As some of you know, I am not a fan of the topic of “women in gaming”. Sure, it’s trendy, and it keeps popping up over and over again, particularly when someone has been offended about sexism or lack of female protagonists or some other such “woman’s issue”. I actually have been avoiding writing about “women’s topics”, but I feel the need to explain it now.
For me, the essence of the problem boils down to the fact that once you start rising to the defense of women, it implies that they are weak. Whitney Hills is a game designer who has worked at places such as Microsoft Game Studios, Double Fine and HumaNature Studios. She also wrote a brilliant blog that anyone interested in women in the work place, but particularly women in gaming, should read. She discusses times she was discriminated against throughout her career, and the numerous problems she has faced as a woman in gaming, but her conclusion is most telling:
Most people have good hearts and really DON’T want to offend. But when men feel terrified of offending the women they work with, it only contributes to our sense of isolation and inequality. And when particularly motivated and well-intentioned people try to champion my problems and become an Ally in the Great Struggle for Equality, they risk assuming there’s a problem when there is none, and reminding me to feel isolated and powerless in moments when I was just fine. They are often the ones who tense up at the lunch table first and express hope that I wasn’t offended by something. Their efforts make me uncomfortable, and I wish they’d simply listen.
This. No, no, go back and read that quote again. I am a woman, and sure, sometimes I’m offended by people. However, just as much (if not more) harm can be done by the White Knights of the world. By assuming that women are feeling weak and victimized, it puts women in a position to feel like they are isolated and different, in need of protection. When we have highlighted sexism towards men, no one rises to the occasion to protect men – if you think women are so equal, how about letting them voice their concerns instead of immediately assuming you know them?
This leads me to my next point. Feminists. Even Third Wave or Post Feminists themselves have acknowledged that modern society has made ”feminism” a dirty word. Feminists – those are those crazy, easily offended women with hairy under arms who hate men, right? So many women might start a sentence with “Don’t worry, I’m not a feminist…” Right, don’t worry, I’m not a feminist, but I believe that women are human and should get equal treatment, equal pay, equal opportunity. Actually, that’s feminism. However, women/feminists of all walks of life can be offended and feel the need to fight back against different issues. Personally, I have no problem with overtly sexual character design in games. Unless those characters are demeaned or attacked because of their appearance, my opinion is that sexy characters are nice to look at. Women are allowed to claim their sexuality in real life, why not allow characters in games to be strong and sexy? In fact, I find it way less offensive to see sexy, strong women in games than the Princess Peaches of gaming – pretty, helpless women who need rescuing, but somehow always have perfect hair, clothes and accessories.
If you are offended by something, express it! You are more than welcome to! However, don’t feel the need to show some kind of self-righteous indignation over something that really isn’t a problem for you. It doesn’t do anything to help the women you are seeking to defend – it just makes them feel alienated, like they are too weak or stupid to express their feelings, or that they need to prove that they have a tough skin. Oh, and you don’t need to just take my word for it – Hills also explains:
After that, when you meet new people in the game industry, sometimes you go out of your way to swear or say something off-color as quickly as possible, so your new male acquaintances will feel comfortable and won’t feel the need to walk on eggshells. You feel unnatural.
Sure, there will be sexism in gaming. There will also be racism, stereotyping, and the digital divide. People are allowed to be offended by whatever offends them. However, there are plenty of female gamers who will raise the sexism alarm, and even lead boycotts of games based on degrading or inappropriate content. We don’t need White Knight help – you aren’t doing anyone any favors. Also, it just makes you look like you’re trying to get into that crazy, man-hating feminist’s pants, and no one wants that mental image.