Awhile back I posted the bioware article about gamer privilege in reference to DragonAge2 and it’s whole same-sex relationships option on my facebook page along with the Dr. Nerdlove post about straight male privilege in nerddom and had a discussion about it with a number of friends in the resultant threads. The threads involved a number of male gamers who I personally like and respect and who generally like and respect me (at the very least we are friends who do game together or have gamed together in the past without incident). These men are people who I would believe are not overtly sexist or misogynistic in any way and who are at least mildly aware of their own privilege so I was really bothered when they started arguing with me about the article - namely by defending the jerky male behavior many female gamers face with the excuse of “social awkwardness.” I pointed out things like microagression and othering and the fact that while there are some people who are genuinely accepting of women in nerdery there are far more people who are outright shitty or at the very least unwelcoming and rude but I only just now, over a month after the fact, realized what the real problem with those threads actually was - victim blaming.
Gamer should be a neutral term, including all kinds of humans who game: women and men; humans of various races; able bodied and disabled; gay, straight, bi, other; cis and trans; young, old and in between; and much more. It should mean that but it doesn’t.
Analyze the ways games are designed and marketed, examine the culture within gaming, and you will find that all the signs point to a default gamer who is a white, cis-gendered, straight male, young and able bodied. That’s the supposedly neutral position. It’s not neutral at all and in fact excludes huge segments of the gaming population.
The entitled jerk who complained “Bioware Neglected Their Main Demographic: The Straight Male Gamer” got one thing right: most games are designed with him in mind. And most people in game communities behave as though the straight male gamer is the default and anything other is, well, Other.
Simply being a woman in gamer space and geek space one is the Other. When instead of hiding our identities by refusing to speak we play without concealing who we are we are marked. Speak on voice chat or object to a woman hating comment and you’ll see just how quickly you are marked.
When I say I am a woman gamer I acknowledge all this. I also claim this space, and make space for myself, and for other women who come after me. I shine the bat signal of woman gamer solidarity. I send a sign to designers that I play their games, and I am not alone. I elbow my way into the conversation in the greater gaming community. I join the voices of other women gamers who have spoken up before me.
We exist. We are women and we play video games. One day, that distinction may become irrelevant, but today is not that day.
Infantalization is an oldie but baddie in the rich pageant of misogyny’s offerings. First you require women to act in immature ways in order to be considered properly feminine, and then you make fun of them for being immature. As a bonus, you then get to sexualize actual children since there’s no distinction between a girl and a woman. I’m not going to go into the full implications of that, because it’s just too dark for me on a Monday morning as the second cup of black (like my soul) coffee kicks in.
Calling a grown woman a girl implies that she’s not fully human, not fully capable of making her own choices, and shouldn’t be taken seriously. It also codes into language the unspoken but known by all assumption that women should be girls—that is to say should stay young for ever and once we are no longer young should strive to make an artifice of youth by starving our bodies to girlish thinness, by covering up the character in our faces with makeup, by turning our bitter, mirthless laugh into an appropriate giggle, by erasing from our bodies not only the signs of age but even the signs of puberty. When you really start to think about it, it’s creepy as get out.
When someone calls women who play video games “girl gamers” I’m 99% sure (numbers provided by the Bureau of Statistics Made Up on the Spot) they don’t mean it that way. I’m sure if I pointed it out they would say, first, whoa, why so seriouscat! and second if they were more sympathetic, hey, I didn’t mean it that way.
That’s part of the problem though. Infantilization of women is precisely calculated to make women not serious subjects, not to be taken seriously, and even the infantilization itself isn’t serious. As I learned from my intersectionality studies though, intent is not magic. You don’t have to mean it that way for it to mean what it means. Misogyny is pernicious. Sometimes it’s hidden by being presented as natural, other times it’s presented as something not very serious.
Changing language without changing the assumptions behind it isn’t enough. I don’t want to fall into that trap where we merely change the labels without changing what’s behind them. But language is an easy place to start the analysis and the change.
That’s why I’m always careful to call us women gamers, not girl gamers. In this small campaign, I take inspiration from the Olympics, where on television the women’s sporting events used to be referred to as girls’ events, ostensibly on the grounds that the women competing were quite young. But so were the men and no one called it the boy’s gymnastics event. It took a lot of social pressure to change the language, and one hopes that has lead to women athletes being taken more seriously.
