A bold question I know, but please bear with me.
This started as an update to this post but I realised that once I had written over eleven paragraphs it probably needed its own URL. Right, deep breath, here goes…
I’d like you all to read ‘In which I don’t try to write like a man’ by Margaret Robertson. Margaret is both a leading games writer and development director of Hide & Seek. It is her response to Mark Sorrell’s blog post ‘Dear Men, Please Listen. Love, Man‘ and also a discussion thread about his article on Reddit.
Reading it made me feel so incredibly sad. Margaret is one of the leading thinkers and writers in the UK about games, and is someone who I regard highly. And yet she has felt that she has had to behave in certain ways within the games industry and online so that she did not become a target for abuse. She writes:
Here are some other things that I included in my ‘not making myself a target’ strategy:
– not wearing skirts
– not wearing heels
– not coming to the defence of other women on the receiving end of abuse and threats and dismissals
– not, under any circumstances, ever ever ever ever indicating that there might be any sexual activity in my thoughts or my life or my body
– not talking about ‘being a woman’ or anything dumb and feminist like that
– judging the success of my approach on the number of people who didn’t realise from my writing that I was female.
She also points to how games executive, Jade Raymond, has been accused within the Reddit discussion (and presumably elsewhere) of letting herself be used as a sex symbol in the following photo:
As if to prove the point, the accusation gets repeated in the comments under Margaret’s post, by a determined but rather ignored troll.
Margaret has made be ponder whether I similarly self-edit. I don’t think I do, and I don’t think in the industries I work in that I fear being known as a woman or fear that I should play down that fact. I am aware that I self-edit in terms of professionalism, business objectives and protecting the privacy of friends, colleagues, clients and family but those are very different reasons to self-editing from dread of abuse.
No one should feel they should self-edit to such an extent that they deny who they are out of fear. For there lies tyranny.
But what to do?
This story by PestilantialSpoon in the comments of Margaret’s post (there isn’t a comment URL so I can’t link to it, but it appears about 69 comments in) perhaps highlights a common challenge:
I’d tried playing by the rules when I started a new game industry job a couple of years back. You’ll understand this when I say that I wanted to be respected as a professional, and I was afraid that my propensity to joke around with “the boys” at my previous game job diminished the respect they had toward me. So with some resolve, I vowed to “play by the rules” when I started my new job. Let’s just say it wasn’t even a month in before flagrantly inappropriate behavior started happening.
Regardless of how I dress, what I (don’t) say, or what I (don’t) do, there will always be men who don’t treat me with the respect they should. The good news is there are men who do! Indeed, there was one programmer who was a tremendous support to me throughout the sexual harassment I was experiencing. It’s good to know there are guys like that.
I’ve left that job due to a multitude of reasons, and now that I find myself gearing up to start a new job, I ask myself repeatedly how I should conduct myself on a day to day basis. I definitely want to be myself – and for me, that means I still want to joke around with the boys sometimes. That might leave the playing field open for the occasional dodo to cross the line, but I guess all I can do is make that line well and fully known and deal with anyone crossing it swiftly and decisively. I guess it remains to be seen whether I can have it both ways, but it’s worth a shot. Wish me luck.
Margaret herself has concluded:
But in the end, I was right to think I was clever and smart. I have avoided making myself a target of sexist assholes by playing by their rules. I’ve done a *blinding* job of that so far.
I think I’m going to stop doing that now.
Yet, all of this has made me wonder – is the games industry institutionally sexist? I don’t have an answer to this. I don’t want to make a sweeping generalisation, particularly given that I do not work directly in the industry I work more on the outskirts. But it is difficult to come to any other conclusion.
If that is the case, then I’d suggest that it may make some of the problems easier to tackle. Rather than at the moment the vague notions that the situation is part of games industry culture and wider complex social issues regarding gender. In doing so it would make the problem less abstract.
Institutions have policies, regulations, best practice, goals, KPIs – and numerous other managerial and business instruments. We all love to dislike such policies at times, but quite often they have good purpose behind them. This wouldn’t be a cure, but it would be a starting point*.
*This does not mean that I do not think other industries don’t have similar challenges be it for either gender, but as I stated in the last blog post it’s good to try and change your corner of the world if you can.
UPDATE 17/12/2011: If it’s not clear above, I would be as interested in hearing that the games industry isn’t institutionally sexist, and evidence to show that. This is a genuine, not rhetorical question.