Tag Archives: gender roles

in another’s voice

This is a guest post by Katie, who divides her time among operating an interplanetary spacecraft, turning the gearwheels at her local hackerspace, practicing the Japanese Way of Tea, and an optimistic number of other things. It was originally posted to her blog.

When it comes to “geek culture,” my experience is slight—I’ve long thought of myself as a computers-and-engineering-and-hacking kind of geek, not a gaming/comics/fantasy kind of geek. There’s at least a post’s worth of potential self-reflection there, but my point is that despite currently showing few signs of involvement with the second kind of geekdom, I spent several of my high school and college years participating in tabletop role-playing games like D&D and Ars Magica. I probably would be now if I’d been invited into a group in the post-undergrad years before my plate filled with other things.

diceWhat I’m interested in exploring in this post is playing across gender lines—that is, role-playing a character of a different gender than your (the player’s) own. I don’t imagine this is entirely untrodden territory, but I hadn’t processed my own experience of being disallowed from doing it in the gaming group I spent the most and longest time in. Specifically, I hadn’t processed how bullshit that is. The GM‘s reason for the ban: verisimilitude. Fellow players would not be able to imagine the character accurately when that character’s words were coming from the mouth of a player of a different gender. Such a difference would overtax players’ ability to suspend disbelief; it would break the collective fantasy.

An obvious counterargument: if players can overcome the differences between a late-twentieth-century t-shirt-clad, Mountain Dew-chugging American teenager hanging out in a friend’s parents’ rec room and a pious sixteenth-century Saxon blacksmith trekking along thief-ridden roads, a difference of gender identity is barely material, let alone insurmountable. I may have expressed this argument to our GM, but I had no support from any other players, all of whom identified as male, so it was a take-it-or-leave-it situation. Since these were not only fellow players but friends, and I had a painfully hard time making friends, I took it. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t, not because cross-playing was important to me, but because this absurd essentialism should have been a red flag.

None of the role-playing-game rule systems I’ve used have either banned cross-playing or discriminated among characters’ genders when it came to abilities or characteristics, as far as I remember. However problematic game publishers have been when it comes to issues like objectification, they weren’t the problem in this case. No, this was our GM’s own policy, informed of course by society-wide ideas about gender, and I’m curious how widespread that kind of thing was and is among GMs.

The one specific instance where I remember cross-playing was with a casual D&D group. To give you an idea of our silliness, I named my character Gillette just so that I could cap a victory by quipping that he was “The Best a Man Can Get.” There, though, we didn’t embody our characters so much as describe their actions in the third person. We moved figurines around a map of a dungeon. We did not often speak in our characters’ voices.

What have been your experiences with role-playing games and playing across genders? As a player and/or GM, have you encountered rules against it? Groups that encouraged it? Systems that imposed gender-based modifiers? Or supported non-binary character genders? And not just for creatures? Did the level of character embodiment make a difference? At the height of embodiment, have you had any experiences with live action role-playing across genders?

[For an overview of some feminist issues in tabletop role-playing games, see the Geek Feminism wiki.]

What do female weightlifters and female geeks have in common?

You might not think weightlifters and geeks have a huge overlap or much in common, but it turns out that because we both are interested in traditionally non-feminine things, we’re subject to the same ridiculous “OMG, you should stop what you’re doing or people won’t find you attractive!” comments from people who should mind their own businesses.

Weightlifter Zoe Smith writes a great little piece addressing some naysayers that I think will resonate with many readers here: Thanks (but no thanks…):

As Hannah pointed out earlier, we don’t lift weights in order to look hot, especially for the likes of men like that. What makes them think that we even WANT them to find us attractive? If you do, thanks very much, we’re flattered. But if you don’t, why do you really need to voice this opinion in the first place, and what makes you think we actually give a toss that you, personally, do not find us attractive? What do you want us to do? Shall we stop weightlifting, amend our diet in order to completely get rid of our ‘manly’ muscles, and become housewives in the sheer hope that one day you will look more favourably upon us and we might actually have a shot with you?! Cause you are clearly the kindest, most attractive type of man to grace the earth with your presence.

