I’ve created this post so that people who are convinced that I am a huge supporter of Anita Sarkesian, and want to inform me about how they feel about that, can be informed of the actual facts of the matter, if they’re interested in those.
On one side, you have to be 100% anti-feminist. On the other, you have to show the scars you've obtained in your personal fight against the patriarchy. Stumble somewhere between those extremes and say the wrong thing, and everyone gets their knives out.
Now, the "Shibboleth" has moved from being whether or not saying "Guys; don't do that" is OK, to Anita Sarkesian. Having the wrong opinion about her can be really troublesome.
I'm am fucked if I know how it came to this.
Anyway: I'm guilty, my friends, of not despising Anita Sarkesian. I don't despise her, it's absolutely true.
Basically, the number of fucks I give about Anita Sarkesian’s views and work is very small. It is a very small number.
I give very, very few fucks about feminism, beyond a basic 21st century hope that men and women can be considered equal. I give even fewer fucks about computer games. Actually, I basically give zero fucks about computer games. I don’t play computer games. I also don’t play volleyball.
Do you play volleyball? Probably not.
You know what it’s like to not play volleyball, and to be not interested in volleyball? Yeah, that’s how much interest and investment I have in video games. I don’t hate video games, just like you or I probably don’t hate volleyball. I just have no interest. Think, therefore, about how much interest I would have in any one particular person’s VIEWS on volleyball. OR VIDEO GAMES. Fuck all. Same with ship-building. Or knitting. Or green tea.
Please contemplate these examples to try to come to an understanding of my absolute disinterest in Anita Sarkesian's views on video games.
I'm aware that there is a person called Anita Sarkesian and that she has views on female depictions in video games, because the internet caught fire over it, and I had a look, just like a rubber-necker glancing at a road accident as he passes along. When the internet seemed to lose its mind over Anita Sarkesian, as though she was especially important, I watched two of her Tropes vs Women videos to see what the fuss was all about. Two videos, and I never commented on either of them, nor posted them, nor thumbed them up, nor (as far as I can remember) even discussed them anywhere.
Seriously - I’m as interested as Anita Sarkesian’s views on computer games as you probably would be in Daniel Radcliffe’s views on tapestry.
Do you give a single fuck? Probably not. Good; so you know how it feels.
Now imagine that you were, month after month, copping hate on the internet for your love of and support of Daniel Radcliffe’s views on tapestry. Imagine how tiresome it becomes being called, consistently, a cunt, a fuck, a pussy, a weakling, and a cunt again and a fuck a few more times for being "so supportive" of Daniel Radcliffe’s views on tapestry, because you said you didn't really mind him in a discussion about the grounds upon which he might or might not be deserving of criticism.
Welcome to my world. I get hate all the time for apparently being supportive of Anita Fucking Sarkesian’s views on fucking computer games, despite not giving a flying fuck about them. I can manage, but it does get tedious.
In October 2015 I was part of a discussion on the Skeptic Fence Show that turned, at one point, to the topic of Anita Sarkesian. I thought (rightly or wrongly, you can be the judge) that the arguments being made against her were off-topic, and irrelevant to her actual arguments and circumstances. To my surprise, it sounded to me like my colleagues were saying that since she hadn’t been the victim of the same kinds of horrendous abuse as Ayan Hirsi Ali, and wasn’t really directing her efforts towards as broad a segment of womankind as Hirsi Ali, then she couldn’t really call herself a “true” feminist, and that that was a significant mark against her. Since Hirsi Ali has (and still does) suffer greater hardships in her struggle for a much larger and infinitely further-reaching and worthwhile end than Sarkesian could ever hope to, then THAT is what makes Sarkesian’s work, and her grievances over receiving the rather unfriendly response she's had, so problematic.
Here are the words that I responded to. You may think they're fine and accurate and perfectly reasonable. You might think that I didn't get the nuance of what was being said. That's fine. Let's just look at them so I can explain what I heard, and explain my response to what I heard.
and Ayan Hirsi Ali, a TRUE feminist;
here's a woman who is standing up for the rights of women for some REALLY serious issues that they face,
on the one hand you've got someone who is doing a content analysis of female depictions in videos, and then on he other hand you've got someone who's gotta walk around for ten years with a massive security detail lest she's going to be beheaded.
So it puts I'm perspective who's being bullied."
