While out at dinner with some friends recently, I found myself having a conversation with a well-intentioned male friend about why it’s not a good idea to refer to women who game as “gamer girls” and why he should instead be calling us “gamer women” or “women who game”. It was an interesting conversation because this well-intentioned friend seemed honestly baffled as to why anyone would object to being called a “gamer girl”, though he readily accepted the points that I offered without any hostility. So while I certainly don’t own a Hat of Speaking For All Women, I thought I’d expand a little here on my problems with the term “gamer girl”.
Problem the first: I am a woman, not a girl
I am not a girl, and have not been a girl for a very long time, and I very much resent it when people refer to me as a girl because it diminishes my perceived status within a community. If there is a situation in which you would refer to someone as a “man” and not a “boy”, then it should be similarly inappropriate to refer to an analogous female person as a “girl” and not a “woman”. Calling me a “girl” is patronizing and demeaning, even if it’s not intended that way. I am an adult, with all the rights, responsibilities, and privileges that that entails and I want to be recognized as such.
I have seen others frame this argument in terms of biology – ie “I menstruate, therefore I am a woman”, or “I have had children, therefore I am a woman”. That’s pretty biologically reductive, though, so I prefer this argument instead: I work and pay taxes and all that other un-fun stuff that comes with being an adult. Therefore I am a woman.
Problem the second: calling me a gamer “girl” carries the implied assumption that the default gamer is male
When talking about gamers, you never hear people refer to men who game as “gamer men” or “gamer guys” or “men who game”. So why is it that when people talk about women who game, they feel compelled to identify their gender as part of that discussion? When male gamers are allowed to be simply “gamers” while female gamers have to be “gamer girls”, that reinforces the idea that the default gamer in any population of gamers is male; male gamers do not need to have their gender specified, while female gamers have to be identified as a special class. This is slightly infuriating, as women are very rapidly approaching 50% of the gaming population. Around 40% of people who game are women, and that gap continues to narrow. We’re not some rare and special species of gamer. We’re just people who game who happen to be female.
Moreover, by continuing to talk about “gamer girls” as a distinct sub-species of gamer, that implies that women who game are a monoculture – which is anything but the case. I know plenty of women who conform to female gaming stereotypes, sure. But I know just as many women who game in traditionally “male” arenas of gaming. The gaming tastes of women are every bit as varied as the gaming tastes of men, so having conversations about “gamer girls” simplifies the situation in unhelpful ways.
Problem the third: games for girls are not games that I want to play
As someone very smart pointed out to me, it’s also a problem of marketing. “Games for girls” are a horrifying subset of the gaming market (that I’ve written about previously here) that are none the less played by many young girls. But I am an adult with adult tastes who wants to play games for adults, not games for little girls. What I find to be rewarding gameplay is not going to be the same as what an 8-year-old girl is going to find to be rewarding gameplay. As 40% of the market and the gender responsible for 60% of all consumer purchases, I deserve to be considered my own market segment and not to be lumped in with little girls just because we both happen to be female.
But wundergeek! What about the women who call themselves “gamer girls”? And what about RPG = Role Playing Girl?
It’s true! A bunch of us here at GaW worked on various iterations of a zine that called out women who game as “role playing girls”. But the purpose of RPGirl was to highlight the experience of women in gaming and to show that we’re not rare and special like unicorns. (Also, people don’t ever call them RPWs, and W is a much harder letter to work into a clever acronym.) So that extent, I wouldn’t call our use of the word “girl” in that context awful.
And remember at the beginning, where I said I don’t have a Hat of Speaking for All Women? While I think the term “gamer girl” is awful, there are plenty of women out there who self-identify as “gamer girls”, and that’s okay too! Feminism is not a monoculture, and there are some awesome women out there doing awesome things while calling themselves “girls”. (See: Geek Girls Rule. See also: GeekGirlCon) And that’s okay – for them.
For me? I am a woman who games, thank you very much. If you’re looking for gamer girls in my household, you can check back in a few years when I’ve managed to start my daughter-to-be on the path to nerddom.