Oh but wait, you aren’t. This may be shocking to you, but we actually would rather be attractive to people who aren’t closed-minded and ignorant. Crazy, eh?! We, as any women with an ounce of self-confidence would, prefer our men to be confident enough in themselves to not feel emasculated by the fact that we aren’t weak and feeble.

Next time I need an example of a strong woman, I’m going to think of Zoe Smith!

(Note: Sorry, this was put together before the olympics and then not scheduled to go up for some reason, so it’s a bit past topical but I thought folk might enjoy the quote even if it is late.)

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Sugar and spice, and everything linkspam (31st July, 2011)

  • 18 year old German woman Lisa Sauermann has just won the International Mathematics Olympiad (contested between talented high school students) with a perfect score of 42. This is Sauermann’s fifth medal, four of them gold and one silver, the best series of performances ever. (Some sources say she’s the first recipient of four golds, there have actually been two others.)
  • BU Today reviews Project Artmesis, a five week summer computing program for high school girls that has just wound up.
  • Please Sir, I Want Some More: LGBTQs need more and deserve more. We need escapism just like our cis straight brothers and sisters. We need to be portrayed in roles we wouldn’t be expected to be in. (See comments for why this link was removed.) (For that matter, new to this linkspammer: the Gay YA site where this appeared.)
  • Help Us Find These 1970s AT&T Engineers: In this 1975 AT&T film, five female AT&T engineers are profiled. The film starts with male attitudes towards women working as engineers. There are no surprises there… What’s most interesting, though, is that AT&T apparently cannot locate any of these five — they (and I) would like to ask followup questions and learn how things have changed since 1975.
  • Open Source Community, Simplified: The Bugzilla community’s secrets. Not specifically feminist advice, but advice that will help create a woman-friendly coding space.
  • Erase me: And, basically, it comes down to authors wanting either something exotic or inclusion cookies without putting in any real effort or respect into their characters or having any awareness of the tropes and stereotypes they are tapping into… So I’ve finally come down on saying – stop. Erase me. No, really. I’d much rather be erased than tokenised or stereotyped.
  • Girls Go Geek… Again! and Normalizing Female Computer Programmers in the ’60s: This article appeared in a 1967 issue of Cosmopolitan and quotes computer scientist Dr. Grace Hopper, a pioneer in the field, discussing why programming is a perfect fit for women — by drawing partly on gender stereotypes by assuming women are naturals at programming because they’re patient and pay attention to details…

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in 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.

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.

Re-post: Clothes and geek feminism

In anticipation of a December/January slowdown, I’m reposting some of my writing from 2010, for the benefit of new (and nostalgic!) readers. This piece originally appeared on the 20th June 2010.

I’ve been chewing over various things about clothing and geek feminism since our recent posts about clothing and grooming (Kylie’s, Terri’s first, Terri’s second). I still think I can’t address it satisfactorily, but I thought I’d lay out various angles in which we might think of clothing and grooming in geek feminism.

Notes:

  • I refer to “geek women” a lot in this essay. All of these considerations apply to other people too in varying degrees, and sometimes more acutely. But given the nature of this blog I am focussing on geek women’s interests, and pressures on them.
  • This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of factors that figure into geek women’s grooming: it’s meant to be long enough to demonstrate that a lot of us have to care about it. Undoubtedly it is a somewhat privileged list too. You are welcome to raise additions in comments.

Clothing as labour. The vast majority of the clothing the vast majority of people reading this wear is made in factories in the developing world, by people working in dangerous and exploitative positions.

Grooming as make-work. Naomi Wolf, for one, made this argument in The Beauty Myth, that consuming women with endless grooming related chores and insecurities is a method of oppression. (I am barely read in feminist or cultural theory, undoubtedly hundreds of names could be listed here as having addressed aspects of this.) laughingrat raised this in our comments.

Clothing and grooming as geek interest. Some geeks take a geek-style (intense, analytical, open-ended, consuming) interest in various aspects of clothing and grooming. As examples of how you might do this, there are a lot of knitting geeks; there are historical recreation geeks who make and wear period clothing using period technology; there are people who study the semiotics and sociology of fashion.

