Sexism in the Gaming World

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A few months ago I listened to an interview on NPR with Laralyn McWilliams, a woman who works in the gaming industry. (She was the lead designer on games like Full Spectrum Warrior and the creative director for the online game Free Realms. Currently she’s the chief creative officer at The Workshop, a game studio based in Los Angeles.)

About a year and a half ago, what became known as #Gamergate stirred up a tremendous brouhaha in the video game industry. Although it wasn’t specifically about the role of women in that industry, charges of misogyny and sexism soon began to dominate the discourse. Incredibly, women gamers received rape and death threats for daring to speak out about their experiences.

Even though McWilliams herself doesn’t feel that she has been impeded by sexism in the course of her career, she still feels that it is a big enough problem that she was willing be interviewed about it. When asked why she thinks sexism is rampant in the gaming industry she offered these comments:

Tech itself is male-oriented; software is even more male-oriented than that. And because games for many years have mostly made games for men, it’s even more male-oriented than the rest of them. So it’s sort of this more condensed version of all of the problems in tech…

There is a tendency in tech, and in games in particular, that if you are a woman who talks about the issues facing women in games, that becomes what defines you. You become “the woman who talks about being a woman.” When honestly … it largely continues to feel like my gender should be irrelevant.

When I heard this I had an “aha” moment, because what she describes is a perfect description of the reaction many people have to feminists. Even if all you do is point out that women don’t make as much as men (all other things being equal), you are labeled a “woman who talks about being a woman,” or, God forbid, a feminist.

This phenomenon isn’t restricted to women talking about “women’s issues.” Any time a member of a group that is discriminated against dares to speak out about that discrimination, he or she is shouted down for playing the “victim” card. I’ve heard commentators on the (mostly conservative) radio stations dismiss claims of discrimination by calling the claimants “whiners” who want the world to feel sorry for them. Any criticism of the status quo is seen as a ploy to receive special treatment.

They just don’t get it: people who feel that they have been discriminated against don’t want special treatment; they want equal treatment.

I know, I know: I can hear the arguments now against quotas and affirmative action. I’m not here to argue for or against such tactics that are often used to level the playing field. But those tactics wouldn’t be necessary if it were possible to change people’s minds without them. What employer is going to hire a woman if he’s convinced she’s going to take off work too much because of family responsibilities? Or if he assumes she can’t carry her weight because “women are weaker/less competitive/too emotional”?

Some people think that laws reflect the prevailing views in a society and should only be enacted only when there is a consensus for them. But I think that the opposite can also be true: sometimes laws have to be enacted to force society to confront and correct certain problems.

On the other hand, some things can’t be mandated. For instance, you can’t force women to enter the tech field. Nor can you force the public to buy games that were created by women. But women aren’t asking to be accepted just because they’re women; they’re just asking for the same opportunities that men are given.

I realize this is a tricky business. How do you prove that a man was given preferential treatment just because he’s a man or that a woman was denied an opportunity just because she’s a woman? Usually you can’t. But laws can be put into place that protect women who are merely attempting to have the conversation.

 

Why Sexual Harassment is Alive and Well in 2015

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anita-hillTwenty-four years ago Anita Hill testified before Congress about the alleged sexual harassment she experienced from the then-Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas. Last year a documentary, called simply “Anita,” was released which chronicles the whole affair in painstaking detail.  I haven’t seen it so I can’t comment on its accuracy or objectivity, but I have to wonder why the film was made at all, and why it was made now. (See trailer for “Anita” here. See here and here for YouTube videos of Day 1 of the Clarence Thomas Second Hearing.)

Surely this is old news. After all, politicians don’t sexually harass their employees or colleagues anymore, do they? Didn’t they learn from the media circus that erupted when Anita Hill’s charges came to light that they don’t dare invite the same public scrutiny? And haven’t men from all walks of life learned that sexual harassment is a no-no in this society?

Hell, no. Sexual harassment is alive and well in 2015 America. The only difference between now and then is that sexual harassment is more frowned upon—in principle. Most companies now have strict anti-sexual harassment policies, for instance. But just because sexual harassment has been exposed as an evil, at the very least illegal, practice doesn’t mean that it isn’t still going on. People just hide it better (unless they’re incredibly stupid).

With all the attention that the problem has received over the years, the public censure of and consequences to the perpetrators, you would think that victims would feel emboldened to step forward. But too many women (and men) are still afraid to complain about it. Why?

