NOTE: There’s a TL;DR at the end. This article is way longer than what I was going for originally.
What’s the difference between this article and all the others you can read? It covered many comments with different viewpoints, covered interviews with women in tech both at the conference and not, and also covered an interview with a former club promoter.
On the night of March 17, Microsoft hosted an Xbox party at the Game Developers Conference (GDC). In my opinion, it was nothing problematic.
Not according to Brianna Wu. Let’s see what she had to say about it.
Nice. Wu is going out of the way to be offended. Erotic schoolgirl outfits? Please, tell me more…
(Publically posted pictures)
Oddly enough, I got 2 of the same pictures that Brianna posted in her tweets so I’m still not sure she witnessed the events that offended her so much.
I’ve promised that I wouldn’t be biased. I was trying to get first-hand accounts of the events in question to get the most accurate statements possible about what really happened. I got as reply that women in gaming were afraid of speaking up due to harassment of Gamergate and because Ralph is, well, Ralph.
DISCLOSURE FOR ETHICS PURPOSES: I am not Ralph, I am not a part of Gamergate and never have been, I am not a feminist, I am not a SJW, I am not trans, I am not gay, I am not a furry.
I can’t objectively say they were strippers because they kept their clothes on. They weren’t in their underwear either. One looks like she was in her bra but if you look more closely, it’s just a white top that appears to be a bra, as you can clearly see the edge of a bra underneath. They were wearing skirts with a tartan pattern trimmed with lace. They were wearing go-go boots. Objectively, sexism and bias put aside, they were go-go dancers.
The description seems to fit. They were not prostitutes, escorts, exotic dancers or strippers, just go-go dancers. I’ve seen a lot of these in various clubs and raves.
Why the uproar over go-go dancers at a social event? Good question… Maybe some comments from #GDC16 will shed some light on this.
If it was a game developer from the conference dressed like this and dancing, would it be acceptable then? I’ve seen cosplay at conferences before, from both men and women.
I’ve actually never heard of go-go dancers at a frat house, heard of twerking and booty dancing though. What if there were male dancers too? Would it just have added to the frat house ambiance or contributed to diversity?
Go-go dancers are mostly tied to the 60s era and sexism in the video game industry wasn’t a touchy subject until recently. There just happens to be less women in the industry. I don’t think women were ever actively discouraged to go into that field. One of my favorite game developers of all times is Roberta Williams. I didn’t say female game developer, I said game developer, pay attention.
I actually noticed that too. Not that they were paying attention to their phone, but simply going about their business and acting like the dancing girls were background decorations. Did I just fall into the Anita trap by admitting that those women were just background decorations? No! It’s their job, they were not hired to put on a show and captivate everybody, just to add to the ambiance of the event. Ok, that might be objectification of women in a way. Again, what if there had been male dancers? Would equal opportunity objectification of both sexes have made it acceptable?
Completely understandable. Different people have different standards. Some people won’t tolerate that Xbox’s are assembled in China, some people won’t tolerate that there were go-go dancers at a conference event in a bar but according to my experience in the tech field, when a company offers you a job in the 6 figures, most people would overlook many things and laugh all the way to the bank.
Undies? What undies? Only underwear that could be seen in the pictures is the edge of a bra peeking out of a top, as I’m sure was the case for some female gamedev attendees too.
Was it a party or a work event? As somebody who has been to many conferences, I have to agree that the lines are often blurred. You are there for work, often paid throughout, but it also counts as vacations since there’s more often than not lots of drinking and partying involved. You “work” during the day and relax/party/network at night. There are two sides to it that are both as equally important.
Apparently, the dancers were not the only controversial thing that happened at GDC. I will overlook the discussions about Marxism for now, maybe do another article about this later. Let’s concentrate on that left tweet.
This is a lot to take in all at once so let’s deconstruct it. First, the easy part at the end, we’ve already established that they were not strippers but go-go dancers. Next, “industry excludes women by pretending we don’t exist”, how could this be interpreted? Women were invited at the event so no formal exclusion. There had been a luncheon earlier that day about women in gaming so there’s acknowledgement from the conference in general that women gamedevs do exist and they form an important of the industry worthy of being specifically recognized. As far as I know, there wasn’t a men in gaming luncheon. Maybe she felt uncomfortable around women that are on display for a living and that would attract the attention of the men present at the event, hence the reference to not existing. That way, it could be interpreted as slut-shaming because of personal insecurities or jealousy. Another way to interpret it could be that excluding women means that there were no male dancers so the event wasn’t as engaging to women.
