Anita Sarkeesian

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Anita Sarkeesian
Sarkeesian in 2011
Born 1984 (age 29–30)[1]
Ontario, Canada
Citizenship Canadian-American
Education BA (communication studies)
MA (social and political thought)
Alma mater California State University, Northridge
York University
Occupation Media critic, blogger
Feminist Frequency

Anita Sarkeesian (/sɑrˈkziən/; born c. 1984) 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 perceptions in video games and speak publicly about problems she perceives in the industry and culture. In 2014, she became the subject of terrorist threats against her planned lecture at a Utah university, which made international headlines.


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

Feminist Frequency

Sarkeesian is the creator of the video blog "Feminist Frequency". The blog includes the video series Tropes vs. Women, created with Bitch magazine to examine common tropes in depictions of women in film, television and video games, with a particular focus on science fiction.[6] Videos produced in this series include "The Manic Pixie Dream Girl", "Women in Refrigerators" and "The Smurfette Principle".[7] She has also produced a number of other videos analyzing popular culture from a feminist standpoint, such as applying the Bechdel test – whether a film has at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man – to films nominated for an Academy Award.[8]

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.[9] 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."[10] 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.[11] In March 2012, Sarkeesian and her blog were listed in the journal Feminist Collections's quarterly column on "E-Sources on Women & Gender".[12]

Tropes vs. Women in Video Games

Kickstarter campaign and subsequent harassment

Modified picture used for the Kickstarter bid

Sarkeesian stated that after she was invited to speak to developers at Bungie, she was inspired to start a video series on female representation in video games.[13] On May 17, 2012, Sarkeesian began a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new 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,[14] and reached its funding goal of $6,000 within 24 hours.[15]

The project triggered a campaign of sexist harassment that Amanda Marcotte in Slate magazine described as an "absolute avalanche of misogynist abuse", in which "[e]very access point they could exploit was used to try to get to her".[2][16] Helen Lewis of The New York Times reported that Sarkeesian was e-mailed images of herself being raped by video game characters.[17] Attempts were made to hack her Twitter and Google accounts, doctored images of her were posted online, threats of rape were made against her on Twitter, and negative comments were posted to her YouTube and Facebook pages.[4][18][19] Her Wikipedia article was repeatedly vandalized with images of sex acts.[20] Her website was subjected to denial-of-service attacks, and there were efforts to obtain and distribute her personal contact information.[21]

Sarkeesian posted examples of the harassment on her blog, and supporters responded by donating over $150,000 to her project.[18][19] The harassment was subsequently documented in the media.[22] Particular attention was dedicated to one particular example, an internet game called Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian created by Ben Spurr, in which users could punch Sarkeesian's image until the screen turned red.[19][23][24] Some harassers awarded each other "Internet points" for the abuse on forums; Sarkeesian argued that they had "gamified" misogyny.[17]

Supporters of Sarkeesian were also subjected to attacks, with Toronto feminist advocate Stephanie Guthrie receiving "rape and death threats" after criticizing the Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian game and its creator on Twitter.[23] The threats prompted Guthrie to file a complaint with the police and issue a statement that "the obvious goal of these people is to silence Anita...we can’t stop expressing our support; we have to just steer through the fear".[23] One of the men behind the attacks on Guthrie was arrested and charged with criminal harassment and breach of a peace bond in November 2012.[25] Sarkeesian responded to the threats against Guthrie in a statement to the Toronto Standard, condemning the "online harassment epidemic" she and other women have faced.[26][27]

Women who speak out on all sorts of topics, from politics to entertainment, face the threat of cyber mob harassment as recently experienced by Bioware writer Jennifer Hepler, British columnist Laurie Penny, gamer icon Felicia Day and Shakesville blogger Melissa McEwan, just to name a few. In the last couple of days alone, there have been alarming online threats made against videoblogger Laci Green and Toronto-based organizer Stephanie Guthrie (who was attacked for exposing the creator of the domestic violence "game" targeting me).

