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No Girls Allowed? Sexual Harassment in Technology and Gaming
By: Melody Weister
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Due to the theme of this article and to preserve the reality of the situation, mild language does occur, along with discussion of topics that could be triggering for some.
                                                
It’s a truth in the world of technology and video games that we don’t hear discussed, except in whispers, or via the anonymity of the Internet. It happens more than we admit, and it has been happening for as long as the field has been around. But more and more, the topic is inching toward mainstream, and the hum of whispers is burgeoning into a call to action. I’m referring to the vicious sexual harassment of women who work and play in these arenas. To clarify, I understand that sexual harassment happens in all fields to people of all genders. However, I’m specifically referring to the treatment of women in these fields, which are predominantly male, because this subject has been prevalent in the media lately. I’m not referring to the discussions that are bound to happen in a group of men: conversations about what happened on Guy #1’s date last night or the drooling over Scarlett Johansson in black leather in the Avengers. I’m discussing the threats and gender-specific comments aimed at women just because they choose to participate in a field where men don’t expect to see them.
 
It’s been happening since the eighties. I remember a female family member describing her experience to me while she was working with computers in the mid-to-late eighties. “It was insane,” she told me. “As soon as I rose to number one on the sales team, the rumors started. Suddenly people were saying I was sleeping with my clients just to get sales, because that was more believable than the idea that a woman could be good at computer sales.” She went on to say the problems weren’t just from co-workers. “Worse, I had some clients who expected me to sleep with them to get sales, because I was an attractive woman who happened to work with technology, and in their eyes that meant they could treat me like a 1950s secretary.”
 
The issue still lingers in technology fields today. While I was employed in the wireless retail industry, I underwent more sexual harassment from customers than I could have dreamed. One would think, working at one point with an all-male team, that the harassment would have been from coworkers, but they were always the ones to jump to my aid and never the perpetrators, though I know I was luckier than some women in that area. The harassment ranged from easy-to-handle matters like customers trying to ask me for favors of a sexual nature while paying their cell phone bill, to difficult situations, like when a customer pretended to have a technical problem with his phone just so he could hand it to me and have me see the vivid sexual graphic he had assigned as his background, or another customer who kept trying to touch me and began stalking me around the inside of the store where I worked until finally I made an excuse to a coworker and had to physically leave the store and walk to the other end of the mall until he left.
 
In the world of video games, it’s just as bad. In this article, BBC News gives examples of the treatment that women receive when their gender is revealed in multiplayer video games: “Get back in the kitchen and take your g--d--- hands off a video game controller.” The male voices are aggressive, even angry. Their put-downs are laced with strong swearing and sexual insults. “Stupid bitch,” says one. “Fat whore,” adds another. “I hope your boyfriend beats you. Nah, you can't get a boyfriend.” Harsh though it sounds, that article describes what the everyday reality is for some female gamers, who consistently receive messages threatening sexual assault or violence because of their gender. In fact, a comment on a message board where the aforementioned BBC article was posted stated, “If women can’t stand the heat maybe they should add a fan in the kitchen.”

It’s not limited to just video games, either. One woman described her experience while participating in a tabletop game tournament, saying, “During my last round I got paired with one of those guys. He had already gone through a myriad of 'get back to the kitchen' jokes when he noticed the owner's wife sitting with a patron's girlfriend learning how to crochet. He yells across the room that she should quit talking and get back in her place.”

Another woman said she has experienced, “Explosive verbal abuse,” in the world of online multiplayer RPG’s. “I'm always up for swapping insults with online friends,” she clarified. “But there has [sic] been a few occasions when the raid has been chilling out and I've copped some random stranger yelling at me over the headset for no reason.”
 
Although more is being done to shine a light on this chilling phenomenon, it is a precarious line to walk. Reporting harassing messages on some systems, like Xbox Live or PlayStation Network, only accomplishes so much, because in most cases the accounts responsible will merely receive a warning, unless they have been reported multiple times. In the technology field, women who speak out either risk losing the business of the customer who is harassing them, or in some cases, losing the respect of their peers if they report a coworker for harassment. So what is to be done? It’s a difficult question, and one to which there seems to be no concrete answer at the moment.


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About the Author
Melody Weister is a technology aficionado, unashamed smartphone geek, and casual gamer from Montclair, NJ, where she works as a Social Media Coordinator. Follow her on Twitter: @msmelodyrose.
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