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Women writers share their thoughts on sexism in the game industry
Women writers share their thoughts on sexism in the game industry
August 15, 2014 | By Alex Wawro

August 15, 2014 | By Alex Wawro
More: Console/PC, Indie, Production

"The worst is when it's not overt. You never know if you didn't get the job — or weren't even considered — because you didn't play your hand right, or if they just secretly think a man could write it better or get along better with the rest of the team."
- Game and television writer Anne Toole shares her thoughts on sexism in the game industry.

Polygon ran a feature on women writers today that offers some solid insight into what it's like to be a woman writing for entertainment, with commentary from writers working in the game industry. It's worth reading for contemporary game developers, as it shines a light on how both overt and subtle sexism can bubble up in the game industry.

The writers interviewed -- among them Rhianna Pratchett (Tomb Raider), Anne Toole (The Witcher) and Susan O'Connor (Far Cry 2) -- shared some of their experiences writing for games, with comments casting the (comparatively young) game industry as a bit more hospitable to woman writers than the entrenched film industry.

"Everyone is still learning the best way to do things and how to make the most of out unique medium, so maybe it's a little more accommodating because of that," said Pratchett. "If you can do the job, you're in! Writing and narrative design are definitely field[s] which a lot of young women seem to be interested in entering."

Pratchett also shared some of her own experiences with sexism in the industry and cautioned that she may even have gotten off a bit easy due to her reputation as a journalist.

"It's been a positive experience for me personally," O'Connor told Polygon. "But I read the crappy news about sexism in games, just like everybody else. Those stories are real and I know it."

The full story is worth reading over on Polygon, if only for the insight it offers into the experiences of women who write for games.

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Robert Carter
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"The worst is when it's not overt. You never know if you didn't get the job — or weren't even considered — because you didn't play your hand right, or if they just secretly think a man could write it better or get along better with the rest of the team."

Why wouldnt you ALWAYS give the other person the benefit of the doubt, unless you had hard evidence of sexism/racism? Innocent until proven guilty and all that. Weve all had interviews where we weren't picked, in this industry competition is high.

Im reminded what Adam Corola once said, He had a cop be a total jerk to him for no discernible reason. He was just making things as difficult as possible for adam. If he were a different race than Adam he would have assumed racism because, what other motivation could there be? But he WAS the same so clearly this guy was just a dick. Adam realized that if the cop was a different color, Adam himself would have been the racist for assuming the guys motivations had to do with skin color.

If youre rejected and you assume the other party rejected you solely because they are a different gender and not because they displayed anything sexist in their behavior, isnt that sexist? I mean, most interviewers know your sex before the interview so that would indicate that its not an issue with them, right?

"The worst is when its overt. You never know..." There being possibly no sexism, since there is no clear sign of sexism, is worse than outright and complete sexism? I dont understand that.

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You don't get it, the assumption isn't if the person is racist or sexist, it's that the recurrent experience happen often enough to cast a "doubt". She is not saying the person is sexist she is saying that the situation is unreadable due to its frequency. She is not safe to assume it's only her.

That's why your example fail, this experience only happen once in a while for non oppressed people, not enough for them to understand the experience as it is anecdotal. If the sexism or racism is the common case it's safe to assume the other person MIGHT fall under it. And correctly reading the situation is essential to perform well.

If anything it cast even more pressure on the oppressed group to conform and more stress and pressure to perform well, which is more barrier to overcome. This pressure is literally non existent from the other perspective.

This mean that even passive sexism and racism actually harm the minority by creating a confuse sense of self in social settings, and why minor details does matter a lot even if you don't understand the fuss about it.

Robert Carter
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"... it's that the recurrent experience..."

How can you be sure its so frequent if you are unsure it is an incident? Why would you cast previous bad experiences onto this new person who, to your knowledge, has done you no wrong?

