Okay, tech industry. This "sexism" conversation is getting dumb. The Game Developer Conference is in full swing in San Francisco this week—lots of gamey people gaming around talking about games—and certain female critics are finding some events "more like a frat house than the voice of an industry." Last night, the International Game Developer's Association (IGDA) threw a party, which featured scantily clad female dancers gyrating around a stage. You know, because video games.
Student developer Alicia Avril, who attended the party last night, showed me the photo she took and related the tale. On a stage at a crowded industry party, there were "at least three girls in white outfits–one was in a skimpy t-shirt one was in this weird furry get-up–dancing." Beyond the stage, dancing among the crowd, were women on stilts. "I walked in there not expecting that sort of display."
According to their website, IGDA is "the largest non-profit membership organization in the world serving all individuals who create video games… The IGDA is dedicated to improving developers' careers and lives through: Community, Professional Development, and Advocacy." It seems as if the person who hired the dancers didn't advocate on behalf of female members as well as he/she should have.
A failure to anticipate very basic shit like this shows a fundamental lack of commitment and understanding on the part of male leadership.
Look, dudes. No one's saying that you don't get to find women attractive. No one's even saying that you can't personally be sexist on your own time. But in a professional context, you don't get to keep insisting that sexism in tech isn't a real problem—or the flipside, that it's a very serious problem that you take very seriously and are earnestly working to remedy—if you can't take basic steps to make women feel welcome. You don't get credit for good intentions when you continue to book sexy dancing underpants-ladies to titillate guests at major industry events. Does that not make sense? In what way are we not connecting here?
There is nothing inherently wrong with sexy dancing underpants-ladies. However. What we're talking about right now is context. And in a context where women already feel alienated and unwelcome, and are measurably underrepresented, gratuitous female objectification is a very clear reminder that "this space is not for you." Or, rather, you are welcome here, but please be very aware that we still think of you essentially as pointless hetero-male-gaze-candy. (I'm not totally sure why hired dancers are even necessary at professional events—we never had strippers at our staff meetings when I was a cashier—but even just one male dancer would have made it better. Just one.) If that imbalance didn't exist—if there were just as many women working in tech fields as men, and if women were taken seriously as gamers and geeks—then a few nudie-ladies and dick jokes wouldn't matter. But that is not the world we live in. Context, context, context.
I know it's inconvenient, but if you're really dedicated to solving this problem you need to go out of your way to create comfortable spaces for women. Those might have to be spaces without strippers and gratuitous sex talk for a while (but it's okay! There are literally hundreds of other things to talk about!). You will have to make some concessions. But are those concessions really more stifling than the ones women have made already? I.e. being excluded from an entire industry/community for decades simply because of our gender? Can't we just meet in the middle and then move on?
Also, bonus: Wouldn't it be nice to not have to have this conversation anymore?
Image via Bojan Pavlukovic/Shutterstock.