• Not All Feminists Are Alike: a Gamer’s Perspective

    by  • May 22, 2012 • Essays • 11 Comments

    An argument that gets made a lot when talking about women in gaming goes something like this:  “I have a girlfriend/wife/friend who is female, and she likes chainmail bikinis/pin-up girls/etc., so therefor you cannot say that those things are anti-women or turn women off of gaming.”  The logical fallacy is that all women gamers are the same, so if you have heard the opinions of one of them, you have heard them all.

    There’s another argument that goes:  “I asked women about this picture/rulebook/game system and I got different answers, so it isn’t a feminist issue, it’s just a matter of personal preference.”  The logical fallacy here is that all feminists agree on everything that has to do with gender issues.

    There’s a host of other, related fallacies, and I can understand that it can be confusing to someone who has not talked to a lot of people that self-identify as feminists.  So, I thought it might be easier to put things in a gaming perspective.

    Feminism Is Not a Character Class

    A character class means that you focus on an area of specialty, like magic, or hacking, or sword-fighting.  Gamers who are feminists do not always focus on feminism when they game.  They may not talk about feminism all the time.  They may not bring it up at all.  There are some feminists who are vocal and some who are not, and that doesn’t invalidate the opinions of either.  It’s not a good idea to assume that your female gaming friend is not a feminist or doesn’t have strong opinions about women in gaming just because she doesn’t talk about it with your group.

    Feminism Is Not a Character Race

    Race, in gaming terms, indicates a group that are all born the same way and generally look the same.  Not all feminists look the same.  They do not all share the same gender or the same (real world) racial heritage.  They do not all share the same sexual orientation.  They aren’t all from the same country or social class.  You can’t look at a person and say, “yep, that’s a feminist.”  So any preconceptions you may have about who you are talking to, throw them out the window.

    Feminism Is Not an Alignment

    There is no one true path of feminism.  You do not lose your magical feminism powers if you fail to adhere to its strictures.  Feminism is not detectable by a first level spell.  So there are a lot of people out there who some people think are feminists and others say, no way!  Just because a magazine article quotes someone as a feminist does not make them one.

    Feminism Is Not a Compel

    If a feminist is confronted with something that they find problematic and wrong, they are not compelled to comment, argue, rant, or rage every single time they encounter the problem.  Sometimes they have better things to do with their time.  Sometimes they have had a rough day.  It doesn’t mean that they don’t have an opinion just because this time they decided to choose their battles.

    Feminism Is Not a Disadvantage (although it can feel like that sometimes!)

    Feminists do not need to be martyrs to their cause.  They can be fans of “problematic things.”  You don’t lose experience points for enjoying something that is sexist, just because you are a feminist.  So yeah, there are many women who like chainmail bikinis.  It doesn’t make them feminists, and it doesn’t make them not feminists.

    Female gamers, and feminists, are people, and because we are people, we have many different opinions.  But one opinion that we share is that we want to be treated as people.  We don’t want to be hidden behind a label that takes away that essential aspect of our personhood.



    I am a gamer, a lawyer, and a mom. Not necessarily in that order.

    11 Responses to Not All Feminists Are Alike: a Gamer’s Perspective

    1. avatar
      May 22, 2012 at 17:08

      Well said!

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    2. avatar
      May 22, 2012 at 19:52

      I get hit with this quite a bit (especially since I not only game, but I work in the IT industry). I ended up writing up a blog post that I could send to people when they used this argument with me:


      Basically, knowing someone who agrees with you who physically approximates me does not invalidate my feelings or input on a topic.

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    3. avatar
      May 22, 2012 at 20:19

      I think if we want people to respond positively to this point, we need to help equip them – give them some guidance for dealing with varying standards of acceptability. I’m not speaking of an obligation here – no one’s obligated to coach anyone – but I think it’s a practical necessity if we want people’s behaviour to change.

      And Hell, I’m no expert there. My general strategy, when I run into differing standards of acceptability, is (1) tread carefully around contentious topics, and (2) shut up and listen.

      And, of course, there’ll be people who aren’t pointing out the variability of responses out of a desire to find a path that’s acceptable to all – some are simply looking to rules-lawyer around claims that their fandom or media of choice is problematic. I think at least some of them will be more agreeable if we emphasize the message that it’s *okay* to be a fan of problematic things – that there’s a right way to do it.

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    4. avatar
      May 22, 2012 at 23:27

      I think the best way to start here is to work on the fallacy of the argument in a polite and gentle (though if that doesn’t work, slowly increase the force of the counter) way. We’ve all known someone who didn’t fit the majority of their group.

      The goal here, in my opinion, is to try and get people to try to see beyond the boxes they generally put people in to try and make their lives easier. We all do it, we’re all guilty of it, in some way. But to try and listen and respect others for what they are, that being individuals. And that’s not just good for you, or me, but for everyone in the end. Even if we don’t agree, or even hate their view, we’ve listened and are making our judgements on the merit of their view (ideally at least) rather than what we wanted or expected to find instead.

