I’ve had this sitting as a draft for a good long while, now. And I just figured I should get it out here and hope it helps. I am not in any way claiming this is an exact, comprehensive guide on dealing with harassment. I do hope it sheds light on things, however.
Alrighty. So you’ve heard about women being harassed and assaulted in the hobby of board gaming, and you might be wondering a whole bunch of things. There are, and remain to be, issues with racism and classism in the hobby on top of this, but I have focused in somewhat on gender-based harassment here. Let’s just get this out of the way before anything else: yes, it happens in this hobby. Of course it does. It happens in the world, and this isn’t a magical bubble that keeps it out. Anywhere that people gather, it’ll happen. Which is depressing, yes, but realistic.
TL;DR: Harassment is real, and we need to do something about it for the hobby and the world at large.
What is harassment?
What is the issue in board gaming?
“I don’t see it!”
Where it happens
What can I do in the moment?
What is harassment?
Thank you to my HR teachin’ pal Mandi for providing this comprehensive definition!
Harassment is improper conduct by an individual that is directed at, and offensive to another individual in the workplace/an event/ a location and the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause offence or harm. It comprises objectionable act(s), comment(s) or display(s) that demean, belittle or cause personal humiliation or embarrassment, or any act of intimidation or threat. Based on the prohibited grounds i.e., race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital or family status, disability, pardoned conviction and conviction for which a record of suspension has been ordered. Harassment is normally a series of incidents but can be one severe incident which has a lasting effect on the individual.
NOTE: Harassment is about impact on an individual and not the intent of the other person.
What is the issue that is getting so much attention right now generally, and in board gaming as a hobby?
Of late, following a much larger revelation thanks to the #MeToo movement, issues of sexual harassment and abuse are being spoken about more generally. Within board gaming specifically, women have not necessarily gone public with their specific accounts, but instances of harassment and abuse are certainly being discussed. (These instances are certainly in the spotlight right now, but there are also broader problems of sexism, racism and homophobia and transphobia.)
While there are more women in the hobby and attending events than ever, we’re still seeing a gender disparity in board gaming (not just among gamers, but their representation, too). While this is not deliberate, it can have the effect of making the hobby seem intimidating, or unwelcoming, depending on the situation. Gil Hova wrote an incredibly insightful piece on the issue of “invisible ropes” that keep women out of gaming in 2014, and it’s still relevant today.
So, between the fact that the smaller demographics in the hobby seem to be on the receiving end of harassment and abuse disproportionately and also the fact that there has been a rise in our culture of discussing #MeToo and issues of sexual harassment and violence more openly, that’s why we’re seeing this get so much attention in our circles, especially on social media. I’d like to link to this great little comic that is a great summation of what it feels like to try and talk about harassment – or not.
Let us not diminish the fact that these are just a portion of instances – that generally, women may (and do) experience this harassment elsewhere. More importantly, this is a society-wide issue. It’s a “pyramid” held up by every type of action:
Misogyny isn’t a sliding scale of harm where jokes are situated at the low end and rape at the other. Rather, it functions like a human pyramid, where minor acts support the major by providing, at best, a foundation of blithe indifference, and at worst an atmosphere of amusement at the denigration of women. (Pitman, 2018)
“I don’t see it!” – then you’re not the target (plus: info about false accusations)
While men can certainly be the target of sexual harassment and abuse, most are women. If you don’t see it happening to women, it’s because you most likely don’t recognize the signs or you’re lucky that you run in circles where this isn’t as overt or as present. You might miss it, too, because, based on the Canadian legal definition, consent cannot be given in a situation that involves an abuse of trust, power or authority (among other things) – and there are a great deal of men in positions of power in the board game industry, and there is often a gender-based power imbalance due to the gender disparity discussed above. Consent is frequently missed in discussions of social and sexual interactions – and while the Canadian law of consent is of course not applicable in other countries, the contents still remain relevant.
