Internet Threats Against Sarkeesian and Green Shut Down Debates

Misogyny against women on the internet has received increased attention in the past few months in response to Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter project “Tropes vs Women in Video Games“. Sarkeesian runs Feminist Frequency and makes videos about feminism and sexism in popular culture. She made a proposal for a video series about sexism in video games and used Kickstarter to raise the $6,000 to fund her project. Sarkeesian met her goal in no time, but she also met widespread threats of death and rape from members of the online gaming community. Sarkeesian writes about the image-based harrassment and visual misogyny that was created against her, from wikipedia vandalism to the creation of an online game whose objective is to beat up her likeness.

A controversy on Tumblr today is another example of threats against a woman on YouTube. Vlogger Laci Green, who runs the Sex+ channel, received threats of violence and death in response to certain opinions she expressed on her YouTube and Tumblr.

The controversy seems to have been started over the questions below, in which Green apologizes for an uninformed mistake she had made in the past.

Another aspect of the controversy was sparked by Green’s evangelical atheism and an opinion she expressed about Islam in a video about why she is no longer a Mormon. Green said that Mormonism is “probably one of the most sexist [religions] that I’ve come across, beside Islam.”

This is the question, and Laci’s answer, in regard to her comment on Islam.

“Q: Sorry if you already answered this, but I came across your other channel and just watched the video where you say Mormonism is “probably one of the most sexist [religions] that I’ve come across, beside Islam.” Since you are white and have never been Muslim, could you issue an apology, or update the video with an apology in the description? I am an atheist too, but there is horrible sexism in many religions, and in secular culture as well. It’s not right to single out Islam. It’s Islamophobic.

A: You’re right, it’s not right to single out Islam. Many religions and cultures are extremely sexist and I despise them all equally. This wasn’t the intent of my statement and I apologize if it came off that way.

The video (which is kinda old and came before I learned how to be fully “PC”) is about my experience, and in my life, Islam has perpetuated more gendered violence and sexism toward the women in my life and family than mormonism ever did. Both these religions have wounded me and my loved ones deeply, much of which was on the basis of sex and gender. Just writing about this makes my heart sink. No amount of screaming “Islamophobia” will change that, and it’s actually a wonderful example of how childish and ignorant religion makes people out to be. People get so wound up in defending anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-human, piece of trash organizations that they can’t hear criticism for what it is: a human experience that is real, that is valid, that is unjust.

Yes I am white and no I am not Muslim nor have I ever been. There are certain experiences I can never speak about, such as actually being Muslim or being a person of color. I can, however, speak about my own, and to argue that I must have dark skin or have been a practicing Muslim in order for me to do so is more of the same oppressive bullshit.

I grew up in a multicultural family. My dad’s side of the family immigrated from Iran 20 years ago. My dad himself immigrated to America when he was 16. My family is Muslim on my dad’s side and Mormon on my mother’s (although my dad eventually converted to mormonism). I grew up in a climate where these two religions dominated my life in a really painful way. 

I don’t owe ANYONE explanations of why I feel the way I do. I don’t need to rehash things that have hurt me and that I’ve moved on from. My feelings and experiences are perfectly valid on their own. If you want to call it “Islamophobia”, I’ll call you ignorant.This isn’t about quantifying pain, this is about my own experience with that pain. Calling that “Islamophobia” undermines what Islamophobia really is and how it operates. I fucking hate organized religion, including Islam, and all the pouting in the world won’t change that.”

Much of this controversy has been playing out on Tumblr and involving the community of social justice bloggers. I agree that Laci’s comments, especially those regarding Islam, were unnecessarily negative and probably emotionally-charged. I think the right thing for Laci to do would be to conduct her research on what her critics have been saying and make an informed apology for her comments. However, everything that Laci’s critics (and Anita Sarkeesian’s critics as well) are calling attention to can no longer be the main concern of these controversies. Nobody is going to listen to or engage in informed debate about the problematic aspects of Sarkeesians’s project or Laci Green’s comments once a threat has been made against their lives. This anger, while it may be well-meaning or deserved, is counter productive to informed discussion about identity, race, religion, gender, and sexuality. These are sensitive topics, but reacting with anger, stalking, and threats completely shuts down the important conversation that needs to be happening about such sensitive topics.

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31 Comments

Filed under feminism, gender, identity, politics, pop culture, privilege, sexism, sexuality, social justice

31 responses to “Internet Threats Against Sarkeesian and Green Shut Down Debates

  1. I agree that Laci’s comments, especially those regarding Islam, were unnecessarily negative and probably emotionally-charged. I think the right thing for Laci to do would be to conduct her research on what her critics have been saying and make an informed apology for her comments.

