One Reason Why We Should All Talk To One Another

Last week the Twitter #1reasonwhy hashtag gave everyone a wake up call. Sexism in the games industry is a real thing. It's a reality and we have to deal with that reality. For a long time it's been a issue that I, personally, have steered clear of. Afraid of saying the wrong thing, unequipped for the discussion, I've always been happy to let others do the talking for me — but maybe that's a problem in and of itself. I decided to speak to Leena Van Deventer, freelance writer and games designer about the issues, and how we can all find a better way to communicate with each other.

MARK: Hey Leena, I wanted to write this article with you for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the #1reasonwhy hashtag on twitter – that happened. And it was important. For me, personally, it was an eye opener, and a real insight into what women in games media and the wider games industry have to face and deal with on a day-to-day basis. It made for depressing reading.

The second reason was the reaction to the #1reasonwhy hashtag. In some areas of the internet the defensive reaction to this wholly worthwhile discussion was shameful. I found that frustrating, I’ve always found that frustrating. I find it frustrating in the same way I find most stubborn, closed-up, turtle-shell reactions – if someone else says there is a problem with how they’re being treated, there’s a problem. You don’t get to tell other people there isn’t a problem. Not under these circumstances.

The third reason is a little more personal. In short: I don’t think I’ve taken enough responsibility for this. I’ve always been of the opinion that I am not equipped to discuss the issue of sexism in the gaming community. I’ve always felt as though it’s something I should avoid. Mainly because I’m a meat-head dude with no real understanding of the issues. In a sense I don’t really have the vocabulary to write about these issues and I’ve always felt as though it was an issue best handled by those women (and men) who do. I’ve always just said: I’ll take responsibility for myself and my own behaviour.

But maybe that’s not enough.

LEENA: The #1ReasonWhy hashtag was depressing reading, but I'm glad it was there. It's been bubbling away for a while and I'm glad it got the traction it did. I'm also super pleased to see #1ReasonMentors and #1ReasonToBe come out of it, too.

As with anything touching on sexism in our culture, I knew there was going to be an ugly side. The first wave was amazing to be a part of. Women standing together in solidarity against sexism was invigorating and fortifying. I knew people had my back, I felt like it was a safe space to have this discussion. It was nice to bask in that for a bit before the second wave hit. The second wave was the trolls. There's a few varieties of troll on that hashtag, most of them a lost cause really, but I was made very aware of a certain amount of men who were dissenting not because they were trolls per-say but more because they just didn't want this discussion to happen again. They were just over it. I guess it's easier to roll your eyes than hold out your arms and hug someone. Or even just listen.

Maybe it hurts too much to listen? I reckon there's a large group of men who dismiss these sexism discussions (and actively hate the fact they exist) simply because they're paralysed by not knowing what to do. Then that's uncomfortable and reminds them of their inability to help, so just becomes more and more frustrating the more it's brought up. I totally get that! It must be infuriating. Especially when you've done nothing wrong and get lumped in a category of absolute Jerky McJerkersons. (I'm tired of it too, believe me. So. Very. Tired.)

For what it's worth I think you do a terrific job of being an ally, even if you do feel powerless sometimes. You never swoop in and presume to tell women how to feminism, which believe it or not is insanely prevalent. The fact you feel like it's a discussion you should avoid (yet still consider it a discussion that needs to happen) means you realise how great the need for sensitivity around this issue is. Finding the confidence to lower your feet when you know you should be treading carefully must be super intimidating and scary.

A guy walking into feminist spaces to learn more requires a certain bravery. They have to acknowledge that they can live their life not giving a fuck about this, but instead they're taking the time to step outside the lens they see the world in and see things from someone else's perspective. That takes work! I struggle with it too.

Not everyone has to sign up for gender studies classes and study the history of feminism to help fix sexism in our culture. But a nice mixture of abiding by Wheaton's Law, acknowledging people's different lenses through which they see the world, and allowing these discussions to take place is a massive step in an awesome direction.