Clothing as geek in-group marker and grooming as rejection of the mainstream. John writes in Terri’s comments that someone well-groomed in mainstream corporate style can be assumed to [be] trying to cover for a lack of competence in technical matters — or really want to be a suit. You often can’t, in this framing, be a geek and a suit both. You have to choose, and advertise this with your grooming.

Within geekdom, clothing is sometimes a pretty unsubtle marker of your allegiances. What cons do you go to? What programming languages do you prefer? What comics do you read? You wear shirts that allow this to be determined on first acquaintance. (This isn’t unique to geekdom of course, see also fashion labels and band t-shirts.)

Avoiding overtly female-marked grooming. Women in male-dominated workplaces often desperately want to avoid anything that might cause them to be (even more) othered because of their gender, especially since caring about grooming is frequently trivialised.

This may need to be balanced by expectations in some groups these same women move in by choice or necessity in which interest in grooming is required.

Grooming in order to own/celebrate your gender. This is important to many trans people. Conversely to the above about avoiding overt gender marking, quite a few geek women also choose to do this in order to point out that there are women RIGHT HERE in geekdom who can bring the geek.

Grooming as a marker of striving to “fit in” generally. If you have unusual grooming, or grooming that is marked as “other” or of a lesser group, people with power over you will read this as likely to be trouble or not one of us. Conversely, dressing like those people, or like their other subordinates, signals will do what it takes to fit in, won’t make waves.

Unusual grooming as marker of power. Alternatively, if you have power over other people, you can mark this by unusual grooming, or grooming usually disdained. Ingrid Jakobsen raised this in comments.

Grooming as marker of a ‘healthy, competent’ woman. For women especially, being groomed and striving to meet beauty standards is considered an informal indicator of mental health. Being considered poorly groomed or lazy about grooming can invite assumptions about being depressed or similar. (This is especially othering of women who do have mental illnesses, who continually receive the message that they shouldn’t have them, mustn’t display them, and will be in big trouble if they do, all while they quite probably have less energy to deal with the whole mess.)

And of course, a privileged woman might get annoying concerned questions, whereas a less privileged women might find, for example, that assumptions about her mental health play into questions about her ‘fitness’ have access to society, to care for her children and so on.

Grooming for self-esteem. Partly due to internalisation of the above, many women in particular feel happier, more confident and more powerful when they’re “well groomed” by mainstream standards.

Grooming which others female bodies. See the thing about conference t-shirts. Many don’t cater for curvy bodies. If they do, they often cater only for small curvy bodies. And they almost always assume a gender binary of curvy women who want curvy shirts, and square men who want square shirts.

Sexualised grooming. Women are expected to present their bodies in such a way as to be conventionally attractive.

Overly sexual grooming. At the same time as needing to be attractive, women are expected to present their bodies in such a way as not to be “asking for it”. (There is, of course, no middle-ground, see Rape Culture 101.)

Grooming for fun. Geek women may enjoy applying shiny, bright, matching, creative or cherished clothes and decoration to their bodies.

Grooming to get things done. Geek women may need to lift things, fit clothing to a prosthetic or mobility assistance device, run, avoid having a baby pull painfully at their hair, all kinds of stuff.

There are a great many intersectional things I have not addressed here, as a white, wealthy, abled cis-woman. A very very incomplete list would be: considerations about grooming to match your gender identity, considerations about grooming to satisfy people policing your gender identity, minimising grooming in order to preserve your spoons, grooming to honour and be part of your ethnic identity, grooming to meet beauty standards designed for white bodies and white faces, trying to find cheap clothes that won’t be judged in job interviews.

This huge list is just a set of things you could possibly be trying to signal or adhere to or avoid with your grooming. Hopefully this illustrates some of the tensions for geek women: for example, they are called upon to dress in both the feminine, careful style that signals “healthy and competent” but also in the masculine-coded casual style coded as “knows what the hell she’s talking about when it comes to [say] science” and also in something that won’t get them hassled as being unattractive in the street but also not hassled as too attractive…

I hope this has helped break down grooming and clothing as a geek feminist issue, or rather, massively multidimensional tightrope, a bit more. When women, and members of other marginalised and othered groups, consider their appearance, these are the kind of factors that go into it. Of course, in order to be accepted as geeks, we’re supposed to do all that and not care about clothes, right?

