But honestly

Posted by: on Dec 28, 2012 | 4 Comments

The incident at work continues, and I’m still not at liberty do discuss what it’s all about, but I would like to talk/ write about reactions and my reactions to it and to many other incidents that’s sort of worn med down.

Most of you have probably heard that I’ve worked with games for about 12 years now, and if you read my #1reasonwhy post, you know that the reception of a female game developer hasn’t been ideal. There’s a paper written by Rosabeth Moss-Kanter called Some Effects of Proportions on Group Life: Skewed Sex Ratios and Responses to Token Women, which has been both an eye opener and a sad fact of life for me for almost all of my professional life. I’ve been the odd woman out. Actually, that sense of not belonging has been with me since I was a kid and started playing table-top role-playing games. A couple of things I’d like to point out in Moss-Kanter’s paper are the following quotes, because they have had an effect on what I’m about to tell you later in this blog post.

First off – it’s very difficult to remain anonymous in a field where the percentage of women has been between 8 – 15% (right now we’re at 14% in Sweden). This means that I feel that all eyes are on me. As Moss-Kanter puts it:

Automatic notice meant that women could not remain anonymous or hide in the crowd; all their actions were public. Their mistakes and their relationships were known as readily as any other information.

There’s no anonymity for me. To be fair, I’ve also felt some sort of responsibility to change things for the better in this field, which means that I’ve never said no to doing talks, writing debate articles and the like. In other words, I’ve put myself in the public eye. There’s a conflict here, and I’ll get back to how that has affected me in my work and life in general.

There’s also the responsibility to perform not only for myself but for every woman out there. That’s a pretty heavy burden. I’ve talked about this over and over again, but I think this particular point is important. Moss-Kanter’s paper may be about sales, but the same goes for game development. We are not solely judged as individuals. We are also judged as women.

In informal conversations, they were often measured by two yardsticks: how as women they carried out the sales role and how as salesworkers they lived up to images of womanhood. In short, every act tended to be evaluated beyond its meaning for the organization and taken as a sign of “how women do in sales.”

The one thing, however, that’s been on my mind for a while now is what Moss-Kanter refers to as “fear of retaliation”. This is something I’m always aware of, and I try my best to keep in the background. I’ve spent countless meetings biting my tongue and trying not to stand out. Unfortunately, one of my less charming traits (or maybe my most charming trait) is that I say what I think. I’ve been in teams where I’ve not been noticed, yet pulled quite a bit of weight. Occasionally, I’ve cleaned up after klutzes who couldn’t do their jobs. But I try not to call attention to this, or to myself. Because, as Moss-Kanter says, there’s a problem with double standards. On the one hand, I should be more aggressive (I’ve been told, many times). And on the other hand, I get sighs, eye-rolling, etc when I am more aggressive and try to solve problems. In short: I’ve felt like a problem for trying to solve problems.

The women were also aware of another performance pressure: to avoid making the dominants look bad. Tokenism sets up a dynamic that makes tokens afraid of outstanding performance in group events and tasks. When a token does well enough to show up a dominant, it cannot be kept a secret, because all eyes are on the token. Therefore it is difficult in such a situation to avoid the public humiliation of a dominant. Thus, paradoxically, while the token women felt they had to do better than anyone else in order to be seen as competent and allowed to continue, they also felt in some cases that their successes would not be rewarded and should be kept secret.

I’ve got a very recent example of this. As a producer, I’ve always been focused on processes. I’ve created a bunch of them, yet none of them seems to be accepted when it’s time to put them into action. I’ve even been told that “that’s just something Åsa’s come up with. Do we really have to do it?”, when in fact the whole team of producers have been standing behind the solution. I’ve been critisized for our SCRUM methodology, asked to provide “evidence” that it works, whereas my male colleagues? Not so much.

This is of course a pain in the ass. And it makes me uncertain. And uncomfortable. Especially when – as it was for quite a while – the processes were always overlooked or skipped, because “there was no time” to implement them. The result? After two years of trying to create a good working environment, I switched jobs.

Moss-Kanter continues to explain the strategies of women who experience tokenism. One is overachievement:

The first involves overachievement. Aware of the performance pressures, several of the saleswomen put in extra effort, promoted themselves and their work at every opportunity, and let those around them know how well they were doing. These women evoked threats of retaliation.

