Fall 2014: “Digital Empathy” Powerful Voice Winner Tori Gardner

Read Tori's essay, "Anita and Tavi's New Curriculum," that reveals the unexamined misogyny of the Internet, and what we can do to fight against it.

Tori Gardner, a student of Diane Guariglia at Shawnee Mission Horizons High School in Mission, Kansas, read and responded to the YES! Magazine article “The Real Teens Behind ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ Are Bringing Empathy to the Internetby Christopher Zumski Finke, a story about the now-millions strong Nerdfighter movement and its dedication to “increase awesome and decrease world suck.” Finke shares how the first-ever, safe, inclusive Internet community mobilizes acts of kindness and empathy toward others.

Writing Prompt: Parents often label the Internet as a hotbed for cruelty and bullying. Nerdfighters prove the Internet can be used for good, that it can be a place to create community that combats negativity—or “world suck”—with “awesome.” What are some ways—digital or otherwise—that you get strength and support to fight world suck with awesome?



Anita and Tavi’s New Curriculum


At a young age, I was taught that women should cover up our bodies. I was taught that when women are catcalled while out on an early morning jog, we should say “thank you” because we are lucky to have any male notice us at all. This was taught and enforced when I was still in grade school. When I was in fifth grade and a classmate of mine told me to show him my breasts, I yelled at him. I was then promptly sent in the hall for being a distraction. When my teacher came to talk to me afterwards, I told her what he said, and she replied with the horribly over-used excuse for sexism, “boys will be boys.”


Sexism is not just something women have to deal with when we walk down the streets. The Internet is another popular place to harass females. When we make statuses saying that we’re out somewhere, people may feel the need to comment and tell us to “get back in the kitchen.” If we post pictures with a small amount of cleavage showing, we might be called a slut, or have men tell us that we should sleep with them because that is all we are good for. Women are degraded constantly online for having an opinion on any social or political issue.


Anita Sarkeesian’s story is important when discussing feminism in the virtual world. Anita Sarkeesian is a Canadian-American feminist, blogger, and video game critic. She’s the author of the blog “Feminist Frequency” and the video series Tropes vs. Women. As a successful woman, Sarkeesian has made enemies. In May 2012, Sarkeesian started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a series of videos to examine the tropes of women in video games and other forms of media, such as the “Ms. Male Character” trope who is only a feminized version of a popular male character. (A prime example of this is Ms. Pac Man whose only difference from the original Pac Man was a bow, heels, and makeup.) Sarkeesian’s videos triggered tidal waves of rude and sexist comments, and Sarkeesian even received violent intimidations. After receiving a particularly scary bomb threat, Sarkeesian was forced to flee her home and stay with a friend. She later told everyone that she was safe and despite the hateful comments she was getting, she would not back down from her cause.


Despite her issues with the Internet and its misogynistic population, Anita Sarkeesian remains as outspoken and influential as ever. At the XOXO Festival in Portland, Oregon, Sarkeesian spoke about the most basic way to support women online. “One of the most radical things you can do is to actually believe women when they talk about their experiences…” Sarkeesian walked off stage to a standing ovation.


Tavi Gevinson is another great woman who made her own path through the forest of online sexism. At only eleven years old, Gevinson started “Style Rookie,” a fashion blog, and a couple years later, she started blogging about feminism. Gevinson was only 15 years old when she started standing up for herself and her gender. Her sister says she was lucky, simply because she “got into feminism and Riot Grrrl (a popular punk feminist movement from the 1990’s) before she got into that girl self-esteem phase…” when girl’s self-esteem plummets.


Gevinson has made many speeches on feminism and how it has affected the world. In her 2012 TED Talk, Gevinson talks about how pop culture makes female characters very 2-D—compliant, easy to get along with, well mannered, and boring—how people expect women to conform to this unrealistic mold. Women then tend to punish themselves because they don’t fit the form of these flat characters. A character that defies this depressing standard is young Arya Stark from HBO’s Game of Thrones. Arya’s strong will and utter disregard of gendered stereotypes are only some of the reasons that she is an awesome role model for younger girls. Instead of taking up the so-called “women’s duties,” Arya takes to sword fighting and archery at a young age. She prefers wooden swords to dolls and would gladly head into battle. When this young warrior was told that she wasn’t being “ladylike,” she replied, “Good!”


Gevinson also interviewed Miley Cyrus for ELLE magazine in late April 2014. When Miley said that she was a feminist and wanted everyone to be equal, Gevinson agreed, saying “Right! And that’s what feminism is!”


Following the examples of Anita Sarkeesian, Tavi Gevinson, and other women like them, I encourage anyone and everyone on the Internet to stand up against the ignorance and misogyny that riddles the cracks of almost every website. When a rape joke is made, don’t laugh. Instead, say “That’s not funny,”even if it’s just to yourself. The first step to stopping sexism is changing your own attitude. Stand up to the sexualized comments, rude banter, and women-in-the-kitchen jokes.


Teaching every generation from here on out that everyone is equal no matter their gender, race, sexual orientation, political party or age is something that is just as important as the core education they receive in the classroom. Misogyny should be banished from what we teach our younger and future generations and replaced with acceptance and love.



Inspiration in Your Inbox

Get the free daily newsletter from YES! Magazine:
Stories of people creating a better world to inspire you and your students.

Sign Up