Clothes and geek feminism

I’ve been chewing over various things about clothing and geek feminism since our recent posts about clothing and grooming (Kylie’s, Terri’s first, Terri’s second). I still think I can’t address it satisfactorily, but I thought I’d lay out various angles in which we might think of clothing and grooming in geek feminism.

Notes:

  • I refer to “geek women” a lot in this essay. All of these considerations apply to other people too in varying degrees, and sometimes more acutely. But given the nature of this blog I am focussing on geek women’s interests, and pressures on them.
  • This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of factors that figure into geek women’s grooming: it’s meant to be long enough to demonstrate that a lot of us have to care about it. Undoubtedly it is a somewhat privileged list too. You are welcome to raise additions in comments.

Clothing as labour. The vast majority of the clothing the vast majority of people reading this wear is made in factories in the developing world, by people working in dangerous and exploitative positions.

Grooming as make-work. Naomi Wolf, for one, made this argument in The Beauty Myth, that consuming women with endless grooming related chores and insecurities is a method of oppression. (I am barely read in feminist or cultural theory, undoubtedly hundreds of names could be listed here as having addressed aspects of this.) laughingrat raised this in our comments.

Clothing and grooming as geek interest. Some geeks take a geek-style (intense, analytical, open-ended, consuming) interest in various aspects of clothing and grooming. As examples of how you might do this, there are a lot of knitting geeks; there are historical recreation geeks who make and wear period clothing using period technology; there are people who study the semiotics and sociology of fashion.

Clothing as geek in-group marker and grooming as rejection of the mainstream. John writes in Terri’s comments that someone well-groomed in mainstream corporate style can be assumed to [be] trying to cover for a lack of competence in technical matters — or really want to be a suit. You often can’t, in this framing, be a geek and a suit both. You have to choose, and advertise this with your grooming.

Within geekdom, clothing is sometimes a pretty unsubtle marker of your allegiances. What cons do you go to? What programming languages do you prefer? What comics do you read? You wear shirts that allow this to be determined on first acquaintance. (This isn’t unique to geekdom of course, see also fashion labels and band t-shirts.)

Avoiding overtly female-marked grooming. Women in male-dominated workplaces often desperately want to avoid anything that might cause them to be (even more) othered because of their gender, especially since caring about grooming is frequently trivialised.

This may need to be balanced by expectations in some groups these same women move in by choice or necessity in which interest in grooming is required.

Grooming in order to own/celebrate your gender. This is important to many trans people. Conversely to the above about avoiding overt gender marking, quite a few geek women also choose to do this in order to point out that there are women RIGHT HERE in geekdom who can bring the geek.

Grooming as a marker of striving to “fit in” generally. If you have unusual grooming, or grooming that is marked as “other” or of a lesser group, people with power over you will read this as likely to be trouble or not one of us. Conversely, dressing like those people, or like their other subordinates, signals will do what it takes to fit in, won’t make waves.

Unusual grooming as marker of power. Alternatively, if you have power over other people, you can mark this by unusual grooming, or grooming usually disdained. Ingrid Jakobsen raised this in comments.

Grooming as marker of a ‘healthy, competent’ woman. For women especially, being groomed and striving to meet beauty standards is considered an informal indicator of mental health. Being considered poorly groomed or lazy about grooming can invite assumptions about being depressed or similar. (This is especially othering of women who do have mental illnesses, who continually receive the message that they shouldn’t have them, mustn’t display them, and will be in big trouble if they do, all while they quite probably have less energy to deal with the whole mess.)

And of course, a privileged woman might get annoying concerned questions, whereas a less privileged women might find, for example, that assumptions about her mental health play into questions about her ‘fitness’ have access to society, to care for her children and so on.

Grooming for self-esteem. Partly due to internalisation of the above, many women in particular feel happier, more confident and more powerful when they’re “well groomed” by mainstream standards.

