At the end of November, twitter blew up with women in games sharing their experiences in the industry: #1ReasonWhy. In a response to the (albeit common) question of “Why are there so few lady game creators?” I even added my own: Because I was the only one heckled during my final game project presentation. #1reasonwhy
It was an amazing event to witness. The only shocking part of it all was the sheer amount of people who had the gumption to speak up. No matter how many tried to silence them. It makes me feel lucky that not only have I had it easy in comparison, but to know that I am in fact not alone.
This is my 3rd year in the game dev department at DePaul in Chicago. There were several prerequisites I had to take before the grad program actually started and I can only go mostly part-time, so it’s taking a while. All things considered, it’s far better than I had expected. Every professor I’ve come into contact with has been respectful from the beginning and I haven’t had a single instance of condescension. As well as no special treatment, at least as far as I can tell. In fact they have welcomed my class participation more than enough to make someone who is normally very quiet actually speak up. Last term I had to ask one to not put me on a team with a specific classmate (I will explain later). The email exchange was professional and respectful and he did so without question or making it an issue.
They do also have support for women in the computer department that sadly only caters to those without full-time jobs. While I could get to campus for a 4:30pm meeting, but the emails don’t always go out and rarely do I know more than a day in advance.
That’s not to say that things have been easy or that it’s been without incident.
Being the only or one of a handful of women in a class isn’t comfortable. It will make anyone question whether or not they belong. We as humans strive for situations that we fit in, and while I should feel at home with others who love games and coding, I just don’t. I feel uncomfortable most of the time. As if I really shouldn’t be there.
It doesn’t really help when the professor shows incredibly masculine videos to emphasize points. I’m pretty certain there is something better out there to signify now being advanced C++ coders than “welcome to the world of gentlemen, gentlemen.” Perhaps it would help to not bring up a study that women multitask better than men, especially when other studies say it’s actually men just prove that some people multitask better than other people. All that did was encourage the person sitting behind me to bring up the idea that “women are more emotional.” I turned around and asked if he was looking for a punch in the face and it made the class laugh. What I don’t understand is that if someone had said “all ____ (race) are _____ (stereotype)” shit would have gone down. It’s the same thing just instead of racist, it’s sexist.
For the most part my classmates aren’t exactly friendly to me and seem to just tolerate my existence. Conversations before/after class and during breaks aren’t what you’d call inclusive. While my interjections don’t fall on deaf ears, it’s not exactly welcoming either. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some that are like me and shy at first, but fine once they warm up to you. On the flipside, there have also been a handful that have been varying levels of terrible.
One that used the phrase “women shouldn’t talk like that,” to someone else. Luckily we both shot him down with looks and a response of “we can say whatever we want.” Strangely enough, he was one of the heckling offenders while I nervously gave a demo of my final game last term while trying not to throw up or pass out. Public speaking and I don’t really mix well. Perhaps I should have sat there invalidating myself through it like another woman had?
Last year there was one that fully believed I would commiserate with him on his failing grades no matter how many times I tried to get out the conversation. Every night during break he would follow me out to the cold of Chicago, stand too close and talked of failing classes, bad grades on projects and the state of our classmates geeky tee shirt attire. All I wanted to do was enjoy my smoke. Granted he never really paid attention to my responses of doing just fine nor the fact that I wear a different geek tee every week. While annoying, that would have been fine. It was the being 1 step behind me on the walk to the train – whether I took the elevator or ran down 10 flights of stairs. He would then get on the same train and watch me read from across the train car. That’s what set off my spidey sense enough ask not to work with him in the next class.
In all honesty, what’s worse is what happens in the outside world. Whenever I wear my xkcd tee “I’m not slacking off, my code is compiling,” without fail someone has to ask “are you really a programmer?” I don’t see why anyone would actually wear it if they weren’t. Though the attempted C++ syntax exams are rather unnecessary.
How I’ve chosen to deal with it
For the most part, I focus on the work. Doing as well as I am seriously helps the negative self-talk that comes from not feeling like I belong. I get A’s, that’s proof enough. I love coding and no one is going to take that away from me.
Comments that are sexist? It depends on the situation. Sometimes I jokingly threaten violence, but that’s only in very specific moments. Most of the time, it’s “Please explain how that is funny.” Then watch them try to justify the behaviour.
Sometimes, like the heckling, I don’t notice right away. I know it’s kind of shitty, but I’m too busy to focus on why. For the most part, it turns into jokes with friends. 1 that I’m turning into a game based on a conversation. Just something silly with Unity more for humour value.
Other than that, seriously taking a look at that mentoring list.