Despite the number of “gurl gamers just want attention” comments, it’s pretty common knowledge that a great number of gamers who are female hide their true gender when it’s possible to. This week on Saucy Saturdays, I want to explore the reasons why women choose to keep their gender hidden, why and how men (and sometimes other women) encourage them to, and the implications it has for the construction of gaming communities.
In my first installment of Saucy Saturdays, I mentioned that according to research by PhD student Julie Prescott at the University of Liverpool, and reviewed by Gamasutra, 42 percent of all game players are women. Furthermore, according to the Entertainment Software Association, “Women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (37 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (13 percent).” So if women are so prevalent in the gaming community, why is it still so common to sling derogatory remarks at people simply because of their gender?
You might think that it’s not really so common; that women blow discrimination out of proportion. But the website Fat, Ugly, or Slutty essentially disproves this. It’s like Engrish, except instead of funny mistranslations, it’s offensive messages sent to women over Xbox Live, forums, Steam, PlayStation Network, WoW chat and just about everywhere else. It’s not just smack talk, it’s stuff like: “what yo pussy like?” (April 23, 2011), “INBOX ME UR BOOBS” (December 26, 2011), “ill be at your house 2nite to dominate yor cooter… sleep with 1 eye open” (February 13, 2012). FUoS is staffed by three ladies and a gentleman. They post their own experiences with the offensively ignorant and take submissions from the public as well. Their mission statement, as written on their About page, is, “If having these messages posted online makes someone think twice about writing and sending a detailed description of their genitals, great! And if not? We’ll all have another submission to laugh at.”
It’s not really always fun and games, though. It’s nice if a lady can let insults and lewd comments glance right off, but it’s not always the case. Lesley from Two Whole Cakes, notes: “It makes social gaming difficult for those of us who don’t want to flirt — we just want to play motherfucking games, and we want to be treated like real three-dimensional humans, not like vaginas with thumbs.” She also writes, “Once TeamSpeak became the norm, I fell away from MMOs because I was so tired of dealing with the harassment and assorted bullshit. My voice gave my gender away immediately, which meant I could no longer ‘pass’ as male.” I also know that many women, myself included, find it extremely distracting and disheartening when an entire group (guild or server) turns against you because of your gender and begins slinging comments like, “Make me a sandwich,” and “Tits or GTFO” ad nauseum. Or worse, blame everything you do on your gender. Make MVP? You must be ugly and don’t have a boyfriend. Get dominated by a player? You suck because you’re a girl, get back in the kitchen.
But it’s not just in-game where the discrimination against women occurs. The idea that women don’t play video games, that if they do then it’s okay to make fun of them because it’s a boys’ club, is so pervasive that ladies experience this backlash in life as well. A thread posted on Reddit last month shows that it’s pretty typical to be met with sexism even when those doing it aren’t hiding behind anonymity. One user notes her experience working retail at a gaming store:
“I walked over to these two men arguing, hoping to help them out. They were arguing about two PS3 racing games not really my area of expertise nevertheless I was willing to help. They noticed my name badge and the first one opened his mouth to say, ‘Which of these is best? Wait, why the fuck am I asking you anyway, you obviously don’t know shit about videogames. Girl.’”
Another user recounts her experience at a national Warhammer 40K tournament, where her opponent for second-round qualifiers asked her, “Do you know how to play this game? Like, you’ve read the rulebook and stuff?” And then remarked, “Oh, is it your army, or your boyfriend’s? I suppose he helped you in the last tournament.” Another user had a similar experience when she overheard coworkers talking about Dragon Age: Origins and a difficult quest: “Excited (I LOVED the game at the time), I joined the conversation and shared some tips. They stared at me, and the oldest one said, ‘But you’re a girl. How do you know the game, from your husband?’” This partially disproves the theory that all of this happens because of the online disinhibition affect, or John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.
Either way, it’s not just men dissing ladies and encouraging them to keep their gender hidden. In an interview with Chicago Now’s Gamesmith, pro gamer Rachel Kirtley expressed her opinion on other girl gamers:
“Most girls do it for attention. When girls pretend to know about sports and cheer for football and have no idea what’s going on. It’s the same thing in gaming. They play it but they have no idea what they’re doing.”
Saying that about female gamers just perpetuates the stereotypes that other gamers believe. They use the idea that all female gamers are “gurl/grrl gamers” looking for attention, that by revealing their gender they are just looking for attention.
Valerie Lapomme, of Sexy Nerd Girl, put it best in her “A manifesto for female identifying gamers (or more simply ‘gamer girls’)” blog post:
“It disturbs me that so many people have the opinion that it would be better to be silent and accept the status quo, then to campaign for positive change. Women especially were angry about this message. There were a lot of people who said: “just deal with the abusive comments, and stop drawing attention to female gamers.” I’m happy for some people who don’t have a problem with being harassed, but not everyone is like that. Some people would rather that negative attitudes changed, and that women could play and be themselves without having to worry about having their XBL inboxes bombarded with sexist remarks and come-ons.”
She also compiled this beautiful video of women of all ages, backgrounds, playing ability, and levels of online visibility:
Gamers of both genders need to understand that if we really want to have a gaming community, some amount of respect and welcoming needs to happen. Women need to stop being afraid to reveal their gender, to not be afraid to show the visibility of femininity in games, and men need to be more accepting and realize that there are, in fact, girls on the Internet and they’re not going to show you their boobs no matter how many times you ask. Maybe gaming used to be a strictly white, heterosexual, male hobby, but things have changed. It’s 2012 and being misogynistic is anachronistic. And for those of you who have lost sight of what the word “misogyny” means, sociologist Allan G. Johnson put it in this way:
“…misogyny is a cultural attitude of hatred for females because they are female… Misogyny … is a central part of sexist prejudice and ideology and, as such, is an important basis for the oppression of females in male-dominated societies. Misogyny is manifested in many different ways, from jokes to pornography to violence to the self-contempt women may be taught to feel toward their own bodies.”