The comment seemed to me to be saying that since others, advocating for womankind on a much larger and more significant scale, are receiving even more obscene threats and hatred, then the threats and hatred that Sarkesian is copping are completely insignificant, and becoming upset by the online abuse she's received is really a bit whiney and she ought to get over it.
I thought it was a little uncharitable to be implying something along the lines that "Ayan Hirsi Ali is doing more for women than Anita Sarkesian, and is in far more danger than her, therefore Anita Sarkesian should just cop the vile and disproportionate personal abuse that she's getting for her Youtube videos.", or "Someone who receives disgusting threats of physical abuse and murder for her Youtube videos shouldn't mind, because other women, who are doing MORE for women, have it so much worse." That didn't sound like a valid argument to me.
Does it sound like a valid argument to you? If it does, then OK: that's where we disagree. NOT on anything to do with her video content, or her modus operandi, or her motivations.
Do you see that I could say the same thing about someone I actually truly despised? If I really despised someone and wanted the case against them to be strong and well-grounded, I'd suggest that this kind of objection, which I saw as kinda off-target, was not a good one to be making. If I really wanted Anita Sarkesian to be slammed, I'd want it to be for solid reasons to do with her content (if I had any expertise on it), not because of what I still see as an unfair comparison with someone doing quite different, and undoubtedly more important, work.
Look; if there are nuances that I wasn't hearing at the time, then that's fine too; I responded to what I heard or thought I'd heard. Was that NOT what was being implied? Well, that's for everyone to judge. It's in the video; see what you think.
With respect for Gad Saad, who hadn't said anything I'd disagreed with up to that point, I spoke up, if for nothing else than to get criticism of Anita Sarkesian back onto what I think would be a more defensible track. I wouldn't have cared less if her arguments themselves were being pulled apart and criticised, any more than I'd feel any distress at hearing Tina Turner's outspoken views on hip-hop being pulled apart. I know as much about video games as I do about tapestry or volleyball: fuck all. But I didn't feel good about seeing the discussion continue along the lines I was hearing without trying to nudge it back onto a more reasonable footing. That's what someone might DO in a discussion that they were enjoying with people whom they respect.
I didn’t say: “Hey, hold on, guys; she is an excellent person whom I strongly admire.”
I also didn’t say: “I really support her and her work. I’m a real fan. She is really smart and I’m so glad she’s out there saying what she’s saying.”
I DID, however, say this: “I don’t really mind her.”
"I don't really mind her."
Please contrast this with what I might have said if I was a supporter, an admirer, or a fan of Sarkesian. "I don't really mind her."? WTFF? “I don’t really mind her” is pretty feint praise, if you want to stretch as far as counting it as “praise” of any kind.
“I don’t really mind Sam Harris”, for example, is not the way I’d describe my enormous admiration of Sam Harris, or Ayan Hirsi Ali. Or Bill Gates. Or Leonardo di Caprio. Or pianist Chick Corea, or former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. "Don't mind"? WTF? I really, really LIKE those people! (Even the republican, whose book I'm currently reading!) (***Oct 2016 retraction: Giuliani's book is very good, but the man is a complete and utter fuckwit. His defense of Trump was absolutely indefensible. Total fuckwit: let's be clear about that! Thanks.)
In fact, I tweeted exactly that to one of the people who’s been giving me grief for my “support” of Sarkesian, and he seemed surprised at how I could use such lame-ass language with regards to Sam Harris. It happened to also be the way I’d expressed my view of Sarkesian, but in that circumstance he’d interpreted it to be an expression of support and love and admiration.
“I don’t really mind tits”, also, is not the way I’d describe my considerable appreciation of tits. Tits I love. Anita Sarkesian I don’t mind.
The distinction, in terms of significance, between the clash of Islam and the West, and video games, is not lost on me. I'm not fucking blind. I'd explain the contrast like this:
One matters, whereas the other matters pretty much fuck all.
There's absolutely no doubt that Hirsi Ali is a more significant person in the world than Sarkesian. Remember?- I don't really give a fuck about video games, nor any one particular person's views on video game content any more than I care about any one person's views on green tea, or tapestry. I do care about the clash of Islamist ideology with civilisation. Not video game ladies.
Thus: on Sarkesian’s video content (having seen two of her videos at the time),
I didn’t say: “Hey, hold up guys, the depiction of females in video games is one of the most pressing social issues we are currently facing. Anita Sarkesian's arguments in her videos are excellent, well-informed, robust, and should be listened to carefully by everyone.”