— Anita Sarkeesian in statement for the Toronto Standard, July 10, 2012[26]

The events also led to speaking engagements on related topics. In December 2012, Sarkeesian was a speaker at the TEDxWomen conference, discussing online sexual harassment and the nature of online communities.[28] She has also spoken at Lincoln Land Community College,[29] Western Kentucky University,[30] and Northeastern University.[31][32]

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.[33]

Continued harassment and GamerGate

On August 27, 2014, the video game website Polygon reported that after Feminist Frequency issued a new Tropes vs Women in Games episode on "Women as Background Decoration”, harassment of Sarkeesian reached such high levels that she announced she had been forced to leave her home. She posted on Twitter, "Some very scary threats have just been made against me and my family. Contacting authorities now" followed by a later tweet, "I'm safe. Authorities have been notified. Staying with friends tonight. I'm not giving up. But this harassment of women in tech must stop!"[34] 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, stating that, "One of the most radical things you can do is to actually believe women when they talk about their experiences," and adding, "The perpetrators do not see themselves as perpetrators at all... They see themselves as noble warriors." [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, and said Sarkeesian's outspoken feminist viewpoints made her worthy of death. 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, and initially planned to proceed with the lecture. Sarkeesian cancelled the event, however, after learning the university could not prohibit attendees from carrying handguns into the lecture hall because of a Utah state law.[42][43][44][45] She stated she would continue speaking out and called for the industry to come together in opposition to misogynist harassment. One threat was made by someone who claimed affiliation with Gamergate,[46] which led Sarkeesian to state on Twitter that "At this point supporting #gamergate is implicitly supporting the harassment of women in the gaming industry."[44][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, scale and production values of the project". In January 2013 Sarkeesian launched a Tumblr web page called "Bits of Tropes Vs. Women in Games" previewing samples of the first video.[52]

The first video in the Tropes vs Women in Video Games series, "Damsels in Distress (Part 1)", was released on March 7, 2013.[53] The delay led some critics to question how she was using the money.[54][55] Jesse Singal of The Boston Globe wrote that the production values of the new series were high, saying "so far, she appears to have put the money to good use."[56] Fruzsina Eördögh of ReadWrite also stated that the production quality of the videos had increased from her previous works, but suggested Sarkeesian disclose her plan for the rest of her Kickstarter money to "knock down the only legitimate point" from her critics and provide guidance for other video bloggers.[55]

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 's "flag" system, though it was quickly restored.[57] Part 5 was released on June 17, 2014, focusing on the use of women in shallow background roles or as sex objects.[58]


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.[56][59] Paul Dean of IGN described the videos as an analysis of sexism that, while possibly "difficult to swallow" for some video game players, did not attack gaming itself but only "disappointing" stories in games.[59] Aja Romano of the Daily Dot writes that even "strong female characters" are portrayed under this trope, and not treated as equals of male characters.[60] 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.[61] 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.[56]

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.[62] 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 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").[63]

Awards and commentary

Sarkeesian speaking at Media Evolutions The Conference 2013

Sarkeesian's Feminist Frequency blog was highlighted by Feminist Collections[12] and Media Report to Women.[64] 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.[65] Discussions occurred in a range of publications and outlets, including The New York Times, The Guardian and New Statesman.[66] 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".[65][67] 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.[68] In 2013, Newsweek magazine named Sarkeesian one of its "125 Women of Impact", writing that regardless of the harassment, "Damsel in Distress" was "racking up accolades".[69] 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.[70][71] She was also nominated for the Ambassador Award at Microsoft's 2014 Women in Gaming Awards for her work.[72][73]

In 2013, Newsweek magazine named Sarkeesian one of its "125 Women of Impact", writing that regardless of the harassment, "Damsel in Distress" was "racking up accolades".[74]

In a video for the American Enterprise Institute, philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers alluded to Sarkeesian as part of an "army of critics, gender activists and... hipsters with degrees in cultural studies", who she said have unfairly attacked masculine video game culture.[75][76]

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."[77]


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    "When you get past the vitriol, their main criticism is that the production quality of Sarkeesian’s videos hasn't increased. [...] The quality of her videos has increased,[...] So the haters are wrong. But how much could Sarkeesian's production upgrades have possibly cost? [...] Tally all that up, and it's still less than $15,000. What happened to the rest of the $160,000? Answering this question would certainly knock down the only legitimate point made by Sarkeesian's online stalkers. Much more important, [it] would also help women video bloggers, who struggle with sexism every day on YouTube, better understand the financial costs of creating a successful video series."

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External links