What video games can teach us about women in online news

Take a few minutes to listen to this recent segment from New Hampshire Public Radio’s Word of Mouth. It’s about the troubling trend of digital misogyny.

The web is both intimate and impersonal, two factors that make it easy for jerks to harass, threaten and bully women who speak their minds online. Such was the experience of Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist blogger who produced a series of web videos questioning gender stereotypes in video games. Sarkeesian, who was a guest on the show, received death threats and emails containing images of her being raped by video game characters.

Any kind of violence towards women — real or virtual — is troubling. As I listened to the segment, though, I found myself thinking about what this aspect of web culture means for the women who are building the future of digital journalism. Although Sarkeesian focused on the portrayal of women in video games, her experiences can tell us something about gender roles and online news.

Technology is fueling the rapid evolution of both video games and journalism, making them more social and more interactive. It’s nice to think that these new arenas for interpersonal communication will develop free of the biases that exist in the flesh-and-blood world, but that’s often not the case. Threats of violence or bullying are especially troubling for female  journalists trying to build professional brands online. When women are forced to quiet their voices, even subconsciously, it can have lasting negative repercussions on their careers and the quality of discussion around current events.

There is, however, hope that shimmers like those little gold coins in Mario Brothers. The social nature of the web is allowing women to challenge misogyny and stereotypes in new ways, like this campaign that forced Facebook to crack down on sexist hate speech.

Another solution, as one Word of Mouth guest pointed out, is to include women in the creation of emerging online communities. That, too, is true for video games and journalism.