If you want to find a polarizing figure in geek circles, look no further than Anita Sarkeesian, a vlogger from California whose videos calling out the gaming industry on its sexism have made her a target for pretty much all the trolls on the Internet.
Sarkeesian began her vlogging career in 2009, when she made a YouTube video about FOX’s renewal of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse over Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (which, ironically, featured Whedon muse Summer Glau as the robot sent to protect John Connor). She made more videos critiquing pop culture sensations like Veronica Mars (she’s entirely correct in saying the third season is unwatchable), True Blood (yes, Sookie Stackhouse is a bore), Twilight (Edward Cullen is a stalker) and Glee (I can’t begin to talk about how bad Glee is). She introduces the Bechdel Test as a way of critiquing gender in media, and she teamed with Bitch Magazine to create the “Tropes vs. Women” series, discussing media tropes such as The Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Women in Refrigerators, and The Evil Demon Seductress.
In 2012 she used Kickstarter to fund a series of videos looking at sexism in video games, and that’s when the trolls came out en masse. Her initial video asking for support garnered thousands of vicious comments. She’d received criticism before – YouTuber The Amazing Atheist made a video about her and other “crybabies” – but nothing near the scale of the hate she received for daring to take on the gaming community. I could link to dozens of articles with media outlets from The Mary Sue, and Wired to The New Statesmen explaining the harassment, but Anita describes the situation best in her TED talk:
Yes, Sarkeesian has kept going with her work, even through the massive amounts of hate she came up against because there were people out there who supported her. She has her critics, but she also has her supporters, including PBS’s Game/Show:
What does this have to do with my research?
I’m looking at gender in geek culture – how it is perceived, how it is performed. The narrative of the geek is a masculine one, which excludes women from the culture. One way they do this is by making gaming a “boys’ club” where women are relegated to background and damsel (or told to go to the kitchen and make a sandwich). The perception by her critics that Sarkeesian is a fraud is fraught with misogyny; her critics are angry man-children who are whining about girls wanting to play in their sandbox. Gaming is perceived as a masculine activity, and actions such as including playable female characters (recall my last post about Assassin’s Creed Unity) are ways to make it a more welcoming environment. I’ve read too many articles and tweets to ignore the fact that yes, there is sexism in geek culture. The hate Anita Sarkeesian receives is just one in a slew of blog posts and articles detailing the situation in geek culture today. Media has the power to inform or change our views, both positive and negative, and negative portrayals of women, if not their complete erasure, is a powerful message.
To conclude, the negative response to Sarkeesian pretty much just proves one thing: she’s right.