Tuesday, June 24, 2008

More on Feminist Blogging and Response to GTA IV Comments

Another excerpt from my paper about blogging. This is my formal response to all of the awful comments I received from my Grand Theft Auto IV post. I guess, if nothing else, I can thank those commenters for making sure that I have a career in feminist scholarship....


Early in its history cyberfeminists and other social justice activists had high hopes that the Internet would be a great equalizer. Because physical appearances would not be immediately detectable, people could share ideas without concern for race, class, gender or sexual prejudices. In discussing the amazing possibilities offered by blogging as a pedagogical tool and feminist community building it would be irresponsible not to discuss the limitations of blogging and Internet spaces in general. The egalitarian or utopian vision of the Internet has proven itself false. Apparently, people are no more comfortable with ambiguity online than they are in the real world. All of the social ills of the ‘real’ world have come to life online as well.

As of June 11, 2008, this blog has been viewed 13,851 times. With this fairly large amount of traffic comes the possibility for amazing dialogue but also for threats of violence and verbal abuse. On April 30, 2008 I read a post about the video game Grand Theft Auto IV at Feministing. I was inspired to write a post on the topic myself. As it turns out, a blogger at www.gamefaqs.com re-posted my post on that site and gamers from all over the world read my post. This cross-posting lead to a hateful anti-feminist backlash that I could not have predicted. To date, that one post has received fifty comments on my blog alone. Over at Game FAQs it received hundreds. Below are a few of the anonymous comments from the post “I Am Angry About Grand Theft Auto IV.”

“Actually I think you'll find if u beat up (or even push women) about in the game men come and help them. Sorry you might have to rethink your jam rag lesbo rantings.”

“Wow, feminists are stupid. Get over yourselves, you pretentious assholes.”

“Go make us some sandwiches.”

“What are you doing out of the kitchen?”

“You really need to get over yourself. People like you suck the joy out of everything because you think you know what is better for people than themselves…. Have fun being the old, lonely, senile cat lady, because most men will not put up with your non-stop bullshit. Feminism is a failed experiment. You wish for equality when it benefits you, but stand up in arms when you don't have doors held open for you. You cannot have it both ways.”

“Shut the fuck up. Bottom line dont bitch about GTA 4 unless you have played it for a minimum of 10 hours and if you are unwilling to do that then go burn your bra and fuck off.”

“Are you really so fucking dense? Of cousre she's not under obligation of discussing it, she only likes to discuss about things that she wants to. Like a little child that only wants to play catch up because it's the only game s/he's good at.”

“Q-What do you tell a woman with two black eyes? A- Nothing. You've already told her twice.”

“get back in the kitchen!”

“you’re a dumb cunt.”

"dumb bitch, fuck feminism and fuck you. I will go home and hit my girlfriend because of you and maker her wash my dishes and clean my clothes, because that is what women do."

Contrary the utopian vision of the Internet, online anonymity seems to allow people to display their hatred and misogyny without fear of social reprisal. Jessica Valenti, co-founder of Feministing has also experienced violence and misogyny online. In her article, “How the Web Became a Sexists’ Paradise,” she writes,

“When women are harassed on the street, it is considered inappropriate. Online, though, sexual harassment is not only tolerated- it’s often lauded. Blog threads or forums where women are attacked attract hundreds of comments, and their traffic rates rocket. Is this what people are really like? … There’s the disturbing possibility that people are creating online environments purely to express the type of racist, homophobic, or sexist speech that is no longer acceptable in public society, at work, or even at home.”

The Game Faqs page on which my blog post was re-posted attracted more comments than any of the other posts on that page. In support of Valenti’s argument, all of the vitriolic woman-hatred on my comments page was posted anonymously.

Just as in the ‘real world’ women who dare to take up space and speak their minds online experience backlash. The Internet, just like the world in which it exists is a patriarchal space. This makes cyberfeminist activism all the more important. The hateful comments on my blog were not responses to what I actually wrote as much as they were personal threats meant to scare me out of posting about video games which largely remain a bastion of unfettered male bonding over violence and misogyny. Whether female bloggers receive more threats than male bloggers is debatable but the sexualized nature of threats against women bloggers is not. I wonder how many male bloggers have been told to ‘get back in the kitchen’ or have been called ‘a dumb cunt,’ a sexualized insult for which there is no male equivalent. Kathy Sierra sums these threats up quite well in Valenti’s article,
“Well-known software programmer and Java expert, Kathy Sierra… thinks that online threats, even if they are coming from a small group of people, have tremendous potential to scare women from fully participating online. ‘How many rape/fantasy threats does it take to make a woman want to lay low? Not many,’ she says.”

