Two kinds of crazy

Anita Sarkeesian is a well known and well respected feminist scholar and critic.  Here’s her Wikipedia page. She specializes in studying how women are portrayed in various kinds of popular media, and especially in video games. She’s perhaps best known for a video series on Youtube, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. Check it out. It’s great stuff, matter-of-fact, sensible, well researched.

She was invited to speak at Utah State University on Wednesday this past week. On Monday, though, a death threat was sent via email to university officials. The threat was specific and terrifying. I’m not going to quote it here, but it called Sarkeesian “everything wrong with the feminist woman,” and threatened not only her, but anyone who attended her lecture. Its author claimed to have pipe bombs, pistols and semi-automatic weapons. The email also referred to Marc Lepine, a gunman who murdered fourteen women in Canada in 1989.

I can’t begin to describe how incredibly troubling all this is. Sarkeesian’s videos are sensible, intelligent, informed, sort of fun, not terribly ideological. They do make the entirely reasonable point that women are objectified in video games. This is so obviously true, I can’t imagine it being a point of contention. Apparently there are men who feel terribly threatened–emasculated even–by feminism. Apparently lots of those men are also gamers. Who knew?

But as I researched this stuff, the misogyny embedded in so many video game texts, the ferocity of the rhetoric in so much of the so-called ‘men’s movement,’ I became completely disheartened. I wanted to post this yesterday, and couldn’t bring myself to finish it. I don’t want to research gamergate. I don’t even know what MRM stands for, aside from Men’s Right’s Movement. I read the MRM Wikipedia page, and found the MRM arguments incomprehensible.  I don’t want to follow the Red Pill subreddit. (I’m not even going to link to it. It’s on reddit, it’s not hard to find. I refuse to drive traffic there). I spent twenty minutes on Red Pill yesterday, and felt like I needed a shower.  I am a man, proud of being a man, proud to be male, fulfilled in my marriage and edified by the friendships and professional relationships with women I have always enjoyed. I’m a feminist, and proud of it. I don’t get this anti-women nonsense.

And death threats? Seriously, death threats?

And then came a (to be fair) entirely inadvertent interaction with a second group of crazy people.

And this gets tricky, because I have family members who are gun owners and gun defenders and I don’t want to call people I love ‘crazy.’

But here’s what went down. Sarkeesian was still willing to give her lecture on Wednesday. She just wanted to be safe while doing it. Perfectly reasonable. She wanted back packs checked at the door; Utah State made plans to do that. She also wanted personal firearms banned, except, of course, for cops providing security.  And Utah State couldn’t do it. State law allows concealed weapon permit owners to carry their firearms anywhere, to school, on a college campus. To search backpacks and confiscate (or ban) firearms is a violation of Utah law. And apparently a number of Utah State students do have concealed weapon permits, and could therefore have attended Sarkeesian’s lecture armed. Read about it here.

Argument A: This is a prominent speaker, speaking at the university’s invitation. The threat made against her was very specific and detailed. Surely the university had an obligation to take reasonable precautions to protect her safety. And the presence of concealed weapons by students licensed to carry certainly made her feel less safe, and probably actually made her less safe. If, heaven forbid, the guy who issued the threat had in fact shown up and started shooting, a bunch of untrained people waving their guns around and firing wildly would escalate the situation exponentially. The training received by concealed weapons’ holders is risibly ineffectual. Utah is the only state in the country with guns laws that idiotic. As Sarkeesian put it: “It’s sort of mindboggling to me that they couldn’t take efforts to make sure there were no guns in an auditorium that was threatened with guns and a mass shooting.  I don’t understand how they could be so cut and dried about it.”  She’s right. I don’t get it either. And I would certainly have cancelled my appearance, just as she did.

Argument B: Nobody at the university took the threat lightly. Everybody agreed that her safety needed to be protected, as well as the safety of other lecture attendees. But the University had no choice but to follow state law.  And concealed weapon permit holders are not the problem. Indeed, they’re potentially part of the solution to the overall problem of on-campus violence. It’s completely unfair to stigmatize law-abiding citizens exercising their Second Amendment rights. Nobody wants to be called a ‘nut’, and adding the word ‘gun’ to the front of it makes things worse. Concealed weapon permit holders have a track record of responsible gun ownership and use. “Right to bear arms”, y’all.  It’s entirely possible that women, attending the lecture, may well consider themselves feminists, and may find gun ownership completely compatible with their feminism.It’s possible that if the guy had shown up, and started firing, an armed woman may have been the one to put him down. Another kick-ass, armed feminist. They do exist, and if we’re feminists, we should embrace them too. Feminism needn’t be wimpy. Guns protect women too.

I’m an Argument A guy. I do understand Argument B. They both exist, and they both have many followers. Let’s acknowledge that, at least.