I also didn’t say: “The facts she lays out are irrefutable, water-tight, and rock-solid. Video game producers need to pay attention to what she’s saying.”
I DID, however, say this: “I think her video series is valid, I think it’s alright,…”
Let me repeat: “I think it’s alright.”.
Go to a Star Trek convention and tell the nearest geek that you reckon that “Yeah, Star Trek is alright”.
When describing my view of Sam Harris’ book “The End of Faith”, which changed my life and made me want to join the cause against religion, I don’t recall ever explaining my reaction by saying that “The End of Faith” was “alright”.
"Valid" - because I don't believe Youtube, or public discourse in general, ought to be restricted to only the absolutely desperately important discussions of world-wide consequence. Yes, even in a world that is facing impossibly difficult questions of how to go about not annihilating the planet, there IS scope to talk about things like art, music, culture. David Bowie's music and death, for example, ought not be ignored because there are bigger problems out there. It is "valid" to discuss David Bowie's music on the occasion of his death (I'm writing this only shortly after Facebook went back to being something other than a world-wide monument to him) even though there are more important and urgent things to give our attention to.
Within discussions that are "valid", people can and do say stupid things. It could very well be that within her videos, Anita Sarkesian says stupid and inaccurate things. Others would know about that better than me, because I haven't watched with much interest, giving as few fucks as I do about video games. That doesn't mean that it isn't "valid" to simply talk about the topics she raises. That's called existing in a culture and discussing what's going on within it. That's valid. That's a valid discussion to have.
Even though Ayan Hirsi Ali does things of far greater consequence, and is in receipt of far, far worse abuse and threats, the discussion of issues surrounding demeaning depictions of segments of society within popular culture is, at least, a "valid" endeavor. No, it isn't the most important thing that we could possibly talk about, and yes, there is a finite amount of time that we can devote to important discussions, but at the very least, discussing culture is valid. It's our culture, after all, that we want to save from the encroachment of fucked up Islamic and Qaranic values, isn't it? Think about that.
I didn’t say: “I really learn so much great information by watching her excellent videos. I love going through her back catalogue and hearing as much of what she has to say as I can.”
I also didn’t say: “Her stuff is absolutely fascinating, and I find myself really changing my mind on some big issues because of what I learn from her.”
I DID, however, say this: “I don’t get very excited by it but I can see it and think ‘that’s interesting’.”
A few weeks ago, I was flicking around Youtube looking for animal videos to show my two-year-old son. After a few user-produced videos of sheep-dogging and milking cows, I came across some documentaries about farming practices in Africa. My boy liked seeing the goats and sheep and cows, and I found that I was fairly interested in the economics, and some low-tech/low-cost workarounds they employed to run the farms, cultural stuff they were discussing, that kind of thing. It was fairly interesting,... but I didn’t get very excited about it.
It had nice footage of goats and cows. Not particularly exciting, but, you know, fairly interesting.
Sarkesian’s videos, that I saw, had nice footage of video games. One even had lots of footage of lady-characters tits bouncing all over the place! Fairly interesting- (in fact, she managed to maintain my interest just as thoroughly as a documentary about African farming practices did a few months later. Well done, Anita!) but I didn’t get very excited.
Yeah of course, it [her video series] is good, and it's nice, and I think she did her masters thesis on it, so I have no problem with it.
It's just that maybe she's a bit self aggrandising, the way she positions her importance. Maybe.”
"Good"? "Nice"?! It was obvious at the time that Dr. Saad was being very accommodating, cutting a lot of slack in order to be a nice guy and keep things friendly. He was taking pains to not be confrontational with me, whom he didn’t know from a bar of soap.
He is a class act; he was, as I was, enjoying the discussion that we'd been in for some time already. He understood that a dialogue could occur between people with differing views, and even though I disagreed with only the angle of his initial criticism of Sarkesian, and I'd like to think that had an inkling that I wasn't necessarily positioning myself as a supporter of Sarkesian by pointing out the problems I saw with the comparison with Ayan Hirsi Ali.
I'm certain that he conceded more, in that quote above, than he actually meant, and I wouldn’t hold up the words he chose to imply that he actually considered Sarkesian’s video series ‘good’ or ‘nice’. He was being a ‘good’ and ‘nice’ discussion participant. Credit to him. He went on to really, forcefully slam her and her work. As you'll see in the video, I didn't object. I knew he was going to; it was obvious in the way he hit the discussion of her running. If you read my words and consider what they actually mean, you'll see that I wasn't attempting to get in his way. Why would I? Daniel Radcliffe and tapestry, remember? Volleyball. African farming practices.
