Remembering Forgotten Women of History to Elevate Perceptions of Women Today
What do a bold activist, a crusading journalist, a fearsome pirate, a groundbreaking author and a brilliant scientist have in common? They are the five extraordinary women whose stories the team at Feminist Frequency want to tell through a new animated video series called "Ordinary Women: Daring to Defy History."
Cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian founded Feminist Frequency in 2009 with the mission to explore the representation of women in media and pop culture. The media education non-profit launched a crowdfunding campaign earlier this month for the series through Seed&Spark, a platform that specializes in filmmaking and the arts. It ends on April 6 at noon PT. As of this story, two of the episodes have been fully funded.
"I really wanted to make a series uncovering and making visible these women who are so often written out of history," Sarkeesian told Entrepreneur. "Too often our media stories and our history books tell us that women were just the wives or the muses or the sidekicks. But women have been doing incredible things for as long as history has existed."
The first episode of the series is planned to debut in September and viewers will learn about the fascinating lives of Emma Goldman, Ida B. Wells, Ching Shih, Murasaki Shikibu (writer of the first novel) and Ada Lovelace (the writer of the first computer program) in installments that will be distinctly designed to reflect the times and cultures in which they lived.
Back in 2012, Sarkeesian launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce the YouTube series Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, which takes a look at the portrayal of female game characters and the gaming industry at large. All of the videos produced by Feminist Frequency are free and don't have any advertisements, a mission that inspired the organization's return to crowdfunding.
"Ordinary Women" is needed now more than ever. USC Annenberg's recent report on diversity in entertainment found that women and girls made up only 28.7 percent of all speaking roles in film. In television, it's better, but still not great -- less than 40 percent. While women make up more than half of gamers, female characters are often sexualized or diminished.
But dollars don't lie. Films that are led by women consistently make impressive gains at the box office and frequently out-earn offerings that have men front and center. Despite these successes, the narrative that emerges around them is that it's a fluke or a surprise -- that the financial risk is too great to greenlight these stories.
It isn’t only media and entertainment -- representation matters everywhere. Only 18 percent of tech startups in the U.S. have one or more female founders, and 7 percent of U.S. VC firms invest funds into companies with a woman CEO.
It's this kind of conversation that Sarkeesian, having spent several years working with creators and fans, is fighting to change.
"I hear often that men don't know how to write women's stories, so they just don’t. Or that, 'well, women were oppressed during these periods in history; therefore they can't be the stars of these games, because it needs to be historically accurate.' Yet, you have time travel. The logic doesn't make sense," says Sarkeesian. "Here are women's stories that are stranger than fiction. Take these women's stories, be inspired by their stories and tell stories like them."
Nina Zipkin is a staff writer at Entrepreneur.com. She frequently covers leadership, media, tech, startups, culture and workplace trends.