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*UPDATE: Kickstarter has issued an apology for their behavior described below and promised to donate $25K to the anti-sexual violence organization, RAINN. The response is belated and imperfect, but it was the right thing to do. 

Usually, if I’m lying in bed trying to fall asleep, I’m either imagining myself adopting a pet pig or fantasizing about meeting Terry Gross. Last night, I was in neither of these delightful places, but instead cooking up various plans to protest Kickstarter, a company that just months ago enabled me to live out my dream of publishing a book.

Until yesterday, I had nothing but positive things to say about Kickstarter. I spent a month luring all my friends, family and acquaintances there to support my book. I happily watched the company take 5% of their donations, because – hello – I don’t know how the internet works well enough to capture that other 95% anyway. But despite how deeply indebted to Kickstarter I felt two days ago, I am now ashamed to be associated with them in any way. I feel disgusting to have used and promoted their services.

There’s been plenty of coverage on the recent funding of “master pickup artist” (go ahead, vomit. I’ll wait.) Ken Hoinsky’s book Above the Game, in which he instructs men to force themselves on women because “the most successful seducers are those who can’t keep their hands off of women.” There are plenty of other disgusting excerpts to be found out there, but they can be summed up with this this quote: “Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant. Force her to rebuff your advances.” You can look up more details on the book practically anywhere on the internet at this point.

The arguments for and against Kickstarter allowing this to happen – despite it being flagged as offensive before its funding time was up – are basically, “this should fall into your ‘offensive content’ guidelines” vs. “free speech” and/or “the actually offensive content was on Reddit” (despite his stated intent to include his Reddit advice in the book).

But here’s the bottom line: sexual assault is a crime. The fact that this debate is even going on reveals how our culture has relegated the treatment of women described by Hoinsky’s “book” to shallow, offensive, and perhaps icky, but everyone is acting as if crime isn’t even a factor. This man describes walking up to women in bars, shoving them against walls, aggressively kissing them and then walking away. He believes when he returns to this woman later she will be turned on and intrigued. Instead, he should return to find this woman filing a police report and a pair of handcuffs waiting for him. If Kickstarter has standards for rejecting a project based on “offensive content” and a how-to guide for criminal activity doesn’t fall within them, they have no standards at all.

So here are the ideas for divorcing myself from Kickstarter I came up with while trying to fall asleep last night:

  • Returning all the funds given to me by my backers and demanding Kickstarter refund their portion to them as well. Mostly, this would hurt me and bum out my supporters, and I really doubt Kickstarter would comply so…I scratched that.
  • Organize thousands of people to submit massive numbers of projects to Kickstarter that promote other criminal activities. Maybe a comic book about how to burn down a museum, or a video about how to throw a box of kittens down a fire escape, or a book about how to commit mass murder. It would be great, because a) enough projects could actually gum up their works over there and b) if they reject those and not Above the Game Kickstarter would be admitting that they don’t believe sexual assault is a crime. This one is my favorite, but I don’t think I have the power to command thousands…yet.
  • Do what I can do. Kickstarter received about $400 from me. I wish they would give that money back, not to me, but to a cause that would help reverse the damage they’re doing by allowing disgusting, ignorant humans to feel validated when they commit crimes against women. I’m going to write to them and ask that they donate the amount my backers gave them to my community’s SafeHouse Center, which supports victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. I’m counting on them to ignore the request, so I’m going to go ahead and make the donation myself. If they decide to match my donation, that’s great. If not, at least my backers can feel that their financial karma is somewhat restored.

I am truly sorry for using Kickstarter. Maybe they will change their mind, pull funding for this horrible project, and my respect for them could maybe partially return. But since this year alone we’re faced with crises over military rape, the cultural acceptance of rape jokes and continual misogyny on our airwaves, there has to be a line. It has to stop. We need to stop rolling our eyes at this; we need to start putting our feet down. Kickstarter could be leading the charge, but they simply won’t.

If you’d like to encourage them to change their mind, sign this petition.

Hi Kickstarter,  Until yesterday, I couldn't have been a bigger fan of your site. Though I'm grateful that your platform helped me raise funds for my book, I am now ashamed to be associated with you. The fact that an instruction manual on how to sexually assault women does not fall under your "offensive content" guidelines leads me to believe you don't believe sexual assault is a crime. It is.  I don't know how to explain to the 188 people who backed me that 5% of their money went to a company that doesn't believe sexual assault is a crime. I want to give them that money back, but unfortunately, your stance has already done the damage of validating people who don't believe the acts described by the author of Above the Game are criminal, so that wouldn't really help the greater issue. Instead, I'd like you to donate the $438 you made from my project to SafeHouse Center, a domestic violence and sexual assault non-profit in my community. Because I don't actually expect you to comply, I am making the same donation on my own. If you should choose to do the right thing and not make my backers unwittingly indirect supporters of validating sexual assaulters, I would ask you to match my $438 donation here: http://www.safehousecenter.org/ Thank you,  Natalie Burg

Hi Kickstarter,
Until yesterday, I couldn’t have been a bigger fan of your site. Though I’m grateful that your platform helped me raise funds for my book, I am now ashamed to be associated with you. The fact that an instruction manual on how to sexually assault women does not fall under your “offensive content” guidelines leads me to believe you don’t believe sexual assault is a crime. It is.
I don’t know how to explain to the 188 people who backed me that 5% of their money went to a company that doesn’t believe sexual assault is a crime. I want to give them that money back, but unfortunately, your stance has already done the damage of validating people who don’t believe the acts described by the author of Above the Game are criminal, so that wouldn’t really help the greater issue. Instead, I’d like you to donate the $438 you made from my project to SafeHouse Center, a domestic violence and sexual assault non-profit in my community. Because I don’t actually expect you to comply, I am making the same donation on my own. If you should choose to do the right thing and not make my backers unwittingly indirect supporters of validating sexual assaulters, I would ask you to match my $438 donation here: http://www.safehousecenter.org/
Thank you,
Natalie Burg

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