In June of 2012, “feminist” blogger Anita Sarkeesian, better known to the online world as Feminist Frequency, became prominent on YouTube and online news media after launching a Kickstarter fundraising campaign for a new video series, Tropes vs Women in Video Games. This publicity was the result of a substantial amount of troll activity that occurred in response to the Kickstarter campaign; activity that has been cited on many occasions by Sarkeesian as justification for her perspective on the contemporary video games industry and modern gamers.
I am by no means a supporter of Feminist Frequency. A feminist myself, I consider the views and assertions of Sarkeesian to be antithetical to the foundational principles of feminism; Sarkeesian may call herself a “feminist”, but a close inspection of her videos will uncover a multitude of sexist beliefs about both men and women, rather than the promotion of gender equality that feminism is supposed to be about. Nevertheless, online harassment is never appropriate, regardless of the motivation behind it, and although I believe that Sarkeesian has misconstrued the nature of the trolling in question, it is unquestionably an unfortunate aspect of the Internet, and Sarkeesian’s complaints about online harassment are, for the most part, justified.
Well, that is to say, they were justified. For, apparently, Anita Sarkeesian has decided to embrace the online harassment and violent writing tropes that she once denounced so fiercely. In mid-August, 2013, a rather interesting post was made on the official Feminist Frequency Tumblr blog. This post contains a short work of fan fiction, written by a third party and preceded by a foreword by Sarkeesian, in which she says, “I kinda like it”. What, in particular, does Anita like so much about it? We shall soon see.
The story stars Anita Sarkeesian (and Spiderman, though his role has little relevance), on a quest to prevent the revival of Duke Nukem by Randy Pitchford, the CEO of Gearbox Studios. The early stages of the story are largely nondescript, but events become rather heated towards the end. Sarkeesian holds Pitchford at gunpoint, threatening him until he concedes that her point of view is correct. Anita then tells Pitchford that he does not deserve to die, allowing him a brief sigh of relief, before promptly shooting him anyway. With Pitchford dead, Sarkeesian assumes control of Gearbox Studios.
“I kinda like it” seems a peculiar response, Anita, for someone supposedly opposed to online harassment. The story is undeniably unpleasant as paraphrased above, but the original text paints a rather more disturbing picture, given the way in which the violence is depicted and Sarkeesian’s portrayal as a hero, with Pitchford cast as a villain fully deserving of his fate. To use Anita’s words from the Damsel in Distress - Part 2 video, Pitchford was “asking for it”. I was under the impression that Sarkeesian had denounced this excuse as reprehensible, but apparently she has changed her mind, and now deems victim-blaming to be a perfectly acceptable practice.
You might remember that, in the Damsel in Distress - Part 2 video, Anita severely criticises a scene from a Grand Theft Auto game, wherein a gangster impliedly shoots his female partner for talking about “stereotypically girly things”. Anita says that her death is “the punchline of a cheap misogynist joke”. In the aforementioned fan fiction, Sarkeesian shoots a man in cold blood for producing what might be called “stereotypically boyish games”, with his death portrayed in a comic light. One might say that Pitchford’s death is the “punchline of a cheap misandrist joke”, something that Anita’s “pop culture critic”-o-vision seemingly failed to notice.
I am not worried for the well being of the aforementioned Mr Pitchford. As an adult, I am sure that Pitchford would, upon coming across this post, dismiss it as yet another nonsensical work of fan fiction that no sane person would take seriously. My concern lies with Sarkeesian, and her impressionable supporters. Feminist Frequency has an incredible amount of influence, with over 105,000 subscribers on YouTube and substantial media recognition and publicity. Many of Sarkeesian’s followers are young and impressionable; for them, Sarkeesian defines feminism. Anita forgets that, as much as she might critique the media, she is also part of the media, quite a significant part at this point. She has far more influence over the mind of an individual than the average Hollywood film, as people are actively looking to her for philosophical commentary. And what is Anita’s latest insight? That, if someone produces media that conflicts with your personal preferences, feel free to create your own violent fantasy media featuring the comedic murder of said person. Just make sure that person is a man; if a woman is killed in your story, that constitutes misogyny, but if a man is killed, to use Anita's words from her Women in Refrigerators video, it makes "hardly a ripple".
Anita Sarkeesian has, it seems, thrown all subtlety to the wind, openly exposing herself for what she is: a charlatan and a hypocrite. She complains about online harassment, including the “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian” game on Newgrounds, while endorsing media that depicts violence against those with an opposing point of view as both comical and justified. She protests the depiction of violence against female characters in media, and actively promotes media that portrays violence against a real man as laughable. There is a certain element of philosophical debate that Anita has seemingly failed to grasp: if you do not apply your principles consistently, critical minds will not take you seriously. Most of the complaints Anita has made about online harassment have been thoroughly invalidated; she has demonstrated that she is perfectly content with such behaviour, as long is she, and those she identifies with, are not on the receiving end. People have identified long before this incident that Feminist Frequency does not advocate gender equality. Now, it seems, Sarkeesian has decided to broadcast this fact without the slightest degree of caution. At the very least, this should help those previously in support of Feminist Frequency to see Sarkeesian and her content from a new perspective. Only time will tell whether this incident is to have lasting consequences.