Anita Sarkeesian

I've heard it said that in the game of patriarchy, women aren't the opposing team, they are the ball.

—Anita Sarkeesian[1]

Anita Sarkeesian is a Canadian-American feminist, media critic and blogger.

Anita Sarkeesian is a Canadian-American feminist media critic. She operates the blog Feminist Frequency[2] and makes a video series known as Tropes vs Women on YouTube [3]. Sarkeesian has a Masters in Social and Political Thought from York university.[4] Sarkeesian is most known for her Tropes vs Women in Videogames video series.

Tropes Versus Women in Videogames

On May 17th, Sarkeesian began a Kickstarter to raise funding for her Tropes versus Women in Videogames series. Her initial goal of 6,000 USD was greatly surpassed and a total of around 159,000 USD was raised [5]. As of November 2014, seven videos have been published in this series. [6]

Damsel in Distress Parts 1, 2, and 3

The videos can be watched here.

In this series, Sarkeesian details the use of the Damsel in distress trope in a long list of videogames. The trope is defined as when a female character is captured by a villain or monster and the protagonist of the game (generally male) is required to rescue her. The female non-playable character is usually a love interest of the protagonist, but can also be a family member such as a mother, sister, or daughter.

There are several reasons Sarkeesian identifies as to why this trope is problematic. To start, it disempowers women insofar that the female character is rarely given the opportunity to save herself from danger and capture. It also assumes that the woman is the property of the male character, to be reclaimed as she has been stolen by the antagonist in the game. The third reason as to why this trope is problematic is that the Damsel trope diminishes the woman npc to a state of helplessness in which the man heroically saves her, but for the purpose of benefit to his story arch. This trope is something that happens to a woman character, not necessarily what a character is in some metaphysical sense.

One way to look at this particular trope is that women are the object in the subject/object dichotomy, to be acted upon by the subject (the player character).

As Sarkeesian says "the trope works by trading the disempowerment of female characters for the empowerment of male characters."[7]

This trope can be contrasted with the archetypal hero trope, in which the hero (who is generally male) may be captured, imprisoned, or otherwise harmed during their story, but instead of being saved, the hero uses their strength, intelligence, and ingenuity to engineer an escape. Sarkeesian identifies this part of the story arch as an important transition to the playable character becoming a heroic character. In comparison to the Damsel trope, the female character is not capable of doing this and is instead framed as a test for the hero of the game.

It is important to note that the Damsel trope has a long entrenched history in literature and art and is not new to videogames. However, videogames just offer the most recent adaptation and manifestation of this pernicious trope. The repetitive use of the trope only helps to normalize sexist and misogynistic attitudes toward women.

Variations on the Damsel trope

Sarkeesian identifies several variations that rely on the Damsel in Distress trope.

The Helpful Damsel

This trope occurs when a woman character is used to further the action of the story, usually by opening doors or giving power ups to the player. An example of this is in the Zelda franchise, where Zelda may take the form of a different character, such as a pirate captain in The Legend of Zelda the Wind Waker but after she is transformed into her more traditional feminine self, she is captured (in the case of Okarina of Time) or told she can no longer accompany Link because it is too dangerous (in the case of The Wind Waker).

The Damsel in the Fridge

The Damsel in the Fridge trope is a combination of the Damsel in Distress trope and the woman in the fridge trope. Typically how this manifests in video games is when the Damsel is killed early in the game and her soul or spirit is captured or imprisoned and the protagonist must save their spirit. [8]

Disposable Damsel

One of the most pernicious examples of violence against women is the Disposable Damsel trope. The hero either fails to save the Damsel in time and she is killed, or she was dead the entire time.

The Mercy Killing Trope

This trope takes place when the Damsel is infect by some sort of disease, turns into a monster, or is otherwise deformed and the player character must kill her to save her from a worse fate. When specifically combined with the Damsel in Distress trope, this is what Sarkeesian identifies as the "euthanized damsel."

Women as Background Decoration Part 1 and 2

The Women as Background Decoration videos can be watched here.

