Last weekend was GeekGirlCon, an annual convention in Seattle focused on women in nerd culture. Special guests Anita Sarkeesian (creator of Feminist Frequency) and Zoe Quinn (game designer and co-founder of Crash Override Network) shared a panel called “In Conversation, Anita and Zoe,” moderated by Elizabeth Sampat. Quinn and Sarkeesian, who have both been targets of intense and malicious harassment in the gaming community, discussed some of the realities of life under constant scrutiny.
For one, they both have to pay constant attention to the way they look. Quinn described how she can’t walk to the corner store without feeling the need to spend time on makeup, because the likelihood of being seen by someone who recognizes her is so high. And if she doesn’t look composed, threads will pop up on Reddit the next day attacking her physical appearance.
“We’re stuck in this bind,” Sarkeesian added, “If you don’t fit into an aesthetic, you’re not taken as professional.”
Sarkeesian and Quinn have very different public personas from one another. Quinn has a reputation of being quirky and irreverent, whereas Sarkeesian maintains a more serious and professional tone. Like any public figures, they each have to choose their battles based on the image that they want to share with the world.
Another thing you may not know about Sarkeesian and Quinn: both women do a ton of consulting. In general, Sarkeesian focuses on helping tech companies address issues of harassment on a wide scale. Quinn focuses on one-on-one consultation via Crash Override Network, an anti-harassment task force designed to provide resources to victims of online abuse. Many companies that need their services “don’t have the budget” to pay, and both Sarkeesian and Quinn have donated lots of unpaid labor because they care so much about helping victims. Sarkeesian and Quinn are working to encourage companies to take harassment seriously enough to budget for anti-harassment programs.
“Public conversation is forcing and shaming tech companies to do something,” Sarkeesian said, describing how much more receptive large organizations are today than they were just a few years ago. “I am still hopeful…It’s going to be a slow process, but that’s the part I am really hopeful for.”
Unfortunately, Quinn’s experience helping individuals has been different. Most tech companies tend to take her complaints seriously because of her reputation, but they still largely ignore and disrespect the complaints of the not-so-famous people she works with.
When asked for advice about what to do when attacked online, both women emphasized the value of having a support group, specifically of women in the industry who know what you’re going through. It can be hard to stop reading the comments, and sometimes you need a friend who’s willing to take away your computer.
For Quinn, working one-on-one with other victims of harassment became a way to find faith in humanity again. “Be the thing that you wish existed,” she said. “Also be really weird. When I was first targeted, I bought an Angry Birds piggy bank, filled it with sequins, and threw it off a roof as a sacrifice to the game gods.”
— Z̈öe̤ Q̈üïn̈n̈ (@TheQuinnspiracy) October 11, 2015
Sarkeesian copes by taking action. She folds the abuse into her work by talking about it and using it to make a change in the world.
If you want to learn more about specific technical steps for preventing online abuse, Crash Override has tons of advice. Support others going through hard times, and find support for yourself. A community is irreplaceable.