Not my cup of tea. I’ve chosen the other strategy:

It involves attempts to limit visibility, to become socially invisible. This strategy characterizes women who try to minimize their sexual attributes so as to blend unnoticeably into the predominant male culture, perhaps by adopting “mannish dress” (Hennig 1970, chap. 6). Or it can include avoidance of public events and occasions for performance – staying away from meetings, working at home rather than in the office, keeping silent at meetings.

Apart from the “Keeping silent at meetings”, of course.

The incident at work reminded me very strongly that I’m a woman, and that as a woman I don’t really belong to the team or the company. I’m not a part of the group. This is a part of a strategy that “dominants” (that is the majority, in this case men) use to basically put us in our place. And most of the time they’re not even aware of what they’re doing.

Members of the numerically dominant category underscore and reinforce differences between tokens and themselves, insuring that the former recognize their outsider status by making the token the occasion for interruptions in the flow of group events. Dominants preface acts with apologies or questions about appropriateness directed at the token; they then invariably go ahead with the act, having placed the token in the position of interrupter or interloper.

The above is pretty much what’s been going on at work right now. I’m not sure about the “going ahead anyway”, yet, but as far as I understand it, it’s headed that way. As another incident proved, us tokens in production are also fairly isolated from the groupings within the dominant culture. Being “picked last” – as it turned out in this instance – is a pretty heavy reinforcement of not belonging to the team. If us tokens were not aware of our token position before, we were sure reminded and with a vengeance.

At work, I’ve been keeping a low profile, because frankly, I’m tired of having to defend my point of view and then get overrun. I’m a slow thinker, especially when it comes to important things, things that I care about. I’ve also become a slow thinker by necessity. As a woman, making claims, stating facts etc, I have to be absolutely sure about what I’m saying, especially in instances where my facts clash with the “public opinion”. I’ve been taught the hard way. Ground down in conversations, waved off as another one of them “feminazis” trying to “censor” a work environment or the gaming culture. This has pretty much been going on for about eight years of my life. Before that I was trying desperately to fit in by buying all the bullshit about women in games.

I helped reinforce a negative culture for myself, that left me crying in the evenings feeling like I was never, ever good enough. This was especially true after having done something exceptional that took all my strength of will and competency and left me feeling hollow and empty afterward. A few examples.

2001 I was the general of SydCon together with a good friend. I kept the con going through countless incidents, one of which was a cart accidentally damaging the paint of a car belonging to the principal of the school that we rented. I was yelled at over the phone, did a spectacular job at the convention anyway and then went off when things had calmed down and cried for three hours straight because I felt so lousy about the job that I had done. When in fact, what I had done was pretty great.

When I worked at a certain company, I was pretty much ignored every day by select members of my team (thankfully I had great co-workers in other teams), I was yelled at, told I was stupid, did my job lousily and at the same time praised by the publisher all throughout the production. I spent one and a half year crying every day after work. Even though I now know that I did a very, very good job.

Even when things changed, and I started looking at the systematic treatment of women both in games and outside of games, it really didn’t make me feel any better. If anything, it made me feel worse, because I had been an accomplice. But the feeling of being a fraud, a cheat, someone who doesn’t really belong, isn’t really competent is still with me. Just recently, about three months ago, before I switched jobs, I tried to do everything at once, and I did pretty well. But not well enough for me, which of course led to me switching jobs, because I thought I had screwed up. I hadn’t but habits are really hard to break. Which brings me to the following.

The incident at work is something I would have let slide if I didn’t have others who reacted very strongly (and justly!) to it. It’s a huge thing (which I of course can’t talk about), and suffice to say, I understand why it’s important. But I would have let it slide, and in retrospect I feel guilty about it. Letting it slide is just another way of cooperating with the dominant culture, preventing more women from entering the games business, even though in all likelyhood the dominant culture will get their way as they so often do. To be fair, in this instance it’s an outside influence coming along with the sexism.

But 12 years of fighting the dominant culture, or trying to fit into it, has left marks. It’s very difficult for me to see what is problematic right where I stand. It is very difficult to be the one putting my foot down when things are not quite right because more often than not, what I face when doing that is people simply not getting it, or making jokes or trying to discard it as one of those feminazi-things. I’m also scared of losing my job. If I become a nuisance, I may not be able to get another job, and right now, I feel somewhat trapped or perhaps entrenched within the game development community.

At the same time, working with games, being a part of the game development community is a source of pride for me, but it is always somewhat shameful.

Anyway. Rant, anyone?

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4 Comments

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