Table Manners: Guys, We Need to Talk
In a recent post about conventions, I added a note about gender bias in the gaming community. It was a little thing, just a “hey, guys, stop assuming ladies can’t be gamers too” for the less-evolved crowd, but it turned out to get a much stronger response than anything else on that list. This post is an attempt to expand on the ideas in that post, and in doing so I found I got pretty heated myself – mostly because for every talking point I came up with I could remember some terrible evidence from my own personal experience, or which was shared with me by the ladies I know. And so I broke my normal guideline about profanity on this blog, because I think sometimes there is no polite way to express a certain measure of outrage, so I hope you bear that in mind as you read.
Let me also make a quick note for clarity: While I do address the geek community in general at points, in terms of specifics I’m addressing gamers for the most part, as that is the specific geek subculture that I have the most experience with on the whole. Likewise, when discussing conventions, I’m primarily talking about gaming cons, though I’ve spent enough time at literary, comic and entertainment cons that I think many of my points apply to those venues as well. OK! Here goes.
The Ladies Have Always Been Here (So Act Like It)
I’ve been a gamer for a long time. Not as long as some, no doubt, but as a percentage of my life it’s higher than most. I started playing tabletop rpgs when I was in first grade, and I’m in my mid-30s now. I literally have trouble remembering a time in my life when I wasn’t reading one game book or another. So while I may not be able to wax nostalgic about the glory days when the only way you got to play D&D was by picking up the original big red box – or by hanging out with Gary and Dave personally, or whatever – I do have a pretty good vertical slice of what gaming’s been like in my lifetime. And you know what? When I was a kid, it really was largely a boys’ club, no question. Yes, there were lady gamers, but they were a tiny minority. I knew two, for example, as compared to the dozen or more guy gamers I knew back then.
Then, around the time I turned 14 or so – and started playing more White Wolf games and less D&D, if you want an interesting correlation/causation possibility to ponder – suddenly there were a lot of girls in my gaming group. When we organized our first high school larp, the ratio was just about even, and while the ratio still fluctuates wildly depending on which gaming subgenre you happen to be into, it has slowly but steadily improved since then. For instance, miniatures wargaming still tends to be a very heavily male group, while larp is much more co-ed, as is tabletop gaming.
And just to be clear? I turned 14 two decades ago.
Now, I’m not saying that everything is peachy keen just yet, and I fully recognize that this is my impression as opposed to sociological data, but it’s still significant. It’s been fashionable in mainstream media outlets to talk about women in geekdom and gaming as though it was something new, when any gamer could tell you this simply isn’t so. Instead, I suspect it’s more like “cultural critical mass” is being mistaken for “new arrivals” – that is, that there are enough women in these cultures willing to speak up about some of their inequities that they’re making headlines. Or to put it more plainly, there are now enough women who are tired of being told to put up with the same stupid sexist bullshit and are speaking up about it that they can’t be easily marginalized or ignored as they might have been in the past.
But seriously, guys, stop acting like you stepped out to the garage to get more Mountain Dew and came back to find girls where there had been no girls before. They’ve been here for a long time now, and pretending like they’re some sort of new phenomenon is equal parts patronizing and unproductive. It’s a way of avoiding dealing with gender issues by pretending they’re something new and unexpected, when in reality they’ve been around for a while and there was simply a lot of subcultural inertia holding them back. Quit it.
… You Do Realize That You’re Not Entitled to the Women You See, Right?
OK, let me make one thing clear: I’m not slamming anyone who earns some money working a convention, whether it’s in costume or otherwise. A job’s a job, especially in this economy, and I’m not gonna judge someone who decides they wouldn’t mind earning some extra scratch handing out flyers or walking around dressed as a Romulan or Red Sonja. And I’m not so naive that I don’t understand the notion of “sex sells” and its utility in the advertising world. That said … come on, people. We can do better than this. We have to do better than this. Because this shit is embarrassing.
Geek culture prides itself on being the smartest guy in the room, on being progressive and forward-thinking, and yet at every single one of the conventions I’ve been at in my lifetime, I’ve heard or seen some guy be absolutely disgusting about so-called booth babes. It’s so prevalent that most guys don’t even notice it unless they specifically tune their frequency for it – though I guarantee you, the ladies walking with you hear it every time. (That there aren’t more “Dozens Missing, Believed Castrated As Lady Gamer Snaps After 1,517th Boob Joke In GenCon Spree” headlines is a testament to their enduring patience.) And even worse, a lot of the guys at these cons not only expect to be greeted with an array of nearly-nude female flesh for their camera phone gratification, they’re completely unembarrassed about the kind of entitled asshole behavior it brings out in them. They leer, they “accidentally” cop a feel while setting up a photo, they make crude jokes and sexist comments as though the woman wasn’t even there. I once heard a guy loudly talk to his friend in clinical and exhaustive detail about everything that was right (and wrong) with the body of a girl he’d just cuddled up with for a photo at a publisher’s booth … while the woman was maybe three feet away, trying her best to smile and ignore it. It was honestly sickening, but what was even worse was what she said when I got to the head of the line and blurted out an apology on behalf of my gender: “It’s OK, I hear that sort of thing all the time.”
No. Not just no, but fuck no.
We can do better than this, or at the very least, we have to try. I’m not so naive to think that we’ll be able to de-sexualize our advertising, but shit, can we at least agree that we’ll call people on it when they’re creepy assholes about it? I don’t think that’s too much to ask. I know I wish I had the nerve to say something to that con troll years ago, and as penance I’m trying not to let that shit slide in the future. I know that some folks out there will immediately respond “this is just the way conventions work no one’s forcing them to do it” – to which my response is, and that’s supposed to make it better how, exactly? Because I can’t be the only one who finds it disgusting that geek cons still feel like they must pander to the boys in the crowd with the same level of discourse as bikini girls at boat shows. Or worse, that the bad behavior of said boys is then supposedly excused by the fact that companies are using booth babes in the first place. “If they didn’t want us to look they wouldn’t have them in the first place” is about as much of an excuse for being an asshole to booth babes as saying it was OK to steal because they left the tip jar right out on the counter where anyone could grab it. Just because you can see something doesn’t mean that it’s yours.
And for the guys who immediately jump on the “you’re just gay/a prude/kissing up to feminists” responses to this notion, respectfully, shut the hell up. It is not unreasonable to expect y’all to behave like human beings. That’s not gay, or straight, or sex-positive, or prudish, or even particularly feminist – it’s called being decent and respectful to your fellow human beings. Just because your culture passively let you get away with this behavior for a while does not mean that it’s right, and it sure as hell does not guarantee you the ability to continue doing it in the future.
There Are No Gatekeepers, Mr. Clortho, and You’re Not the Goddamned Keymaster
Over the past year or so the idea of the “fake geek girl” – and backlash against the notion of labeling people as such – has gotten a lot of attention. If you missed it, somehow, it can be summed up as follows: There’s actually a notion out there that some girls you find at gaming and entertainment conventions are “faking it”, that they’re not Real Geeks at all, they’re just there so … hell, I dunno, exactly. The actual accusations are as muddled as Mushmouth on mescaline, ranging from crass marketing ploys to trolling to trying to pick up unsuspecting geek boys (… to do what, exactly? de-nerdify them with evil mainstream vagina powers?), but whatever they’re up to, it’s definitely Something Bad, these defensive guys can all agree. So watch out, geeks, because that cute girl in the “So Say We All” t-shirt you met at SDCC is probably just a hooker your friends hired to take your coveted viriginity!*
The notion is as obviously wrong as it is goddamn absurd, of course. Sure, a lot of people working conventions aren’t actually into the subject matter – going places and doing things you aren’t really interested in is the definition of having a job for a lot of people. (And a lot of them put up with way too much shit because of it, if you caught the booth babe section earlier.) And sure, some of the ladies who describe themselves as geeks or gamers might not have the history that you feel sufficient to have earned that title … but, and I mean this with all the love and respect in the world, who gives a fuck what you consider worthy? You, and if you’re lucky, maybe a couple friends. That’s it. Stop mistaking your personal standards for scientific constants. Because there’s always a bigger fish in the geek sea, someone who knows a lot more than you about something you like to think you’re an authority on, and if you ask them about it you will find out just what kind of sad, sorry judge of human beings you’ve really been.
