This is a thing that happened.
Helen Lewis wrote an article on the New Statesman yesterday on the online harassment experienced by Anita Sarkeesian, which I’ve been following for a while. To recap:
American blogger Anita Sarkeesian, who launched a Kickstarter programme to raise $6,000 to research “tropes vs women in videogames”. Donating was - and I really can’t stress this enough - completely voluntary. There are Kickstarters for all kinds of things: for example, a “dance narrative featuring some of NYC’s most compelling performers that celebrates the pursuit of love and the joys of imperfection” doesn’t sound like my kind of thing, but God Bless Them, they are 89% funded towards their $12,000 goal.
But a big swath of the internet wasn’t prepared to live and let live in Sarkeesian’s case, and began spamming her YouTube video comments with a pot-pourri of misogynist, racist and generally vile abuse. Each one individually was grim; together they constituted harassment. (You can read the full story in my blog here).
Since then, Anita Sarkeesian has been subjected to a good deal more harassment…
Read her post for the full rundown, but it includes: image-based harassment, rape threats, hate sites, and death threats. One man, Ben Spurr, created a game in which users could punch Sarkeesian’s face and bruising would appear. Now Ben Spurr is, as far as I know, just some dude. I don’t know anything about him except that he has a Twitter account and that he made this game and is thus, probably not an awesome person.
His description of the game reads as follows:
Anita Sarkeesian has not only scammed thousands of people out of over $160,000, but also uses the excuse that she is a woman to get away with whatever she damn well pleases. Any form of constructive criticism, even from fellow women, is either ignored or labelled to be sexist against her.
She claims to want gender equality in video games, but in reality, she just wants to use the fact that she was born with a vagina to get free money and sympathy from everyone who crosses her path.
We’ve got a few things going on here: slander (Sarkeesian didn’t scam anyone, she simply asked for funds for a project like everyone else on Kickstarter); a profound misunderstanding of what sexism is; jealousy (because who doesn’t want to raise over $100,000?); ignorance; I could go on, what I’m most concerned about is the painfully obvious hatred.
The vicious nature of the attacks on Sarkeesian are telling. It isn’t terribly often that an entire group of people on the Internet band together to harass someone to this degree. In keeping with the vitriolic comments that are seemingly reserved for feminist ideas and initiatives—and feminists themselves—there’s no real argument here, just hatred. Spurr makes no reference to why he disagrees with the project, he’s just eager to give Sarkeesian what he thinks she has coming to her. A charmer, this guy.
So where’s the hate coming from? Well according to Spurr, who became the target of an impressive Twitter pile-on yesterday, the fact that Sarkeesian won’t listen to his disagreement. That’s right—he made a game about beating her up because she wouldn’t debate with him.
I shouldn’t have to go into too much detail on why this is disturbing and weird, but I’m going to anyway because Spurr isn’t alone—there are countless people who think the way he does—and frankly, the stupidity of his arguments cannot go uncriticized.
So let’s go through some of his pile-on responses, shall we?
Yeah. Because ladies always listen to dudes who make games about beating them up. And notice here that Spurr didn’t express his distaste with what Sarkeesian is doing, he expressed his distaste for her as a human being. By creating a game in which people could actually punch her face.
But he just wanted to get her attention! And it works because it’s a digital depiction of the very real violence women live under threat of our entire lives—what with being more likely to die and be injured at the hands of men and all. No better way to upset us or get our attention than imply that we deserve a good beating. Speaking of upsetting:
Here we learn that Spurr knows his game is kind of fucked up, but he defends it because he was trying to get a “strong emotion.” (Also note the use of the word “slam.” Interesting.) If you think about what it takes to motivate a person to create something just to upset another, like in this case, your brain goes to a scary, dark, misogynist place. But it’s okay guys, because Sarkeesian deserves it for not engaging with Spurr.
Ah, real talk: SHE WON’T PAY ATTENTION TO ME SO I WILL RESPOND BY SPENDING MY FREE TIME MAKING A GAME SO OTHER ANGRY PEOPLE LIKE ME CAN VIRTUALLY PUNCH HER IN THE FACE.
This is a prime example of what we call entitlement. Spurr feels that he automatically deserves response and ultimately, validation. This is common among people raging against feminist initiatives, who try to invalidate arguments by complaining that people aren’t responding or listening to their “criticism.” Here’s the thing, White Guy Who Grew Up Thinking He’s Entitled to Everything and Everyone, and I know this might totally rock your world, but people don’t have to respond to anything. They don’t have to read what you write, watch what you film, or hell, even acknowledge your existence on the Internet. You are not entitled to engagement. That’s a person’s choice, not an automated response. And out here in the adult world, disagreement doesn’t culminate in vicious harassment, it happens via discussions that don’t involve, you know, images of a bloody face.
