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AWIS in Action! July 2012-M3
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AWIS In Action!

 Advocacy & Public Policy Newsletter   ~   July 2012
In This Issue
M3 The Maddening Monthly Mention
* Galling Gamers and Brogrammers *

There is something misogynistic about video games that never appealed to me as a kid. Plumbers rescuing princesses from castles, stealing cars and beating up prostitutes, scantily clad and anatomically unrealistic animated women; I preferred to go outside and run around with real people. This spring there has been a lot of buzz about the gaming culture and how much more aggressively chauvinistic it has gotten over the years due, in part, to all the networked games which allow players to communicate with other players who are strangers from the anonymous safety of their own homes. There is a certain level of trash talking to be expected in any kind of competition. However, much of this dialogue seems to go far beyond trying to psyche out the competition and extends into the realm of threatening and overt sexual harassment. As women make up 42% of the gamers out there, it seems surprising in some ways that this behavior is tolerated. One woman gamer decided to produce a series of video critiques to critically examine the impact of sexism in gaming. To raise a modest $6,000 to undertake this project she posted the proposal on Kickster. The negative backlash she received was overwhelming and took a variety of forms including threats and vandalizing of her Wikipedia page. However, as others got wind of the story, the money and positive support from men and women poured in, and she raised nearly $160,000, vastly exceeding her goal. This money will be used to produce a far more extensive survey than her initial plans with topics including "Woman as Reward”, "Unattractive Equals Evil”, and "Top 10 Most Common Defense of Sexism in Games”.
Along similar lines, another topic of conversation has revolved around the high tech programming industry and it’s heavily male complexion which can lead to something along the lines of a frat house mentality in the workplace. Currently, roughly 20% of programmers are women. Much of this dialogue began after the SXSW festival where the vice president for business development of a social networking company called Path used a variety of highly offensive vulgarities and anecdotes in his presentation. While this man is part of the younger generation, other complaints of old school discrimination and harassment have also plagued Silicon Valley. Many argue that this isn’t a sustainable problem because companies that want to attract only men will be missing out on lots of good talent from women and men that don’t want to want to work in a fraternity. Ironically, one of the most consistent comments seems to be that the guys who represented that boorish ideological perspective in college didn’t go into computer science, they went into finance or consulting, other industries also not known for attracting hoards of women.
All of this serves to undermine the hard work of women like Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College. Klawe has been working with her institution to try to increase the number of women majoring in computer science by identifying strategies to overcome the isolation they feel in introductory programming classes which often leads them to drop out of that area of study. With their new initiatives, women are now earning 40% of the computer science bachelor’s degrees at Harvey Mudd and other colleges are seeking to replicate that success. These results also indicate once more that it is factors far beyond "female disinterest” that prevent more women from earning degrees and pursuing careers in technical fields.
The broad misogyny and chauvinism which still pervades the gaming and programming community makes many girls and women feel like they don’t belong. Some clearly reject or ignore those who contribute to this hostile environment. However, it is difficult to quantify how many others do internalize those messages from the level of childhood on up through the workforce. Efforts to fight sexism and racism in these areas are ongoing but it’s definitely an uphill battle for those on the side of inclusion. YouTube is trying to compel people to use their own names when remarking on videos which would hopefully encourage more constructive criticism and dialogue rather than the usual nonsense which fills the comment sections associated with most webpages today. Yet there is a fine line between freedom of speech and the occasional need for anonymity. Either way, the handful of bad apples out there who continue to disseminate hateful language and threats are an outrage and frankly a disgrace to those of us who are proud of being geeks.

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