In which I don’t try to write like a man


I have a friend, whose name is Mark Sorrell, who yesterday posted this column. It’s probably worth going and reading that first, or none of the rest of this will make sense.

That column triggered a bunch of discussion, part of which was a reddit thread, and part of that thread was this comment from a reader called LadyKeen.

It shouldn’t have to come to this. It isn’t about just accepting the fact that you will be harassed, but being a legitimate prescence in the gaming world. Women in the gaming industry aren’t just being shat on because they are women. It is because they are used/using themselves as sex symbols or they come out with outrageous claims/ideas about something (ala Hamburger Helper). Successful women in the gaming industry do their job without being a nut about it and therefore do not get the flack.

The whole comment thread is worth reading, partly for Mark’s smart answers, and partly for the bit when someone says that Jade Raymond is letting herself be used as a sex symbol in the photo at the top of this post. The one where she’s wearing jeans and a cardigan and smiling, the filthy, gaping whore.

Here’s what makes me sad.

My position used to be exactly the opinion quoted above. I don’t get the flack that a lot of other women-on-the-internet, and especially women-on-the-games-internet get. And that, I used to think, was because I was clever and smart. I didn’t cam-whore. I didn’t flirt. I didn’t do anything to make myself a target. And therefore I was better than the stupid women who courted the hate-mail and the rape threats and the knee-jerk dismissals.

Here are some other things that I included in my ‘not making myself a target’ strategy:

– not wearing skirts
– not wearing heels
– not coming to the defence of other women on the receiving end of abuse and threats and dismissals
– not, under any circumstances, ever ever ever ever indicating that there might be any sexual activity in my thoughts or my life or my body
– not talking about ‘being a woman’ or anything dumb and feminist like that
– judging the success of my approach on the number of people who didn’t realise from my writing that I was female.

These things pervade everything about how I comport myself online, and indeed in the industry. I posted a picture of my skirt on Twitter the other day, because the pattern reminded me of a Pokemon. I was anxious about posting it, in case it seemed like something that would lay me open to accusations of being a camwhore or an attention-seeking flirt. In the end, I decided I would, but was careful to take a picture where you could only see the pattern, and not – god forbid – some of my leg or something like that.

In a word where Jade Raymond gets accused of being a sex-token for standing in front of her team and smiling, these are sensible precautions to take.

So when Mark talks about women who self-censor, he is talking about me. It took me a long time to recognise that, because since expressing what I think is such a central element of who I am that facing up to that fact is miserable.

And when LadyKeen makes her point, I sympathise and identify. But I also despair, a bit. Everyone – absolutely everyone – has to decide how to handle themselves online, how to construct themselves professionally. Everyone has to decide where to draw the barriers between their private and public life. We all self-edit, and we all *should* self-edit. It’s a pleasure and a responsibility, both, to ensure that we are who we want to be and we have a generally non-shitty impact on the people around us.

But it has taken me a horribly long time to understand what an insidious impact the fear of attracting the degree of negative attention has on the way I present myself. It’s taken me a while to recognise that a big part of why I don’t post things like this is because I’m *scared*. Actually scared. Actually worried that I’ll terminally undermine my credibility. And that’s because the degree of abuse you can attract is of a different order from the generality of internet rough-and-tumble [interesting, newly-self-aware side note. I would normally have deleted ‘rough-and-tumble’ after writing it, because it could just about be interpreted as something titillating. Today, I’m leaving it in there]. General internet rough-and-tumble doesn’t phase me. I’m secretly delighted that the 4th Google result for my name is ‘Margaret Robertson is full of shit’. It amuses me enough that I’ve bought, even if I haven’t quite figured out what to do with it yet. I think, on the whole, I can make my peace with being called a cunt for what I write, but I find it more daunting to be called a cunt for just having one.

That’s a thing I wouldn’t have written out-loud before today.

So I’m not saying that a degree of self-editing is bad. And I’m not saying that women (or men) shouldn’t be try to be good at their jobs, or act professionally if they want to be treated professionally. I think women being great at what they do is the single best advert for that fact that women are great at what they do.

But in the end, I was right to think I was clever and smart. I have avoided making myself a target of sexist assholes by playing by their rules. I’ve done a *blinding* job of that so far.

