Sexism, Twitter and what a hashtag can do: The #1reasonwhy phenomenon
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Within moments of Labor backbencher Steve Gibbons calling Julie Bishop a "bimbo" on Twitter yesterday morning, he was called to account. Within minutes he'd apologised. And when former Wallaby David Campese took to Twitter to question why "a girl" was writing about rugby yesterday afternoon, he too was quickly forced to change his tact: it was a joke, he said. He was "just asking the question".
That's what social media can do: ensure prominent individuals who make stupid, ill-considered comments are pilloried by others within seconds of posting them.
This year, we've seen social media emerge as a powerful force against sexism. We saw it with #destroythejoint a couple of months back, we've seen it in response to one-off tweets like those mentioned above, and we've seen it again this week as a powerful statement regarding the treatment of women in the gaming industry.
The use of the #1Reasonwhy hashtag has exploded internationally over the past 48 hours in response to a question posed by influential games designer Luke Crane. He asked "why are there so few lady game creators?" and he got his answer – thousands and thousands of them – from women, and some men, sharing their experiences of sexism and harassment in the gaming industry and offering some clues as to why it's so male-dominated. The story's been picked up all over the world, including by The Guardian, Time, Forbes and the Huffington Post. Gaming guide Kotaku has put together a great list of some of the best tweets about why women are so fed up with the industry.
Indeed, there are not many women working in gaming. Some industry sources locally put the figure below 10%. A global study in 2005 (the latest available, according to Mother Jones) found that men occupy 88% of the positions available. The few "lady game creators", as Crane put it, may also explain why there are few "lady game" protagonists who are as fierce, violent and capable as some of the male characters portrayed in the world's most popular games.
It's not because women are not playing games. We are. According to the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, 47% of Australian gamers are women. Even if we weren't, that'd be no excuse for a culture of sexism to perpetuate through an entire industry.
After all, the video game industry might be a growing, but it's by no means a niche one: ICEA showed it recorded $1.5 billion in revenue in 2011, while 92% of household have some kind of device for computer games and games account for 28% of non-subscription media spend in Australia. A recent PwC study forecast Australia's gaming stake to be worth $2.5 billion by 2015, swallowing other forms of media entertainment in the process. While the sector doesn't employ a huge amount of people locally, studios such as Halfbrick and IronMonkey are producing products downloaded millions and millions of times.
The gaming sector will continually expand and develop into new areas, and become an increasingly essential part of the leisure time and education – not to mention the development of our children.
It should be a major concern that this industry has so few women working in it, and that so many of the women who are involved are complaining about its high levels of sexism and harassment. And it's difficult to blame the "pale, male and stale" mentality here, as those employed in the sector are not all that old, not all that stale, and not all that culturally narrow.
The overwhelming response to Crane's question is a positive start. As GameSpot editors Carolyn Petit and Laura Parker outlined, it's encouraging to already see hashtag spinoffs, including 1ReasonMentor and 1Reasonto, telling young women why they should get involved.
Twitter has again put an issue out for all to see. Who knows who or what it will target next.