It's Not "Just The Internet"

[Content Note: Misogyny; homophobia; fat hatred; rape culture; harassment.]

You may or may not have heard by now about the video project that Anita Sarkeesian proposed for funding via Kickstarter. It's a cool project looking at the tropes of women used in video games. Here is a video introducing the project.

To the surprise of approximately zero feminist bloggers and to the horror of a lot of people who only just now realized How Bad It Is, the reaction by a great swath of self-proclaimed dudes has been abusive and threatening. Sarkeesian hasn't even made the project yet and the push back to silence her has been tremendous. The YouTube video has had threats and harassing comments made on it, her Wikipedia page was vandalized repeatedly. She has been verbally assaulted on Twitter, Facebook, in email, and via the Feminist Frequency website.

We at Shakesville are unfortunately familiar with this sort of abuse. Some of you may still recall the Fat Princess post and the response (Content Note: The comments were left unmoderated to demonstrate how vicious those assholes are/were, they are fat-hating, homophobic, misogynist). Of course, there's also all the crap with that bastion of rape apologia, Penny Arcade (link has links to all the other posts; CN--also unmoderated thread(s)). These are just two examples, culled specifically due to the gaming references. There is so much more outside of gaming commentary.

There have been a fair number of people writing on what has been happening with Sarkeesian's project and subsequent abuse lately. It's a point raised by John Walker at RockPaperShotgun that I want to look at:
It kind of terrifies me that reporting that Sarkeesian has received multiple threats of rape and death feels like it won’t make a significant impact on the reader. Perhaps that the internet’s more wretched areas are so commonly filled with such threats has normalised our reaction to reports of them. The key to snap out of this, and take it on board, is I think to not read about it as a thing that happened to someone else, but to imagine being the person on the receiving end – to imagine being an individual who is reading person after person saying they will sexually assault or murder you.
While some disgruntled former commenters may disagree, heh, here is not a "wretched area". It's not just "the internet's more wretched areas" which are filled with such threats. It's areas--just about any site--that have articles that discuss sexism and (gaming, sports, literature, television, pick-a-topic), especially if it is an article written by a woman.

But, really, I want to build on his point of "imagine it's you". See, I am sitting here typing this post and I'm a real person. Really! Shocking, I know. But I'm here on my couch, in my house, my dogs snoring on the floor beside me. My youngest child is playing in another room. Real person doing every day things. And you! You are a real person too, sitting or standing or laying down where ever you are. Neither one of us becomes unfeeling, non-people by virtue of the computer/phone screen. "The internet" is not, in fact (or not entirely), a series of tubes filled with pixels (or 1s and 0s). It is actual people writing, reading, reacting, learning, etc... The use of a phone or laptop or desktop computing device to interact with some other real person on the other end doesn't magically render anyone a non-person. Most people seem to know this, as many people these days first connect online and later offline for friendship, romance, jobs, selling stuff, looking for classes/activities--and if not, many people seem to get the concept anyway.

Yet the bullshit phrase "it's just the internet" still exists. Not only exists, it is repeated frequently when the topic of abuse and harassment online is brought up. Just check the comments section of any article discussing the reaction to the project for recent examples.

It's not, in fact, "just the internet". "It" is "just" a genuine person that has received a message that they should die, as painfully as possible, and hopefully someone will be by soon because we know where you live. Perhaps because they made a comment about how women are portrayed in a video game. It is a genuine person, too, who made that threat. Not some abusive robo-troller program. Perhaps that person is serious or perhaps they think it's "funny" to threaten and abuse another person into silence and fear. It's also the realization of that, that there is an actual person out there threatening you, even wishing your death, that can be the clincher in finding it all if not outright terrifying, at least emotionally exhausting, to deal with.

Saying "it's just the internet" enables the abusers and harassers. That phrase is their ally, their justification. It lets them off the hook for behavior that could be considered criminal if done in person. It shifts the blame to the victim of the abuse by suggesting they just need to, say, "grow a thicker skin" because it's somehow not real because pixels and wifi and anonymous commenting ability. No. That whole line of thinking needs to stop. Now.

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