I originally posted this on d20 Dark Ages on March 8, 2013 for International Women’s Day. I’m reposting it for posterity, with some minor edits. Much of what I said below still applies. This was before Gamergate, and while that had mostly to do with videogames, it did expose the dark side of Geekdom.
Today is International Women’s Day!
By the way, did you see Big Bang Theory last night? Leonard, Howard, and Sheldon had the bright idea to go to a middle school and try to get twelve-year old girls excited about science. They failed miserably and the laughter ensued.
Sheldon actually tried to salvage the situation by phoning Amy and Bernadette to use as examples of successful female scientists. Both were with Penny at Disneyland. All three had skipped work to have a good time. And when Sheldon called, all three were dressed up as Disney princesses.
The show ended with Bernadette and Penny seducing Howard and Leonard respectively because they were dressed up like Disney princesses. Poor Amy, even dressed as Snow White, wouldn’t get Sheldon to kiss her and wake her up.
(Come to think of it: wouldn’t Princess Leia now also be considered as Disney Princess?)
(Oh yes, an Mayim Bialik who plays Amy has a few words to say about the princess culture on kveller.com)
So where am I going with this?
Last night, as you might have noticed, I shared this link both here and on Google+, which is about rape culture in the gaming world. I posted it before I’d watched the latest episode of Big Bang Theory. Later, after I watched Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, I saw how Penny, Amy, and Bernadette took on the “Damsel in Distress” and suddenly became far more attractive to the guys.
“Oh, come’on, Stelios!” I can hear some of you say. “These are just games and sitcoms about gamers. And rescuing the princess is a classic trope.”
You’re right. And yet the games we play, the shows we watch, and the stories we read often reflect the culture we live in. Each is a text, a form of rhetoric that reinforces certain cultural norms and values. Some are played for comedy, yet in each comedy something serious is going on, even if its being laughed at.
Although more women have gotten into gaming over the years, the majority of gamers are still male. The majority, if not all, gaming companies (in all forms) develop their marketing to appease the male psyche. It might be stretch to say that rape culture is a part of gaming culture. Yet, unlike in video games, how can a female gamer tell the difference between the Marios and the Apes? It’s not so easy.
Ever wonder why more women don’t come to your FLGS? Or join your gaming group or club?
I can only speak from personal experience as male who’s been a gamer for the last 22+ years, most of that as a DM, and part of that as an officer in a university gaming club. So here’s what I’ve seen:
–Male gamers via their characters hitting on female gamers at the tabletop.
–Once I pretended to be a friend’s boyfriend because one of these morons wouldn’t leave her alone.
–A DM using his power as both the DM and as Graduate Assistant to hit on one of his players–who also happened to be one of his students.
–A local game store owner firing his male help after hiring a gamer girl. This happened a few times over the years. The girl would work there for maybe a month before quitting.
–A young woman who’s also a gamer walks into a noisy room full of male gamers and says, “hi!” The room fall silent, save for my forehead banging on the table as I thought: “So much for the club appearing friendly to female gamers.”
–One guy in the club who liked to say: “My advice. Don’t date a crazy woman. The catch: they are all crazy.”
–Another guy in his 50s liked to bring his Hustlers, Penthouses, and hentai/furries comics, to a public space on a university campus and read them while his friends set up the game. Apparently he also liked to grope his wife while at the table. No, I didn’t game with this person, I stayed far, far away. He died of a heart attack about a year ago. The end.
I’m sure I can think of more. But that should suffice for now. One of the questions I’ve asked when I found out about some of these problem is: why don’t more women speak up? Let people know there’s a problem?
Many women fear falling into the “hysterical woman” trope for complaining.
But maybe even more so, they fear retribution for speaking up. Sarkeesian faced, as The Slate described, an “absolute avalanche of misogynist abuse” for her Kickstarter video campaign examining these tropes in video games.
So, if you’re a male gamer, please at least think about these things today, maybe tomorrow. Can you at least do that much before going back to gaming as usual?
Because for many female gamers, these issues become apparent whenever they walk into a gaming store, sit down to play a game, or go to a convention.
Don’t believe me? Well, just watch Big Bang Theory and see what happens whenever Penny goes down to the comic book store…