by Jarrah Hodge
(trigger warning for misogyny and language)
This past weekend I headed down to Seattle for the second annual Geek Girl Con, which I’d been to the year before. Last year I really enjoyed the Con but found there was a bit of a lack of panels taking a really critical look at sexism and misogyny within geek culture. This year was a huge improvement on that front, and since I went to a whole bunch of panels in this general vein, I’m not going to recap every single one. Instead I wanted to broadly share some of the problems/issues the various panels identified in this post, then do a follow-up looking at panelists’ tips and suggestions for change (as well as posts on some other issues/topics covered at the Con).
On the issue of the sexism, harassment and misogyny that exists in geek culture, there were no shortage of truly appalling examples presented. Anyone who went to the panel: “Go Make Me a Sandwich: Barriers in Online and Fan Spaces”, would not have been able to argue that there was no sexism online. On the panel were Regina Buenaobra, a Community Manager at Arenanet; Colette Vogele, an attorney involved with the group Without My Consent; Feminist Frequency vlogger Anita Sarkeesian; and Grace, Co-Founder of fatuglyorslutty.com.
Even having followed the blogging and reporting around Anita’s recent experience with violent sexism in the gaming community, it was disturbing to see examples of some of the YouTube comments and tweets she received projected on the big Con screens. She broke down what she saw as the main factors in this online harassment, noting that it is: a manifestation of real-life privilege, designed to silence, violently defensive of the status quo, rooted in entitlement and male privilege, and involved in the policing of masculinity and performing misogyny through invites by community members to others to “one-up” each other through more extreme forms of harassment.
Anita shared how after she went public with the harassment, the group doing the harassing made it their mission to silence her comments on that, trying to flag all her social media accounts as “hate speech” or “terrorism” to get them blocked:
“What was really happening was because I wasn’t falling for it and I was outing them is they were trying to silence me from talking about the harassment which was trying to silence me from talking about the games.”
Another GGC panel made it clear that online misogyny is not confined to the gaming community. Skepchick bloggers Rebecca Watson, Amy Davis-Roth and Heina joined Jen McCreight of Blag Hag, Sophie Hirschfeld of Sex and Science, and Pandagon political blogger Amanda Marcotte to share their experiences with con-goers.
The Skepchick bloggers’ problems started as a result of what they called “Elevatorgate”, which was the backlash against Skepchick founder Rebecca Watson after she complained on YouTube about a man approaching her at night in an elevator at an atheist convention. Like Sarkeesian she was subject to vitriolic YouTube comments, site attacks, and vandalism of her Wikipedia page.
Debate exploded when Richard Dawkins, who had attended the same conference and listened to Watson’s presentation on sexual harassment in the atheist community, made statements that Watson’s elevator issue was unimportant compared to problems of inequality for Muslim women.
“Every day I get rape threats, every day I get death threats,” said Watson.
She also noted that her boyfriend as part of his job has to share her videos online: “Every day my boyfriend has to delete rape threats from the internet…it’s had a very real impact on my life.”
Davis-Roth was soon drawn in as a fellow Skepchick blogger. Her online business was targeted and people tweeted negative messages at anyone who tweeted her.
“People do frankenbiting…take clips of what I’ve said and then edit the, together so they’re saying something different,” she said, “You can’t say ‘it’s just the Internet’ anymore.”
Heina was also targeted to a lesser extent but she had also had previous experiences with sexism in the skeptic/atheist community:
“Most of the sexism I’ve experienced was from community leaders,” said Heina, “I expected better because they were allegedly rational people.”
Jen McCreight found her blog readers got really riled up whenever she tried to bring feminism into the conversation. In addition to repeated attacks calling her ugly and otherwise insulting her looks, commenters said that being a feminist showed she was incapable of rational thought and threatened to send letters to current and future employers to warn them not to hire her.
Amanda Marcotte was one of the first women political bloggers and she found her mere presence forced sites to change. Her own site had to, for the first time, moderate comments as she was subject to sexist attacks. She noted those posting were often defensively denying there’s a problem: “Their argument is that there is no sexism in conferences or skeptic circles…you stupid c*nt.”
Marcotte added a statement that I think the other panelists throughout the weekend would largely agree with: “This is not something we just need to blow off and say if you ignore it it’ll go away.”
So what can we do? As someone who cares about the online feminist community and has also received sexist comments and threats on my YouTube and blog, I was particularly interested in suggestions coming out of Geek Girl Con. I’ll get into that in Part 2 of this post.