What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

[Update 3/28]

I apologize in advance for the vulgar language.

Yesterday a lot of the fears that kept me from speaking out for so long were realized. Although the general response to my words was overwhelmingly positive, I was and still am being called a stupid bitch, a cunt, and “all that is wrong with womankind.” I’ve been insulted, misrepresented, and threatened.

I’m not going to lie. It hurts. But I stand by the content of my blog, and the primary message of empowerment behind it. The private messages from both men and women relaying that my words have helped them gather courage to stand up for themselves makes it absolutely worthwhile. The best part is that I’ll be going on the journey with them. Standing up (for myself) is new to me, too.

I’d like to address a few common questions, though. Firstly, I didn’t name the outlet because I’ve found recently that a few individuals championing a good cause can rapidly spin out of control into an angry mob, to a point that it seems acceptable to threaten physical harm against others. This isn’t acceptable and is counterproductive to the positive message. Therefore, as the situation was already dealt with by PAX, I left it anonymous, and instead focused on the bigger issue of harassment and sexism in the game industry and cosplay culture.

That being said, the website in question has made a point to out themselves and accuse me of using this blog as a platform to promote my “modeling career” and make several other unflattering insinuations in now-deleted comments. If you happen upon the conversation, which I’m still not going to link to, I ask that you please remain mature about your viewpoints even if others are not.

Reading said comments, the most common argument I’m hearing in defense of the outlet’s behavior is that it was intended as a joke. I get that it was intended to be a joke, but I don’t think it was funny, or appropriate, especially considering how young some of the cosplayers were. To be honest, I wouldn’t have taken the issue to PAX if the press member had apologized after I told him it was rude and unprofessional. What caused me to take it to PAX was the subsequent comments, especially the “they are dressed sexy, so they are asking for it” line. I see that as a very dangerous way of thinking for a professional to hold at a convention.

As for if all of the girls were uncomfortable, I can’t speak for each and every one of them. I apologized to the group several times for not knowing the angle of the interview, and they accepted my apology. I did, however, have two of the cosplayers contact me personally and thank me for standing up for them after what they deemed as inappropriate behavior, because they wouldn’t have done it themselves. One also wrote about the experience in this story. In a moment of self-doubt, I also asked the crowd around me who had watched the scene unfold if I’d acted out of line, as by the end of our back and forth I was outwardly angry at the press member. Four to five people in earshot agreed that he was incredibly disrespectful, especially with his latter comments. At least three individuals brought me their cameras in an unsolicited response, pulling up photos they took to help me identify him.

Either way, if you agree or disagree that the punishment was fitting for the comment, I want to stress that this blog was about more than the incident at PAX. Yes, in the full spectrum of harassment, the initial “joke” (but not the following comments) registers fairly low on the scale. The PAX encounter was a catalyst to a discussion about a bigger issue, however. This is a problem in our industry. This is something that needs to be addressed. I’ve not even detailed the worst encounters (which turned physical) that I’ve come across below. And I’m just one woman. So the crux of this blog was to draw attention to a very real problem, and to do so with a positive message of standing up for one’s self.

A few smaller points:

  • I honestly can’t see how the photo to the right of this blog is sexually suggestive or undermines my message. I find this line of thinking really unfortunate. That being said, if you’re one of the individuals calling out my cosplay or old modeling shots as a means to try and discredit my voice, I can’t help but feel that your mind has already been made. Fighting to change that opinion seems futile if my words have not resonated already.
  • To all you awesome men in the industry, please don’t feel the need to apologize for the actions of others in your gender. Part of this blog was to bring to light that I want to be treated like a unique individual, and not just have it assumed that all women are comfortable with the same sets of behavior. You’ve got nothing to apologize for if you’ve done nothing wrong.

Thanks for listening, all.

[Original Blog] 

As many of my female peers are doing at the moment, I’m reading a book by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg called Lean In. The first chapter asks: What would you do if you weren’t afraid? 

My answer? I’d write this blog.

Hello. My name is Meagan Marie, and I’m a person. I’ve decided I’m going to start standing up for myself in order to be more frequently treated like one.

Something transpired at PAX this weekend that was a true eye opener. While hosting a Tomb Raider cosplay gathering, comprised of eight or so incredibly nice and talented young women, a member of the press asked if he could grab a quick interview. I said he’d need to ask them, not me, and they agreed. He squeezed into the group and posed a question. I couldn’t hear what he said over the hubbub of the show floor, but the confused and uncomfortable looks from the ladies indicated that it wasn’t what they expected, to say the least.

I moved in closer and inquired “Excuse me, what did you ask?” with a forced smile on my face, so to give him the benefit of the doubt. He laughed and didn’t respond, moving a few steps away as I repeated the question to the group of women. Turns out he’d probed what it felt like “knowing that none of the men in this room could please them in bed.” Yes, I’m aware it’s a poor adaptation of a gag told by a certain puppet dog with an affinity for insults. Lack of originally doesn’t excuse this behavior, however.