While some of the comments I received were valid attempts at dialogue around misogyny and violence in video gaming culture, most were sexist epitaphs with little or no actual mention of the ideas I brought up. I am pretty sure some of the posters were under the impression that I posted a link to my blog on Game FAQs which is simply not true. I had no interest in engaging that community precisely because of the vitriol that I have come to expect from them. If I thought that a reasonable discussion could be had I would be more than happy to engage them but it seems to only prove my point that many gamers are violent and misogynistic and that is why they enjoy violent misogynistic entertainment.

These threats only serve as proof that feminist blogs are necessary forms of cyber activism.


Tysen said...

Interesting thoughts and perspectives. I'm a SOC major and taking my first women's study class (I'm not afraid to say it's also probably the last). I've been trying to figure out something contemporary to do some research about and women and the Internet never even came to my mind. I appreciate your thoughts and never thought that even the Internet could also become a 'man's world.'

Anonymous said...

It actually makes me giggle a little when I think about all the men who get so enraged about someone insulting their video games. There are so many more important things in life that I bet they don't show any rage over. But mention the VIDEO GAMES and watch out!! Haha. I would like to encourage them to continue to be such lame-ass tools though, because it makes it easier to weed them out in real life.

professor what if said...

"These threats only serve as proof that feminist blogs are necessary forms of cyber activism."

Indeed -- thanks for the post. Keep up the great cyber activism!

professor what if said...

Great post! Love the last two lines especially. Keep up the great cyber activism.

Anonymous said...

You know, I have at times considered myself a feminist, but was never really comfortable labeling myself as such because I thought it implied a certain level of academic commitment to the subject. I'd only taken a handful of courses a few years ago.

Lately I've been poking around feminist blogs on the internet. I got started when someone linked me this video from the feministing website:


The video and the website were subsequently trolled and spammed by other various internet communities. I watched the video, and honestly it made me angry. I had to think about it over the next few days, because I was having a hard time articulating why I, who consider myself a feminist, would feel so negatively about that video and alot of the other feminist blogs online.

Basically, here's what I came up with. Compare sexism to racism for a moment, and how the problem of racism in the US has gotten markedly better over the last 50 years. The way this video, and so much of the feminist blogging engages with the problem is to talk about "sexists" and "misogynists" in a combative way.

"Fuck you online misogynists" right?

What this fails to take into account is that sexism, like racism, is a learned behavior. Civil rights leaders didn't set out to eliminate all racists, they set out to end racism. I'm not sure I can say the same about many of these feminist blogs.

Specifically on the subject of GTA4, there was a person who wrote a long reply to you which contained some really thoughtful and valid counterpoints. You dismissed it with a two sentence reply, and now you're making a giant diatribe about all the 16 year old kids who spammed your website.

Here's part of his original response that I'd like to hear you reply to. I toned down his combativeness a bit.

"First of all, not all games feature 'androcentrism, exclusivity and extraordinary violence.' Pick up a game of Sonic The Hedgehog, or better yet the genius Portal (which features a strong, intelligent female protagonist) to see the error in that statement.

As far as the "otherness" of Belic, it's only an issue in that both his past and the fact that he is not familar with America are major story points. The past three GTA games have featured American protagonists who were all just as violent as Niko, and Tommy Vercetti, the main character of GTA: Vice City was more violent, misanthropic and just plain morally repugnant than Niko ever could be. Niko's actually a fairly complex character.

Your argument that the game uses foreign "otherness" as an excuse for violent acts is without base and unequivocally wrong. Like it or not, there's nothing Niko does in this game that is worse than anything the American characters in previous games have done in the past.

It's amazingly obvious that your knowledge of this game, and gaming in general is based almost entirely on what others have told/shown you. Because throughout your poorly written diatribe holier-than-though manifesto you fail to mention the biggest point about the GTA series, which is that they are all broad satires, poking fun at everything from our country's fascination with gangland culture, reality TV and even the music industry. If you took the time out to play the game you might find out that there is some pretty bold pro-feminist commentary in it. For example, there's a radio commercial in GTAIV for a reality show called "America's Next Top Hooker" which brilliantly lambastes our culture's obsession with reality television in a way that also exposes the outright sexism that seems to run rampant in it.

All that being said, there is plenty to dislike about GTAIV. I am uncomfortable with some of the racial stereotypes in the game, and the fact that all the game's homosexual characters seem to be out of a 1970s sitcom also bothers me. However, I am also aware that it is a game. And I don't worry that anyone playing the game will walk away from it more racist or homophobic than they already were. They might actually laugh, see the ridiculousness of the game's stereotypes and walk away from it less prejudiced than they were before. I do hope that in future installments the game continues their critique of cultural stereotypes by turning it on its head (i.e. having a macho gay gangbanger or a female gang leader who takes advantage of her men).

Finally, know that unless you actually sit down and play the game, most gaming fans will refuse to take you seriously.

And rightfully so."

