Mad World: No Girls Allowed: File Sharing Culture and BitTorrent

Anita Sarkeesian
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Every time I go to download files from a BitTorrent tracker site I am constantly bombarded with ads for sex/dating sites or straight up pornography and I'm sick of it. Women are engaging in online technologies as well and we are repetitively told that we don't belong.

BitTorrent (n.): a file sharing protocol used to distribute large files BitTorrent tracker site (n.): is a server that assists in the communication between peers using the BitTorrent protocol Related Links and Articles:

Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist media literacy advocate, pop culture critic and fair use proponent. She maintains an ongoing web series of video commentaries from a fangirl/feminist/anti-oppression perspective at her website OH_Logo.jpgThis project was made possible in part by a grant from Oregon Humanities (OH), a statewide nonprofit organization and an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which funds OH's grant program. Any views, findings, and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Oregon Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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26 Comments Have Been Posted

Torrent culture is dude culture

I was very active in one of the torrenting communities a few years ago, on this one tracker's IRC channel, and it was a distinctly unwelcoming place for women. Despite the fact that this particular group of distributors handled television shows that catered mostly to women, women were strongly discouraged from joining in the general discussion or kibitzing over the technical details of encoding high quality "rips" of a show. It's an incredibly hard culture in which to be a newbie to begin with, but if you're a female newbie they'll eat you alive. These days I don't feel safe speaking up at any private tracking site, no matter what the content, because I've had it drilled into me that being female in these spaces will only close doors for me.

Co-signed. Godless Heathen

Co-signed. Godless Heathen (hi! *waves*), my experiences mirror what you've written here.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


My partner sometimes wonders why I make him find and start the torrents of our favorite shows or of the things I want to watch, because he knows it is well within my techie-geek-skilz. This? Big part of why.

The real barriers to women

The real barriers to women in technology ? MATH Women (in the whole) , don't do math.

I was going to respond to

I was going to respond to your idiotic comment but I was too distracted by your horrible grammar.

math and girls

There was a study a little while ago where it was proven that girls were just as good, or sometimes a little better, than guys on average. The caveat is guys end up on the edges of the bell curve more often than women, so we have more Newtons...and more guys who can't add two and two.

As to the porn thing...

1) Anything hosting torrents on a large scale is probably using some serious bandwidth, and they need money. hosting torrents for free doesn't pay for the server(s) OR the lawyers that they'll need when corps get on their asses for giving out free shit. So they need advertising which is one of the few that are lucrative. Torrent hosts have a lot of money problems, and not a lot of people will give donations.

2) Porn is a huge market because most people don't get as much sex as they want, so they masturbate, and porn helps. Whether you follow Dworkin's view or not that's how it is. Porn notoriously cares little for laws or illegalities since a lot of porn sites steal the clips/movies they show anyway; the potential criminality of advertising on a filesharing site doesn't phase them much.

3) A lot of guy nerds identify as heterosexual (it is by and far the most common sexuality people identify as) and and a lot of guy nerds have poor social skills. This makes them porn's best friend because they're probably not going to do the deed very often due to not understanding how most social conventions work. Additionally, a fair share of nerds are extremely intolerant of anyone with a different worldview, and that leads to quite a bit of homophobia in their communities.

4) So, if you show them breasts, guy nerds probably won't mind. If you show them penises, quite a few will. This would drive them away for the same reason you have been driven away- you don't identify with it at all. And, unfortunately, the advertising doesn't see meeting your needs as essential to their revenue.

5) Finally, I'm not sure about this particular advertiser they use, but a lot of ads are run by a third party who makes the deal with the client, and the client has no control over what ads are run. So the ads may not be deliberate by the site, but by the advertiser.

I understand the financial

I understand the financial reasons why these ads exist but the conversation needs to move away from that or we need to discuss other economic models for websites to stay afloat. It's the same as the "sex sells" argument that I hear repeatedly, and somehow I'm just supposed to accept that. No way.