Honestly, the debate over fake geek girls reminds me a lot of the endless discussions about “poser punks” back during my days in the hardcore scene. You see, according to a number of angry self-appointed punk rock authorities, there are an awful lot of “poser punks” in the scene who just like to dress up in the style and pretend to like the music, but who aren’t Real Punks and therefore don’t know What It’s All About. (Sound familiar?) How to spot these wannabes was a subject of much intense discussion, of course. I remember one supposed authority setting out some very specific advisories, like a poser punk wouldn’t know who people like the Dead Boys or GG Allin were, or that they’d bought some of their gear at that notorious poser store Hot Topic, or that they hadn’t been to any shows in church basements or dive bars like real punks attended. All of which is total bullshit, of course. Plenty of punks have never listened to the Dead Boys, they can buy clothing from wherever the hell they want, and last I checked most of us didn’t actually like going to shitty and dangerous places to see shows, so why the hell would we make it a requirement? Most telling of all, I remember going to see Rancid when I was in college, and standing near the back of the crowd in my Operation Ivy shirt I unwisely remarked about how a lot of the “kids” there wouldn’t know why I was wearing my shirt to a Rancid show. A much older punk, who looked like the CBGB’s bathroom floor in human form except not as well maintained, heard my snide comment and took my head off about how all us asshole kids were ruining his scene, and how he hadn’t seen a real punk show worthy of the name since about 1988. It was a humbling moment, and one I’ve not forgotten – if you think you’re a gatekeeper for a whole scene, think again.
The most common and yet insidious way that this phenomenon is expressed in geek culture is “the quiz” – when a guy meets another guy at a convention, he automatically assumes that guy is as into it as he is and the two start chatting happily about their mutual interests. By contrast, a lot of guys still haven’t accepted the notion that there are ladies in their hobbies as well, and so when they meet they quiz them, sometimes subtly but often not, asking questions in an attempt to determine if the woman is a Real Geek like them. Most of the time, of course, they pick the most obscure or heavily bias-laden questions they can think of, so that when the lady doesn’t answer with exactly the response they wanted they can dismiss her as a fake and feel secure in their authority and their fandom.
Because that’s what it comes down to for a lot of insecure geek guys – they feel put upon because deep down one of the reasons they got into their hobby is often that it comfortably insulated them from the gender politics of middle school and high school, but now they feel that women are invading their territory, and so they lash out in any way they can. Which is doubly sad because there is no One True Authority, not in gaming, not in comics, not in anything geek related. I mean, I guess we could come up with some sort of all-purpose Geek Entertainment and Educational Knowledge Exam (GEEKE, pronounced “geeky”) , and make everyone take it before they’re allowed to register for Comic Con or host a larp, but really, how dumb is that? And yet we let people get away with a personal version of it all the time. And it needs to stop.
Threatening Rape Is Not Just “Trash Talk”
There’s been a fair amount of coverage lately about what women endure on gaming networks like Xbox Live and PSN, not to mention MMOs and other online gaming experiences – as soon as their gender is discovered, they receive a barrage of crude pickup attempts and pornographic images/requests, or are called sluts and whores and urged to “get raped”, and called thin-skinned and worse if they can’t handle it. “Trash talk is a part of gaming,” these boys say. “If you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t play.” They’re not wrong about one part of that statement – yes, trash talk is part of gaming. Always has been, always will be. But there’s a difference between mocking an opponent’s gameplay and simply spouting a litany of racist, sexist and/or homophobic language into a microphone. That’s not a matter of being prudish, that’s simple linguistics.
To paraphrase the superb Extra Credits series, who addressed this problem very eloquently some time back, the problem is right now that we’ve given the idiots the megaphone. So naturally they’re shouting into it. We need to turn the culture around, and while I’ll let folks like EC tackle the difficulties of doing so on online gaming platforms, we can do a lot to shut down this bullshit in our gaming groups and at our geek events. So the next time you hear someone talking about “raping the other team” in TF2 or how “the NPCs just totally raped us” at your larp, I recommend that you call that person on their bullshit. Chances are if they’re a decent person they’ll just apologize and not do it again, but if they object, I’ve anticipated some of the common arguments for you:
* “Freedom of speech!” BZZT. Sorry, wrong. The First Amendment only says the government can’t stomp on your speech. It says nothing about what’s allowed on corporate-owned gaming networks, or at public gaming cons, or at your local larp. Also, you are specifically not protected from the consequences of your language. You are free to threaten people all you like, but they are just as free to call the cops on you for it, and guess who’s punished for it?
* “I didn’t mean anything by it! Chill out!” OK, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt – but if it’s really not such a big deal, pick a different topic. Rape hits home with a lot more women – and men, for the record – than you know. Would you make a suicide joke to someone you know has suffered through family or friends committing suicide? No? So how about leaving out a topic that many people have only too much history with in their lives?
* “But what’s so different about threatening rape? Lots of guys say they’ll kill each other and don’t mean it!” If you ever needed an example of male privilege, you could pretty much just copy/paste these sentences into the dictionary. Let me try to keep it short, for those out there who don’t get it. Most of us were bullied at one time or another, and if so, you know the difference between a friend joking about kicking your ass as opposed to a bully really threatening to do it. We know one party isn’t a threat, but the other? Different story. Now imagine a total stranger bumps into and promptly threatens to beat you up – are you going to assume they’re kidding? Or, for safety’s sake, are you likely to take them just a little more seriously, just in case? Of course you are. Now throw in the fact that rape is not nearly the remote threat that murder is, especially for women, and you begin to understand the problem. So stop.
Oh, and Please Stop Assuming Women at Boffer Larps Can’t Fight As Well As You Can
This is a pet peeve of mine, but while we’re on the subject, guys, seriously, stop being so freaking clueless when it comes to women who can fight. I’ve been fighting at boffer larps for more than a decade now, and let me tell you, it is just plain sad to see how often the guys there just reflexively shoulder women out of the way when it comes to arranging shield walls, picking combat patrols and otherwise throwing down. What’s worse is that many of you don’t even seem to notice you’re doing it, you just unconsciously leave them out of the thick of things. So speaking as the husband of a Markland heavy fighter and all-around badass, who is also friends with many other badass larper ladies, please stop embarrassing yourselves. Watch someone fight and judge them on that, not anything else. And if you don’t think you have this prejudice, check your circuits, son, you’re getting bad signals – even I still struggle with this one from time to time and I most certainly know better.
A Final Word for the Guys
I know it seems like I’m on the warpath for a lot of this post, and let’s not kid each other, in many ways I am. I’m sad, and ashamed, and more than a little pissed off by some of the standards that this scene considers acceptable, and I want to help change them. And I know that a lot of you out there probably read sections of it and thought to yourselves, “That’s a pretty big generalization – that’s not true of me.” And I hope – I know – that’s the case for a lot of you. I painted with a pretty broad brush, and I know that gets some paint on the good guys as well as the bad. For that, I apologize. But the best way we can prove these are generalizations, and not true of all geek and gamer guys, is by living up to a higher standard. Not just by not being sexist ourselves, but by calling other guys on it when they try to pull some chauvinist bullshit, whether it’s making a rape reference in an online game, or groping a booth babe, or pushing the women aside when it’s time to stand shoulder to shoulder at a boffer larp. Don’t get me wrong, either – this isn’t about saving the ladies from wicked sexists. We don’t need more white knight bullshit clouding the issue. This is just about us looking at things that are awful and unfair and disgusting, and saying, “Fuck that, it stops here” and really meaning it. We can do it. I know we can. We have to.
Or in the words of John Custer to his son Jesse, from the incredible comic Preacher:
You gotta be one of the good guys, son, ’cause there’s way too many of the bad.
*Because of course you’re a virgin, nerd! And yes, that is also the plot of an episode of Veronica Mars. Well spotted, marshmellow, well spotted.
Table Manners is a new commentary and criticism series for gamers and their own little corner of geek culture. Like what you read? Enjoy larping in particular? Click on the BLT or Badass LARP Talk tags to read a different semi-regular advice series for larpers of all kinds. You can also follow me on Twitter @WriterPete, and subscribe to the blog to stay in the loop about future updates!
I was at a con, early 90’s at the Penta hotel in NYC, and a friend of mine really pissed me off. I knew he was a dog and didn’t let it bother me until this event. We were wandering around the dealer floor and a girl was wearing some skimpy costume and he asked me for my camera to take a picture. At first I thought he was jockeying for a clear shot for a picture then quickly figured out he was simply keeping a clear shot to stare at her tits. It was obvious to me she was getting creeped out and told him it was time to move on. His response was “I’m not done”. I said “Yes you are because you’re being creepy to her and pissing me off, now take the god damn picture and let’s go”
Him “Why are being a jerk?”
