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.
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.
Every so often I get overwhelmed with the amount of stuff that accumulates when you’re settled. I try and purge every so often, especially when moving.. but there’s still bunches of things. Kitchen gadgets, food supplies, boxes, clothing, books.. stuff one keeps because you think you’ll be needing it at some point. It would be so nice to minimize. Adam & I saw the documentary ‘Tiny‘ at Hot Docs a while back, and were fascinated & inspired by the idea of living in tiny houses. How simply you could have everything you really need. Then today I saw a couple of articles about tiny houses (linked by a friend, and randomly in my RSS reader) and it renewed my interest in the idea. I’m not sure when this would be practical in my life, especially living in downtown Toronto. I think it would be amazing to try sometime. It’s so inspiring to see what people can do with compact spaces.
While I’m not a fan of everything Felicia Day does, I admire her business savvy and her willingness to speak out when she has something strong to say. She’s recently written about the shit she’s gotten since cutting her hair, and how ridiculous it all is in the context of her being an entertainer/gamer who is female. I love that she can be forthright about this, even though she’ll likely cop flak about it. (And of course she’s lucky enough in a position of privilege as a white woman that she can make a stand a lot easier, but there’s still the shitty responses from dudebros no matter what.)
Speaking of amazing women, I love that Janet Mock has called out Piers Morgan for the bullshit way he approached his interview with her recently. She makes such amazing, common sense points – yet Morgan got so up in arms about being called out about it. Please, if someone is an activist in their community and calls your sensationalist and offensive bullshit (especially when it’s as personal as this issue!) – listen to them and apologize when you realize you’ve fucked up!
I love warm and satisfying meals on cold snowy nights. Mmmm. (You can try the amazing lentil loaf from the recipe here!)