Seven days ago, Feminist Frequency – a feminist blog and Youtube channel ran by Anita Sarkeesian – released a new addition to their channel. The first instalment of a new series: ‘Women as Background Decoration’.
This new video focused primarily on sex work in gaming, and has been under fire by real-life sex workers and feminists since its release for its many problems and even whorephobia. In the seven days since its release, no comment or apology has been issued, and sex workers trying to lend a relevant opinion are being ignored and written off as ‘hateful messages’.
It’s worth noting at this point that Sarkeesian has, as many public feminists have, suffered a large amount of hate messages and threats in her time. These messages are mostly from misogynists refusing to accept the threat of change. This is sad and enraging, but does not excuse the creator of these videos ignoring helpful critique and gentle disagreement from fellow feminists who aim to improve her videos.
Now onto the issues.
This fault lies with both Sarkeesian and the makers of each game that included it: ‘Freebies’. It should have been discussed in the video how grotesquely offensive the notion was that sex workers owe sex to customers for free, but of course, it wasn’t. This is not an issue that exists solely to gaming. Real life men are often under the assumption that if they’re charming, good looking, or skilled at sex that they will ‘win’ the sex worker over and she or he will continue to provide service for free. Sex workers, like any other person, do not owe sex to anyone for any reason.
A recurring phrase through the video that people are taking issue with is the term ‘prostituted women’. This is NOT an appropriate term for sex workers and should not be tolerated. ‘Prostituted women’ is dehumanising and removes agency from sex workers as it removes their choice and agency. It is important to note that the Sex Trafficking industry is alive and well, and that many women and girls are forced into sex work each year. But that does not give any woman the right to assume all women become sex workers this way. Many sex workers are independent women who chose their job of their own volition, and as sex workers are dehumanised enough by bigots worldwide, it’s time people who claim to be feminists stop contributing to the hate.
As a woman who claims to deeply care about cultural shift, and identifies as a feminist, Sarkeesian should have known better. This seems more than just innocent ignorance, as ten minutes researching or speaking to actual sex workers would have told her that the way the video was put together could be seen as offensive. It seems at this point, after frequently being advised to speak to members of the minorities she is representing, she has chosen to ignore the critique and just plod on her own way. If the rest of the series continues in the same way, Sarkeesian risks losing a large chunk of her viewers and supporters, and disappointing the hundreds of people who funded her kickstarter.
For more opinions on the subject, @whorephobia on Twitter always lends a viewpoint worth considering, and the ‘femfreq’ tag offers a wide range of thoughts.