Sexism Doesn’t Exist, Except When It Totally Exists

On Wednesday night I went to the Women in Games event at Zynga. It was pretty awesome, I got to talk to some incredibly smart and talented people in the industry, and hear some really sharp women talk about their experiences. The panel was a joy to listen to, in particular Brenda Garno, who is totally fabulous and knows all my feels about being a lady in a male-dominated environment.

But something cropped up in the panel discussion, and it came up a few times, and it’s one of those things that irks me that we do: saying sexism “doesn’t exist” in the spaces we occupy, then go on to say “oh wait except for this one example I have.”

“I never notice sexism. People treat me the same. Oh except that I get asked a lot if I’m in marketing.”

“I’m one of the guys, you know? I’m not like other girls, so they respect me.”

“There’s less sexism in games than anywhere else, I think. Oh but I get treated like armcandy a lot.”

“I don’t dress nice because I don’t want guys to get certain opinions of me, you know?”

This is pretty common, and it makes me sad. And there are a few problems in statements like these. Saying sexism doesn’t exist because it’s never happened to you (that you can recall) is like saying Australia doesn’t exist because you’ve never been there.

I think a lot of this comes down to having to refine the definition of sexism. Once upon a time, sexism was smacking your secretary’s ass and telling her to get some coffee, sweetheart. Sexism was telling a woman to her face that she was being let go because shouldn’t she be at home with the kids anyway? It was telling a woman she couldn’t do something because her ovaries would get in the way.

This sort of behaviour is unacceptable now. But you know what’s totally acceptable? Assuming every woman at a gaming convention is there to be looked at by men and judged on their fuckability, rather than assuming the nicely-dressed woman standing at the booth might actually be responsible for developing the game she’s selling. If a woman is attractive, it’s acceptable to dismiss her, to say she only got to where she is based on looks alone. The shit that gets spewed forth in the comments pages on Kotaku is acceptable. How do I know all this is acceptable? Because it keeps happening, and nobody’s really putting a stop to this shit.

So that’s one point. Sexism is more subtle, harder to spot, and easier to dismiss. But there’s another problem here, one that irks me ever so much: why does a woman have to be “one of the guys” to be accepted?

There was a comment made which was such a clear-cut example of internalized misogyny that I had to bite my hand to keep from laughing out loud. “I’m not like other girls. I’m one of the guys.”

Here’s the thing: being “one of the guys” is totally cool. Being a woman whose personality is dominated by typically masculine traits is totally cool. I’m really glad that it’s acceptable for women to behave that way.

What I’m not okay with is deriding women who act typically feminine. And I’m less-okay with the traits that were described as belonging to “most other girls”: catty back-biting, passive-aggressive comments, obsession with appearance… basically a MRA laundry list of why women suck. I shouldn’t have to state the obvious, but I’m going to: these traits exist among both men and women (seriously, meet the men in my office, oh the catty gossip). Singling out women as being the ones who posses this trait unfairly maligns an entire gender, all because you can’t think past the latest romcom you just watched.

But what about other typically feminine traits? Nurturing? Building? Concern with appearance? How are these bad things? Why are we celebrating eschewing these traits in favor of conquering and destruction? How about a little balance?

It’s difficult to argue sexism doesn’t exist when the panelists themselves are making the sexist comments.

And lest I sound like I’m harping on games, let me be clear: this problem is everywhere. I have had to rescue women from creepy-ass men at professional scifi/fantasy literature conventions (professional conventions), only to have them turn around and say “There’s no sexism in SFF.” This shit happens errywhere. It’s simply easier to deny the problem than face it.

The point was raised that things are so much better now than they were ten or twenty years ago. And I agree. They are. Totally better. Loads better. Alls I’m saying is, let’s not rest on our laurels. Let’s keep pushing this.

2 thoughts on “Sexism Doesn’t Exist, Except When It Totally Exists

  1. Anonymous Coward says:

    Not to say it doesn't exist because it does. But doesn't making a statement that "Assuming every woman at a gaming convention is there to be looked at by men and judged on their fuckability, rather than assuming the nicely-dressed woman standing at the booth might actually be responsible for developing the game she’s selling" put sexism in your anti sexism?

  2. Deanne says:

    I don't understand how you come to that conclusion; would you be so kind as to break that down for us?

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