Anita Sarkeesian

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Anita Sarkeesian
Anita Sarkeesian headshot.jpg
Sarkeesian in 2011
Born 1983 (age 31–32)[1]
Ontario, Canada
Nationality Canadian American
Education BA (communication studies)
MA (social and political thought)
Alma mater
  • Media critic
  • blogger

Anita Sarkeesian (/sɑrˈkziən/; born 1983) is a Canadian-American feminist, media critic and blogger. She is the author of the video blog "Feminist Frequency" and the video series Tropes vs. Women and Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, which examine tropes in the depiction of women in popular culture.

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. At the same time, supporters donated over $150,000 to the project, far beyond the $6,000 she had sought. The situation was covered extensively in the media, placing Sarkeesian at the center of discussions about misogyny in video game culture and online harassment. Subsequently, she has continued to study gender representation in video games and to speak publicly about problems she perceives in the industry and culture. In 2014, Sarkeesian cancelled a scheduled lecture at Utah State University after receiving terrorist threats.


Sarkeesian was born near Toronto to Armenian immigrant parents. She later moved to California, and identifies as Canadian American.[2][3][4] She received a bachelor's degree in communication studies from California State University, Northridge, and then earned a master's degree in social and political thought from York University, graduating in 2010. Her master's thesis is titled I'll Make a Man Out of You: Strong Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy Television.[5][6]

Feminist Frequency

Sarkeesian launched her website Feminist Frequency in 2009, while a student at York University. She created the site to host videos discussing popular culture portrayals of women in an effort to create accessible feminist media criticism.[6][7] In 2011, she partnered with Bitch magazine to create the video series Tropes vs. Women, which examined common tropes in the depiction of women in film, television and video games, with a particular focus on science fiction.[7][8] The series comprises six videos dedicated to tropes such as "The Manic Pixie Dream Girl", "Women in Refrigerators" and "The Smurfette Principle".[4][9] She also produced a number of other videos analyzing popular culture from a feminist standpoint, such as videos applying the Bechdel test to pictures nominated for an Academy Award.[10]

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.[11] She spoke at conferences and workshops about media criticism and video blogging, and was interviewed by 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."[12]

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.[13] In March 2012, Sarkeesian and her blog were listed in the journal Feminist Collections's quarterly column on "E-Sources on Women & Gender".[14]

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.[15][16]

Tropes vs. Women in Video Games

Kickstarter campaign and subsequent harassment

Modified picture used for the Kickstarter bid

Sarkeesian was inspired to start a video series on female representation in video games after she was invited to speak to developers at Bungie.[6] On May 17, 2012, she began a Kickstarter campaign to fund a series of short videos that would examine gender tropes in video games. This was featured as a campaign of note on the official Kickstarter blog,[17] and reached its funding goal of $6,000 within 24 hours.[18]

The project triggered a campaign of sexist harassment, including rape threats, efforts to obtain and distribute her personal contact information[19] and attempts to gain access to her Twitter and Google accounts. She was sent via email images of herself being raped by video game characters[20] and negative comments were posted to her YouTube and Facebook pages.[4][21][22] Her Wikipedia article was repeatedly vandalized with images of sex acts.[23] Her website was also subjected to denial-of-service attacks.[19]

Supporter of Sarkeesian Stephanie Guthrie also received rape and death threats after criticizing the game Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian, in which users could punch Sarkeesian's image until the screen turned red.[22][24][24][25] Following Guthrie's complaint with the police[24] one of the men behind the attacks was arrested and charged with criminal harassment and breach of a peace bond in November 2012.[26] Sarkeesian responded to the threats against Guthrie in a statement to the Toronto Standard, condemning the widespread harassment she and other women have faced online.[27][28]

The events also led to speaking engagements on sexual harassment and online communities at the TEDxWomen conference,[29] Lincoln Land Community College,[30] Western Kentucky University,[31] and Northeastern University.[32][33] When Sarkeesian was scheduled to speak at the 2014 Game Developers Choice Awards, organizers received an anonymous e-mail threatening to detonate a bomb at the ceremony if they did not rescind her award and cancel her speaking engagement. San Francisco police swept the Moscone Center hall and the event proceeded as scheduled.[34]

By the end of August 2014, after Feminist Frequency issued a new Tropes vs Women in Games episode, harassment of Sarkeesian reached such high levels that she decided to leave her home. Investigation into these threats has been handed off to the FBI,[35] and the affair has become part of the ongoing GamerGate controversy in video game culture.[36] Speaking in public for the first time since the renewed threats (at the XOXO Festival in Portland, Oregon on September 14), she described the allegation that she and other women fabricated harassment as itself being a form of harassment.[37] “Harassment is the background radiation of my life,” she later remarked in a Bloomberg Business Week cover story on her work and the video game industry.[38]

