Media Critic and Founder, Non Profit, San Francisco
I'm always keeping my eyes and ears open when I meet extraordinary women on the road, but Anita Sarkeesian, I listened to her interview with the New Yorker and I perked up. She described the immense deal of online threats and outpouring over her merely stating her opinion on how women in video games are represented. Think about it. Death threats over couple of statements. I must say that I was incredibly impressed with the way Anita handled it - buckle down and start a movement, a not-for-profit organization called Feminist Frequency (from their website: Feminist Frequency is a not-for-profit educational organization that analyzes modern media’s relationship to societal issues such as gender, race, and sexuality). Anita is extremely eloquent and thoughtful when I met her (as you will read below). As a fun aside, the meeting part was one of the hardest to arrange in WOW WOMAN history. It took us months to get linked up, and entire time I was emailing with her operations director, who for the longest time I figured was screening me for authenticity. Long story short, I loved chatting with and photographing this fellow Canadian and I learned a great deal about her recent project highlighting women in history.
2. Where is your hometown?
3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
Media Critic and Executive Director of Feminist Frequency
4. What was the journey like to get where you are (career wise)? When was the mental shift to start the journey?
For me, there was never so much a conscious mental shift as a slow, gradual realization that my life had dramatically changed as a result of the choices I’d made. Feminist Frequency started with me borrowing a camera and some lights, pinning a piece of fabric on the wall in my living room and ranting about representations in the media. It couldn’t have been smaller, and I really never thought, back then, that it would grow into what it has become. But one project led to the next led to the next, and now, here we are!
5. What did you study in school?
Communication Studies & Social and Political Thought
6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?
It is different in literally every conceivable way then what I imagined.
7. Biggest accomplishment since making the (physical/mental) move?
Feminist Frequency’s series Tropes vs. Women in Video Games would have to be it. That series had a tremendous impact on the way people think about and talk about issues of representation in games, and it was part of a larger cultural discussion that I think has resulted in some meaningful changes taking place.
8. What was biggest disappointment and plan to overcome it?
Becoming one of the focal points of an online hate campaign intended to silence women and drive us out of video games was by far the biggest challenge that I’ve faced, and it continues to be tremendously disappointing and infuriating that women and other marginalized people who experience harassment and abuse in online spaces don’t get the validation and assistance that they need from the platforms on which the abuse takes place. Overcoming this problem, which is so embedded both in our culture and in the shortcomings of how social media platforms have been designed, is an ongoing and challenging process. One of the most difficult aspects of it has been the work of convincing the people who have the power to implement change at these platforms that these kinds of changes are actually incredibly necessary and that being the target of widespread, sustained online abuse is a traumatic experience. But the fight goes on, and I do think we are slowly making some significant progress.
9. Advice for other women?
First and foremost, women have to learn to be comfortable putting themselves and their desires first, and recognize that conforming to patriarchal expectations will not fulfill them or save them. Trust your own instincts and talent, but also seek out other women to mentor and support you in the areas you wish to grow. Don’t listen to the naysayers (often men, but not always) who will criticize your every move -- especially as you really develop some momentum. Expand your circles: if everyone in your social group, professional networks, or spheres of influences looks just like you, you need to open yourself up to different perspectives.
10. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it for "feminist values"?
Of course women can and do achieve incredible things--we always have, in spite of everything--but there’s no question that we still live in a deeply sexist, patriarchal world, and that we have a long way to go toward dismantling that. The way forward necessitates a deeply intersectional perspective, recognizing that oppression occurs along axes of race, gender, class, sexuality, gender identity, and physical ability.
11. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?
I’m 5’0, I never feel tall.
12. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?
Over the last couple of years I’ve been making it a point to take breaks and not work 24/7. As someone who absolutely loathed physical activity for most of my life, it’s been a surprise to me that fitness has been something I really gravitated towards whether it’s hiking, or strength training, or aerial silks. Just getting out of my head for a little bit has been tremendously helpful.
13. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?
14. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
15. Anything you'd do differently (if you had another go at life)?
HOW MUCH TIME WE GOT?
16. What inspires you?
Brilliant, creative people who are unafraid to go their own way and make something different in the world. People who know that you can be brave and still be vulnerable.
17. What are you hopeful about?
I’m trying to be hopeful about the 2018 mid-term elections? In all honesty though, I recognize that we’re in the midst of a massive cultural struggle right now and that the rise of Trump in many ways represents a backlash to challenges to white supremacy, but when I look at conversations happening online, and in the media, about issues like gender, race, sexuality, and media representation, and I think about how these conversations weren’t nearly as prevalent even 5 or 10 years ago as they are today, I am hopeful that we are slowly fighting our way toward a more equitable world.
18. What are some ingredients to a good life?
Friends you can trust. Time off the grid in beautiful places. Being compassionate with yourself and others. Meal delivery services.
19. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)
I just finished Olivia Laing’s beautiful book The Lonely City. I like to gift The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy by Allan G. Johnson because it was such an important book in forming my own understandings of privilege and oppression and I think it’s still so vital and relevant today. The Steerswoman’s Road, and the entire series of Steerswoman novels by Rosemary Kirsten, is one of my all time favourites. It taught me that fantasy can be so much more than boring, cliche-ridden stories about men with swords fighting over a throne.
20. Who is a “WOW Woman” in your life who inspires you (and why)?
One of the first activists I learned about was Emma Goldman, and she's always been an inspiration to me. She was unrelenting in her quest for justice, undeterred by cultural expectations or oppressive laws. She fought for rights and gave voice to ideas that were unheard of at the time, and her activism even got her thrown in jail occasionally. She's not necessarily someone I would ever want to have over for afternoon tea, but that conviction and drive and belief in herself and in the validity and importance of her cause is truly inspiring.
21. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?
Folks can visit our website at feministfrequency.com, follow us on Twitter at @femfreq, and subscribe to us on YouTube at youtube.com/feministfrequency.