Me “You’re being an asshole, give me my camera back”
Him “I didn’t get a shot”
Me “tough shit, you’ve had plenty of time”
I grabbed my camera out of his hands and walked up to the girl and apologized for his behavior. She said thank you with genuine appreciation in her eyes. I asked if she wanted me to get security and she said no. I didn’t have a clue if there was security, I don’t think she did either. I continued walking and my friend ran after me to find out what was wrong with me (WTF?!). Needless to say we had a long discussion over this whole event.
BTW, you are spot on about the whole rape comments bullshit. Women aren’t the only ones who are sexually assaulted. Any traumatic event results in PTSD. Smells, sounds, and words can cause a flashback, and let me assure anyone who hasn’t had to live with flashbacks they are just as soul crushing as the initial event. What makes them actually worse is you never know when you’ll get one or how bad it’ll be.
July 29, 2013 at 9:49 pm
What you did with your friend is exactly what more people need to do, and I salute you for it. A lot of this crap goes on because everyone else passively permits it – if we can change that so that people who try to pull sexist bullshit feel the disapproval of the community, that will go a long way, I think.
July 30, 2013 at 3:56 am
I just stumbled upon this from a friends facebook post, felt the need to share it on a Gundam fanpage I run, because this kind of shit runs RAMPANT in the Anime community. It’s gotten to the point where despite my 20 years of anime fandom I despise the majority of anime fans, because of the sheer ignorance towards gender politics that leads to some of the worst commentary of females i’ve heard in my lifetime.
Anywho, Just wanted to say thanks for addressing this. I shall continue to call assholes out on asshole behavior. 🙂
August 6, 2013 at 5:29 pm
Heh, you’d have loved the Women in Larp panel my friends held a few weeks ago. And I agree two hundred percent about what you said. My argument is that the whole notion of women not being geeks comes from the stereotypical geek being in his basement and not interacting with anyone outside of his comfort zone, to which girls are most assuredly are. It’s time for guys to get out of the basement and live in the geek world of the new millenia. There are women out there, women who are geeks, women who are bigger and better geeks than most guys are. I have been part of Star Wars Stage Combat groups where the most talented members have been the women. I go to DR and the women are some of the hardest hitting people in the room.
Like I said, come out of the basement, boys, and embrace your sister nerds.
July 30, 2013 at 12:20 am
Well said, sir, well said. Say, doesn’t your blog also tackle a lot of gamer culture? You should totally steer people that way too. 🙂
July 30, 2013 at 3:59 am
I liked what you said until I read the word privilege. You do realize that in your example you are explicitly wrong? Most rape happens between parties that know each other already. This means, I would (statistically) have less to fear from a stranger threatening it than a friend or acquaintance. Additionally, most men that are raped are raped by other men. You literally cannot call that privilege, as both sexes are at risk by the same one – no double standard exists at all.
Instead of miring that argument in privilege, mire it in asking how appropriate talking about murdering the other team is. Saying it in character is possible – threats are sometimes effective and useful in character. Saying it a way that is clearly for effect may be possible – “Attacking 20 trolls with only the 3 of us? That’s suicide!” But saying in a way that could really be seen as threatening or hurtful – “I’m gonna kill you later” or “You should just kill yourself”- that is not appropriate. There is no need to say one is okay and the other isn’t and figure out why, instead simply say that both are probably bad in most instances.
I do believe that sexism, especially in the geek culture (and I am intentionally painting broad strokes than you did), is rampant and needs to stop. But that doesn’t mean that sexism is the reason certain things are bad. Rather, simply ask if you would use the same language to talk about or to a guy. Then ask if it is still appropriate anyway. If the first answer is no, it is probably a sexism problem. If it is yes, followed by no – it is probably a problem for other reasons.
July 30, 2013 at 12:34 am
With respect, I think you mistook the use of privilege I was referring to there. I was referring to the fact that, by and large, rape is not a concern for men the way it is for women. They joke about it and bandy the term about because it literally does not mean the same thing for them that it is does to women. That is the privilege I was referring to – these men laugh about it because it’s not a threat to them the same way it is to women.
Mind, I’m not saying that men aren’t raped, or that individual men might not be more understanding and sensitive to the subject. And I don’t believe male privilege extends to the act itself. But speaking as a man, I can safely say that I really didn’t understand the sort of privilege I had until my best friend – a woman – sat me down and explained how she always had to keep track of the men around her at a party or while walking down the street, strangers and friends alike, noting any who seemed suspicious or threatening or possibly out of control, because they represented a real threat of sexual assault to her. Even if it was people she knew she still had to be vigilant, because as you said, many rapes and assaults are perpetrated by people known to the victim. I was stunned. It never occurred to me that women would have to see the world that way, that constant level of vigilance … and not having to think that way myself is a very real form of male privilege.
I do like your point about linguistics too. We should always be mindful of what we say, even in play, because you never know what buttons other people might have.
July 30, 2013 at 2:41 am
This is so true. I can’t trust friends or co-workers to get me an open drink as it might be drugged. This is not something the average male has to think about. If at a party if I want a drink I have to get up & get one as well as keep an eye on how drunk I’m getting to limit the chance of getting raped. In general if someone in a group offers to get drinks the guys in the group don’t have to wonder if their drink will be drugged so they can let the friend/co-worker bring drinks back for them.
August 6, 2013 at 3:15 pm
” Most rape happens between parties that know each other already. This means, I would (statistically) have less to fear from a stranger threatening it than a friend or acquaintance.”
I would just point out that conferences and gaming groups are exactly the places best suited for turning strangers into acquaintances. So, while the statement is accurate, it in no way alters the importance of respecting people’s boundaries and not throwing rape threats around so casually. According to the latest and best research on the subject, approximately 8% of men are rapists, and when you let rape jokes and rape threats go by unremarked, you’re letting any rapists in the vicinity know that his assumption that all men are rapists like him is correct.
July 31, 2013 at 4:24 pm
at the VERY real risk of getting the exact kind of abuse you mention.. allow me to say the following
1. i am female (born that way ,not that it matters)
2. i used to be considered pretty hot in a bikini.
3. i am old enough to be any of your mothers
4. my first game of D&D was in 1983
i also played White Wolf before they had more than one book, played battle tech in the army with my buddies… oh yes, and played ORIGINAL Travelor, own all the Paranoia books, and still have most of the original Dragon Magazines… although i think some got lost when our basement flooded.
and the guys i met back then? were WAY more polite than they are now.. probably why they all have good relationships …
July 30, 2013 at 2:18 am
I firmly believe that gamer culture has developed some bad habits because it’s been allowed to, but that fundamentally we can change them for the better.
Also, Paranoia is incredible. Everyone who didn’t already know that, really should, and every indie game designer working now should tip a cap to what it did in terms of challenging how games are played and structured.
July 30, 2013 at 4:10 am
I agree. The computer is my friend. (Now where did my clones get to?)
July 30, 2013 at 12:42 pm
Amen sister! We are from the same generation of geek women and you are right on the money with your comments.
July 30, 2013 at 8:59 pm
I have to say you are very spot on. I have seen o many guys who openly just treat girls like they are objects. I am all for the ability of women to wear however a skimpy costume as they want, hell I know I want to rock a Black Widow or Lady Loki costume one day. But just because they are dressed like the characters they like does not mean you just get to stare openly at their tits or their ass and say “Well it’s your fault. You were dressed like that so clearly you wanted that attention”. No. I wanted to be some of my favorite comic book characters. I wanted to feel pretty and badass, not be grabbed by strangers or stalked around conventions because you think I should fuck you.
They try to pass it off as “Oh I’m just messing around. It’s just a joke.” when you call them out on it. But after the twentieth time of people telling the women to “Get in the kitchen and make them a sandwich” or “Tits or GTFO” it ceases to be a joke. All it is is sexism disguised as jokes.
July 30, 2013 at 3:01 am
“’Well it’s your fault. You were dressed like that so clearly you wanted that attention.’ No. I wanted to be some of my favorite comic book characters. I wanted to feel pretty and badass, not be grabbed by strangers or stalked around conventions because you think I should fuck you.”
