Today I was planning on posting an update of my thoughts on the Jacintha Saldanha controversy in light of the confirmation of her suicide and the involvement of Keith Vaz. But this video clip (below) was waiting for me in my inbox when I got in from work – I subscribe to Upworthy, from whence it came – and it hit me like a sucker-punch. I’m resisting succumbing to my oftentimes tendency to waffle on at length, well too much length anyway, because honestly the clip says it all:
The clip discusses threats of violence against women, including rape and harrassment threats, so a TRIGGER WARNING is appropriate:
I’d actually caught wind of this story before, via a link in Jason Hirschhorn’s Media ReDEFined newsletter; and via other linked pages had had a taste of the extent of the problem – sexist cyber-bullying of women, especially those offering feminist critiques of media – but watching Sarkeesian‘s TED presentation really condensed its import and its impact.
Pause the clip at 2.45 and actually read the comments; and then bear in mind that, as Sarkeesian says, this is just ‘…a small selection…’ from the thousands she received:
‘Fuck you and your family with a pipe’ ‘I hope you get cancer’ ‘I’ll rape you and put your head on a stick…’
If you’re not saddened, angry and disgusted then you’re not human. Hell, I was crying, and didn’t really stop until around 10.20 when she revealed just how spectacularly she trounced the haters; how both women and men, within the gaming community and without, rejected the mob’s shock and awe tactics and got behind her campaign. At that point I broke into a daft grin and punched the air with a feeling of triumph on her behalf.
And hers is only one story. What’s even more shocking is that this kind of reaction isn’t confined to women on the internet in 2012: this is a version of the same kind of response that any oppressed person or group receives when they confront, or even dare to question the status quo; when they fight for the right for mainstream acceptance and recognition; to be valued and believed in. It happened to the Suffragettes; to the Black Civil Rights activists and their supporters; it happened to students in Tiannamen Square and rapees in courtrooms prosecuting their attackers; and it’s happening now to gay rights activists in Uganda. Raw, naked hatred is an ugly, unsettling thing; and the deeper, even uglier tragedy is that the energy thus channelled could be put to so much more productive use; would make both the antagonists and their undeserving objects of scorn so much happier and the world a safer place.
Maybe you think this is nothing to do with you; that as sad as it is it’s a problem for other people elsewhere and that you can’t possibly identify with it: you’re a man; you don’t play video-games; Feminism is an intellectual thing above your station and comprehension, or that despite the implications highlighted by Sarkeesian, this is an isolated incident and really not the big deal she’s making it out to be. Or maybe you’re just too shocked, and denial seems like the safest, least painful option? Well here’s an idea to consider: we’ve all had a taste, howsoever small, of the kind of violent, rejecting behaviour that greeted Sarkeesian when she launched her project: maybe you were bullied by your classmates at school; perhaps a spiteful ex posted those intimate snaps from a weekend away on Facebook in the throes of his/her rejection; how did it feel when your mother pulled down your underwear and thrashed your backside in a crowded shopping precinct for demonstrating typical childish exuberance and defiance; or turned their back on you after twenty years when you came out as gay? How did you feel? Shocked? humiliated? Powerless? Unloved? Can you bear to remember? If you can and you’re willing, then it behoves you to sympathize with Sarkeesian; not only with her pain, fear and anger, but also with her sense of achievement and victory when she prevailed. We humans are resilient beings, and what doesn’t kill us may well make us stronger if we can learn from the experience; but to learn implies we stare the experience in the face, with a feeling heart and a critical eye
If you possess the latter two qualities then you really had no need of reading this far: you were one step ahead all the way and I’ve told you nothing you didn’t already know. Make that knowledge count: spread the word. Make it known that this kind of behaviour is not okay; is not acceptable.
The internet and social media are full of potential and unlock the way to myriad new possibilities for human interaction and solidarity: they offer the opportunity to re-imagine a world where true democracy can triumph over the divisive forces of misogyny, classism and cultural divisions that demean us all and perpetuate a climate of fear and violence. Sarkeesian‘s success is proof of that potential, and she deserves our admiration and respect for it; and all the more for her preparedness to speak out with such bravery and forthrightness.