"... passive sexism and racism actually harm the minority... "

You mean, I assume, perceived sexism and racism with no evidence backing it up? Because racism and sexism are active actions, they cannot be performed passively. Racism and sexism are, by definition, done with motivation.

Im a minority too, if we must use labels, and if I dont have any evidence against an individual when I am scorned (job interview I didnt land, for example) I look at the situation as "I just didnt live up to the competition. I need to up my game!" and strive to improve wherever I can. I cant imagine thinking "They might have been racist..." without any evidence supporting that theory. It just seems so wrong to me... And honestly counter productive.

"... oppressed group..."

I think this word is thrown around a bit too much today. My mothers family came to America because a tank rolled through their building running over a neighbors daughter, during a genocidal war in Kosovo/Montenegro. That is oppression. My fathers family were forced onto reservations due to their heritage. Japanese were imprisoned for being Japanese, Blacks were hit with fire hoses for peaceful protests on the side walk. That is oppression.

Dealing with the occasional racist or sexist in a position to deny you employment is an inconvenience, at worst. And I have experienced that inconvenience, at a common retail chain at the local mall. She made it very clear to me why I was not being considered for full employment after the holiday rush, she was open about it. I refuse to believe that everyone who shot me down after that experience was just as evil, without evidence.

Ken Kinnison
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Oh I see, just an inconvenience, so just roll over and take it. Asking the question is the REAL sexism.

Robert Carter
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You misread my post and managed to stuff words in my mouth, bravo. Those instances of real sexism are awful and should be fought and talked about. I said that using the word 'oppressed' was stretching it. Words mean things.

The majority of my post was dealing with falsely attributing sexism for no reason other than the person is the opposite gender and therefore its a possibility. Do you have anything actual to comment about, or are you just here to paraphrase and twist what I said in an attempt to slander me?

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I'm part of a minority too, actually i'm privilege because I'm light skin, and the discrepancy are all over the place, it's not that hard to see in my position.

Oppressed is a word I don't use lightly, there is evident socio economics forces, there is facts, statistics and current events that support it. If you think this is just minor inconvenience it's just denials. This recurring behavior prevent class of people from achieving autonomy, decency and self worth by cornering them in a lower social class.

And no sexism and racism does not need any motivation anymore than cultural assumption made on people because of how they look, it's embedded in the culture. But it's made worse that when these people point at the discrepancy they are met with denial, dismissal and hates. It's not about people being evil kkk caricatures, that's a straw man.

Black for example have an history of over performing culturally and never reaping the rewards, the same is true for women who outperform men in grades yet get the low paying salaries and jobs on top of a more precarious life with more responsibility to take care of (family and kids) through social pressure. There is a whole passive re segregation going on that prevent middle class black family to pass their social standard to their children because white people avoid them and run away with investment from their neighbourg. Black people have an added burden that if aggression in perpetrated against them and they fight back it's them who will get jail, while the reverse will more likely to be acquitted, even in the case of murder (see the long list of trials cases on the matter). When fact like white on black violence is the biggest threat to a black person lives. It's pretty safe actually to say black people lives in a kind of totalitarian police state right now in america given the long list of recent incidents, despite the fact that among all ethnicities black women have the better education rates (yes even before asian). I can pour a long list of articles from various sources that isn't even about racism or sexism to support this, but you will still dismiss them.

Yet most of these people would try to assume first and for a very long time that the problem is really them, not paint the other as a racist. For a good reason, saying there is racism and sexism does not mean that the other is aware, however denies it when it happen, again and again and again is really worrisome.

Assuming it's occasional is really delusional.

Robert Carter
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"... actually i'm privilege because I'm light skin..."

You and I may just have to agree to disagree on this. I dont believe someone with lighter skin than myself has privilege, nor do I feel privileged over those with darker skin than I. That makes no sense. There are people who do not reap the benefits of their efforts, and sometimes the reasons they dont is do to racial or sexual lines.