  • Often the person who does the harassing is in a position of power over the person who was harassed, making the victim feel that his or her job is at stake if he or she reports the harassment.
  • Even when the perpetrator is a co-worker, the victim may fear retaliation or shunning, for the simple reason that no one likes a “snitch.”
  • The victim is either not believed or is blamed for the harassment. (“He is just making it up to cover the fact that he willingly participated.” “She must have done something to encourage it.”)

[When the alleged perpetrator is a man and the victim a woman, the man is more likely to be believed for the simple reason that men are generally seen in a more positive light than women are. Traits like truthfulness and integrity are ascribed to men while women are seen as deceitful and unstable.]

  • It’s very difficult to prove. The person who has been harassed needs to keep meticulous notes about the harassment: who, when, where, what exactly was said or done. Witnesses are rare, either because the harasser was careful to avoid having his actions or words witnessed or, more likely, because potential witnesses themselves are afraid of retaliation if they testify against the harasser.
  • Denial. What disturbs me the most about the way sexual harassment is treated is that people still persist in minimizing it, in shrugging it off as no big thing. “She’s just oversensitive/can’t take a joke (or a compliment).” (The same people tend to minimize rape by insisting on using the term “forcible rape,” as if the level of violence is what matters, not the fact that the woman said “no.”) Many people complain that it’s hard to tell exactly what constitutes sexual harassment. But the truth is, it’s not rocket science; there are some very clear guidelines. Once it’s established that the action or comment is, or appears to be, motivated by sexual interest, one of more of the following needs to also apply:
    • Is the action or comment unwanted (signified either by out-and-out rejection or by obvious discomfort)?
    • Does the action or comment make the work climate uncomfortable or unprofessional?
    • Does the action or comment cause a worker’s performance to suffer?
  • But perhaps the biggest reason why people don’t report sexual harassment is because they just don’t believe that anything will be done about it. Sexual harassment policies are only as good as the willingness to follow them, including acting on complaints decisively. Employers talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Oh, they’ll refer the offender to some kind of counseling or sensitivity training, or move one of the parties to another location. But often what happens is the complainant is the one who is moved, or even later let go, for some “unrelated” reason. Sometimes an employer finds it easier to settle a few lawsuits than to do all that is required to avoid sexual harassment in the first place. However, the smart employer realizes that tolerating sexual (and other forms of) harassment has other costs that affect his bottom line: low morale, absenteeism, high turnover rates and low productivity.

For more information about sexual harassment, including what recourses victims have, read the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Sexual Harassment Fact Sheet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letting Men Off the Hook

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Melissa NelsonThree years ago, when Melissa Nelson was 33, she was fired by her boss because he felt that her beauty would tempt him to have an affair with her. (Apparently his wife agreed.) Ms. Nelson sued but her case was dismissed. The court ruled that being fired for being a threat to her boss’s marriage was within the law.

Excuse me? Where does it say that the law exists to protect men from their own sexual impulses? If that were the case, rapists might as well go free because, after all, they can’t help it. Especially if a woman dresses “provocatively” (a value judgment if I ever heard one). Why not expand that to “especially if she’s beautiful”?

I’m sick of the excuse that men are at the mercy of their “innate” natures. Girls are told that they have to be the ones to make sure that sex doesn’t happen between them and their dates or boyfriends, because “boys will be boys; they will always go as far as you let them.”

[This is insulting on two counts: it assumes that men can’t control themselves, and that women can (in other words, that they never want to have sex that badly). Both sexes are defined by their supposed normal sexual behaviors.]

I take issue with the attitude that it is the woman’s responsibility to keep men from temptation. If it was all right for Melissa Nelson’s boss to fire her because of the temptation factor, then every male boss could make a case for not hiring women at all.

Because, you know, men would behave themselves perfectly if women weren’t around.

 

LEGO Friends: a Friend to Girls?

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It’s too late for my daughters, or for me, for that matter, but not for my granddaughters. LEGO has come out with a series of kits created specifically for girls. After more than a decade of marketing to boys with themes like Star Wars, ninjas, monsters, dinosaurs and the like, LEGO has turned its attention to the market that is potentially just as lucrative; after all, females make up 51% of the population.

