Earlier this week during debate in the US Senate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren was silenced during a speech in which she read a letter by Coretta Scott King (civil rights activist and Martin Luther King’s widow). After the incident, a comment was made: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” That last part really rang true for me and got me thinking about how I persist in my life – and quite often within board gaming. I speak out frequently regarding making board games an inclusive hobby, where everyone feels included and can play without feeling shut out. Warren’s example has inspired and motivated me to share – and keep sharing – my views on board games, safe spaces, and pushing for inclusivity without alienating the creators of content that we love so much, and fellow gamers.
Now, here’s the thing: there’s this hierarchy of privilege – and if you don’t see it, then you’re likely up near the top. I readily admit I’m up there as a white, middle class person. And when you’re up near the top it is tough to hear and believe criticism without it feeling like it’s being aimed at you personally. Believe me, I know what this feels like. And by golly do I ever try and be so diplomatic much of the time when I’m offering up criticism of board gaming. So recently I reached this brick wall moment where I realized, no – I have to persist. So I went off on a bit of a ramble on Twitter:
Of course it’s difficult to hear criticism of the hobby you love. But gosh, please understand we love it too. We want positive change.
If a woman says “It’s unfortunate how the women are portrayed in this game”, LISTEN TO HER. You can still hear that AND play the game.
It’s tough going on a ramble on a platform with a 140 character limit, but this succession of tweets got a lot of my point across. We are at a point in board games where media’s reached this sort of critical mass of overwhelmingly positive representation in reviews, etc, and it’s because so many of us are in it for the passion of it – we play the games we’re likely to love, and spend the time writing about/making videos and podcasts about the games we enjoyed. We want to spread the love. This isn’t our day job.
And then, people like me come along with the “hmm, doesn’t the representation of women in this game seem problematic to you?” or, “I understand the need for a resource in this game but it’s not “historical” so perhaps we could look at something other than slaves.” And then, as a man, or as a white person you automatically think “I’m not the bad one here!” I know you’re not. I’ve met a lot of people through board gaming and dog’s honest truth there are very very few deliberately malicious people. However, we’re a pretty homogeneous group of folks, so bringing up issues of race, gender and otherwise can put people on edge in their safe hobby space.
Did you know this hobby’s my safe space, too? The place that I go to have fun, enjoy a game and generally ignore the societal and political structure of the world? So when I see a game like – as an example – Conan.. Do you not think that it drags me back into the real world, where women are still treated as objects? Sexually vilified and seen as conquests? Where I’ve broken out of the having fun part to the “oh this is how the real world works too” part. You probably don’t think that. And you probably think, “Why can’t she just realize this is a game?” Therein lies the magical mutual inclusivity of being able to have fun playing a game but also being critical of it, as mentioned above. I will persist in mentioning these things until the people with privilege will start to notice them too. And maybe their purchasing habits will change, or they’ll start talking to other gamers about the content and portrayal of people in games. Or even giving publishers feedback!
Let’s not think that being critical is negative. Please let me make clear to you that when I see a publisher doing the inclusive thing by using neutral pronouns in their rules, or having a great balance of genders to play (bonus points for a non-binary selection), I will go out of my way to tell them. I want them to know that the choices they’re making mean something to me, a hobby gamer. I want to see me in games. I want to see the world I live in portrayed in games. I want to see everyone given a fair chance in games. And that’s at the table, too – be it as players, or designers.
Luckily, there’s a lot of industry folks who are actively encouraging women to get into game design. Groups such as the Game Artisans of Canada, UnPub and the like are willing and open and encouraging of all sorts of folks to get involved in the design process, and are there to support them with advice and help. Getting a diverse group of people involved in game design will be a slow burn, but I hope to see it have a positive impact on the industry overall.
I’m not here to ruin your fun. It’s my fun, too. But we all have to realize that things change. And that means our hobby, too. Listen to the people at the table with you when they have a criticism. Listen to your pals on Board Game Twitter when they mention something that bugs them about a game because of the portrayal of race or gender (and the like). Like I have said many times, and definitely in the above – that doesn’t mean we have to trash a game right there and then! Learn to take on those criticisms and think broadly about them – especially how they fit into the larger context of the world outside our hobby. We need thoughtful, honest and critical views of the hobby right now, before it becomes a homogeneous mass that can never be cracked and enjoyed by anyone who presents differently to the norm.
