Feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian spoke to Boston University students Thursday about how online harassment contributes to an unsafe environment for women on the Internet.
Sarkeesian shared her own experience about how she faced online backlash from male gamers while producing an online video series about the representation and the sexualization of women in video games.
“All forms of online harassment, whether it’s a cyber mob or a handful of hateful comments, have very real consequences,” Sarkeesian said to students.
BU Feminist Collective and Video Game Society organized the talk, which approximately 35 students attended. It took place in a College of Arts and Sciences building classroom.
Sarkeesian said she faced attacks from what she described as a “cyber mob” after creating a Kickstarter fundraising page to raise money to produce the three mini-series titled “Tropes vs. Women.”
The cyber mob, consisting mostly of male anonymous gamers, attempted to hack into Sarkeesian’s accounts and publish her personal information on the web. They also communicated hateful messages and threats and attempted to impersonate her on social media sites by fabricating posts and tweets.
The harassment still continues today, Sarkeesian said, even after all three parts of the mini-series were published on her blog, titled Feminist Frequency.
Sarkeesian said she encourages students to stand up to cyber bullies who perpetuate a digital environment that reinforces a misogynist status quo and is hostile for women. Victims of online harassment should speak publically about their experiences, she said.
“Having more and more people speak up is really powerful,” she said.
Internet users must also hold social media sites such as Youtube and Twitter accountable in order to prevent further instances of online harassment on social media platforms, Sarkeesian said.
Former Feminist Collective President Yayra Sumah, who helped organize the event, said Sarkeesian’s testimony represents the way other women are often treated cruelly or unfairly.
“It’s important to be aware of how bad online harassment can get and its implications for the reality of misogyny in the world,” Yayra, a CAS senior, said.
Because so many people do experience online harassment, Sarkeesian’s talk had some practical takeaways for students from a feminist point of view, Yayra said.
“We should all work toward a cultural change in which we are respectful of one another, we are talking to each other, we’re not harassing each other and we’re better equipped to deal with these kinds of things if and when it shows up,” Yayra said.
CAS senior Yue Chan said she found Sarkeesian’s presentation both informative and inspiring because she has faced criticism for being a female gamer.
“Seeing someone else identify as a gamer and stand up for feminist ideals was really inspiring,” she said.
Dana Barnes, a CAS sophomore, said she also enjoyed the talk because it addressed the harmfulness of online harassment.
“I’m glad BU had her come and discuss this issue and that so many people came out to hear her speak,” Barnes said. “She presented herself very well and said something important that a lot of people need to pay attention to.”
CAS freshman Victoria Dutcher-Brown said Sarkesian’s presentation commented on the prevalence of sexism in today’s society.
“It’s a topic that needs to be discussed in a very public forum so it’s not just people who the topic strikes their fancy,” she said. “It’s something that everyone needs to hear even if they don’t think it affects them.”