The Gender Blind Myth
What the Civil Rights Movement can teach geek culture about its attitude towards gender.
Geek culture is changing, evolving. No longer banished to the recesses of poorly lit basements or the local comic book store, Geek culture is permeating into mainstream society. Social gaming has unlocked a whole new market of avid gamers, while ‘high profile geeks’ like Felicia Day and Will Wheaton are proving just how versatile we geeks can be.
Sounds like a dream, right? Finally the rest of society is seeing what makes being a geek so great.
There’s a backlash however; those who are not so welcoming of the evolving state of our identity, our cultural niche. Is it fear of dilution? Will we lose our potency if the ‘casuals’ are allowed to partake in our favorite pastimes? Or is it simply our human nature, are we bound to inexplicitly fight the tides of change in an act of futility?
Of this I cannot be sure, but I’ll tell you one thing: those that look to fight this change, to stop the bleeding, they’re not protecting our hobbies from dilution, they’re destroying them. Keeping us locked in the basements and back allies of society won’t make your hobbies anymore special or unique, it instead prevents them from flourishing.
Far worse than the possible stagnation of our culture, is the exclusion of willing participants. I thought those of us who spent our lives from the outside looking in would understand the importance of acceptance, and move beyond judgmental preconceptions. The truth of the matter is; geek society is as judgmental as any middle school clique– and if you’ve survived middle school – you understand that no human being should be subjected to that.
According to a study provided by the Entertainment Software Association in 2011 Women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (37%) than boys age 17 or younger (13%), and that 42% of all gamers are female. What’s most baffling about this statistic though is not that more women are playing games; it’s the fact that the industry still fails to recognize this substantial demographic.Of course you could say that those statistics include casual games, but what does that matter? Did we not all start as casual gamers? Few of us pick up controllers and immediately head to fragging newbs or noobs or nubs … or whatever the kids say these days. In fact in many ways, the casual games market of today is a lot more representative of the games that many of us first played in our adolescence, which made us the avid gamers that we are today.
Yet despite this – despite the very evident desire to permeate into our culture – women are stymied time and time again. It would be easy to blame the developers, or the industry, but the real blame lies with us, the video game community. It’s true that games aren’t made with women in mind, but equally as reprehensible gaming communities often don’t accept women, they attack them.
Many women gamers I have spoken to have said that they often don’t let other gamers know that they’re a female, refraining from using their microphones in open lobbies. Some even forgo playing online games all together. All of this is to avoid being attacked, harassed, judged, and scrutinized. I wish I could say that their fears are unfounded, but I think we all know that’d be a convenient lie.
Gender issues in gaming are nothing new. For years this discussion has surfaced in games media making waves, turning heads, but still failing to leave its mark. Part of the issue is the media’s affinity for extremists. Of course that’s the nature of the beast, we like to read what the crazies write, but this constant pandering has transformed the discussion of gender in games into something that is far more representative of a political primary than a civil discussion.
With the onslaught of why girls in geek culture are fake, Maxim’s search for the new male fantasy, and the consistent threat of sexual harassment in online gaming communities, there is little room for an intellectual discussion. The language of gender in gaming is often used to attack/defend the industry. We only want to point out what’s wrong, never ask how we can fix it.
This perpetual storm of ‘click-bait’ is not only damning to the progression of games, its soul-crushing. Many gamers, female or otherwise have had enough. Repetitive and infuriating, the current stagnant, emotionally-charged outlook on gender in games is futile – so why bother?
In light of this, many gamers instead opt for a gender neutral stance. On our podcast regarding gender in gaming, we discussed how the term “gamer girl” should be removed from our dialect. Leigh Alexander a journalist for Gamaustra, made this statement on her blog FAQ regarding being a female in the video game industry:
“I'd rather just deflect attention from my gender and focus on my writing, thanks!”
I couldn’t agree more with this attitude – being a woman who plays games shouldn’t matter. It’s not relevant, and it shouldn’t be used a means to define a person. The problem remains however, that it does matter.
Removing gender from our dialect doesn’t solve the problem at hand. Even if we forgo talking about gender, there is still a social significance to being a woman and there is still a cultural significance to being a female in geek culture.
No matter how much we deny it, we as human beings are incapable of becoming gender blind. Age, race, gender – they’re all features that we see and more importantly, they’re all features that mean something to us. This not to say that we make brash assumptions solely based on these factors, but as David J. Schneider goes on to explain in his book, "The Psychology of Stereotyping" gender is one of the primary features that we use to categorize people in relation to ourselves.
Thus, while I’m in full agreement that a person’s gender or race shouldn’t matter, we have to be pragmatic. Pretending that we live a society that can ignore these facets, or that we ourselves are blind to them doesn’t help promote social equality, it solidifies the current caste system.