From a nerdy guy

I hadn't thought that deeply into some of the economic forces behind the porn adverts... Namely, that the servers would cost a fair bit of money, and that porn sites don't see it as entirely unethical. Not sure why that didn't dawn on me. I suppose it was easier just to blame it on a few guys trying to exploit a potential demographic. Anyways, thanks for the insight!

I have to say though, I really don't agree with your representation of nerdy guys. Sure, I've met a few that match that description, but I wouldn't describe them as the majority. Far from it. Nerds are often stereotyped as being unsociable, and foreigners to society. But in my experience, nerds are a very social, interactive group. The games they play require a lot of collaboration between players, and communication with complete strangers is often key to victory. Outside the realm of games, nerds set up entire communities dedicated to just about anything under the sun, in an attempt to seek out like-minded people and befriend them. Facebook and Twitter were conceived by nerds (or so I assume), along with other social networking sites, forums, messengers, etc. Nerds create real life events such as PAX, Comic-Con, Anime-Con, E3, and plenty of others so that they can meet with the people they've met online, and meet the ones they haven't. Being a nerd is becoming more socially acceptable every year, and the term becomes more loosely defined accordingly. To make a broad, sweeping generalization that all male nerds don't understand social conventions, are intolerant of others, and have poor social skills speaks of a rather narrow view of the demographic. These people exist, yes. But so does every other conceivable type of person. I just don't think that being a nerd and being unsociable are mutually exclusive. If someone is homophobic, intolerant, and can't socialize, it's almost certainly because of how they were raised, not because they can use bittorrent. I'd rather not associate myself with the nerds you're referring to, to be honest, haha. Sure, I look at porn, it's nothing to be ashamed of. But I don't get offended if I see a penis. I see mine everyday, and I don't berate myself for looking at it ("How DARE you show a penis in this mirror!"). Personally, I don't particularly mind what body parts are in a picture, because they're just that: body parts. Everybody has something, so what does it matter. Again, if somebody has a problem with it, it's because of the environment they were raised in, not because they like technology. AAANYWAYS... This was entirely too long (and probably not a fantastic use of my meager free time), but it irritates me when people still follow along with outdated stereotypes. Even more so on a site dedicated to showing how ridiculous certain stereotypes are. If that's the conclusion you've come to after interacting with these nerds however, let me take it upon myself to apologize in their stead. We're not all like that, I swear! I'll put my response to the video elsewhere so that you aren't too bombarded, haha. Sorry, but the point must have been made! =P

Thinking on it though, the ads must be working in some capacity if they keep them around. Hrm.

You must not know a lot of nerds, man.

Your definition of nerds is more like average people with nerdy interests. Someone who likes video games is not a nerd. Someone who plays video games much more often than they talk to people is a nerd. I mean, perhaps it's cultural drift since my time, with the acceptance of games and stuff like WoW in the mainstream and the tendency of people to label themselves as something they don't qualify for that 'nerds' are more common nowadays. But if you write down some ideas for a book, that doesn't make you a writer. Nerds obsess. That's what a nerd used to be, and really is the definition of a nerd. They'll argue for hours over minute Star Wars trivia or know what poop socking is or memorize fictional languages. Nerdy people aren't nerds.

Additionally, they're by and far the majority because they rarely socialize. Going to conventions doesn't make you social. What makes you social is going out and doing stuff with people on a regular basis, which these people don't do. If you really don't believe me, go to Encyclopedia Dramatica or tons of them there, and ED is one of the most popular sites on the web.

To Anita:

What other methods are they going to use that covers expenses? D4D isn't cost efficient, donations aren't extensive enough and is ridiculous to ask for in a medium about not paying for things, shirts and swag are counter productive because torrent sites don't want lots of attention. Torrent sites all use the same essential method because it's sadly the only method that works consistently unless you secretly have a few hundred thousand dollars lying around. The only site I know that doesn't use ads is and that's because in America it only directs you torrents on other torrent sites.

