A few months ago, YouTube vlogger Emily Graslie of The Field Museum in Chicago, made a video called “Where My Ladies At?” In it, she describes her least favorite aspect of vlogging: dealing with sexist YouTube comments.
This issue is bigger than Graslie’s (awesome) channel, The Brain Scoop. There is an endemic problem at YouTube and it is not limited to internet trolls. The never-ending onslaught of comments on Graslie’s appearance distract from the engaging and educational videos she makes. The opinions expressed in the comments normalize misogyny—no matter what she is talking about on screen, her appearance is all that matters.
Let’s start with the soft sexism: Even the apparently complimentary comments are damaging for female vloggers. When a video about owls is greeted with comments like, “You're a damn sexy scientist!” it completely invalidates the whole video. Sure, it’s a compliment, but it’s NOT THE POINT!
Like the #notallmen trend, this commenter implies that women are indebted to those who compliment them. As if Graslie is making these videos so that people will tell her she is pretty. Sure, compliments on your looks can be flattering, but this video is about science, yo.
Then come the more offensive comments, like this one that is trying to be a compliment (her smarts are what makes her attractive!) but still manages to be violently sexist.
In 2012, Sarkeesian started a Kickstarter campaign to fund Feminist Frequency. She wanted to create a series of videos that would deconstruct the sexist portrayal of women in video games. In response to this project, Sarkeesian became the “villain of a massive online game, in real life.” Male gamers around the internet banded together to prevent Sarkeesian from making her series: they flagged her social media sites as spam, they attempted to disperse her personal information including her home address, and they created pornographic imagery using her likeness. Sarkeesian discussed what she calls a “cyber mob” in this TedxWomen talk.
The “cyber mob” came to a head with the release of the incredibly disturbing “Hit Anita Sarkeesian” game. As the player clicks the image of Sarkeesian's face, she becomes increasingly bloodied and bruised.
Online harassment is a problem that must be addressed. It’s not merely an issue of hurt feelings. The images of Sarkeesian’s bruised face are not fun and games. This kind of online behavior normalizes sexist violence and communicates this message to women: get off the internet — or else.
Sarkeesian said it best: “whether it’s a cyber mob or just a handful of hateful comments, the end result is maintaining and reinforcing and normalizing a culture of sexism — where men who harass are supported by their peers and rewarded for their sexist attitudes and behaviors and where women are silenced, marginalized and excluded from full participation.”
Yours in advocacy,