10/16/2014 11:13 am ET Updated Dec 16, 2014

The Cyber War on Women: Anita Sarkeesian Cancels Utah Lecture After Shooting Threats


In a perfect storm of violence against women, gun culture and video gaming culture conspired against Anita Sarkeesian, the Canadian-American feminist, media critic and blogger, and forced a cancellation of her lecture at Utah State University.

This is, to me, a religious crisis because it is a struggle for the very existence of women as human beings with God-given dignity and worth, and the right to express themselves without fear of getting shot.

Sarkeesian was to deliver a lecture on campus on the portrayal of women in video games, and a person, who claimed to be a student, threatened "the deadliest school shooting in American history" if the event wasn't canceled. "Feminists have ruined my life and I will have my revenge, for my sake and the sake of all the others they've wronged," the person apparently emailed.

Sarkeesian asked whether the school will forbid guns from the speech or do pat-downs. The school said it couldn't. State law allows the carrying of guns in public places.

This "perfect storm" of guns and cyber-stalking of women is an example of how Western culture, through both philosophy and Christian theology, works to normalize violence against women, and violence in the general culture. The sources on this are complex, as I argue in my forthcoming book Women's Bodies as Battlefields: Christian Theology and the Global War on Women, but one common thread is a dualism of body and spirit, which effectively makes what happens to the body (and women's bodies in particular) of less value than the realm of the spirit (or, in philosophy, reason). War has similar roots.

Video game culture is body/soul dualism on steroids, and the extremities of the violent push back against Sarkeesian demonstrate this, without a doubt.

Gun culture is another stream of our contempt for the integrity and safety of the body.

"There is a deadly relationship between violence against women and guns in America -- the proof is the 48 women who are shot to death every month by a current or former husband or boyfriend," John Feinblatt, President of Everytown for Gun Safety has said. The lax gun laws in the U.S. make it easy for abusive dating partners and stalkers to get and keep guns. Senator Amy Klobuchar's (D-MN) Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act (S. 1290) would help prevent this, and huge majorities of likely women voters support making changes to keep guns out of the hands of abusers and stalkers.

Cyber-stalking, as just happened at Utah State University, is violence against women and it facilitated by lax gun laws such as those in Utah.

There is an attempt to deflect the fact that this is an outpouring of violence against women by labeling it #gamergate, a lame hashtag meant to conflate critics and defenders of online gaming as "disgruntled."

No. Protesting the violence against women in cyberspace and pointing out its inflammatory relationship to physical, psychological and yes, spiritual violence against women is not being "disgruntled." It is being clear.

These are not the first death threats Sarkeesian has received. She reported death threats a day after she released a new episode of her series, Feminist Frequency. The blog deals with games that feature sexualized female victims or female characters introduced solely to highlight either a villain's aggression or provide motivation for players to complete their missions.

The effect of introducing these "mature themes," Sarkeesian argues in that posted episode, is the trivialization of painful experiences that are all too common. Sarkeesian alludes to a 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control that found nearly one in five U.S. women reported having suffered either a rape or an attempted rape, while one in four reported having been beaten by a domestic partner.

"When games casually use sexualized violence as a ham-fisted form of character development for the bad guys, it reinforces a popular misconception about gendered violence by framing it as something abnormal, as a cruelty committed only by the most transparently evil strangers," she says in the video. "In reality, however, violence against women -- and sexual violence, in particular -- is a common everyday occurrence, often perpetrated by 'normal men,' known and trusted by those targeted."

The truth is women are not safe, not online, not in their homes, not on college and university campuses, not on the streets, not in their offices and not in their houses of worship and other community organizations.

Resisting the war on women must include legislation to control guns, consciousness-raising about the way online culture facilitates violence against women, and religious and secular people speaking out against these multiple facilitators of violence, including those in our own theologies and philosophies.

Violence against women must be stopped and you and I together can work to help make that possible.

Please support Feminist Frequency if you agree, and encourage others to do so.