Note: For this article, we will continue to use the pseudonym the interview subject has requested in order to protect her professional identity.
I think that most women who are involved in the comics/gaming/general nerd worlds have at least one story similar to this, but I’ll go ahead and give you an example from my own repertoire of awfulness:
I post a photo of myself on my personal Tumblr wearing a Spider-Man ring. A few moments later, I receive a message: “Nice ring! What other superheroes do you like? What are your favorite Spider-Man stories?”
I respond: “I’m actually not a huge Spider-Man fan, but I love a lot of other Marvel characters. Nightcrawler, Hawkeye, and Kitty Pryde are some of my favorites.”
I receive another message: “So do you have any comic book panties?” I ignore it. A few minutes later, another message. “I said, do you have any panties with superheroes on them? Can I see them?”
This kind of unsolicited sexual harassment, apparently prompted by nothing but being female in an industry primarily dominated by men, is what happened to Alice Mercier. In a recent interaction with games reporter Josh Mattingly, Mercier was forced to participate in a dance that many women are familiar with: first a polite response, then another, then being forced to ignore. Like the Tess Fowler/Brian Wood scenario that played out earlier this year, Mercier had the bravery to put her story online and was immediately called to task.
“I know there were people saying that I was leading him on, or that I should have shut it down,” Mercier says in her recent interview with gaming website Kotaku.com. Mercier is facing the risk of becoming what she refers to as “that girl,” a dangerous prospect.
“Try not to make a scene, because you don’t want to be ‘that girl,’ and you don’t want to ruin the overall mood.”
Another anonymous gaming industry veteran interviewed by Kotaku agrees, saying “As a woman in game development, I have only so much political capital to spend before I get dismissed as a chick, [as] crazy, hysterical, shrill, stupid, not a real woman, not a real gamer.”
The Kotaku interview raises some very real and disheartening facts: the gaming industry is extremely competitive, with jobs difficult to come by even if you aren’t coming at it from the perspective of a group that is routinely shut out. Standing your ground or calling out sexual harassment puts your job and professional credibility in jeopardy, and many women choose to leave the field rather than directly deal with the sexual misconduct they are suffering. Even Mercier, after nearly ten years in the industry, is ready to call it quits.
“I’ve even been thinking about getting out of the industry as a whole, which would just be absolutely crushing for me, because it’s something I’ve wanted to be a part of my entire life, but I just—it’s worn me down a little thin.”
Mattingly’s apology (written as an open letter on his blog, not addressed to Mercier herself, whom he has apparently not contacted directly since the incident), seems sincere enough. But one open apology is not enough to wash away years of traumatizing harassment that women in the gaming industry have had to deal with. Throughout the interview, writer Rachel Edidin repeatedly mentions the steps Mercier has taken to protect her identity, which is no surprise with women in Mercier’s position extremely likely to be threatened with sexual violence online.
As hard as it is to read, this kind of information is extremely topical and necessary to acknowledge and share in order to effect change in these industries. I highly recommend reading the entire thing on Kotaku.com, however, I strongly recommend against reading the comments.