One of the biggest turnouts at GeekGirlCon ’15 was for a panel that was announced at the last minute. “In Conversation, Anita and Zoe” featured special guests Anita Sarkeesian (creator of Feminist Frequency) and Zoe Quinn (game designer and co-founder of Crash Override Network) as they discussed what it was like to be high-profile women in tech, online harassment, and what action we can all take to prevent online abuse.
Elizabeth Sampat, who moderated the panel, started by posing some questions to Sarkeesian and Quinn. “You are both successful women in the public eye,” she said. “What kinds of things do you have to do or put up with that men in similar positions don’t have to do?”
Quinn answered first: “I’m worried that people will see me in public and I look like crap.” With the amount of focus that goes into evaluating women’s appearances, she voices her concerns about how if she doesn’t look “acceptable,” she will find threads on Reddit the next day criticizing how she looks. “There are all the things that go into appearance. I got into game dev and writing so I didn’t have to see people but now with this public thing I have to use makeup. It’s easier now when I think of it as painting a Warhammer mini.”
Sarkeesian also added that that the constant scrutiny has professional consequences. “It’s on my mind all the time, what works for being on TV. If you don’t fit a certain aesthetic it’s hard for people to take you seriously. Those stupid plaid shirts that I wear; you can’t believe the amount of times I’ve gone shopping to try to find something I can wear on camera.”
When they’re not in the public eye, both Sarkeesian and Quinn devote their time to consulting and educating the public about preventing and avoiding online harassment. “The main reason I do this work is because I want to help people and educate people, but that is a lot of time that I have to take to walk people through. There is a lot of work that Zoe and I do that people don’t see,” Sarkeesian said.
It’s notable that both Quinn and Sarkeesian have donated scads of unpaid labor for their consulting work. However, it can be tricky to try to “help companies fix a problem that they don’t want to acknowledge exists,” they both noted. “Consulting work for game studios, none of that is paid for us; that’s cool that we get to help these discussions; it’s unpaid labor,” said Sarkeesian. Many companies claim that they “don’t have the budget” to cover the costs; Sarkeesian and Quinn encourage companies to take harassment seriously enough to have a budget for providing anti-harassment support for their employees.
Generally, Sarkeesian spends her time working with tech companies in addressing harassment. “Previously, nobody has cared for it but in the last year there has been more tech companies stepping up and seeing how to fix the issue.” However, she did note that there is slow progress, but progress nonetheless. “There’s been a rise in the severity and intensity of online harassment, but there’s also an increase in conversation about it, which forces tech companies to fix it. We are seeing more resources to fix these problems. But it is slow and we need to continue putting pressure on companies to help fix the problem.”
Quinn works one-on-one with victims of harassment through the Crash Override Network—a task force she co-founded in January last year after being attacked and harassed by Gamergate. Crash Override serves to provide resources and one-on-one consultation for victims of harassment and online abuse. However, she voiced her disappointment in how some of her clients are treated. “How a company deals with my death threats is different from how they will help another person,” she said. Being a high-visibility target, her case garners more attention than ones for people who are lesser known. Even so, Quinn does think that her works helps her restore faith in humanity. “Be the thing that you wish existed,” she said. “Help in shaping the world instead of mourning what it’s like.”
Having ways to cope with online abuse is a key factor that allows Sarkeesian and Quinn to continue their work. Sarkeesian said that “the ability to do something is what helped me to continue and feel motivated. What was hard was watching people around me get targeted and gave me empathy for bystanders.”
Quinn said that she copes by being quirky and “making fun of stupid things.”
Both women also observed how important to have a support group if you are targeted. “Reach out to your community and make sure you’re talking to other people,” Quinn said. “Don’t beat yourself up for being affected by stuff.” Sarkeesian also noted that there’s a tendency to keep reading the comments. “Having people who can literally take your computer from you is really good.”
If you are concerned for your safety online, or for more information, Crash Override offers advice and information and support.
This panel review was originally written for GeekGirlCon.