MARK: At Kotaku Australia we have a great community, we have a great group of men and women who can usually disagree and debate without getting too nasty. The sexism debate is one of the few exceptions. I've heard a few of our regular female readers mention they are scared to enter the comment sections of posts that focus on the kind of issues #1ReasonWhy raises. That makes me really sad, and it makes me wonder if Kotaku Australia really is the safe space I want it to be.

We don't have any real massive idiots here — we don't have the kind of people who make the type of comments you might see on other game sites. But what we do have in abundance are people who will roll their eyes with a 'not this shit again' comment, or a 'Kotaku is a games site, this isn't about games' post.

But I really want all of that behaviour nipped in the bud. I want that attitude gone. I want our readers, male and female to realise that — first and foremost — Kotaku is a site about game culture, and this is a real issue in our culture. It should be addressed, it should be talked about, and we have to learn to talk about it in a civil manner.

I really want to learn how to have that conversation; and I want our male audience to learn alongside me. I think we're all part of the same problem and the only way we can move forward is to listen and empathise. If you have questions, ask them. If you're unsure of something, ask for it to be clarified.

But if you have nothing to say outside of dismissive, insulting conjecture, just stay silent. Go elsewhere. Because this issue is real, it's not going away and it's time for people to sincerely listen instead of burying their head in the sand.

LEENA: Well said! I understand how a lot of people roll their eyes and say "not this shit again", I can relate because I'm over it too. We're better than this shit. It totally bums me out. I just want to make games and do cool things and not have to constantly worry about that "other element" floating around ready to pounce. I don't want to take away anyone's toys. I just want to play with mine too.

One thing I've become aware of while thinking about this is how it's part of MY privilege to look at something and easily be able to say "oh okay, that's not for me" and move on. Maybe it's been ingrained into me as a woman who likes games that there are some things that are just not set up for me and that's okay. If someone relates to games as being a 100% perfect fit for them, a hobby that caters to them precisely, it's going to be really affronting and odd for them to have to consider something might not be for them within that realm. It's always been for them. What gives? So the ability to read a discussion on a topic you aren't interested in (on a site that has in the past catered to you personally very well) without chiming in with such helpful and constructive comments as "I DON'T THINK THIS IS A THING" and "We don't need to be talking about this shit" doesn't even enter their heads as an option. It's okay to not want to contribute to discussions others find important. It's NOT okay to think the discussion therefore shouldn't happen.

Listening is really important. It's why I try and put myself in the shoes of the people who have a problem with this discussion taking place. If I don't try and understand where they're coming from I have no hope of understanding the myriad of issues related to making this culture a more inclusive space for everyone. I can't fix anything if I just think people do jerky things because they're jerks. I think a lot of people dismiss the issue because they don't know what to do with it.

First step is to never dismiss it.

MARK: It's almost as if the whole debate is just mired in all these defence mechanisms — instant reactions that just circulate and spiral until everyone is slinging mud at other. I've watched guys make sexist stupid comments in this discussion and get rightly shut-down for it, but I've also seen some guys ask genuine questions and get absolutely torn to shreds for not asking that question using the correct language. This has, personally, been the reason why I tend to tread extremely carefully around these issues and I don't think I'm alone.

People just get defensive first and ask questions of themselves later. Which isn't a very healthy way to debate or discuss anything.

Bottom line — no-one likes to think of themselves as being sexist. A real groundbreaking moment for me was saying to myself, 'actually, I've said, done (and maybe even written) some pretty sexist things in my life. I'm not proud of it; I should really try and not do and say those things'. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we all contribute to this and some self-awareness really wouldn't go amiss.

LEENA: Exactly. Defence mechanisms and straw man arguments and deflection is a way to silence people, to stop the conversation. That's bad for everyone involved.

To flip it around, just like you're sick of the people giving your gender or your community a bad name by acting like total jerks, I feel that way too about feminism sometimes. People can use the word 'feminist' to push an agenda that I don't find particularly feminist. There's people that "just don't get it" on both sides, making people trying hard to do the right thing on both sides very frustrated and annoyed.