Honestly, I’ve got to give half a point to Brianna here. If they were wearing a different outfit, would the reaction have been different? Yes and no, explaining the half a point. People wouldn’t be able to complain about the “erotic schoolgirl” look but they could still complain that there were only female dancers and not male dancers.
Yes, called it! Go-go dancers, they are indeed. They were not overly erotic and described as strippers so what was the issue with somebody seeing them as what their task really was? Would the comment still have been made if there were male dancers too?
Probably a typo, “with” strippers but they were not strippers. I don’t think that person was at the event so that’s the impression he got from only reading the comments that were made on Twitter.
Yes, called it! It would make more sense to include male dancers too or have no dancers at all. Either have equal representation to avoid sexism or prevent the issue from ever being brought up by not risking it at all.
I just realized that there were not a lot of comments from men up to that point. It seems that it’s more women than men that had an issue with the dancers. Also note that these are cartoon representation of exotic dancers, one is kind of performing a lap dance and the other one is wearing a skimpy bikini. These are not go-go dancers. We’ll cover some more comments from men towards the end.
I would give a high-five to that woman if I ever mewt her. She identified them as go-go dancers and took it with a bit of humor while still making her point that this was inappropriate.
Again, would it have fixed the sexism issue if there had been male dancers too? Would it still be sexist if there had been only male dancers? Or would people still have complained about the mere presence of dancers? I honestly don’t know.
Touch of humor from somebody who wasn’t at the conference. He has a good point though, the dancers are not at fault in this situation. They got hired and paid to perform a task and they did it.
It seems that people that weren’t at the event take it with more easily with a grain of salt and make jokes about the over-reactions.
She made a long rant so I have to split it in pieces. The dancers turned her into a PlayStation customer. The last time I’ve seen somebody that angry at Microsoft, they had gone through a full day of interviews at their Redmond campus and didn’t get picked for a job.
Oh snap, called it again. She’s jealous that the dancers are getting attention from the men. I just find it strange that she used the opposite wording of “the attention from the dancing women”, with quotes around “dancing”, as if she was implying that they were prostitutes actively hunting the male audience for customers.
This is honestly the only comment I have seen about the event’s bar staff and I dredged through a metric shit-ton of tweets, whether conversations or hashtag posts. I’m guessing the bar staff wears the same type of clothing for every event and didn’t do anything special for this one. Why the need to point out what they’re wearing? What if a female attendee was wearing the same “very low cut top”? Should they be banned from the event?
Why did she blur only the faces of the dancers? Why not blur the faces of the people that were attending the party? Could it be that she feels that those dancers should feel shame? That they wouldn’t want anybody to know that they’re dancers? Was she trying to erase those women like it was mentioned in another post? I’m not Pinky the psychologist so I don’t know, I can only suppose.
I think she did the right thing and left, if she wasn’t feeling comfortable there and was ruining everybody else’s fun. I just find it funny that she would hold a grudge even after the dancers had left, as if she had been betrayed or injured by Microsoft. Why make it so personal? Other underlying reasons than the dancers maybe? Again, I don’t know. All I’m doing is interpreting comments made publicly and trying to understand the meanings and motivations behind them.
It is definitely her right to make a formal complaint. Microsoft publicly apologized already. I just don’t see why this would make it harder for women to get into the industry. To make an analogy, most cities have a strip club and women still live in that same city. What would be worse, seeing go-go dancers for an hour or two, or driving past a strip club every day for the rest of your life? If women are discouraged of becoming game developers because they hear that there was a Microsoft party with go-go dancers, they probably didn’t have the drive and passion to get into that industry in the first place. Moving out of a city because they heard that there was a strip club in it at some point in the past sounds equally as ridiculous.
I understand that it can be a stark contrast to hold a women in games luncheon the same day as a party that had only female go-go dancers. Let’s try an experiment:
How dare they hold a women in games luncheon the same day that they held a party with only female dancers.
How dare they hold a women in games luncheon the same day that they held a party with only male dancers.
How dare they hold a women in games luncheon the same day that they held a party with both male and female dancers.
Which one sounds more sexist? In fact, two are sexist, the issue is that one of those didn’t cater specifically to women.
