Gaming journalist Alanah Pearce got sick of receiving threats of rape and violence from young boys online, so she started telling their mothers.
Pearce is a 21-year-old media and communications student, tech journalist and passionate advocate for greater equality in the gaming industry. As a woman in gaming, Pearce has been subject to fierce sexism in the industry for several years. Recently, however, when rape threats became more common, she decided she needed to take decisive action.
Pearce tracked down the offenders’ parents through Facebook, and sent them screenshots of their sons’ messages. She has so far received one response from a concerned mother: “I’m so sorry. Yes I will talk to him!!!”
The response to her tactic has been massive on social media. Her original tweet, which said, “sometimes young boys on facebook send me rape threats, so I’ve started telling their mothers”, has so far attracted 38,000 retweets and 62,000 favourites.
Pearce spoke to Women’s Agenda about why she chose to take action against the boys and men harassing her.
“Everyone always says to just ignore them, but I don’t think that is a proactive way to solve what really is a huge problem. When I realised it was young boys harassing me and not grown men, I had the idea that their parents might be able to do something – so I told them,” she said.
Pearce thinks sexism in gaming is particularly problematic because its offenders usually post their attacks online, meaning they can avoid accountability entirely – Pearce wants to change that. She said she wanted to make attackers realise that regardless of the fact the majority of the gaming world exists online, sexism is a real world problem with real world consequences.
“The problem with industries that exist largely online is that people feel like they can attack each other and not face any consequences. Without human interaction, people feel like they can say whatever they like and don’t understand the impacts their behaviour might have on others.”
Pearce was clear that she does not think sexism or harassment is specific to gaming: “I think all women in the public eye would have to deal with this kind of harassment, but I think it is sometimes worse in heavily male-dominated industries like gaming,” she said.
Sexism in the gaming industry is by no means a new phenomenon, but it has heightened recently following the explosion of Gamergate. Gamergate is the name given to an online culture war that saw women in gaming being subject to a huge amount of very serious gender-based attacks.
The threats made towards some of the women in the industry were so severe the FBI was called in to protect their personal safety. In one case, an expert canceled her talk at the University of Utah because the school received a death threat: “I will write my manifesto in her spilled blood, and you will all bear witness to what feminist lies and poison have done to the men of America”, the threat read.
But neither sexism in the industry nor Pearce’s campaign against it began with Gamergate – in 2013, Pearce spent a month documenting all the sexist attacks she received online, and published them in an article called “30 Days of Sexism.”
She posts images of ten examples of sexist attacks throughout the month, but manages to end the piece on a positive note:
“If jerks on the internet are given a free-pass and allowed to hide behind anonymity when they’re being sexist to someone, then there’s absolutely no reason you can’t use that same anonymity to criticise or educate them. Honestly, just seeing one down-vote or having one person stick up for me is a part of the reason I’m still here and I’m not going to stop fighting.”
“Every single person has the power to fight sexism.”
Pearce said she is still committed to fighting sexism wherever she sees it: “It can be exhausting, but we can stand up to it and I want to see more people doing that, across all industries.”
Pearce’s tactic of telling offenders’ mothers about their sexist and abusive comments has been successful so far. One mother has convened a parents group to discuss online harassment, and has approach the boys’ school and asked them to take action to prevent this behaviour also.
What else can be done to prevent online harassment?
“I’d really like to see social media sites taking this kind of thing much more seriously. Reporting harassment to these sites rarely has any impact, and that needs to change. Sites need to identify and ban people who are harassing others online and show them their behaviour has consequences,” Pearce told Women’s Agenda.