Ending my relationship with Cards Against Humanity and Max Temkin

Anita Sarkeesian
Jun 8 · 5 min read

Max Temkin is an abuser.

Theresa Stewart’s story, which she shared on Twitter this past weekend, is just one of many stories I’ve heard recently from a whisper network of acquaintances, friends, and former employees about how abusive the environment at the Cards Against Humanity office is to women, particularly women of colour. Please read Theresa’s thread and then come back to this post.

In addition to stories like Theresa’s, and many others which former employees have been too intimidated to share publicly, there has also been a rape allegation against Max, to which he responded with deflected blame and implicit legal threats. (Here’s a good analysis of the problems with that apology.)

And I’ve been complicit in his harm.

I heard about that allegation, and after some time had passed, I continued to be friendly with him. I strongly advocate believing women, but in this particular instance, when it came time for me to uphold that principle and act accordingly, I failed. I have no excuse for this.

As the executive director of a non-profit, I accepted donations from Max and Cards Against Humanity. Max and I have been on each other’s podcasts. I occasionally sought him out for advice. I’ve stayed at his house, and I’ve worked out of the CAH office while in Chicago.

And even though I felt conflicted about it, I kept doing it. I looked around at our mutual friends and didn’t see anyone else having a problem, so I gave myself permission to think that there wasn’t one. I did not realise that they were doing the same to me; they were looking at me, and since I didn’t seem to have a problem, they too assumed there wasn’t one.

This thinking is wrong.

Back in 2014 when the abuse allegations were first published, there were people who spoke up. Various news outlets reported the story, and the XOXO Festival permanently banned Max from attendance. Last year, Carta Monir bravely spoke at an event at the CAH office and confronted the team directly in their own house, calling out Max and the complicity of everyone around him.

As Theresa Stewart points out, the abuse is not limited to those who speak out about the rape allegation. Workplace abuse and gaslighting is a part of the culture at CAH. Things are worse for those Max has direct power over, and they are worst of all for his female employees, who are most likely to suffer real harm from social punishment. Women he has employed, and especially women of colour, are legitimately afraid of having their careers sabotaged by speaking out against him. There is a very real, very deep fear of speaking up, because of how much power Max holds.

Critically, this goes beyond just Max: this is the entire culture of the company. Racist and sexist behaviours from the top down have created a toxic environment for employees. The person steering the ship is an abuser and liar. The culture is set and maintained from the top.

I’m amplifying Theresa’s story to help demonstrate the harm powerful men can cause, and how a constellation of abuse affects so many Black women and women of colour in this society. I have been running a feminist organization committed to intersectionality for 11 years, and during that time I have regularly spoken out against abuses of power. By publicly associating with Max, I allowed him to take cover via tacit approval from me and my nonprofit. I am not willing to do that anymore.

In November of 2019, I confronted Max about the rape allegations and told him that I was being a hypocrite by associating with him, and not living by my feminist principles by continuing the friendship. I told him that, if he genuinely wanted to work towards repairing the harm he’s caused, I would try to help — otherwise we could no longer be acquainted.

Max told me that he wanted to do whatever he could to keep our relationship intact. I urged him to take a couple of days to reflect and then to get back to me so that we could make a plan.

I never heard from him again. Instead, he unfollowed and blocked me on social media. Like everyone else who attempted to talk with him about these issues, I was met with silence and dismissal.

I truly believe in transformative justice, and that people who have caused harm should be given the opportunity to mend that harm and work towards being better in the future. But Max has demonstrated none of the actions of a person who feels remorse and wants to be better.

Max was recently uninvited from an annual conference we both usually attend in Chicago because his presence made several attendees very uncomfortable. Unsurprisingly, when asked about this by other attendees wondering where he was, he deflected or lied to justify his absence. On the other hand, he recently raised over $3m on Kickstarter without batting an eye. He could not have done this without collaboration from others, many of whom know about his reputation and the allegations against him, but are willing to look the other way in order to benefit from a relationship with Max. A temptation I know all too well.

I am sorry that my passivity and continued silence contributed more tangible harm towards his targets, and that by continuing to publicly associate with him, I gave targets a reason to fear approaching even public advocates of feminism to ask for help. I never meant to undermine my own work and those of others who create safe, supportive communities, but that’s exactly what I did. And I am sorry that it took me this long to take concrete action.

This is the work. Recognizing my privilege. Recognizing my complicity. Calling myself out. Admitting my role in harm. I have to be willing to admit when I am wrong. I share all of this to acknowledge my responsibility in allowing an abusive man to continue getting away with harm. I want to mend the harm that I’ve done with my silence, and I promise to do better in the future.

If you are friendly with Max, reflect on your own complicity in maintaining a relationship with someone who has caused harm, abused his power to hurt those less powerful, and refuses to be held accountable for that harm. If you have business ties with Max, Cards Against Humanity, or Chicago Board Game Cafe, as Theresa urged you, now is the time to break ties with them. This will not be a merely symbolic gesture; Max benefits greatly from the power and status of those who continue to associate with him. By breaking ties with him, we actually reduce the amount of social power he wields.

As someone recently told me, “You can be comfortable or you can be courageous, but you can’t be both.” Please join me in this work. It’s never too late to be courageous and face the consequences for what you’ve done.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store