By now everyone has heard of the threat made against Anita Sarkeesian, an online gaming critic who was scheduled to speak at Utah State University. According to Utah law, university officials cannot bar attendees from open-carrying weapons into any public venue, in this case, a public university. Fearing for her safety and uncomfortable with the lax laws, Sarkeesian felt she had no choice but to cancel her appearance.
We’ve spoken before about the chilling effect that 2nd Amendment furor has over the 1st Amendment. Anyone who dares suggest a more reasonable approach to gun safety or regulation of any sort is castigated and often threatened for having a differing opinion.
But in reviewing this current story I found a troubling undercurrent separate from the typical gun debate. It was shocking just how easily we diminish the fears of a woman.
Representative Curt Oda, a Weber County legislator who is an outspoken proponent of open carry laws as well as a concealed carry permit instructor, quickly dismissed Ms. Sarkeesian’s fears, saying that she was “overreacting.”
Would the reaction have been the same if it would have been a male professor speaking out against feminism, or a faith leader speaking against women’s reproductive health choices? Both are controversial and could certainly elicit strong responses yet it is doubtful that if either were sent credible death threats, people, especially elected leaders, would say they were overreacting.
And frankly, is it for us to determine whether someone does or does not feel safe? The letter-writer didn’t threaten to toss rotten vegetables or pelt her with water balloons. They wrote, “If you do not cancel her talk, a Montreal Massacre style attack will be carried out against the attendees, as well as staff and students at the nearby Womens Center. I have at my disposal a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs. This will be the deadliest school shooting in American history.”
But instead of seeing it as a credible threat, and acknowledging that perhaps our gun laws are adding to those fears, it is far easier to view Ms. Sarkeesian as an overly emotional woman, simply being hysterical when faced with something scary. As though a spider walked past the lectern and she was forced to jump on a chair.
Regardless of whether you think our gun laws are right or wrong, whether you believe universities should have the ability to close events to permitted gun holders or not, we as a society need to acknowledge Ms. Sarkeesian’s fears and understand her decision to cancel the engagement. We owe it to the women in our lives to acknowledge their feelings as valid.
To dismiss someone’s fear as hysteria or an overreaction is to invalidate their personal and intuitive sense of self preservation.