Last week, media critic and creator of Feminist Frequency Anita Sarkeesian announced a new project: a video series called Ordinary Women: Daring to Defy History. Sarkeesian rose to prominence with her first web series Tropes Vs. Women, in which she critiques the tired sexist roles played by female characters in video games (i.e. the damsel in distress, women as background decoration). This doesn’t sound particularly controversial, right? Still, many gamers — mostly young white men — lashed out in fear and anger. Sarkeesian has faced death threats and rape threats, violent pornographic images superimposed with her face, countless fake social media accounts attempting to discredit her, and a general wave of horrific misogynist abuse.
But that’s not stopping her. On March 8th, Sarkeesian, along with writer Laura Hudson and producer Elisabeth Aultman, launched a crowdfunding project with the goal of raising $200,000 for Ordinary Women. It’s a more ambitious goal than her Kickstarter for Tropes, which only asked for $6,000 (and ended up getting $160,000 from backers); it’s a professionally shot, animated and produced series of groundbreaking in-depth videos featuring some of the most badass females in history.
The episodes will feature 19th-century Chinese pirate Ching Shih, 10th-century Japanese novelist Murasaki Shikibu, journalist and activist Ida B. Wells, computer programmer Ada Lovelace, and radical anarchist Emma Goldman. “Rather than heroes, leaders and innovators, women are often depicted and treated as secondary characters in history, objects of affections, damsels to be rescued, or merely the wives, mothers and assistants to the men who achieved important things,” Sarkeesian writes on crowdfunding site Seed & Spark. The goal of Ordinary Women is to replace these old ideas about women’s limitations with real stories about amazing things ordinary women have achieved.
According to Sarkeesian, game writers often claim the inability to write interesting female characters on the grounds that interesting women just don’t exist in history. Of course, this idea couldn’t be more false, and her goal is to rectify the situation: “I want this to act as inspiration for creative folks to write more engaging women. [We want to show] that there were real women that you can tell the stories of — or base stories on — that have done extraordinary, incredible things,” she told The Verge. She also wants to educate girls and young women about the radical and ambitious women who have come before us: “I want to help inspire a new generation of girls to be excited about their ancestors, and also inspire them to challenge the status quo and do amazing things.”
Again, not a particularly controversial goal. But ever since Sarkeesian became Gamergate’s Public Enemy No. 1, her every move has been scrutinized and condemned by internet misogynists. I shudder to think what they’re saying about her in the dark corners of the manosphere right now. Sarkeesian admits that it’s been difficult to bear the brunt of all of this hatred. She’s even had to cancel speaking events due to threats of mass shooting.
But her public airing of the abuse she recieves has only served to prove her right: that misogyny is rampant, that outspoken women face absurd levels of sexist harassment, and that the work she does is necessary and brave. She is fully expecting more harassment with this new video series, she told the L.A. Times on Tuesday. But she refuses to be silenced. “I’m an activist first and foremost. So I did a risk assessment where I sat down and said, ‘Do I want to take this on?'” Judging by the Ordinary Women promo video, and the intelligence of her previous series, we should be glad that the answer was “yes”. Sarkeesian isn’t shutting up. That’s a victory for all of us.
More from BUST