Nominated for: making public space—on and offline—safer for everyone.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. From December 10 to 19, we’ll unveil the nominees, grouped by category. Vote for your favourites from each batch, every single day! On December 19 and 20 the winners from each category go head-to-head in the final round of voting, and on December 21, we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
You know something’s gone wrong when you’re forced to check the calendar multiple times to ensure that it is in fact 2012. Though the police aren’t calling assault victims sluts anymore (they have since turned to offering fashion advice to pedestrians getting hit by cars), we were still left with a year where newsfeeds found themselves carrying story after story of harassment incidents: some online, and some much closer to home.
One case that had jaws dropping around the world involved Anita Sarkeesian, a former York University student who found herself on the receiving end of harassment from male gamers, including rape and death threats, after she called attention to the stereotypes that female characters were forced into in video games. A particularly gruesome attack took the form of an online game where players were presented the opportunity to bash in Sarkeesian’s face until it eventually became a bloody mess.
This is where local activist Stephanie Guthrie stepped in.
Guthrie determined that the game’s creator was one Ben “Bendilin” Spurr, a 25-year-old from Sault Ste Marie, who attempted to defend the game on the grounds that it wasn’t about hitting women but hitting “a selfish person.” Guthrie’s challenges—important especially because they showed how prominently misogyny persists in the gaming world—gained rapid and widespread support. Unfortunately, and reinforcing the concern that gaming culture still has a long way to go in this regard, Guthrie was quickly hit with the same kinds of threats and harassment she was attempting to expose. Guthrie’s attackers certainly deny it, but this harassment transcends the computer screen, and takes a real toll on its victims.
Guthrie’s activism, too, transcends the computer screen: after a string of assaults earlier this year in the Christie Pits area, she helped to organize Take Back the Block events in several neighbourhoods, to focus on constructive, community-oriented ways of responding to such incidents.
Though many have trolled in gleeful anonymity throughout the internet’s short lifespan, Guthrie has shown that harassers must be held (and will be held) accountable for their actions online as well as off. Though it’s disappointing to see that even today, the online assault against Sarkeesian continues in full force (TEDxWomen had to disable the comments and ratings of her recent talk), it’s only with more people like Guthrie coming forward to call that kind of behaviour out that we’ll be able to make progress.
See the other nominees in the Advocates category:
|The Toronto Marlies
Standing up for athletes of all orientations.
Making it his mission to combat homophobia.
Championing trans rights.
|Jude MacDonald and Paul Magder
Holding the mayor to account