These statistics for self-reporting and police reporting (which honestly comes with its own issues of being scared or not being believed) are relevant: “Women self-reported 553,000 sexual assaults in 2014, according to Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey on Victimization. … Although both men and women experience sexual assault, women accounted for 92% of victims of police-reported sexual assaults in 2008.” The person who has been harassed or abused is not responsible for this occurrence – the perpetrator is. And like it or not, due to men more frequently being perpetrators of this harassment and abuse, this means we’re likely talking about men rather than you seeing men do this.
This CNN report on global instances of harassment and abuse breaks down occurrences and statistics and is worth looking at, especially for this quote from the introduction: “It may be the words “hey, beautiful” or “hey, sexy,” or being instructed to smile. It may be more intentional: standing in the way or blocking the path in the hope of some interaction. It may get more aggressive, with hands reaching to inappropriate places. The spectrum is far and wide, with one end harboring the potential for things to become more violent with physical abuse or rape.”
If you’re surprised by any of this happening, you shouldn’t be. If 1 in 4 women in North America are likely to experience some form of harassment/abuse, then it would be highly improbable for this to miss board gaming, as small as the hobby is. If a woman states she’s experienced something like this, it’s unlikely to be a false accusation – this write-up regarding false reporting states, “research for the Home Office suggests that only 4% of cases of sexual violence reported to the UK police are found or suspected to be false. Studies carried out in Europe and in the US indicate rates of between 2% and 6%.”
Where it happens.
It will happen anywhere, anytime – no matter the time of day, or what someone’s wearing. There is no specific venue or event where this is likely to occur more frequently – social dynamics can be different in some venues, and experiences may differ, but the fact remains people are being harassed in these spaces.
At your local game store? Perhaps you’re browsing and receive unwelcome attention, at open gaming and there are sexualized remarks being made over a game.
At a smaller, regional convention? Or perhaps a large, nationally attended convention? The larger numbers of people in an area together and gaming with people you’re not familiar with can certainly lead to circumstances where harassment can fester.
Maybe during demonstrations of games at a publisher’s booth,you’re going to be talked over, or objectified, lose your personal space.
At events held on-site or even off-site during conventions there really is no telling what sort of behaviours will rise up, especially if there is an imbalance in gender and potentially if there is alcohol involved.
And let’s not forget: the internet. Monolith of anonymity. Amnesty International has written how toxic Twitter can be. There’s no doubting that women are harassed and even doxxed due to their visible participation in board gaming on social media.
What can I do in the moment? Be a bystander who can and may intervene.
Be aware of situations around you – body language/physical signs or social cues that can show something is wrong. If you’re not sure, discreetly ask! Don’t engage the perpetrator. If you haven’t discussed an “escape plan” with friends before an event, subtly mention something in conversation to give them an excuse to bow out of a situation if necessary. If you check in and someone would like a companion to walk back to their cars/to the subway/their hotel rooms – if need be, in a smaller group – offer that up!
If you hear someone using sexist, sexually inappropriate or misogynist language – respectfully tell them it’s not welcome in this hobby. We have to start the seachange of attitude somewhere and this is the most basic start to levelling up respect.
Do not speak about anyone’s experience of being harassed or abused unless you have explicitly been given consent to by the target of said abuse. Listen to the experiences of women, and try to not take things personally – this is not about you.
The Step Up program has a great run-down for bystander intervention (especially their 3 “Ds” – direct, distract, delegate. More info in this (very PSA-ish but still clear) video (CW: suggestions of suicide, sexual assault)
Being engaged and being part of the change
It is great to be there for a friend in their time of need or worry, to be there with them if they need support – listen to their needs, and respect their requests. But it’s certainly not enough to just triage problems as they occur – we have to start more broadly bringing up the topic of respect towards women and other minorities. We have to change the idea that men acting a certain way, and that being “the way the world works” is why women are harassed and abused – that’s not fair to men, and it’s not fair to anyone. Changing the status quo means that people can start to feel welcome in spaces where they may not have been previously.
As mentioned above, listen to people and don’t take things personally when the general topic of harassment is discussed, pertaining to the bias of it happening to more women. Believe women and men, and especially trans and non-binary folks, when they speak of their experiences of harassment and abuse. (Terry Crews has been an incredible advocate for male survivors of harassment and abuse if you’re interested in looking into that further.) The stigma of coming forward to discuss traumatic experiences is a huge barrier, and we have to make it a safer environment for speaking about this – should survivors wish to.