    Why? Do you dispute that Islam, as it is practiced in much of the world, is sexist? And, barring that, do you dispute the sexism (whether practiced or not) in its major documents?

    If you don’t dispute that, why on earth is it not ok for Laci Green to criticize this?

    • Brenna McCaffrey

      I do believe that Islam, in practice in and in its texts, is sexist. Just as I believe that Judaism and Christianity are sexist in practice and in their texts. I think the claims of “Islamophobia” come from this pervasive idea in our culture that Islam is somehow more sexist, more oppressive, and more violent than any other major religion. Christianity could be perceived as just as sexist, but it is often Islam, with its veiling of women and “honor killings,” that we latch on to in the West.

      It is certainly okay and encouraged for Laci to criticize Islam as a sexist religion, and I think those that are looking for an apology from her probably don’t realize how anti-religion she has always been. However, I believe that the anger over her comment came more from how she framed her opinion and her ability to make it. Islam may be sexist, but it is still many people’s chosen religion. There are many Muslim women who have reclaimed Islam’s sexist traditions and made veiling and other customs that many people regard as “oppressive” into empowering actions. None of that was mentioned in her apology.

      I am an atheist like Laci and in general I am against organized religion. But I know that it is impossible to think that others will ever fully give up their faith and religion. If religion is going to exist, we should respect the right to have it and encourage ways to practice it that are less sexist, violent, and harmful.

      • Kagehi

        There are many Muslim women who have reclaimed Islam’s sexist traditions and made veiling and other customs that many people regard as “oppressive” into empowering actions. None of that was mentioned in her apology.

        This seems totally illogical to me. It would be like being an ex=Christian “empowering” themselves by wearing a cross, or an ex-slave choosing to wear a slave collar. Maybe it is empowering, in some manner, to them, but it perpetuates the condition for everyone else, because all the oppressors see is someone they can point to who “agrees with them”. You get the same situation with any moment to change. Some want to “keep” the shell of the idea, while rejecting the core, but don’t see that its the shell that is promoting the oppression beneath it. Symbols matter, since they are the #1 method to show that someone is in a group, and believe in its causes, and follow its code. So, if you opt to use the same symbols, *everyone* from the people the created them, to keep people in line, to those trying to help them break away from it see the symbol, and presume, “This person is either a victim of, or believer in, the core ideals that symbol stands for.”

        Basically, what I find incomprehensible in such a choice is how you can choose to empower yourself, yet have such cognitive dissonance about what you are doing that you can’t see why its sending the exact opposite message to ***everyone else***, especially the very people who created the symbol on the first place, and will, quite happily, use every opportunity they have to say, “See, even this person agrees with us in truth, why else do they wear our symbols!”

        I just don’t comprehend it. Its too much like seeing someone win a Templeton prize, and not comprehend why that is actually a *bad* thing.

  2. Informative and well written piece! It’s a shame that we, as humans, are so quick to meet what we feel is hostility with more hostility. It blinds and deafens us, effectively ending any hope for mutual understanding.

    I do have a question though. What connotations go with being called “cis,” “cissy”, “cis fem,” “cis positive,” etc. I’ve been seeing this trend of cis + adj grow on the internet and I don’t quite understand what it means.
    Thank you =)

    • Brenna McCaffrey

      The cis- prefix comes from the latin for “on the same side of”. If transgender means that you does not identify with the gender you were assigned at birth, then cisgender means that your gender identity does match the gender you were assigned at birth. That is a very simple way of putting it, of course, but being cis- pretty much means that you feel comfortable in your sex and gender and do not identify as trans* in any way. Being cis- is a form of privilege because cis- is seen as “normal” while being transgender has historically been pathologized, or, perceived as a mental or physical illness. By using cis we acknowledge that identifying with one’s assigned gender or sex is no more normal than not identifying with it.

      I hope that answered your question.

  3. Flippy Doodle

    Nicely written Brenna. I agree with you, that even though Laci’s comments came across as overly negative, it is not okay, under any circumstances, to make death threats to someone.

    I am a Muslim woman, but I did not find Laci’s comments offensive. In the sense that, I can understand how emotionally painful it must be for her. I used to be atheist too, and used to hate organised religion, so I understand all the hurts she must have felt. But like you mentioned, now, as a Muslim woman, and a feminist, I use Islamic texts as empowering. I read the Quran with meaning, and see it as calming and empowering to me as a woman. I focus, instead, on evils of the patriarchal societies around me, which use Islam as an excuse to oppress women.