But the key to dealing with this is communication. Shutting down discussion is NEVER going to help the "just don't get its" on any spectrum. You can't put your fingers in your ears screaming "LALALALALALALA" and expect to learn something. I try really hard not to just slam down people that are disagreeing with me; I give them the benefit of the doubt that they're genuinely curious. If they're going to be dicks about it or are clearly trying to hurt me then obviously that's a different story and I just don't engage. But I'm trying really hard to be open to people wanting to know more. I want to understand people's underlying reasons for not wanting the discussion to take place. I want us to have a dialogue about our common ground and how to coexist together.

Not to sound like a victim (because boy does THAT piss people off…) but if I (someone who has been threatened, told to sit down shut up and take it, told I'm not wanted, told I'd advance my career by taking my clothes off, told to get out of the culture I love, the culture I work in) can stand back and consider listening to people and perhaps opening my arms to them instead of rolling my eyes or calling them rapey misogynists and ceasing the discussion, then perhaps someone who just "doesn't feel like listening to this shit" can extend themselves slightly and do women a solid in letting them speak freely.

TL:DR: We can create an inclusive culture without the fabric of our artform tearing to pieces and everything we've ever loved turning to dust, don't you think? Let's talk about it.


    Excellent piece, well written. Or in other words -- what they said. Yes. This totally *should* be a tired debate, but the fact that it's a necessary issue to raise indicates what a serious problem it actually is.

    I can sympathise with Mark when he wrote about realising he had done some sexist things. I went through the same thing when I realised how some of the things I had been doing and saying could affect people, I felt like the biggest jerk on the planet. I don't like feeling like a jerk, and that's one of the reasons why things like #1reasonwhy are important to me.

    Thanks Mark and Leena for having this discussion. I'm a long time Kotaku Au reader and this is the the sort of thing I want to see. Constantly reading how there are segments of our hobby's community that just don't get it when it comes to treating each other with respect makes me want to bang my head against the desk, so it makes me glad there are people out there exploring the issues.

    Keep up the good work Mark!


    I'm one of those females that tend to stay out of the comments section on discussions like these. Not because I'm afraid of it, Mark. This place really is as safe as it gets on the internet. The reason is more because I feel like I'm getting nowhere when trying to get people to see my points. I get angry and forget how to form coherent sentences so I feel like anything I may contribute would be detrimental. So I find it easier to stay away more often than not, And then I feel ashamed of myself.
    Because you are both absolutely correct, the issues are real and they're not going away until we all listen to each other without judgement.

    Mark - by not speaking you are dis-empowering yourself and in fact reinforcing gender constraints. Awareness started with 'The vindication of the rights of woman'' by Mary Wollstonecraft and the suffrogette movement. A heavy read indeed but Im not necessarily saying to read that but by reading stuff regarding the history of this debate you can only empower yourself. Regardless if you have an opinion - express it!

    Last edited 05/12/12 2:28 pm

    When does inclusivity stop and pandering begin?

    Legitimate question.

      Further to that, I certainly take issue with blanketing blame across an entire group - that seems disingenuous and an attempt to 'simplify' the issue by making it a clear cut binary argument, which this certainly isn't.

        They made a pretty distinctive point not to indicate the entire group and simplify it, as you put it.

          Except for "I really want to learn how to have that conversation; and I want our male audience to learn alongside me. I think we’re all part of the same problem and the only way we can move forward is to listen and empathise."

            I'm fairly sure that "all" you're talking about there was intended as all males and all females, all sides of the issue, all humans. So blanketing of an entire group, yes. But not the group you were thinking, a much larger group. :)

            Thats being pretty finicky. I believe by 'learning' he just means to listen and hear the discussions and not avoid them, not necessarily claiming every guy is sexist.

            In that instance, I think the learning Mark was referring to, was learning how to discuss the subject of discrimination & prejudice in a mature & intelligent way.

            For some people, calling out a jerk for being sexist is a hard thing to do; for males, theres the accusation of 'white knighting' or that not finding sexism funny somehow makes you less of a man. For women who dare to call out sexists, that sadly can lead to more derogatory sentiments being directed at them, usually escalating in vileness.

            if you have a problem with someone being discriminatory, then you've gotta learn how to call them out on it & tell them that it's not funny & its certainly not ok. Thats the message we, as a gaming community, have to get across to those who exhibit this behavior - its not funny. its not OK. & its not gonna be accepted by us.

