'There's still a lot of work to do': Three OG women of the internet and gaming industries dish the dirt

Ashley Jenkins was a member of the first all-female professional gaming team, The Frag Dolls, which broke ground for women in the industry. Source: Supplied

If a woman says something on the internet and there’s no neck beard there to troll her, did she really say it all?

Yeah, being a woman on the web is tough. Being a woman in gaming is even tougher. Few people know that better than the ladies of Rooster Teeth.

In an industry that has been plagued by sexism, misogyny and the dreaded G word – gamergate – the YouTube and entertainment collective based in Austin, Texas has become somewhat of a mecca for BAMF women breaking through the glass ceiling.  

Names like Ashley Jenkins, Barbara Dunkelman , Lindsay Jones and Meg Turney have become patron saints of sass for Rooster Teeth’s global fanbase which  includes a hugely successful convention series, over 25 million subscribers on YouTube and now a feature film, Lazer Team.

And for Dunkleman, it’s just the beginning.

“I think there’s still a lot of work to do,” says the 26-year-old, who recently joined the other Rooster Teeth members in Australia for the first international RTX convention.

“Progress is being made, but you look at any video that a woman is in on the internet – especially if it’s about gaming or internet culture – and people will rag on the girl for no reason or talk about her body or her looks.

“It’s like, you look at a video with a guy and there’s no comments like that.”

Turney, 28, agrees that there’s still plenty of “room to improve”.

“There’s still so much hatred and the fact that doxing and death threats are still the norm is appalling, really.

“But I do think that a lot of taste makers and people who are game changers in our industry have really acknowledged that and that’s a wonderful thing: they’re not afraid to acknowledge that we have a problem and we need to be moving towards something better.”

The industry as a whole is very different space from where it was when Ashley Jenkins started her career as a member of the first all-female professional gaming team, The Frag Dolls.

Founded back in 2004, the women were recruited and employed by Ubisoft and competed in e-sport competitions all around the world and became the first ladies to win a pro-circuit tournament.

“When I started in the industry professionally I was competing as part of an all-female gaming team and we were the only team like that at events," says the 33-year-old.

“We were constantly outnumbered by the guys.

“Some people were very friendly and welcoming and some people were very hostile, because they felt their clubhouse was being invaded.

“I see a lot less of that now.

“If a woman’s playing games and she happens to speak, there’s not the knee-jerk reaction there used to be. It still happens, but not nearly as much – people are used to it now.”

That they are, with gender diversity reflected in Rooster Teeth’s loyal fan base, which is almost a fifty-fifty split on the con floor.

“All the fans I meet in person are very sweet and all the trolls just seem to stay behind their computer,” laughs Turney.

“I think a lot of people see the kind of content that Rooster Teeth makes: we make brash kind of humour and they might think we only have a male fanbase.

“But when you come to an event like this and you say that our female fanbase is out in full force and very comfortable and very strong. It’s very, very cool.

“It’s one of my favourite things about Rooster Teeth, that it’s so equal. The women are allowed to be brash and ridiculous and just as dirty and naughty and rough and tumble as the guys.”

Turney and Jenkins are the driving force behind The Know, Rooster Teeth’s multimedia news channel, which has become a safe space for fans of all genders, races and orientations to engage with the geek community.

“I think for a long time The Know was a really weird entity in the video game space entirely because it was entirely run by women: it was myself and Meg Turney and we work it,” says Jenkins.

“That’s a very rare thing in gaming but it felt entirely natural to us because it’s the kind of thing we would talk about anyway.”

Turney adds:  “Ashley and I were an all-female gaming network all on our own.

“The fact that that’s rare is a bummer, but the fact that we did it and no one really seemed to call out ‘it’s just girls’ – we were just another network talking about gaming news.

“I think that’s amazing.”

Dunkleman says one of the keys to improving representation in the community is "more visibility" - something that may seem simple on the surface, but is actually more complicated than some may think.

"There is a responsibility. I don’t want to speak for all women, but I try to have input that women might have when I’m on the podcast or different shows.

"I definitely think it’s important for people to remember women are in this industry and they should be taken seriously because, you know, it’s still something that exists in culture today, where women have to prove themselves a little more and work a little harder and assert themselves more.

"I’ve found that with myself because I am also a young female, I haven't been in this industry for years and years – it has only been four years since I started – I feel like I need to assert myself a little more, especially in a business environment or if I’m meeting with clients for social media or marketing purposes.

"Having girls who are confident in themselves and do what they wanna do in being spokespeople for the industry is ... that's it." 

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