Clint Hocking has a column on Edge today about why the game industry needs more women, and a few ideas on how to recruit them. The middle part is pretty good, if points our readers are no doubt already familiar with, but there are a couple things I would like to discuss.
I’ll start out by saying that I’m glad Hocking is talking about the issue and arguing for the practical and creative benefits of having more women in game development. The more people saying this, the better. But there are a couple things about this article that I think are counterproductive to Hocking’s purpose because they’re actually sexist.
The first thing is the framing that compares the game industry as it currently is to the Vikings. It’s a bit of a weird comparison to me, but what he’s saying is that when a lot of men get together, they become uncivilized brutes, and… make fart jokes? He doesn’t say that all men are this way, to be fair, but he does generalize that it’s a natural part of men’s behavior to become crude without the “civilizing” presence of women. That’s essentialist, and sexist against both women and men; women aren’t inherently less crude than men are.
The second sexist thing about this piece–and my main concern–is the simplification that it’s fart jokes that are turning women away from game development jobs. Crudeness isn’t the problem; sexism is the problem. The culture at game development studios does need to change, not because of the crudeness, but because of hostility to women. Things like rape jokes or comments that sexualize and objectify women are both crude and sexist, but it’s the sexism that needs to be eradicated, not necessarily the crudeness. To conflate the two avoids the issue and perpetuates the sexist stereotype that women are sensitive flowers and men need to walk on eggshells around us. It’s the same leap in logic a person takes when finding out that a woman doesn’t want to deal with sexist slurs like “bitch” and assuming that means women don’t like swearing. Fuck that. Again, the issue isn’t crudeness, it’s the sexism. (Last I heard, Bridesmaids–advertized as a gross-out comedy for women–is doing incredibly well.)
Furthermore, Hocking devotes a single vague sentence to Quality of Life issues (“This means that we need to better position the industry as a desirable workplace, one in which female artists, designers, programmers and project managers would want to be employed.”). Women are still far more likely to be the primary caregiver for their children, so long hours and unpaid overtime are a huge barrier for women getting into game development, far moreso than fart jokes.
The article places women who want to get into game development in an awkward position; it puts the expectation of being the “team scold”–the expectation to be a “civilizing” presence, as mentioned above–on women, and that is not only something no one wants, it’s sexist in and of itself. And you can’t change a sexist industry by using sexism. Sexism is the root of the problem; telling game developers to behave like gentlemen when there are ladies present isn’t going to fix the problem, it’s just going to change the nature of it (if it accomplishes anything at all).
So, please, before you write about getting women into the game industry, first check and make sure that you’re not perpetuating the very attitudes you’re arguing against before you publish. I do hope that Hocking keeps talking about this topic, and I hope that he realizes that this angle is counterproductive and takes a different tack next time.