Microsoft sexualizes teen girls during Game Developer Conference, liberal feminist confusion ensues

Surprise! Gaming is a sexist industry that pornifies women. Through a particularly hypocritical post, even for Jezebel, it has come to light that Microsoft hired women in sexualized Catholic schoolgirl outfits to dance at an afterparty hosted by Xbox in San Francisco during last week’s Game Developer Conference.^tfw

Women connected to the industry are, rightly, pissed.^tfw

One woman who attended the party, named Kamina Vincent, a producer at an Australian games studio, told Jezebel that she spoke to one of the “dancers,” who told her “they had been hired to speak with attendees and encourage them to the dance floor.” Vincent correctly pointed out, “Decisions like these reinforce that women are decoration instead of a part of the industry.” You know, just like the video games themselves do, and just like pornography itself does: position women as decorative things for men to look at, use, and abuse, but never to view as full, equal human beings.

Brianna Wu, a video game developer who has been subjected to ongoing harassment by the man-children of Gamergate, told Jezebel:

“The problem is not the women. I am a sex-positive feminist and so are most women in the game industry… They are just trying to make a living. The issue is, this is wildly inappropriate at a professional networking event.”

Indeed. And so with that, we are left to wonder what, exactly, is an appropriate space for women to be paid to sexualize teen girls for the titillation of men? Both Wu and Jezebel, as a whole, are supporters of the sex industry — they advocate to legalize prostitution and treat pornography as something empowered women “choose.”

So the obvious question here is: What is the difference between a woman dressed in a sexualized schoolgirl outfit at a Microsoft party and a woman dressed in a sexualized schoolgirl outfit in a strip club? Or in porn? Why is Playboy “okay” but not this?

The analysis doesn’t fly. As I wrote earlier this month, you can’t have both objectification and liberation. You can’t say that turning women into sexualized objects for male pleasure contributes to inequality and excludes women from participation in traditionally male-dominated spaces (i.e. life) but then say it’s totally acceptable in other spaces and, more generally, in society-at-large. Where is the invisible line drawn?

As Wu’s colleague, Anita Sarkeesian, points out, objectification dehumanizes women — not just some women, but all women. Treating women as things that exist for men normalizes male entitlement, which, in turn, creates rape culture and, more generally, a misogynist society. “It’s important to remember,” Sarkeesian says in a video addressing male entitlement and objectification in video games, “that sexualization is not just about the amount of skin showing, but is instead connected to the question of whether or not a costume is eroticized for the express purpose of titillation.” The effect is to reinforce a worldview that “defin[es] women’s social role as vessels of sexuality and men’s roles as consumers or patrons of that sexuality,” Sarkeesian says.

Schoolgirl costumes, in particular, sexualize teen girls. There is absolutely no way to deny that this particular form of imagery centers around male domination and sexual abuse. But beyond that, I’d like to know what exactly the problem is here, according to Jezebel and Wu. I mean, according to their own analysis, we’d have to conclude that the “dancers” at the Microsoft party “chose” their profession freely and were paid for their “work.” At what point does this become a problem for women in gaming and in what way does it contribute to sexism? I’d really like to know.

It’s this very compartmentalization that allows porn culture and rape culture to flourish. At some point, outlets like Jezebel and feminists like Wu are going to have to acknowledge that their own analysis is not only full of gaping holes, but is part of the problem.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.