Preview: The Power of Perception: Media and Women in Tech
With the addition of an Online Harassment Summit in the aftermath of an admitted lapse in judgement on SXSW’s part, SXSW goers got a sobering look at the unfortunate power of online threats. More unfortunate, online harassment is only one sphere in gaming and tech that desperately needs progress for women. Media representation also plays a significant role in how the public perceives the cause of women in tech.
Brianna Wu, Head of Development at Giant Spacekat, is no stranger to the challenges women face both on and offline. As an outspoken advocate for women in the gaming industry, Wu has an insightful perspective on media representation of women.
Something that I think is so telling is that I have been talking about women in tech issues for literally my entire career, but it wasn’t until I started getting death threats, rape threats, getting doxxing regularly, that the media really tuned into it. I see this pattern where it seems like if we’re talking about women’s issues, nobody really cares until there’s a tragedy.
2015 saw an abundance of eye-opening events gain traction on social media. Asked if social media has been helpful for advocacy in these issues, Wu said, “I think it goes both ways. Hearing these stories of police abuse to women of color and people of color has really opened my consciousness and made me more aware of that issue. And I think it’s happening all across the board – on transgender rights, people of color, for feminists.”
At the same time, there is an increasingly visible dark side of social media. Doxxing, in which harassers find and publish private or personally identifying information and publish it online, is a major problem for high-profile tech females such as Wu. Along with other feminist activists in the industry, Wu is on a mission to both educate people about online harassment and to publicly pressure companies such as SXSW when mistakes are made.
“The dark side to that (activism) is (receiving) rape threats, death threats, harassment, doxxing. The tactic of personal destruction. That has never been more present than it is today. It’s a brutal time to live through for everyone concerned.”
With legislators and major tech companies in attendance at SXSW, Wu sees opportunity in the March 12 Online Harassment Summit despite her frustrations. “I look at the opportunity overall and I try to tell myself that this is not about my feelings. This is about raising the issue of harassment and making progress. (It’s) an opportunity to get high level industry people, very visible women in tech and tech companies together in the same room to come up with some practical solutions. You can’t even put a value on that, it’s so important.”
Wu describes general discussion of these issues thus far to be philosophical in nature rather than solutions oriented. “What we tend to do is get a bunch of feminists and a bunch of activists together in a room that can sit there and pontificate in an extremely smart way about the way that the world should be, but we’re not coming up with concrete, measurable solutions and policies to implement in the real world to make this better. That’s what I’m interested in – changing that policy at the top level.”
True to her mission, Wu has plenty of advice for young women entering the tech industry. “A pattern I see over and over and over again with my colleagues in the game industry is they don’t understand how unbelievably fucking awesome they are at their jobs, and it’s because the industry tears us down so often and tells us in ways we don’t even think about, ‘You don’t belong here, this is not a space for you, you’re not good enough, your tech skills aren’t great enough, you’re not an engineer.’ Because you get those messages every single day, I see some of the smartest, most talented women I’ve ever met in my life not believing in themselves, and it tears me apart.”
My message to any woman out there wanting to work in tech is that this is one of the best paid, most fun fields in the entire world. Don’t let that fear stop you. Follow your dreams, come work in this industry, and what you will find is the most supportive group of women in the entire world which will all have your back. We’re here for you, we desperately want you in our ranks with us, and we’re going to fucking change the world.
When and Where:
Sunday, March 13
12:30PM – 1:30PM
Hilton Austin Downtown – Salon F/ 500 E 4th St
Find out more: The Power of Perception: Media and Women in Tech
*Wu is no longer listed to appear on this panel, but you can catch her on another: Can VR Deliver More Emotion than Movies and Games?