Think about what you love most: The passion that gets you going in the morning, the interests that drive you, the things that define you.
Now imagine a faceless mob repeatedly and violently victimising you for them.
Much has been made of the GamerGate scandal in the media recently, with scholar and critic Anita Sarkeesian both publishing an op-ed in the New York Times and appearing on The Colbert Report this week alone. Sarkeesian, who has written about a culture of hostility to women in the gaming world, has cancelled events based on mass-shooting threats. She, much like fellow victims video game developers Brianna Wu and Zoe Quinn, has repeatedly been forced into hiding or out of her home for security concerns.
When the late, great film critic Roger Ebert declared that video games were not art, four years ago, there was a great deal of uproar. But as far as anyone remembers, no one circulated pictures of his home or threatened bodily violence against him for it.
Though far from the same level, this antagonism towards women in the public sphere, or at the center of significant subcultures, is reminiscent of another case: Malala Yousafzai. Although she is almost universally celebrated for her bravery and humility, let’s not forget the despicable school of thought that thrust her into this role.
Even now, as she has become the world’s youngest Nobel Laureate, there is a small but vocal subset of her home country that sees her as a threat to the nation’s image. She’s been accused of everything from colluding with the CIA to immigration fraud, ensuring that she can never make Pakistan home again.
The world asks more of her than anyone should of a teenage girl who just wants to go to school and do her homework.
Why is turning private concerns – going to school, enjoying video games, falling in love – into massively public concerns still not considered a gross violation of civil rights? These women came into the limelight under vastly different circumstances, but each of them was condemned by the same brush, painting them as threats to a masculine code of life.
A few days ago, Monica Lewinsky, the woman caught in an international sex scandal with former U.S. president Bill Clinton, delivered a ground-breaking speech marking her return to public life. She dubbed herself the “patient zero” of online harassment, before 4chan, reddit and even Twitter. In the distant memory of 1998, there seemed to be a certain removal from public opinion still possible. You could choose to not read comments or early blogs, even if the media itself wielded greater power. Of course, her case was far more polarizing to ordinary members of society than either GamerGate or Yousafzai’s, but the fallout felt similar.
Today, more than any other time in history, people have access to a large number of public platforms to express opinions and interact with each other. Transcending geographical boundaries is easier than ever, and the privilege of anonymity allows people to pass judgment with little to no accountability or regard for consequences.
Whether positive or negative on the larger scale, each medium of expression has opened up new doors for the violent misogyny that persists against women in the public sphere. Every time a woman demands inclusion, be it in education or video games, she threatens a preconceived narrative and established norm. Democracy in expression means that unfiltered vitriol continues to erase women from the preconceived narratives they refuse to conform to. How could women possibly thrive in a climate where the contexts available to them remain so adamantly narrow?
For now, these women are refusing to be silenced. Kicking and screaming and rallying crowds of supporters behind them, they continue their very simple crusades to do what they love and allow others less vocal or less recognized than them to do so, too. But the fact remains: standing up to misogyny should not require the kind of sacrifices that it so often does.