They are not welcome: IGN and District 9’s sexist contest

I picked up a Game Informer the other day, and one of the first full pages is the “Who’s Who?” on the staff. I scanned the page and something popped out at me: there were ten staff writers, and they were all men.1

But that’s just the beginning. If you’re a gamer or a comics nerd you may have heard of’s contest/promotion for the upcoming SF flick District 9. The winner will get flown out to San Diego Comic Con and be sent on “assignment” to do some reporting and promotion of the film. I hadn’t thought anything of it until I saw Johanna Draper’s post looking at the actual contest rules. Let’s have a look:

This sweepstakes is open only to males who are both legal residents of the fifty (50) United States and Washington D.C. and who are at least between 18-24 years of age as of July 23, 2009…

I’m sorry? Did that actually say it was only open to MALES? Congratulations, and District 9: you have the dubious honor of being the first group I’ve ever seen bleed their sexism into a friggin’ contest.

Let’s put aside the initial problems with this, namely that it’s almost certainly illegal to discriminate based on age or sex. District 9 takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa. Aliens land and are forced to work in camps because they are deemed “non-human.” Though I suspect there’s a lot more action than the latest trailer reveals, it looks to be an interesting, thoughtful, and very serious film whose real-world parallels on the issues of racism and apartheid are hard to miss. Are women not capable of thoughtfully addressing these issues? Or are they scared of what women would have to say about them, especially in a community like this?

Someone in Johanna’s comment thread pointed out that IGN responded to accusations of sexism made in the Feministing community:

The eligibility requirements for this contest were determined by Columbia TriStar Marketing, the marketing team behind the District 9 film, and were passed on as a directive to IGN as Sponsor of this particular Sweepstakes running on the site. While IGN supports gamers of all ages, genders, shapes and sizes, these guidelines were created to foster a buzz for the film among a very narrow target group that the film’s promoters felt would be extremely passionate about the film’s subject matter.

IGN is just passing the buck here, trying to wipe their hands clean of this shameful contest. I don’t buy it. They should take responsibility for the choice they made—a choice that involves, on its face, a blatantly sexist set of contest rules. Whether they came up with the rule or not they supported and promoted it. They put their name on it. (I should note that contests like this are usually just excuses to get free labor rather than pay a writer/reporter/publicist, but that’s a side issue.)

Now I’m going to be generous here and assume that this is an attempt to make the “face” of the film their target demographic (rather than assume they think women are stupid, incompetent, or otherwise less capable). I’m deeply troubled by the assumptions that this kind of stunt makes about fans of comics, gaming, and science fiction. Even beyond the I-can’t-believe-we-still-have-to-tell-people-women-like-this-stuff-angle, there’s a more insidious implication here: that women wouldn’t generate buzz for this film. Or more precisely: that they don’t want the kind of buzz women would generate for this kind of film.

The tagline is:

They are not welcome
They are not accepted
They are not human

That sounds painfully familiar. Women in the gaming and comics community have been hearing this for too long.

EDITED SUNDAY, JUNE 14th, 12:40pm: It looks like they’ve amended their rules to add a new contest for women, with a later deadline (presumably to allow women to make up for the time). It’s a step in the right direction—they seem to be listening and have responded, so good on them.

1 The online version of the magazine does have one female editor.


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