Monthly Archives: April 2011

Girls, G.I.R.L.s and Everyone in Between: Gender Identity in Video Gaming and/or Why I’m Male on the Internet

Ella is an outright devotee of video games and has been since she was small. She has a BA in English literature from the University of Sussex and is currently on her way towards an MA. When not studying she works as a copywriter (most recently for GameStop ), and when not working she’s usually found up to her ears in primarily PC games. Those interested can find her ramblings about the latter and sometimes more) on Twitter.

Virago, a World of Warcraft character

World of Warcraft character Virago, a hefty Tauren druid

First of all a brief word about the title’s acronym for those among us who may not be aware of its meaning. G.I.R.L. stands for “Guy In Real Life”, a pejorative term used for somebody who pretends to be female in online video games for their own material gain. As an erstwhile player of World of Warcraft, I can attest to people – usually, but not always, heterosexual males – being fleeced in this manner. However, with this often advantageous deception in mind I have a confession to make.

Despite being and (for the most part) identifying myself as female, I have done something similar. Online I have, more often than not, pretended to be male.

As anybody involved in online gaming can attest, gender politics play a big – if sometimes subversive – part, and there were easily at least several notable instances during my World of Warcraft career when my gender caused more issues than it should have.

The first was when I initially began to get into high level instances and raiding. At that time on our server tanks were scarce, and I was lucky enough to be friends with a few fairly reliable ones. One seemed to have become markedly better disposed towards me when he found out I was female in real life (I first met him on one of my female-avatared characters and we got chatting; I tend to play a pretty balanced mixture of genders), engaging me in idle small talk and frequently offering help whether I needed it or not. When making groups for instances, friends who knew of this particular individual would try and persuade me to ask him to tank for us, saying that he’d be bound to accept for me, a woman. My subsequent refusals resulted in many awful PUGs (oh, the repair bills) while the aforementioned tank was happily strung along by skinny blood elf after skinny blood elf (my main character at that time was a hefty Tauren druid and proud).

Another fairly significant incident was when I first joined a proper raiding guild. My then partner was also a member, and for some reason he simply couldn’t stand the idea of me remaining gender anonymous (a threat to his own identity/sexuality perhaps?). Indeed, he was so irritated by the fact that he ended up purposely “outing” me to the guild, much my chagrin. Needless to say, that didn’t last long.

Anecdotes aside, however, the fact remains that gender continues to be a huge issue online. A woman who identifies herself as such on a forum is often flamed beyond recovery, dismissed as an attention seeker and called many other derogatory names besides. While there definitely are some female attention seekers out there there are, of course, just as many from every other gender and persuasion. The sad thing is that I’ve seen many women making legitimate points, points that require the citation of their gender in order to make sense, only to be shot down for the sake of some kind of habitual misogyny.

I am far from ashamed of my gender, but unfortunately online I feel the need for privacy or, at the very least, anonymity. If this means, sadly, that I must masquerade as male in order to avoid possible prejudice (as I was made to do recently yet again by a well known eSports site who refused to restore my gender to the default neutral, instead forcing me to be recognised as female) then so be it.

Fouad and Singh, Stemming the Tide

There’s been lots of links around the results of Nadya A. Fouad and Romila Singh (2011) Stemming the Tide: Why Women Leave Engineering. Since it’s freely available, I thought I’d encourage people to go directly to the source. Here’s an excerpt from the executive summary:

KEY FINDINGS: Some women left the field, some never entered and many are currently engineers:
Those who left:

  • Nearly half said they left because of working conditions, too much travel, lack of advancement or low salary.
  • One-in-three women left because they did not like the workplace climate, their boss or the culture.
  • One-in-four left to spend time with family.
  • Those who left were not different from current engineers in their interests, confidence in their abilities, or the positive outcomes they expected from performing engineering related tasks.

Those who didn’t enter engineering after graduation:

  • A third said it was because of their perceptions of engineering as being inflexible or the engineering workplace culture as being non-supportive of women.
  • Thirty percent said they did not pursue engineering after graduation because they were no longer interested in engineering or were interested in another field.
  • Many said they are using the knowledge and skills gained in their education in a number of other fields.

Work decisions of women currently working in Engineering:

  • Women’s decisions to stay in engineering are best predicted by a combination of psychological factors and factors related to the organizational climate.
  • Women’s decisions to stay in engineering can be influenced by key supportive people in the organization, such as supervisors and co-workers. Current women engineers who worked in companies that valued and recognized their contributions and invested substantially in their training and professional development, expressed greatest levels of satisfaction with their jobs and careers.
  • Women engineers who were treated in a condescending, patronizing manner, and were belittled and undermined by their supervisors and co-workers were most likely to want to leave their organizations.
  • Women who considered leaving their companies were also very likely to consider leaving the field of engineering altogether.

