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.

**SERIOUS TRIGGER WARNING**

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.

 

188 Responses to “Image Based Harassment and Visual Misogyny”

  1. I suppose that you live difficult moments, and I hope you are surrounded to face that. You are really becoming a symbol of resistance. Even though I would understand, I hope you won’t let those prehistoric macho men win. And I love your videos🙂

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  2. free speech only goes so far and these are definitely crossing the line. what i see are blatant threats. that is beyond harassment, that qualifies as stalking which is a felony in many states. file charges against these pathetic bullies!

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  3. You are an extremely courageous woman. I’m sorry you are being subject to such ill treatment by these miscreants but I admire you for not backing down. As a father of two daughters I thank you for your efforts to fight for fairness and equality. Keep fighting the good fight!

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  4. I am a male gamer and i support your movement. I have been wanting this for a long time. The stereotypes in games are terrible. From racist stereotypes to sexist and homophobic characters this has been going on too long and I welcome this effort. As a minority I run into racism on xbox live all the time and I hate the fact that Microsoft won’t do anything to stop it. These attacks you have suffered are a symptom of the gaming culture in general. During cyber games female competitors suffer abuse like this from there opponents all the time. It is shameful and the organizers have half heartedly attempted to stop it with little results. Hopefully your efforts will bring more attention to this problem and maybe something will change. Keep up the fight, its a battle that we need to win.

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  5. You are so strong, this is so shocking and despite the hordes of disgusting, abusive people out there, there are SO many people who support you and believe in what you are doing! Please never stop what you are doing, it is such a wonderful thing and you motivate me so much with every video and post! Lots of love!

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  6. God bless you, Anita! These bullies thought that they were winning in their foolish minds, but they are wrong! You are one of the bravest women in the world!

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  7. The strength you show in simply continuing with this is incredible. Were I you, I think I’d find this too overwhelming to continue.
    I’m really looking forward to the completed series.

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  8. Keep on fighting. You’ve got an army supporting you. I am willing to fight for your cause every day.

    XO
    /Olle, furious male gamer

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  9. I’m sorry you have had these experiences, Anita. The people who take the time to create and distribute this hateful rubbish are of the lowest common denominator. Unfortunately, the Web has created a cloak of anonymity that some people use to to unload the bleakness of their souls. I truly believe that these people lead miserable lives and find a sick pleasure in trying to bring down those with higher evolved aspects. Think of it this way. After each harassment, they must return to their bleak and sad lives. Keep going because you are winning!

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  10. Anita- I’m certain that even if you had just barely reached funding, you would still be facing this kind of harassment. I can’t tell you how glad I am that all of us who contributed to so wildly over-funding you were able to contribute to putting you in a position where you can get whatever security you need to refuse to be silenced while remaining safe.

    I have to tell you, I have found this whole situation disillusioning. I really thought we were past this sort of misogynist B.S., and am horrified by how wrong I was. As a woman and aspiring writer, I find it upsetting to see the harassment you have received for the “crime” of being a woman with an opinion. It has made me even more determined to pursue my dream, and speak my mind. Thank you for your courage and perseverance.

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  11. I’m really sorry to hear that you’re being harassed like this. Stay strong and keep doing what you’re doing- you’re obviously on to something to get this strong a response.

    The importance of media literacy and critical thinking are underrated in the face of what we are exposed to and consume on a daily basis. Projects like yours are necessary to help us understand and ‘read’ media, so thank you for challenging the status quo and I’m looking forward to seeing the results.

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  12. When I first heard of this project, I wrote a lengthy post about it, and through it, reluctantly, backed you with what money I could spend.

    Fast forward until now, and, really, my only regret is that I wish I was in a better place financially, because I now STRONGLY support your goals, both as a gamer, a writer, and hopefully eventually, a designer.

    We need more, better designed female characters. I thought everyone could agree on that. The fact that people either disagree, or just dislike you for the sake of disliking you, makes me want this project to succeed now more than ever, not only for the good of gaming, but for the bad of the trolls who want it to fail.

