Feminist critics of The Mandalorian are being harassed online – Business Insider
After the first episode of “The Mandalorian,” the Disney Plus series in the Star Wars universe that became the top streaming hit of 2019, aired on the platform, some Twitter users expressed frustration at how few women spoke, and how few female characters there were in general.
Some of those who tweeted, including well-known feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian, were met with dogpiling and waves of harassment across social media platforms.
The harassment largely stemmed from anti-feminist Star Wars fan accounts who rounded up and highlighted tweets under the pretense that those complaining were “outraged” social justice warriors trying to tear down a successful Star Wars franchise.
The harassment is just the latest instance of feminist fandom voices being shut down online.
Anita Sarkeesian is no stranger to online harassment, being one of the central figures in Gamergate, the online harassment campaign that resulted in her receiving numerous death and rape threats, along with bomb and shooting threats at her events. But even she was surprised at the amount of vitriol her tweet about “The Mandalorian” received.
After watching the first episode of the Star Wars series for Disney Plus, Sarkeesian tweeted asking if she was just tired, or if there wasn’t “a single female speaking character in the first episode.”
She was exhausted, Sarkeesian told Insider — missing the one scene where a woman spoke and making a typo in her tweet. In the replies, Sarkeesian corrected herself. Then she went to bed. In the morning, the tweet had more than 3,000 replies. It currently has close to 7,000.
“Maybe you should switch to The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills… I’m sure you’ll find much to relate to there….” one top reply read.
“No wonder you’re so tired. They say you should stretch before making such reaches, especially at your age,” said another, with more than 1,400 likes of its own.
It’s an example of dogpiling, a type of online harassment where, on Twitter, someone’s replies outnumber likes and retweets, and are mostly filled with repetitive, hurtful comments.
“It’s ironic. Women, especially feminists, get accused of being emotional and angry and all of these things when all we said was ‘Hey, I noticed this thing. And it’s kind of a problem, and I think it’s really bad for our society,'” Sarkeesian told Insider. “If they didn’t reply to it, my tweet would have just been gone. They made it a much bigger deal.”
Sarkeesian is the most prominent figure facing dogpiling and harassment in response to her criticism of the series, but she’s not the only one.
People with and without large Twitter followings, some who are verified and many who are not, have found themselves overwhelmed with anti-feminist replies and messages across platforms after tweeting about how few women are in “The Mandalorian.”
Specifically, in the first episode, there’s one female character wearing a mask who speaks, and two female characters total, along with a few women spotted as extras in the background of shots. More female characters are expected to play larger roles in future episodes.
“Even if you want to give the show the benefit of the doubt and say there’s some big, wild justification that’s going to come around in episode 7, it feels wrong that the vast majority of this world is populated by men or male-identified characters,” Sarkeesian said.
Star Wars fans have a history of harassing women online when faced with criticism
Online harassment in the Star Wars fandom, particularly of women, is nothing new. Actresses like Daisy Ridley and Kelly Marie Tran of the latest Disney-owned Star Wars trilogy have recently talked about the negative aspects of the Star Wars community.
Ridley, who stars in the newest Star Wars trilogy as Rey, “cut off” her Facebook and Instagram accounts “like a Skywalker limb” due to harassment, and Tran faced racist and misogynistic harassment after appearing as the first woman of color in a leading role in the Star Wars franchise.
“It wasn’t their words, it’s that I started to believe them,” Tran wrote for The New York Times after deleting her Instagram posts in 2018. “Their words seemed to confirm what growing up as a woman and a person of color already taught me: that I belonged in margins and spaces, valid only as a minor character in their lives and stories.”
In the case of “The Mandalorian,” almost anyone who tweets about the show from a feminist perspective is at risk of being targeted, because Star Wars fan accounts are rounding up tweets that criticize things like the amount of time it took for a woman to speak in the first episode.
One account rounded up 33 of these tweets with the caption “SJW’s are outraged over the ‘lack of female characters’ in the first 2 episodes of The Mandalorian. A show with 3 female characters. Feminists only care about counting the number of minutes women are on screen in Star Wars.”
Insider spoke with two people whose tweets were featured in the round-up, who said their tweets were mischaracterized, inspiring a wave of online hate.
Both of the people who spoke with Insider said they liked “The Mandalorian” and will continue watching it, but wanted to point out that it could be better in terms of female representation.
One woman who spoke to Insider anonymously, because she is trying to distance her name from the situation, says the harassment began several days after she posted her initial tweet about a lack of women in the first episode.
After receiving anti-feminist replies on Twitter, she also started getting harassed across platforms, in part because other anti-feminist Star Wars accounts picked up screenshots of her tweet after it was first included in the round-up and distributed to an even wider audience, including on Instagram.
One person even left a violent message for her in the email submission form on her professional website. It reads “People like you don’t deserve a f—ing opinion, but at least I’m glad you can voice it. Doesn’t prevent me from calling you f—ing r—–ed for spouting your misandry. HOW DOES IT F—ING FEEL C—? I hope you expire and never have children.”
“I had to put everything on private, for my own mental health,” she told Insider. “I just had to shut down my profile. I will never, ever, ever tweet about Star Wars again. And I love baby Yoda so much. But I can’t. They won. Life’s too short for me to fight this fight.”
Even after setting her accounts to private, she was inundated by hundreds of follow requests on Twitter, along with DMs sent to her private Instagram.
Those who tweeted about female representation in ‘The Mandalorian’ stand by their words, despite the harassment
The person who tweeted the round-up of critics didn’t want to share any identifying information with Insider, but did stand behind the tweet, and said they didn’t participate in or encourage harassment, but the reach of the account became clear once Insider asked for comment in the replies. Within a few hours, a video had been uploaded about this article (which had not been written yet) to YouTube from a channel with more than 130,000 subscribers.
The video in question has been viewed more than 33,000 times and highlights the mentality in at least one corner of the Star Wars fandom that is male-dominated and is aggressive toward diverse media representation.
“What SJWs do is as soon as this kind of thing happens, they identify [the Twitter account that posted the round-up] as hostile to their narrative […] I would call them left-wing garbage,” the voiceover of YouTuber ComicArtistPro Secrets says in the video. “They are going to come in and write an article smearing [the Twitter account], ‘Don’t you dare shine a light on these cockroaches in such an effective way ever again,'” The YouTuber mocked, referring to the feminist critics as the “cockroaches” in the situation.
“This is a strategy that these sorts of anti-progressive, very regressive cyber mobs have used for years,” Sarkeesian said. “They try to use social justice language against us when we try to bring these issues up but it’s so transparent and so obvious what they’re trying to do, by undermining our point. It’s very bad faith.”
Writer and programmer David Ely, a male who’s tweet was included in the roundup, told Insider that his replies were pretty tame in comparison to Sarkeesian and the other woman Insider spoke to, although he did receive one unspecified death threat from an account that he blocked.
“Part of the response seems to come from a belief that Star Wars needn’t be political. That it be pure entertainment,” Ely told Insider. “Star Wars is a made-up universe. If gender inequality exists there, it’s either on purpose, or because the creator’s biases meant they didn’t notice it. Either way, that’s political.”
Sarkeesian also stood by her original point that “The Mandalorian” should have more female characters, and said a lot of the negative response was because there’s so much pushback from people who have historically been over-represented on the screen, and are hostile to the changing expectations for diverse characters that represent the diverse Star Wars fanbase.
“We are so accustomed to male-dominated narratives that it’s easy to not even notice glaring omissions,” she said. “Unlike if the entire cast had been women, I suspect everyone would have immediately noticed that regardless of what one’s opinion would be on that casting choice.”