This is an incredible statement, and should be printed on the front page of every convention program in inch-high letters. Seriously. Brava.
July 30, 2013 at 3:15 am
“I wanted to be some of my favorite comic book characters.”
I am not a comic fan, but most of the female comic characters that I’ve seen — even the badass ones — tend to be busty and impossibly thin and dressed in really skimpy clothing. I get wanting to be like your favorite characters, but maybe another aspect that should really be addressed is the fact that even comic artists who draw badass women still make them look like supermodels and dress them in clothing that would make actual fighting pretty difficult if not impossible. Would be nice to see some who look like real women for a change — and I don’t even mean they have to be overweight; realistically proportioned would be a start. They’re still writing comics for teenage boys and young men for the most part, rather than acknowledging that girls and women might like some role models too. (I’m sure this is as unconscious as a lot of the other behaviors described here, but it is yet another thing that contributes to women’s poor self-images.)
July 31, 2013 at 3:54 pm
The thing about “it’s just a joke”? It means nothing. It’s like saying “That’s not an animal, it’s just a cat!”
Sexist jokes are sexism. Adding the word “just” does not make it other than it is.
Geek girl here who’s put up with a LOT of casual geekdom entrance exams in her time.
August 2, 2013 at 3:32 pm
Not every question is an “entrance exam”. I am old enough that I did start playing D&D with the original big red box in the 70’s. Something I have seen a lot lately is young women who don’t know the history/lore/canon of the subject and will say wildly incorrect nonsense. If anyone is so bold as to correct them they immediately say that the correction was only because they are female and no one would treat a man that way. They are usually half right. We would correct another man if he made that same mistake only we would be much harsher to him. I see a constant thread of young women at game cons and comic cons who assume that anyone who questions them is only doing it to shame them as they are women.
EXAMPLE 1: I was at a local con and a young women showed up in a “Star Trek: Next Generation” costume. One of my friends started talking to her and the conversation went like this “is your costume a specific character or just a general uniform?” “I am female version of Riker”. (Riker’s uniform was red but she was in blue) “You watched the show?” “Of course I watched the show. What cause I have a vagina I can’t watch Star Trek?” end conversation. BTW if she had been a man my friend would have said “Riker? really because you are in the wrong color idiot.”
Example 2: At a game con I saw a young man DMing a 4th edition D&D module which included a couple of female players. One of them was playing a LN monk. The player did a few things that a Lawful Neutral character wouldn’t do. When the DM call her out she instantly when with “OH I get it girls not welcomed. I bet if one of the guys did that you wouldn’t say anything. Don’t tell me how to play my character!” Again jumping to the conclusion that everyone is trying to exclude her or that she should not be held accountable as male players are because she is a girl.
Last 2 thoughts 1. No rape jokes aren’t funny, then again neither are mutilation jokes. In all my decades of playing RPG and going to cons I have never NEVER heard a man “joke” to one of the female participants about raping her or her being raped. ON the other hand I have heard dozens of castration and penis mutilation jokes from female participants. 2. why is there always some guy who appoints himself the “Luke Skywalker White Knight” who must stand up for the helpless women and let other men know that they are out of line. Honestly I find that behavior just as offensive as the men who attack women. They are both based on the concept of women being weak.
August 9, 2013 at 6:32 am
The danger on either end of the debate is the hasty generalization – assuming that because one part of a group is a certain way, that all members are that way. I tried to acknowledge it in my original post, that not all men act this way – in fact, most aren’t – but that we’ve been allowing the jerks to speak for us.
In this specific instance, while the examples you supplied certainly support your point, there is also an awful lot of evidence out there that shows the kind of environment that female geeks and gamers have to endure. Does it mean they’re always right? Of course not. Does it mean you can’t ask them questions or point out mistakes? Again, of course not. And in those examples you gave, they were incorrect and reacted poorly to being corrected. That’s on them. But there is absolutely no question that a lot of geekdom and gamer culture still has a problem with their treatment of women, and so I think it’s fair to remember that women will reflect that as well. Plus, while your anecdotes support your points, there’s also been a substantial number of anecdotes shared here by men and women alike that disagree with the assessment that women are largely overreacting, not to mention a growing body of research on everything from female representation in comics to body shaming in cosplay to misogyny in online gaming that shows there are real problems in the culture.
I concur with the idea that jokes about any kind of mutilation are not productive – when another comment mentioned using “get castrated” to fight back I was just as opposed to that. As far as the rape jokes go, I’m glad you’ve not experienced that, but I can guarantee you that your experience is not representative of the community as a whole. Much like using the word “gay” as a pejorative, the word “rape” is unfortunately very popular with younger gamers as an expression of frustration or ownage. Most of them don’t see it as harmful, which is part of the reason it’s so prevalent, but some of them know exactly how upsetting it is and wield it like a weapon because they know it will upset and possibly even frighten their targets. Check out sites like Fat, Ugly or Slutty if you don’t believe me, or witness what happens when Anita Sarkeesian questions gaming culture. Video games are some of the worst offenders in this regard, but they are by no means the only place where gaming and rape culture collide.
As for the white knight thing, I’m sorry you took that away from this article, but I’ll go with the estimation of most of the other posters here – particularly the women, who I’m sure would have called me on that kind of patronizing attitude long before you came along – and stand by my work as supportive, not overprotective or condescending.
August 9, 2013 at 6:57 am
I am 38 years old. I have been a table top gamer, comic book reader, LARPer for a very long time. I recently dragged my husband back into LARPing. While I am terrible at melee(I am all offense and minimal defense) I am amazing at the bow. People seem to marvel that I am such a great shot, like it is some sort of miracle.
Over the years I have had men treat me like crap because I was a girl and couldn’t possibly share the same interest. I once had a huge fanpage dedicated to comic books and put my picture in and I had an entire comment page that basically insinuated that my picture was a lie because pretty girls can’t make web pages and aren’t geeky. It does NOT help at all that the media perpetuates this stereotype. Look at the Big Bang theory. They are constantly making remarks that all comic book geeks are fat and homely or that the girl in a comic book shop is akin to finding a unicorn. It’s a stereotype that needs to stop. Being pretty and geeky is not mutually exclusive.
Let me tell you a tiny story about how people being judgmental can be exceptionally detrimental:
I was at Gencon when it was at its last time in Milwaukee (so many moons ago) and I was having massive stomach pains. I decided to go to the emergency room and based on my symptoms they sent me to the woman’s health emergency section. When I was there describing my symptoms, the doctor asked my husband to leave the room. He spent almost an hour badgering me because he thought I had Chlamydia. He tried to get me to confess that I was messing around because I was “too pretty for my husband”. I was embarrassed and almost in tears. I would never cheat on my husband and it hurt that the insinuations were being made. The test came back and it showed I did not have Chlamydia. But the experience made me so shaken that I did not go back to a doctor when the pain came back. When I went to figure out why I could not have children, it turned out I had endometriosis. The doctor said it was one of the worst cases he had ever seen and because of that it damaged things so badly that I am unable to have children. Had that doctor spent time really listening to me instead of immediately deciding I was a super slut, it could have been discovered earlier and I could have avoided years of pain. I am not sad that I can’t have children, I adopted an awesome boy, but this doctor has probably also hurt other women by his presumptions and behavior.
Never make asinine assumptions about women. We can game, we can be geeky and we come in all packages and sizes. There is no stereotypical male geek. There is no stereotypical female geek. This is supposed to be a culture that should be accepting and open. I don’t understand why its so hard.
Thank you for posting this.
July 30, 2013 at 3:10 am
I had something like this happen to me once with a doctor. I was eighteen, and I’d come down with a serious bacterial infection. I went into the doctor (male, of course) and started telling him I was often nauseous, was having stomach pains, etc. He automatically accused me of being pregnant.
Now, this was the most awkward argument I’ve ever had with a doctor. He would not relent, and would not let me get a word in edgewise. I was pregnant, and that was all there was to it. Flustered, and extremely indignant at this point, I snapped at him that there was no possible way I was with child, because I was still one hundred percent a virgin. I will never forget how he looked at me like I was a damn fantasy creature. What? Eighteen year olds that haven’t had sex can exist?
So he insisted, again without letting me complete my list of symptoms that I had mono, and suggested I get a blood test done. I went right back to the waiting room and insisted upon seeing another doctor, a woman doctor who listened to all my symptoms, and lo and behold, I was neither pregnant, nor did I have mono. I had a god damn bacterial infection. I had never been so furious as a young woman.