I think I’m going to stop doing that now.

109 thoughts on “In which I don’t try to write like a man”

  1. Mo: Re-read all of my posts again. Because based on the arguments people are making with me none of you have bothered doing that and it’s really annoying arguing with people who keep pretending I said something I didn’t.

    I have not once, not one single time, said Jade was not accomplished. I have not said she is unintelligent or not a hard worker. I have not once said anything regarding her success in life being because she is a woman. WHAT I DID SAY, was that compared to the developers Badgercommander mentioned, she is a scrub. That’s all I said. Hardly something to be taken so harshly. Some people may or may not agree with me, but I’m willing to bet that the number of people who do agree with me far outnumbers the people who don’t.

    Now go back and re-read James’ post. He WAS very clearly arguing that she is more accomplished than the other developers. Yes my reply was snarky and sarcastic because James was implying Jade releasing “multiple games as an engineer” was somehow incredibly more impressive compared to the others. I said “Dem skillz” after I posted the list of each dev’s games. It was not meant to imply she has no skills whatsoever; but was a sarcastic way of saying compared to the others mentioned she has far fewer skills.

    What do you think was just a tad bit harder to make, Jeopardy or SimCity? Trivial Pursuit or Black and White? Again we may agree or disagree, but go ask anyone with an inkling of an idea what goes into making these games and I’m sure the answers are overwhelmingly in favor of the games not programmed by Jade Raymond.

    I may be completely wrong and Jade is some kind of programming virtuoso. All we have to go by is the evidence presented to us via their game credits.

  2. Oh and before people put more words in my mouth, I’m not saying she has fewer skills than them because she is a woman. So don’t even bother going there.

  3. Raph: Thank you for giving some perspective. I never meant to imply it *never* happens with male producers/designers/etc because it most certainly does. But as you said when Assassin’s Creed was coming out Jade was the victim of rabid sexism among the gaming community. Her face was plastered all over the place on gaming sites and magazines and to try and pretend it has nothing to do with her being an attractive woman is just willful ignorance.

  4. I do engineering work. Every engineer I know who happens to be female is (at least at work) an engineer first and foremost. Incidentally, every female engineer whose work I know does above-average work.
    What point about being a woman could any of them possibly make that could or should raise my opinion of them? Should I somehow be judging them on a different scale?
    Bringing that back to the topic at hand, do you believe Jade is portrayed in that picture primarily as a woman or as an engineer? If as an engineer, why was she chosen as the focus of that picture over all the more talented people (because there’s no need to ask why she was chosen over less talented people). If as a woman, why on earth are you okay with trivializing her actual talent?

  5. I can’t remember how I got to this post, I think facebook. I went an hour long journey via you’re links.

    I’m so pleased that people write about this more and more. Thanks.

  6. Aargh, sorry I was just trying to be a little faecitious, had no intention of igniting more sarcastic comments. I have no desire to argue with people over the internet, engage in a little debate from time to time, certainly but otherwise the whole thing is pointless.

    Alex, man, I have no idea what you are fighting for anymore. You have zeroed in on one tiny detail of the article rather than taking it as a whole and your responses have been worded in a way that seems to be trying to negate the validity of the article. I was just playing along for the sake of diffusing the conversation as you are clearly on your set path and nothing is going to dissuade you.

    Is all good but seriously the anger makes no sense and if you are really trying to debunk the points made in the article you might want to go about it a different way as all you are creating is an us against you scenario.

  7. Alex,

    I’ve read over all your posts. I can somewhat agree with you on this point, but disagree with your overall argument.

    As long as we can agree that Raymond is an accomplished, intelligent, hardworking individual, I’m satisfied. To say she’s more accomplished than Schafer or Molyneux is, of course, silly. Honestly, I think James just mis-read your post. I think he read “scrub” and missed the “compared to” bit. And you over-reacted, just a little bit. 😉

    But now that I’ve read all your posts, let’s get back to your main point. Let me ask you this: what was Raymond suppose to do?