Let’s move on to something different, I interviewed directly several women to get their thoughts about the dancers. People sometimes old different views when speaking directly with somebody instead of writing public tweets to appeal to the general public.
First case: A female gamedev that was at the conference (but not at the event) and wanted to remain anonymous because of fear of harassment…
There’s a huge discussion of it in one of the women in games groups, started by the woman who was at the event who took the pictures. Basically the gist is that it further marginalizes women in games by not having male dancers as well, it sends the message that only male devs matter, not only by not thinking about what female devs would want, but also representation. It’s already othering to be a woman in a largely male space. It’s made even worse when the only other women there are being paid to take their clothes off and being treated as sexual objects. If there were male dancers, it wouldn’t be an issue for me. Although I would question the appropriateness of sexualizing a professional networking party… but yeah, it’s a whole other issue — not one of sexism. In sum, it’s a big “f— you” to women in games — we don’t care or even think about your needs/feelings. We’re only thinking about what the dudes want.
I have to say a big thank you to this lady for taking the time to speak with me while she was at the conference. That confirms what I was saying earlier, the problem could have been partly avoided by having equal representation of dancers or completely been avoided by not having any dancers at all. Only issue I see with her statement is that they weren’t strippers taking their clothes off.
Next, I talked with a transgender woman working in tech (but she wasn’t at the conference).
I have to disclose that I have the utmost respect for her personally and professionally and that we follow each other on Twitter. I had no idea she was transgender until the end of the interview but as a rule of thumb on Twitter, I ask every woman if they have or ever had a penis.
ME: Have you heard about the XBOX party at a conference with dancers?
DO: The comments I’ve seen not only imply the usual “women being abused / forced into being degraded” but also make the presumption that ALL WOMEN are heterosexual and find the female form somehow offensive o.0 I really don’t see the issue; they had some female dancers – female dancers are aesthetically pleasing, regardless of who you are or your sexuality. I think some women need to stop making absolutely everything about gender when it’s not – it would be nice to have male dancers too but if the demographic of the majority of attendees are hetero males then it’s like only serving beer when a few people prefer wine. Anyone serious about getting into game dev or any other male-dominated industry should, would and can. They didn’t look very exotic to me; perhaps a little tacky and ostentatious but not offensive.
ME: What did you think of their outfit?
DO: I’d call that gamer-punk gear. It’s the subculture – just like in the sporting world they have Hooters; it’s just because the dancers were female that these girls are pissed off. FreeBSD have women dressed as devils who are also developers and hackers; men dress as devils too – women are noticed more because hawt. They’re not strippers – they’re the kind of background dancers you get at rave events or anything. Even goth clubs and stuff. Germany has a massive cyber punk scene that merges with the gamer scene, it’s no different to that. They’re carefully pointing out the girls are “just doing their job”… But yes, seems to be slut-shaming – especially when she [Kamina Vincent] speaks about the low-cut tops at the bars. People like to look good – why is she policing what girls working the bar are wearing? It’s a misogyny witch hunt.
ME: Would you see that more as a party or as a work event?
DO: Looks more like a party than a formal event, so I think dancers styled like this are appropriate for the gaming industry. I’ve never been to any conference party, they look fun though! It’s a brand-neutral event; if it was a Blizzard event, I’d absolutely expect to see sexy night elves dancing.
ME: You’ve never been to conferences? or just conf parties?
DO: Never been to conf parties 😛 But that’s how I’d imagine them in the gaming industry.
ME: Sorry to ask, but this is Twitter, you’re a woman, right?
DO: Oh, I didn’t realise that’s what you wanted lol. Derp! I’m TG – not sure if that’ll work with your article!
ME: I was only half-joking BTW, didn’t want to make you uncomfortable, I had no idea.
ME: Can I mention your name?
DO: Sure, can use my name if you like – I’m not scared of angry lesbians XD I am, however, not a lesbian.
If somebody would understand marginalization and “othering,” it would be a transgender person. I really liked her analogy about beer vs. wine. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s not a rare occurrence to see go-go dancers at clubs or raves as background dancers and the clubs are not designed exclusively to cater to men either.
Let’s see one final woman in tech that I interviewed but she wasn’t at the conference.
I have to disclose that I have the utmost respect for her personally and professionally and that we follow each other on Twitter. She was born a woman.
ME: Would you have stayed at the party after walking in and seeing that there were go-go dancers?
RB: Of course I would, a party has always been more about the participants than the entertainment! also the girls were CUTE! I’m totally in support!
