Anita Sarkeesian's Feminist Frequency nonprofit is broke

You may not recall Anita Sarkeesian but she’s a feminist critic who made a name for herself with a group of YouTube videos highlighting sexist tropes in video games. She also received a lot of threats and made news when she canceled a talk in Utah over the fear that concealed carry permit holders would be allowed to bring their weapons into the venue. That same year, 2014, Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency organization became a recognized non-profit and, as a result, she was required to file an annual report on the money she raised and spent.

According to those reports (see video below) Sarkeesian’s group, which had two employees plus a producer, has raised and spent about $1.6 million over the past five years. But it seems that is coming to an end. A lengthy profile of Sarkeesian published by Polygon this week reports that earlier this year she laid off her two employees and stopped taking a salary:

Earlier this year, Sarkeesian decided that Feminist Frequency needed to change. She ceased taking a salary and laid off her co-creators and close friends Ebony Adams and Petit. She closed her offices and stopped making videos.

Feminist Frequency is still going, but it’s now mainly focused on a regular podcast hosted by Adams, Petit, and Sarkeesian. It’s a purely voluntary organization.

Sarkeesian has no pat answer to the question of why she’s decided to move on; no “it was just time.” The answers are more complicated.

Partly it’s about money. “Fundraising is always a struggle,” she says. “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.”

Feminist Frequency relied heavily on corporations willing to fund the sort of work that looks into intersectional feminist critiques of commercial art. When corporations make financial commitments to non-profits, 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 favorable media coverage fades. Sarkeesian won’t talk specifics, but it’s clear that corporate generosity crept away once she outlived her usefulness.

Earlier this month, Sarkeesian noted that fundraising problems on her Twitter feed while taking a shot at Electronic Arts: “@femfreq has been a non profit on the front lines of this issue for years constantly struggling with funding.”

Just last week, Sarkeesian was seen offering her services to the creators of a forthcoming game, Cyberpunk 2077, on the grounds that the game might get dragged by “the whole of the internet” for “some potentially sexist representations.” Cyberpunk 2077 is expected to be a big release. The game was introduced at E3 this year by Keanu Reeves who plays a character in the game.

Feminist Frequency’s annual reports demonstrate that the group was down to its last $30,000 in January. But as the video below points out the real problem isn’t just a lack of corporate donors, it’s a lack of public interest. The group has more than 200,000 subscribers on YouTube but the average podcast it released this year only had a few thousand listeners. That’s not much impact for a group that spent several hundred thousand dollars in 2018 on salaries and other expenses.