The following is what I just posted on "The Fellowship of GDC Parties" group in Facebook, where a discussion has grown around the half-naked models at the Yetizen party at GDC last week.
I really actively dislike being in the midst of controversy, so I say this with reluctance. But as I’ve been a Yetizen mentor and speaker, a supporter of what Sana and Japeth are doing, and also a man who has always pushed for the inclusion of more women in the game industry, an active contributor to various Women in Games movements/discussions, a father of a now 21-year-old daughter, and saw the Yetizen party first-hand, I find I am in the midst of a conflict and must speak up.
I am not a believer in black and white issues about body image and sexism. I think it’s all a continuum, you’ll always find people more extreme than you in any direction, and context is very important. That said, I think the women wearing only body paint from the waist up at a games industry party, literally on the arm of one of the founders of the company, sends a very destructive image.
I find it all the more personally frustrating as when I met Sana at a GDC before Yetizen, two (or was it three?) years ago, I instantly recognized her as one of the new generation of women in game development, working on an equal basis with men, competent and smart. When she co-founded Yetizen, and I met Japeth, who I instantly liked as well, I was happy to help them by mentoring new startups.
But topless women as arm candy (I’m only addressing this as I didn’t see the other “entertainment”) sends the message that women are pretty sex objects, it’s the men who are in charge and don’t you forget it, sweetie. Yes, objectifying women for the entertainment of men has been around for a long time and exists at many levels of society, including some of high finance. You could say the same thing about racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia, that’s not a reason to perpetuate them.
I ran into one woman at the party who headed up a startup I mentored, and the expression on her face as the topless models walked by was painful. I don’t think I’m being sexist here - if it had been Sana walking by with her arms around two men wearing jockstraps and blue paint I’d have been equally uncomfortable.
I also ran into a friend, a respected speaker and president of a game company with 20 years industry experience, and she confirmed to me her active outrage. Tiny sample, yes - but they were in fact the only women at the party I knew. Clearly from the statements here (FB) and on other mailing lists, there were MANY others who felt the same way.
Yetizen is a young company, and people make mistakes. But denying that this IS a mistake, and publicly defending it with comments about how it’s the only way to get big investors, and the defenses I’m seeing here sounds to me a lot like what Rush Limbaugh recently did, and with similar consequences. I’m reluctantly cancelling my upcoming Yetizen mentor talk on March 26th, and withdrawing my support from the company, pending a change of heart. I urge my fellow mentors to do the same.