So what did Spurr ultimately hope to accomplish?
“Um hi, Ben? Yeah it’s Anita. I heard you made a game in which people can brutalize me and I was just wondering what I could have possibly done to provoke this? Because it’s totally my fault and I really want to know. All I want to do is listen to you, because you’ve so clearly earned it by making light of violence against women.”
WHAT IS GOING ON IN YOUR HEAD THAT MAKES YOU THINK SHE WOULD WANT TO ENGAGE WITH YOU, EVER? Naturally this statement inspired a lot of “you’re totally deranged” comments, which I can’t disagree with.
But let’s get to what’s really important: The Menz.
No. No. No. First of all: false equivalence. Sarkeesian has nothing in common with the lead singer of Nickelback. If the game had been made for the latter, it would still be weird and creepy. Because only people who think physical violence is a response to disagreement with or dislike of someone would approve of such a thing.
Secondly, people who constantly do the “what if this were a man” thing have no understanding of systemic oppression or violence. It’s misdirection, plain and simple.
Finally, people aren’t defending her just because she’s a woman, but dismissing it as such makes it easier for you to continue ignoring the real criticisms of your game, and helps you go on feeling self-important and righteous. How convenient.
And that self importance comes up again and again.
Even after admitting that he created the game to upset Sarkeesian and get her attention, Spurr cries freedom of expression and tries to make this an issue of censorship. Sorry dude, but everyone knows you didn’t create this out of some artistic need—you did it to frighten, intimidate, mock, and shock. Sounds a lot like something an actual abuser would do, doesn’t it?
In a report published by the CDC last year, domestic violence is a very real problem faced by billions of women worldwide. One in four women has been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in her lifetime. One in six has experienced stalking victimization—which is not unlike the stalking Sarkeesian faces. Her private details, including her address and phone number are being published on forums filled with irate ‘gamers’ who wish for nothing more than to silence her voice—all because she had an opinion on space marines.
The game Ben Spurr has created may not have been the intended subject of Sarkeesian’s documentary, but they do much to prove her points about the inherent sexism—and misogyny in particular—in gamer culture. It goes without saying that gamers internalize sexist ideas which demean and threaten women. Thanks for that, Ben. I hope you’re proud of yourself.
Well, he sure seems to be.
A lot of people have expressed feeling bad about this pile on, and I’m sure countless others are wondering why I took the time to document such a basic example of standard ignorance/misogyny. The answer is that these beliefs are so prevalent that I cannot ignore them. Spurr isn’t the only person who thinks threatening violence—even virtual—is an appropriate response to someone ignoring him. In fact, there are a lot of men who feel entitled to all kinds of things because they grew up in a culture that tells them that’s the way it is.
Entitlement is the root of many a terrible thing. It’s what fuels the rage behind “friendzoning;” what makes some men feel okay with shouting at or touching women’s bodies without their consent; and why they use the phrase “get some.” And apparently, what justifies the making of a game targeting a woman who simply asked people to contribute to a project that doesn’t exist yet and by extension, advocating for already-prevalent violence against women. And we can’t allow that.
So pile on, friends—but remember this is much more than one person.
Proofreading is one of my mutant talents. “Can spot a typo at 20 paces!” This is the best description I’ve come across of the “something’s wrong there” feeling I have when I’ve noticed a typo.
From Making Light.
The proofreader’s sense that “something is wrong at this location” is a genuinely weird phenomenon. People who have a serious case of it will “feel” a typo go past when they’re riffling through pages too fast to be reading them. They’ll gradually sense the presence of a typo in their peripheral vision — for example, in the small print on a poster located eight feet up on the opposite wall, when they’re concentrating on reading something right in front of them.* When they’re proofreading, sometimes the typos on the next page will “light up” as soon as they turn the page. They’ll still methodically read that page against the setting copy, but there’s a good chance that the typos they saw in that first moment will be the only ones on the page.
If you can get enough of these people together for a conversation, it’s fascinating to hear them discuss the experience. For some, the misspelled text flashes the first time they see it, or is a different color, or floats slightly above the surface of the page, or vibrates. For me, there’s a bump at that spot, about the size of a caraway or fennel seed lying on the desktop underneath the paper. My mind can feel it, though my fingers know it’s not there.
— Teresa Nielsen Hayden
(On why he let Willow cut all of her hair off)
Read more: Will Smith On Allowing Willow To Cut Her Hair: ‘She Has Got To Have Command Of Her Body’ | Necole Bitchie.com
- He raises a really great point. What would it mean to believe very early that my body was mine. That it’s not for anyone or for any particular purpose other than to be mine until I decide otherwise.
