Image Based Harassment and Visual Misogyny

July 1, 2012

I’m making it a point to strategically share some of the online harassment I’ve received after launching my Tropes vs Women in Video Games Kickstarter. I’ve already posted about the harassment via YouTube and Wikipedia but these were not the only abusive cyber mob tactics employed to try and silence me.

After struggling with whether or not to make the extent of the attacks public I’ve decided that it’s ultimately important to shed light on this type of abuse because online harassment and bullying are at epidemic levels across the internet.

In addition to the aggressive actions against me that I’ve already shared, the harassers launched DDoS attacks on my site, attempted to hack into my email and other social media accounts and reported my Twitter and YouTube accounts as “terrorism”, “hate speech” or “spam”. They also attempted to “dox” and distribute my personal contact info including address and phone number on various websites and forums (including hate sites).

In this post I will detail some of the image based online harassment and visual misogyny I have been subjected to over the past few weeks. Image based harassment is another common weapon used against women and members of marginalized groups online – often in conjunction with other forms of harassment. It’s certainly not unique to my situation. Recently Bioware writer Jennifer Hepler, Shakesville’s blogger Melissa McEwan and British columnist Laurie Penny have all been targeted by similar image based harassment campaigns.

Humorous photoshop manipulation, cartoons and image macros are a legitimate and important part of a healthy political discourse online especially when used to challenge powerful institutions, leaders or regressive social norms (the Privilege Denying Dude and Boehner’s Woman Problem are two of my recent favorites). It’s important to remember though that these same tactics can be employed as tools of oppression to lash out at or bully members of marginalized groups. There is a difference between using ridicule to challenge power and using it as a weapon to police the status quo by reinforcing sexism, racism or homophobia.

The image based harassment I’m discussing here is not part of any legitimate discourse but instead falls squarely into the category of misogynist abuse. It’s a critical distinction and is evidenced by the fact that all of the images are attacking my gender or presumed sexuality and rely heavily on pre-existing sexist stereotypes.

Image based harassment includes everything from vulgar photo manipulation to creating pornographic or degrading drawings of rape and sexual assault with the target’s likeness. These harassment images are then sent en masse to the target through email, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook or any other online service with messaging capabilities. Part of the trolling strategy with these images is also to try and get them to appear in search results for the target’s name as a way to attack their online reputation.

This harassment is best classified as a cyber mob attack as it’s a hate campaign loosely organized through various internet forums. Participating harassers will share these images as a way to show off and gain validation from their peers as well as to try and recruit others to join the harassment campaign.

The ultimate goal of this behaviour is to try and intimidate, scare and silence women by creating an online environment that is too hostile, toxic and disturbing to endure.


The following images are vile, hateful, pornographic, and disgusting. Some rise to the level of what could be called imaged based threats or visual sexual assault. You should not feel obligated to read any further. I have taken steps to blur out some of the more graphic images and placed detailed text descriptions of the content underneath.  Keep in mind that these are only a selected few of the harassing images that have been sent to me.

Photoshop harassment: These images were altered to remove the original positive message and add degrading or humiliating messages. The photoshopped images with blank cards were also passed around on various internet forums as a way for others to join the harassment campaign via adding their own misogynist messages.

Meme images harassment: Above are six (out of the hundreds) of image macros created with a carefully selected video still from YouTube to make it appear as though I’m an “angry feminist”. The vast majority of the images created from these meme templates focus on sexist or misogynist attacks based on my gender or presumed sexuality rather than to criticize my actual arguments.

Rape drawings: When text threats are not enough harassers will resort to pornographic drawings as weapons to make sure their threats of sexual assault are clear. These are just two of the many rape drawings featuring my likeness which have been spammed to my email, posted to my Facebook page and sent through other social media like Twitter and YouTube. The first image depicts a woman drawn to resemble me who is tied up with a wii controller shoved in her mouth while being raped by Mario from behind. The second image is another drawing (clearly sketched to resemble me) featuring a chained nude figure on her knees with 5 penises ejaculating on her face with the words “fuck toy” written on her torso. Based on the accompanying text, this one specifically is meant as an attack on the many men who stood up and defended me and my kickstarter project. 

DDoS bragging: On June 12th as the media story about the harassment surrounding my project hit the blogsphere, my site went down off and on for most of the day. That day this image was being passed around on various gaming forums as a way to brag about taking my site down via a DDoS attack. These attempts to knock my site offline are unfortunately still ongoing.

More harassment: A favorite harassment tactics is borrowed from mainstream pornography and includes adding images of ejaculating semen on a woman’s face. Another favored tactic is to pause the video in mid-blink, mid-speech or mid-gesture to create a goofy faced still image.

UPDATE – Interactive Assault Harassment: On July 5th 2012 an interactive domestic abuse style “game” entitled “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian” was uploaded to the NewGrounds website by one of the site’s users. It invited players to “punch this bitch in the face” and with each click a photoshopped image of me would become progressively more bloody and battered until the screen turned completely red. The “game” was then proudly circulated on various gaming forums by those engaging in the sustained harassment campaign against me. It remained on NewGrounds website for about 24 hours before being removed. 

It should be noted that none of the social media services I use have adequate structures built-in to effectively deal with cyber mob style harassment. Internet services need to do a much better job of providing the tools and functionality that empower those being harassed and abused via their systems (including sharable block-lists, some sense of real accountability for those doing the bullying, and real live human beings working behind the scenes).  In short these issues need to be taken seriously by the institutions that make up our online social media.

The incredible 7000 backers to my Kickstarter project and the outpouring of support I’ve received is evidence that many people are excited about and want to see the Tropes vs Women in Video Games webseries.  Needless to say, these attacks will not stop me from continuing with this project and I’m now even more committed than ever to speaking out against online harassment.


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