Thursday, May 30, 2013
How to not hate Anita Sarkeesian
Feminist writer and media critic Anita Sarkeesian has a well-known name in gaming circles. She was less known before she launched a Kickstarter to raise money to make a series of videos examining tropes and women in videogame culture. She aimed to raise six grand and got $158,000 instead. She also got harassment of every type via every venue, including a game called "Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian" where you clicked the screen to punch her face until she appeared bruised and bleeding.
It's important to note that this uproar took place before Sarkeesian even started talking. This was the reaction to her saying she was planning to discuss these topics.
Her second video just came out in the series that her Kickstarter funded, and even though she chose to disable the comments on the video, it was pulled from YouTube for "violating community guidelines." It has since been restored.
Anita is not perfect. Her arguments are not flawless. Sometimes, certain approaches she takes are not the same as the approaches I would take. I'm less concerned about Anita as a role model and more about what it is she is trying to do. Shining a light on something ugly and frightening is something humans characteristically avoid in all things, not just in cases involving women's issues. But revealing those things, and drumming up the courage to look at them and potentially make a decision to alter our actions to do something about them, is essential for any kind of growth.
In a thread on my Facebook today, Sarkeesian was called "A shrill woman who keeps harping on the same topics." These words made me instantly envision a young boy whose mother was asking him to do something he didn't want to do. Then the voice doing the talking becomes "shrill" and discussion becomes "harping."It's easy to see how simple it would be to become angry and sarcastic in response to words like that -- they are critical and meant to hurt feelings.
So perhaps you hate Anita, or what she's saying, or both. But somewhere in you, there is some twinge, some tiny feeling that maybe you are missing out on something. Or maybe you don't want to fight back, but you don't know what else to do. And you sit in front of your computer feeling not so sure about any of it anymore.
This is the ideal time to try a different approach.
Separate the words from the person.
Let's just say, for a moment, that instead of watching Anita's video series, you're reading the same ideas in a book (and there are dozens on the subject of feminism, and a handful on women's role in games as well). Are you still angry about them? You may be. If so, you can focus your hatred on the author of that book, or any of the other books. But notice how you feel when you're angry: insulated, seething, closed. If that feels bad, consider that there are other options, and other ways to react.
Be aware that anger means you are no longer listening.
Anger has an effect on us, as described above -- it limits our ability to process information, makes us say things we shouldn't, and physically alters the body by raising our blood pressure. Be aware that when you are angry, your ability to discuss an issue mindfully has significantly dropped.
Ask yourself what is triggering you.
If you get angry when you watch Anita's videos, what about her approach triggers you? If you're like "She's a bitch!," there's a reason why you think that (and see above). Try writing it down. If your reaction is "She is wrong because..." write that down too. If you're angry, there's another feeling behind the anger. If you're feeling brave, you could take a look and try to see what that feeling actually is. Do you feel that she is talking to you when she talks about men? Do you feel offended that you are being generalized? Knowing your real stance is a foundation you can stand on. Lashing out wildly is not a solid foundation.
Know the history.
"Why are all these women so mad?"Start here. Still interested? Try here. Want to know how it feels to have lived in this culture your entire life? Open an OK Cupid account, use a photo of a pretty woman as your profile pic, and read your inbox. Sit by a construction site and watch women get catcalled. Pretend that woman is your sister or your mother. By the way, it's happened to both of them hundreds of times already and you just didn't know about it. Rinse. Repeat.
Consider the source.
Anita holds a Master's Degree with credentials in Social and Political Thought and a Bachelor's in Communication. What that means to me is that she has a more structured approach to those topics than I do, since I have never been educated in those topics. That does not mean her every word is gold, but it does mean if I am open minded, I may learn some things from her that I did not know. Some of them may help me to form more of my own ideas.
This rule also goes for the commenters, the "haters," and even the men that made the game where you beat her. Before you react to any of them, consider them. Who are they? What are their backgrounds? Do they have the ability to participate in discussions with rational discourse? If not, why are you engaging with them?
Be kind to each other.
You can, even on the internet, be kind. To others, even when they get angry, by choosing not to respond or to gently end the dialogue if both or all participants are not open. If you need to block someone, that can be a kindness too -- it's how you protect yourself when a situation has gone too far. But if you can abide in a difficult situation or discussion, stay in it, learn something from it, by all means, you should. Putting aside anger and listening can cultivate compassion and make you realize you really don't know everything. And that's a wonderful state to be in. It makes you open.