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Anita Sarkeesian
Anita Sarkeesian headshot.jpg
Sarkeesian in 2011
Born 1983 (age 40–41)
Nationality Canadian-American
  • Media critic
  • public speaker

Anita Sarkeesian (/sɑːrˈkziən/ SAR-kee-ZEE-ən; born 1983) is a Canadian-American feminist media critic and public speaker. She is the founder of Feminist Frequency, a website that hosts videos and commentary analyzing portrayals of women in popular culture. Her video series Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, examines tropes in the depiction of female video game characters.

Media scholar Soraya Murray calls Sarkeesian emblematic of "a burgeoning organized feminist critique" of stereotyped and objectified portrayals of women in video games.

In 2012, Sarkeesian was targeted by an online harassment campaign following her launch of a Kickstarter project to fund the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series. The threats and harassment generated widespread media attention, and resulted in the project far exceeding its funding goal. The media coverage placed Sarkeesian at the center of discussions about misogyny in video game culture and online harassment. She has spoken to TEDxWomen, XOXO Festival, and the United Nations' Broadband Working Group on Gender, and appeared on The Colbert Report discussing her experiences of harassment and the challenge of attempting to improve gender inclusivity in gaming culture and the media.

Early life and education

Sarkeesian was born in Canada and grew up near Toronto. Her parents were Iraqi Armenians who emigrated to Canada in the 1970s. She later moved to California and identifies as Canadian-American.

She received a bachelor's degree in communication studies from California State University, Northridge, in 2007 and then earned a master's degree in social and political thought from York University in 2010. Her master's thesis is titled I'll Make a Man Out of You: Strong Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy Television.


Feminist Frequency

Feminist Frequency
YouTube information
Years active 2009–present
Genre Commentary
Subscribers 213 thousand
Total views 33.7 million
Subscriber and view counts updated as of August 1, 2023.

Sarkeesian launched the nonprofit organization and website Feminist Frequency in 2009, while a student at York University. She created the site in an effort to create accessible feminist media criticism. Videos created for the site analyzed social and cultural gender structure and popular culture from a feminist standpoint, such as applying the Bechdel test to pictures nominated for the 84th Academy Awards in 2012 and highlighting Lego's role in reinforcing cultural norms.

In 2011, Sarkeesian co-authored the essay "Buffy vs. Bella: The Re-Emergence of the Archetypal Feminine in Vampire Stories" for the anthology Fanpires: Audience Consumption of the Modern Vampire. She spoke at conferences and workshops about media criticism and video blogging, and was interviewed by UK Sunday newspaper The Observer in March 2012 about modern media culture, stating: "I think to the extent that it could be creating authentic, human female characters, it is a push towards a more feminist media."

In March 2012, Sarkeesian and her blog were listed in the journal Feminist Collections's quarterly column on "E-Sources on Women & Gender". Her blog has been utilized as material for university-level women's studies courses, and she has spoken at universities on the topic of female characters in pop culture.

Sarkeesian was inspired to start a video series on female representation in video games after she was invited to speak to developers at Bungie. On May 17, 2012, she began a Kickstarter campaign to fund a series of short videos that would examine gender tropes in video games that was featured as a campaign of note on the official Kickstarter blog. The threats and harassment she received in response generated widespread media attention, and resulted in the project ultimately far exceeding its initial funding goal of $6,000, which it reached in less than a day. The final amount raised was $158,922 from 6,968 backers. While stating that the support Sarkeesian has received "stands at a counter" to the harassment, Sal Humphreys and Karen Orr Vered, writing in Television & New Media, suggest that the harassment Sarkeesian received may ultimately serve to discourage other women from following Sarkeesian's lead for fear of being subjected to similar attacks.

Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games - text logo
Title card used in the Tropes vs Women videos

Sarkeesian initially planned to release the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series in 2012 but pushed it back explaining that the additional funding allowed her to expand the scope and scale of the project. The first video in the Tropes vs Women in Video Games series was released on March 7, 2013.

The first three videos discuss examples of the "Damsels in Distress" trope, in which passive and often helpless female characters must be rescued by the male hero. Chris Suellentrop of The New York Times referred to the first four videos of the series as "essential viewing for anyone interested in video games", and cites it as the reason why he asked Nintendo producer Shigeru Miyamoto about the themes of damsels present in his games, to which he responded "I haven't given it a lot of deep thought over the years".

Colin Campbell writes at Polygon that Feminist Frequency has had a demonstrable effect on the games industry, stating, "video games have seen a rise in the number of positive women and minority protagonists and a decrease in the tropes [Sarkeesian] discusses" since the launch of the project. In January 2015, as part of a $300 million effort to increase diversity and inclusivity in the technology sphere, Intel announced it would partner with Feminist Frequency and other groups to help promote increased career opportunities, engagement and positive representation for women and minorities in technology and gaming.

