Our Stand against Misogyny and Violent Threats against Women

Oct 23, 2014 by Matthew J. Brown

As Director of the Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology and an affiliated faculty member of the Arts & Technology program at the University of Texas at Dallas, I feel I must speak out about recent events in the technology industry and its surrounding culture, especially in the area of video game design and criticism. Recently there has been a deplorable trend of explicit misogyny and violent threats against women in technology industries, including threats and harassments against gaming critics and game designers by some members of the so-called #GamerGate movement.

One of the targets of threats and harassment is Anita Sarkeesian, a pop culture and gaming critic, who is speaking in this year’s Center for Values lecture series, “Sexing Science, Gendering Technology: Rethinking Sex and Gender in Science, Technology and Medicine.” Sarkeesian has been driven from her home, subject to bomb threats, and had to cancel her talk at Utah State University after an anonymous threat to carry out a massacre in the auditorium where she was scheduled to speak. The harassment and threats are apparently part of a far-fetched conspiracy theory that Sarkeesian is a “fraud” who is out to censor game developers or destroy the gaming community. We at the Center and our co-sponsors for the lecture have even received phone calls trying to convince us of this conspiracy.

The Center for Values strongly condemns any acts of misogyny and harassment in gaming or technology industries, including personal attacks, threats of rape and murder, online harassment, and spreading of personal information (“doxxing”). We offer our support to our students, alumni, colleagues, and community members who are affected by these recent events, and we encourage open, safe debate and critique of all popular culture, including video games.

Anita Sarkeesian presents controversial but thoughtful, evidence-based critiques of video games. Developers like Zoe Quinn create games that challenge our ideas about what games are supposed to do. As part of a scholarly community, I absolutely encourage disagreement, spirited debate, and critique of their ideas or productions. I believe that video games should strive to be taken seriously as art and as popular culture, and that some or perhaps many already deserve that seriousness. But that seriousness involves embracing and engaging thoughtful critique, including feminist and political critique.

These attacks are clearly meant to silence these women and stifle their ideas. Universities and the academic community hold academic and intellectual freedom sacrosanct. The university is a place where ideas — some of them controversial — are aired, within a space that affords its participants equal access to the mechanisms of response and debate. These are the conditions for the effective functioning of an institution and a society that respects diverse opinions, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression. When force and threats are used to silence, these core values are threatened, and we must take a stand.

Some will say that making this statement brings attention or even legitimacy to a noisy but inconsequential few. The fact that this story appeared on the front page of the New York Times tells me it isn’t inconsequential and it is as big as big gets. That female critics and developers are being driven from their homes tells me that it isn’t inconsequential. The feelings and reactions of my students to these issues, many of them gamers or students hoping to go into the gaming industry, tells me that it isn’t inconsequential and that it must be addressed. The continuing problem of underrepresentation of women, and even blatant sexism and misogyny, throughout information technology industries tells me that this is a problem worth addressing. 

The mission of the Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology is “to understand, evaluate, and improve the ethical and cultural influences on and implications of science and technology.” Speaking to these issues of gendered and sexualized violence and harassment in the technology industry are central to our mission. Furthermore, the fact that these threats, perceived or real, implicitly or explicitly target some of our students, alumni, colleagues, and supporters require us to take a strong stand. We cannot and will not tolerate this behavior. 

 

— Matthew J. Brown, Director, Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology and affiliate faculty of Arts & Technology