Anita Sarkeesian

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Anita Sarkeesian
Anita Sarkeesian headshot.jpg
Sarkeesian in 2011
Born 1983 (age 30–31)[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 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 examines common tropes in depictions 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 has also produced a number of other videos analyzing popular culture from a feminist standpoint, such as applying the Bechdel test – a gauge of whether a film has at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man – 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 has spoken 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 also 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]

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,[15] and reached its funding goal of $6,000 within 24 hours.[16]

The project triggered a campaign of sexist harassment, including rape threats, efforts to obtain and distribute her personal contact information[17] 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[18] and negative comments were posted to her YouTube and Facebook pages.[4][19][20] Her Wikipedia article was repeatedly vandalized with images of sex acts.[21] Her website was also subjected to denial-of-service attacks.[17]

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.[20][22][22][23] Following Guthrie's complaint with the police[22] one of the men behind the attacks was arrested and charged with criminal harassment and breach of a peace bond in November 2012.[24] 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.[25][26]

The events also led to speaking engagements on sexual harassment and online communities at the TEDxWomen conference,[27] Lincoln Land Community College,[28] Western Kentucky University,[29] and Northeastern University.[30][31] 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.[32]

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,[33] and the affair has become part of the ongoing GamerGate controversy in video game culture.[34] 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.[35] “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.[36]

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 of women. She told Colbert that video games often portray women in a manner that "reinforces the cultural myth that women are sexual objects or sexual playthings for male amusement." She said her goal is not to censor games, but to create awareness throughout the gaming community of how games can portray women in more realistic, less stereotypical ways.[37]

Terrorist threat at Utah State University

On October 14, 2014, Sarkeesian and Utah State University received e-mailed terrorist threats[38][39][40][41] 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.[42][43][44][45] 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.[46] Later it was revealed that a second threat was made by someone who claimed affiliation with Gamergate.[47] The threats resulted in public attention to misogynistic and violent harassment on the Internet, along with the propriety of concealed weapons on university campuses.[40][48][49][50] 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."[51]

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, "Damsels in Distress (Part 1)", was released on March 7, 2013.[52] The delay led critics to question how she was using the money.[53][54] Jesse Singal of The Boston Globe wrote that the production values of the new series were high and the Kickstarter campaign allowed her to expand their breadth and depth, saying "so far, she appears to have put the money to good use."[undue weight? ][9] Fruzsina Eördögh of ReadWrite also stated that the production quality of the videos had increased from her previous works,[undue weight? ] but suggested Sarkeesian disclose a financial breakdown of her production costs to "knock down the only legitimate point" from her critics and provide guidance for other video bloggers.[under discussion ][54]

Parts 2 and 3 of the series were released on May 28 and August 1, 2013. The second video was briefly removed due to abuse of YouTube's "flag" system, though it was quickly restored.[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] Paul Dean of IGN described the videos as an analysis of sexism that, while possibly difficult to accept for some video game players, did not attack gaming itself but only "disappointing" stories in games.[7] Aja Romano of the Daily Dot writes that even "strong female characters" are portrayed under this trope.[56] Maddy Myers of Paste commented on the difficulty Sarkeesian faces due to the "impossible and insurmountable expectations" and intense scrutiny placed on her and other female video game critics.[57] The Boston Globe wrote that the videos' strength lies in Sarkeesian's "deft[ness] at anticipating rebuttals", and said such work was important in challenging the industry to move away from overused tropes.[9]

Nate Carpenter reviewed the "Damsel in Distress" video positively in the journal Women & Language. Carpenter commended the series for rendering the ideas and language of media criticism into a format accessible for a general audience. He wrote that it was limited in failing to analyze the cultural milieu that perpetuates damaging tropes, but described it as an "intelligent, engaging, and entertaining point of departure" for viewers interested in media studies.[58] 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".[59]

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.[60] 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.[61] Discussions occurred in a range of publications and outlets, including The New York Times, The Guardian and New Statesman.[62] 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".[61][63] 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.[64]

In 2013, Newsweek magazine and The Daily Beast named Sarkeesian one of their "125 Women of Impact".[65][66] 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.[67][68] She was also nominated for the Ambassador Award at Microsoft's 2014 Women in Gaming Awards for her work.[69][70] 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".[71] In December 2014, The Verge named her as one of its fifty Game Changers.[72]


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  3. ^ Rivas, Jorge (December 13, 2012). "Watch Anita Sarkeesian Deconstruct Sexism in Gaming". ColorLines. Retrieved March 13, 2014. 
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  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. 
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  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.
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  72. ^ /2014-verge-50/anita-sarkeesian

External links