Anita Sarkeesian: What I Couldn't Say

Last week, Anita Sarkeesian spoke at the All About Women conference in Sydney about how almost three years of harassment has affected her life and what she's been unable to say to those who target her. In it, she talks about how death threats become routine, how she's forced to suppress any emotional reaction at risk of being seen as "hysterical" and further discredited, how she can no longer use humor in her work, how she has to watch herself wherever she goes.

As far as I know, this is the first time Anita Sarkeesian has talked so openly about the impact that her harassment has had on her. It's a powerful and important speech, and at only four minutes long, I think everyone should take the time to hear it.

I also think it's important to remember why Anita Sarkeesian has been continually harassed and threatened, both on and offline, for almost three years.

She made a Kickstarter to fund a new incarnation of her Tropes vs Women series, Tropes vs Women in Video Games.

That's it. That's what led to not only to an avalanche of rape and death threats every week (as if that wasn't enough), but also to bomb and mass shooting threats against her speaking engagements, a flash game where you get to beat her up, and threats against her family that drove them out of their home. She thought she had something worth saying, and she thought others might be willing to fund her to say it. And as she wanted to talk about sexism, and specifically sexism in video games, that was deemed worthy of literally years of constant harassment.

I've included a transcript of her speech below the cut.

"What I couldn't say is, 'Fuck you.' To the thousands of men who turned their misogyny into a game. A game in which gendered slurs and death and rape threats are weapons used to try and take down the big, bad villain, which in this case is me. My life is not a game. I've been harassed and threatened for going on three years with no end in sight. And all because I dared to question the self-evident, obvious sexism running rampant in the games industry. Nothing about my experience is a game.

What I couldn't say is, 'I'm angry.' When people who know what I go through on a daily basis meet me in person, they often act with some surprise, saying things like, 'I don't understand how you're not more angry.' Because I'm just being me, I'm usually kind of charming and nice to people. But I respond saying I am angry. In fact, I'm furious. I'm angry that we live in a society where online harassment is tolerated, accepted and excused. Where web services and law enforcement are not taking responsibility for the abuse that women suffer every day online. I'm angry that I'm expected to accept online harassment as the price of being a woman with an opinion.

What I couldn't say is anything funny. Most of my friends would describe me as a little bit snarky and pretty sarcastic, and you can occasionally glimpse this part of my personality in earlier criticism videos. But I almost never make jokes any more on Youtube. Even though humor can be humanizing, and I like using it, I don't do it because viewers often interpret humor and sarcasm as ignorance. Especially if those viewers are male, and the ones who happen to be making the jokes are female. You would not believe how often jokes are taken as proof that I don't know what I'm talking about or that I'm not a real gamer, even when those jokes rely on a deep knowledge of the source material. So as a result, I intentionally leave that more humorous side of my personality out of my current video presentations.

I rarely feel comfortable speaking spontaneously in public spaces, I'm intentional and careful about the media interviews I do, I decline most invitations to be on podcasts or webshows, I carefully consider the wording of every tweet to make sure it is clear and can't be misconstrued. Over the last several years, I've become hypervigilant. My life, my words and my actions are placed under a magnifying glass. Every day I see my words scrutinized, twisted and distorted by thousands of men hell-bent on destroying and silencing me.

What I couldn't say is, 'I'm a human being.' I don't get to publicly express sadness or rage or exhaustion or anxiety or depression. I can't say that sometimes the harassment really gets to me, or that conversely the harassment has become so normal that sometimes I don't feel anything at all. The death threats come through on my social media, and it's just become a routine. Screencap, forward to the FBI, block and move on. I don't get to express feelings of fear or how tiring it is to be constantly vigilant of my physical and digital surroundings. How I don't go to certain events because I don't feel safe. Or how I sit in the more secluded areas of coffee shops and restaurants so the least amount of people can recognize me. I don't show how embarrassment I am when I have to ask the person who recognized me in my local grocery store to please not mention the location where they met me.

Somehow we've fooled ourselves into thinking that by expressing human emotions, it somehow means that the harassers have won. This false belief is largely because, in our society, women are not allowed to express feelings without being characterized as hysterical, erratic, bitchy, highly emotional or overly sensitive. Our expressions of insecurity, doubt, anger or sadness are all policed and often used against us. But by denying ourselves this space to feel and to share those feelings, we're just perpetuating this notion that we should always all suffer alone. That we should all just toughen up and grow thicker skin, which we shouldn't have to do.

What I couldn't say is, 'I don't even want to be saying any of this.' Largely because I still feel fear that expressing human emotions publicly will make me seem insecure. The truth is that women who persevere and maintain some measure of their humanity are not expressing weakness. They're demonstrating courage. In all the different, messy, honest ways that we respond to harassment, we actually demonstrate how much humanity we all still have in the face of such cruelty and injustice."