I can’t say I’ve been a huge part of the nerd culture anymore. To be honest, I’ve been chased away from a lot of it, my lifestyle has hugely changed, and I was always into obscure nerdy things to begin with.
But I mainly stopped *telling* people that I was into those nerdy things. Why? Because I would get this series of reactions that started with:
– The quiz, so they can prove they are more nerdy in their fandom than I.
– The failure. Because it’s such an obscure fandom, and I was dedicated to those I favoured, it was very rare that I was ever outshone in a battle of fan-wit.
– The immediate interest. The conviction that we are perfect for one another, with complete disregard to any thought that my interests in men aren’t solidly based off of what I read, watch, or play for fun.
This is an incredible post, and the rise of men who are talking just as strongly as women about changing the “geeky norms” is incredible. Even if I’m not much of a geek anymore, this is a topic that I enjoy following, because it is greatly restoring my faith in the geek.
Thanks for the awesome post!
July 30, 2013 at 5:46 am
@Chen: As I read the “reaction checklist” I found myself nodding, albeit a little sadly, at how accurate those stages are for a lot of geeks out there. It’s weird, and a little creepy, how quickly some geek guys can go from “You’re not a Real Geek” to “OMG U MUST BE MAI SOULMATE!!!!111” solely on the basis of shared interests or fandoms. Not to mention that they can’t understand why you might not immediately want to drop everything to date them/sleep with them based solely on these common points. Glad you liked the post!
July 30, 2013 at 6:05 am
Chen: I had the pregnancy assumption when I was a teen. It didn’t help that I was 14 years older than my brother and that he was always with me. People naturally assumed it was mine and I got called “whore”, “slut”. One guy cornered me in an elevator and accused me of destroying the welfare system. No one believed he was my brother or that I was a virgin at the time. People make assumptions and regardless of evidence presented never believe the truth.
I think the reason that more women aren’t in geek cultures is the unwelcoming or skeezy vibe they get. When I first got into online Rpgs I always chose a male avatar to keep them away. I watched many of my friends play women avatars and guys would hound them asking them if they were real gurls or doing things exceptionally disgusting. They would get lewd tells and one of my friends watched as some guy used the emote system to fake rape her. Or they treated the girls like they were too stupid to play. I played a male for many years and someone whom I was friends with would chat to me about how all the women players were just dumb bimbos that kept real players like us down. I never bothered to tell him I was female.
I often wonder partially if it is reflex for guys. They see a pretty girl and the fear of being rejected makes it a knee jerk response to either reject or objectify the girl geek. It’s easier to objectify or not allow someone in because that way if he gets to know her and like her he isn’t crushed when she is not interested.
Now I am going to defend most of you guys. Since my twenties there has been an upswing in men recognizing the female geek and actually welcoming them. I have found that for every 1 jerkwad there are 20 awesome guys that really go out of their way to be welcoming and happy that there are more girls in their culture. I feel like it is an upswing from years ago. DO I still see a pack of guys that are ridiculously in love with that one pretty, lively, geek girl? Yes and I doubt that will ever really change.
I went back to LARPing in NJ (KR) and it is an oddly welcoming and diverse environment. I was very surprised and the ratio to men and women seem about equal. I do notice that there are a small set of girls that take advantage of their popularity and pit the guys against each other and that needs to stop too. I wish I could say that women geeks are wholly innocent, but there are women that take advantage of their assets to the emotional detriment of others. This is what causes rifts in the sexes and sours people into making these ridiculous assumptions in the first place. If you are in a group, make it clear that you are not interested instead of insinuating you may like someone or multiple someones to gain game advantages. I have seen girls do it and have had girls proudly claim they do it. It’s not cool. It’s that behavior that makes things terrible for everyone.
July 30, 2013 at 1:17 pm
@Marie: Thank you for sharing. That story horrifies me in terms of what was done to you, but I’m glad at least you could turn into something that can help others understand their own prejudices and assumptions.
On a side note, I totally understand where you’re coming from as an archer. There’s a small but persistent contingent of boffer larpers who assume that the only kind of fighting women are good at is archery – but even then they’d never be as good as a man, of course.
And you’re entirely correct about their being a lot of good gamer guys out there, who aren’t socially awkward, who know how to treat people with respect and so on. I think it’s just that we’ve been too quiet for too long, and given the idiots the megaphone (as Extra Credits would say). We’ve let the creepers become the public face of our culture, and we shouldn’t ever accept that.
July 30, 2013 at 6:00 am
This has been wonderfully written, covering all the points with appropriate reason and examples that I can’t usually find when I’m frustratedly trying to search for words in the heat of the moment. Thankyou, Ser, and hats off to you.
In Australia we just had our first PAX, and it was the first time I’ve ever seen booth babes at an Aussie con. maybe I don’t go to enough, I’m not sure, but I think it was the first appearance of them (good freaking on you, World of Tanks). Either way it was pretty disgusting and made me uncomfortable.
I was rather impressed at the public outrage that sprung up after the event. A promoter of War of Tanks commented on a Melbourne indie-game developer page asking what we thought of the game, and the response to the booth babes form both males and females on how unacceptable it was, was uplifting. There was one guy specifically trying to defend it, going on about how ‘sex works in selling so why the hell not, those girls are being paid’ sort of lame excuse. i left the conversation after that comment, though I heard he got slammed. I think the situation is not as glaringly bad over here as it is in America, though we still have some serious work to do.
I get called out for being a ‘fake nerd’ a lot. Mainly because my parents were very strict with me growing up and we weren’t allowed to have gaming consols in the house until i got a job and could afford my own. There were also very few in the way of other nerds in my area, so i had no one to share interests with. So whilst I hungered after video games at my friends’ houses and got to play some oldies on my brother’s computer every now and then, I never played or got into some of the classics like the mario games. The reaction is really quite stupid -_-
July 30, 2013 at 5:12 am
I’m glad to hear that people at an event like PAX were standing up to the booth babe phenomenon right there at the convention – that says good things to me about where our culture might be heading if we keep trying. Good on you!
The fake nerd thing is seriously depressing to me, honestly, on many levels. It speaks to a lot of self-loathing mixed in some serious misogyny. One of the fundamental thoughts that drives it seems to be that “attractive people in general, and attractive women in particular, can’t be *real* geeks” which says a lot of pretty terrible things about how geeks see themselves as a culture. It becomes even more strange and unhealthy when you consider how many geek guys bemoan the supposed shortage of women in their culture, only to turn around and viciously judge them when they appear – if they’re too pretty, they can’t be real geeks, and if they’re not pretty enough then they’re Ugly Cosplay Chicks and get ridiculed for that instead. It’s a terrible and terrifying double standard.
I think it stems at least in part from the old school notion that pretty people wouldn’t be geeks because they could get dates in high school and would go to parties on Saturday nights instead of staying home to play D&D or Mario Kart. But we’ve grown beyond that, I think, and years ago besides. Geek culture has never been so mainstream as it is now, for better or worse, and it’s time we stop assuming we’re outsiders and start acting more like the rock stars we really are.
July 30, 2013 at 6:17 am
Also, as the discussion goes on, I feel like people might also find it interesting to read something I wrote a little while back, the post that kicked off the Table Manners series:
It’s less about gender and more about geek culture overall, but I think some of it is still relevant to the current discussion. Especially as I feel a lot of insecurities that lead to some of the bad behavior being discussed can be traced back to factors that need to be addressed in the culture as a whole. Food for thought, anyway.
Thanks for the great discussion so far, everyone, and for sharing some really amazing and personal stories. You guys are incredible.
July 30, 2013 at 6:25 am
Reblogged this on Confessions of a Geek Queen and commented:
Read my comment on this post!
July 30, 2013 at 12:03 pm
Thanks for this, Peter. It’s great to hear it coming from the mouths of men in the community. The message is heard differently than when we women say the same thing.
July 30, 2013 at 2:13 pm
Yesterday a friend of mine wrote to me about this post and said, not unkindly, “Wow, you really got pretty worked up about this, didn’t you? Where did that come from?”
I paused, not sure quite how to answer her, and ultimately settled on: “Years of not saying anything about it finally caught up.”
Also, how’re things? Been a while since we had a project in common, what’s up with you lately? 🙂
July 30, 2013 at 2:17 pm
Reblogged this on Hoo Mah Moos?.