Let’s face it – we’re all likely to learn something from these experiences, while still being able to enjoy board games. Maybe you’ll learn more about the people of colour in medieval periods, or the role of women in Istanbul’s grand bazaar! Honestly, maybe you’ll just enjoy laying some tiles, placing some workers and rolling some dice – because we’re all here for that. But some of us want to be seen and heard, too.
Don’t bring gender into (board) gaming – or, why I’m sick of seeing dudes ask what games their wives might like.
On Boardgame Geek (in various forums), or even occasionally on Reddit or on Twitter, I’ll see requests from (usually) male boardgamers asking what games they should get to play with/buy for their wives/daughters/girlfriends. I want to look a little at this to see why it’s problematic to frame your questioning this way, and how it can only further drive the divide between the perceived binary of genders in gaming.
I want to state up front: I am not opposed to people seeking out recommendations for games to play with their significant others or children. I am all for bringing people to the hobby, regardless of if they stay a casual player or become very much a more frequent gamer. If the person you’re trying to encourage is willing to try out stuff, then great! If not, then you can’t magically make them enjoy games, no matter how great you think those games are (this is hard to swallow! I know!) and just asking for recommendations based solely on gender will certainly not help with that. I’ve had great success by playing accessible, casual games with people, leading to a great and enthusiastic response – rather than saying something akin to, “Oh hey! You’re a lady therefore you most likely sew, and therefore will enjoy this game Patchwork”, which is never a safe assumption (although that person may end up enjoying that fantastic 2p mostly abstract game with challenging decisions because it’s awesome).
So, let’s move on. The most important point here is gender. Within gender as the focal point here, the false assumption that gender identity is binary and the essentialism that goes along with that assumption. Essentialism is the concept that something (an object, an animal, a group of people, etc) is marked by an unchanging, assumed state of being, that something has an “ultimate reality” – for instance, that cultural practices are static and unchanging, or that the earth is definitely flat and that can never be different.
This gender essentialism – 2 options, unchanging, unmalleable – tends to plague a lot of questions about what games to recommend to a person (usually without meaning to, or realizing). Gender essentialism when asking these questions is, by its very nature, quite reductionist. That is, thinking that every man shares the same interests and wants to play certain games, and that women would have a different set of interests and therefore different needs out of game playing, means you have 2 narrow definitions of people. What this doesn’t take into account is the spectrum of gender that all of us exist on – no one woman is precisely performative of the ideal “feminine” concept of what a woman should be, nor is any man entirely representative of the “masculine” concept for men. On top of this all, the gendered questioning regarding game recommendations completely ignores those who are non-binary, gender fluid or trans*.
When I see a request for game recommendations for “my wife/girlfriend/daughter”, it very rarely comes with any qualifying factors such as “has this person played games before at all?” “has this person has enjoyed (x) type of game?” or “this person enjoys (y) type of theme or (z) type of gameplay”. What these sorts of gender-based queries assume is that women who aren’t gamers (or at least game infrequently) will all be interested in the same kinds of games. That’s a presumption that shouldn’t be made about anyone – even if they’ve not played board games before, or even if they have!
I understand, of course, that nouns such as wife/husband, daughter/son are useful in a way that defines the poster’s relationship to this person rather than saying something like “I’m looking for games Betty might like”, a less helpful pointer as to who the person is. Unfortunately, this use of nouns then lands us in the waters of murky gendered assumptions, where the “wife” must be understood in feminine terms as must the “son” or “daughter” in terms of what games they’d be interested in (where, with children, I believe age is a far more important category to use for game recommendations, on top of interests/games enjoyed previously).
Personally, I would hate to be stereotyped into a box of what “women” are, and should like as far as board games go. My interests are varied outside of board games, and that drives me to be interested in trying all sorts of games, especially when theme is involved. But it must also be realized that my interests don’t define me entirely. I’ve certainly never been interested in building an estate in medieval France, but heck if one of my favourite games isn’t Castles of Burgundy. I love the gameplay so much!
If you had a partner who had assumed on behalf of your gender presentation alone that a particular game might not be up your alley, you might never know what games you’re missing out on. Make the effort to consider someone as a whole person – their interests, the types of fun they like to have, what games they’ve liked before – and you will likely be far more successful in encouraging that person to game, and have fun while doing it. And – as a bonus – come back for more!