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. She told Colbert that video games often portray women in a manner which "reinforces the cultural myth that women are sexual objects" and that her goal is not to censor video games, but to raise awareness of how women can be portrayed in more realistic, less stereotypical ways.[39]

The attacks on Sarkeesian and other women in gaming were also featured in a January 14, 2015 edition of ABC News Nightline. "I think it comes from this idea that gaming is a male-dominated space, and that games are for men by's a very misogynist backlash," she told ABC News when asked why there was so much anger. [40]

Terrorist threat at Utah State University

On October 14, 2014, Sarkeesian and Utah State University received e-mailed terrorist threats[41][42][43][44] to murder Sarkeesian and others attending her planned lecture at the university the following day. The threats specifically cited the École Polytechnique massacre as inspiration. The university and police did not believe the threats were credible inasmuch as they were consistent with others Sarkeesian had received, but scheduled enhanced security measures. Sarkeesian cancelled the event, however, feeling the planned security measures were insufficient because the university could not, under Utah state law, prohibit the possession of handguns in the venue.[45][46][47][48] The university had planned to sweep the room for bombs and prohibit all bags from the lecture hall, but metal detectors would not be used to detect weapons under clothing, a point that Sarkeesian felt was essential.[49] Later, a university spokesman confirmed that a second threat was made by someone who claimed affiliation with Gamergate.[50] The threats resulted in public attention to misogynistic and violent harassment on the Internet, along with the propriety of concealed weapons on university campuses.[43][51][52][53] In an editorial, The Salt Lake Tribune wrote that the threats "would seem to support Sarkeesian’s point about a link between some video games and violent attitudes toward females" and called on the state to allow universities "to ban firearms from venues where they are not just inappropriate, but destructive of the mission of an institution of higher learning."[54]

Video series

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.[55] 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.[7][9] 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".[56]

Awards and commentary

Sarkeesian speaking at Media Evolutions The Conference 2013

Sarkeesian's Feminist Frequency blog was highlighted by Feminist Collections[14] and Media Report to Women.[57] 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. The events helped bring the issue of pervasive sexual harassment in the video game culture to mainstream media attention.[58] Discussions occurred in a range of publications and outlets, including The New York Times, The Guardian and New Statesman.[59] The situation was a catalyst that led to new attention on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the gaming culture and industry that year; Gamasutra named this call for inclusion one of the "5 trends that defined the game industry in 2012".[58][60] While noting that the support Sarkeesian has received "stands at a counter" to the harassment, Sal Humphreys and Karen Orr Vered suggest that ultimately the campaign may serve to discourage other women from following Sarkeesian's lead for fear of being subjected to similar attacks.[61]

In 2013, Newsweek magazine and The Daily Beast named Sarkeesian one of their "125 Women of Impact".[62][63] 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.[64][65] She was also nominated for the Ambassador Award at Microsoft's 2014 Women in Gaming Awards for her work.[66][67] 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".[68] In December 2014, The Verge named her as one of its fifty Game Changers.[69]


