On The Crossover Episode 8 today, a very important conversation happened. Sarah Parmenter and Whitney Hess joined Dan and Haddie to speak about serious harassment that both women have experienced. Sarah’s story in particular was harrowing, in that someone specifically targeted her by faking porn pictures of her and going out of his (come on, it’s a he) way to try to expose those photos to everyone in her large and prestigious professional circle. She wrote a recent blog post about the issue, which Whitney followed with a post of her own, and both women were very eloquent and amazing as they told their stories. I urge you to go consume all of that content for yourself, in this order: Sarah, Whitney, Crossover. Go back and do that before you finish this post! Or don’t, but you should. :)

I’m not a stranger to harassment, but I’m lucky. I haven’t been nearly as harassed or harassable as most of my female colleagues at most jobs I’ve worked at. I don’t know exactly why; I expect it has something to do with being naturally tall and loud, both of which are things I can’t change about myself (at least not easily). I hope part of it is my personality, too, but I honestly don’t know. I used to attract harassment when I was a teenager, but only from random strangers when I’d walk around the city, etc. Never from people I interacted with on a regular basis. That came later in life, and in a subtler costume.

I was harassed at my first “real” job after college, as a legal assistant for an attorney who turned out to be a Red Flag Elemental. I didn’t realize it until I’d been there a while, but his harassment of me was much subtler than anything I had learned to spot as harassment, even though I grew up surrounded by hippie feminist liberals. I was more skeeved out by some of the questionable law practices in that office than by any of the potentially inappropriate harassment-type stuff, and I booked it pretty quickly even though I didn’t have a good exit strategy, because I just didn’t want to be around that vibe even if it meant I was broke and desperate and totally alone.

That drove me to a different law firm job, for a high-powered attorney who was both feminist and old-fashioned. She always wore below-the-knee skirts with nylons because you never knew when you’d end up in court, and some judges are old school enough to believe women shouldn’t wear pants in their courtrooms. (That thing that happened to Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife? Totally happens in real life.) She was a very ethical senior partner, but shady things still happened out of her line of sight. After I left the firm, and I believe after my former boss passed away, I heard through the grapevine that a female legal assistant was let go after sticking up for herself when a partner (later disbarred for unrelated reasons) smacked her rear with a newspaper in the copy room. I like to think such a thing wouldn’t have happened on her watch, but I think lesser things must have.

Then I moved on to jobs with a more subtle type of harassment; the ones where you’re denied opportunities for growth because you’re female, or you inherit a higher-powered position without inheriting a commensurate salary bump, or you’re spoken to in different ways than your male counterparts for the same types of offenses, or mansplaining is inescapable. Those are standard rate at almost any place of work, and you have to learn how to advocate for yourself in those circumstances. There’s discussion I don’t care to expand upon here about how that’s partly gendered behavior; about how some men face those same challenges. I don’t doubt it. But all that was minor league stuff compared to what I encountered when I entered the video game industry.

Working as a female in games is a blessing and a curse. So many amazing women are entering the field more and more often, but I get why they’re reluctant. I get why the #onereasonwhy phenomenon struck. Women who are comfortable wearing attractive clothes are slobbered over; inappropriately joked about or to. Women who are not conventionally attractive are the subject of some seriously messed-up conversations and jokes. It doesn’t help when you work on a product that has a minimum cup size of approximately Z for all its female NPCs; I hate to think of what the entertainment (or adult entertainment) industries are like. The most wildly inappropriate things have happened at the allegedly-AAA places I’ve worked at, though I have to say it seems like working in QA is truly the dregs. Testers and people who work in testing somehow seem to have a massive overlap with people who either lack appropriate social graces, or choose to override them to deliberately harass, belittle, demean, and disgust the women in their workplace. This is insanely frustrating as a tester who simply loves being picky about errors and making things look better. I didn’t ask for the stigma that accompanies a burning perfectionist core and a devil’s-in-the-details eye. (Watch me make like nine typos in this post.)

I don’t yet feel like I have enough distance or legal protection to get into the specifics about the things that have happened to me and to my female coworkers. But you know the strangest thing? Big Tech jobs are where I’ve felt by FAR the least amount of harassment thus far. Big Tech is where everyone was professional to me, where there was a decent balance of women vs. men (even if the women tended to be more PMs and the men more SDEs), and where I generally felt that there was less homophobia, bigotry, and inappropriate expression. It wasn’t gone, but it wasn’t nearly as rough as when I worked in video games. I felt more of a dev/business animosity than any kind of male/female animosity. But I also wasn’t in any Big Tech role for long, and I was always there primarily as a linguist for hire, and not a lasting asset.

I’m grateful that I haven’t gone through the types of things that Sarah and Whitney (and yes, even Haddie) have experienced. But you know what? I suspect it’s coming. I’m prettier than I used to be (neither fishing nor bragging; I simply know how to put myself together better than I used to). I’ve gained a bunch of weight, which in some views makes me less attractive, but of course I’m curvier as a result and that invites a different kind of harassment. I’m also likely to become pregnant at some point, which will invite a different kind of creepiness, I hear. And I’m growing my business. My Twitter following has more than doubled in the past few months, and my Facebook page is growing slower but will probably take off if I do things right. I’m trying to scale up a very public business that involves very personal and intimate interactions, and I don’t know how far it will go, but I aim to become something of a minor media figure someday kinda soon.

I’m sure that unacceptable trolling and harassment  is something I’ll face again even though I don’t work in game studios or law offices any more. Stories like the ones Whitney, Haddie and Sarah shared help raise awareness, help women everywhere stand up for themselves, and help educate and encourage men to stand up for an environment free from sexism, harassment and nastiness. Please go peruse their stores, and please pay it forward in whatever way you can by impacting your own circles with an understanding of the fact that it is absolutely not okay to tolerate harassment, even the minor kind. Women everywhere need your support. (Including me.)

© Virginia Roberts 2013 and beyond