July 30, 2013 at 5:05 pm
July 30, 2013 at 8:48 pm
Your Welcome. I feel strongly about this subject and a friend and I will be reporting more on similar themes with our next convention in September. Check out our articles on Wonder woman and slut shaming, and The rape of Emma Frost. Thanks for writing this and shining more light on the subject.
July 31, 2013 at 1:28 am
I was part of an Amtgard Tournament at one point (boffer larp if you will) and was facing off against a relatively new lady fighter. She managed to kill me and despite it being a clean hit she immediately apologized and looked embarrassed. I was floored. I walked right up to her, bowed, shook her hand and congratulated her on her victory. Everyone around just stood there open mouthed. I couldn’t believe she was embarrassed about her victory but then I suddently realized…she had been playing with mostly chauvinistic boys and men who anytime they lost would downplay her victory to the point where she was loathe to actually try and fight. You could tell right away when she fought that she was hesitating a lot. I thought this was sad and an injustice. We spent the rest of that weekend sparring and I could immediately tell she had a talent for sword play. That my friends is something that should be nurtured. The following year she was back and you could tell the change in her. She walked with confidence and she won more duels/fights than she lost. I felt really proud of her.
July 30, 2013 at 5:10 pm
I’ve seen some astoundingly sexist fighting at games – to the point of several guys who more or less openly stated that they wouldn’t drop if they were fighting a woman. (To be fair, there was one female player at a fantasy game I attended we nicknamed the Nazgûl because “no man could defeat her” – she told people she didn’t want to give a guy the satisfaction of being her. Kind of a jerk too. But that’s one lady to several men all told.) I’ve also seen guys who won’t spar or fight with women, regardless of ability – they might fight them if the game forces them to do so, but they don’t tangle otherwise. So kudos to you for going above and beyond there.
July 30, 2013 at 8:54 pm
I was part of an Amtgard Tournament (boffer larp if you will) and was faced off against a pretty new player. She managed to score a solid hit to my chest which killed me outright. She immediately looked embarrassed and apologized profusely. The assembled at the time (mostly boys) were laughing uproariously saying things like “look at him, beaten by a girl etc). I was floored. I immediately walked over to her, smiled and bowed then shook her hand commending her on her technique. She looked like I had grown a second head. I couldn’t understand her reaction when suddenly it hit me. She was used to playing with chauvinistic boys and men who would downplay her victories to the point where as soon as she “accidently” won against any of them they’d say it was a lucky shot, or they were distracted etc. It was never congratulations on her victory, or commenting on her skill. I was disgusted. We spent the better part of that weekend sparring and I could tell instantly that she had a natural talent for sword play. She was quick, agile and her reactions were better than mine.
The next year I saw her return and you could immediately tell the change in her. She walked with confidence and when she fought everyone took notice. I fell out of touch with her but I would not be surprised if she had been knighted by now.
July 30, 2013 at 5:18 pm
Damnit, the first one didn’t show up right away so I posted a second.
July 30, 2013 at 5:18 pm
Hello, I posted this on my blog, “Sh*t not to Say to Women at Conventions” (womenatconventions on Tumblr, if you’re interested), while we’re currently waiting for submissions. The blog is focused on the horrible things men say to women at conventions, and we have some pretty good examples….
That said, I did want to contest the heading that “booth babes are gross.” I don’t think that heading lends to the content of your actual article. I almost stopped reading when I read it, but I’m glad I didn’t.
I’m a CEO and often get mistaken for a booth babe. I have been groped during pictures, discussed as though I was not present, and “thanked” for my breasts, as though they were the most important offering I have (and as though I had any say in forming them? I mean, thanks, I guess…?). It’s not like these men would say “oh woops, I am so sorry I treated you like a booth babe when you’re actually a game designer! Just take back all that stuff I said” if they knew. But if they did, it wouldn’t give me any solace…. a woman should be allowed to do her job, regardless of what that job is, without being groped or harassed. I am not better than a booth babe. I do not DESERVE better treatment than one because I make books.
But largely, it’s irrelevant, because I am a petite woman at a booth and so I am treated as window dressing, like one of our books that can be picked up and flipped through and remarked upon. No one should be treated like that, not ever.
And that seemed to be what you were saying, though your subheading seemed to suggest otherwise. I don’t want to nitpick but I do want to fight for the rights of scantily-clad hotties, the same as I fight for the rights of full-figured women, of all women, scantily-clad or not, regardless of shape. And that one subheading was a bit offputting, and might give the wrong idea to readers who don’t do more than skim.
July 30, 2013 at 6:04 pm
You know, you’re not the first person who has mentioned that subheading bothering them (and for reasons like those you list), so I’m going to file it under “fair critique” and change it. Thanks for giving the blog a chance despite a potentially misleading section.
July 30, 2013 at 7:35 pm
This is fantastic. Honestly. I’ve been into games since I was a young kid, and I remember my parents finally letting me buy a Genesis with my birthday money. I had been hooked ever since. I’ve avoided the online gaming communities as a whole because of horror stories my friends have told me, and after I was assaulted twice (as a minor, no less) at two separate conventions. I just really didn’t want to deal with this kind of behavior, because any time I spoke up I was dismissed by the guys around me as just being “too sensitive”.
Your section on rape threats seriously hit home. I am a survivor. I don’t leave my little section of XBL where I am amongst people I know and trust. It isn’t that I feel that the people who say “I’m going to rape you” are going to come to my house and do it, but it’s that moment when memories start to bubble up. Seriously, guys, stop.
And lastly, I just laugh at the notion of a “fake gamer”. I suppose I should turn in my gamer card or whatever it is, because I just am physically unable to play as much as I used to. I still love games with all the passion that I had as a youngster, but I work two jobs that require extensive use of my hands; sometimes holding a controller is just too painful. But I love getting lost in a wonderful world and enjoying time with my friends, so I just keep going like a trooper despite the pain.
July 30, 2013 at 7:22 pm
Thanks for the kind words! I’m glad you liked the piece. Honestly, one of the things that originally drew me to write about it was the utter disbelief I felt that gamer culture, which often likes to identify itself as kids who grew up bullied (or worse), would be so judgmental and sexist toward its own members.
July 30, 2013 at 8:47 pm
I’m female, and have been to a few cons and seen most of this. Had a guy tell me he was going to ‘get my friend drunk and take her to his room’ Um. No. The rest of the group we were with kicked him out and I was immediatly a ‘lesbo’ for defending my female friend. Found out later he ended up with an underage girl in his room… 😦
SDCC… I got trapped in a crush of guys in a walkway who wouldn’t let me through. There was a ‘booth babe’ who had a nip slip… I finally raised my voice as much as I could. “THEY’RE BOOBS GET OVER IT!” Ummmmm yeah I got through after that. 😉
Another female friend had a stalker for most of a con…he ended up being forcibly removed by security after several complaints…
July 30, 2013 at 7:35 pm
One of the big problems I’ve seen over the years are cons with no security, or security that has no idea how to handle something like a harassment claim. I’ll admit it’s not always easy to navigate, but some of them didn’t even try. And then they wonder why someone like John Scalzi reaches the point where he refuses to attend any convention that doesn’t have a clearly defined, strongly enforced harassment policy.
July 30, 2013 at 8:42 pm
I’m older than all of the dudebros, late 30s (Although i look mid 20s – I’m an elf! Or just blessed with good skin genes). I’ve been playing D&D since the red box set. I worked at a comic book store in the 90s. I always win at Star Wars Trivial pursuit against people of similar nerd knowledge.
And I am a lady. And a pro. And I hang onto the fringes of all the fandoms I’ve dipped my toes in because, really, things can be nasty out there.
The gatekeeper is my biggest annoyance. I just staaaaaare at them with an incredulous look on my face until they slink away nowadays. I once had a guy sniff my hair and I gave him a stunned look and went into my hotel (In hindsight I should have asked him what the eff he thought he was doing).
I’ve experienced the boffer-type thing in online gaming. As though my delicate female constitution who main tanked while or tank was away could no longer do it because, and I quote ‘They hit really hard’. The menz were back, I lost my position. The worse thing is, most of the other guys didn’t see why I was mad about it until I pointed it out. All the other women in my group sent me private messages right away about it.
I could go on and on and on, but I won’t.
I will say this: Most men I’ve encountered have been polite and amazing. Gracious and fantastic. I love my fans.