Also, as someone who doesn't like the practices these sites have, why haven't you...come up with a replacement? Your video is essentially, I don't like this. Stop it! You even obliquely mention the financial reasons except you don't provide any solutions to the problem, when if you have a problem with something you should be offering alternatives. If you don't buy that, then come up with a model and prove it would work.

Lastly, I haven't seen any of your other videos, so what do you mean by fembot?

You can watch my fembot

You can watch my fembot video if you would like a definition of fembots:

It always makes me laugh when people say, "Well go out and make it yourself" as if media critics should be responsible for making all the Hollywood movies, tv shows, advertising, video games, comic books etc. Seriously!? Can I not critic without being personally held responsible for creating alternatives? Frankly, it's ridiculous.

Lastly, there are torrent tracker sites that do not use pornographic forms of advertising and they seem to be doing fine.

I'm talking about "geeks"

I'm talking about "geeks" not "nerds" which have different stereotypes attached to them. And I never said (or even suggested) the stereotypes that you mentioned in your comments, I am however talking about a geek culture that is male dominated and makes it difficult for women to participate.

Maybe not the best example?

I completely agree that exclusion of (and sometimes outright hostility toward) women in geek culture is a huge problem. However, I don't know if porny ads on torrent trackers is the best example. I think those ads tend to exist there because a torrent tracker is inherently kind of a gray-area enterprise, and sleazy advertisers are the only ones willing to throw money their way. Torrent trackers also presumably need to go with the highest bidder when it comes to advertising, in order to squeeze as much monetization out of their site as they can, with the specter of being shut down looming. That is to say. I imagine the advertising that a torrent tracker chooses to be based strictly on dollars and cents - I don't know if they can afford to make editorial restrictions on the content. I think perhaps in this specific situation the real problem is more that these gross porny things like "virtual strippers" can make enough money in the first place to bid so much on advertising that gray-area sites like torrent trackers have such a hard time saying "no".

As a counter-example you could look at a site like <a href=""></a> which is (as far as I know) relatively small and independent, and firmly within the geek culture. Their advertising skews "typical male" (fast cars! XXXTREME power!) but as a more "legitimate" site there's none of the kind of sliminess you'd get from something like a torrent tracker.

Again I want to stress that I wholeheartedly agree with the overall message of this piece, I just don't think torrent tracker ads are necessarily the strongest example of the problem.


Can we get a transcript, please? Thanks.

If you want to ignore the

If you want to ignore the impact of theft, or convince yourself that only networks and giant corporate behemoths are affected, go ahead - welcome to the gray market.

If you care about the lives of some women who make, market and control every aspect of their adult (or heck, non-adult) output only to have it stolen and shared right under your nose, then maybe the ethics get a little thicker than "porn ew."

Livelihood is a feminist issue. Maybe Bitch doesn't mind the republication of its subscription versions as long as there's no nasty sex/dating ad in the corner.

My video is not discussing

My video is not discussing the "ethics" of file sharing, so what is your point in regards to the actual topic of video?

No respectable business will

No respectable business will advertise with file sharing sites because they don't want to be associated with stealing copyrighted work. All that is left is porn. If you don't like it install Adaware.

Porn propaganda

This kind of erotic propaganda you mentioned bothers not only women in my opinion, but anyone with a little online experience, as we know that these sites are frequently associated with malware/virus spreading. A good new is that serious marketing enterprises like Google don´t work with this type of content.

Not digging my brethren, there.

Tsk, c'mon nerds. 'the hell... I'm not female, so I haven't hardly considered the role of female nerds in the community. Only insofar as online gaming, to be honest. From now on I'm gonna keep a sharp eye out for women being shunned or treated unfairly. It shouldn't be difficult, sadly... As for the rest of the video, I LOVED IT. Adverts like those irritate me to no end! If I had wanted porn, I would be looking at porn. I don't want it being thrown in my face; not to mention the gender-bias, and women being treated like tools and attractions at a theme park. I often use BitTorrent to find movies so terrible even Netflix won't carry them, so that my friends and I can watch them. I hadn't quite realized how sad it was that I accepted the ads as normal. Heck, even my female friends are so used to it all that they just giggle a little and gloss over them. Russian girls want US? Damn, well, how do they even know our genders, orientations, etc? They were fun to laugh at for a bit, but now they just feel demeaning. Not to mention that they must be working in some capacity if they keep them running... Thanks for opening my eyes a bit, I'll be sure my friends all hear about this. =)