I was damned near 30 before I could believe my body belonged to me & me alone. Dear people who take an issue with this,
Let the Smiths do right by their babies & shut the fuck up about how you think they should parent.
From the Wall Street Journal.
Gifts That Keep On Giving
By Lewis Hyde
When we were students, young and poor, a friend of mine would give his family books for Christmas. Library books. He would seek out works well matched to his relatives’ interests, check them out, wrap them up and deposit them beneath the tree, leaving his loved ones the single task of returning them to the library once they had been read.
An Indian giver, some would say, and more correctly so than they might think. Years ago when I first set out to write a book about gift-giving and art, I thought it would be useful to figure out how that phrase came into being. The first recorded use turns out to appear in Thomas Hutchinson’s 1765 history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the implication being that something odd had happened when the Puritans first met up with Native generosity. “An Indian gift,” one footnote reads, “is a proverbial expression signifying a present for which an equivalent return is expected.” Over two centuries later we still use the phrase, its sense now broadened to refer to anyone who gives a gift with the clear expectation that the recipient should not keep it.
The experiences that Hutchinson’s forebears were trying to name turn out to demonstrate a simple ethic well known in all traditional gift-exchange societies: The recipient of a gift is more its custodian or steward than its owner. “The gift must always move” is the old wisdom, meaning that what we have received from others must eventually be passed along again, either the actual gift itself or something of similar value and meaning.
In such commerce lie the beginnings of social life. The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss once noticed a simple ritual performed in restaurants in the south of France. Two diners, strangers to one another, might be seated at the same table, each with a small carafe of wine. As the meal began, each man would pour his wine into the other’s glass. In an economic sense, nothing happens. And yet, simple community has appeared where previously there was none.
Such is the cardinal mark of gift exchanges: They connect us to one another. If someone’s generosity touches you, especially if you feel gratitude, and most especially if you are so moved as to give something in return, then friendship may arise, and family life, and collectivity. To say the same thing from the opposite perspective, one of the great virtues of a market in commodities is that it usually leaves no enduring connection. You can drive from New York to Los Angeles—eating in restaurants, renting hotel rooms, swiping your credit card at the gas pumps—and never have the least bit of intimate contact with anyone. If that were not the case, if in every small-town diner the cook got you talking about your dreams and desires, responded to them with generosity, poured his wine into your glass… You might never make it to the coast.
A cash economy enables mobility and, for better or worse, it makes it easy for us to live with one another without connection. But gifts bespeak relationship. Not just the simple binary relationship of two men in a cafe, either, nor that of friends and lovers: Gifts do not just move, they move outward into some larger circle.
Probably the most famous example of a capacious cycle of gifts comes from the Trobriand Islands where, early in the last century, Bronisław Malinowski witnessed a gift economy of striking breadth and complexity. In a ceremonial commerce known as Kula, the Massim peoples carried two ritual gifts—armshells and necklaces—from island to island in canoe journeys that covered hundreds of miles and took years to complete. Years, that is, to make the full circuit of the archipelago, for eventually each gift given would return to those who gave it away (though they, in turn, would give it yet again, the Massim being another group of early Indian givers).
Gifts that move in a circle differ markedly from simple two-person exchanges. Once the circle appears, no one will necessarily receive a gift from the same person to whom he or she first gave. Something may come back to the donor, to be sure, but there is no way to guarantee that. When you give to someone from whom you do not receive, it is as if the gift disappears around a corner before anything returns. You must give blindly then and, if something does in fact return, you must feel a kind of blind or generalized gratitude.
Giving anonymously is one good way to open the circle outward. It diminishes the chance that recipients might feel embarrassed or subordinated, and it helps a donor stand aside from praise and blame. Gifts that are passed from one generation to the next also open the circle. If your parents once dedicated themselves to your well-being, you may thank them for that, but when it comes to concrete expressions of gratitude, it will be better to direct them toward the young. We cannot teach our teachers; we must teach those who follow after. In a 12-step program, the gift of recovery goes to the newcomer, not back to the old-timer.
Perhaps the most surprising domain for open-ended gift exchange in recent years has been the Internet. There are thousands who have donated time and expertise to write Wikipedia’s millions of encyclopedia entries. Unpaid contributors from around the world have created open source code for the Linux operating system, and maintain it still. Some years ago, more than 85,000 anonymous and untrained volunteers—so-called “clickworkers”—went online to help NASA classify all of the craters on its maps of Mars. In these and countless other cases, the Internet has revealed that an impulse to give without promise of return is as modern as it is aboriginal.