Dr. Saad's animated, well-grounded and devastating dismissal of Sarkesian culminated in him declaring her “the Reza Aslan of content analysis”, which I thought was funny, and beautifully delivered. He ‘dropped the mic’ after that, and gained a lot of subscribers in the process! Including me!
Dr. Saad is a class act. We had a brief, good-natured exchange on Twitter following the show. In disagreeing with where I thought he was going with his introductory volley, I didn't necessarily disagree with the further thrust of his argument.
Read again: I know that that is NOT how he thinks about her videos.
Read the transcript of what *I* said, below, and I think it’s arguable that based strictly on the words used, Dr. Saad’s description of Sarkesian’s videos is more generous than my own!
Again, though, I take pains to indicate that I do NOT think that Dr. Saad truly finds Sarkesian's work to be "good" or "nice". That is absolutely no part of my argument.
(I know I'm going to cop criticism for misinterpreting him there. One can't cure the blindness of those who simply refuse to see.)
“That's two different things to me.
It's a slight case of apples and oranges there.
I mean; Anita Sarkesian, I don't really mind her. I think her video series is valid, I think it's alright, I don't see any problem, I can watch those whole videos, they go quite long, and I go yeah that's a fairly interesting argument,... I don't really do video games but I can see where she's coming from having studied undergraduate Cultural Studies and that kind of thing ... I don't get very excited by it but I can see it and think "that's interesting",
I think the kickback that she gets is disproportionate, death threats and all that sort of thing,
Comparing her to someone like Ayan Hirsi Ali, That's a different sphere altogether. I don't see the comparing one to the other…
The whole death threat thing [surrounding Ayan Hirsi Ali], and the female genital mutilation [that Ayan Hirsi Ali suffered];
That's not what Anita Sarkesian set out to do, and you can't really criticise her for not having done that, because that was never her agenda.
It was video games.
Quite light in comparison, but... anyway,...”
Good luck with that.
You know what's so fucking annoying about Reza Aslan, and others like him? It's that they consistently, repeatedly, and endlessly misrepresent Sam Harris' views. His views on profiling, on nuclear first strikes, and on torture. It's infuriating. Harris spells them out again and again, but his explanations of his own views are ignored, and Aslan's lies designed to defame Harris and spread hatred for him just go out reaching more and more people. There's fuck all Sam Harris can do except repeatedly explain his views over and over. It must be unbelievably infuriating.
Wouldn't the world be a better place if Aslan would LISTEN to Harris just once, and hear what Harris has to say FOR HIMSELF about his views on those things, take the correction, and stop telling lies? Wouldn't it be nice if he'd actually LISTEN to what Sam Harris is saying about Sam Harris' views on things, rather than dictating TO Sam Harris what Sam Harris thinks? What a fucking concept!
I tell you what - my world would be a slightly better place if, instead of behaving like Reza Aslan, the people who want to consistently and aggressively misrepresent my views on Anita Fucking Sarkesian in order to stir up internet-hatred for me and antagonise me, would take notice of my actual views and stop misrepresenting them. Is that really too much to ask?
If you must think of me as a cunt, think of me as a cunt for accurate reasons, such as that I am ambivalent towards that woman. Guilty as charged: I don't hate her. I'm ambivalent. I find her videos just as compelling about documentaries about African farming practices. If you insist on spreading the lie that I'm a radical feminist fan of Sarkesian, then you're simply doing a Reza on me. Please don't.
The video is of the conversation is below. Most of what I had to say occurs within the first five minutes. (Another segment I started later, about discourse, I just rambled and bumbled. Look up "discourse in cultural studies" if you want a better understanding and better examples than I was able to give on the fly.)
Thanks for reading this very long piece.
I wish I hadn't needed to spend the time writing it.
volleyball, by Flickr user MartinCharelle (CC2.0)
tapestry: https://pixabay.com/en/tapestry-versailles-pattern-floral-755294/ (CC0)star trek: https://pixabay.com/en/graffiti-spock-leonard-nimoy-1015952/ (CC0)
cow: https://pixabay.com/en/cow-animal-farm-animals-agriculture-961790/ (CC0)