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  13. What you are doing is really, really important. Keep it up. Don’t let them scare you. Expose them. Misogyny thrives in a culture of silence.

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  14. I’m NO prude. Know how to curse like trucker and do so on the regular. This online gaming shit has got to stop though. Well beyond misogyny, the level of vile language, passed back and forth, via chat and IMs on these games, is repulsive. So much so, that I have lost any real interest in partaking in the pastime, I loved.
    For selfish reasons, thank you for standing forth and challenging the depraved underbelly of the online world. For righteous reasons, Thank You, for braving the barbs of these neanderthals and continuing your assault. We all need a champion in this fight.

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  15. Standing up to bullies ultimately makes them stand down. I wish these attacks were all the product of 15-year-old boys who don’t know any better. Sadly, we all know this isn’t true. Your courage will help change the situation for the better, embolden other women gamers to speak out and force the jerks who behave in this vile manner out into the light. Good job.

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  16. Wow. Not a gamer, but just read the Times article, which blew me away. Really respect your courage. Yo are not alone.

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  17. I’m a guy and a (casual) gamer and am shocked and disgusted by the hatred you’ve uncovered in the gaming community. Unreal. Keep up the good work!

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  18. Stay strong, lady! You are an inspiration! Keep up the Great Work!

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  19. We will demonstrate that sexism isn’t a problem in gaming through threatening and demeaning women for saying so. Genius guys. None of them stopped to think that maybe they were proving your point? I think a lot of gamers, particularly on MMORPGs, don’t even think about the words they use because it is just ingrained in the slang so much.
    I think that rather than approaching it as something to be censored and chastised, we can think of it as an opportunity. Aren’t new ideas and new stories a precious commodity after endless brown shooters and formulaic fantasies? If we don’t have fully developed women/LGBTQ/people of colour in games, doesn’t that open up a lot more possibilities?

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  20. I am dumbfounded to read of such behavior. As a father and grandfather, I thought we had tought the next generations better than that. It just goes to show the fight for equality, civility and reason never ends.

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  21. Anita!

    I am so sorry these folks are so belligerent. I love your videos and I literally just brought up memories of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider to my coworkers. I bragged about how I beat the game with my brothers and next door neighbor– but I can’t tell you how awful it was to play this with 3 males and watch the “camera” get “stuck” underneath her [incredibly well-endowed] boobs ALL THE TIME. I pretty much gave up on video games after Mario I, II & III but Tomb Raider was definitely the deal breaker. Since then, I’ve become a full time artist. I tend to wander cyberspace for new and interesting paintings, graphic designs, drawings, etc and certainly have stumbled on countless “enhanced” representations of women. I’ll be the first to admit that almost all art enhances the subject in plenty of ways but it gets tiresome to see the near-crotch shot of a scantily clad super-hot-chick with her chest busting the seams of her low zipped shirt. It lacks a new imagination and pawns off of the video game aesthetic too often.

    Ah yes, I know, I preach to the choir. But seriously, although not a video game, the scene in The Dark Knight Rises where Catwoman rides off on his motorcycle with her leather-clad ass in the air was pretty sad. Many male acquaintances have brought it up, stating how awesome it was that someone thought of having her do that. Ugh.

    So hang in there! Get some serious gaming research going! Please inform if there are games that try for a better representation of the ladies!

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  22. I’m one of millions and millions of normal people who stand with you and recognize that these infantile undeveloped cowards are sad, pathetic losers. They’re like horseshoe posts on which to toss derogatory adjectives and epithets! You’re a standout, bright and brave. Be strong and happy!

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  23. These people are such losers.
    They are intimidated by your intelligence.

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  24. Thanks for being witness to the viciousness standing up for yourself (and other women) brings out in wholly and frighteningly immature men. Whats even more frightening is how widespread this kind of viciousness is. The culture not only accepts it but pummels and violates anyone who calls it for what it is.

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  25. What kind of men have such low self confidence that they have to do this? Really, this says so much more about them then you. Small, small men.

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  26. I normally don’t post comments anywhere, but in this case I feel like being one more trying to weight out the harassment. You’re doing a great job! Thank you for that!

    Like

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