Today in sociology class, my professor gave a lecture on the #GamerGate controversy and what drove men to such a violent backlash against one feminist woman: Anita Sarkeesian, feminist video blogger. When Anita launched a kickstarter for a new video series critiquing sexist gender tropes in video games, she was somehow targeted as a villainous threat to gamer culture.
Thus, it’s only fair she received thousands of misogynistic hate messages, as well as rape and death threats that made use of racial slurs, pornography and the home addresses of her and her family members.1
As you can see, these are highly sophisticated and rational messages, expressed through complex and nuanced language.
I mean, according to @EduardoCruz52, “the only question left is will @femfreq be raped first or killed first or both.”1
Our professor asked us to explore this shockingly immense and violent backlash and consider: why are these people so angry? Feminist concerns around gendered representation in media are hardly new, and it’s not like everyone has been living completely oblivious to the scantily-clad, F-cupped women warriors of the gaming industry. Timmy Cee eloquently sums up the sentiment at the root of this violent outcry:
Just leave the games the fuck alone.
Since feminist discourse is hardly a new emergence, there has to be something else at the heart of this issue, something that latched onto a certain scapegoat in the form of Anita Sarkeesian and bared its ugly teeth. Just leave the games the fuck alone. We live in a tumultuous world of shifting values- the LGBTQ community gaining the stage, the gender binary beginning to dissolve, women demanding fair representation, and men demanding the right to be stay-at-home dads. Cultural change is highly threatening to those invested in staying the same.
What will happen to my career as professional gamer if the leagues have to start reserving spots for women? What if they ban my favorite game? What will happen if all my favorite male heroes are replaced by female versions? These games are my childhood! These are all valid concerns that many male- and female- gamers may feel as a result of feminist evaluation of the gaming industry.
However, my professor argued a further point I found especially pertinent:
Violent backlash against social changes arises from the struggle to reconcile privilege with the desire to think of yourself as a good person.
Nobody wants to be considered a bad person. When feminists raise issues of patriarchy and representation, the conservative or traditional values of those invested in the gaming industry become coded as “bad.” Moreover, the privileged mode of thought of many participants is outed. Feminists such as Anita Sarkeesian point out the patriarchal privilege of creating and indulging in demeaning portrayals of women. They point out the unequal power hierarchy that men profit from simply by protecting and promoting sexist portrayals within video games. And people don’t like to feel like the bad guy. Somehow, these GamerGate men are making a feminist commentary an all-or-nothing identity battle.
This photo was taken from a Hackerbot article, Top Most Beautiful Female League of Legends Champions, featuring results and discussion of an official international poll on the hottest female characters. The author blames science and economics for the objectification of these characters, stating that he “agree[s] that LoL sexualizes women” but “[doesn’t] agree that that is a bad thing at all: It’s just being aware of one’s audience” because “sex sells.”2
This is a perfect example of privileged thinking- the author acknowledges men profit from the exploitation of female sexuality and sees no reason to fight this power inequality. Privilege exists among women too- as a white woman, I am privileged in that I profit from the exploitative labor of women overseas, at whose expense I own the cheap clothing I wear today.
How does this relate to Trump?
Trump is at the very top of the power and privilege hierarchy. He caters to anyone in a position of privilege — whether through traditional sexist, racist, or heteronormative thinking, or the convoluted web of justifications that allow people to profit from the exploitation or degradation of others and feel okay about it. In a world of shifting values, with LGBTQ, feminist, and anti-racist activists gaining more attention, Trump brings people’s resistant, privileged thoughts to a position of power. He provides nationalistic and misogynistic justification for these privileged attitudes to save people from the moral conflict of “being a good person.” Because he’ll have you Making America Great Again.
It’s terrifying to see how sexism and gendered violence are still protected and promoted by so many, so unapologetically. This concern brings to mind a more disturbing consideration — what exactly is causing people to desperately cling to malicious, outdated ideals? It’s not as if people are wholly uneducated on the subject of equality and gendered violence. Rape is a crime. Discrimination is a crime. Though I am in full support of feminist and progressive social change, perhaps we must explore the possibility of some shortcoming in the way such change is being promoted/pursued, or at least focus on how social change campaigns are being presented to the general public.
Because something isn’t right — something is lacking in our society that is making people so angry, so afraid of having their integrity questioned, that a single feminist or a single politician becomes the platform for an all-out identity battle. And if they don’t win, they lose it all. Perhaps individuals are increasingly afraid that they’re not capable of being good people. To some extent, one might ask: why are we so angry? And that’s scary as all hell.
Featured image: Harnik, Andrew. Trump’s raucous rallies. Digital image. USA Today. USA Today, 3 Mar. 2016. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
1 Why Are You So Angry? Part 1: A Short History of Anita Sarkeesian. Dir. Innuendo Studios. YouTube. Innuendo Studios, 13 July 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
Sarkeesian, Anita. “One Week of Harassment on Twitter.” Feminist Frequency. Feminist Frequency, 27 Jan. 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
2“Top Most Beautiful League of Legends Champions.” HackerBot. HackerBot, 2016. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
Please share your perspectives- let us all know what you think!