I know nothing about video games and wouldn’t have a clue about how to be a critic of that art form. But, like far too many of us in this age where human decency, let alone civility, on and offline, often seems a thing of the past, I’m more familiar than I’d ever want to be with harassment in all its ugly guises.
Every day, harassment is directed against members of many groups. Whether’s its racial profiling of people of color to the hurling of epithets (such as “retard”) against people with intellectual disabilities. Despite, the progress that’s been made toward equality between women and men, women around the world still live under the specter of misogyny. Female creative artists or critics, no matter how talented, are no exception.
Why am I ranting about this on a beautiful fall day? Because feminist cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian, who has criticized video games for stereotyping women, has recently received rape and death threats. The haters are so upset that Sarkeesian and other critics have called out the gaming industry for being sexist and male dominated, that they’ve developed a game to see who can win the most points for punching images of her face online.
Last month, Sarkeesian had to cancel a speaking engagement at Utah State University because the school received threats that there would be a “massacre” if she spoke there, the “New York Times” reported. “This will be the deadliest school shooting in American history,” read the threatening email which was sent to the university the day before Sarkeesian was to have given her speech.
To be fair, not everyone who disagrees with Sarkeesian’s criticism is threatening her. Some of her critics believe that Sarkeesian, author of the video blog “Feminist Frequency,” is too politically correct in her critique of the characterization of women in video games.
But, the “New York Times” reports, over the past several months, there has been a “campaign to discredit or intimidate outspoken critics of the male-dominated gaming industry and its culture.”
And, the “Times,” adds, “the malice directed recently at women...is more intense, invigorated by the anonymity of social media...where groups go to cheer each other on...”
Though I’m clueless about gaming, I suspect that, being a pesky feminist, I’d disagree with those who believe Sarkeesian is being politically correct when they say that, overall, the gaming industry is misogynistic. Yet, I have no problem with those who carp against the political correctness (or any other aspect) of her criticism. God knows, I’ve had my issues with critics. People have the right to think and say what they like. But, freedom of speech doesn’t extend to having the right to harass (through threats or acts of violence, rape or hate speech) Sarkeesian or anyone for their views.
“Game studios, developers and major publishers need to vocally speak up against the harassment of women and say this behavior is unacceptable,” Sarkeesian told the “Times.”
Misogyny exists on a spectrum. Thankfully, many of us, male or female, wouldn’t dream of threatening women with rape or death if they were too PC. Yet, every second, women become victims of domestic violence. And, rape “jokes” are still told far too often. Last year, I was on an elevator with two men in business suits in a New York City office building. “This elevator is so slow,” said one of them, laughing, to the other, “you could rape a good-looking girl in here...” Seeing me, he stopped speaking and said, “um, it was just a joke.”
Many of the arts remain male-dominated. Take, cinema. As the late Nora Ephron recognized, it’s still difficult for women to become film directors. And, the stories of movies are so male-oriented, that Alison Bechdel, the cartoonist, who just won a MacArthur “genius” award, devised the “Bechdel test.” A movie has passed the “Bechdel test,” if it features at least two female characters talking to each other about something other than a man. If you can think of more than a handful of recent movies that have aced this test, I’d love to know.
Our job as creative artists is to make art, not preach or legislate. But we’re still citizens of the world. Let’s mensch up, and speak out, however we can, in our life and art against misogyny.