ME: Would it have been better if there were male dancers too?
RB: yes, would have liked some male dancers 🙂
ME: Why do you think mostly women were complaining about the dancers?
RB: I feel like it is a chance to cash in on Patreon bucks, no actual woman is offended by this – and if she is, she neglects our best asset.
ME: Sorry to ask but this is Twitter, you’re a woman, right?
RB: genetic female with a p*ssy
ME: Can I mention your name?
RB: I give consent to use my messages in any way.
She was busy when I managed to reach her so I didn’t want to take too much of her time.
As an extra added value, let’s see the opinion of a former LGBT club promoter who was used to deal with similar events including hiring go-go dancers.
I have to disclose that I didn’t know that she had written an article for The Ralph Retort before. This is not intentional circlejerk promotion.
ME: Can you first tell me how you learned about it and your impressions on the whole thing?
SE: I first heard about the incident via Lauren Southern. As a former LGBT club promoter in Los Angeles I was pretty appalled by the backlash against Microsoft, largely by people who were not in attendance. I found that Kamina Vincent (Tin Man Games editor) commentary was that of a woman out of touch with adult nightlife in CA. You would be hard pressed to find a club/bar in ANY major city of CA that does not have go-go dancers. It is a part of the night life culture here. This is true in all communities! Males & Females. Dancers make a very good living dancing at these clubs & at parties. Kamina Vincent’s commentary was: I want these specific women near me, not these women. I do not subscribe to that form of segregation or othering. This is nothing more than jealousy from a petulant child. Jealousy plain and simple. ‘WHY ARE THE BOYS NOT LOOKING AT ME!’ *Stomps Feet* This will not do, to Twitter I go! I’ll show you boys, you will look at me now!
ME: In general, do you think it was wrong of Microsoft to have only female dancers there? What if there were male dancers too?
SE: No I don’t think it was wrong to have exclusively female dancers. In fact, I wonder if the venue already had the dancers booked for the holiday, I have yet to see if it was even directly Microsoft’s fault. People are operating under the presupposition that Microsoft booked them because of this woman’s tweets. If there were male dancers would it have made a difference? No, the woman who started the virtue signaling, was very clear in her commentary, it was: attractive women bad, boys giving her attention good. Also, her commentary is full of presuppositions that the women she would want to work in the industry would also be against go-go dancers.
1. That assumes all of her friends are sex negative.
2. It removes all of their agency as individuals.
3. It’s homophobic as it assumes any woman who she may introduce to gaming would be straight.
And because these types of people speak in identity politics, I will speak to them directly in their own language: As a lesbian, I am grossly offended at the notion that I have no place in the industry & that the presence of female go-go dancers would somehow keep me from working in the industry. Furthermore, as a woman, I find the men that responded to this outrageous virtue signaling to be misogynistic in forcing women out of work to maintain their own sense of morality. *Drops Mic*
ME: Beside her, why do you think there was so much outrage about this? Mostly from people that weren’t even at the party.
SE: If you listened to the handful of Sex Negative individuals that hang around the gaming industry: Cos-players, Booth babes, Female Bartenders & Dancers would ALL be out of work. This type of female disempowerment serves ONE purpose, to elevate a few bitter & jealous women, to free them from the competition of other women.
ME: Do you have any ties to the gaming industry professionally?
SE: I do, but I have only dipped my toes in professionally, I have been a gamer basically my entire life. I know this year I will be interacting even more with the industry in a professional capacity. It’s why I’m a harsh critic of these child-school-playground antics.
ME: Can I name you in the article?
SE: You can show my Twitter profile & user name as well.
ME: Sorry to ask but this is Twitter, you’re a woman, right?
SE: Yes, my thumbnail is also really me. Hehe
I had never actually thought about this angle: What if Microsoft didn’t hire the dancers themselves but they were provided without their knowledge by the venue? Microsoft wouldn’t have taken the blame in their apology if it wasn’t explicitly their fault, right?
Let’s have a look at that apology by Head of Xbox Phil Spencer.
“[…] how we represent ourselves, as individuals, who we hire and partner with and how we engage with others […]”
This statement could leave room for a later retraction/modification to redirect the blame towards the venue. If it happens, remember, you heard it here first. I have never seen this possibility being mentioned in other mainstream media article.
The dancers were standing on podiums and I don’t think that they appeared magically or the girls rolled with the podiums themselves.
