Note: below is a slightly edited version of an email I sent to Hank Green, vlogger, CEO of DFTBA.com, and one of the founders of VidCon. It got a little out of hand. I’m a retired conrunner myself and, while the convention I was involved with had occasional harassment and obnoxious guests like most, I’m grateful that never in my time there did we have to deal with an influx of “men’s rights activists.”
Warning, there is some pretty heavy subject matter below, and a few links to some truly vile shit.
I’m known to… well, admittedly a really tiny sliver of the public… as Althea Claire Duffy, writer of stories that blend science fiction and fantasy with romance. And I’m a dedicated, evangelizing fan of Crash Course and SciShow. They’ve been wonderfully helpful in spackling the vast holes in my education, a great tool for researching my fiction, and a lot of fun – especially your videos, with your energetic geeky enthusiasm for your subject matter. I’ve spent whole days binging them, and I was disappointed that I didn’t get the chance to go to NerdCon in Boston, where I live. I regularly recommend them to friends, and I’ve long planned to start funding them on Patreon as soon as I get a permanent day job.
So I was dismayed to learn of the large contingent of “men’s rights activists” (MRAs) and their allies attending VidCon this year. And while you made the right call in refusing to ban Anita Sarkeesian, one of MRAs’ favorite harassment targets, reprimanding her was deeply wrong. You should have offered her an unconditional apology, and you should have had policies in place to prevent her from being confronted with three rows of her harassers.
She called Carl “Sargon of Akkad” Benjamin – an exponent of an abusive misogynistic ideology and a GamerGate supporter whose fans have harassed her for years – a “garbage person.” His sitting down near the front row at her panel with a large number of his fans was a deliberate tactic of harassment, intimidation, and provocation, and she rightly called him on it. She was also no doubt afraid, reliving the years of abuse, and probably not in a mental state to be polite and gracious to an ally of the people who have literally been threatening to kill her for years. He later confirmed that he had deliberately set up the situation to harass and intimidate her.
Sargon’s videos include, in addition to the pro-Gamergate content and rants about Sarkeesian, a rant about how feminism made the 2013 Isla Vista shooting inevitable, and a video where he and his friends laugh about the murder of feminist YouTuber Heather “Ivy” Anable. He has also started a laughable, incoherent petition to “suspend social justice in universities.”.
You showed courage in not caving to the demands of the howling MRA mob – but insufficient courage in failing to fully support someone who has suffered such terrifying harassment that the FBI got involved. No one has an obligation to be polite to their abuser, or to anyone who has built a career on stirring up hatred toward a historically disadvantaged group to which they belong.
MRAs claim to represent the needs and interests of men, but their ideology, culture, and actions are focused instead on hatred of women. MRAs are immensely common on numerous websites, including YouTube – they’re a large part of the reason comments sections there are so vicious. I’ve seen your Twitter feed being bombarded with angry MRAs, so you’re no doubt familiar with them. But their actions extend far beyond stupid YouTube comments or whining “SJW” and “cuck” at everyone. They are genuinely dangerous.
The massive wave of harassment against female video game developers and critics known as Gamergate was one of the best-known manifestations of this movement, and Anita Sarkeesian was one of its targets. She and other women (and sometimes men critical of Gamergate) received threats of violence, including rape and death threats. Some, including Massachusetts congresswoman Katherine Clark, had SWAT teams sent to their homes after Gamergaters called in false reports to the police. An anonymous caller threatened to shoot up the auditorium where Sarkeesian was to speak at Utah State University, leading to an FBI investigation.
(I recall a couple of Crash Course videos that had popup jokes mocking Gamergate, and those videos getting unusual numbers of downvotes – thank you to the team for risking that!)
But the MRA movement extends far beyond Gamergate. MRAs grew out of a combination of the PUA (pick-up artist) subculture focused on manipulative ways of soliciting sex from women, a backlash against the successes of the feminist movement and the increased visibility of feminists online, and the misogyny that has pervaded our culture and many others for thousands of years. Some reject the MRA label, preferring “antifeminist,” “meninist,” “PUA,” or “incel.” (“Incel” is a contraction of “involuntarily celibate,” a term used by people, mostly men, who are bitter that they’re not having sex, and typically feel entitled to it and that women are cruel and selfish for rejecting them.) But they’re all closely connected in a subculture often called the “manosphere,” and they’re largely indistinguishable.