    I can understand with how Islamaphobia has emerged so strongly, but I only combat it with informed, and progressive comments, rather than trolling. I have lived in the sort of society which makes outsiders despise Islam. I too have many friends who suffer. But living here, and studying the situation, I can tell that it is not Islam that is to blame (taking Islam to mean the religious text itself), but the awful patriarchal society.

    Despite her negative comments on Islam, I’m still a big fan of Lacy and her Sex+ videos.

    People who are giving Laci death threats are such cowards, who have no idea how to behave. I hope this situation gets solved soon, and she is back online.

  4. Sara

    As a Muslim woman, I do take issue with her singling out Islam in her video. It’s her opinion that Islam is sexist but many Muslim women don’t think that way. Everyone’s experiences with Islam has been different. For me, it’s been a very empowering experience (especially coming from a liberal family). For her to criticize Islam in the way that she chose to is deeply offensive to me (and probably many other Muslim women). I don’t want to silence her and I think that everyone has the right to voice their opinion but I definitely feel like she could have worded it a different way or something. It’s kind of de-humanizing. And her comments just come across as though she’s the “superior, civilized white woman” trying to “save” and “educate” the “poor, savagely Muslim women”. I see too much of that in Western society already.

    • Brenna McCaffrey

      Thank you for sharing your experience! The savior complex Western feminism has towards Muslim women is very unnerving to me as well.

    • “And her comments just come across as though she’s the “superior, civilized white woman” trying to “save” and “educate” the “poor, savagely Muslim women”.”

      Where do you see that? Because I don’t see anything in her comment that could be construed that way. It was all a personal criticism, not anything about “converting” or “saving” people from their religion.

      Frankly, your comment reeks of the religious privilege that pervades our society. It seems that most anything is allowed to be criticized, but once you criticize someone’s religion, it’s somehow “dehumanizing” (this never applies to saying that all atheists are amoral as the Pope did, of course). That’s just BS. Lots of intelligent people believe in stupid things, and just because a lot of people believe them doesn’t make them any less stupid. Yet it seems to be only about religion that people get so worked up over trivial comments made by someone they’ve never met, with no real power in society, that they threaten to smash in the face of the person they disagree with.

      • Callie

        It’s the same why people get defensive about any belief though. Whether it’s to do with theism or atheism or politics or morality of any other sort, we are human and get emotionally attached to our beliefs. I see where you’re coming from, definitely, but this is not a solely religious idea. People of all beliefs react in an emotionally charged and sometimes illogical and possibly hurtful way to criticisms of their chosen belief. I do get what you mean about it being a social thing where religion is intrinsically protected, however violence and threatening by an >individual< about conflicting ideas can be from any walk of life because it's the individual choosing to make that action, not really the belief in itself. Sorry if that wasn't very eloquent. I hope you understand where I'm coming from. I do agree with you to a certain extent I just wanted to expand. Religious privilege is worrisome. Since I've become more aware of it I just seem to see it everywhere!

      • midnightrambler956

        Yes, people do get defensive about any kind of belief. But my point was that it seems it’s really only when it comes to religion that people are so strongly motivated as to track down someone and cause them physical harm for something that literally has no effect on their lives. People can get emotional and fling insults back and forth in arguments about taxes, but they don’t post their rhetorical opponents’ home address and threaten to smash their face in. People get offended by political cartoonists, but (outside of Syria) they don’t try to murder them for their drawings. I think it’s related to the notion that religion is part of “identity”, something that I genuinely do not understand as someone who has never been religious.

      • Callie

        Yes, but my point is that it isn’t only something that comes from religion. Any typically sensitive topic like race, gender and sexuality often provoke violent reactions. I’m not saying it’s right (it certainly isn’t!) but religion isn’t the sole culprit.

    • Interesting. Coming from a completely different perspective, I’m okay with that. Let’s just leave the only-coincidentally-Muslim folks free to throw acid in the faces of young women, trap girls unto death in burning buildings, throw adulterous women off the roofs of buildings, engage in their everyday murder-riots against people of other religions, forbid women to drive cars, forbid women in public who are unaccompanied by their male relatives, ad nauseam ad infinitum.

      There will be no ‘cultural imperialism’ here. Just pretend that God favors such conduct, so that the poor, aggrieved dears aren’t offended.