            Coz unless you make it absolutely clear to the culprit that their attitude & behavior is not funny / ok & nor will it be accepted, then the offender will continue to assume that its ok & will keep going.

      Pandering to whom. You are implying that women are a singular homogeneous group that all want the same thing. Language is where you begin and end sexism.

        No, that's not what I'm implying at all - in fact the opposite. What I'm saying is, there comes a point in these debates (and this is not confined simply to discussions in gaming culture) where legitimate attempts to make gaming culture 'universal' devolve into farcical knee-jerk reactions that attempt to 'de-male' everything; these are based on the outcry of a few people that have used the momentum of the larger movement to satisfy their needs, which are clearly not in the best interest of the majority.

        That is what I would consider pandering.

          That may be what you meant but I can not see that in your initial statement at all - as I said Language is where sexism begins.

          So a legitimate question to follow yours, is this actually relevant? Are we in any danger of a movement for inclusivity transforming into pandering when the likes of #1reasonwhy have demonstrated that issues of sexism are far from gone?

            totally agree with this. the world is so far away from inclusivity that its moronic to put off being inclusive because of your own insecurity.

          If someone wants to gain equality by saying a different group needs to be devalued... then they're a bit of a knob, to be honest. I just want everyone to be free to tell their stories. That doesn't involve telling straight, white, male game makers that they can't make games for straight, white, men. It just shouldn't be totally shit for those that don't. I don't have to push anyone off the table to be allowed to eat there, there's plenty of room. :)

      When you close the door on everyone else and it turns around to stare at you with big, soulful eyes in a perfect black and white-furred face.

        No one? TOUGH CROWD

          I thought about upvoting you (mind you, it took me a sec to get it) but it didn't seem right amongst all this serious discussion. :P

            And by "it didn't seem right" I want to make it clear that I was talking about me upvoting, not your comment. :)

              Thanks, it means a lot that at least someone got it :)

              I take the issue as seriously as the next person but I seriously couldn't let that one get past the goalie. And enough people are being serious so I figured my input wasn't needed on that score.

    I've totally been in the same shoes as Mark - very conscious of the issues around sexism in this industry, but not feeling well equipped enough to add any worthwhile opinion or commentary to it. That being said though, it's been really great to see people coming forward with such strong stories and information to make a change, and it's only encouraged me to be more self aware, and to be more conscious and empathetic towards those around me.

    Honestly, great work - I'm only happy to hear about people that have been done wrong so that we can make it a better industry to be part of as a collective whole.

    Last edited 05/12/12 2:37 pm

    I'm glad you both wrote this and I'm really glad that you, Mark, have made your stance on this issue public on the site. It's a small gesture that means a lot.

    I can understand why a lot of editors of publications have been hesitant to state their stance on this issue because they "don't want to get political" or they'd rather leave the discussion to the readers. But I think editors have a social responsibility to at least try to create safe spaces where non-male readers can feel like they can actually participate in the discussion. When you say and do nothing and allow the discussion to be driven by the dismissal brigade, that environment becomes one where women don't feel welcome. It's bad. It's really, really bad.

    So thank you for putting your foot down on this issue. You're sending the message to a lot of people that we can comment and contribute to the discussion and you've got our back. And that is pretty invaluable.

      Whose this Tracey Lien chick? Seems pretty entitled for a guest user if you ask me :P

        I forgot my proper login. :(

          Wait... former editor Tracey Lien?!

          Remove the Stone of Shame.

          Attach the Stone of Triumph!

    Wonderful piece, Mark and Leena.

    I'd like to echo Tracey's sentiments in particular: thank you, Mark for putting forward a position on this issue on behalf of Kotaku AU.

    I haven't been visiting as regularly as I'd like to recently, but there have been some times that I've wondered into the comments section and thought "What even is this troll bullshit?" The piece entitled "How Diablo III Told Me My Marriage Was Over" was subject to some particularly ugly and upsetting comments.

