Monday, January 12, 2015

My Problem With Anita Sarkeesian and Feminist Frequency, Part 2

So, Anita Sarkeesian...

One of my other problems with Anita Sarkeesian is that she used crowd-funding to generate almost $160,000 using Kickstarter, and then produced two videos about how female characters are treated in video games.

Within a week of posting the first of these videos, entitled "Damsels in Distress Part One:  Tropes vs. Video Games", on YouTube, she disabled all feedback systems on her videos.  She disabled comments, rating systems, and even public access to the video's statistics.  Apparently, Anita Sarkeesian has decided that we, the public, the people who donated money to support her project, are not allowed to have an opinion when it comes to the content and conclusions of that project.

Granted, her videos did generate the usual amount of trollish insults and nonsense, but all YouTube videos generate troll comments.  But -- and here is the point, boys and girls --  in this case, the comments that pointed out legitimate holes in her research, instances where her conclusions were based on threadbare "evidence" or that seemed to obviously misinterpret the evidence or weren't even supported by the evidence, outnumbered the troll comments to the tune of around eighteen to one.

That is, there were eighteen legitimate critical comments to every troll comment.

Rather than address such legitimate criticism, Sarkeesian decided to sweep it all under the rug and pretend it didn't exist.  And when that tactic didn't work and these same criticisms began appearing in blogs, vlogs, tweets, and Facebook posts, she pulled the misogynist card out of her deck and started hitting people who were being "mean" to her with it.

To put it bluntly, Sarkeesian refuses to address legitimate criticism, and loudly and forcefully claims that anyone who dares show that her "research" has problems isn't doing so because her "research" has problems.  No, they're being "mean" to her because they are irrational women-haters.  And when other people point out how she is dodging the question, and how if these issues with her research are not legitimate it should be easy for her to correct their impressions, she just makes more accusations of sexism and misogyny.

And now she's claiming that death threats were made to her.  This accusation came just as talk of an investigation into her possible embezzlement of the research funding has entered public awareness.

Oh, did you not hear about that?  Yeah, it seems those two videos only cost around $23,000 to make, and the rest of the money apparently vanished into the vapor.  She has refused all inquiries into the rest of the money, even as she opened up a new Kickstarter to help her fund more videos.  Now, as I said, she's refusing to answer questions about it, but people who are keeping an eye on Anita Sarkeesian have noted that her wardrobe has taken a noticeably uptick in quality, and she's driving a new $50,000 sports car these days and she's no longer living in a two-room walkup but rather has apparently bought herself a house.

I'm not saying she stole the money and is spending it on herself.  I've got no direct evidence of that.  I'm just saying that its amazingly convenient that just as the unused $135,000 disappeared, she started showing up in new clothes, driving a new car, and living in a new house.  And please make note, the moment people started asking her about where the money went if not into the videos it was intended for, she made several announcements on Twitter that she received death threats.

Thus successfully derailing the inquiry into what happened to the rest of the money.  You'll excuse me if this is something else I find amazingly convenient.

Anita Sarkeesian claims that her refusal to respond to legitimate critics is because there are no legitimate critics.  Only hateful misogynists engaged in online harassment.  Let us take a moment to make note of the response by the gaming community to other misinformed critics of gaming, shall we?

For instance, let's look at the late Roger Ebert, the film critic for the Chicago -Sun Times.  After he famously claimed that video games cannot and will never be considered "art", he received a large number of rather hateful responses, including death threats, rape threats (no, really) and comments questioning his sexuality and sexual tastes.  His Wikipedia page was vandalized (as was Sarkeesian's, I should note in the interest of fairness), and even today, there exists on the internet a subtle hatred for the man among the online gaming community.

So, how did Roger Ebert react to this explosion of hatred?

Actually, he not only ignored the empty trollish comments and threats that he knew were just "the angry ramblings of misbehaving children intent on throwing a tantrum" (his words to describe the people making the threats), he also went out of his way to respond, at length, to those people who responded to his statements with rational, well-thought-out criticism.  And after seeing rational counter-argument, Ebert was mature enough to admit that while he still didn't quite see video games as art, he could at least acknowledge that to some people, they might reach that level.  He also admitted that he might change his opinion after more personal research into the subject.

Anita Sarkeesian, on the other hand, has done the complete opposite.

Not only has she gone out of her way to block and ignore all legitimate criticism, she constantly itemizes and publicizes the "angry ramblings of misbehaving children intent on throwing a tantrum" and advertises it as much as she can.  Now, technically there isn't anything really wrong with this; Sarkeesian has the right to flaunt the fact that she has come under fire from internet trolls if that is what she wants.

However, her behavior does raise an ugly question:  if all this harassment really did put her in danger and made her afraid for her life, why didn't she contact the authorities?

Why did she save all this vitriol up until she was ready to pursue a publicity campaign that made her look like one of the "damsels in distress" she railed against in her video?

If it was so bad, then why weren't the authorities brought in until after the legitimate critics began to outnumber the trolls on her videos?

It has been noted elsewhere that her Kickstarter plea-for-funds video was the only video in which she did not disable comments.  Or rather, the comments were not disabled until her Kickstarter goals were reached.  Or, as one critic put it, only after the hate-mail she received could no longer be monetized.  That's right.  Anita Sarkeesian played the role of the poor helpless of victim of the terror-inducing evil men in order to generate sympathy, and Kickstarter dollars.

Her entire attitude toward this has been "I refuse to even acknowledge the legitimate critics of my work, but see how much I am a victim?  Woe is me!  Give me money!"

Something else that has bothered me about Sarkeesian and her project is the nature of the project itself.  Had video game critic Jack Thompson, or even Roger Ebert, made a series of videos commenting about how all video games reinforce sexist stereotypes about women, no one would have noticed, or reacted, to the overwhelming negative response such an ridiculous claim.  But since a well-known and vocal female pop-culture critic makes the same claim, and receives a negative reaction from the gaming community, she receives praise and a lot of sympathy donations to her Kickstarter.

The misogynistic treatment of women in the online gaming community and in gaming culture in general is legitimately a serious issue.  It needs to be addressed, and something needs to be done about it.  It bothers me to no end that Anita Sarkeesian is capitalizing on this issue to her own gain.  She has treated the entire subject as a means to enrich herself, to make herself famous outside of her usual YouTube haunts, and to turn herself from an unknown researcher whose scholarly claims are under legitimate fire into a famous "feminist icon" who is the victim of "the patriarchy".

She's taking a serious issue, and turning it into a con-game for her own benefit.

Nothing good has come out of this.  Nothing.

In fact, I'd say that Anita Sarkeesian and her actions have actually harmed the cause of gender equality and the better portrayal of women in video gaming.  Other critics have stated that by tossing about the term "misogyny" is a flippant manner, Sarkeesian has actually helped undermine the power of that word.  By attributing to "misogyny" what can better be explained by laziness, profit-mongering, and pandering to the core audience, the meaning of the word itself is undermined.

So... do I think there should be more and better portayals of female characters in gaming?

Yes.  Absolutely.

Do I think Anita Sarkeesian deserved being the target of internet trolls who served no purpose other than to give her ammunition for her claims of misogyny?

No.  No one deserves to be treated that way.

But do I think Anita Sarkeesian needs to stop playing the victim card and stop lumping her legitimate critics in with the internet trolls?

You'd better damn believe it.  She needs to come clean about her research methods, the lies she told her backers, and the fact that she's had enough time to produce the entire series by now, but seems stuck getting past the second video.

Her actions are not those of an honest researcher.  They are the actions of a con-man.

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