It's been an exhausting couple of weeks for feminists on the internet, especially if you also happen to be a geeky feminist who likes video games. While this week the news of the gross invasion of Jennifer Lawrence's (and others) privacy has gone massively viral, for me this latest development is just the tip of an awful, horrifying iceberg.
I feel for Lawrence and the others who had private pictures got taken without their permission, I really do. It must be a horribly upsetting feeling, knowing your image is floating around the internet for all to see, and there's nothing at all you can do about it. Hell, I don't even like letting other people take my picture because it feels too much like giving up control, so I can only imagine how I would react if pictures I hadn't chosen to share were suddenly freely available.
Unfortunately, however, this is far from the worst treatment of women I've seen even in the last two weeks.
If you're not a gamer, you were probably lucky enough to miss what's been dubbed "GamerGate" - a spewing forth of terrifyingly misogynistic vitriol against Zoe Quinn, a female game developer. She came to my attention first with the development and release of (in my opinion) a really interesting indie game called Depression Quest. The whole current mess was sparked by a blog post written by an ex partner, which I'm not going to link it here. I think the fact that person wrote up so much deeply personal information and put it on the goddamn internet is gross enough, without giving them clicks. Suffice to say this person accused Quinn of cheating on him a video game journalist. From this accusation, a certain sector of video game fandom leapt to the conclusion that Quinn had slept with people in return for positive reviews of her game, therefore she was a symbol of all that is corrupt and terrible in video game journalism, therefore she deserves to be harassed and threatened until she no longer feels safe in her own home. So they did.
Since this "news" broke, there has been a lot of accusations thrown around - some people say Quinn fabricated the harassment, which I find kind of hard to believe because every time I mention her name on Twitter people I've never spoken to before magically appear to explain to me how terrible she is. (Seriously, it's like Candyman - just say "Zoe Quinn" three times and they appear)
Some people have said she released her own private information, so she could gather sympathy for the harassment that ensued, although I'm not sure how this would really be worth it. Some people have said that even if she did sleep with the reviewer in question, he didn't review her game so it's not actually corruption in journalism, just kind of poor decision making. But there have been very few people pointing out what seems glaringly obvious to me - that nothing she could have possibly done could make the level of harassment she has received reasonable. Regardless of what she did or did not do in her supposedly private life, the level of harassment she has reported is absolutely disgusting, and totally unacceptable.
(Just a side note - in the time it's taken me to write that paragraph, I've received five mentions on Twitter explaining how Zoe Quinn totally does deserve it, because I mentioned her name an hour ago. This "news" broke two weeks ago, and I didn't use Quinn's username to minimise visibility)
Just as that storm was starting to settle down, Anita Sarkeesian released the latest installment of her ever controversial Tropes Vs Women in Video Games YouTube series. From the very first days of the Kickstarter that funded the creation of this series, Sarkeesian has been consistently pummeled with varying levels of harassment and abuse from video game fans who object to the project. Personally, I'm not actually a huge fan of the series. I think she cherry-picks the examples she uses far too much to take her conclusions seriously, and her issues with sex work come through loud and unpleasantly clear. It really bothers me that she's doing what I consider a really important project, in what I consider a sloppy and biased way. However, as with Quinn, the level of harrassment and abuse she's received are absolutely disgusting, and totally unacceptable. Feel free to Google the particulars of, say, the abuse added to her Wikipedia page - I don't want to link it here. But apparently just spewing forth revolting vitriol wasn't enough to really express the distaste some video game fans felt for her most recent video though - again, like Quinn, Sarkeesian was forced from her home after graphic, credible threats.
As a woman who puts her opinions on the internet, these events are deeply unsettling. While I have no particular fear I'll ever be famous (or conventionally attractive) enough that anyone will be bothered digging up nude pictures of me, I disagree with people on the internet all the time. What if I disagree with the wrong person? Will people call MY parents? Will graphic letters detailing how an anonymous stranger would like to dismember my body show up on my doorstep? Will photos of me be pulled out of the backlogs of the internet for public, detailed dissection and critique? Or will I just get buried under an endless wave of nagging, relentless, insistence that I should shut up? Will people show up in my Twitter mentions over and over to explain to me and everyone I know how I really deserved it? I had someone explain to me just this morning that "we don't get to choose how people punish us", which is a sentence with rather terrifying implications to my mind. If I upset someone, and get treated in a way that I think is disproportionate, will anyone stand up for me? Will anyone step in and say, "Hey, that is uncalled for!" Or will they just step back, fold their arms, and say, "Well, you knew this was coming."
Because this level of harassment is not happening to me (yet), it's easy for me to stand firm in my conviction that no-one, ever, deserves to be treated the way so many women in the public eye are treated. Not ever, no way, no how. I don't care what they did, I don't care what they didn't do, I don't care if their password was ABCD1234, they DO NOT DESERVE this. By all means, feel free to imagine female celebrities naked, or tell people you think their arguments are flawed. But if you find yourself calling someone slurs, or hacking their email, or attacking their friends, then YOU are the one in the wrong.
I'm sure of this right now - but I wonder how my courage would stand up under fire. I watch women retreating from online conversation due to harassment, abuse, and general old fashioned nastiness, and I don't blame them. I'm always sorry to see them go, and sad that it doesn't seem to be getting any better, but I don't blame them at all. I wonder when I'll join them.