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Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and Internet Misogyny as Terrorism

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Think Pieces | August 28, 2014 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Think Pieces | August 28, 2014 |

Zoe Quinn is a video game developer. She’s also a woman. Other than that, the internet is firmly and viciously divided into different camps on every other fact about her and the events that made her something people are talking about. Some insist that she’s an innocent bystander to a hate campaign waged by a vindictive ex-boyfriend who posted chat logs (which have since disappeared from the internet other than from purported screenshots) of private conversations. Others insist that those exact chat logs and other information indicate that she slept with several video game reviewers in return for positive reviews of her games.

Counter arguments assert that reviews weren’t written, only articles, and those before any sexual relationships. Still others argue that she used sex and other pressure in order to specifically target other female game developers, getting games cancelled, badly reviewed, people fired. I mean Taylor Swift told us that hell has a special place for women who don’t support other women, so I guess that’s supposed to be an ironic mic drop of an argument, and not just someone who thinks Mean Girls was a documentary on the female mind.

I’m not going to bother addressing any of these arguments, one way or the other. You can go dig through the whole sordid affair and sort out guilt or innocence in your own mind, or go blow up another message board with the thousands already dedicated to burning down the internet on this specific topic.

Guess what they say? She’s a whore and a slut, deserves to be raped in uncreative ways that are nonetheless spelled out with highly creative grammar in court-admissible detail. There’s practically a nonconsensual kama sutra being written by a generation of online poets who don’t know the purpose of capital letters or punctuation.

Thanks gaming community, you’re making me proud.

And yeah, it’s not the gaming community as a whole, it’s a vocal minority of douchebags, just like it is in every other segment of society embarrassed by the subset of their members that are completely uncivilized, and yet just won’t seem to shut the hell up.

The Feminist Frequency, a wonderful and deeply intelligent ongoing series of videos (I refuse to say vlog, I have standards) has a number of videos discussing the representation of women in video games, incisively dissecting the various tropes and cliches that remain popular in games despite being about as modern and progressive as footbinding. Anita Sarkeesian posted about the Zoe Quinn situation on Monday.

Do you think that the most vocal response was nuanced and measured?

You must be new to the human race. No, she received death threats and the usual cavalcade of promises of sexual violence.

Look, Zoe Quinn might be the risen zombie whore of Babylon for all I know. And Anita Sarkeesian might be completely wrong about every single thing she is saying. None of that matters. What matters is that a vocal minority of the internet has determined to be misogynistic assholes against anyone they notice committing the unforgivable crime of expressing an opinion while in possession of a vagina (which is probably actually still on the books in some rural locales).

Here’s a fun exercise. Ask yourself: are you in favor of there being laws that treat terrorists differently than murderers? Record what you said, yes or no. Now ask yourself this: are you in favor of hate crime legislation? Again, yes or no.

Most people answer those questions differently and very few people will say either yes or no to both, and it maps almost perfectly onto the American left-right political divide. But here’s the catch: they’re exactly the same question.

Terrorism is not about killing people. It’s about causing fear. It’s about causing a reaction. And the reason why we punish it more, why we treat it differently, is that it is a crime of more than just violence against the victims. It’s a crime of fear against an entire population. A terrorist does not blow up a bus of six year olds because he gives a crap about killing those six year olds. He does it to send paralyzing fear through the entire community, so that every person thinks about the children they care about. It’s a crime against an entire community. And it’s worse than just murder because it makes a victim out of everyone, changing the course of the way they live their lives. That’s why terrorists do it, and that’s why it’s a more terrible crime than just your average serial killer, however atrocious it feels to use the word ‘just’ in this context. Intent matters, because it changes the effect on the community.

Hate crime legislation, which the right wing likes to argue is punishing people differently for the same crime depending on who the victim was, even while their next segment will argue that we’re not being tough enough in punishing terrorists, is exactly the same thing. Go look up the number of lynchings that occurred in the century after the Civil War in America. The number is astonishingly low, far lower than you might expect given the dark cloud those crimes still leave over this country. But it was sufficient to ensure that African-Americans in the south lived in a state of terror for a century, well-warned of what fate awaited those who stepped out of line. That is what terrorism is and what it does. It uses horrible actions to force a larger group of people to live in fear.

We don’t punish hate crimes more severely because of some misguided affirmative action of victimhood. We do it because in a democratic society, one in which we believe in everyone being equal, there is something far worse than murder: forcing a community to live in fear of exercising their rights to free speech and assembly and all the other constitutional sacraments.

That makes hate crimes terrorism. Different words for exactly the same phenomenon.

And the same logic applies to what we’re seeing online this last week. And it’s the same thing that we saw in the wake of the Santa Barbara shootings, when people argued that men were killed too, and that murder is murder regardless of the victim. You know what that fedora wearing sociopath was? He was a terrorist. Whatever his actual body count, or who the bullets actually cut down, his intent and accomplishment was to generate terror, to ensure that women were afraid that if they stepped out of line of his view of their place in society, they could end up with a bullet in their head.

That’s the dictionary definition of terrorism.

Publicly wishing rape and torture on women who disagree with you? It’s the same damned thing. And if we start to treat it with the same furious disgust that we do with the traditionally terroristic, then it’s something that we can end. Think it’s absurd to suggest that catcalling is a form of terrorism? You likely wouldn’t have a problem with men in suits having a serious conversation with the brown guy yelling at passersby what bits of sharia law he was going to cherrypick out and inflict on you the next time you were home alone. Because that person is terrorizing the community, and destroying its ability to exercise its rights free of coercion.

The same standard applies to anyone raining hatred down on women upon Internet message boards. Terrorism isn’t just lynching or blowing up buildings. It’s a way of life that can be waged as easily with words as with bombs.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at You can email him here and order his novel here.

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Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.