Let me draw you a picture of the “girl gamer”. You know her. She comes on vent and cracks dirty jokes and all the boys fall over themselves. She’s just as good as any guy. She’s the exception. She’s the token gamer girl. She posts pictures of her boobs on the guild forum. You heard she blew the raid leader for DKP. She’s tough, and strong, and sexy, tee-hee. She can’t stand other women, because she’s not like them. She’s the reason that LAN party banned you, because she’s ruining it for the rest of us. She’s the stereotypical “girl gamer” and if you’re not her, you hate her.
And you’re wrong to do it. Please stay with me, this bit gets tricky.
The “girl gamer” exists as a platonic anti-ideal, a qliphothic being, even when no woman is there to act out the role, because she is a male fantasy, not a real person. The anti-ideal exists as a shell, ready for a real woman to step into and become constrained by the restrictions of the role. There are rewards for stepping into the role. You get to join the boys’ tree house. You get to be the cool girl. You get to be the exception. All for the low price of repudiating your allegiance to any other women.
It is the delusion that you can become an official part of the boys’ club if you are its strictest enforcer, its most useful prole. That if you follow the rules exactly you can become the Official Woman. If you refuse other women admission you are denying that other women are talented, which makes you just as bad as any boys’ club for thinking there would only be one talented girl at a time. You will never actually be part of the boys’ club, because you are a woman.
Break out from the stereotype you’ve stepped into, and it’s out of the tree house with you. Live up to the role, and you’re punished anyway.
The gamer girl exists as a foil to other women who might try to join the community. Instead of turning our analytical scalpel to the pustule of sexism, we are show the gamer girl as a ready rival. There can be only one token girl, so we are taught fight her for that spot, instead of challenging the idea that there can be only one. It’s divide and conquer.
Hate the role, hate the fantasy, but don’t hate the woman who doesn’t yet have the feminist chops to realize she’s been duped. This isn’t easy to do (it’s not even easy to write about doing).
Turn your anger outwards to shatter the illusion of the “girl gamer” and shake the foundation of the role. Destroy the false ideal and then no woman will need to step into the shell.
I totally agree with this, excellent post.
In the end, those women are working within the only system we have (and, often, people who try to stand against this system are just made entirely miserable and eaten alive given they are so often lacking support.) After reading posts like this, I start to understand that women like this only see one of two options, being the precious object or being the worthless one. Given the two and given that social pressure makes many feel that’s all they have, it’s not hard to see why the choice is made. They have grown up being ingrained with the same ideas, the same normalizing of oppression, and those narratives are the things we need to break down. Until then, we’re all soaking in it.
A woman gamer admits on reddit that she pretended to be male for 6 years after she had some seriously fucking creepy experiences due to her awful crime of gaming while female. “Discussion” ensues. One sympathetic commenter responds
There’s so much I want to ask, but for right now, I’ll just ask the one thing: What, if anything, do you think could be done to make online gaming less hostile/creepy for women and girls, and still preserve freedom? Have you given any thought to what you’d like to see done or what some game sites/companies are doing?
And then a barrage of victim blaming ensues, explaining how women encourage this and women don’t stand up for themselves and it’s really all the women’s fault. I don’t really have time this afternoon to talk about hating “those girls” again but I’ve got something even better.
Here, let me solve this problem for you quickly. To make gaming less hostile and creepy for women and girls, men need to stop being hostile and creepy to women and girls. Problem fucking solved.
Men, cut that shit out. Men who have already cut that shit out, keep up the good work, and call your fellow men out on that shit. I would tell women to cut the victim blaming shit out, but if the men cut the creepy out immediately, then there won’t be any victims left to blame. Peace and harmony and we all slay internet dragons together for ever, holding hands and singing Imagine while dancing across sun dappled fields of green grass and occasionally yodeling in pure joy.
On the off chance than all men everywhere do not immediately obey my brilliant suggestion: Women, I know it’s hard sometimes to call men out because of backlash, but please at least cut the victim blaming shit out.
Men, if you’re still obeying my commands (here imagine the bright beam of a mind control ray coming out from between my eyes and into your brain via the light in the computer screen), please also cut out all creepy and hostile shit towards women in all other venues. Thank you.