Those of you starting to stand up against this are fantastic. It does make me incredibly sad that if a woman does this she gets rape threats. Like.. way to make my point, dudebro.
I hope the rest of your gender grows up.
July 30, 2013 at 9:28 pm
I agree with Amy, I’m really happy to see that there are some guys out there who aren’t participating (or condoning by ignoring). I keep going back to Cons hoping that someday I’ll manage to attend one without the sort of things Amy mentioned, so far it hasn’t happened but I’m hopeful. If more people, men and women, will stand up – then Cons and Gaming might just become fun for all again. You can’t raise yourself out of geek-dom by pushing others down the way you were pushed.
July 30, 2013 at 9:54 pm
A really good read and sadly very true. I have quit gaming and limit my attendance at cons (which I really enjoy) because of those very issues. Yes, I am fully capable of “just dealing with it” but why the hell should I have too? It takes all the fun out of being there in the first place. I would rather just go out back and shoot my 9mm or Bear Siren at a real target thank you.
July 30, 2013 at 9:44 pm
I’ve seen or experienced all these things and the one you did not mention – the reaction to the “not pretty” geek girl. The attitude that if you are not eye candy, you have even less right to be at the convention/LARP/gaming event. While, it is nice to not be subject to the groping and staring, the comments are worse than nasty. The sheer entitlement is disgusting – the idea that I can’t be a gamer because I am a girl followed by the attitude that since I am not a hot, little booth babe I am infringing upon their undeniable right to only look at girls they want to leer at.
Like some of the other ladies who have posted, I am old enough to be the mom of some of these dudebros though I look about their age. I have be gaming since the early eighties and would have started sooner if I had known anyone who gamed sooner. I have also noticed that this has happened over time as when I started gaming everyone was happy to have girls show interest in the hobby.
July 30, 2013 at 10:53 pm
” I am infringing upon their undeniable right to only look at girls they want to leer at.”
I’m not even a gamer, and I’ve gotten this attitude multiple times. It’s almost an “How dare you block the sun” kind of thing–as if your whole purpose in life is to look good for men, and you can’t even do that right. Really discouraging.
August 1, 2013 at 9:26 pm
The CBGB bathrooms weren’t THAT bad. The rest is what it is. A culture that won’t police itself festers.
July 31, 2013 at 12:18 am
…I think I LARP in a shiny, fantasy land of LARPS where women are really just as likely to be front line fighters as guys, and also crunchy NPCs/ NPC world badasses. I mean, I completely believe that this happens; it makes sense, and both the LARP that I play and the LARP that I help run are done by the same parent group with the same community, but… DAMN. It just didn’t occur to me before today that this was actually a problem. Hell’s Bells.
Also, I suddenly miss my Scum friends from back in the day. They were way too drunk and effed up to worry about who was Genuine Punk and who wasn’t. But they had some… I hesitate to use the word awesome… they had some GG Allin stories, anyway.
July 31, 2013 at 2:02 pm
Agreed – shiny, fantasy land of larp does exist for many people. It should exist for more. I smell a facebook group…
July 31, 2013 at 5:16 pm
One of my “sister gamers” posted a link to this article on FB so I came to read and I’m glad I did.
As women we can speak out and act but change in cultures happen when those how have the authority (and power) start to speak out and act for change, too.
So the folks who organize and run events, the guests who attend and lead panels or do Q&A events or sign autographs, the people who have been attending for generations, they need to speak out and act. And since geek culture was initially more heavily male run, organized, and attended, this means men will have to speak out and act.
Thank you for being one of these men.
July 31, 2013 at 3:43 pm
By the way, everyone should really watch The Doubleclicks’ “Nothing to Prove” video, which is about this very subject. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4Rjy5yW1gQ
An article about the song and their experience writing it and collecting the video clips: http://www.toledofreepress.com/2013/07/30/mcginnis-the-doubleclicks-take-aim-at-%E2%80%98fake-geek-girl%E2%80%99-criticism/
July 31, 2013 at 4:00 pm
I remember my first GenCon (1982) when I was treated spectacularly. I wasn’t particularly pretty and not at all thin, but I was a girl and one of the few there. Yes, I had guys all over me but not in a disrespectful way. They were polite, smart and fun. A few were flirtatious. but not at all creepy. And while I did have a couple of invitations for more intimate activities, no one got all butt hurt when they were politely declined.
Fast forward to last year (still overweight and average looking and now over 50 to boot) when I wore a black leather mini skirt and snug tank top (w/ fishnets and heels) and a youngster made a crude and cruel remark. Frankly, I wanted to back-had the kid across the hall for his smart mouth but reined in my temper, pointed to my husband and said, “He thinks it’s super hot and he’s the only one here whose opinion matters to me.”
I think a lot of what we’re seeing with gamers/geeks being asshats is just that. They’re rude and don’t give a damn. No one has taught them it’s wrong to be jerks. Back in the day we made fun of the jocks because they were crude, lewd, rude and socially unacceptable. Sadly, many of the guys coming up through the ranks now are just as bad as the people we used to make fun of.
July 31, 2013 at 4:27 pm
Thank you SO much for this article. I’ve been a gamer since I was about 11, my older brother started me out in a Planescape tabletop game with some of his friends (who were all in their late teens/early 20’s). The game was majority female, so as a young girl I thought that gaming was an equal playing ground. It took quite awhile for me to discover otherwise – mainly, video games. I’ve been around the gaming pool now, 14 years later of course, RPG’s, LARP, Miniatures, MTG, Ren Faires, WoW and other MMO’s, Online Roleplay forums, I’ve run small table-top conventions and started a Video Game club in college, and to be honest, the only bad people I’ve run into were at Pax East, the Video Game Club I started and then quit the same year, and MMO’s. Seriously. Maybe it’s just a different kind of person (or maybe a computer screen makes it anonymous) but I will NEVER play an MMO again. As soon as I made it clear I was a woman to almost anyone it was instant bombardment. It’s just harassment plain and simple – and I reported them, at least after giving them a quick witted, sharp tongue comment about being chauvinistic pigs who need to get out of their parents basements. Needless to say, I don’t play WoW anymore. I don’t play almost any game I own in a group online setting unless it’s with close friends. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve been larping for 9 years now, and almost everyone i’ve interacted with has been amazing. Usually the dynamic is 50/50, but my most recent game is only about 10% female. I’ve never heard anyone get chided out of game for getting beaten by a girl (myself or others), avoided me purposefully or harassed me in any way that was uncomfortable. Obviously i’m in a small minority of lucky women.
That being said, the gamers that I choose to surround myself with (men and women alike) are awesome. Of course there are those few that are very socially awkward, and that can come across as creepy a lot of the time, that is just how they are. But I love them.
Thank you Patti – From personal experience, I’ve been in the “not hot” geek girl situation many times. It’s like, because you aren’t attractive you should know MORE about gaming to be considered acceptable, or that you should be throwing yourself at them. However, keep in mind, there are plenty of women out there who use their appearance to get what they want, in gaming, but in everyday life as well. Anyone notice that these problems apply to many things outside the gamer world too?
But still. The “barefoot in the kitchen making sandwiches” crap gets really old guys. It’s funny the first time. After that it’s annoying and insulting. Even if i’m a better cook than you, and enjoy sharing my food with everyone. (whew!)
July 31, 2013 at 5:14 pm
I must respectfully disagree with the last point “get in the kitchen & make me a sandwich.” Is NOT funny, not even the first time…
August 1, 2013 at 12:08 am
You missed a far more important point about rape threats v. violence threats.
We guys are well aware that direct violence threats seldom come to actual blows. Most of us will go our whole lives without experiencing the true, hospitalizing kind of personal violence. In environments where that *isn’t* true, such as the inner city, things are taken much more seriously.
The horrifying fact is that one in five women *are* raped in the course of their lifetime. Their “inner city” is everywhere. And if you spend any time around any number of women , chances are that its already happened to at least one of them.
My only other comment is a factual correction– its a common misconception that the red box was the first release of D&D. The “red box” was actually the SECOND release of D&D and it accompanied “AD&D”. The original release, that some of us real old timers played with, came in a small tan box.
July 31, 2013 at 5:51 pm
Thanks for this great post! I wish more men would do this!