I’d like to leave you with an image that I keep going back to when I see all sorts of gendered marketing and gendered questions when it comes to finding toys/games etc. While it is pretty basic (it tends towards biological assumptions rather than gender identity) I still think it makes a great point. Don’t boil your decisions down to something you’re assuming one “type” of person is – in all areas of your life, it will be a great way to go forward.
Today’s International Women’s Day. I’d like to say a few things that I hope any/all of you can take forward and think about every day.
Listen to women. When they’re speaking from their experiences, do not belittle them or second-guess them.
Don’t use gendered insults. This use of words like “bitchy” “girly” etc has a pejorative tone that automatically places women as lesser, and it also adds to the issue of toxic masculinity.
Feminism is not about hating men. It’s about bringing equality to genders and sexes, making sure nobody has to be lesser ever again. Feminism should always include trans women, women of colour, marginalized women. I believe that those struggling groups should be given the stage in talking about feminism and their experiences.
If you are in a male-dominated industry, make it a friendly space for women to take part. Don’t assume we need your help, just make space for us.
And don’t assume that if your industry or hobby is male-dominated that we don’t want to take part. We’re struggling against structures that are so ingrained that women are putting themselves in danger to try and change them.
Rape culture and gendered violence is real, and is not getting better. Don’t pretend that it isn’t, or try to explain it away. Try to make it so it’s not a thing ever again.
There are women all over the world who don’t have a choice for their reproductive rights, or to have safe working environments, or who are being held in detention centres with their children being treated like animals for seeking refuge. (I’m looking at you, Australia).
Women are diverse, and their struggles are real. International Women’s Day celebrates the diversity and the wonder of what women can be after having been downtrodden for centuries. Let’s try to lift all women up and listen to them, support them, bring equality to their situations lives.
In the lead-up to International Women’s Day, it’s great to see discussions online already. The wonderful organization White Ribbon here in Canada led an International Women’s Day Town Hall discussion on Twitter, which talks about all of the intermingling issues such as healthy vs toxic masculinity, violence against women, feminism and sexism. I love the work they’re doing – take a read of this short piece on Men’s Roles and Feminism to see just one of the reasons why. This is all pushing my brain to write something up for IWD this Sunday.
I love this website designed to seamlessly loop a variety of ‘white noise’ in various flavours, however you wanna mix them. I’m finding it’s really helping with my ability to focus and relax during a work day, and I’ve even tried the timer fade out in the app, which is awesome for calming my brain at the end of the day when i’m trying to sleep. Right now I’m enjoying some waves, fire and a touch of singing bowl.
I can sincerely say that I never thought I’d be this in love with the Gilmore Girls. So far this year I’ve ripped through 3 and a bit seasons of it on Netflix, and while it’s not perfect, it’s still a gem. Positive female characters, looking at all the different kinds of people women can be, how making mistakes is a part of growing up, and (the biggest thing for me) showing a mother/daughter relationship like Rory & Lorelai, are all rich parts of the show.
My new sweats! I fucking LOVE them. So comfy. I got in on the black-on-black action so I can be sneakily sweary at all times wearing them. Hahahaha.
Feminist frustrations – how even the smallest things can overwhelm you when you’re under-represented.
I am happy to proclaim myself a feminist – I am an advocate of increased women’s rights, striving for the equality of sexes/genders. So it can get tiring when you speak out in favour of something that will benefit women where it hasn’t before, and there’s the cry of “you women want everything your way!” and claims that if women strive for increased rights/representation that somehow the feminists will have taken over and men will be lying weak in the gutters everywhere.
Nope. We just want a little more. To bring the levels to equal. To see ourselves represented well in media, politics and the like. This is still a struggle – surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, it’s hard to tell some days. Although they may seem like ‘unimportant’ issues, I think these few of recent examples of inequality of women’s access and representation are interesting. Looking at inequality in terms of these issues can be useful, and can help in understanding much broader, more serious issues in women’s equality in the world (for instance the ratio of actual rape cases vs false rape accusations and the weight/importance placed on the latter vs the latter, etc..)
