Caught in the Web: Women and Feminism on the Internet

Earlier this month, a friend of mine suggested that I watch a TEDx Talk given by pop culture analyst Anita Sarkeesian. The video, embedded above, tells the story of a woman, her YouTube Channel, and how she became a “villain” on the internet.

Sarkeesian’s excellent web series Feminist Frequency explores the representations of women in film and popular media, and encourages the audience to question the way that gender is portrayed in every piece of media they consume. (Sidenote, her videos are all freely available and are useful both for the classroom and personal use – you can find everything you need at http://www.feministfrequency.com

After doing a long series of “Tropes vs. Women” videos discussing film and television tropes (made in conjunction with Bitch magazine), Sarkeesian announced her intention to launch a new set of videos discussing the representation of women in video games, entitled “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games,” setting up a Kickstarter account to raise the money to do so. 

Quickly after the creation of her Kickstarter campaign, a massive hate campaign was launched against Sarkeesian, whose accounts on several websites were targeted for hacking attempts, hate mail and abusive comments, and doctored photos of her performing sex acts or being violated by video game characters. The most disturbing of all is that a video game was created entitled “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian” where players could click on an image of her as she became progressively bloodied.

All of this hate was launched simply because Anita wanted to have a discussion about women in video games. Fortunately, Sarkeesian’s story has a happy ending – she received support beyond what she asked for on Kickstarter, and gained a wide fanbase all while creating something important that obviously struck a nerve with many misogynists. However, for many women on the web, there is not a safe haven or ending to be found. 

In a study done by haltabuse.com, 74% of the victims of harassment or abuse online were women. As a young woman on the internet, I have received gendered insults, slurs, and threats more often than I can count – in most of these cases, I have not expressed a controversial opinion at all … I use a name that indicates my gender. 

This talk ends on a positive note, and indicates that the culture is beginning to shift – an analysis that I personally agree with. However, it is worth nothing that it is still very dangerous to be a feminist on the internet. As educators and students in the gender studies field, is there anything that we can do to make the internet a safer place? Thoughts on Sarkeesian’s experience? 

Let us know in the comments!

Best,

Sammi

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