I couple of notes:
1) Please be careful of your use of “ladies.” “Ladies” is used in a bunch of different ways, but the word has no equivalent for men. “Gentlemen” simply is not used nearly as much or in the same ways that “ladies” is used. Not all women, but a lot of women (myself included) find some uses of the word “ladies” offensive. Please don’t use “ladies” interchangeably with “women.” Adult female humans are “women,” juvenile female humans are “girls.” (For those transitioning from teen to adult, it’s safest to use “young women.”) It’s best if you stick to those in their appropriate place because all other words for female humans (broads, dames, chicks, females, etc.) are negatively loaded and someone will object to them. There’s no female equivalent to “guy,” which is a relaxed word for male humans of any age that doesn’t carry any load of moral judgement or behavioral expectations.
2) Comparing threats of rape to threats of murder is … well it’s not an equivalent comparison. Both men and women threaten to kill people, in both high and low stakes situations. It’s not a gendered threat. Rape and rape threats ARE gendered. Whether or not men are raped and how frequently has no bearing on the gendering of rape. The percentage of rapes committed by women is vanishingly small. The number of occasions that women THREATEN rape is even smaller. I, for one, have never heard a woman threaten rape, nor heard OF a woman threatening rape. THIS is why rape threats are a problem.
Again, thanks for this post and the discussion!
July 31, 2013 at 7:13 pm
I don’t know if you’ve read this yet, but it’s goooood… 🙂
July 31, 2013 at 9:27 pm
It is! And exactly the sort of thing we’re talking about. Taking away the permissive environment is a key part of the process.
August 1, 2013 at 6:10 pm
Thank you for this timely post, it is more than relevant to this issue in the Gamer world & in the wider (non-gamer) world.
I do believe that there are far more great, non-jerk-wad guys in the world than the A-holes but as you so clearly point out if the majority stays passively silent then the jerks are given free-range to pollute the whole culture.
that being said here is a suggestion for the female gamers to (albeit crudely) make their point when subjected to this type of harassment; in response to the “get raped” comments & any other such sexist, threatening comments, the response “get castrated” seems to be the equivalent nerve strike…
…of course I’m not condoning the actual castration of these “gentlemen” but the resulting shock & outrage is commensurate sauce for the A-holes who insist that their reproductive organs somehow entitle them to a free pass from human decency.
In conclusion let me make one point that was alluded to in the article & may make a good follow up post if the author is so inclined; the Geek culture likes to pose as the “smartest guy in the room” and has evolved around the (sadly) common bond of smart kids being bullied in school but as a female I have stayed away from the Gammer / Comic / Rpg community as a whole despite my love of comics, fantasy writing & Sci-fi because from my experience this “culture” is just as hostile & prone to bullying as the “Jocks” that you all claim to abhor.
so you were bullied, beat up or worse… that doesn’t give you the right to turn around & do the same to Anyone else female or male & if you do then you are now that same guy who pushed you down & laughed at you in front of the whole school.
There are only two possible outcomes for anyone who has been traumatized:
1) Heal your wounds, deal with your anger (therapy is great) & decide that the brutish actions of one stupid A-hole aren’t going to dictate the remainder of your life OR…
2) stay angry & hurt & nurse that resentment until you eventually become the same type abusive A-hole that hurt you in the first place.
The choice is of course up to you but if you choose option #2 and you happen to try that sh*t on me or any of my bad-ass 21st Century Sisters then let me just say on behalf of all the Ladies “Get castrated”.
July 31, 2013 at 11:56 pm
I appreciate the spirit of what you’re saying, but in specifics, “get castrated” isn’t productive. I’m not just talking about “not stooping to their level” but part of the problem is that responding in kind doesn’t faze most of the guys who have these attitudes. If you tell them that it just incites them on to more. I’m not saying don’t speak up, I’m saying that if you want to make an impact that won’t be the way to do it.
August 1, 2013 at 6:32 pm
Saying “get castrated” will just make it easier for jerks to try and assert “get raped is just banter / trash talk”. don’t rise to it just call them out on their behaviour as being unacceptable.
August 5, 2013 at 11:36 am
Pingback: Table Manners: A Very Special Geek Convention PSA | Positively Woodworthian
Pingback: https://peterwoodworth.com/2013/07/29/table-manners-guys-we-need-to-talk/ | galimatias2
I was once told flat out that I could not be a gamer/geek not only because I was female but because I am black (actually mixed race 1/2 native american .25 Scottish .25 creole). I had convention security called on me because my autistic 6 year old was trying to get away from me when i was trying to remove him from a booth selling Mario merchandise (he wanted something and mommy was not paying those over inflated prices). Needless to say the booth owner argued with me and said i had to be there to snatch a kid because “black people are not comic book fans). I must it took all of my strength not to lay the @$$hole out flat.
I am 40 and will admit I am a late bloomer when it comes to gaming. We had consoles and i have always loved comic books but as far as table tops go… sadly my mother was a hard core 700 club member so D&D was out. it was so bad at one point we could not watch He-Man because it portrayed magic in a good light and ALL magic was of the devil. it was not until I was 19 and a friend of mine brought over the Vampire the Masquerade book that I was hooked. After that I fell hard. VtM, Shadowrun, D&D, Pathfinder, Star Wars (D20), Dark Heresy, Serenity, Outbreak and so many others I just love. My husband and I were head STs for our Vampire LARP for over 2 years with 75 players+. All 3 of my children are gamers including our 20 year old daughter. She gets crap all the time for her love of cosplay but even more so because she loves to cosplay as male characters. My husband and I have raised out children to no only respect themselves but others be them gamers or not.
I have seen a lot of crap towards women over the 20+ years I have been playing and I have to say that very little of it has been directed at me but in our city the culture is rather tight. nine times out of 10 if you see someone at PAZ you saw them at Emerald City Comic son or Norwescon or Sakuracon. People know who I am and they know they step out of line I will dress them down very verbally, very publicly until they are tucking tail and running, stumbling over themselves to say they are sorry or crying (yes i have made @$$holes cry).
Ladies stand up for yourself! Do not let anyone shame you for loving what you love, dressing how you dress and kicking ass off and on screen! Men who love these girls stand up to your friends and d-bags you hear snickering and making snide comments. Cons, LARPS, reenactment groups are communities and there are rarely a host of strangers when it comes to these things. Let the a-holes know that if they are going to continue to be disrespectful their presence is no longer welcome! Weed out the trash!
Side note- as a female fighter in the SCA and a live steel group I will tell you, we look for the idiots who assume because we are girls we are weak. I keep my helm off on the lines and look for the jack @$$es pointing, laughing and making his amusement well know to those around him. 9 times out of 10 they are the first to hit the ground and be stepped over by me and my other female fighters before we move on the the real challenge 🙂
August 7, 2013 at 3:42 pm
I am 39, have been in the SCA since I was 6 and doing conventions of all kinds since I was 10. My parents made and sold jewelry, so I got to go to the events with them. As with most of the females in my family, I developed early. There was not a lot for me to do at my first convention, and because of how developed I was I was chased around the con by older men, and told that I was lying about my age. I got lucky, unlike a lot of the women that I know, while standing in line waiting for my turn to go across the stage for my entry into the Masquerade, I was befriended by a rather large man who was wearing a leather and metal set of dragon wings, he found out how old I was and who my parents were, and made a point of letting anyone know who would listen that I was off limits. This has made my life in the convention circuit easier. That is not to say that I have not heard the same things, and been the recipient of the same comments, but because I was taken care of by some very special people, I made it my mission to help others out.
I have some very close friends who have made some of the same comments to me, before they found out that I have been doing table top gaming since I was 10 and fighting heavy and light in the SCA since I was 16. For the most part I have not let it bother me, but now my daughter and step-daughters are into the gaming scene and are of an age to start fighting in Adria. I have verbally stomped some people under the ground because of the attitude that they take. My girls have been raised and trained that the person opposite you is not your friend, family member or someone of the opposite sex. They are your opponent and as such you will do your best to fight cleanly and take them out.
I love this blog, thank you so much for going over what I have said for years to my male gaming friends. It makes me have hope that my girls will have an easier time of it than I did.
August 7, 2013 at 11:26 pm
Pingback: The Gamers: The Hands of Fate film review! | Positively Woodworthian
Pingback: “The Gamers: Hands of Fate” film review! | Positively Woodworthian
Pingback: No One Can Deny You Entry to Geekdom, But Some Can Make It Really Hard to Get Through the Door First | The Geek Melange
June 1, 2020 at 9:52 pm