    Her job was a producer on the biggest new IP for Ubisoft. A big part of her job entails doing PR for the game. Being in the spotlight, talking up the game, doing interviews, etc is her job. Was she suppose to decline interviews, decline demos, and so on? Should she have dressed differently, or changed the way she looked somehow to attract less attention?

    Maybe she should have passed the PR duties to the other producer, right? But why? She’s clearly great at PR, and not just because she’s a woman. I watched her demo AC1 at the Sony (or Microsoft?) E3 keynote*. She narrated the demo clearly, knowledgeably and with great enthusiasm. I’ve watched a lot of E3 keynotes, these are not skills that most producers are great at.

    (* sorry for the vagueness, but it was many years ago!)

    So Option 1 is basically Raymond should have self-censored herself to attract less attention … which is *exactly* what this post is about *not* doing.

    And hey, because you’re so fixated on this point, let’s go over “that photo”. You made a big assumption based on it (“she very much allowed herself to be used as a sex symbol”), with very little information to go on. As you said, it’s likely “this was the photographer’s idea”. If the photographer was doing a team shoot, took a dozen or so photos, then goes, “hey could we get one with Jade up in front please?” Without thinking, she takes a few steps up, poses, and a photo is snapped. When it comes to press, *that’s* the photo they choose to run with.

    I’m not saying that’s what happened, but it’s a reasonable assumption to make, right? And seeing as I can’t find any other similar photos, isn’t it a little harsh to say “she very much allowed herself to be used as a sex symbol” or maybe that “she is really a self-centered, conceited bitch” based on one photo?

    So anyway, back to the main point: Option 2 is much simpler. What if the online gaming audience just … you know, grew up? I agree that the Raymond/AC1 coverage was totally ridiculous. But gaming websites covered it so heavily because it got a rise out of their audience. As long as the audience is this immature, and gaming websites all but encourage this kind of behaviour, this vicious cycle will keep going, and the industry will never grow up.

    So which one seems more reasonable to you?

  8. This “Alex” character is such a clear attempt by feminists to discredit their own detractors by painting their arguments as ridiculous conspiracy theories regarding Ubisoft’s attempts to use Jade Raymond as a sex symbol by allowing her to appear in a picture wearing normal clothes somewhat in front of the rest of her team.

    Their one mistake is that this entire line of reasoning is so insane it could never be honestly espoused by any remotely reasonable human being.

    Nice try, feminists! Maybe next time you should be more believable with your tricks.

  9. Honestly… There are a lot better things to do with one’s time than continuing to perpetuate the “women in gaming suck” stereotype with ramblings like these. Do your job, do it properly, and sex shouldn’t even be part of the picture. Troll baiting will only bring more trolls. Fact is, sex sells. Women and men both are used as sex symbols, and I see nothing wrong with it, considering sex is an inherent part of human nature.

  10. Such an honest post Margaret. I’m shocked (even from the comments above) that anyone should think this kind of bullying is okay or something women should put up with. Its abnormal and of course it affects how we behave/write/reflect. And it mustn’t continue to do so. Great post.

  11. @alex I think it’s a common trope to use the lead designer as the focal point. I picked a random “auteur” male designer and googled on name + studio. This was one of the first results:

    If you can’t stand in front of the team dressed casually if you’re a woman, because that’s still selling out using your sex appeal, aren’t women relegated to a life in the crowd (while penis havers get to play the hero/leader/genius role), and isn’t that a problem?

  12. Yeah, the term “scrub” is what set me off. As a developer every time I read crap like that or “lazy developers” I have to fight the urge to go off on the commenter. This time I gave in as the issues highlighted by Margaret and Mark’s posts had me more than a little tetchy to begin with.

  13. Very good post, Margaret.

    I ran an online project once ‘as a man’ because I honestly believed that I (and therefore the project)would be taken more seriously.

    I’ve come a long way since then, but still a ways to go. Good for you.

  14. I have (mostly) refused to deny my femininity at work, with the result that in my 30 years in the professional world I have been accused of trading sex to get ahead by folks who don’t know me well enouh to realize that I have ample brains and talent with which to derive success. It has been interesting, but I have survived by being consistently feminine and consistently good and consistently ethical. I also derive enjoyment from the facial expressions of those who’ve mistaken me for fluff and then witnessed me briefing leadership. Both Ranarama’s article and her friends’ are excellent and make me hopeful for the world my son and daughter are growing up in. Thanks!