Grooming which others female bodies. See the thing about conference t-shirts. Many don’t cater for curvy bodies. If they do, they often cater only for small curvy bodies. And they almost always assume a gender binary of curvy women who want curvy shirts, and square men who want square shirts.

Sexualised grooming. Women are expected to present their bodies in such a way as to be conventionally attractive.

Overly sexual grooming. At the same time as needing to be attractive, women are expected to present their bodies in such a way as not to be “asking for it”. (There is, of course, no middle-ground, see Rape Culture 101.)

Grooming for fun. Geek women may enjoy applying shiny, bright, matching, creative or cherished clothes and decoration to their bodies.

Grooming to get things done. Geek women may need to lift things, fit clothing to a prosthetic or mobility assistance device, run, avoid having a baby pull painfully at their hair, all kinds of stuff.

There are a great many intersectional things I have not addressed here, as a white, wealthy, abled cis-woman. A very very incomplete list would be: considerations about grooming to match your gender identity, considerations about grooming to satisfy people policing your gender identity, minimising grooming in order to preserve your spoons, grooming to honour and be part of your ethnic identity, grooming to meet beauty standards designed for white bodies and white faces, trying to find cheap clothes that won’t be judged in job interviews.

This huge list is just a set of things you could possibly be trying to signal or adhere to or avoid with your grooming. Hopefully this illustrates some of the tensions for geek women: for example, they are called upon to dress in both the feminine, careful style that signals “healthy and competent” but also in the masculine-coded casual style coded as “knows what the hell she’s talking about when it comes to [say] science” and also in something that won’t get them hassled as being unattractive in the street but also not hassled as too attractive…

I hope this has helped break down grooming and clothing as a geek feminist issue, or rather, massively multidimensional tightrope, a bit more. When women, and members of other marginalised and othered groups, consider their appearance, these are the kind of factors that go into it. Of course, in order to be accepted as geeks, we’re supposed to do all that and not care about clothes, right?

Call for guest posts: appearance/presentation issues

Some comments on both Kylie’s post and Terri’s latest post suggest that this blog should really is overdue to host discussions on geek women who are oppressed or trapped by or feeling policed about issues to do with: body image, femininity, gender presentation and similar, or who want to question and deconstruct them, or opt-out.

I know it’s a cop-out to say “we’d welcome guest posts”, but here’s why I feel it’s appropriate in this case: our bloggers who are most sensitive to these issues from personal experience aren’t able to be public about it in this venue at this time, or don’t feel that they can deal with the issue sensitively enough or analytically enough for a satisfying respectful discussion with others. So maybe I should say: we need guest posts to address these issues in a satisfying way, and we’re sorry that we can’t properly address it otherwise (at this time, at least).

If you would like to guest-post on this issue, leave a comment here or on the latest Open thread (you’re always welcome to offer a guest post on an Open thread). Otherwise if you’d like to share links, analysis and resources on these issues, or offer shorter comments, or angles that you’d like addressed on this blog by other writers, please comment.

From comments: being lady-tracked

Terri’s post on grooming has a few stories of women whose bosses or mentors have genuinely believed that they were aiming for management or secretarial roles rather than where they were really headed.

Deborah:

Eventually it became clear that he thought that the career path I wanted was that of the three women who were in technological management at my company: middle managers. (The three women shared an office; each of the male managers got an office to himself.) He honestly could not understand me when I explained to him that my career goal was to be software architect or systems architect, not management. The three female managers wore sportcoats and high heels and makeup and never got to touch technology, and he thought that’s what I wanted

Restructure!:

That reminds me of my boss trying to steer me into a secretary/PR role by offering me more and more secretarial/PR tasks, and he was acting like he was doing me a favour and helping me reach my career goals. When I realized what was happening, I purposely ignored those tasks and kept myself busy with development.

I suspect this is common enough to deserve a post of its own: have you ever been ‘assisted’ by someone who genuinely believed that you wanted out of a geeky career? Or have you had push-back even when you made it clear that the geeky career was what you wanted?

I also think for some women who do want to become managers and so on, this also plays into the “girl stuff” dilemma, that by doing what a female-coded thing, even if it’s what you really want, you worry that you are playing into the oppression of women.

A crisis of linkspam proportions (5th March, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.