Nadya Fouad is also writing blog entries about the study, the most recent is Is it all about family…?:

We heard from women who said that leaving to raise a family was not their first choice, and if the work environment had been more welcoming or flexible, and if supervisors and coworkers had been more supportive of employees’ balancing multiple roles, they might not have made that choice.

Have a look through Stemming the Tide: what stands out among their findings to you?

Death before linkspam (3rd April, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the geekfeminism tag on delicious or the #geekfeminism tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Open Thread: Bangable Dudes in History

You know, I’m not sure I can think of any commentary that would really enhance this link: Bangable Dudes in History.

So instead, I’m going to tell you that this is an open thread. We have open threads because comments close after two weeks, and sometimes you’ll want to say something about a story here that’s older than that. Or maybe you just have something else on your mind and think maybe it should be on ours too. By which I mean, you don’t have to talk about Bangable Dudes in History; you can talk about anything you want as long as it fits our comment guidelines.

And here’s a picture of Tesla so you know what you’re missing if you don’t click that link:

The graph tells you why Tesla was a lot hotter than Edison

Confession: I’ve been a girlfriend

True story! I’m a wife now. I’ve moved up in the WAG acronym.

There’s been a lot of pushback on Cate’s guest post and with good reason, because it can be easily read as positing that geek woman are mutually exclusive from women who have a geek partner dichotomy:

  • She’s not a techie, she’s a girlfriend
  • the girlfriend… the lead user… the commenter
  • a girlfriend… rather than a genuine tech woman
  • the girlfriend, or another woman near tech
  • Sorry girlfriend, you’re not a geek.

Here’s another thing: there’s a lot of geek my then-boyfriend-now-husband introduced me to. Linux was a big one. A great deal of the C programming language. Digital music, both ripping and listening. Actual other living geeks, as opposed to Eric Raymond’s J Random Hacker. Suffice to say that his influence on the nature of my geekdom has been substantial (and vice versa, which needs to be said).

And frankly while a lot of people are introduced to geekdom or new geekdoms by partners, it’s considered rather a shameful thing in my experience, especially if it was a male partner. If a man taught a woman to do something, or a man remains better at that thing than the woman he taught is at it, it’s as if the woman doesn’t have that interest or skill at all. She is assumed to be the man’s puppet.

There is something real, in my experience, about less involved women being asked to give “the woman’s perspective” on geekdom, as if their experience is “more woman” than that of heavily involved geek women, as if very geeky women have forfeited “the woman’s perspective”. But there’s also equally difficult experiences:

  1. the assumption by geeks that a woman geek with a partner, especially a male one, is not geeky, or only geeky because of internal relationship dynamics, rather than being ‘really’ geeky (whatever that means)
  2. the experience some non-geek women or newly geek women report, of experiencing hostility from geek women for “making them look bad” and from geeks in general for being too mainstream or feminine (and hence boring or thoughtless)

We’re not going to get anywhere with the above by talking about girlfriends as if they aren’t us, or as if they can’t become us or we them. I think that adopting girlfriend as a metaphor is harmful: the primary meaning is (some subset of) women who have a partner. Anything said about metaphorical girlfriends will quickly be taken to apply to literal girlfriends, as in women who have partners, and used against them, even if it was supposed to be a metaphor for women who are granted some credibility as more woman because they are less geek (which is, I think, what Cate is using the term “girlfriend” to mean, although it isn’t totally clear to me).

We have to not feed the “femininity is mainstream and therefore not geek” beast.

Additional concerns about Cate’s post that were raised in her comments and which I share:

  • the geekiness hierarchy in which people who build things trump people who comment, use, or analyse in geekiness. If nothing else, I personally spend a lot of time writing feminist stuff on the Internet, as well as coding, and I’m not accustomed to thinking of one as the less geeky activity than the other
  • the conflation of “geek” with “programmer” or “computer geek”, which as several commenters noted we’re rightly committed to not doing around here

By the way, a little bit of background on our process: guest posts here tend to be selected by one author and put up here, we all have access to the “Guest Poster” account. So that accounts for the appearance of a guest post with a message/metaphor that I at least don’t especially like, if you are wondering! There’s no cabal, etc.