In January 2015, the nonprofit issued its first annual report and announced they were planning two new video series tackling the "positive" portrayal of women in video games, as well as the "portrayal of masculine identities in games".

In March 2016, Feminist Frequency launched a crowdfunding campaign for an animated video series called Ordinary Women: Daring to Defy History. The planned 5-episode series will explore the lives of historical women such as Ida B. Wells and Emma Goldman. The video series was released in 2017.

In March 2016, Feminist Frequency began a formal partnership with the Crash Override Network, agreeing to serve as its fiscal sponsor. Crash Override is a support group for victims of large scale online abuse formed by game developers Zoë Quinn and Alex Lifschitz in the wake of the Gamergate controversy.

The Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series ended with its final episode, "The Lady Sidekick", posted on April 27, 2017. Sarkeesian announced that Feminist Frequency would produce another series.

In March 2019, Feminist Frequency returned with a three part miniseries on Queer Tropes in Video Games that is similar to Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.

According to Axios in March 2022, "Reflecting on her work and its impact during a Game Developers Conference talk ... Sarkeesian says that making [Tropes] videos today might be 'not impossible, but harder,' as there are fewer examples and 'the pattern is less egregious.'"

In October 2022, Sarkeesian began a new video series on online streaming service Nebula called That Time When, which "looks at the moments when pop culture and politics collide in modern history".

In August 2023, Sarkeesian announced that the nonprofit would close, citing "exhaustion and burnout", with operations ceasing at the turn of the year. The nonprofit's programs would cease operations in early 2024, while the Feminist Frequency Radio podcast would continue to be presented by co-host Kat Spada; past episodes would remain accessible online, along with Sarkeesian’s previous media criticism video series including Tropes vs Women and The FREQ Show.

Media appearances

Anita Sarkeesian 2013
Sarkeesian speaking at Media Evolutions The Conference 2013

Sarkeesian and her work have come to much greater public attention following the announcement of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games and the harassment she subsequently faced. Discussions occurred in a range of publications and outlets, including The New York Times, The Guardian and New Statesman.

Sarkeesian's elevated profile led to speaking engagements on online communities at the TEDxWomen conference and several universities.

Speaking at the XOXO Festival in September 2014, Sarkeesian described the allegation that she and other women fabricated harassment as itself being a form of harassment. "Harassment is the background radiation of my life," she later remarked in a Bloomberg Businessweek cover story on her work and the video game industry.

On October 29, 2014, Sarkeesian was interviewed on The Colbert Report where she discussed the harassment she suffered at the hands of GamerGate and her views on making video games more inclusive.

The harassment of Sarkeesian and other women in gaming was featured in the January 14, 2015, edition of Nightline. When asked by ABC News why there was so much anger, she responded "I think it comes from this idea that gaming is a male-dominated space, and that games are for men by men... it's a very misogynist backlash". She appears in the 2015 documentary GTFO.

On February 11, 2019, Sarkeesian appeared at the University of Alberta's Myer Horowitz Theatre with the presentation "I Am Tired: The Costs of Online Harassment" during the Level Up: Gender Based Violence Prevention Week.

Awards and nominations

Sarkeesian's Feminist Frequency blog was highlighted by Feminist Collections and Media Report to Women. In 2012, Gamasutra considered the harassment and success of Feminist Frequency a catalyst that led to new attention on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the gaming culture and industry. They named this call for inclusion one of the "5 trends that defined the game industry in 2012". In 2013, Newsweek magazine and The Daily Beast named Sarkeesian one of their "125 Women of Impact".

In 2014, Sarkeesian received the Ambassador Award at the 14th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards for her work on the representation of women in video games, becoming the first woman to receive the award. She was also nominated for the Ambassador Award at Microsoft's 2014 Women in Gaming Awards for her work.

After the Utah State University death threats, Rolling Stone called her "pop culture's most valuable critic," saying that "the backlash has only made her point for her: Gaming has a problem". In December 2014, The Verge named her as one of "the 50 most important people at the intersection of technology, art, science, and culture". In March 2015, Time magazine included Sarkeesian in its list of the thirty "Most Influential People on the Internet", and in April of that year, chose her for the Time 100, the magazine's annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. In May 2015, Cosmopolitan included her in its list of the "50 Most Fascinating People on the Internet".

Feminist Frequency won a Peabody Award in the category of "Digital and Interactive Storytelling" in 2022.

See also

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