A Point about Harm

[Content Note: Intersectional misogyny; harassment; violent threats; slurs; self-harm.]

At Vice, Mike Diver has written a piece titled: "Does Someone Have to Actually Die Before GamerGate Calms Down?"

(If you're not familiar with GamerGate, there is a summary at the link, and there's a longer explainer here.)

Diver's piece ends thus: "So how about we all calm the fuck down before someone really gets hurt?"

The thing is, people have already really gotten hurt.

As Eastsidekate pointed out on Twitter, at least two trans women who have dealt with online harassment of this nature have killed themselves.

And then there are the women who have been doxxed; who have lost their livelihoods; who have abandoned their online spaces; who have had lies told them; who have had their pictures used to photoshop graphic pornographic or violent (or both) images of them; who have been obliged to live and work under a constant influx of violent threats, most of which are not taken seriously by law enforcement; who are obliged to weather all manner of "not technically" threats—urged to kill themselves; told to die in a fire; had to hear people tell them, over and over and over, that they wish they were dead.

It's critically important to this conversation to acknowledge that these things constitute people "really getting hurt."

When we define "really getting hurt" exclusively as physical harm, that diminishes and disappears the emotional damage that is done to people who are targeted in this way.

When one of us gets to the point, as many of us have, myself included, at which we're engaging in self-harm and/or contemplating suicide as a result of online harassment, that's someone who's already "really gotten hurt."

And it's frankly not helpful, when you're in that space, to know that it doesn't "count" until someone actually makes good on one of those threats and kills you. Or you kill yourself.

We need to care about the harm that comes way, way before someone dying.

Which is, by the way, not to minimize that also incredibly serious concern. I have, after a flurry of death threats, said: I don't want to be a martyr; I don't want there to be a "Liss's Law" named after my fucking corpse.

But I also don't want all the rest of the harm before that to exist. And I don't want it to not matter.

I don't want any of us to have to be alive but harassed and abused every goddamn day, either.

The harassment around gaming and tech is intense. I wrote my post criticizing Fat Princess more than six years ago, and I still get emails containing threats or fantasies of violence against me in response to it.

What women like Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, Adria Richards, Kathy Sierra, and others have gone through, and continue to go through, all for having the unmitigated temerity to be women in gaming and tech, is incredible. And reprehensible. And shameful beyond description. And harmful.

Actively, ongoingly, profoundly harmful. Individually harmful, and reverberatingly harmful, as other women see what happens to women who do what they do and calculate whether it's worth it to pursue their passion, in exchange for, potentially, their lives.

Women are being harassed, and abused, and threatened, and terrorized. Women have killed themselves. If the word "hurt" is to have any meaning at all, we need to stop saying that things need to change before someone gets hurt, and start saying plainly that things need to change because people are already being hurt.

And we really need to stop defining the threshold at which women's harm matters as the point in which one of the men who's been threatening them crosses a line into physically harming them. If I need to explain why it's fucked up to let the harassers define what constitutes someone "really getting hurt," instead of listening to women saying they're already hurting, then you haven't been paying attention.

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