Tech and video game industry sexism: bathroom lines and rape jokes

Apple and Microsoft are both currently throwing big conferences, one for tech industry developers and one to sell video games. The conferences of these two giant companies are giving us an eye into some common-place sexism.

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference is currently taking place in San Francisco. Yesterday Dan Ackerman tweeted this photo from the conference, which says a lot about the gender imbalance in the tech industry:

apple conference bathroom lines

Meanwhile, Microsoft is hosting E3, their annual gaming expo, in Los Angeles. It’s easier for consumers to fight sexism in games than for us to push for the gender dynamics of the tech industry to change, because businesses want to satisfy their customers. Microsoft should want to cater to non-misogynyst gamers, should want to expand its customer base. But no, apparently the stage at E3 was a good place for a rape joke.

One of the producers of a new game, a man, got up to play it against a woman who hadn’t even played the game. He even had a special joystick. At least that was the set up – the whole interaction seems scripted (though if it was unscripted it’s still not OK):

Via Raw Story:

“Just let it happen, it’ll be over soon,” the producer advised, drawing groans and laughter from the audience.

“You have a fight stick!” the manager exclaimed.

“Wow, you like this,” the producer remarked as his continued the thrashing.

“No, I don’t like this!” the manager insisted.

Apparently the interaction had a twist ending where the woman was actually good at video games. Give me a break. Devin Faraci over at Badass Digest points out what’s so disturbing about this exchange:

What makes this a big deal isn’t the fact that it happened, but that it’s indicative of a larger cancer eating away at the gaming community (and, to be fair, many other geek communities, but it seems most horrible in gaming). This, basically, is what institutionalized misogyny looks like.

Exactly. E3 and WWDC are very different events with different focuses, and long bathroom lines are very different from rape jokes. Which highlights how broad and systemic sexism is, since we’re seeing examples of it from who gets tech jobs to the culture in which people play with technology.


Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • John

    Is that a rape joke? I guess it could be interpreted as such if you’re looking for it, but then why wouldn’t the sexual innuendos start when the female manager says “You’re too fast” which immediately proceeded the quotes in the article? Is it because a woman wanting something to last is counter to rape and doesn’t support the narrative? How is this not normal trash talking?

    • Dan

      I’m also confused as to why it sounds scripted, unless there was a meta-level implication that the writers at E3 aren’t capable of better writing.

    • John

      There are times that I’m glad I don’t read twitter, but I think I’m changing my mind and agreeing with you. I read a similar tweet directed toward Anita Sarkeesian on another article on Feministing and it seemed quite a bit creepier. The topper was this article on GMP you might be interested in.

      I’m still not convinced that “the tech industry” has a misogyny problem. Did the offending tweets come from people in the industry or from the customers, the gaming community? Whether the gaming industry has a misogyny problem or whether they’re catering to the most vocal segment of their customer base, it still puts this incident in a different light and exposes how wrong this is.

  • honeybee

    I’m not sure I agree it’s easier for consumers to fight sexism in games than for us to push for the gender dynamics of the tech industry to change. Wouldn’t it be easier to: a) vote with our dollars (buy / don’t buy based on sexism in the game) and even better b) start our own video game companies which produce the kind of games we want?

    Video game sales have been steadily increasing for years – these companies are making huge profits and their profits are rising, not falling, so they don’t have much incentive to change. Truth is there will always be a market for sexist games because that element of society will never go away. The task now is to increase the market for non-sexist games.

    I have to say it’s going to very tough without option b) because they can make huge profits without changing anything. What we need are new companies and more women in the tech industry. We should invest more effort at getting girls into tech and science careers to begin with. Getting inside is the only way to truly change anything.

    • Dan

      You probably want to look into the work of James Portnow. Among other things, he has a crowdfunded pool of money with which to recursively invest in independent games developers, with an emphasis on breaking the status quo.