Sarkeesian cancelled her lecture because she was afraid of getting caught in a cross-fire. I would be too. I think that’s an entirely reasonable fear. She was, it seems, more afraid of the cross-fire than of the guy who threatened her. I totally get that. I don’t get the gun thing. I have never understood it. I don’t want to own one, and I never have. We didn’t let our kids play in their friends’ homes if they owned guns. I think that was a reasonable stance for us to take. And I feel completely safe unarmed.

But I’m also directing a play right now, and we have lots of guns on-stage. We have a props table with maybe twenty guns on it. The cast spends most of the show waving their guns around, and at one point, they use the guns to shoot a whole bunch of zombies. Now, the guns we’re using don’t actually work. Our ‘shooting’ is a sound effect. The guns are mostly plastic. They’re completely harmless. But oh my gosh are they cool. And our actors enjoy using them.

I haven’t talked to the cast about their personal gun politics. None of my business. But I do get this about guns: they’re cool. On TV, in movies, guns are awesome.

Now, this makes me think that concealed weapon permit holders are living out movie-driven fantasies. I’m still resolutely anti-gun. But I went to rehearsal last night, and saw that our props people had created this massive machine gun, and it was the coolest prop ever, and my reaction, when I saw the thing, was a heartfelt ‘awesome!’  And then I asked the actress who uses it to stop pointing it at my head. (Not that it actually worked. It’s a toy, basically). And our show is about zombies, a popular video-game trope.  So where does fantasy end, where does reality begin, where does sexism or violence in video games lead to sexist or violent behavior in the real world, where do internet, chat room fantasies play themselves out in real life?

I don’t know. I like Anita Sarkeesian, enjoy her video series, and wish I could have heard her lecture. She seems like my kind of people. And I’m unapologetically feminist, and don’t get MRM at all.  And I desperately hope they catch the guy, Sarkeesian’s threatener, before he acts out his fantasies. And . . . I think that machine gun is wicked awesome.  So it’s all maybe at least a little bit complicated.







4 thoughts on “Two kinds of crazy

  1. Emily

    First Eric, I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog posts. I think your Divas post has been my favorite so far. I also enjoyed reading the many aspects you brought up this post (including mention of last night’s excitement over the new massive machine gun that made its debut appearance on set). Guns have been a relevant topic in my life simply because the French find our gun rights so abhorrent and never miss an opportunity to share how stupid they think Americans are for maintaining them (to the French, allowing gun rights is as backwards as still believing that the earth is square. You can just see the disgust and frustration in their faces when they talk about it.) Though the difficulty (and I feel like I’m stating the obvious here), is that guns are unfortunately power and anyone who wields a gun, is literally holding power–power over a life, power for or against chaos, power to survive, power to defend, power to kill. Guns issues to me seem to be a variation of the same questions our founding fathers faced–who should hold power? Do we give it to the people? Or do we give it to an elite few? Both have their strengths and downfalls and I have yet to come to a conclusion. On another note, thank you for proclaiming yourself a feminist. Recently it’s been “out of vogue” to declare oneself as a feminist and I even become a little bashful when I throw the word “feminist” out there. But I applaud and appreciate your courage and have resolved that I should be just as shameless about being a feminist as well. (And thanks for bringing my attention to a woman who has done research on video games and women–can’t wait to hear/read some of her stuff!)

  2. Carrie Ann

    My daughter and I planned on going to the presentation. We were disappointed, to say the least. I have been a Sarkeesian fan for a few years and am very thankful for her calm demeanor in the face of all the ugly she has been through.

  3. Crawford Cragun

    Eric, I read and agree with every point. First of all, I have never thought to lay claim to the title of feministt, but if that means protecting womens rights to be wmmen and stand up aginst thosee who would relegate them to objects. Then I am on board and will need to consider accepting the feminist role as well. Thou dost persuade me… I think Sarkeesian did the right thing, whether she was concerned about the threat or crossfire. I do believe the university took this seriously and would have done all they could, subject to the constraints of the Utah Law. I also agree that the Utah Law is failed if Police can’t do all required to protect citizens including the speaker in this case. I find the challenge and the irony in the two arguments you presented. I am saddened that my thinker cant propose a solution that protects the rights of all parties and empowers law enforcement to do one of the few things I really believe government should get involved in, protecting their citizens. In this case, sadly, means protecting us from one of our own. This is the saddeest and most dire acknowledgement in what we know of this situation. The enemy is us. Keep writing.

  4. Anonymous

    Arizona has crazy gun laws too. When Gabby Giffords was shot, there were several bystanders that had guns. Thank goodness they all had the good sense to not start firing at anything that moved. That hasn’t happened yet but it will one of these days.

    It reminds me of the old Tom Lehrer hunting song. “When people ask me how I do it, I say there’s nothing to it, just stand there looking cute, and when something moves I’ll shoot. Now there’s ten stuffed heads in my trophy room right now, two game wardens, seven hunters, and a pure bred Gernsey cow!”


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