You're excellent. :)

You're excellent. :)


Mostly dropping in my two cents about the financials. Running a bittorrent tracker does not, as an above poster claimed, take massive bandwidth. A tracker only stores the .torrent file, which is kind of a coordinate system, and is a tiny, tiny file (a couple hundred KB, at most). None of the actual data being exchanged goes through the tracker, but is directly between the file sharers. And neither do trackers require large legal resources, as most legal threats to the trackers do not go anywhere. This is because, as noted, the technically illegal content does not reside anywhere within the tracker server, it only tells you where you can find it.

On the bigger point, yes, online culture is agressively young male het dude culture, and no, it's not likeable or OK in any way.

Current alternatives or stop-gap solutions ...

• Adblocking/Scriptblocking. Sure, it's just an ostrich in the sand "solution", but also, anything that reduces number of views of the ads may reduce the advertisers desire to continue placing the ads.
• Be selective of your tracker choice. Some are egregious offenders of humanity, while others are nearly ad-free.

Great points, great post.

You're ignoring that while

You're ignoring that while each individual only downloads a few hundred kilobytes, sites like has traffic slightly under 1% of global internet users, according to Alexa, and has 4 million registered users, and registration isn't required for downloading torrents. Lowballing the estimate at 500,000 people downloading 1 torrent at a small size of 100kilobytes is somewhere in the vicinity of 47 gigabytes a day, which equals out to nearly a terabyte and a half of data a month using an extremely low estimate. So if 1 million people downloaded the same size torrent, it'd be 3~ terabytes a month, 1.5 million 4.5~ terabytes, etc. Keep in mind sites like have caused bandwidth <i>to overflow daily limits on sites just from people visiting sites they link to </i>, and that TPB has many times over the visitors penny-arcade does. has also had to spend time in court, has received DDoS attacks, and has had a few police raids with confiscation of equipment. They've also been ordered to pay 4.2 million dollars and serve a year in jail which they are appealing. had to change to a 'lite' version due to legal threats. Mininova has had repeated legal troubles, went down to not wanting to fight legal warnings, and Demonoid went down for a year due to legal troubles. All of these sites have had hardware troubles, and legal issues.

So it can be quite expensive and costly, overall.

Pretty good video. Except

Pretty good video. Except wikipedia. There are no ads on wikipedia and user accounts are annoymous, you dont have to join a discussion or community to edit an article, you can simply click edit to add links and references, or fix typos, or add content. I fail to see how because 23 of woman are contributing this has anything to do with sexism in advertising, or sexism in general. It truly gets no more anonymous than wikipedia, and their aren't social barriers that come along with other things say women in stem fields. Edit away my friends.

