Janay Rice, Anita Sarkeesian, and “Jackie.” These are the names of three women who made us get mad in 2014. It wasn’t so much for what they did, although lots of people got mad about that, but because they forced us to address issues that make us uncomfortable: domestic violence, misogyny in video games, and sexual assault on campus.
Let’s start with Janay Palmer Rice, the wife of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. Their story became headline news in February when a videotape of him dragging her limp body out of an elevator and dumping her in the hallway became public. (Janay was his fiancee at the time; they were married on March 28, the day after Rice was indicted on aggravated assault charges.)
In May, Ray and Janay Rice held a press conference where each apologized for being in “the difficult situation.” What made people mad then was that the NFL only penalized Rice with a two-game suspension for assaulting his wife. People were also concerned that Janay seemed to take the blame for being assaulted, saying that she “deeply regretted” her role that night.
In September, the full video surfaced showing Rice knocking his fiancee out cold in the elevator. After a new, more ferocious uproar, the Ravens cut Rice and the NFL suspended him indefinitely.
Then, something odd happened. The anger veered away from Ray Rice and domestic violence and toward Janay and her decision to stick with him.
How could she have married the guy who assaulted her in the elevator? Why didn’t she leave?
After hearing about the video and the public outcry against Janay, Beverly Gooden, a domestic violence survivor, got mad. Women stay with abusive partners for lots of reasons—fear, financial dependency, children, even love keep women with men who beat them.
Gooden, a human resources manager from Charlotte, N.C., didn’t keep her anger to herself. Although verbally and physically abused for a long time by her now ex-husband, it took a year before she could decide to leave, so she tweeted, “Domestic violence victims often find it difficult to leave abusers.” She added #WhyIStayed to that tweet and several others.
The #WhyIStayed hashtag went viral as thousands of women saw themselves in Janay Rice and shared their anger about their abusive partners and explained why they stayed. This ‘Twitter activism’ exposed the dilemma that many women face when they stay with violent partners and made many people furious about not just domestic violence but also about how hard it is for women to leave.
(Postscript: In early December, an arbitrator overturned Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension and reinstated the two-game suspension. That meant that Rice was a free agent and could play immediately, but no team picked him up.)
It wasn’t Anita Sarkeesian, the Canadian-American feminist cultural critic, video game player and producer of the video series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games,” who made us get mad in 2014. No, it was the fact that people threatened to rape or kill her simply because she dared to criticize the violence against women in so many video games that made us furious.
Sarkeesian’s story became headline news in October when The New York Times ran a front page piece about the death threats she has received for criticizing video games for portraying women in sexist and negative ways. Sarkeesian had to cancel a speech at Utah State University when the university received a terror threat from a person who would carry out “the deadliest school shooting in American history” and, because of Utah’s concealed carry laws, the university couldn’t provide security that Sarkeesian felt was adequate.
Women shouldn’t be relegated to the roles of damsels, victims, or hypersexualized playthings, Sarkeesian later wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times titled “It’s Game Over for ‘Gamers.” She also tweeted, “The whole game industry must stand up against the harassment of women.” (Sarkeesian later made the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek as the “Video Game Avenger” for a piece titled “What do video games have against women?”)
This drama took place as the Twitter campaign known as #GamerGate raged in the background. GamerGate seems to be an online fight between video gamers and video-game critics like Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn, whose game ‘Depression Quest’ spawned #GamerGate last summer.
As the ‘gate’ suffix suggests #GamerGate is about a conspiracy. To its supporters, it’s an attempt by journalists to attack video games and gamers for being misogynistic and sexist when what the journalists really have is a close relationship with the critics and can’t fairly cover the industry. To its critics, it’s a disingenuous way for gamers to silence their critics so they can continue their online harassment of women and others who challenge the status quo of the $25 billion video console game industry.
