Down the Rabbit Hole: #1reasonwhy Women Aren’t In the Games Industry


Sometimes my brain works much like the horrible Bing search engine commercial where people jump from tangential topic to tangential topic based on keywords and loose connections. Today’s post comes from just such an idea jump that I experienced today. It started when a student in my Gender and Technology seminar mentioned Phyllis Schlafly and then I jumped from there to Margaret Atwood and finally to Gabrielle Toledano. So if you’ve got a moment follow me down this rabbit hole.

Schlafly is a conservative activist who made a name for herself in the 1970s as the founder of the Eagle Forum and a major opponent to the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). She was the organizer of the STOP (“Stop Taking Our Privileges”) ERA movement that argued that the ERA would take away gender specific privileges that were enjoyed by women and argued that if the feminists had their way that there would be public unisex bathrooms, women would lose their Social Security dependent wife benefits, and find themselves subjected to the military draft.

Schlafly’s rhetoric resonated with me in much the same way that Margaret Atwood’s notion of “freedom to versus freedom from” in The Handmaid’s Tale. It is very much the feminist dystopian novel. In Atwood’s world, the government  of Gilead has “freed” women from all of their civil rights. They are no longer allowed to own property, vote, or even read. They are only useful for their reproductive abilities and relegated to menial or sexual labor if they prove to be uncooperative or infertile. In Gilead women may no longer have freedom “to” vote or make a living financially, but they are free “from” dating, marriage, child-rearing, and job stress. In both cases, Schlafly and Gilead blame women for their own situations. It is never the case that the patriarchy is to blame. 

And while these cases (both real and fictional) may seem extreme and unbelievable, last week Gabrielle Toledano, an executive at Electronic Arts (EA), wrote a column for claiming that the assertion that there are so few women in the industry is just a cop-out. She goes on to write that sexism is not the problem that we think it is. Yep, you read that last part right. Now, in her defense Toledano says that she doesn’t take sexism and harassment “lightly”. So maybe she hasn’t had her head totally buried in the sand while the issue of sexism in the industry has come to the fore in the last year (N.B. #1reasonwhy and #1reasontobe Toledano uses her own “experience” as proof:

As the head of human resources, I enforce a very strict code of conduct, hold regular employee trainings and support other internal initiatives to ensure a safe and respectful work environment. The issue I have is that the video game industry is being painted as more sexist than other male-dominated workforces.  I know sexism exists, but the issue isn’t just in video games.  And it’s not what’s holding us back.

She does admit that there are still too few women working in the industry. She says that the problem can best be solved by acknowledging three “dirty little secrets”:

1. Women add to the problem by not acknowledging their gamer status;

2. The industry wants to hire more women; and

3. There aren’t enough qualified women to fill the job openings

 Toledano closes her column by saying that women shouldn’t avoid the industry because they are afraid of sexism. And seems to place the blame of women who want to protect themselves from not only the sexism in the industry, but also from sexual assault at the industry conferences that they are going to obligated to attend as a part of their industry position.

Unfortunately, it is not just the case that Toledano is wrong minded in her assertions, but it is that she further harms the chances of women in the industry. She places the blame, not where it belongs but, on women who do not go into the gaming industry because their fear of sexism. It is a guilt trip. And an unfair one. Toledano is, in essence, blaming the victim. It’s the fault of all women that there aren’t more women in the industry. If we all just stand up and admit that we’re gamers then people would realize that women are really gamers and then we could come to the realization that making games would be fun (if you call working 80 hours a week and never seeing your family fun). If we just stand up and acknowledge the need to diversify the industry and even make sure that we are actually qualified for the positions that are open things will be just fine.

Now, don’t you feel bad for being an ignorant, unqualified, and selfish whiner?

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2 Responses to “Down the Rabbit Hole: #1reasonwhy Women Aren’t In the Games Industry”

  1. Nicole Marie says:

    What about us women who are constantly applying to jobs to be in the industry and see no result? Toledano talks a big game and has nothing but her “experience” to back it up. I applied to work for EA, but wasn’t hired. Where’s my job Gabrielle?