Not that LEGO hasn’t tried to reach out to girls before, but nothing really took off like the kits for boys. This time, LEGO devoted seven years of research to figuring out what kind of LEGO kits would appeal to girls. Last year, right after Christmas (go figure), the company debuted its LEGO Friends series. I’m only just now finding out about them because I was looking for a Christmas gift for my five-year-old grand-niece and I came across them at Target.

They caught my attention because they go beyond the rather limited role that dolls have in a little girl’s play. There are doll-like figures (5 centimeters taller than traditional LEGO minifigs) but LEGO has come up with an entire world that has to be built–with LEGOs, naturally–before the dolls can “live” in it. There are five main characters who each come with her own biography and personality and kits geared to her interests.

At first I was leery about gender-stereotyping, and rightfully so: The Friends’ world is called Heartlake City and the colors of the kits are all “girly” colors, mainly pastels. Not only that, but the environments the kits are designed to create are almost exclusively traditional female ones, like beauty parlors, cafés, performance studios, bedrooms, swimming pools and horse stables. The only kinds of occupations represented include actress/singer, beautician, baker, café owner and dog groomer; no doctors or police officers need apply. (I suppose a girl could borrow those figures from her brother’s kits.)

But there are also encouraging signs: one of the kits, a bedroom, includes a drum kit. There is a car, a speedboat and an airplane. The environments aren’t just places where the characters go; they own the businesses, perform on the stages, drive the cars, and so on.

If people are worried about making kids think that they can only play with “gender-appropriate” toys, then what about the LEGOs that are aimed at the male market? You’d think that boys are supposedto be all about fighting and destroying (and constructing and destroying again!–I’ve seen my grandson playing with LEGOs.) But maybe boys are simply more interested in action and girls in interaction. Who really knows? All I do know is that neither I nor my daughters were remotely interested in playing with LEGOs–I had my Ginny dolls, they had Strawberry Shortcake and later Barbie).

If LEGO Friends get more children interested in LEGOs, isn’t that a good thing? No one said that girls can’t play with Harry Potter (which is one of the few kits outside of LEGO Friends that has female characters in it) or Star Wars or any of the kits that are thought of as for boys. But now girls and boys who like things that are pretty, that involve role-playing and redecorating, or that aren’t all about wars and fighting, will have something that satisfies their needs as well.

Find out more about LEGO Friends here.

NOTE: I found this comment on the Internet which I found both amusing and disturbing: “my lil sis wants this set she has a the cafe but i use her minifigures as prisoners to my lex luthor minifugre from DC superheros and a slave to The Joker minifure.”

1958 Ginny Doll

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Fight the War on Women?

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There’s been a lot in the news lately about the War on Women. What most people don’t realize is that this “war” isn’t only about abortion. It’s a series of battles over a woman’s right to live her life purposefully. This doesn’t just mean her right to birth control or abortion. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Women are still having to fight for these things and more:

  • access to education
  • jobs, promotions
  • health benefits
  • reasonable rates for life and health insurance
  • maternity leave and other accommodations for child-rearing
  • effective prosecution of rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence
  • elected office and other positions of power

Many people think that the War on Women was fought in the ’60s and ’70s and that women won it. They point to female CEOs and other professionals, to the number of women obtaining higher education, to greater attention being paid to women’s health issues and  to greater protections in general under the law. But these advantages are not being given equally to all women.

As long as there is one woman who is treated wrongfully and unequally because of her gender, the war has not been won. And the fact is, there are still millions of women who need things that many of us, privileged as we are, take for granted. Not only that, but women who feel that they have never suffered gender or sexual discrimination are either unusually fortunate or delusional.

One of the most insidious ways to keep women down is socialization. It’s hard to point a finger to the culprit here when the entire society participates in the practices that keep women from fulfilling their full potential. Even women themselves cooperate in their own socialization and often seem proud of it. The woman who drops out of college to get married, the professional who stops working to have children, the mother who praises her daughter for being pretty, but not for her participation in sports—all of these women are shortsightedly dooming themselves and their children to discrimination in the future.

These women protest that they have the right to choose to work part-time or not at all (except for in the home of course), to have as many children as they want and to raise them however they see fit. I’m not saying that they don’t have the right to choose whatever they want to do with their lives. I’m just asking them to think about the long-term effects of their choices.

The War on Women can’t be fought only by the people who already have the advantages some women only dream of. It has to be fought by all women. Each woman has to think purposefully about her life and do whatever it takes to achieve her goals. She has to stop thinking about what everyone else wants her to do and start thinking about what she wants.