    Keep up the good work!

    Legitimate comment:

    The whole interview is very confusing to me. I'm reading it but can't find what the 'point' is. Seems like Mark and Leena are talking 'ENGLISH English' to me.
    What is sexism in the gaming industry exactly? I know it's not black and white but can someone give me a few points of problem areas?
    Are we discussing sexism in professional gaming development? In the community as gamers? Or the broad gaming industry in general? What are we getting at here?

      Well the point is that we have to find a way to have this discussion and we have to find a way to have that discussion better.

      And yeah, I figured we didn't really need context of sexism in the games industry because it's a discussion that's been going on for a while now under the #1reasonwhy hashtag -- that would probably be a good place to start :)

    cool. this was in reply to something thats been deleted. feel free to ignore it

    thats the problem right there. people dismiss the issue as part of a 'feminist agenda', without understanding that it is in fact a real problem affecting peoples' lives every day.

    ...look, I figure I can either argue with you, or just suggest that you to take your bullshit attitude & fuck right off. coz I dont think reasonable person will be able to get through to you & to make you see that the ignorance & blaze attitude you've displayed right there is a big part of the problem. its hurting people, & that shit is not on.

    so yeah. I'm gonna go with the second option.

    Last edited 05/12/12 3:37 pm

    Comment moderation steez FTW!

    This was also in reply to a now deleted comment, so I'll aim it elsewhere!

    bigguss: For me, the point was to say "let's open up those channels of communication" instead of shutting it down all the time, so that we can start to get stuff done.

    Last edited 05/12/12 3:44 pm

    I know this was mentioned in in the article itself, but the biggest frustration for me is the lack of anything I can actually do about it. I feel like if I'm not (I believe) contributing to the problem, and there is nothing actionable that I can actually do, then at best I'm going to ignore it or zone out whenever it comes up. I'm naturally a constructive sort of person and if problems are raised to me repeatedly but I can't act upon it, it begins to feel like people are preaching to the converted at best, or having a whinge at the worst, and that's absolutely the last feeling that should be elicited from people who actually are supportive to begin with. On the other hand, I'm not sure what alternative there is since the fact there is even a debate on this tells us it clearly needs to happen.

    So, legitimate question here: are there things we can actually do?

      easiest thing to do is if you see someone saying or doing something that is discriminatory / sexist / whatever else. tell them that their behavior is not cool, not funny, you're not gonna tolerate it & they should stop.

        It's important to be careful though. Just confronting people isn't always the most productive way to deal with this issue. Sometimes you're better off trying to talk people around and helping them figure out why what they've said is offensive or misguided. Not everyone is receptive of course, but I like to hope that people will be.

          you're right of course. just confrontation isnt the answer. but I really think that confronting the initial comment is the first thing to do. then gauge their response & if you think a further explanation of why their comment was offensive is in order, then explain to them why.

          but sure, theres idiots who are never gonna be swayed, so theres no point ni discussing it further with them. In that case, I feel its best to just make your stance against their comments clear & leave.

            Absolutely, some people are never going to be swayed. In those cases making your position clear is the right move, if only so that people affected by sexism know they're not alone.

        Saying that's the "easiest" thing to do is actually quite tricky, because it can be a very very hard thing to do. It's risking the crosshairs going onto you and some people just aren't up for volunteering for that (which is totally understandable, really.)

        The first thing you can do is police your own behaviour, obviously. If you feel safe doing it, the next thing is pointing out when someone is being a d-bag. But as Mark said, one of my favourite quotes underlines the importance of men making their own space feminist. That's the best thing you can do. Feminists don't need men coming into their feminist spaces to help, oversee, or advise. You can imagine how a dude telling a bunch of women what to do about dealing with all those menfolk could be a bit on the nose.

