Sexism in tech culture may have felt a bit of pressure in Austin, Texas, in mid-March, when SXSW not only put the originally cancelled panels on online harassment back on their schedule, but added another 13 panels. Unfortunately, in adding the discussions back into the conference, they also literally marginalized the entire day of presentations, holding the “Online Harassment Summit” at a hotel on the other side of the river from the main events, with massive security in place.
Held in Austin since 1987, SXSW Interactive is one of the largest tech conferences nationwide each year, billing themselves as “An incubator of cutting-edge technologies and digital creativity.”
The organizers’ original cancellation of “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” and another panel on the gamer community made the national news sources in October 2015. SXSW didn’t comment on the threats themselves, simply saying there were “numerous threats of onsite violence.” A number of media outlets, including Buzzfeed and Vox Media jumped all over the organizers for “caving” to the demands of misogynists.
Though never actually stated by SXSW, the original assumption was that those responsible for #Gamergate, which was “ostensibly concerned with ethics in game journalism and with protecting the ‘gamer’ identity,” were behind the threats received. It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve caused disruption, including backing Intel off of advertising on gaming site Gamasutra through boycott threats.
It’s even possible the denizens of Gamergate were disappointed when the panelists refused to dwell on their actions, but kept the conversation pointed at the “broader issue of online harassment.” Moderator Kami Huyse made it clear: “We’re not going to talk about Gamergate. Gamergate is a symptom.”
However, while there is hope in the fact that the panels were put back into the schedule by SXSW, it was very clear that fear was the main component of the venue decisions. Companies that are afraid to face down online male bullies will become more and more reluctant to hire women, and to pay women what they’re worth. By marginalizing the conversations meant to bring women’s issues to the forefront, SXSW may have set back our ability to make positive changes.