      The computer science skills gap is the biggest obstacle I currently see, and that has a simple workaround; it might be hard to find women with programming expertise, but it probably isn’t impossible to find non-misogynist programmers.

    • John


      I tend to agree with you, but I worry that supply side economics tends to not work. Here is a thought. Feministing is an activist website. Anita Sarkeesian started a kick starter to examine tropes about women in video games. Couldn’t someone at feministing create a kickstarter to either

      1. Establish a website / group to assign a feminist rating system to video games. Maybe even include a feature on this site. I’ve heard from feminist gamers that women make up almost 50% of the game market. Many men (and MRAs) dispute this. If feminists endorsed specific games and they did well or outperformed the industry, couldn’t this be used to convince the industry to create more feminist games. I’m not a bug gamer, but Left 4 Dead comes to mind. You can play as a woman, Zoey, who is not sexualized and it got game of the year.

      2. Establish a kickstarter to purchase excess capacity from a game developer to create a feminist video game. The industry can’t have that great a margin. Production of games has to be risky so having the development financed should be attractive to at least a few of the smaller ones. Feministing has backed some video projects. Why not a game? You would probably need to come up with a story line.

      Just a couple thoughts. What do you think?

  • Alexis DiSanza

    John, this is most certainly a rape joke. In a vacuum, it sure may seem like a harmless comment that doesn’t have deeper implications, but we don’t live in a vacuum. This is a phrase that has been consistently used to tell women that rape doesn’t matter, or isn’t a big deal, or that she really wanted it.
    Notably, Clayton Williams lost an election for governor for saying a similar phrase. Google the phrase. It’s used in the context of rape every time.

    The problem is that the phrase IS normal trash talk. Trash talk is rife with “Bro, I totally raped you” and “I am raping this game, dude.”
    This trash talk was made, intentionally or not, in the language that rape apologists use to say that rape is actually funny.

  • Chris Ghio

    Just wanted to comment on the video game industry side of this article. I’ve been working as a 3d artist in both the film and video game industries for a while now, so I’ve definitely experienced the work environments you’re commenting on. And while there is a vast disparity in sexual diversity within the artist side of the biz(not management), the attitude in our industry isn’t “that’s the way we like it”, but more accurately “Please hire more women!” Not to mention I’ve never been around a more progressive and liberal community than film/gaming/tech industry. I actually worked at a studio where we purposefully hired two women over there male counterparts who were equally qualified because the “sausage party” definitely gets old.

    I also attended a large art/tech school in the bay area to learn the trade and get a degree. The experience in art/tech colleges across the country it is no different. 10 guys or even 20 for every 1 female 3d art student. I can assure you, NO for-profit college is turning away female students with tuition in hand. A lot of the kids in school came up as gamers and followed through with it.

    So maybe it starts with a larger female gaming community as kids and goes from there. Don’t know what to say about that, you can’t force that, there is either a consumer demand there to start from or there isn’t. Culture has a large part to play since there is obviously the feeling still, that guys love to play games too much and our girlfriends hate us for it. Believe us guys in saying, we would love technological equality in that regard for sure!

    Right now video game vendors have crunched the numbers and see that by far, adolescent men are the major demographic, so according to financial demands they market the games accordingly. I think its for this capitalistic reason why you see the unbalance in video game protagonists and themes. There is definitely a shortage in female video game heroes. And I don’t suppose it will change until the gaming community evens out. Just makes sense, you would want to play the character who you can identify the most with.

    Just felt the blogger took a quick leap to the misogyny stance and in the process dismissed an entire industry and group of people too easily.

    I’m on the fence with what that guy said. I can see both sides of the argument with the E3 game demo dialogue. I often get called out for being sensitive in identifying racially coded comments , so I can empathize, given that the phrase he used, has been used in the despicable rape context many times.

    As for Clayton Williams…fuck that dude(cussing allowed here?). That’s as clear and detestable as anything I’ve seen.