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  6. Amy Nasir

    I don’t think people understand how extreme it was for her Dad to have converted to Mormonism from Islam – even in moderate Muslim circles, leaving Islam is considered as evil as *murder*. Look up the news reports of “honor killings,” where teenage daughters are murdered by male relatives (including their own fathers) for wanting to either leave Islam or assimilate into popular culture. It is not “Islamaphobic” to point out this fundamental difference – those who practice Islam *more frequently* go to extremes in fanaticism and violence than even the most Bible-thumping, anti-abortionist, anti-gay Christians. Sad, but true.

  7. RR

    You know what? Fuck Islam, fuck Judaism and fuck Christianity. And fuck those douchers who made their threats.

  8. Olin

    this is disgusting. the girl speaks her mind in a ration honest way and tries to educate people. and in return she is threatened with rape and murder from people who disagree with her. is this Afghanistan? no its America land of religious bigotry and misogyny.

    • Brenna McCaffrey

      Your mention of Afghanistan in this context is an example of Islamophobia, however.

      • midnightrambler956

        You can’t be serious. This is like saying that using South-Central LA as an exemplar of urban blight and gang violence is racism. Even among Islamic countries, Afghanistan stands out as a cesspool of misogyny and hatred. Just a few days ago the Taliban executed a woman by firing squad for “adultery”, most likely for the crime of having been raped. They still have trouble ensuring that girls are able to go to school, because hardline conservatives threaten those who do or who try to teach them.

        There is a very big difference between Islamophobia – the assumption that *every* Muslim is a fanatic and terrorist, and the belief that they are planning to implement Sharia in America – and criticizing the regressive, medieval ideology that is currently on the upswing in large parts of the Muslim world. Even compared to 40 years ago, the Overton window in the Muslim world seems to be moving backwards. The “Christian world” did not progress until it threw off the strict rules of religion during the Enlightenment (and some still think that was a bad thing!), and the Muslim world will not progress until it does the same.

      • jacksprat57

        Yeah, because everybody knows that you could as easily be killed for leaving your house unaccompanied by a male relative in El Segundo or Alabama as in Kabul or Kunduz. We’re all the same, don’t you know.

  9. Andrew

    hahahaha oh my god how you get the notion these threats have anything to do with your sexuality just proves how deluded you are. You aren’t getting death threats from the ‘male’ community they are from the religious and ‘trans’ community. When are people going to stop attributing all the worlds problems to the male gender?

    • Brenna McCaffrey

      I don’t think anyone has been saying that…

    • midnightrambler956

      “When are people going to stop attributing all the worlds problems to the male gender?”

      When the problems become equally balanced, instead of 90% caused by males?

  10. Leslie

    I don’t give a fuck what she said, death threats & posting someones home on the internet is WRONG. Fuck all religions, Islam included.

  11. Kay

    I must heartily agree with midnightrambler’s comments. Your reporting on Laci Green was well written and informing, but your subsequent commentary is showing how poorly you grasp the matter. Even calling for an apology I think is ridiculous – the context of her brief statement on Islam is clear and I would think many peer-reviewed sources would support her.

  12. Thanks for this! I was really bothered by the whole Laci Green situation, as she is someone I generally admire. I thought her apology regarding the transphobic slurs was genuine and well-worded. I also watched one of her videos in which she discussed struggling with anxiety, so something like this is bound to hurt her even more than it would a non-anxious person.

    Also, @Andrew, the reason it’s misogynistic isn’t because it’s men making the threats. It’s because threats like that would never be made against a (cis, straight) man.

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  15. Lizz

    I don’t think she should have to apologize whatsoever for her Islam comments. I hate how we’ve reached a point in political correctness where we can’t even be critical anymore! I live in Canada and we have huge problems with immigrant Muslim men: we had three honour killings last year just outside of town, we have teachers (my mother for one) getting harassed whose authority is being constantly questioned and disrespected by these guys, we have Islam students harassing Jewish students and girls getting raped (practically every girl I knew downtown had some negative experience with muslims) and through it all we still aren’t allowed to just come out and say NO! That is not what we believe in here and if you want to practise your religion that’s fine but if you’re going to live in Canada then the sexist and violent aspects of that religion WILL NOT be tolerated.

    I want to live in a country where girls can come from Iran or Saudi Arabia and know for sure that they’re safe and won’t be drowned in a car by their fathers; (as happened just recently here.)

    I don’t think I’m being Islamophobic in saying these things; these things are HAPPENING and to pretend they’re not is just letting down our girls everywhere; no matter what religion those girls are.

    I think in North America we’re at a point in history where we’re getting ready to shake off ALL oppressive religions; and so yes, Islam can be a little bit jarring for us.

    Why can’t we just say that?

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