  15. Margaret, I *love* this post! As a transsexual woman in the high-tech industry (specifically information security) I face very similar issues. On one hand, I am afraid of not being feminine enough, and on the other hand, I am very afraid of being seen as an attention-whore or worse yet, just some sort of hyper-sexual cross-dressing fetishist, which is a stereotype that plagues us in a very big way. I have recently been on a journey of re-assessing my public image, and this is some pretty serious food for thought. Thank you.

  16. Great article first off as I agree that as a writer, if you can’t be authentic in voice and in personality, you’re cheating yourself and your readers.

    If I may offer my recommendation on your recently bought URL, perhaps have it sell customized Doggie Bags with your name printed on them? Beat them at their own game.

  17. As someone who is IN that picture with Jade Raymond, allow me to say that she’s a fantastic producer and she earned everything she got, and people who think she was ‘exploited as a sex object’ need to stuff their own stupid faces down their own stupid mouths.

    Thank you and that is all.

  18. “Robin: It’s not the fact she is in front, but that she is standing several feet in front of everyone else. If it’s not to put all of the focus on her, then why?

    Also, 2 men named David Guida and Vincent Pontbriand-Trudel were also producers. How come they aren’t right up front with her?”

    I was part of the core team on AC, I have no idea who David Guida is. So that’s why he’s not in the picture. Maybe he was part of the PC port? This picture was taken long before the PC port even started.

    Vincent Pontbriand was associate producer on AC. IIRC, he wasn’t even there that day.

    You know who is in that picture? Patrice Desilets. Creative director. You know why he’s just buried with everyone else? Because it wasn’t a big deal to any of us. She was good at her job, she was doing a lot of the PR, why not?

    Patrice is actually standing behind a junior designer who ended up leaving the project. Sometimes a picture is just a picture. The only reason this discussion is happening is because of the industry sexism that this original blog post is about.

  19. What I’m doing research on now is the phenomenon of men hating on women after age 25. I find it strange that most males grow up with females as leaders in homes, schools and workplaces, yet when a certain age is met it’s as if women no longer retain their credentials.

  20. I’d tried playing by the rules when I started a new game industry job a couple of years back. You’ll understand this when I say that I wanted to be respected as a professional, and I was afraid that my propensity to joke around with “the boys” at my previous game job diminished the respect they had toward me. So with some resolve, I vowed to “play by the rules” when I started my new job. Let’s just say it wasn’t even a month in before flagrantly inappropriate behavior started happening.

    Regardless of how I dress, what I (don’t) say, or what I (don’t) do, there will always be men who don’t treat me with the respect they should. The good news is there are men who do! Indeed, there was one programmer who was a tremendous support to me throughout the sexual harassment I was experiencing. It’s good to know there are guys like that.

    I’ve left that job due to a multitude of reasons, and now that I find myself gearing up to start a new job, I ask myself repeatedly how I should conduct myself on a day to day basis. I definitely want to be myself – and for me, that means I still want to joke around with the boys sometimes. That might leave the playing field open for the occasional dodo to cross the line, but I guess all I can do is make that line well and fully known and deal with anyone crossing it swiftly and decisively. I guess it remains to be seen whether I can have it both ways, but it’s worth a shot. Wish me luck.

  21. Interesting read. It’s hard for any writer to look at the subject of abuse and not come across like a psuedo-victim with a bruised ego. You haven’t and in the process brought a good pint about games journalism in particular. I think the problem stems from the mindset of most gamers and that of gaming media. Gamers, on the whole, are a insular bunch. The know what they like and shun whatever is different and/or new. For them -because some gaming media has feed them nothing but- any females linked to gaming are either dollyed up booth babes or cynically marketed attention whores (Pretty much any presenter on G4, female or otherwise) who get sussed out for their lack of sincerity to the subject matter. It’s been that way -espcially on TV- for over a decade now. So, to gamers, every female is to be treated with suspicion. I’m not excusing it, it’s just how I see it.
    For it to stop, requires leaps of faith from gamers and gaming media alike. Then maybe one day, women wont feel the need to dress up as a Chun Li inspired prostitute and gamers will accept a girl gamer as just that: a gamer who is a girl

  22. If somebody attacks somebody by calling them a fag, I don’t think the right response is to say that they’re not a fag. The right response, regardless of the sexual orientation of the person being attacked, is to argue that there’s nothing wrong with being gay.

