Friday, October 20, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Anita Sarkeesian tackles trolls at VidCon

You've read--here and elsewhere--about women  getting harassed on panels at conferences, particularly in the tech space. But if you haven't experienced what that looks and feels like at a real conference panel, it can be hard to imagine.

So let's use this VidCon panel from June that featured media and gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian, one of the most trolled women speakers on the planet. Sarkeesian spoke graphically about her harassment in a TED talk in 2013, but this panel offers a real example, captured in this article. And in this case, Sarkeesian called out her trolls:
The panel's first question drops. It’s about why feminism — online and in games — is an issue worthy of discussion. 
Sarkeesian notes Benjamin's presence and begins speaking. 
"If you Google my name on YouTube you get shitheads like this dude who are making these dumb-assed videos," she says. "They just say the same shit over and over again. I hate to give you attention because you're a garbage human. These dudes just making endless videos that go after every feminist over and over again is a part of the issue of why we have to have these conversations."
And to help you picture what Sarkeesian was seeing, here's what one of the harassers said in the article about how they set up their intimidation effort:
 "We carefully organized this so that on one side of the audience we would all make up the top three rows,” he says. “We would all be sitting there filming it," he adds, before naming several allies....It was such an adrenaline high to be there in the situation, to shit-post, in this trolling kind of way." He goes on to claim there was "no malice" in their actions and that it was “playful.”
Later, asked about the panel and calling out the harassers, Sarkeesian said, "As women, we're always told not to engage, not to 'stoke the fire,' and that forces us into silence, it forces us to be quiet in the face of harassment. That silence helps perpetuate a culture in which harassment is permissible or even accepted as 'normal.' And so I think that for some women who understand what I’ve been through or who have been through it themselves, it was cathartic to see me not stay silent, to see me call him out directly like that, to acknowledge in front of all those people what he’s done."

What can you learn from this panel from hell?
  • It's important to show up and speak, anyway: I know a lot of women who just avoid speaking gigs due to this phenomenon of trolls in the audience. Sarkeesian gets trolled more than most, but she continues to show up and call out the bad behavior. It's a good model for you to follow to take back control of your speaking opportunities.
  • Call them out directly: That wording is so important psychologically. Instead of responding with general complaints about harassment, get specific and direct. Don't use euphemisms. Call a troll a troll, and use your microphone and platform. Yes, that takes up time from your planned message, but it's important. As Sarkeesian said, "it was cathartic to see me not stay silent, to see me call him out directly like that, to acknowledge in front of all those people what he’s done." If it's the same guy or guys every time, borrow one of my all-time-favorite lines from Ronald Reagan: "there you go again." 
  • Know and work the conference code of conduct, and security: If you expect this to happen, ask for a conference organizer and security to be present for your session to witness any infraction of the code. Be sure you know the code of conduct, and whom to call. And refusing to speak at conferences without codes also is a good start, though a code is no guarantee of good behavior. Also consider having your colleagues help out by making their own video documentation if need be, and let them know what to watch for.
RealBeal made this video with her own commentary after witnessing the panel from the front row. It's a good reminder that these practices are bad for the audience as well as the speakers:


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