This article is an incredibly useful and enlightening read – 101 Guide to Allyship (in coffee and in general). There are many, many people in board gaming who have good intentions and need some gentle guidance and content to help them in their ally journey. If we are to get past simply the discussions and revelations of harassment and abuse and move toward doing something about it, we must all work together. Help people be mindful of their actions. Encourage those who host conventions to have adequate codes of conduct and anti-harassment guidelines so we can move toward an industry standard. All of us in the hobby don’t have to be lost (there are many refrains of “how do I know how to act around women now?”) – it might seem hard given the spectrum of human behaviour. However, we can generally aim for deliberate respectful treatment of each other and reduce the objectification of women, the targeting of minorities and make gaming somewhere that we can definitely sit down and forget our worries and have fun.
I just want to leave you with this, as some food for thought, from the Dandelion Initiative here in Toronto.
Here are some things that y’all cis men need to start doing.
- Don’t just tell us that you support us; tell the world.
- Start interrupting other men who are shit talking women, making inappropriate advances, generally being shitbags.
- Write your reps about abortion rights. Abortion access is health care.
- Raise the bar up from “well, at least they didn’t try to rape her” to “let’s all treat women as humans rather than sexual objects”. Let us live.
- Actively make spaces welcome for cis- and trans-women. By default, they are not.
- Share your emotions. Feel them publicly, if you are able to. Fuck the patriarchy, you’re allowed to feel.
- Realize that supporting women does NOT equal not supporting men. We can all do both, but we have to realize there’s some more effort that needs to go into lifting women up.
- Clap back at dudes who talk in stereotypes about women. And honestly, anyone who talks in stereotypes about anyone.
- Treat women for who they are – singular human beings. Not if they’re a wife, mother, daughter, and the like.
- Don’t judge women by what they are wearing. It’s got nothing to do with anything. And if you hear other people doing it, nip that shit in the bud.
- Let cis- and trans-women be angry. Let us show a range of emotion outside of “soft and feminine”. We deserve this much.
- Take the time to learn about massive issues facing women – and especially trans-women of colour, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, refugee and asylum seekers, and women of religions other than Christianity. Share these issues on your social networks. Talk about them with friends. Make it the norm to discuss, so we can get on with fixing this.
- Please learn how periods and vaginas and pregnancy works.
- Understand your privilege and the biases that benefit you in every aspect of your lives, including your hobbies.
There’s probably more, but I’m tired.
Note: I have edited in a section about the Neil Gaiman message board because I wrote this very off the cuff and my brain is full of holes.
This morning I’ve been thinking a lot about friends and the internet, thanks to this tweet. I think I might have to back this one. I was going to write a big ol’ Twitter thread about this one, but it ended up being.. well, blog length. So! Thinking back over my internet-using years and holy damn, I’ve met so many people via the internet. For – good lord – over 20 years now I’ve been talking with folks on the internet.
I first discovered Newsgroups when I was a novice internetter; I never really found a community there. Not long after, in 1997/1998 I had a friend introduce me to a MUSH (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MUSH) that was hosted by the University of New England in Armidale, NSW, but used by folks from many places. It was such a fun interface. Text-based chat, but all sorts of weird stuff you could code, little bots to interact with, creating “places”, etc,. I ended up visiting Armidale for the first time to go to the annual party held for the UNE MUSHers and met SO many friends IRL!
It was a wild experience. I would stay close friends with so many of these people for years; I met my BFF (former BF) through there. My good friend Sarah who I lived with in London for a while. An absolutely wild thing, to have these people in my life, from the screen. At the same time as this, I was also playing/admining a MUD (RPG version of a MUSH). I wish I could remember ANYTHING about it there, other than my username (Illyria) & when that character turned up on Angel, I got a lot of people asking why my pic showed up in image searches. WELP.
For many years, that was my internet space. Well, and a little on ICQ as well. But as I moved away and got busier with Uni, I had less time for it. Hilariously, I ended up spending a semester doing an anthro subject on internet communities. Rather than being in an online community, I was studying it all; I ended up putting my thoughts on a personal site in what was a sort of proto-blog. A little while after that, I ended up shifting to Livejournal as I’d been following someone there anyhow & figured why not!