Poets especially have long been familiar with the economy of gift exchange. The Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz once reflected on the Greek concept of storge, the kind of affection that a parent feels for a child or that teachers might feel toward their students. It is also possible, Milosz wrote, “that storge may be applied to the relationship between a poet and generations of readers to come: Underneath the ambition to perfect one’s art without hope of being rewarded by contemporaries lurks a magnanimity of gift-offering to posterity.”
That magnanimity is hardly the exclusive provenance of poets. At his death, Benjamin Franklin left a bequest to the city of Boston, a sum of money that (with interest) served, two centuries after Franklin’s birth, as the foundational endowment of the Franklin Institute of Technology. Nor was this Franklin’s only gift to his country. He was also the co-founder of the still-existing Pennsylvania Hospital, and the force behind Philadelphia’s first library, “the mother of all the North American…libraries,” as he called it. “These libraries,” he once wrote, “have improved the general conversation of the Americans, made the common tradesmen and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries.” And, of course, they have made it possible for poor students, even today, to circulate the gifts of art and learning, independent of the commodity culture that otherwise dominates so much of our lives.
(Source: The Wall Street Journal)
From The Ethical Spectacle.
The Ethical Spectacle September 1995 http://www.spectacle.org
The Gandhi Game
Mahatma Gandhi invented a unique variation on the prisoner’s dilemma: a move that was neither cooperation or defection, but which fell in between (we will call it noncooperation).
In an iterated game played with the British, Gandhi and the forces he represented could have chosen violence, which is the ultimate defection. Instead, by choosing noncooperation as his move, Gandhi, over a series of turns, led the British to understand that he was an honorable and reliable adversary: firm enough never to earn the sucker’s payoff, Gandhi could also be trusted not to turn to violence.
A violent defector, such as a terrorist group, compensates for inferior numbers and armaments with surprises and betrayals: ambushes, bombs planted in civilian surroundings, ruses to lure victims. Such groups establish that they can never be trusted, that there is no middle ground of cooperation, since the sole thing they desire is the death of their adversary (maximum payoff for the group, sucker’s payoff for the government they are fighting.) Though, as the PLO has recently shown, it is not completely impossible for a violent terrorist group to evolve a form of cooperation with its adversary, it is a difficult and unlikely evolution, given the group’s willing self-identification as a scorpion.
By contrast, Gandhi’s tactics illustrate that noncooperation shares certain traits with cooperation: it establishes that the noncooperator is consistent, honorable and reliable. Though the noncooperator cannot be trusted ever to comply with the laws he believes to be unjust, he can be trusted to live consistent with his own announced rules, offer no surprises, and to withhold himself and his followers from violence. Thus, noncooperation tends to lead to a high degree of respect between adversaries, which ultimately serves as the basis for a settlement of their disputes. Thus, an “All Cooperate” strategy for both sides is much likelier to evolve from a strategy of noncooperation than from “All Defect”.
It is a significant limitation of noncooperation that it can only succeed if one’s adversary, no matter how harsh, unjust and imperialist, is also somewhat honorable and is reluctant to use or endorse violence. Gandhi was successful with the British who (with a few exceptions such as Amritsar) did not commit massacres; but he would have died on the first day of opposition against the amoral, treacherous and violent Nazis, who would have executed him and all his followers and thrown them in a pit. In other words, there must be something about the adversary that makes it clear that the grounds for cooperation already exist. If the adversary will not stop short of any act of cruelty or murder, noncooperation is not an option and the only available responses are violence or silence.
Gandhi’s strategy of noncooperation had another significant advantage: it more effectively builds mutual confidence among followers than any other strategy of resistance. By definition, a terrorist group, to escape law enforcement and produce surprise, must be small, secret and disassociated from the general population; its supporters, though fervent, may have relatively little idea of who its leaders are, what they stand for or what they will do next. Noncooperation builds a stronger network of mutual links in the population, because it is open, its rules are disclosed, and involvement in its acts, rather than being secret and dangerous, is usually open and considered honorable. While most people in any society will stop short of involvement in violent acts—even when they approve the ends—noncooperation offers a form of action that almost everyone is brave enough to be involved in and may feel good about. While active supporters of terrorist groups—providers of money, cars, weapons—must be extremely secretive about their actions, supporters of noncooperation may wear physical badges (such as black ribbons during the Vietnam war) that enable them to identify each other. The result is a kind of positive reinforcemnt that leads to an upwelling of self-confidence and arouses a desire on the part of more people to get involved.
Gandhi said, “we must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Following him, millions of people, at the same moment that they played the noncooperation card against the British, were playing “All Cooperate” in a game with each other.
Nonviolence is better when the preconditions for it exist.