        The main things you can do personally is:

        - Never tell a woman how to feminism. (Srsly, just don't)
        - Try and be aware of how gendered your language is. The way you refer to people or people's actions, is it gendered? Is one gender "admirable" and the other "dreamy"? Be aware of that.
        - Listen when someone says they have a problem. Saying you don't think it's a problem isn't helping. At all.
        - Do some reading if something confuses you, don't challenge the person who brought it to your attention to be your educator as though it's some zing against them if they can't answer it. It's not every feminist's job to tell you why something is not okay.
        - Try and look at it with a comparison sometimes. For example, instead of gender, imagine the case being race? Would that change the way you do things? If you wouldn't dare bring up someone's colour when arguing with them, have a think about whether you'd be as hesitant to bring in their gender.
        - If discussing issues that involve people's possible traumas, try and put trigger warnings on stuff so that people who are actively trying to avoid the discussion for personal reasons can easily do so. Be respectful to people's trauma.

        The basics are to listen, take people seriously, never blame the victim, and be open to learning something new, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable and you don't know why. Sometimes things take a while to process.

        Last edited 07/12/12 3:20 pm

      This is how I've felt so many times.

      Actually Leena posted this quote on twitter and I liked it: "Men don’t need to be in feminist spaces, they need to take their spaces and make them feminist".

      I guess what that means for us is just don't be afraid to call shit out. I've been guilty of letting some bad shit slide. Look at how some of these conversations end up going on Kotaku Australia -- for the most part it's good, but every now and then things get FUBAR. I'm just hoping that we can all change that by how we conduct ourselves here and anywhere else we go.

      But I totally get your thinking -- you want to just be able to fix it, but I don't think there's any way to just fix things quickly. It's a long process and I guess we just all have to do our bit. :)

    I'm a male, but thankfully most of the crowds I hang with are pretty good with seeing everyone as just another gamer, regardless of gender, religion, race, societal status, political persuasion, and whatever other factors some people care to discriminate against. I'm a software engineer too so my experiences cross the boundary of games and enter into other industries in which there are people with some very strong and incontrovertible beliefs so I have two fronts on which to fight.

    For those wondering what they can do, change the only thing you can. Yourself. Lead by example and don't back down in the face of opposition. Or at least, that's what I've found works. Sure you'll get backlash for standing up for your beliefs, but if we stick together something can be changed.

    *Trigger warning for rape and sexual assault, please note bracketed paragraph at the bottom of this post*

    I've been hesitant to bring in this topic as an example but I think it could help, I have friends that have said the way they look at a lot changed after thinking about this particular thing.

    Scenario: "The rape joke".
    You're with a bunch of friends at a bar. Some you know well, others you don't. Of those people there are about half men, half women. One of the guys makes some joke about rape. There's a smattering of laughter followed by a very short awkward silence before someone changes the subject.

    Not cool. Why? It's not only because it's kinda gross:

    - Around 34% of Australian women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. You don't know if any of the women present have been assaulted and whether you're triggering their trauma or really making them uncomfortable.
    - These women aren't raping themselves. If that many women are assaulted, then imagine how many men there are out there doing the assaulting. There's a chance that in that group there was at least one guy who either had raped someone, or would in the future. It's totally gross to think about but just looking at sheer numbers, you know a rapist, and you know a rape victim.

    Feminists don't think all men are rapists. But do you know who does? Rapists. They take people laughing at a rape joke as permission from the masses to keep doing what they're doing and not giving a fuck. Laughing at a rape joke or telling a rape joke (that's at the expense of the victim) is telling the rapist he's accepted. That he's in a safe space. (Do you want your spaces safe for these people?)

    Once I really thought about that it blew my tiny mind.

    Now the reason I was hesitant to bring that up (apart from it being disturbing) is because I didn't want the eye-rollers to think "We have to be nice because otherwise rape?!", but that's not what I'm saying. A systemic silencing of women and the treating of women as second class citizens is endemic of rape culture, and it's all linked. You're not a rapist if you've been sexist, no one is saying that. But it's a culture of sexism that gives that shit the space to breathe.

    (If anyone feels triggered or like they need to talk to someone about their experience with sexual assault please call 1800 RESPECT, The National Sexual Assault, Family and Domestic Violence Counselling Line, or Lifeline on 13 11 14.)

    Last edited 07/12/12 3:22 pm

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