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    5. avatar
      May 27, 2012 at 07:39

      If feminism is simply, “Wanting [self-identified women, I presume] to be seen as people,” then how do we fight for feminism when we don’t necessarily share anything but that underlined cause?

      I mean, it’s probably easy enough to say that being called a gamer “girl,” or the chainmail bikini thing isn’t my fight, but being treated as if the term “girl” means I throw badly, I don’t know the rules of the game, and I can’t get points for being funny…is. Am I bleeding your argument of its strength if I don’t back you up when you pursue points I just don’t find important?

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      • avatar
        May 30, 2012 at 16:50

        I’m not sure I fully understand your point, but I think you are saying something important so I’m going to try to respond. Please tell me if I’m misunderstanding you!

        Here’s what I’m hearing: you aren’t treated as if being female means you can’t be funny (for example), so it’s not a fight you feel the need to get involved with. Is that correct?

        On the one hand, yes, I absolutely agree with that. Asking women to have the same perspectives and priorities by virtue of being women actually buys into the idea that women don’t get to be as fully human as men do. Men get to have a variety of perspectives and priorities. So do women. Corollary: I get to judge women’s behavior and values, just as I do men’s. If a woman takes a stance that’s unethical or ignorant, she doesn’t get a pass because of her gender identification. I am in favor of both sides of this equation.

        On the other hand, I do think we gather strength in numbers. I certainly back people up on points that aren’t my personal priorities, because a) I’m aware that the issues involved often don’t affect me only because of circumstance and b) I want to change the norms of our culture, which happens most effectively with critical mass. So, yes, your strength is valuable and can change the world! Or at least some of it!

        On the third hand (look, Ma, three hands!), the thing I find most personally difficult to deal with is how much of bias against women happens unconsciously and invisibly, and how a lot of women don’t see it. In order to see it, I had to read a lot of research studies, and I had to learn to see our culture and personal interactions with new eyes. For example, I sometimes find it frustrating when women say, “Well, [Thing X Which Is Backed Up By Research] doesn’t happen to me,” because statistically speaking it almost certainly does at some point. I don’t want to be a jerk and sound like I am telling people what their experience is, but at the same time, I happen to know a hell of a lot about this topic (part of my dissertation is on the cognitive biases that make it hard for people to perceive racial and gender bias). It’s a difficult line for me to walk.

        So, er, how does my third hand relate to your point? Well, the research shows that there are common patterns about how women are treated in our culture, although they manifest differently for people in different social circumstances (by race, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, etc.). For me, the place to start is coming to a common understanding of that shared reality. Even if we then choose different paths because of our different life experiences, values, resources, priorities, etc., I do think we can go further than just to say, “Well, common cause.” We can make our decisions and pick our fights based on a common understanding of the patterns that affect women’s lives, even if we don’t think they’ve happened to us personally.

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        • avatar
          June 13, 2012 at 19:48

          I think we’re _mostly_ on the same page. For example, I have no interest whatsoever in the current fury-inducing Kickstarter regarding filming feminist video critiques of games. None. This does not mean that I don’t agree it should be done, nor that I support the juvenile to downright heinous and threatening responses — just that I’m not interested in the project. I have limited time/energy/money and will in general spend it supporting positive representations and trying to better understand when the things I like are problematic.

          I’m not saying, “But it doesn’t happen to me,” because that doesn’t relate. I listened to a podcast last night where a bunch of self-identified “gamer” women indicated how they’d never really experienced the kind of horror stories in on-line gaming that are seemingly part-and-parcel of feminist discussion. That’s what I listened to, but what I heard was, “I don’t go outside my comfort zone,” from one panelist and, “My experience seemed so trivial in light of the heinous stuff that I just let it go,” from another. That third hand of yours is an important one – it does need to come to light. It does need to be pointed out when our expectations have been poisoned. No argument!

          (I wrote on the failure of subverting fairy tales for feminism, and the agency of princesses… and I ruin my daughter and my sister’s enjoyment of films and television all the time. “But it was a good movie!” “Well, sure, if you like your women to be told their opinions are meaningless.” [grin])

          But, I feel to some extent my question remains, and not just because it’s a two-parter. The original question is, “Does understanding that all feminists are not alike mean understanding that not all feminist arguments have merit with all feminists?” which would seem on the surface to be a general, “Yes.” Because the second part is, “Do I take away the strength of your feminist argument when I, as a self-identified feminist don’t back you up completely?” and that, I think needs more discussion.

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          • avatar
            June 14, 2012 at 18:01

            So, where can we have this discussion further? I think comment threads aren’t the best format for hashing things out in detail. You’re invited to come find me on G+!

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    8. avatar
      June 7, 2012 at 19:12

      Vivian, this article is made of win. :)

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