How to Be Critical of Industry Events Without Throwing Other Women Under the Bus

by Lynn Cyrin on March 14th, 2015

There are lots of things wrong with the gaming industry right now. Many of them are clear cut, such as: do not send death threats to women in your industry for pointing out misogyny, even in jest. Some issues of misogyny are not so clear-cut, especially when they involve other women. Specifically, when you get into issues of internalized misogyny and shaming women for their proximity to sex work.

Whenever a tech or gaming event employs performance artists who utilize sexuality in their work (so strippers, dancers, etc.), many are quick to criticize the decision – making statements that it “sends a bad message,” is “objectifying” women, and supports misogyny in the industry. The recent Nvidia party, a Mardis Gras-themed event at GDC that featured dancers and performers, sparked many of these comments. The problem is that these critiques are grounded in whorephobia and internalized misogyny. What’s wrong with having “exotic dancers” (which the people at the Nvidia party weren’t), present at a GDC party? Well first of all, characterizing them as exotic dancers when that’s not actually what they are is furthering whorephobia. But more broadly, what’s wrong with people enjoying sexuality in a work-related event? Well, quite a few things actually:

  • If you are going to have sexuality present at a work sponsored event, the least you could do is make sure that the sexuality presented is interesting to more than ~ 50% of the population (that being people interested in girl dancers). Which means boy dancers, and maybe also some enby queer dancers!
  •  If you are going to have sexuality present at a work sponsored event, it needs to come with content warnings so people who want to avoid sexuality know to avoid the event, and won’t be triggered by unexpected displays of sexuality. Mind you, this Nvidia GDC party said it was going to have a “Mardis Gras, New Orleans style theme“, which, in case you weren’t aware, frequently features public displays of sexuality.
  •  If you are going to complain about sexuality at a work-sponsored event, you should also complain about all the other types of activities that happen at “work parties” that systematically exclude people. Namely, alcohol, smoking, or just generally trying to make networking events structured like parties.

Things that are not wrong with sexuality at a work event?

  • The fact that sexuality is present at an event in an industry with a history of misogyny

That is because the presence of sexuality at a work event, regardless of industry, is not an act of misogyny. Yes, sexuality (and in this case, whorephobia) has been historically used by men (and often also women), as a tool of coercive control over women. But when you tell women, specifically sex workers, that they do not belong at your work events, you are perpetuating whorephobia (and by extension, misogyny) against them. When you tell women that they do not belong at your events because of their proximity to sex work, you are perpetuating whorephobia. You are furthering the idea that sex and work must be always kept separate, and actively harming the lives of the people engaged in sex work. When you block and belittle the women who make those points, claiming that they “must not see the misogyny in the system,” you are the one engaging in misogyny.

Undoing systematic misogyny is going to need ya’ll to try harder than that.