Simon Pegg (English actor from Spaced, Shaun of the Dead et al) recently promoted the Everyday Sexism project on Twitter as he felt, quite rightly, it’s an excellent expose of the daily shit that is thrown the way of women. Unfortunately, someone decided to take offence at him promoting this highlighting of street harassment while women are raped elsewhere. Ultimately, his remark of “You start where you can make a difference” really hits home. The scale of issues like this is not the issue – nor is someone’s caring about both at the same time impossible. But street harassment can lead to much worse things, and starting at a point where you call that out is an excellent place to start, because it can change the way people are treated entirely, hopefully removing the progression of street harassment to rape.
Next up is a bit of an ongoing issue with the the International eSports Federation and their male-only Hearthstone tournaments. Women have a lot of barriers to access, and this is no exception when talking about eSports and gaming. The article on the Mary Sue that I just linked to covers the eSports Federation opening up their leagues to women, and also specifically creating women-only leagues too. Knee-jerk reactions about double standards will come out in response to this, but I think this article presents the necessity of the women-only league perfectly: “Women-only events help this slightly by both removing some of those barriers and fostering a community for an under-represented group to help find their place in the scene and establish a sense of togetherness for the people that fall into that group.” Ideally, when women don’t face barriers to access, then we can look at evening out the playing field. For now, these are excellent solutions that mean people are recognising inequalities.
Comedian/actor/writer Paul F Tomkins came up against some trollish business on Twitter (ah, Twitter – a minefield of misunderstanding and trolling) regarding one user’s response to a post from a woman somewhat sarcastically calling out the latest Planet of the Apes film for failing at the Bechdel test. You can read the exchange at the link there – mostly I find it super annoying and that’s kinda what most trolling leads to. What I find excellent, however, is his summary at the end of the post about women’s frustrations about representation in media – here’s a quote from it: “Guys, instead of thinking, “Hey, not everything has to be politicized,” try thinking, “I wonder what it would be like for me if the situation were reversed, and how I’d feel if in the vast majority of the entertainment I consumed, the male characters were few and far between and then mostly used as talking props & plot devices. I wonder if I’d get kinda tired of that and occasionally I’d say something, even a little joke, just to ease the annoyance a little.” I encourage you to visit and read the whole thing there at the end of his post, because this is exactly what I’m getting at with feminist discussions overall – I’m calling stuff out not because I want to have a total 180 and make women dominant, but I just want to have things make sense in rights and representation seeing as women are, y’know, 50% of the planet and all.
To me, these ideas aren’t radical. They’re ideas that will ultimately allow women and men to be more equal, to experience society at the same level. I don’t want women to have more or better opportunities than men – I just want us to have the same. And we’re not there – yet! So when someone in your life brings up feelings related to issues like the ones highlighted above, realise that to them it could be really important. It could be a way in which they feel like they’re being held back or underrepresented. Listen to them, and take that on. Talk about it with other people who might not see these issues as important either, and then we can create the seachange that we need.
Now, to end on a nice humourous note – here’s a couple of cosplayers who are taking a poke at Ubisoft for their recent claims of women characters being too hard to animate. I love them ❤
This weekend, a tragedy took the lives of many and it was the direct result of misogyny – an act of gendered violence. There is no question about this. A young man (who I refuse to name and give focus to) took it upon himself to kill people because of something he thought he was entitled to – to get laid. Because he was ‘friendzoned’ by women, as the term goes, he felt it was totally acceptable to murder people because he was rejected. And the wave of support he’s gotten from Men’s Rights Activists is sickening.
This is 2014, and this is happening. Every day, misogyny and hatred and violence affects women everywhere. As a result of this awful thing that happened, a wave of responses came out over social media thanks to the hashtag #YesAllWomen – in response to many men who often come out with the comment “Not all men..” when faced with the brutal truth of how terrible misogyny and sexism can be. Because yes, all women have been affected by the misogyny of men, even if it’s not all men. It’s not about you, men. And that’s what strikes me most of all. On Saturday evening, I was reading over some of the overwhelming number of #YesAllWomen tweets. I did not have a particular moment or story to share, but I did want to get this message out there.
It struck a chord with people, and I’m glad. If you’re trying to help the cause, then don’t make it because of what a woman is to you – make it because all women deserve that love and respect. I know there have been a lot of trolls and assholes responding to the #YesAllWomen trend (I wasn’t a target, thankfully) – but at the same time there has been an incredible amount of sharing, and a fantastic amount of guys listening to it and understanding, and signal boosting and taking part in the conversation without it all coming back to “but not all men are like that, i’m not!” – because that is passing the buck. I think this says it best:
I’d like to share some more of the powerful, positive and inspiring things I’ve seen shared coming out of this weekend, in hopes that you will read and learn and also be inspired – or if you’ve gone through the same sorts of things, that you could feel a connection and know you’re not alone. I’ll try to alternate embedding tweets with links to make it not such a giant wall of text.