As a footnote, I'd like to re-emphasize that for all the faults the game does have, it is SATIRE. Here's a link to the commercial he was talking about.


Maybe I'm completely out of touch with reality, but this comes off as satire in the vein of Harry Enfield to me. More pro-feminism than pro-sexism.

Harry Enfield:


The Lost Turntable said...

I hope you all realize that most of those stupid comments were probably made solely because they wanted to offend and attack. I highly doubt most of those people mentioning violence against women and such actually believed what they said, they were probably just doing it to get a reaction. Yeah, it's sick and stupid, but don't misread all of these posters as people who will go home and rape/beat women or think it's okay to do so.

Also, I'd like to point on the irony in someone mentioning how men overreact to someone insulting their video games when the original reaction to the violence in GTA was a hilarious overreaction in of itself. You know that hideous and disgusting acts of violence and sexism against women go on everyday right? Work on your priorities a bit.

I'm not saying you don't have a point, I admitted to much when I first posted here, but I think an argument like this really solves nothing and distracts from the real problem. I'll say if before and I'll say it again, if you really have a problem with how women are portrayed in video games make a game yourself! It's the best form of protest.

Cortney said...

That is a great suggestion. I am not so techno-savvy but I strongly encourage women who are to try to break into the field of game design.

Further, though we certainly disagree on some points (I feel that writing and theorizing are forms of activism against violence and violence against women) I respect your opinion, Lost Turntable, and I appreciate you taking the time to actually read what I wrote and respond without any overt sexist language.

Violence in society and the art that reflects it are both problems. Of course violence in the 'real' world is a major feminist issue but I really enjoy critiquing and/or responding to popular culture. Theory is activism and activism informs theory. I would discourage separating them into hierarchal categories.

Chilanga said...

Wow, those comment's were really immature and stupid. Keep up the good work, they feel so threatened. I love your blog by the way.

Steve said...

good post!

hey, just out of curiosity, which university are you at? i am a gender & women's studies student at UIC.

Cortney said...

Hi Steve,

I always love to hear about others doing work in Women's Studies. If you want to e-mail me to chat privately about any feministy things feel free. (cortneya at gmail dot com)

However, given the verbal assaults I have gotten from readers after writing about GTA IV, I don't feel comfortable sharing much personal information about myself.


Anonymous said...

*sigh*... You obviously have no idea of the true intent of those comments. Either that or you have not been involved in "online techie" culture enough to understand why people would post comments like that about you. Online, people will troll you because it is fun to be a troll.

Since you're a woman, and make it a point to tell everyone that you're a feminist, they attack your feminism. If you were a T-Rex, they'd tease you about having stubby arms and huge teeth, let you know that you should be extinct and wonder what you would taste like as a burger. If you were made of sandstone, they'd tease you about not being made of granite, how diamond is worth more, and how water erodes you quickly.

Do you get it yet? You being a feminist is not the point. The act of trolling is the point. You were just the fun thing to attack that day, and feminism was just the vector through which that attack occurred.

I don't think you'd care to hang around those online communities, but if you did, I think you'd find that they attack many things, in many ways, with many words. Because the trolling is the act that is fun. The fact that you actually post things bout your real life makes it even more fun to troll you, because they think they are getting you all up in arms and upset. Which would be the point of teasing or verbally attacking someone in the first place. In any case, I'm not sure if my comments will make it up on your blog, but if not, I hope I helped you understand the true underpinnings of why you were trolled.

Also, there are women in those online techie communities who have the respect of the community, and none of the trolls would try to pull that stunt with them. Perhaps you should find some of those women, and interview them about how they survive in those communities, and why do they stay when there are so many other places online that they could be?

Anonymous said...

It's the person who just posted a huge long comment again.

I read the original comments on your original post, and the trolling actually isn't that bad, I've seen far far worse. And about your comment where you stated that you're not comfortable sharing too much information online? Well, that should be common sense for anyone, man or woman. I'm getting a feeling that you're a relative newcomer to blogging, and being online in general. That's not a bad thing though, the issues you're going through with these anonymous comments, being trolled, these are all things that anyone who is a "public" figure online has to face, whether or not you have a large readership. It's kind of like being online is a new culture, and in this new culture, you have to take some time to explore. Just like dealing with people in Korea is different than dealing with people in the US, dealing with people online is different than dealing with people in real life. Imagine some immigrant groups in America, and how some of them decided to shut out the outside world and turn inwards. Don't do that.

And please, do not post personally identifiable information online until you are comfortable with handling adversity online.

Sabertooth Screaming Lemur said...

To the Trollsplainer: Why is her reaction to the trolls the problem?

Trolling is being explained in the same terms misogyny often is: They do it, that's just how it is, here's how you can try to avoid it/not take it so personally.

Why is this kind of behavior considered 'fun' or acceptable, or anything but vaguely sadistic and sociopathic?