Video gaming has often been seen as a world dominated by a male audience, viewership, and consumerism. However, more recently there has been a surge of women who are consuming this form of media at a rapid rate. In the late 2000’s, Anita Sarkeesian came onto the scene and changed the way we look at video gaming today. Sarkeesian is a media critic whose work focuses on, according to her bio on her website, “deconstructing the stereotypes and tropes associated with women in popular culture as well as highlighting issues surrounding the targeted harassment of women in online and gaming spaces.”[i] In 2009, Sarkeesian, as a thesis for her Master’s Degree at York University, began a video web series entitled Feminist Frequency, in which she discusses how women are sidelined in the realm of video games.
Through this web series, Sarkeesian largely focuses on women’s roles within the video games and brings new light to the old world of video gaming. Sarkeesian states, on the Feminist Frequency website, that Feminist Frequency “largely serves as an educational resource to encourage critical media literacy and provide resources for media makers to improve their works of fiction.”[ii] Going further, she proposed a web series that would place a focus on women in games through crowd funding on Kickstarter. Initially asking for $6,000, Sarkessian raised $158,922 from a total of 6,968 backers – an unprecedented amount for the kind of content proposed. However, not all was well after the large amount of money was raised. Although there were many backers, there were just as many, if not more, people who did not agree with the mission and goal of the Feminist Frequency web series. Sarkeesian has received numerous death threats and still constantly gets harassed online by those who see no issue in the world of video gaming.
Fast forward to today, and one can see how Feminist Frequency has evolved into something much bigger. By adding new content creators, podcasting, and additional cultural topics discussed, Sarkeesian is changing the game and brining feminist issues to the forefront. Particularly popular is her Feminist Frequency Radio. In this, Anita Sarkessian, Carolyn Petit, and Ebony Aster “bring you dispatches from the pop culture wars and invite you to listen in on their entertaining, stimulating, take-no-prisoners conversations about the latest films, games, and tv.”[iii] Other podcast topics you can browse range in topic from Star Trek to recaps of TV shows as told by the Feminist Frequency staff and guests.
Equally important is the more recently developed Games and Online Harassment Hotline. Started in 2020 as a response to the #MeToo moment when individuals in the gaming industry exposed what went on behind the scenes. According to a Vox article, “In the fall of 2014, under the premise that they were angry at “unethical” games journalists — a lie that persists today — thousands of people in the games community began to systematically harass, heckle, threaten, and dox several outspoken feminist women in their midst, few of whom were journalists. The harassment occurred under the social media hashtag ‘GamerGate’ which is still a hotbed of debate and anti-feminist resentment today.”[iv] GamerGate created a more toxic environment for women in the industry leaving many with a deep routed trauma.
Through the Games and Online Harassment Hotline, Sarkessian and the Feminist Frequency staff were able “to ensure that anyone who experiences such abuse can reach out to us to get whatever support they might need, whether it’s just someone to talk to about what they’re going through or referrals to other resources to help them protect themselves or take legal action.”[v] Now through a support system, those who have been hurt, triggered, traumatized, etc. can seek help and no longer be alone.
However controversial some may see Sarkeesian’s web series as, it is bringing a much needed dialogue within the world of video gaming and media at large. And her staff at Feminist Frequency are showing that there are those who do not like how video games and popular culture are reinforcing negative and problematic gender roles and do not like how women are represented within them. However, their voice is strong and unwavering.
Feminist Frequency Team
- To find out more about Feminist Frequency and to see videos from the series visit the website by clicking here.
- For access to all the available videos on YouTube please click here.
- To read more on Gamer Gate click here.
- For help and connection to the Games and Online Harassment Hotline click here.
[iv] Vox Article, What We Still Haven’t Learned from GamerGate, https://www.vox.com/culture/2020/1/20/20808875/gamergate-lessons-cultural-impact-changes-harassment-laws