Self-identified MRAs often claim to be focused on rectifying bias against fathers in child custody cases, defending men from false accusations of rape and abuse, or addressing social ills that disproportionately affect men such as hazardous workplaces. However, their rhetoric is replete with vitriolic hatred of women. To them, we are all empty-headed, narcissistic sluts with no interests other than our looks and conning men into giving us money. We are hopelessly incompetent in all endeavors and should stay out of “men’s” activities – which curiously contradicts their endless memes lamenting the predominance of men in hazardous or dirty jobs. We are subhuman, with no feelings, only “gina tingles.” (For an endlessly depressing parade of examples of MRA awfulness, see the blog wehuntedthemammoth.com, where journalist David Futrelle chronicles their depravity.)
Even when actually focusing on their supposed core issues, such as child custody, MRAs are short on policy and legitimate advocacy and long on violent rhetoric. Tom Ball, an MRA and admitted child abuser involved in a bitter custody battle, wrote a manifesto urging fathers seeking custody to firebomb courthouses, then killed himself by setting himself on fire on the courthouse steps. MRAs have since regarded him as a hero, and influential MRA site A Voice for Men kept his manifesto posted in their “activism” section until shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.
The manosphere has spawned mass shooters – and they haven’t just been isolated extremists shunned and disavowed by the rest of the movement. They’ve been made into heroes and martyrs by large numbers of hateful MRAs who dream of doing the same.
Legions of MRAs, PUAs, and their fellow travelers idolize George Sodini, who shot up a Pennsylvania gym in 2009, killing three and wounding nine, after frequenting PUA sites and expressing immense amounts of rage at women for rejecting him romantically. There are so many online posts and videos praising him that one of the Google autocompletes offered when you type in his name is “george sodini hero.”
Perhaps even more idolize Elliot Rodger, who in 2013 posted a manifesto of hatred for women and for men who are successful with them and then went on a shooting rampage in Isla Vista, California. He killed six people and would have killed more if he’d managed to gain entrance to the sorority house that was his ultimate target. He was an active member of PUAhate.com – an MRA site for former PUAs who’d found that PUA techniques weren’t getting them sex to rage about the con artistry of PUA “experts” and the evils of women. Journalist Erin Gloria Ryan went into a chatroom with numerous former members of PUAhate shortly after the shooting and reported that many of them spoke glowingly of him, saying things like “elliot is a hero” and sometimes boasting about their ability to kill lots of women with guns and bombs. Some MRAs call him “Saint Elliot.”
There’s an MRA blog at marclepine.blogspot.com – just one of many examples of MRA praise for Marc Lepine, a man who went on a shooting rampage at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989. He believed that feminism had led to women “stealing” the space at the prestigious engineering school that was “rightfully” his, and he specifically targeted women engineers; he shouted “You’re all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists” before opening fire. Unsurprisingly, the blog named for Lepine has a post celebrating “International Marc Lepine Day” and another praising Sodini. And it’s not the only one. As with George Sodini, one of Google’s suggested autocompletes is “marc lepine hero.”
A thread at redpilltalk.net (manosphere denizens refer to conversion to their ideology as the “red pill,” in reference to The Matrix) asks “Who’s your favorite incel mass murderer?” I wish I were making this up, but I’m not.
I’m not writing to you because I’m an Anita Sarkeesian fan. I don’t even watch her videos, and from what I’ve read of her I disagree with her on some things. I’m writing to you because no one should have to suffer the harassment she did and then face her tormentors in person – and because no one should then suffer further insult by being told to be nicer to someone who has engineered her stalking and abuse.
Allowing creators whose videos are dedicated to hatred, and their vocal fans, to attend your convention is endangering the targets of their hatred. MRAs are illegitimate, a terrorist subculture as I have detailed above, and they should be consigned to the same outer moral darkness as Nazis and ISIS. No public forum that even pretends to basic human decency should allow them the opportunity to spread their dehumanizing ideology and threaten other participants.
As Sarkeesian remarked in her recent Polygon interview: “It’s critical that events like VidCon recognize that and implement policies that prevent that toxicity from bleeding over into the event. No YouTube creator who makes videos that serve to target and harass individuals should be allowed to attend, and anyone who uses material filmed at a convention to harass individuals should be blacklisted from future events.”
I respect you. I respect the whole CrashCourse and SciShow team, and the whole DFTBA family. But I fear that I – and any other woman who hasn’t sold her soul to collaborate with MRAs in terrorizing her gender – am not really welcome in Nerdfighteria if MRAs are tolerated.
Althea Claire Duffy