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When we think of success, we tend to think of rewards: cash-filled coffers, trophies, star treatment, luxury. But maybe the greatest successes don't result in honors, bonuses, or perks. Maybe the greatest successes wear plain clothes, do the heavy lifting, and – in the case of Anita Sarkeesian – advance the fight for equality.
The SMC alumna earned a bachelor's degree in communication studies from California State University, Northridge in 2007 and a master's degree in social and political thought from York University in 2010. Her master's thesis was titled I’ll Make a Man Out of You: Strong Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy Television. The title alone drops clues to the work she would set out to do in the two years that follow.
Sarkeesian went on to create the video blog Feminist Frequency (www.feninistfrequency.com), which explores the representations of women in pop culture narratives. Her work focuses on 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.
To fund Feminist Frequency, Sarkeesian launched a Kickstarter campaign titled "Tropes vs. Women in Video Games," a fundraising video series that explores five common and recurring female character stereotypes in video games. The Kickstarter campaign was featured as a campaign of note on the official Kickstarter blog, and reached its funding goal of $6,000 within 24 hours. The campaign eventually raised $158,917 over the course of a month. In June 2012, prominent video game developer Bungie invited Sarkeesian to its offices to present on the creation of female characters in games.
Despite its success, the campaign also suffered backlash: large numbers of negative comments, threats and an extended attempt to have the campaign suspended. Sarkeesian has also reported attempts to bring down her website via a number of denial-of-service attacks and attempts to obtain and distribute her personal contact information. To add virtual injury to insult, a simple browser game titled "Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian" was uploaded to an entertainment and social media website, allowing users to click on a picture of Sarkeesian to simulate hitting her, causing the picture to become increasingly bruised. The game was taken down after a single day.
The big win in this saga has been Sarkeesian's voice as a champion for change in the gaming industry. The online harassment campaign drew media attention and placed her at the center of discussions about misogyny in video game culture. Anita lectures and presents at universities, conferences and game development studios internationally. She’s been a presenter and panelist at various fan, media and technology conferences. She has been interviewed and featured in publications such as Forbes, Wired, The Guardian, The Globe and Mail and The New York Times. Her videos are freely available via the Feminist Frequency YouTube channel and widely serve as educational tools in high school and university classrooms.
Sarkeesian presented a talk at TEDxWomen in Washington, DC., about sexist online harassment, cyber mobs and both the destructive and uplifting power of online communities. As she told The New York Times: "The gaming industry is actually in the process of changing.”
Sarkeesian's voice as a champion for change in the gaming industry has continued to grow. Last year she was a guest on Stephen Colbert, featured in a NY Times article, and most recently has been named in Time magazine's annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
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This is real success, because real success benefits everyone.
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