"Geek" appearance and legitimate math difficulty

<p>At least from personal experience, I can say that one of the major barriers preventing women from being more actively engaged in tech/"geek" culture is what people commonly associate the physical appearance of a "geek" to be like. Remember the accordion-playing girlfriend in Revenge of the Nerds? Ugly Betty? Then come to find out that even male "nerds" prefer the "hot" chicks (fembots?) just as much as more "normal" guys do (if not more so), and you hear the echoes of Dorothy Parker once again: "Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses." At least books, being the humanities, specifically fiction, are considered more "sensitive" and feminine than cold, impersonal numbers, math, and programming algorithms that just aren't human. :(</p>
<p>I don't know if this is really true or not, that biologically, women are supposed to possess a more humanistic nature and mindset than men, and that this is why we often do better with language, literature, and theoretical/abstract things like the social sciences than with concrete things like math and programming. I know for me, I do ok on the computer and am a great troubleshooter, but I'd feel self-conscious if I had a natural aptitude for engineering -- like I wasn't much of a "person" anymore, much less a woman, and probably an unattractive one at that. I should say also that I do wear glasses but am seriously looking into Lasic surgery because I think I look like a geek/nerd and not like I want to, "pretty," whatever that is, and don't want to spend the rest of my life alone. But I think there's an issue of possible "superficiality" when it comes to women not being involved in the maths and sciences. Or maybe just not for their own sake, i.e. a chemistry major goes on to form her own cosmetics line, or a would-be architect becomes an interior decorator, even a computer programmer designs some pretty app for Facebook that lets girls chat with an avatar of Justin Bieber... something that "feminizes" the traditionally male pursuits and makes them less "ugly." There is still that belief that with an overdeveloped cerebrum, you tend to "let yourself go" -- and also the belief that this is to be avoided at all costs. In other words, it's not pretty to work on a computer unless you're the dumb secretary asking the talking paperclip what he did with your nail file. :(</p>
<p>I should say also that I think there's a flip side to this argument, because I have dyscalculia, a learning disability best described as dyslexia for math, and unfortunately, I struggled greatly -- almost to the point of a total nervous breakdown -- with a required statistics course that I needed to graduate college. There's been a tragic movement towards a "one size fits all" pseudo-equality standard with things like No Child Left Behind and the related framework for higher education. And I've been hit with tons of arguments, from women, in fact, who say that I really can do math, that it's a gender-social construct preventing me from applying myself, when no, I really have a learning disability, but that's men's fault too? I'm not blaming feminism, not at all, but I think some people -- not feminists, not women, or men, or geeks, but people in general -- tend to have too broad of a belief in certain things that doesn't allow for hiccups along the way. My brain just does not allow me to do math, just like dyslexics have some situation with their brain that doesn't allow them to read words or sentences as they're written. For some reason people have a harder time accepting that someone can't do math than can read or write in whatever way, I guess because language is so complex and has so many rules when math is considered cut and dry. This wasn't times tables, this was statistics, and I had to understand formulas and learn new symbols, etc. (And this was at the <strong>Associate's</strong> level! I did finally graduate, but decided that I had <strong>absolutely no interest</strong> in ever pursuing my bachelor's, much less graduate's or above, because of the intense cerebral work involved that nearly landed me in an insane asylum. 2+2=5 much?)</p>
<p>But I like BitTorrent, not just 'cause more of the best things in life are "free" ;) but because it opens the door for a new frontier of "techno-politics" -- political/social precedents regarding communication that are being challenged as new innovations change the way we share information, and of course, who benefits ($$$) or doesn't from the "brave new world." I should mention also that in, I believe, Sweden, where the Pirate Bay's servers are headquartered (for now, and their admins not drawn and quartered), the parliament just elected its youngest female member, and she is registered under the controversial Pirate Party. :) I personally hang out on sites like WarezBB and download from Rapidshare and Megaupload too, where on the DDL forums I am also in the minority as a female. (Even though I have tons of uploads and am a "trusted VIP" on a few.) I'm sort of fascinated by the whole thing, but not in terms of being a boring cog-in-the-wheel M$ or Google employee, rather the (probably not real) adventurous goth/sci-fi "hacktivist" world of Lisbeth Salander and Abby from NCIS. Oh, and I like the idea of Linux, open-source, and distributed computing because as techie and geeky as the guts of it are under the hood, it's a lot more "people" oriented than multi-billion-dollar Windows and Google will ever be. :)</p>

These advertisements link to

These advertisements link to malware and are spam.

The reason is because what torrent sites are doing is usually illegal. So the only ones willing to give them money are people who are doing other illegal, sketchy things.

I don't think anyone likes getting these ads. Unless you like malware.
Thank goodness for AdBlock.

Porn ads

As the proprietor of a website which contains material not suitable for most ad networks (IE Google adsense), I can say that porn networks are the only other choice. This is not to exclude women, but because it is the only financial option. I think you are taking this too personally, or just pandering to the extremist crowd (as your former work helping guys skirt consent from "sluts" says to me that your radfem morals are either newly found or fabricated).

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