Harassment and Academic Freedom

Lady Day has been running a wonderful academic freedom blog for some time. But today’s offering is especially important for FP readers, I think.

One final provocative point. Academic freedom isn’t a zero-sum game; so we really do not need to choose which threats to academic freedom we are most concerned about. That said, there is way more anger in the media and among the public about the purported threat to academic freedom when students oppose campus talks by controversial non-scholars like Milo Yiannopoulos or Faith Goldy (something that happens a handful of times each year) than there is about the ongoing, predictable, system-wide harassment of scholars — scholars! — like me, and the detrimental effect that harassment has on our scholarship. That needs to change.

Read the whole thing!

Men Writing About Sexism (Well) and the Phenomenology of Doing Feminism

This recent article from the video game site Rock, Paper, Shotgun (RPS)  is a well-written article about sexism in the gaming industry.  (All quotes below are from the article.)

Game Developers Conference 2013

Even if you are not particularly interested in the intersection of feminism and video games, the article touches on an emotionally charged sub-topic: the phenomenology of social justice, a.k.a., the weird psychological and epistemological stuff that happens when we partake in these discussions.

“In having written about the subject of women and games over the years, I’ve received a significant amount of abuse. (I’m not going to fret about saying, “But of course not as bad as…”, because of course it’s not as bad as…) Most of the abuse I receive is lazy insults, and until recently I tended to assume them fairly innocuous. Some has been extreme, such as forum threads dedicated to associating my name with acts of child molestation to skew Google results, personal threats, and deeply personal insults. All of it has one purpose: to intimidate.”


It is reassuring and interesting when other people talk about the psychological effects of the backlash for talking about the -isms.  Also, it’s impressive when a guy writes about the backlash he receives and I find myself genuinely sympathetic because he ‘gets it’.


“Generally the motivation for my writing any sort of polemic on RPS is because I’m angry about something – constructively angry about something a person should be angry about – and I want to see positive change. That’s what causes me to start typing, including this piece. But as I go along, those words creep in. “You’re just saying this to win the approval of others.” “You’re just trying to make girls like you.” “You think women need you to stand up for them.” And so on. They get to me. They’re getting to me right now. They’re evil spells, cast to insidiously infect.”


So I want to ask people about their own experiences with studying the -isms.  I find the phenomenal and psychological aspects of engaging in social justice projects fascinating because I am going through a (for lack of a better term) paradigm shift in how I understand the norms of human action.  In short, I’m shedding the worldview of pull-your-self-up-by-your-bootstraps atomized individualism that I grew up with and adopting a more…sociological?…understanding of human interaction.  Things I used to hold as mantras I now see as false:  It does matter what other people think of you; words can do more than break bones–they can rend souls; and there is no such thing as a self sufficient person–only a really privileged person who gets to enjoy the illusion of self sufficiency.


Have other people experienced things like this?  Do you look back five or ten or twenty years in the past and realize you had a completely different understanding of how the world works?  Do you struggle with managing the psychological aspects of using feminism in your work? (e.g. intimidation, isolation, social disapproval, wondering if you are insane or totally misled, etc.)  I find these things creeping in whenever I write or say anything about the -isms. They get to me.  It helps to know they get to other people, too.

Feminist critique greeted with thousands of abusive comments. This is our surprised face.

UPDATED July 10, 2012 (profbigk): Although she’s now received an amount of viciousness that surprises even those of us who thought we were cynical, Sarkeesian has raised about $160,000, an amount well over her goal.

What’s that computer game called where a woman makes a feminist argument and then the other players respond with violent, misogynistic, abusive remarks? Oh, yeah. The internet.

The most recent (well, we can’t guarantee something worse didn’t happen 30 seconds ago, but we live in hope) instance of this phenomenon surrounds Anita Sarkeesian, whom you will surely know for her wonderful YouTube videos in which she applies the Bechdel Test to recent films. Earlier this week, Sarkeesian made a pitch for Kickstarter funds to research misogyny in video games.

The response was immediate, overwhelming, and sadly predictable — thousands of abusive comments inpugning her in the most racist, violent, misogynistic terms. (One term, beginning with “c” was especially popular.) The great news is that Sarkeesian has, so far, garnered ten times the financial support she was seeking. Here’s the full story from New Statesman.


Sarkeesian decided to leave the comments on her video, as proof that such sexism exists. I think it’s important that she did, because too often the response to stories like this, “Come on, it can’t be that bad”. There are two reasons for this: first, that if you don’t experience this kind of abuse, it’s difficult to believe it exists (particularly if you’re a man and this just isn’t part of your daily experience). Secondly, because news reports don’t print the bad words. We’ve got into a weird situation where you have to get a TV channel controller to sign off a comedian using the word “cunt” after 9pm, but on the internet, people spray it round like confetti. We read almost-daily reports of “trolls” being cautioned or even jailed, but often have no idea what they’ve said.

As the (male) gamer who pointed me to this story observed, ” I’ve gotten into my fair share of heated discussions on the internet, but I think the worst I’ve been called is an idiot. No one seems to dig out Billy Bob’s Big Book of Rape Threats for dudes, but remember, that’s not privilege…”

Thanks, JT.

Addendum: By popular request, here is the link to Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women in Video Games project page.