  1. ^ Nathman, Avital Norman (August 6, 2012). "The Femisphere: Video Bloggers, Part 1". Ms. Magazine. Retrieved March 8, 2013. 
  2. ^ Moore, Oliver (July 11, 2012). "Woman's call to end video game misogyny sparks vicious online attacks". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved March 13, 2014. 
  3. ^ Rivas, Jorge (December 13, 2012). "Watch Anita Sarkeesian Deconstruct Sexism in Gaming". ColorLines. Retrieved March 13, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c Greenhouse, Emily (August 1, 2013). "Twitter's Free Speech Problem". The New Yorker. Retrieved March 24, 2014. 
  5. ^ Sarkeesian, Anita. "About". Feminist Frequency. Retrieved March 13, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c Kolhatkar, Sheelah (November 26, 2014). "The Gaming Industry's Greatest Adversary Is Just Getting Started". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved December 4, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c Dean, Paul (May 31, 2013). "Tropes vs Women in Video Games: Why It Matters". IGN. Retrieved December 4, 2014. 
  8. ^ Williams, Mary Elizabeth (June 14, 2012). "Lara Croft battles male jerks". Salon. 
  9. ^ a b Singal, Jesse (June 22, 2013). "Taking on games that demean women". The Boston Globe. Retrieved September 19, 2013. 
  10. ^ Barthel, Michael (February 25, 2012). "The Oscars’ woman problem", Salon. *Sarkeesian, Anita (February 15, 2012). "The Oscars and The Bechdel Test", YouTube.
  11. ^ Jenson, Jennifer and Sarkeesian, Anita (2011). "Buffy vs. Bella: The Re-Emergence of the Archetypal Feminine in Vampire Stories", in Gareth Schott and Kirstine Moffat. FANPIRES: Audience Consumption of the Modern Vampire. New Academia Publishing.
  12. ^ Hermione Hoby (25 March 2012). "The slacker is back – and this time she's female". The Observer. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  13. ^ Duggan, Padraic (March 4, 2012). "Feminist Frequency comes to SOU". The Siskiyou. 
  14. ^ a b Lehman, JoAnne (Spring 2012). "E-Sources on Women & Gender". Feminist Collections (University of Wisconsin-Madison) 33 (2): 13. ISSN 0742-7441. 
  15. ^ Intel CEO Outlines Future of Computing. Intel, 6 January 2015
  16. ^ Nick Wingfield, "Intel Budgets $300 Million for Diversity", The New York Times
  17. ^ Marketos, Cassie (May 21, 2012). "New Projects Are Sci-Fly". Kickstarter. 
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  21. ^ Watercutter, Angela (June 14, 2012). "Feminist Take on Games Draws Crude Ridicule, Massive Support". 
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  25. ^ O'Meara, Sarah (July 6, 2012). "Internet Trolls Up Their Harassment Game With Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian". The Huffington Post. 
  26. ^ Magi, Kim (November 22, 2013). "Man charged with harassment after Twitter attacks". The Toronto Star. Retrieved November 4, 2013. 
  27. ^ Lyonnais, Sheena (July 10, 2012). "EXCLUSIVE: Anita Sarkeesian Responds to Beat Up Game, Online Harassment, and Death Threats on Stephanie Guthrie". Toronto Standard. 
  28. ^ Lyonnais, Sheena (July 9, 2012). "Toronto Tweeter Causes Uproar Over Violent "Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian" Game". Toronto Standard. 
  29. ^ TEDxWomen - Anita Sarkeesian
  30. ^ "Feminist website creator to speak at LLCC Oct. 10". The Breeze-Courier. October 12, 2012. Retrieved November 19, 2013. 
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  32. ^ Chipman, Bob (November 7, 2013). "The Most Dangerous Woman in Videogames - Anita Sarkeesian". The Escapist. Retrieved December 10, 2013. 
  33. ^ Myers, Maddy (November 13, 2013). "Hyper Mode: Anita Sarkeesian vs. The World Part II". Paste. Retrieved December 10, 2013. 
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  40. ^ When Jumping into Gamergate Turns into Fearing For Your Life -By JUJU CHANG (@JujuChangABC) and KATIE YU, ABC News Nightline, January 14, 2015
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  42. ^ Feminist cancels speech at USU after terror threat. Neugebauer, Cimaron and Ben Lockhart. Standard-Examiner, 14 October 2014
  43. ^ a b Feminist games critic cancels talk after terror threat. Hern, Alex. The Guardian, 15 October 2014
  44. ^ USU students, faculty protest terrorist threats against critic of video games. Wood, Benjamin. The Salt Lake Tribune, 15 October 2014
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  50. ^ Erin Alberty (Oct 16, 2014). "Anita Sarkeesian explains why she canceled USU lecture". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 18 October 2014. After the mass shooting threat was sent to the school late Monday, a second threat arrived Tuesday. That one, USU spokesman Tim Vitale confirmed, claimed affiliation with the controversial and sometimes violent online video gamers’ movement known as GamerGate. 
  51. ^ Axed speech sparks US gun debate. Irish Independent, 15 October 2014
  52. ^ Feminist Speaker Questions Utah's Campus Gun Laws. Whitehurst, Lindsay and Alina Hartounian. Associated Press, 15 October 2014
  53. ^ Game critic Sarkeesian avoids Utah due to foolish gun laws. Utah looks bad in global media.... Pyle, George. The Salt Lake Tribune, 15 October 2014.
  54. ^ Editorial: Utah’s laws place gun rights over free speech, The Salt Lake Tribune, 15 October 2014
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  59. ^ Zerbisias, Anita (January 28, 2013). "Internet trolls an online nightmare for young women", Toronto Star.
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  61. ^ Humphreys, Sal; Vered, Karen Orr (September 5, 2013). "Reflecting on Gender and Digital Networked Media". Television & New Media 15 (1): 4. doi:10.1177/1527476413502682. 
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  65. ^ "Anita Sarkeesian, Riot co-founders win GDCA 2014 Special Awards". Gamasutra. February 11, 2014. Retrieved February 17, 2014. 
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External links