Anita Sarkeesian, one of the key subjects of the GamerGate movement, is shutting down her non-profit Feminist Frequency after years of scandal and economic decline. Despite being the gaming industry’s most influential feminist, spawning a toxic career plagued by the culture war’s predatory gatekeeping and routine bomb threats, the controversy hawk and her star child organisation said to “fight industry sexism” is finally coming to a close.
The shutdown was initially revealed in a report from Polygon detailing the organisation’s financial struggles, citing annual documents revealing she laid off both of her employees and a key producer despite refusing to take a salary at the start of the year. “Fundraising is always a struggle,” Sarkeesian told the overly fawning publication. “Paying my staff is always a struggle. I’m capable of fundraising. I learned how to do it through the process of running a nonprofit. But I didn’t get into this work to be a fundraiser.”
Since the debut of her 2014 YouTube series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games”, an interesting albeit sex-negative analysis into the industry’s storytelling tends, the feminist icon made quite a name for herself as a public enemy living rent-free in the minds of reactionaries and progressive dissenters alike. As a bipartisan target of criticism, disdain and outright danger, it was almost inevitable for the money — $1.6 million she raised over the course of five years — to eventually turn up dry. This is quite impressive if we keep in mind that Feminist Frequency was by no means a grassroots effort, or at least not for some time.
According to the financial disclosures, the group was down to its last $30,000 by the end of January. A video from Game Objective shows her brand of sex-negative feminist critique (which could have had a thoughtful place in the discourse) just couldn’t sustain the public interest. For a YouTube channel with more than 200,000 subscribers, the site’s podcast and video series, such as their last season “Queer Tropes in Video Games”, only garnered a few ten thousand views — a drastic decline from the first season which reached millions. Nobody seemed to buy the message Sarkeesian was selling.
The report suggests Feminist Frequency “relied heavily on corporations” that were “willing to fund the sort of work that looks into intersectional feminist critiques of commercial art”, which turns out to be too few and far between for a sustainable model. “When corporations make financial commitments to non-profits,” writes Polygon journalist Colin Campbell, “they like to make song-and-dance about their noblesse-oblige, most especially when it portrays them in a positive light. But they’re also prone to nickel-and-diming once favourable media coverage fades. Sarkeesian won’t talk specifics, but it’s clear that corporate generosity crept away once she outlived her usefulness.”
While the group’s specific partnerships weren’t detailed, Sarkeesian did laugh about her sugar daddy past and intentions: “There are a lot of reasons why this landscape is really challenging, but I also don’t want someone reading this and thinking that if they wanted to drop $50,000 in our lap to make a video series, I wouldn’t do it. Like, I absolutely would. It’s almost impossible to maintain the level that we were at with when Tropes first started. I never thought that we would maintain millions of views on our videos forever. It would’ve been nice, but that’s just not what happened.”
Sarkeesian later refers to her sinking ship as the “slow, painful death of social media,” which does have some truth behind it. The article explains that during her success, “YouTube and Facebook were the hot new platforms” for public discourse, which “nowadays [have] algorithms turned into monetization swamps, in which hateful misogyny and propaganda are often given the same weight as highly researched editorials.” As shown in our latest piece discussing online radicalisation, it appears these Big Tech sites highlight the traditionalist crazies by design.
“There’s a spectrum on YouTube between the calm section, the Walter Cronkite, Carl Sagan part, and Crazytown, where the extreme stuff is,” explains Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at YouTube’s parent company Google, speaking with The New York Times. “If I’m YouTube and I want you to watch more, I’m always going to steer you toward Crazytown.” While Sarkeesian is perceived as a crazy hybrid of traditionalist-feminist thought, it’s just not the kind of crazy that’s sustainable on the platform. Give a traditionalist audience the choice between a feminist and an anti-feminist, don’t be surprised when the anti-feminist is picked every time.
“We are living in an outrage culture, but people are exhausted by it,” Sarkeesian elaborates, never acknowledging her contribution to such a culture. “It’s a lot harder to convince a person to hit retweet than it is to just ‘like’ something because they don’t want to flood their friends’ feeds. We are all much more conservative about how we share other people’s work. It’s always been about the message, [but] what is the best medium for the message? It doesn’t necessarily have to be through the lens of video. If the message is better served by writing or by installations or by photography, then I’ll do it that way.”
To give the devil her due, Sarkeesian is determined to remain an unrelenting voice in modern gaming. In recent weeks, Sarkeesian tried to public shame her way onto the consulting development team for CD Projekt RED’s highly anticipated title Cyberpunk 2077, which she claims “might get dragged by the whole of the internet” for “some potentially sexist representations.” It appears the offer has fallen on deaf ears, no different than most corporations she sought for commitment. You could argue Sarkeesian’s character arc, pleading for corporate money and ideological validation of this male-dominated field, she became the very same tropes she sought to root out from the industry. It’s quite a fitting close for a social justice warrior who despite her best efforts, whether genuine or predatory, kept swinging until the very end.
Thanks for reading! This article was originally published for TrigTent.com, a bipartisan media platform for political and social commentary, truly diverse viewpoints and facts that don’t kowtow to political correctness.
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