legitimate because she didn’t have brain scans? That she’s “juvenile” and “freshman?”

      That’s not an academic complaint. It’s not how we discuss matters. It’s an attempt on your part — and the part of others — to avoid dealing with her points in a mature way, as I outlined above. We could have those discussions. We need to have those discussions. Instead, we’ve got a smear campaign, which looks an awful lot like someone talking about tropes is terrifying to you and to an awful lot of men. Instead of engaging, you and others have chosen to attempt to de-legitimize and to silence anyone who dares to point out that these tropes do exist and that they’re sexist. See the difference?

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