However I believe this to be the minority of cases, and that it becomes less common as time goes on and as the common man has an increased voice in affairs (social media, etc.). I see political candidates like Mia Love, talented writers like Gail Simone. Im sure that even these success stories meet adversity (I know Gail has), but they overcome. Have there been a success story that DIDNT overcome hurdles of similar nature? I dont think there are many.

Racism and sexism happen, obviously, and they do hold people back and its terrible and should be highlighted when it happens. All I said was assuming that was the case with absolutely no evidence is wrong, counter productive, and potentially dangerous.

"When fact like white on black violence is the biggest threat to a black person lives. It's pretty safe actually to say black people lives in a kind of totalitarian police state right now..."

No, I believe the number one threat to a black individual is black on black violence, if you look at actual statistics. But that point is irrelevant, as I TOTALLY disagree that "blacks live in a totalitarian state". Gays and women in Iran live in a totalitarian state because they are publicly hanged and stoned for the crime of existing.

You speak of recent events, meaning Fergison I believe. The police of that city have been absurd to act the way they have, to take as long as they did to take the death seriously enough to investigate heavily. The outrage there was warranted (though not the rioting). The use of military equipment by police to keep order was also horrible and not warranted.

But the situation is being looked at. If the cop is convicted of murder, racially motivated or otherwise, he will be sentenced for murder. Cops are not allowed to go around shooting people for any reason, especially race. If you think that blacks live in a totalitarian state, you dont know what a totalitarian state is.

I do not wish to debate you further on the matter of current events, as I believe we both believe deeply in our positions, have made both of our positions clear, and we have gone quite a bit off topic. If you would like the last word you may take it, I will not reply.

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Okay you will not replied but I have a right to answer ;)

First when i'm talking about my own privilege it's first hand experience, no amount of rhetoric and their internal consistency can beat the real world. I have been chosen many time just because of how I look over people who are overqualified but happen to have the wrong look or gender, plus I have a nice European sounding name, people just assume I am smarter or more competant. So I know it's a real things. I'm caraibean but ethnically ambiguous, so I register as any ethnicities depending on peoples sensibilities, this allow me for casual racism tourism. The worst is when you think it's all well and fine with people but then an events happen and suddenly you became the other, like that day at school in france where strange things happen, and the guardian I befriend with came straight to me ignoring every over people because I was the one loosely brown, one hand preparing to reach his weapon, a deep fear look in the eyes, and guess what I didn't mind, it seems normal, until I see how shocked and shaken my white girl friend was around me, she noticed he would go straight at me because i was "different". That's the problem, I can never be sure that in exceptional case I won't be cast as the dangerous other, and thankfully for me the context was safe, what if I happen to be at the wrong place and didn't know him? would have been shoot as it happen so many time? And what about friend I lost when I decided naively to make a game featuring a black women, being told I should be over this and that my game isn't universal enough? Are they being racist or "black peoples isn't just their things"? We just strive for normalcy, for decency.

Even though you can say this my anecdotal experience, then how does it is so common and reported, how many does make it non anecdotal. And even beyond the people, what about the fact? How many evidence, fact and statistic, comparison against demographics would you need before accepting the fact? You say "I believe" but where is the proof, your belief don't make reality, I don't not believe there is racism, I witness it and there is measure of it. And of course this is the same about sexism, they are similar case.

BTW you are wrong on the black on black statistics. I know I' have been studying the matter for almost one years and I animate a subforums about it. I have done my homework, do yours!
4809081.html?&ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000067 Don't believe! investigate!
How about the fact that 1on3 afro american is likely to end in jails vs 1on17 white skin american?
Or the fact that if you are a black women walking on the street in new york and the police check and find a condom on you, then you will be charge on prostitution (disregarding the fact that they will more likely check women on the blackest skin more often)

Oh and thanks for #ferguson, I was busy working on my black skin women model, there is so many scandal each week it's hard to keep track of all of them, even though ferguson seems to loudest at the moment for you to notice.