Quinn has been threatened with rape and death, and both she and Sarkeesian are working with the FBI. Sarkeesian also is the target of a video game where players can punch an image of her in the face and watch the bruises grow
Sarkeesian would like to see video game players and developers become more aware of how the games portray women, especially because women make up nearly half of all video game players. She’s not alone in these views. Jonathan McIntosh, who worked with Sarkeesian on her video series, wrote a piece titled “The 25 invisible benefits of gaming while male” that identifies many of the privileges that men who game have that are denied to women. The piece is posted on Sarkeesian’s Web site, feministfrequency.com.
Among the invisible benefits he identifies are that he can play video games without being harassed or stalked because of his gender, without being asked about the size of his real-life body parts or to share intimate details about his sex life, and without being told that the video game culture isn’t for him because he’s a man.
Although we’ve known for years that to many video games portray women in a distasteful, negative, and sexist way, it took Anita Sarkeesian being threatened with a shooting massacre, just for taking a stand against these portrayals, to make us realize that it’s time for the video game culture to change.
Nothing made us madder than “Jackie” and how Rolling Stone magazine contributing editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely mishandled a story about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia.
Initially, we were outraged when we read in the piece “A Rape on Campus” about how a student, now a junior, had been brutally assaulted by seven men at a fraternity party two years earlier.
Jackie said she had gone to a party at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity with her date, identified as “Drew,” and been lured upstairs, thrown to the floor in a darkened bedroom, and raped for three agonizing hours. Amazingly, the friends she called when she ran out of the frat at 3 a.m. said she shouldn’t report the assault to the campus police if they ever wanted to be invited to a frat party again.
In the article, Jackie blames herself for her recurring nightmares about her rape, saying that everything bad in her life is built on her bad decision to go to “that stupid party.”
The article wasn’t limited to Jackie. It talked about several other women who had been victims of sexual assault while at U-Va. Erdely traced the university’s “cycle of sexual violence and institutional indifference back at least 30 years.”
Following the Nov. 19 online piece, U-Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan suspended social activities at the fraternities through the calendar year. The article detailed lax handing of sexual assault cases at the university and a culture of protecting the image of the university over the rights of the victims. U-Va. was already one of several dozen schools under federal investigation for their responses to allegations of sexual violence.
After publication of the article, many felt that finally, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that one in five women is the victim of sexual assault during college would be taken seriously. Maybe the Senate’s bipartisan “Campus Accountability and Safety Act” had a chance of becoming law. Protests took place on campuses around the country. Universities vowed to put a stop to sexual assault.
But the story began to unravel as The Washington Post reported that key elements of the allegations were in doubt.
Her friends said that something traumatic had happened that night, but she didn’t look physically hurt. No one named “Drew” belongs to the fraternity where the alleged assault took place. Phi Kappa Psi said it didn’t have a date function or social event that evening.
Rolling Stone magazine apologized for “discrepancies” in Jackie’s story, saying its trust in her was misplaced.
That statement fanned the outrage. Why was Rolling Stone blaming Jackie when it was the writer Erdely who was to blame for shoddy reporting?
Rolling Stone clarified its apology, saying that Jackie wasn’t to blame, but the apology only made things worse for the magazine.
But, then, the outrage turned toward Jackie and the potential harm that could come from her allegations of rape that now seemed in doubt.
Although research from the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women shows that only between 2 and 8 percent of rape allegations are made up, Jackie’s high-profile falsehood risked making people believe the exact opposite — that only a few rape allegations are true.
As the New York Times editorial board wrote on Dec. 9, “the debacle has led to crowing by skeptics who deny that there is a real problem with campus sexual assault.”
Despite the discrediting of much of Jackie’s story, there is a problem with sexual assault on campus. Too many women are assaulted and too many of them are ignored when they seek to bring those who assaulted them to justice.
If there’s one thing that the stories these three women should teach us, it’s that it is long past time to put an end to domestic violence, misogyny in video games, and sexual assault on campus.