Monday, April 02, 2007

Girls in The GENRE

Now this is not about women in stories, art, and the like.

No it is about the fans.

One phrase I have heard discussed in a few spots, in nothing but negative terms, is "What other comics do you like?”

Now this can be friendly statement, a way to see what you share in common. It can also be a challenge, a friendly one, in which you see who reads more.

But it can also be a way to judge and threaten someone, by trying to suggest a lack of knowledge, commitment, etc.

This last approach is one many women run into, in talking (or mentioning) about or being in a comic environment (comic shops or conventions).

For one woman, it lead to this statement. There’s A Reason I’m Not Dating A Nerd

I later pondered and realized that what pissed me off was the notion that, because I’m female, I need to prove to men that I can join their exclusive club. And once that proof is established, I’m still not really allowed into their clubhouse. In the same way that so many nerds consider jocks to be practically another species, well, women are, too. We are Other. We’re confusing and mystifying. And it doesn’t matter if we like the same things, if we read the same things, if we discuss the same things. ‘Female’ is ‘Other’. But a female who is into those same things is put into yet another classification – as both female and nerd (especially if you’re attractive) you’re now a fetish. You’re someone who can share the joy of videogames and comics and science fiction, so he doesn’t have to alter his interests to impress you – and on top of that, you might have sex with him. You’re not just a girl, you’re a dream girl.
Another, I'm just a (gamer) girl, and that's all that you'll let me be.

Today I was wandering around the internet and stumbled upon this website: The Hot Gamer Chick Gallery. I tried to give the site the benefit of the doubt (mostly because the Changeling information on the main site is so useful) but eventually I just started rolling my eyes and grumbling.

So, I'm making a post to rant at this dude's hypocrisy.I'm just going to go through the lines of text and pick out some choice ones.

Here at The Right to Dream we have dedicated this section of the site to recognizing the Gamer Girl population. Girls who break the sterotypical mold of the "Gamer Girlfriend". Ladies, we salute you!

I just glossed over that sentence at first but thinking about it now, I'm starting to wonder. What exactly is the "gamer girlfriend" stereotype? As far as I knew, it meant that the girl was only interested in gaming because that was what she felt she had to do to get her boyfriend to spend time with her or pay attention to her. Thinking about it further I can't honestly say I've met and/or seen any women like this. Granted, I'm sure they are out there, but the majority of the gamer girls I meet have been interested in gaming for gaming's sake and if they had gamer boyfriends that wasn't the reason the women gamed (just yet another similarity that drew them together as a couple).


And, "You cast spells like a girl!"

So, I am an avid fan of fantasy and science fiction. When the "Dragonology", "Wizardology", "Pirateology", etc. books started to pop up I was really pleased. They were fun, they were interactive, and they were magical and cute. Perfect for children and children-who-never-grew up. I bought the "Dragonology" one because dragons have a special place in my heart and I've always wished to be a Dragon Biologist (*sigh*).

This was a while ago, when the Dragonlogy book was the only one around. And I'd been seeing others pop up and kept meaning to buy them. Today I had the chance to peruse the "Wizardology" book and "The Wandmaker's Guidebook".I was initially pleased and amused by the neat things inside the book but then I started noticing something that made my smile vanish: where were the women?

It's not discrimination, it's historical

So there's this thread on roleplayers where a woman is asking for advice about dealing with sexism in the Dungeons and Dragons game she plays. Along with some interesting discussion and good advice about talking to the gamemaster, I noticed variants of a couple of the Great

Excuses for Sexism in Gaming:
1 - It happens to men too
2 - It's appropriate for the setting

Maybe later, if I think my brain is up to the bleeding, I'll go dig up one of the many RPGnet threads about gender issues in a game and find Great Excuses 3 through n. Right now, I'm thinking about #2, where objecting to sexism in any vaguely historical setting is unreasonable because "that's the way it really was." I say vaguely because the connection to history can be very loose. For example, in the above-mentioned discussion, the setting of the game was "inspired by the Roman Empire although with some significant differences," and the poster mentioned that soon the group would be heading into the Underdark--which, unless the Underdark has changed a lot in later editions of D&D, is straight-up fantasy. (She also mentioned that the change would be nice because of the "strong powerful women" in the Underdark, but for this post I've decided to avoid the yawning conversational abyss posed by the evil black matriarchy of elves she's talking about.) So, basically, if your fantasy setting sat on a shelf next to a 7th-grade history textbook at some point in its life, it's historical enough that traditional gender roles "should" be in place.

I can think of at least a couple of ways to respond to this idea to explain why it's a bad excuse. The first would be to ask the guys who aren't getting it how they'd feel about playing in a setting where the default governments were matriarchal, where nations ruled by men were depicted as exotic or evil (I'm skirting that abyss, demmit), where male NPCs most commonly showed up in storylines where they were being kidnapped or raped, where male characters could never aspire to any real political power and at best would be well-regarded for rising above their gender... I could go on, but in my experience this tactic doesn't work, because people will line up like birds on a wire to chorus "no, I wouldn't mind that!" secure in the knowledge that it doesn't matter if they mind it, because it'll never happen.

A second way to respond is growing on me, though--an awareness of how lazy this approach to gamemastering is. The laziness comes in two parts: how people think about the setting and how they think about the plot.

Some of the responses to the above:
This is a subject near and dear to my heart. One of the things we aimed for in Rich Dansky's tenure as line developer for White Wolf's Vampire: The Dark Ages and later with Phil Boulle developing Dark Ages: Vampire was to give full attention to th very wide range of possibilities in medieval society. In particular, for Ashen Knight, a book about vampires and the nobility, we gave space for women as local authorities (and sometimes exercising authority over whole kingdoms), about how a lifestyle of war and crusade for feudal lords inevitably dumped a lot of practical power in the laps of wives and daughters, about societies like Languedoc France of the 12th-14th centuries where women fairly routinely held knighthood and flourished as troubadours, about female war band leaders in heavily fought-over borderlands, and so on. We emphasized that while some situations were unusual, they did happen, and therefore could happen to PCs just as easily to anyone else, with advice on handling unusual-but-not-unprecedent situations for PCs in ways more interesting than everyone else just shutting them down.

Dear Lord the crap we got from fanboys over it. And how very often it came wrapped up in framing paragraphs about how of course they're not sexist or misogynistic at all, it's just that if we allow female PCs to be anything but utter cliches of helplessness, we're pushing political correctness down the players' throats. As it happens, one of my co-authors is a medievalist, and somehow his round-up of readily accessible scholarship (including primary sources) never got very direct responses. The dissenters would just loop back and repeat their original whines again. And again. And again.

Back when I was into Tribe 8, I had several male friends refuse to play because the setting is described as being matriarchal.

This was especially funny as they were the kind of guys who were always arguing that women wanting to play in settings where men are in charge should just get over it.

I loved your summary of how easy it should be to demolish argument #2... if anyone on the other side of the debate was listening. I've pretty much stopped dropping by forums like and theRPGsite because I'm tired of reading and responding to the same debates over and over again, and this is one of them. See for example Cheesecake: Love it or hate it? and [RANT] Cheesecake and Character Images, where I get to be called a Victorian prude for suggesting that female characters can be portrayed as strong, attractive and sexy without being porn stars.

A funny cartoon of how female characters are approached and why:

One From Column A, One From Column B-movie

No comments: