Maureen Ryan on Cyber Misogyny

Maureen Ryan tackles cyber misogyny and the harassment of Anita Sarkeesian (among many others) in an editorial at the Huffington Post. Concerning the treatment of Sarkeesian in particular she writes:

Death threats, bomb threats, terrifying abuse: All because, under the banner Feminist Frequency, she created a series of YouTube videos that offer rational, reasonable critiques of the ways in which female characters are used and misused in video games. As a fellow critic, I find her work thought-provoking and valuable.

But let’s review what prompted the death threats: Sarkeesian used words and images to critique a media product. That’s all.

Agree or disagree with Sarkeesian’s critiques all you want — it’s a free country. Except it isn’t for Sarkeesian, who can’t go home and who’s frequently been in touch with law enforcement as threats to her and other women have escalated over the past couple of months.

The flood of abuse directed at Sarkeesian began in 2012, when she announced a Kickstarter for her “Tropes vs. Women” video series. She got far more money than she asked for, but that was partly because of the shocking malevolence hurled at her for even coming up with the idea. She got funded, but she also had a hate mob after her.

The mob has grown, and it’s gotten uglier.

She then reflects on the systematic problem of which the treatment of Sarkeesian is just one (terrifying) instance:

The abusive incidents against women who speak out and speak up is so demoralizing that it’s hard not to want to crawl into a Wi-Fi-free cave. Developer Adria Richardswent through an awful cycle of abuse a year ago. Writer and developer Kathy Sierra’s story is one of the most terrifying accounts I’ve ever read. The response of the titans of the tech community to what Sierra had to endure — or rather, their shrugging non-response — did not make me optimistic for the future. If leading figures in the industry don’t care much about her treatment, what are the chances that the average Silicon Valley firm will take seriously the safety of female users and customers?

Of course, convenient apathy, defensive ignorance and abusive behavior aren’t limited to the gaming and tech worlds. Toxic Internet trolls can be found clinging to the underside of any topic, and if you step out of line — an entirely arbitrary line, of course — they will be sure to let you know it. Try writing about rape and “Game of Thrones” if you want to see what I mean.

Whether such individuals are part of a coordinated effort or not, whether their actions spring from a desire to lash out or a deeply entrenched set of objectionable beliefs, the activities of abusive individuals frequently force women to pay what activist McEwan calls “the Misogyny Tax.”

It’s the price women pay when they encounter abuse and have to process it intellectually and emotionally. It’s the price they pay when they have to stop what they’re doing and report harassment or other intimidating behavior to a website or network. It’s the time and the mental energy they lose when they ponder what to write and create — and what not to write and create — in order to avoid living a life that is not dominated by a dread of what could be lurking around the next corner.

The women who endure this abuse daily, hourly, for months, for years: I don’t know how they get through it, because the tax being levied on them and their loved ones is so high. It’s too goddamn high.

5 thoughts on “Maureen Ryan on Cyber Misogyny

  1. Are there any studies as to whether violently hostile misogyny is on the rise today or whether it is just more apparent due to internet? Maybe I live a very sheltered existence, but until I began to see it online, I was unaware of how prevasive outright hostile misogyny (which isn’t the same thing as sexist discrimination) is.

  2. How can we try to minimize or at least quarantine this kind of misogyny? If I recall correctly, there is now one major internet forum that now has an anti-misogyny moderation policy (i am forgetting which one..)? How could we collectively encourage more major fora to adopt such a policy? Imagine if youtube or reddit had such a policy, that would be a great improvement I think.

    In addition to increased moderation, I wonder (as a non-lawyer) whether there is any legal precedent or rationale for treating some of these cyber-harassment cases as hate crimes or something along those lines. Anyone know about this?

  3. s. wallerstein, I don’t know whether there’s any research about whether misogyny is on the rise. And I imagine it would be hard to study since, exactly as you say, the internet makes certain kinds of misogyny so easily visible in the way they weren’t before. It also allows people to make threats that they feel are ‘low cost’ or ‘low risk’ – anonymously, behind proxies, etc.

    But I found this a really interesting read:

  4. Magical Ersatz,


    The “shit” that so-called respectable and successful people, in this case, students at a prestigious law school, have in their heads is frightening.

  5. How to approach, make out and pull her home – 2 f…:

    Why is Shit like this allowed on YouTube and why is noone protesting that this is basically a rape on tape, as well as inciting people to do the same??

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