This was a ~whole new woooorld~ of internet culture and community and fandom and I spent SO much time there. Bursting out of just a text-based interface, this was somewhere I could blog, and comment, and use images and have user icons and project myself online far more than ever. With a much larger user base, I ended up interacting with a lot more people throughout the world, as well as folks in Australia. I found horror film lovers, comics people (oh the golden days of webcomics), vegans, fanfic writers – it was a plethora of content and friendships. I even met a boy I thought I liked (oh, hindsight) which prompted me to visit Toronto – and without that visit, and getting to know other people here, I’d have never moved here 10 (!) years ago. LIFE. It all intertwined with my life in Brisbane too – uni, D&D, music…
After a good few years, Livejournal (with all its ups and downs) ended up changing a lot, and I ended up falling out of the habit of blogging a lot, too (nothing has changed, there). Many of us ended up jumping ship to Dreamwidth – but I eventually just gave up on it all. At a similar time as shifting from LJ, I had transitioned to spending time on a forum set up by Universal Australia to shake up some interest for the Firefly follow-up movie Serenity. That fanbase was strong, and our community flourished – “Serenity Oz”, or “SOZ” as we affectionately called it, made us all many friends. Not only did we have meetups and screenings in Brisbane where I was, but even after the movie was out we started to have larger meetups around the country. We’d travel to Sydney, or Melbourne – and we even hosted one in Brisbane – and spend time with our strange forum pals.
To this day I am still very close to a good number of those people. Many have gotten married, had kids, and their lives changed fundamentally as a result of having been part of SOZ. Not too long before I moved away from Australia, we lost one of our core group to lung cancer, and it was an emotional experience, unlike anything I’d gone through before, because of the support of the folks spread out around Australia. When we couldn’t be there for a big life event, there’d be a webcam, or many photos shared. Eventually, Universal shuttered the site but passed us on an archive of the forums because even they realized it had been something special. Most of us just keep up via Facebook and Twitter now – which comes up below.
After LJ died down for me, and SOZ was still a big part of my life, I’d been shifting focus to Twitter, as of 2007. A lot of my LJ and SOZ pals were here, and we could have the casual conversations and stupid image sharing and all of that here, and LJ/its ilk became a bit unnecessary. It was new and fun! (Oh, the days of yore.) I could write swathes on how the community has evolved here and my experiences of how it’s become somewhat of a strange habit. Most importantly for this overall blog piece, it was a place that I started finding new people and things, and as the site grew, so did the people in my hobbies and interest areas to interact with.
Along with Twitter, there was a little nook that I found myself in for a bit — the Neil Gaiman message boards. During my time in London I met some people in the real world who were on the board and so I joined too. I was active a couple of years, and met all sorts of folks in the UK and the US. The year I moved to Canada, I road tripped to San Diego Comic Con with some friends in the “real life but also on the board” category and we stopped off and visited with so many of these internet people! Just like SOZ before it, I mostly see these people on Twitter and FB now, as I have pretty limited forum time.
My last big dip into internet friendships came out of board game Twitter, overall (there have been a few other folks here and there, but as a whole, it’s been this group of nerds). I’d chat with folks about gaming, I ran the social media account for a game cafe here for a good chunk of time, and ended up becoming friends with some amazing ladies in this hobby. We’d meet up at gaming events or cons and when we were apart, it was Twitter or FB chats that sustained us. We started creating content together – RIP Games on the Rocks – or even starting up little weird Slack communities around the content we made (I love you, Greatway Games). Twitter’s even led me to meet folks at conventions not because we chat online, but because they quietly watched along as I ramble and just wanted to meet. These people are my friends and my family and it’s weird to go a day without talking to them.
It must seem so strange for you normal folk out there, reading all of this. Yes, I have met friends without the internet, thank you very much. But I find it hard to make the distinction between the realness of either friendship. And as someone living distant from so many friends, it’s strange for me to not think about the ways that having the internet facilitates friendships, and sustaining them. Sometimes it’s just better than IRL for us hobbit-ish introverts.