But let's talk about the problem of success. See here success is not the problem, the problem are all the untold story on the trench, the success is there to say "this should not be" as a proof they can exist in the field they are denied. Because girl get turn down at every opportunities the success of one of them is proof that turning them down isn't an evidence. The problem is that for every male success there is thousand in the trenches that works and are accepted happily unlike women who must fight just to stay. It's not about the success, it's about the legitimacy of being in the field. It's the fact that despite their achievement and success women (and minorities) are cast out of the normal process, it doesn't matter if there is real business opportunities (44% of movie goer was women on guardian of the galaxies, in game women are more likely to spend money as a whole, they also are almost half of the gaming population). By this point there is no more reason but "belief" as the fact and proof piles on. And when belief is not supported by facts it's a fantasy, a fiction, a lie! You are supporting your belief by facts just building a confirmation bias.

About the addendum let me point you at "tone argument", a very common rethoric use to silence the other as being emotional and not rational. Nope, I'm being assertive yes, I have so many of these discussion by now I'm pretty confident in my assertion, since you are all about belief without support. I'm not making assumption about you nor I did insult you, the reason why you can see those phrase by an "if" is precisely because I'm not making that assumption. But are really interested in a discussion? you don't seem to have a position in which you investigate, belief is not investigation, I have done my homework before arguing, it's not belief in my case at all.

Robert Carter
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One addendum,

"If you think this is just minor inconvenience it's just denials"
"Assuming it's occasional is really delusional."
"I can pour a long list of articles ... but you will still dismiss them."

Dont make assumptions about me or insult me in your posts, please. If you hold a different position than I do, I do not assume its because "you dismiss" the evidence I state, I assume its because you draw different conclusions from it. Please do me the same courtesy. If you are incapable of this, then you are incapable of civil discussion.

John Ingato
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@Timmy GILBERT. Bullshit..Period. If you believe this then your making excuses.

Gwynfor Richards
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What a bizarre load of twaddle based of the loosest of logic, unverifiable premises and ill defined weasel words. It has little connection to reality and is barely even internally consistent. There is an old adjective for this type of writing, it's called self indulgent navel gazing, and is the pastime of privileged people with too much time on their hands. If this is the type of sophistry they are teaching in universities these days then God help us, and God help those sub-cultures their graduates are commenting on.

Anne Toole
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I would never ever ever assume sexism was afoot. Sorry that wasn't clear.

In unrelated news, you can be the same gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. and still suffer from unconscious prejudice toward your group. Wee...

John McMahon
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@Anne From reading the article, that seems clear. But any statement taken from a conversation never does comprise of the entirety of that person's beliefs and intentions.

Sometimes people just take a sound bite and run with it. Thanks for your work on House M.D. and looking forward to Dead Island 2

Freek Hoekstra
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I very much dislike this assumption of being sexist for not hiring someone,
what happened to the best person for the job, gets the job period.

to assume sexism to me is completely backwards...
There can be many reasons why someone is not hired:
maybe her work just isn't good enough,
or not quite what they are looking for right now.
and they found someone better suited for the job, who might also be female...

I mean this happens all the time to everybody, but in this case the person happens to be female, so yeah must be sexism...

We have tons of great female writers in the industry as well as in other entertainment branches in high positions. This to me seems like looking for a problem that doesn't exist (atleast not where I work) and is very much assuming sexism without any proof whatsoever. that that in my opinion is detracting from the real issues that do need attention, and providing fodder for others to simply point and say see, it's all made up!

Barrie Tingle
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"may even have gotten off a bit easy due to her reputation as a journalist."

More likely to be because of who her father is if anything. I know her more that way than a journalist.

Either way, we know sexism does exist and the industry as a whole has a long way to go both behind the screen and in terms of what we put on the screen.

Christian Nutt
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You may know her more from that, but she was well-known in the UK development scene -- she, herself, not her dad -- before she transitioned to writing for games.