Some say that the feminist movement has done nothing but create a society of self-centered and selfish women who think nothing of abandoning husbands and children and who could care less about their families’ fates. There will always be those who think only of themselves (female and male), but the feminist movement didn’t cause that. And that is certainly not its goal.

All that feminism asks is that women think and act responsibly with an eye to the future, both their future and that of their children. Do they really want their daughters (and sons) to be saddled with children they didn’t want and can’t care for? Do they want their daughters to continue to have to bear the brunt of housework and child-raising? Do they want their sons to take women for granted, even to the point of abusing them?

Maybe the War on Women will never be over. Patriarchal attitudes are ingrained in nearly every society. Add to that the resistance people have to change. But humankind’s progress doesn’t depend on staying in the present or even going back to the past. Progress means to go forward. What was “usual and customary” for our ancestors has to be re-examined and reworked in order to serve our future.

 

 

Court Allows Wal-Mart to Get Away with it Again

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Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court did not find that Wal-Mart routinely discriminates against its female employees. That doesn’t mean that Wal-Mart is innocent. All it means is that the Court refused to hear the case. It seems that the 1.5 million plaintiffs in this class action suit have experiences that are too disparate and don’t show enough commonality to qualify for class action status.

Excuse me? Of course their experiences are disparate: you’re talking about 1.5 million women. And what could be more in common than the fact that they were discriminated against because they were all women?

This is the problem with proving sex discrimination in this country: it happens to women, one at a time, whenever a woman is passed over for a variety of types of promotions: better hours, more hours, positions of greater responsibility, higher pay. But the result is still the same: a woman is denied the opportunities that are routinely offered to men. And she can’t do a damn thing about it.

Because that’s the other thing about sex discrimination: it’s carefully packaged as something else. The discriminators don’t say that all women lack ambition or the requisite managerial skills and personality traits. They don’t say that women don’t work as hard or as long. Instead they pick out one reason and match it to one woman and voilà, it’s not discriminatory policy, it’s the manager’s “informed” opinion. And we all know that every manager is free of sexual bias.

Wal-Mart covers its ass by saying that its policy is equal employment opportunity for men and women, but then allowing its supervisors wide leeway in how they interpret that policy. All a supervisor has to do is show that he had a “valid” reason for promoting a man over a woman and the big wigs at Wal-Mart are satisfied that their non-discriminatory stance is being promoted. They don’t look over their supervisors’ shoulders or second-guess his decisions.

The Supreme Court therefore ruled that since a non-discrimination policy is in place at Wal-Mart, there is no case. Period. Any deviations from that policy are to be handled by Wal-Mart internally. Well, I’m sorry, but I thought the main reason a suit is brought against a company is to get them to do something they aren’t already doing.

The fact that the Court dismissed the complaints of 1.5 million women is an outrage. Does it think these women are delusional? That they all imagined that they were being discriminated against? Surely out of 1.5 million plaintiffs there was enough evidence to warrant hearing the case. Instead, the Justices who voted for dismissal said that there wasn’t enough evidence; only “about 1 [anecdote] for every 12,500 class members.” I’m sure the women could have come up with far more if they’d realized that the Justices were going to consider 120 anecdotes “insignificant.”

The most troubling aspect of this ruling is that it will undoubtedly make it even harder for class action suits to be successful in the future—especially when they’re filed against huge corporations. All the Justices have to say is that the company is too large to hold it responsible for the actions of all its managers.

The women filed a class action suit expressly because it would have been cost-prohibitive for each woman to file a suit against each manager. And why should they when it’s clear that Wal-Mart condones discriminatory practices by its managers by looking the other way?

Maybe we shouldn’t be blaming Wal-Mart for sexual discrimination in the workplace. Maybe it’s actually our society that should be on trial. Because Wal-Mart’s climate exists within a larger system. One in which comments like, “Everyone knows women don’t like to work long hours” are common.

One commenter said that Wal-Mart couldn’t be guilty of sex discrimination because if it was “why would it hire women at all if they’re such poor workers?” Apparently this idiot isn’t acquainted with the practice of hiring people for the “grunt work.” Who better for those positions than women who don’t care about getting ahead anyway?

[Source: New York Times]

Also check out Room for Debate: “A Death Blow for Class Action?