How dangerous is it to call out sexism in gaming -- or in any other field? Ongoing threats of violence against those who speak out tell us not only that misogyny is pervasive, but that criticism is unwelcome.
On Monday, Utah State University, set to host founder of Feminist Frequency Anita Sarkeesian, received an anonymous email from someone claiming to be a student, threatening a "Montreal Massacre-style attack" if the cultural critic's talk wasn't cancelled.
Sarkeesian had planned to go ahead with her talk despite the threats until she learned that USU and the Utah police were unwilling to do firearm searches at the event due to the state's open carry laws.
A statement on the university's website reads: “… in accordance with the State of Utah law regarding the carrying of firearms, if a person has a valid concealed firearm permit and is carrying a weapon, they are permitted to have it at the venue."
So there you have it: right-to-carry gun laws trump women's safety. Male entertainment trumps women's right to be free from violence and degradation.
The response from USU spokesperson, Tim Vitale, is also telling: "[Authorities] determined the threat seems to be consistent with ones [Sarkeesian] has received at other places around the nation... The threat we received is not out of the norm for [her].”
Why is this the norm? Why is this acceptable?
Violent threats against feminists
On December 6, 1989, 14 women were shot and killed at École Polytechnique in Montreal by a man who shouted “You’re all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists!” The gunman, Marc Lépine, targeted these women, in particular, as engineering students – a (still) male-dominated field.
That 25 years later, outrage at women who dare to challenge male power – either by entering into traditionally male spaces like gaming or by challenging sexism, objectification, and violence against women in said spaces, as Sarkeesian does in her “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” YouTube series, continues to garner such profoundly violent reactions from men is as sad as it is frightening.
What is so threatening, after all, about the suggestion that women be treated with respect and humanity?
This isn't the first time Sarkeesian has been targeted. When she launched a Kickstarter to fundraise for the Tropes vs. Women series in 2012, male gamers responded with a torrent of misogynist abuse. Sarkeesian's social media accounts were hacked, her Wikipedia page was vandalized and pornography was posted on the page, she was subjected to rape and death threats, a "game" was created wherein "players" were invited to punch Sarkeesian in the face --with each click the image of her face would become progressively more bloody and battered until the screen turned completely red, and various images of Sarkeesian were manipulated and photoshopped, often in pornographic ways, in order to mock, attack and degrade her.
In August, Sarkeesian was forced to leave her home after receiving a number of very specific threats, one of which read: “I’m going to go to your apartment at [redacted] and rape you to death. After I’m done, I’ll ram a tire iron up your cunt.”