The Women as Background Decoration videos go over and explain the various examples in video games in which the bodies of women are used to create an edgy, sexualized, or dark atmosphere to the story. These examples include but are not limited to, abuse of sex workers, domestic violence, sexual assault, and dead bodies being sexualized. Sometimes the player watches as these events unfold, in other circumstances the player may be directly involved with the assaults and abuse. The intention here appears to be to give the player an emotional rush and contribute to a dark of edgy atmosphere. These characters serve no purpose except to be victimized in front of the player.

Subsequent harassment in response to Kickstarter

In response to the Kickstarter campaign, a lot of angry gamers and MRAs engaged in DDoS attacks of her websites, death and rape threats, hacking attempts, and doctored images of a sexual nature were posted around the internet. [9][10][11][12][13] In response to this, an outpouring of support for Sarkeesian's project culminated in a large amount of money being donated to her Kickstarter. This has lead several misogynists, such as Thunderf00t to assert that Sarkeesian is engaging in professional victimhood to elicit donations for her project, and later her 501 (c)(3) Charity [14][15][16]

Criticism of Tropes Versus Women in Videogames

Thunderf00t used an argument from popularity (pretending as if youtube likes and upvotes are the barometer by which success and correctness of an argument should be judged) to defend his "criticism" of Sarkeesian's series [17] which largely consisted of a cherry picked part of one video and ad hominem [18].

Accusations of Censorship

A popular (and woefully unsophisticated) criticism of Sarkeesian from misogynists and MRAs is that she disables comments and voting on her youtube videos because of the harassing comments, thus not allowing these folks to express their opinions of her work. This is essentially a free speech argument disguised as "wanting to discuss ideas". Ignoring for a moment that YouTube comment sections are by no means an area in which academic discussion can effectively take place, this is by no means censorship.

Accusations of being a con-artist

Thunderf00t has accused Anita Sarkeesian of being a con-artist and a liar on multiple occasions.[16] Thunderf00t has also accused Sarkeesian of faking death threats to elicit donations for her charity [19].

In response to death threats, Anita Sarkeesian had tweeted that she contacted authorities. Several MRA bloggers (such as Davis Auirini), and YouTubers (such as Thunderf00t) accused Sarkeesian of fabricating death threats via anomaly hunting and other conspiracy theory tactics. [19]

Misogynist objectivist Jordan Owen accused Anita Sarkeesian of possibly possessing falsified documents and lying about her charity's 501 (C)(3) status. [20] When Sarkeesian supplied Owen with the legal documents confirming her charity's status, as she is legally required to do, Owen doubled down and proposed that Sarkeesian may be in possession of falsified documents. [21] Owen claimed at the time that Sarkeesian's charity is not listed on the IRS website, but as of November 2014, it is [22]. To Owen's credit, once the IRS database was updated, he did make a video verifying that the IRS has recognized Feminist Frequency as a 501(c)(3) [23], however, the video contained an almost non-apology, arguing that it is Sarkeesian's fault for not being transparent, even though the IRS database updates are outside of her control.


See the main article on this topic: GamerGate

The GamerGate controversy brought Sarkeesian and her feminist critiques of video games back into focus. [24] However, given that Gamergate was asserted to be about ethics in game journalism, it is questionable how Sarkeesian is related as a game critic.

See also

External links


  1. Damsel in Distress Part 1
  4. Sarkeesian, A
  7. Damsel in Distress Part 1
  8. Damsel in Distress Part 2: Definitions
  14. "Anita Sarkeesians 'death threats'"
  15. Thunderf00t suspended from Twitter
  16. 16.0 16.1 "Anita Sarkeesian BUSTED"
  17. Anita Sarkeesian BUSTED Part 2
  18. Thunderf00t - Busted
  19. 19.0 19.1 "The Sarkeesian Conspiracy"
  20. Anita Sarkeesian 501(c)(3) status
  21. Anita Claims 501c3 AGAIN
  24. Who is Anita Sarkeesian, Center of Gamergate?