Feminist Frequency announced today that it’s shutting down. The nonprofit, founded in 2009 by Executive Director Anita Sarkeesian as an outlet for media criticism of video games and other pop culture, expanded through the years to include podcasts, gaming resources, and an Online Harassment Hotline. Although the organization’s industry resources will remain on its website indefinitely, the hotline will close at the end of September, and the remainder of Feminist Frequency will wind down by the end of 2023.
“I started this project to fill a need that was missing in the media criticism and video games space,” Sarkeesian wrote in a press release today. “Over the past decade and a half, along with an invaluable team of staff members and industry partners, we’ve accomplished so much to be proud of. Feminist Frequency grew into something I never could have anticipated when it began all those years ago. At this point, I think it’s important to share that exhaustion and burnout — not uncommon in the nonprofit world — have taken their toll.”
The organization added that Jae Lin, director of the confidential emotional support hotline, will continue to run ReSpec, the hotline’s accountability support space. In addition, a private event at next year’s Game Developers Conference will honor Feminist Frequency’s accomplishments through the years.
Sarkeesian founded Feminist Frequency while studying for her master’s degree at York University in Toronto. In 2010, she began producing Tropes vs. Women, a series of videos examining misogynistic storytelling trends in movies and television. But a 2012 Kickstarter campaign to fund a video series highlighting the same problems in the gaming industry raised the organization’s profile dramatically — for better and worse.
The campaign shattered Sarkeesian’s $6,000 fundraising goal in less than a day. And while the video series boldly confronted the growing industry’s casual objectification and minimization of female characters (and real-world abuse towards female gamers), it also triggered a backlash from the darkest segments of society that her work singled out — helping to spawn the harassment campaign known as Gamergate. Sarkeesian quickly became a favorite target of abuse — online and off. In 2014, someone sent a bomb threat because she was a scheduled speaker at the Game Developer’s Choice award ceremony. The same year, she was forced to cancel a speech at Utah State University based on loose security after a student sent an email threatening “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if the event continued. The FBI even got involved.
“Harassment is the background radiation of my life,” Sarkeesian told Bloomberg in 2014. “It is a factor in every decision I make. Any time I tweet something, or make a post, I’m always thinking about it. When I post our videos, it’s a consideration. It affects where I go, and how I behave, and how I feel walking down the street every day.”
Despite the abusive ambiance, Sarkeesian continued the organization’s work to highlight injustices and provide resources. Intel partnered with Feminist Frequency in 2015 as part of a $300 million campaign to help promote career opportunities and positive representation for women and minorities. Feminist Frequency received a Peabody Award for Digital and Interactive Storytelling last year. And, although far too slowly, the industry has made gradual progress. “The work we’ve done to effect change in the industry made a difference, and all of us at Feminist Frequency and the Games and Online Harassment Hotline are hopeful to see improvements continue to be made,” she wrote today. “But the time has come to close this chapter and rest before starting the next phase of my professional life.”
Reflecting on the end of the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series in 2017, Sarkeesian said, “It hasn’t all been for the better, but some of it definitely has. There are conversations happening now, among players and among creators, that weren’t happening before.”