    Likewise, if somebody attacks somebody by calling them a slut, I don’t think the right response is, “She’s not actually a slut,” even if she isn’t.

    Really venomous attacks work by dragging us toward inappropriate compromises.

  23. I pose a question:

    -All people should “speak out” and “act out” against sexism.
    -A woman is being singled-out because of sexism.
    -The woman is “lucky” enough to receive some sort of benefit because of being singled out.

    Now obviously, we should all speak out against the mistreatment of others, but what if they are actually benefiting from sexism? Notoriety. Career advancement. All the things she wanted from her career. Are we still obligated to “right the wrong”?

    Does the woman who benefits from sexism have the moral obligation to reject any and all benefits she may receive from sexist exploitation?

    My biggest problem with these “sexism in gaming” arguments is that they have absolutely nothing to do with gaming, and everything to do with society at large.

    Sure, it’s good to raise awareness, but I can guarantee that the sexism that women have to deal with in games has nothing to do with forum moderation, or hiring practices, and everything to do with the white male who “owns” your mortgage, the white male who “owns” the company that manufactured your car, and the white male that passes all the laws in your state.

    It a bad situation, but it’s not nearly as simple as presented in these two articles. Even if all the women in gaming stopped self-censoring and demanded to be treated fairly, they’d still make less than their male counterparts.

    I guess my point is: If you’re REALLY going to fight to right the ways that women are mistreated, targeting the man-children in the games industry, the media, and Xbox Live is laughably low on the scale of effectiveness.

  24. Stopped reading when she started talking about skirts. For God’s sake, maybe if you idiotic women stopped thinking about fashion, makeup, bunnies and GRRRRL POWAH, the games you work on wouldn’t stink so much.

  25. There is a lot of “sexism” on the internet that is said just to be offensive. A lot of the offenders may be moronic adolescents, but they know how to push peoples’ buttons. It sounds like sexist rantings, but it’s actually completely personal. They’re picking and choosing words to cause maximum offense–they’re not making a political statement.

    Most online sexism, racism, homophobia, or whatever else, is just trash talk. The problem is not so much that people are sexist, but that they are trying to provoke offense and cause strife. First and foremost, they want to piss you off. If nobody was offended by sexism, then I think the sexist language would disappear almost immediately. Instead, they would choose other slurs and taboos and carry on insulting people just the same.

    Of course, this isn’t the whole problem, but not enough of these articles acknowledge that most of the supposed “sexism” is just trash talk. So many articles complaining about sexism just add fuel to the fire, since by making sexism more taboo, it just increases the offensiveness of being sexist–and being offensive is one of the few things adolescent boys strive to be good at.

    I am not saying you shouldn’t write or complain about it, I am just saying that it won’t fix anything. The root problem, in most cases, is not sexism, but general bad behaviour by loathsome little men.

  26. There is a lot of mansplaining going on in the comments here. Tut.

    A very thoughtful post, Margaret, thanks for sharing it. Good luck with the new direction!

  27. You know that thing where you have to speak in public but are terrified so you muster all the bravery you can… and because you are so tense you actually blurt out something so entirely stupid and the opposite of what you really wanted to say, in the process making a complete fool of yourself?

    That keeps happening to me on the internet.

    I went underground back in the usenet days when I quickly realised that exposing your female name was a stupid idea. Never mind actually expressing an opinion, that was a good way of attracting lots of irrational hatred.

    I still use pseudonyms and guard my real name although I am easing up on that a little bit. I have never allowed a photo of myself online.

    I still get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when clicking the post/tweet/submit button.

    I try hard not to broach the subject of women online because when I do I get so angry I scare myself.

    I know a lot of women my age who simply won’t start social networking accounts at all, even eschew the internet for anything other than email with their kids. The most pure type of self-censorship. I often think they are the smartest and happiest people in the universe.

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