Women Welcome! If you don’t mind rampant misogyny…

It’s happening again. Someone points out the lack of visibility of women in some geek community (OpenSource, video games, comic books, etc.) and a bunch of people who prefer a steady boat to addressing real issues come out of the woodwork to declare that there is no problem, women are just being too sensitive about guys being guys, as if it’s wrong to want to feel welcome rather than being ‘allowed’ to hang out in these spaces.

As a life-long gamer, this is somewhat old hat to me, but it’s frustrating nonetheless. And nothing highlights that frustration more than when progress actually is made and you get a glimpse of just how much better things could actually be. Geek culture–and I’ll stick to mostly gamer culture here–tends to hover anywhere between pretending women don’t exist to being openly hostile and patronising. In the former category you have the issue of the majority of games having a male protaganist–this has gotten better due to many games now giving you the option to play as female, but in games where you aren’t given that option, you will almost always be playing male (The three biggest exceptions are Metroid, Tomb Raider, and Portal, and in two of those cases your character is nearly invisible). And even when you DO have that option, there will be times that it is obvious that you are expected to be a (straight) male. Saints Row is a good example–between almost all the women you’ll meet being sexualised to some extent and the occasional lap dance you get from a female stripper, it can be very hard to ignore that the developers didn’t consider you as a possible customer because of your gender. Which sucks, because otherwise it’s fun as hell. And then you have companies like Blizzard, who are fully capable of writing good women into their stories but rarely bother. Lets not forget the chain-mail bikini phenomenon, where a piece of equipment that looks perfectly functional on a male model become extremely revealing on a female model–it’s far faster to name off games where that DOESN’T happen.

In the category of openly hostile, you have the trash talk among gamers that tends to be very dismissive of women, and often heavily laden with rape imagery. (And I hate that I feel this need, but I do feel obligated to point out that this is not the case in all gaming spaces. Maybe not even in most. But with more and more games having some online component to them and the way the web has expanded traditional gamer communities, it’s becoming harder to avoid.) The rape language isn’t even really a feminist issue, aside from it more often affecting women–it’s more a don’t-make-light-of-serious-topics issue. Even outside of that, though, you’ll have ‘jokes’ like “Get back in the kitchen” and “There are no girls on the internet*”, as well as people getting upset with you beating them, not because you won but because you did so while female. I (somewhat fondly**) remember one guy describing it as ‘bullshit’. While many people will dismiss it as just being general trash talk, gender and sexuality are often used as put-downs, implying that being female and/or gay is inferior to being straight and male.

All in all, it’s an issue of not being exclusive rather than being inclusive. Sure, there’s no “No Girls Allowed” sign on the door, but there are still a lot of people within the culture who assume that girls just aren’t into video games, and that turns into an environment where us females who are present are frequently reminded that we’re NOT expected to be there, even when things aren’t openly hostile. And that simply sucks some of the fun out of an otherwise enjoyable pastime.

*To add extra frustration, this one usually gets pulled out immediately after I identify myself as female. While I don’t feel the need myself, it certainly sheds light on why some women choose to hide their gender when they can.

**Fondly because it wasn’t a game I’m particularly skilled at, so getting under a person’s skin like that was rewarding. Otherwise it would have just bothered me.


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