Steve Cawood
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If women spent more time making games than worrying about sexism then they'd be more women in the industry.

John McMahon
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Katy Smith
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My god, you're right! If only I spent the last 10+ years in the industry just making games instead of worrying about sexism, I'll bet there would be at least 3.26 more women developers right now! Because not making waves is totally the way to make things better and more inclusive! =/

Steve Cawood
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What's to make waves about? If you've been in the industry for 10+ years then any woman can. It's not rocket science, if you're good at your job you'll be hired male or female.

Stephen Horn
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This blog post seems relevant to this thread.

Edit: Maybe a shortened version will work better.

Katy Smith
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If you think I just applied and then magically got a job making games, I hate to break it to you, but it was a huge pain in the ass, which turned into a capital Pain in the Ass because of covert (and overt) sexism.

When I decided to change careers, I was told I shouldn't because "I might make men uncomfortable being the only woman in the room".

When I was in school, I was told I had to listen to one guy's feedback because "people aren't going to go easy on you in code reviews, just because you're a girl"

Also in school I was told "you must be here because you want to find a husband."

The interview for my first real game job was almost three hours long, compared to about 30 minutes for some of the other candidates. Later, when I mentioned it, I was told "It's because we were trying to find some reason not to hire a girl because we weren't sure if you would fit the company culture".

At almost every conference, I get asked if I'm part of HR or another developer's girlfriend.

It took me ages of nagging my boss to let me lead a team and when I did it successfully he said "I'm glad it turned out well! I thought you'd be too emotional for it!"

On a publisher meeting me in person for the first time "Oh, you're cuter than you sound on the phone".

When I worked on Madden, I had people trying to explain football to me, even though I'd been a) working on the project for longer than they had and b) had season tickets to Buccaneers games for the better part of 15 years.

I had a boss tell me "I have trouble seeing you as anything other than [my husband's] wife".

And that doesn't even cover all of the non-gender related crap everybody has to put up with in getting a job.

So if I didn't make waves, I never would have made it back to school. I never would have made it through my job interview. I never would have been placed in a leadership position...I never would have had a career.

Look, I don't run around and think every guy is a sexist douchenozzle who is out to get me. In fact, in most of those examples above, I genuinely like the people who said that stuff. You can be a nice guy and still say stupid things / believe wrongly sometimes. However, there is a GREATER THAN ZERO chance that gender discrimination will happen. Is that a 1% chance or a 42% chance? Nobody knows because it's covert. And it really frosts my cookies when someone comes in and flippantly says "Bootstraps young madam! If he can do it, than by jove all you have to do is have the moxy to try! But don't have too much moxy! That will make waves and people will be uncomfortable! We wouldn't want you to would we?"

And when you are aware of how you have been treated poorly in the past and someone says "If women spent more time making games than worrying about sexism then they'd be more women in the industry." that's what they sound like.

Benjamin Quintero
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KS, you worked at a studio who's lone purpose was to churn out one of the most bromantic franchises in gaming's long history. It's big sweaty men rubbing skin and tossing balls. =) The entire office was practically a mens locker room, filled with armchair quarterbacks.

I don't mean this disrespectfully, because I don't want to sound like I'm defending their statements... but... don't pet a shark in the mouth and not expect to get bit. Either way, I'm glad you stuck it out while you were there.

Adam Bialogonski
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From my experience with female developers I have never seen any similar case to yours. Companies I used to work for ( I'm not games industry any more ) didn't have any problems with hiring women. We've been hiring women to take various creative roles - artists, programmers, as well as lead and managing. I worked with great artists, programmers, technical leads, project managers, designers ( I think artists and designers are most common roles among women ). I didn't see it ever mattered they were women. 10 years ago, shortly after I joined one of the companies, the woman became a head of my team and she was very good leader. Maybe you're just picking wrong companies? Games industry is rotten to the core, so it's easy to find self in uncomfortable position for various reasons. And if it happens you meet a**holes during interviews or at any level of the employment ( in any industry ) then obviously do act against it. This is not acceptable behaviour.

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I think you people are taking the problem in the wrong way.

The first question should be are there more men than women in the profession ? (note : this question could be also asked this way, are their, for the recruiter, more left handed or right handed person)

The implications are simple statistics. The distribution of "from 1 to 10 do I hire this person ?" are similar in each arbitrary chosen group. (This is where any kind of discrimination enters)

In a pool of 1000 people there are let's say 100 left handed and 900 right handed. Assuming 10% of people get a 10 then it makes 10 left handed and 90 right handed.

The choice is "random" in this population. If I would hire 10 people I would pick 1 left handed and 9 right handed.

It does not make me a left handed hater.

Now, there is a sexism in our (almost all) human culture, but there is also a ugly/beauty discrimination, a small/little, seems stupid/smart, etc, etc ...

PS : this is not a reason to stay a little prat ;)

Bob Johnson
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People of color play the racism card. Women play the sexism card. Old people play the senior card.

Anyone not in those categories plays affirmative action card.

Amir Barak
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I guess old black jewish gay women play poker...

Arnaud Clermonté
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Not knowing why you didn't get the job is a very bad example for sexism.
It happens to everybody. I'm a white dude and dozens of times I had no clue of why I didn't get a job ( probably because there was someone better )
Hell, there was even times when I didn't know why I was being fired.

Jonathan Lin
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Has anyone actually read the linked Polygon article? It provides some fascinating quotes from women w/ plenty of insight and experience from both the video game and film industries. At the time of this comment's writing, all I see are re-hashed sexism debate comments, or comments centered around an imperfect example of sexism at the top of the article. That quoted example, if anything, is but one small, insignificant segment of the entire linked Polygon article.

Benjamin Quintero
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@JL The comments reflect what Gamasutra chose to highlight. Overall I would say the source article did have some interesting stats and valued commentary from famed writers.

"I think 99.5% of the audience doesn't care about the gender of the writer; they care about the quality of the story."

Yet we choose to focus on the 0.5%. Priorities...

Benjamin Quintero
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I am so tired of this conversation... I could make a joke about a topic on women "nagging" me but I wouldn't want to be called sexist.

Seriously, people. Can we get past this already?! Is this really an issue or are we just digging up age old war stories about how tough women used to have it? Or are we sensationalizing the fraction of assholes out there. Those assholes are rude to everyone, men are no exception. Frankly 99% of the "sexism" I've read about on this site are inferences made out of insecurity, not objective factual events.

Did someone grab your ass and call you sweet cheeks? Okay I get it. Do they whistle when you walk by their office? Understood, let's change that. Do they constantly drop inappropriate hints about sleeping with them? I hear you loud and clear; that 1 guy is an ass. Does a room full of guys telling jokes about their wives close the door when they see you strolling down the hall? Guess what, that's probably not going to change... Men are dogs, and women are cats. They may coexist but they aren't cut from the same cloth. Accept it. It doesn't mean that women aren't capable, it just means that aren't exactly the same and it is as nature intended. The purpose of your life as a woman is not to seek out a man's acceptance, it is simply to endure just like the rest of us do. The reason why you may feel slightly disconnected from those men and the reason why they don't fart when you are in the room might be the same. Did you ever think about that?

To be perfectly honest, I've seen more distance and animosity between women than I EVER have between a male boss and a female subordinate, or equal co-workers. I've had woman confide in me and flat out lie to each other. They would stab each other in the back just because they are a woman. They form clicks, spread rumors, and treat each other like it's high school all over again. It's pretty disgusting and I've never seen men treat each other the way women do. The most spiteful and underhanded office politics I've seen in all my years have almost always turned out to be sourced from a woman. So before we see any big movement for women's rights (assuming there is still an issue), how about women fix their own problems first. Just saying...

Andy Thomas
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Everytime I see sexism come up all I see is nothing but the blame game being played.