In which I don’t try to write like a man...

I have a friend, whose name is Mark Sorrell, who yesterday posted this column. It's probably worth going and reading that first, or none of the rest of this will make sense.

That column triggered a bunch of discussion, part of which was a reddit thread, and part of that thread was this comment from a reader called LadyKeen:

"It shouldn't have to come to this. It isn't about just accepting the fact that you will be harassed, but being a legitimate prescence in the gaming world. Women in the gaming industry aren't just being shat on because they are women. It is because they are used/using themselves as sex symbols or they come out with outrageous claims/ideas about something (ala Hamburger Helper). Successful women in the gaming industry do their job without being a nut about it and therefore do not get the flack."

The whole comment thread is worth reading, partly for Mark's smart answers, and partly for a useful refresher in how myopic and ingrained a lot of the attitudes surrounding this issue are.

Here's what makes me sad.

My position used to be exactly the opinion quoted above. I don't get the flack that a lot of other women-on-the-internet, and especially women-on-the-games-internet get. And that, I used to think, was because I was clever and smart. I didn't cam-whore. I didn't flirt. I didn't do anything to make myself a target. And therefore I was better than the stupid women who courted the hate-mail and the rape threats and the knee-jerk dismissals.

Here are some other things that I included in my 'not making myself a target' strategy:

  • not wearing skirts
  • not wearing heels
  • not coming to the defence of other women on the receiving end of abuse and threats and dismissals
  • not, under any circumstances, ever ever ever ever indicating that there might be any sexual activity in my thoughts or my life or my body
  • not talking about 'being a woman' or anything dumb and feminist like that
  • judging the success of my approach on the number of people who didn't realise from my writing that I was female.

These things pervade everything about how I comport myself online, and indeed in the industry. I posted a picture of my skirt on Twitter the other day, because the pattern reminded me of a Pokemon. I was anxious about posting it, in case it seemed like something that would lay me open to accusations of being a camwhore or an attention-seeking flirt. In the end, I decided I would, but was careful to take a picture where you could only see the pattern, and not—god forbid—some of my leg or something like that. It was a trivial post about a trivial thing, but - thanks to the degree of craziness that pictures of women on the internet can trigger—it felt like treacherous territory.

So when Mark talks about women who self-censor, he is talking about me. It took me a long time to recognise that, because since expressing what I think is such a central element of who I am that facing up to that fact is miserable.

And when LadyKeen makes her point, I sympathise and identify. But I also despair, a bit. Everyone—absolutely everyone—has to decide how to handle themselves online, how to construct themselves professionally. Everyone has to decide where to draw the barriers between their private and public life. We all self-edit, and we all *should* self-edit. It's a pleasure and a responsibility, both, to ensure that we are who we want to be and we have a generally non-shitty impact on the people around us.

But it has taken me a horribly long time to understand what an insidious impact the fear of attracting that degree of negative attention has on the way I present myself. It's taken me a while to recognise that a big part of why I don't post things like this is because I'm *scared*. Actually scared. Actually worried that I'll terminally undermine my credibility. And that's because the degree of abuse you can attract is of a different order from the generality of internet rough-and-tumble [interesting, newly-self-aware side note: I would normally have deleted 'rough-and-tumble' after writing it, because it could just about be interpreted as something titillating. Today, I'm leaving it in there]. General internet rough-and-tumble doesn't phase me. I'm secretly delighted that the 4th Google result for my name is 'Margaret Robertson is full of shit'. It amuses me enough that I've bought www.margaretrobertsonisfullofshit.com, even if I haven't quite figured out what to do with it yet. I think, on the whole, I can make my peace with being called a cunt for what I write, but I find it more daunting to be called a cunt for just having one.

That's a thing I wouldn't have written out-loud before today.

So I'm not saying that a degree of self-editing is bad. And I'm not saying that women (or men) shouldn't be try to be good at their jobs, or act professionally if they want to be treated professionally. I think women being great at what they do is the single best advert for that fact that women are great at what they do.

But in the end, I was right to think I was clever and smart. I have avoided making myself a target of sexist assholes by playing by their rules. I've done a *blinding* job of that so far.

I think I'm going to stop doing that now.

Margaret Robertson is development director at Hide&Seek, who make interesting games for interesting people. These creations include one adorable iPhone game and one unsettling, challenging documentary project.

Republished with permission.