Calling Allies on their Sexism

Here’s a great example of how men who consider themselves allies to women can overlook their own sexism. This is the story of an anonymous data scientist who works in an all-woman team in the gaming industry. Their boss is reportedly awesome and outspoken about making gaming more inclusive of women, yet he hung the picture of the woman welder on the left in a prominent place in the office. She’s made in the image of Rosie the Riveter, (complex) posterchild of third wave feminism.

After six months of being frustrated that this was the first thing anyone saw when they stepped into their office, Anonymous and a colleague pulled a prank where they drew up the male version on the right and hung it for their boss to find. After a suspenseful wait, their boss reacted.

“That was a brilliant prank. You called me on exactly the bullshit I need to be called on. I put up pictures of half-naked girls around the office all the time and I never think about it.”

The sexism in gaming is putrid, with many high profile and everyday examples. Perhaps the most widely known is cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian who was recently forced to move out of her home after bomb threats (and following years of other online abuse). While more gaming figures are speaking out against sexism, the whole industry and culture needs an overhaul.

This story of “Brosie” is a good example of modified change. The boss in the story now hangs both pictures side by side. But it took one of his employees pointing it out for him to notice the sexism. That was gutsy of his employees, and while addressing sexism is everyone’s responsibility, it can’t be up to junior level employees to point out bias. Structural change needs to happen, and it needs to be championed by leaders and employers within the gaming industry. They need to lead by example, rather than waiting for their oversights to be pointed out. That’s why diversity training – and social science – is essential!

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