I’ve gone long enough so let’s wrap-up quickly with my favorite topic: ME!
I learned about this story in the morning of the 18th through this post:
I didn’t know anything about the story but I could definitely see that the issue was about female dancers, not just dancers.
I replied with my usual snarky charm.
My gut instinct turned out to be right. That was my most common point throughout this article; what if there had been equal gender representation?
I never got an answer…
Next I stumbled on a post exposing two men that sounded like they were faking outrage.
I still hadn’t looked into the story at that point and just took the content of their posts at face value. Also, any statement that starts with: “This is the [current year]” is most often virtue signaling. I honestly don’t care if a woman is in STEM, a stripper or a garbage collector, to me they all deserve the same respect. I’m not tolerant of slut-shaming.
I just love to be outraged at fake outrage and out-outrage them. The impression I got from their original post was they were assigning less value to a dancer than a woman in STEM. Maybe I misinterpreted because I was still on my first cup of coffee of the day but I’m usually good at reading implied subtext whether it was done consciously or not. I might be anti-feminist but I am strongly egalitarian.
The next post made my day while confirming the value judgement.
BREAKING NEWS: I am the glorious leader of Gamergate according to a male feminist.
Here is my formal reply.
I disclosed it earlier: I am not part of Gamergate and never have I been.
Which led to the creation of a new meme.
I wasn’t at the conference nor at the XBOX party. All the information I got at first was through comments on Twitter from people that were at the conference and/or at the party.
ORIGINAL STORY: Strippers in their underwear taking their clothes off at a Microsoft-sponsored party and chasing women out of being gamedevs.
I then asked for comments or pictures directly at people that were at the event. I honestly never talked to anybody that was at the party, only at the conference.
I found a bunch of pictures, same ones that people kept posting around over and over.
I looked at the pictures and it turned out that most of the information that was sent out on Twitter was at the very least inaccurate or exaggerated.
FINAL STORY: Go-go dancers, maybe not even hired by Microsoft directly, were dancing in the background for a portion of a Microsoft-sponsored party and (mostly) the women present (or not) were unhappy about it.
I’m not anything close to a reporter, I’m just some guy on Twitter. How come the mainstream media couldn’t get to the core of the story and cut through the hype like I did?
I promised I would not be biased and I think I held my side of the bargain pretty well. It’s probably not the narrative that everybody wants to hear but that’s the objective conclusion that I came to. Being fair and balanced means not blindly agreeing with either side but weighing and analyzing the facts and evidence available before reaching a conclusion. Maybe my conclusion would have been different if more people from the conference had accepted to talk to me instead of being afraid of BoogeymanGate.
In this day and age where everybody is offended at the thought of being offended, who thought it would be a good idea to have only female dancers at a party? Equal representation would have been a better choice or even no dancers at all to avoid the problem completely. In general, the men that complained seemed to do it only out of support for the women. I am not offended but I feel I should be, therefore I will act like I am. The women had a special luncheon event for them earlier in the day and felt betrayed when the party didn’t cater specifically to their needs and wants. Again, maybe male dancers would have fixed the issue or maybe another issue would have come up, maybe how the bar staff was dressed. The main complaints seemed to arise out of jealousy that the male attention was taken away from them, since they had been the center of attraction all throughout the conference or just a classic case of slut-shaming attitude.
I’ve been to many tech conferences, while women representation is getting more prevalent, they are still seen as rare precious unicorns. Don’t get me wrong, more women in the gaming industry is fantastic but remember the law of supply and demand: The more women in the industry, the less special they are. For anybody not familiar with the concept, it is akin to a woman walking into a comic book store in The Big Bang Theory. If those women are not used to all that attention, their ego inflates and they feel like irresistible goddesses or queens. During that special luncheon for women in games, they were put on a pedestal and then fell off of it when they came to the party and saw competition that was deemed unfair, leading to jealousy and slut-shaming.
Some things that I never saw mentioned:
Did that hurt women in the industry? NO.
Did that prevent women from wanting to join the industry? NO.
Will somebody make a career out of being offended by an Xbox party? Most probably.
I’m pretty sure that if the situation was inverted by having only male dancers being present, the men who would have felt uncomfortable would have been laughed at or called homophobic and not be called strong and courageous for denouncing unjust sexism. Double standards to coddle rare precious unicorns that are easily offended by their own insecurities.