Imagine you’re at an after party at a night club full of young professionals. You’re making conversation with some of the attendees. One woman at the party is a full time caregiver. She works double shifts assisting a man with muscular dystrophy. Another woman is a part time instructor for a privately owned company that runs science clubs after school. She talks about how excited she is at the rising amount of little girls who sign up each session. One girl has just started her own small business. She talks about how much different it is to file taxes when you’re your own boss. You then cut your eyes to a raised platform. Atop the platform is another woman. She shakes and shimmies with a smile on her painted face the entire time. Her boots are higher than your taxes, and she is wearing something kind of, sort of like a bathing suit except smaller. She is a dancer at the club. Which woman do you think has the better career goals?
Have you chosen one yet? The caregiver, the teacher, the business owner, or the gogo dancer? Keep her in your mind. This will all make sense in a couple of paragraphs.
Like many people in the videogame and tech world, I have been following the Microsoft “dancer-gate” story. If you’re unfamiliar, Microsoft hosted its “Women In Gaming Luncheon last Thursday in San Francisco at Game Developers Conference. They had an after party at a club in which dancers were hired to perform in miniskirts and white tied crop tops (think Britney Spears in the “Baby One More Time” music video). Many attendees allegedly took offense to this, including one in particular who threatened to file a complaint with Microsoft because she was made to feel “uncomfortable” by the dancers. This is after she bombarded one dancer with questions about her “role” at the party. This prompted Microsoft to issue an apology for the dancers being at the party in the first place.
Many articles covering the issue cite several reasons for how this display was sexist, or anti-feminist. I want to touch on some of those points, and give my perspective on why I think this situation is unproductive for feminism, and it’s not the argument you think.
Remember when I asked you about the four women at the party and their career goals? Which did you pick? What if I told you they were all the same person? Spoiler alert: they’re all me, and they’re all me currently. As a woman who has been on both sides of the coin when it comes to this particular situation; I’d have to say that I am disappointed in Microsoft’s handling of this situation from start to finish. I am also disappointed in the women who claim they are for the empowerment of women, yet are uncomfortable being around women who are providing a service for which they are being paid for. You know, doing their jobs.
Don’t get me wrong; I think Microsoft could have definitely handled a number of things better. First of; “sexy” school girl costumes are played out and just plain disgusting. The sexualization of minors is never okay. In a setting meant to celebrate and honor women, these costumes couldn’t have missed that mark any more if they tried. Again; this was not on the dancers, this was on Microsoft. As a gogo dancer or entertainer, you are given your call time, your performance time(s) and you are expected to wear what your contractor tells you. If Microsoft wanted performers, there are several ways to provide costuming for the more professional setting that they were going for.
Next; the issue of the sex of the dancers. Some articles suggest that if there were male performers to counterbalance the females, there wouldn’t have been as much of an issue. Let me tell you why this is bullshit. I’ve found in my experience working in the entertainment industry, people are going to complain no matter what. I have a residency at a club in Washington, DC which features both male and female performers. While we are praised for our diversity and overall acceptance of all talent, that doesn’t stop patrons from being assholes. A lot of our clientele happen to be government workers, business owners and other professionals that are considered by society to be “high end” careers. That means that when they get drunk, and don’t get their way, they resort to demeaning us performers whom they deem below them. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve had to tell a woman she cannot touch my $400 props, only for them to respond “calm down, it’s just a hula hoop” followed by “she probably used her stripper money to buy it” under their breath. Guess what I have to do? Keep on smiling, even though it hurts. The men are almost never harassed in such a manner. They are often highly praised and applauded by these very same women. Women who believe that empowerment is okay for women if they are aspiring to meet a certain standard within society. So, when Kamina Vincent asked the gogo dancer what her “role” at the party was; I do not believe it was to gain clarification. I believe it was to belittle her, because clearly she was not dressed as others in the room were. She was performing the job she was sent there to do. Her job was to entertain, not be harassed about why she was there. I guarantee if male performers were there, they would not have been asked that question.
I think so many people are focused on how the women within the gaming industry felt in this particular situation, that they don’t stop to think about how the performers felt. Often times when we are hired for private events, we become the “other”. We don’t know anyone there outside of the other performers. We are expected to show up and do our best to entertain the crowd. Sometimes, the people who hire us miss the mark completely and are a terrible judge of their audience and we end up entertaining for people who would rather us not be there. It happens, and it happens often. Imagine having to put on your best face and performance while staring into a sea of people who are heckling, judgmental or not even paying attention. It’s a really awful feeling. I’d imagine this was the case with the women performing at the Microsoft party. I can only make assumptions, because no one even thought to get their side of the story, because it wasn’t important. Not with the abundance of women in the gaming industry who felt slighted by other women performing a job that they didn’t think was needed at that moment. They were just nameless dancers. Microsoft didn’t feel the need to apologize to them for misjudging their audience and making them uncomfortable. No; instead they apologized to the women they deemed worthy of an apology. Where is the feminism in that?
In all of this, there is one lesson to be learned. Women should be empowered no matter what profession they choose. Some women do not aspire to be game developers or government workers. Some women do not want careers in fields that traditionally male dominated. Some women would rather have careers that rely on their physical and sexual appeal. That’s okay. That doesn’t make them any less of a feminist and that does not mean we don’t fight to empower them. A woman who is an exotic dancer is not below a woman who is a computer programmer, and we need to stop trying to force these beliefs on others. Not everyone can be a video game developer, and not everyone can be a dancer. There are very specific skill sets that go into both, and one isn’t any easier or harder than the other. It is important to realize that in a world that is still very much dominated by men, women need to stick together more than ever. We don’t have to understand, or even necessarily agree on each other’s career paths, but we should do our best to uplift and push for equality for all women, no matter their profession.