Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

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Allies: It’s time to lace up the proverbial boxing gloves

Over here at Better Allies, we’re collecting stories. About software teams who make simple changes towards a more inclusive culture. It could be a tweak to their daily stand-ups. Or tools to solicit feedback from diverse voices across their team. Or, simply stepping up when they see derogatory social media postings. And we’ve got a great example of exactly that in today’s post.

The twitterverse has more than its share of jerks. People behind anonymous handles spewing snarky remarks. If you spend time on Twitter, and you know what we’re talking about.

It can be easy to ignore them. We might roll our eyes. Shake our heads. Think to ourselves, “WTF?” But that’s often the end. We simply move on.

Except when we don’t, and we decide to take a stand. To lace up the proverbial boxing gloves and punch back.

This is exactly what happened on International Women’s Day, when a gaming company pushed back hard on a snarky tweet. And we’re so glad they did.

ArenaNet tweeted a picture of female employees, with the message, “Happy #InternationalWomensDay from ArenaNet! We’re proud to be part of a studio that believes in the power of women in game development, and we encourage you to join us.”

To which one of the twitterverse jerks replied, “Check out our cleaning staff and Karen from accounting.”

A lame attempt at humor? Probably. And one that created a teachable moment.

We learned about the tweet from Jessica Price, who shared the following in a Twitter thread. She inspired us to think about how we would have reacted ourselves, so much that we are reposting it here. We don’t want it to just fade away. With her permission, we’re sharing her full thread here.

“Women who work in games get shit on all the time. We have a lot of dudes pre-assume that we’re not real devs, that we don’t have decision-making power, that we were “diversity hires.” And most companies expect us to suck it up and not offend customers by protesting that treatment

ArenaNet posted a picture of a bunch of women* who work there for International Women’s Day. A Twitter rando decided to make a crack about how it must be the cleaning staff.

*BTW, it wasn’t even all the women there, because a lot of us — including a lot of those in management/senior/lead positions — had meetings we had to be at.

And you know what happened? A bunch of male devs jumped in and told the guy off. They didn’t tag us in. They didn’t tweet to us or come talk to us telling us they knew it wasn’t okay. They told HIM it wasn’t okay.

And then the company told him off. And pointed out that when you play our game, you’re experiencing women’s work & expertise. In every discipline, and at every level. You may want to imagine we don’t matter, that we’re cosmetic or token, but the company’s not having it.

So there are two things going on here that are important.

One is the instant, automatic, and intense disgust from male coworkers at seeing their female teammates treated like that. Why is that so important?

Well, let me tell you how these things usually go down: someone makes a sexist joke, and men say nothing, and then later tell the women who were present that the joke made them uncomfortable. Or they tag us in all, “Did you SEE this?”

That’s a demand for emotional labor from us. It’s usually well-intentioned, but, my dudes, we deal with this shit all the time and we’re tired.

And my response to a guy who was silent when the joke was made later telling me it made him uncomfortable is always, “then you should have told HIM.” Because it feels like you’re more worried about me understanding that you’re not sexist than you are helping fix the situation.

And this is a documented thing: men who make misogynist jokes assume that other men all agree with them. And it’s hard sometimes not to feel, as a woman, that most other men agree with them.

Men making it clear, in the moment, to the guy who made the joke that it’s not acceptable shatter the assumption that it’s the norm, that it’s okay, that it’s just the reality of things.

Suddenly, I’m not in there alone as a woman surrounded by men who are willing to be overtly misogynist and other men who probably secretly agree, or just don’t give a shit. I’m in there with men who Are. Not. Having. This. Fuckery. I have actual allies, not performative ones.

And I dunno if anything can convince proudly misogynist men that other men don’t agree with them, but if anything can, it’s other men expressing disgust at that behavior (especially when women aren’t around).

And nothing communicates to me more clearly that my male colleagues actually do see me as an equal fully human being than their incredulous disgust that someone would treat me as less because I’m female.

And component two here is the company itself having that same indignation.

Not “suck it up, because we don’t want to offend customers by telling them not to be sexist asshats,” but “this is unacceptable, and if hearing that offends you, too bad.”

Because it’s not just about their female employees. It’s about their players, the industry as a whole, and what women are expected to put up with online.

It’s about the idea that women should tolerate this shit with a smile because that’s the price of admission being bullshit. That saying “well, it sucks, but that’s just the way it is,” is bullshit.

Sexist jokes normalize sexism. They move the Overton window. They make it feel normal and acceptable to say sexist things. And they allow people who genuinely believe this stuff to avoid the consequences for advocating for it by saying it was a joke.

(Incidentally, humor as a way of normalizing bigotry is literally part of Neo-Nazis’ strategy for mainstreaming and recruitment: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/daily-stormer-nazi-style-guide_us_5a2ece19e4b0ce3b344492f2 …)

And it’s working:

Which is why it’s important that companies shut this shit down when it’s directed at their employees or players.

And channers like to shriek about “virtue signaling.” Okay. Sure. Companies are signaling about what sort of behavior they find acceptable. They’re signaling about what kind of environment they are trying to create and maintain.

ArenaNet is saying very clearly that they value and are trying to promote an environment in which women don’t have to continually put up with assumptions that we’re less competent than men. In which we’re genuinely treated like equals.

An environment in which we don’t have to continually wade through denigration, condescension, and mockery just to do our jobs.

And despite attempts to treat being clear about what the company values as some sort of forced or radical behavior, continual silence is just as much of a choice, and is just as much a form of signaling.

Values are what you value. They’re what you actually stand behind. Every group has things they value — and often, what they value is profit and convenience. My company and my colleagues said very clearly that they value the dignity and equality of their female employees.

And that’s a better observance of International Women’s Day, even if it took place a bit later, than a photo or donuts or whatever.

Thank you, Jessica, for this insight. And for the inspiration. We won’t be silent ever again.

Becoming an ally is a journey. Want to join us?

Together, we can — and will — make a difference.