Link: Son, It’s Okay If You Don’t Get Laid Tonight – a very smart mom who raises her son teaching him not to rape, but is frustrated that because the world at large doesn’t do this as well, that her son still has in him the capacity to rape. Her smart and common sense tips at the end for ensuring safety and consent when hooking up should be everywhere in high schools. (Although I’m still not fond of “treat a girl with the respect you’d treat your sister” sort of commentary, as it should be a blanket “treat this woman, and every woman, with respect.) If only every son had this guidance in their life, we wouldn’t be living in such a rape culture.
Link: Not All Men Are Dangerous, But Yes, All Women Live With The Fear Of [Shooter’s Name]’s Fury… (title truncated to remove the shooter’s name for). This XO Jane article does speak a lot about the shooter, but it’s done in a very sensible and not sensationalized way. It looks at the background of his attitudes, and shows that they’re not isolated – the very end of the article is especially troubling in this regard.
Link: a series of tweets by Imran Siddiquee, Director of Communications for The Representation Project, the organization behind Miss Representation all about street harassment/cat calling and its implications for women.
Link: tongue in cheek but angry post about how equating mental illness and violence is not only unfair, but being used to excuse the actions of a killer.
Link: Not All Men! An angry response to this term, including this excellent point: “It’s gotten so bad that we have to be afraid of even telling you we are afraid. We can’t ask that you please stop talking to us. Because if we do we run the risk of being labeled a “stuck up bitch” and blamed for murders and rapes in which we are the victims.”
Link: a few tweets that really hit home how selfish and disrespectful it is to have the “not all men” attitude.
There are so many more things I could share – which is at once both heartening and disappointing. It’s fantastic women are speaking out about their experiences and their anger; it’s sad to know that there is so much of that to share. If you are a male-identified person who truly believes women deserve respect and to be safe, start calling out others who don’t believe that. It’s the only way we can move forward. “Not all men” will leave all women where they are right now. I’ll leave you with this Jackson Katz video which I think is more appropriate than ever – about how it’s the responsibility of men to stop violence against women. Teach men not to catcall, harass, rape, murder – don’t expect women to be the ones who avoid it.
I know it wasn’t that long ago I TILTed, but it feels like forever. Despite the damp weather out there in Toronto, I shan’t be dissuaded from finding things to be positive about! Like how, despite the rain, it’s been pretty lovely to stroll around as it tries its hardest to Spring here.
My last couple of weeks at my current job are upon me, as my contract ends at the person on mat leave comes back – I’ll be sad to go! But it’s been a terrific place to work. I have a couple of interviews lined up next week (yay!) for places that I am similarly enthused about, so that’s something to love.
While I chug through the last of my organizing and to-do lists here at the office, I’ve been relying on Google Play Music to serve up tunes for me as I work. Despite a couple of holes in very indie Australian music (understandable) and an almost complete lack of Bikini Kill (unaccepable), it’s been fairly good! I’m hoping it will get me listening to more music, I’ve been terrible at it over the last few years. In fact, I rarely listen to a whole album at a time any more. I’m currently spinning Fugazi’s The Argument in the background, and holy smokes I bloody love this album.
Did you know that my favourite TV show is Twin Peaks? You do now! (You may have thought it was Firefly. Close, but no Serenity.) I love that damn show as much as Agent Cooper loves black coffee and cherry pie. I have had not one, but two, viewing parties at which I have ensured there has been either cherry pie or donuts on hand, and a big whopping french press of damn hot coffee. So I’m pretty excited about the upcoming Blu-Ray release of the show (yes, I love both seasons, shut up!) and all the goodies therein. The only issue I can see is the lack of Blu-Ray player once we’re no longer living with someone who owns a PS3.. hmmm…
Last of all, I love people being awesome, especially when it comes to calling bullshit in the world. At a school with a completely shitty and misogynist dress code, a young woman made some terrific signs to hang up that very clearly pointed it out. The best! Keep it awesome, whoever you are!
What are you into today, internet?