The Attempt to Devalue Anita Sarkeesian

Feminist Frequency's banner.

Feminist Frequency’s banner.

Among the evolving ways to criticize Anita Sarkeesian and her Kickstarter for Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, one I have seen crop up quite a lot recently is how she has received so much money (gasp, horror, shock!). Despite the fact that every donor knew the amount that was already donated to the campaign and made their own decision to become a supporter of her project, some seem to believe she has been duplicitous in some way or another: she did not clearly post all of her intended goals, and somehow played the ‘victim card’ in order to play on peoples’ guilt.

The criticism here involves a few points of entry, from what I can see. First, she should do this for free, so why did she even need the campaign and money? Second, it is her fault for raising so much money. The last point is implicit: her work has no value.

The first point has been explained in varying ways. Videogames are an expensive medium to study: from systems to games to time spent playing those games to video production value. These all add up. Therefore, this money is a supplement. Anita Sarkeesian’s time and work is worth money. The value people saw in that time and work has been determined by the Kickstarter crowd (as well as through people who donate through her site).

Historically, women’s work has been devalued in many ways. Whether that is not paying them, paying them for less work, or delegating work that is considered too demeaning for men to them. In matters of criticism, we can see it whenever a woman speaks up in a public forum and is argued with for her sex, rather than addressing her work and argument. See any number of female journalists who have written about sexism in the games industry of late, versus their male counterparts.

In this case, the public — the donors — decided Sarkeesian’s efforts will be worth the money they are providing her. The excess amount allows her more freedoms in completing the project: more videos than initially planned, higher production values, and more time spent in the project itself. She entered a social contract, whereby the donors chose her salary and budget. While some could criticize the initial scope of the project, that does not seem particularly relevant, as enough backers did find those compelling enough to want to see her work on them.

Which leads into the second point: Sarkeesian kept people informed of what the additional funds for the project would provide as quickly as she could, given how the project jumped quite rapidly at times. Beyond such, if the ‘fault’ (if one wants to see anyone at fault here, which is an issue in and of itself) is to be placed on anyone, I would probably lay it at the feet of those who harassed her. Not because this guilted people into donating to her, or because this meant people felt they needed to compensate her for the harassment she received (which I find dubious claims), but because it highlighted the very real issues at play.

Sarkeesian is a pop culture critic. For this particular project, she is critiquing women’s portrayal in videogames. The mere thought of such caused such a furor in a portion of the public. As a reaction, another portion of the public decided this had worth. The very fact that Sarkeesian received such vitriol, and in a gendered manner, is very indicative of the level of problem we have on our hands. Not just in videogames, sure, but they are a part of our pop culture landscape and are not completely absolved.

Who is not at fault? Those participating in this Kickstarter or Sarkeesian herself. They agreed on a loose social contract: Sarkeesian would receive money. For this money she will produce videos using her particular lenses of criticism. These people do not necessarily know what her exact arguments will be, but given her body of work, and given the backlash she received, there was some knowledge of what this would entail. The attacks on her highlighted the problems she would be discussing through context clues of how the arguments against her were quite often framed.

Now, the cost of those videos? I, for one, am not insulted if not all the money goes directly into the videos. After all, there are many indirect costs, and among those is time itself (as argued in the first point).

Which is where we get to the last point. As an arguing tool, just arguing that one will not like her work does not give much of a standing point: if you don’t like her work, you did not have to contribute, and faulting those that did only proves you do not share what they value. Therefore, this entire argument seems to get at the point that Sarkeesian should put all the time and money into the project herself, without financial assistance. She is working not only to provide a service (much as critics and journalists often do), but is offering a particular viewpoint and frame of reference for other people who may or may not share her particular goals (examination of women in media), but wish to see her produce her arguments.

Criticism is a constantly evolving argument in itself. I cannot speak to the exact tactics Sarkeesian will use (though given her past work, I would imagine they will be friendly to people unaccustomed to discussing feminism and its vocabulary), but another way she is providing a service is to both give people a new tool for critical discussion and helping to create a framework for future criticism. And yes, she will likely be teaching feminism 101 concepts and more.

The long and short of it is that not everyone will find value in Sarkeesian’s work. However, some people did, and those people were the ones that decided the value of this particular project. Sarkeesian is well aware, I am sure, of what that trust entails, and will work to retain that trust. A lack of trust on some peoples’ part does not necessarily mean others’ is misplaced or misguided.

I, for one, look forward to this project. While I do not know if I will agree with Sarkeesian 100%, I do know it will provide another viewpoint for diverse discourse, more critical engagement, and a gathering post for more discussion in the future. That has value.

About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
This entry was posted in Criticism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Attempt to Devalue Anita Sarkeesian

  1. whatliberalsactuallybelieve says:

    The economic arguments are even bizarer if one has any experience in the film industry. From my view as someone who’s actually worked in that industry, I’d say she’s going to have to run a tight ship to achieve all this on $150K. That sort of price… Hmm. Min $30K for a broadcast quality camera outfit (I suppose she could do a DSLR setup, but I wouldnt recomend it) , $20 for lighting, studio cycs, stands, monitors,leads, etc,etc,etc, $15K for DIY post production on the cheap. Another $70K for wages for a very small team underpaid and not for that long, Throw in $30K rent, $30K sundry and whatever local taxes apply, another $60k for kickstarter gift fulfilment , uh kickstarter takes, what 05% so…. $15K .

    Yeah, I wouldnt be able to make this fit inside that sort of price squeeze.

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