Anita Sarkeesian at TEDxWomen 2012


Translator: Maïlys Grau
Reviewer: Tatjana Jevdjic I’d like to share with you a story
about how I accidently became the villain of a massively online game in real life. For the past four years, I’ve been running a video web series on Youtube
called Feminist Frequency, where I deconstruct the representations
of women in the media. I try to provide the tools
to give people the language to talk about sexism and issues of gender using accessible language
from popular culture such as TV shows, movies,
comic books and video games. Video games are really interesting because it’s actually
the fastest growing form of mass media today. This is a photo of me at age 10, playing Super Mario World
on a Super Nintendo. So I’ve been playing games
for quite a while. And, in addition
to being a lot of fun to play, games have lots of positive
benefits as well. So again, I’ve been playing games
for a while, but there’s someting that always
kind of bothered me. It is no secret
that the video game industry boasts some of the most sexually
objectified, stereotyped and downright oppressive portrayals
of women in any medium. So, with that in mind, I decided to launch a fundraising campaign on the crowdfunding
website Kickstarter, where I would create a series of videos to look specifically at the way women
are represented in video games. The idea being that if you’re interested
in the project, you could donate and if you weren’t interested,
you could choose not to donate. It’s pretty straightforward, right? I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Yeah. Turns out, that there were a bunch
of male gamers out there who were, shall we say,
not too excited about this project. Now, I’m a pop culture critic,
I’m a feminist and I’m a woman. And I’m all of these things
openly on the Internet. So I’m no stranger to some level
of sexist backlash. I’ve sadly gotten used to sexist slurs
and sexist insults usually involving kitchens and sandwiches. But what happened this time
was a little bit different. I found myself the target
of a massive online hate campaign. Now, the next couple of slides
represent just a tiny fraction of the harassment I received and they come
with a very large trigger warning. All of my social media sites were flooded with threats of rape, violence,
sexual assault, death. And you’ll notice
that these threats and comments were all specifically targeting my gender. The Wikipedia article about me
was vandalized with sexism, racism
and pornographic images. There was a campaign to report
all of my social media accounts including my Kickstarter,
my Youtube, my Twitter and they would report them as fraud,
as spam, even as terrorism, in an effort to get them suspended. They attempted to knock
my website offline, hack into my e-mail and other accounts, they attempted to collect and distribute
my personal information, including my home address
and phone number. There were images made,
pornographic images made, in my likeness being raped
by video games characters and sent to me again and again. There was even a game made,
where players were invited to “beat the bitch out”, in which, upon clicking on the screen,
an image of me would become increasingly battled and bruised. You get the point, we’ll move on. What’s even more disturbing,
if that’s even possible, in this overt display
of misogyny on a grand scale, is that the perpetrators openly referred to this harassment campaign
and their abuse as a “Game”. They referred to their abuse as a game. So, in their minds,
they concocted this grand fiction in which they’re the heroic players
of a massively multiplayer online game working together to take down an enemy and apparently they casted me
in the role of the villain. And what was my big diabolical masterplan? To make a series of videos on YouTube
about women’s representations in games. Yeah. So, if they think
of their abuse as a “fun game”, then let’s examine this. Who are the players? Well, often when we talk
about online harassment, we think of teenage boys
in their parents’ basements. And while I was attacked
by some teenage boys, I was also attacked
by thousands of grown men. And this isn’t entirely surprising
considering the average age of a male gamer in the US is about 30. Where is this game played? Well, the perpetrators turned
the entire Internet into a battlefield. So in my case they came after
everything and anything that I possibly have ever had online. They also have a homebase,
where they coordinate their raids and work together and communicate. And this usually takes place
on largely unmoderated, largely anonymous message
boards and forums. And these are places with no
real mechanisms for accountability. So what is the goal? Well, the immediate exclusive goal
is to stop the villain and save video games from me, and my crazy feminist schemes. And they try to do this by silencing
and discrediting me and my project. But the larger implicit goal here
is that they’re actually trying to maintain the status quo
of video games as a male dominated space and all of the privileges and entitlements
that come with an unquestioned boys club. So what type of game is this? Well, it’s fundamentally a social one. We don’t usually think
of online harassment as a social activity, but we do know from the strategies
and tactics that they used that they were not working alone, that they were actually loosely
coordinating with one another. And this social component
is a powerful motivating factor that works to provide incentives
for players to participate, for perpetrators, rather, to participate, and to actually escalate the attacks by earning the praise
and approval of their peers. It’s kind of like… we kind of think
as an informal reward system where players earn “Internet points” for increasingly brazen
and abusive attacks. Then they would document these attacks, and they would bring them back
to the message boards as evidence to show off to each other, kind of like trophies or achievements. So, we have this general structure
of a social game, right? We have players, we have the villain. We have the battlefield. We have, you know,
this informal reward system. But the thing is – it’s not a game. It’s an overt display of angry misogyny
on a massive scale. Its not just “boys being boys”.
It’s not just “how the internet works”. And it’s not just going to go away
if we ignore it. It’s really not a game. So what is it then? Well, the usual terms that we use
to describe online harassment such as cyberbullying, cyberstalking,
even trolling don’t adequately describe
a hate campaign of this scale. What happened to me,
and sadly to other women as well, can best be described as a cybermob. And whether it’s a cybermob
or a handful of hateful comments, the end result is maintaining
and reinforcing and normalizing a culture of sexism – where men who harass
are supported by their peers and rewarded for their sexist
attitudes and behaviors and where women are silenced, marginalized
and excluded from full participation. A “boys club” means no girls allowed. And how do they keep women and girls out?
Just like this. By creating an environment
that is too toxic and hostile to endure. Now, this is pretty grim
and depressing stuff, I know, but there is another side of all of this. Do you want to know what happened
to my fundraiser after all of that? Well, first, the cybermob
failed to silence me, as is evidence by me being here today. (Applause) Thank you. And it turns out that quite a few people
are actually interested in a project that would deconstruct the representations
of women in games, and who were totally outraged
at the harassment that too often plagues
our gaming communities. I actually raised 25 times
what I initially asked for. (Applause) (Cheers) Nearly seven thousands individuals
contributed to make my Tropes vs. Women in video games project
bigger and better and more expansive than I could ever had imagined. Instead of just being 5 videos,
it’s now 13 videos plus a classroom curriculum
that educators can use for free. (Applause) Feminist Frequency went
from a part-time side project to a full time endeavor. I received countless messages of support
and words of encouragement. People expressed their solidarity with me
and my project publicly through videos, through fanart,
through comics and blog posts. I’ve even been invited to speak
at video game studios internationally. The overwhelming support that I received is just a small manifestation of a larger cultural shift
looming on the horizon. A growing cross-section of gamers
and game developers of all genders are fed up with the way that women
are being treated in gaming culture and they’re speaking up to demand change. Now, this change is happening slowly
and kind of painfully, but it’s happening. Everyday I’m encouraged by the women
who persevere, who continue to engage and who refuse to be silenced. I truly believe that if we work together,
we can create a cultural shift where women, without fear of intimidation,
without fear of threats or harassment, can be full and active participants
in our digital world. Thank you. (Applause)

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