Anita Sarkeesian: A Voice That Shouldn't Be Silent

October 27th 2014

Lindsay Haskell

Feminist blogger and video game critic Anita Sarkeesian was forced to cancel her speech at Utah State University after the college received an email that threatened "the deadliest school shooting in American history" and officials refused to risk treading on the state's open carry laws to ensure Sarkeesian's safety. Sadly, this threat is further proof of the necessity of voices like Sarkeesian's to speak out against misogyny and its links to the violent undertones of video games. Watch one of Sarkeesian's videos here: 

This isn't the first time that Sarkeesian has been harassed online and it surely won't be the last. The unique nature of this latest threat is the linking of gun violence, a major figure in video games, and online misogyny. What Sarkeesian chooses to do is bravely tackle the problem of misogyny in one of the increasingly misogynistic arenas of our time: the internet and, more specifically, social media. While "cyberbullying" is nothing new, the many graphic and sexually-explicit threats that are aimed toward women online is a troubling new trend. The internet is touted as an open space where one and all can come and share their opinions and thoughts, under the presumed protection of anonymity. But what many fail to forget is that there is another human being on the other side of that computer screen - a living, breathing person who can read and react to another's insults and threats. But what can an individual do about these threats?

Officials' refusal to enact pat-down procedures or a metal detector for Sarkeesian's speech is indicative of a great problem: the unwillingness to acknowledge the levity of cyber threats over other rights, such as free speech or the right to bear arms. Now, I'm not saying that these rights aren't important, but what is equally important is Sarkeesian's right to speak to a group of students without fearing for her life or receiving threats of rape or assault. 

The internet exists in an ambiguous, undefined space in the legal world, where one's hastily typed out message can be misinterpreted or misconstrued. However, direct threats are direct threats, whether they be online or in person, and should be treated as such. People must learn that disagreeing with someone's opinion does not give them the right to harass, bully or threaten them. There is a definitive, stark line between critique and criticism, and harassment.

We need to continue to push for cyberbullying and cyber-harassment laws that can prevent this dangerous new trend from continuing unchecked. The longer that officials and the government continue to look the other way or treat the problem as if it were not priority, the more so these cyberbullies will believe that as well.