My anger flared upon hearing this, and for a moment I almost let it get the best of me. I attempted to calm myself down before walking towards him and the cameraman, and expressing that it was rude and unprofessional to assume that these young women were comfortable discussing sexual matters on camera. I intended to leave the conversation at that, but his subsequent response escalated matters quickly and clearly illustrated that this ran much deeper than a poor attempt at humor. He proceeded to tell me that “I was one of those oversensitive feminists” and that “the girls were dressing sexy, so they were asking for it.” Yes, he pulled the “cosplay is consent” card.

At this point, as he snaked off into the crowd muttering angrily at me, I was livid. Actually shaking a bit. It was inexcusable in my mind to treat the group of women in this manner, especially when I gathered them there to participate in an official capacity. I suppose I felt protective for this reason. As if I’d exposed them to an undesirable element of the convention. They united to celebrate their fandom, only to have an uncomfortable and unprofessional moment captured on film.

As I stated publicly this weekend, we escalated the issue to PAX and they responded with overwhelming concern and worked to ensure he wouldn’t bother anyone at the this or future PAX events. They handled the situation with flying colors.

But this encounter isn’t the crux of my blog. This blog is about what I came to realize as a result of the press member’s actions. And what I realized is this: When it comes to defending others, I’m fierce. I’m assertive. And I will hold my ground. One of the cosplayers tweeted me to praise my bravery and say they wish they had the courage to stand up too. The truth is my bravery doesn’t run that deep. When it comes to defending myself I’m a rug that is walked over repeatedly. This has to stop.

Similar behavior has been directed at me for years. Back in 2007 at my very first GDC, I was starry-eyed and overwhelmed to be in the midst of so many people I idolized. So when a drunken CEO of a then-startup pointed to my midsection and said “I want to have my babies in there,” I laughed. I did the same next year when another developer told me that he “didn’t recognize me with my clothes on” after meeting me the night prior at a formal event (to which I wore a cocktail dress). The trend continued for years, and I took it silently each and every time.

It got so bad that one of my Game Informer coworkers had to sit me down and convince me to file a complaint against a massive publisher, after one of their PR leads repeatedly commented about how much he “loved my tits” at a party. Each time I laughed it off and internalized my embarrassment, cementing a fixed smile on my face while fighting back tears. Why? Because I was afraid to rock the boat. I was afraid to perpetuate rumors that I was uptight, difficult, or had no sense of humor. I was afraid of what I’d heard being said about other women being said about me. So I would stick up for others, but never for myself. Sticking up for others was the right thing to do. I had to be careful not to stick my neck out too far, though.

I’m ashamed to admit my lack of courage has continued to this day. While on a press tour in Europe late last year I sat alone with an interviewer while he set up his camera. PR was talking to another member of the press just out of earshot. I asked the journalist what his readers would like to know about me first, per the introduction he outlined earlier. He responded nonchalantly, “Well, they’d really like to see you naked.” I was so shocked I didn’t even register what he said, and I defaulted to my uncomfortable chuckle and frozen smile. I conducted the interview as if nothing had happened. I should have walked out of the room then and there. I should have immediately reported it to PR. But I didn’t, because I was afraid.

And while these industry comments hurt the most, as they often do when coming from peers, I’ve got hope for change even if it is motivated by fear. In a social economy where one unprofessional tweet can ruin a career, I feel like the few unsavory industry personalities are becoming more aware of their words. My line in the sand doesn’t end there, though. I’m going to start holding commenters accountable for their actions too, even if I can only do so on my social spaces.

So here is the deal. I’m a person. I’m not just a “girl on the internet.” I am not comfortable with you remarking on my breasts. I am not comfortable with you implying that you’d like to have sex with me. And I don’t appreciate you rating my looks against my girlfriends in candid photos.

While I can’t stop these comments and questions from arising when they pop up on random blogs across the web, I can stand up and say that that I won’t accept being talked to in this manner anymore. I’m not simply going to ignore you; I’m going to call you out and tell you that you’re being inappropriate. Just because I have a public job and an equally public hobby doesn’t give you the right to ignore my comfort zone.

The situation this weekend at PAX made me question why I’m willing to stand up for others, but not myself. By allowing myself to be treated this way I’m perpetuating that this behavior is acceptable. And it isn’t. If I continue to stand by silently, I might as well sit on the sidelines and watch while other young women endure what I have.

The treatment and representation of women in gaming has come to a head this past year, and I know some of you are tired of hearing about it. I’m tired of living it. I want to feel safe and valued as a member of this industry, whether I’m conducting an interview, talking to fans on a convention floor, or cosplaying. And I have a right to that.

I’m not afraid anymore. I’m angry.

[For those of you who have been so supportive these past years, both in the industry and out, please know this blog isn’t directed at you. I can’t imagine dedicating my life to anything other than video games. And that’s why I’m going to fight my hardest to leave it a better place.]