How Not to Respond When Women Make Things

I put this out there on the twitters yesterday, so here ’tis again:

If your first reaction to an article about RPing written by a woman is to type “Dude, is she single?” Go slam your fingers in a door. Or anything else it takes to prevent you from typing and posting that.

If you later wonder why there aren’t more women in gaming, that shit is part of it. “A lady gamer! Maybe she will date me!”

Maybe we’d like to, y’know, enjoy our hobby (Hey guess what, it’s our hobby, too) without having to get hit on. Or reduced to single/taken.

It’s a thing that happens all the time, not just in the gaming community, but pretty much anywhere women exist on the internet. We’re reduced to “is she single?” and “She’s so hot/so ugly” and “WHOA. A GIRL.”

I don’t care if you think it’s well-meaning.
I don’t care if you think it’s flirty or cute.
I don’t care if you mean it as a compliment.

So do hundreds, thousands, of other dudes, which means we don’t have to just wade through one of these comments, we have to wade through fucking oceans of them. All the time. Sure, we can ignore them, but they’re always there. It’s tiresome. It’s boring.

Ignoring the “compliment” or shutting it down runs the risk of the exchange turning sour. Suddenly we have to deal with comments like “you don’t have to be a bitch about it,” or “why are you so sensitive,” or “I was just trying to compliment you, sheesh. Don’t you know how to take a compliment? Couldn’t you just say ‘thank you’?”

Women have to weigh the possible outcomes of pushing back, of saying I don’t like that or Please don’t or Could we focus on the topic of the article? Over and over and over and over. We have to wonder which poster is going to level up from “UR so hot lol” to rape threats when he’s told to cut it out. And who’s going to have our backs when it inevitably happens? (Hint: it’s getting better out there, but a lot of the time the crickets are louder than the voices of male friends saying “dude, not cool.” If you see it happening and you think it sucks, CALL THEM ON IT.)

When you ignore the content of an article to comment on its writer’s looks/relationship status, it sends the message that your work is not as important as your sexual availability.

It says I don’t actually care about what you think, what you create, what you have to say.

It says I do not take your work seriously.

It says I do not think of you first and foremost as a person.

If that is not what you intend to communicate, then don’t post it. You have a backspace key. Use it.*

On the other hand, if that’s exactly what you are trying to say, see my handy-dandy twitter guide above. Do it for each hand. Twice.

Before anyone suggests it’s just random clueless dudes who don’t know any better and are nice guys we swear doing it, bzzzt. It’s out there, happening all the goddamned time on a professional level, too:

See Neko Case’s reaction when Playboy said she was “breaking the mold of what women in the music industry should be.”

Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli had to take time out from celebrating her victory to address commentator John Inverdale’s criticism of her looks. Which of course became as big a story as her win, if not bigger.

Kelly Sue DeConnick — who has been working in comics for years, and is currently writing an amazing Captain Marvel — was listed as “wife of Matt Fraction” in a news article about the guests at the Dublin International Comics Expo. None of the male creators (including Matt Fraction) got the same treatment.

When rocket scientist Yvonne Brill died, the New York Times led her obituary with how great her beef stroganoff recipe was, and how she followed her husband around when he switched jobs, and how she raised three kids. The paper’s concession was to drop the beef stroganoff mention and slip in the words “rocket scientist.” But kept the rest of her being a mom, bumping the stuff about, y’know, her career into the second paragraph.

Katherine Freese wrote a book about dark matter. The New Scientist review focuses on her experiences with Women! In Science!** before getting to what the reviewer admits is “the meat of the book” – the scientific discussion of dark matter. (Hat tip to Katie Mack (@AstroKatie) for this one. Are you following her? Go follow her.)

These are all off the top of my head. It happens all. the. time.

Don’t contribute to it.

*Better yet, don’t type it in the first place. You have control over your motor functions. The incident that sparked this piece was a guy posting “Obligatory ‘dude, is she single?’” on a message board I frequent. Same guy got very upset a few months ago when we were discussing Schrödinger’s Rapist on another thread, because it made it sound (to him) like women think men don’t have control over their urges. Aaaaand then goes and makes a post like this, implying he just couldn’t help himself. NOPE.

**Do I think we need to recognize women’s achievements? Abso-goddamned-lutely, especially since women’s contributions are so often erased or obscured. So the reviewer gets half-credit for acknowledgeing those scientists and their achievements. But the awestruck “it must have been lonelys”? Eh.

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One Response to How Not to Respond When Women Make Things

  1. Alexa Muir says:

    Great post Lauren and great advice to put out there. I’m a gamer who happens to be female, and have developed an instant caution when I’m telling guys about it because I can be having a really normal conversation with them until they find out about the games thing and then WHAM! They suddenly go all flirty and weird on me. I’m ashamed to say it but I play the “I borrow my boyfriend’s games” line a lot, just to prevent it happening, even though it drives me nuts that I have to define myself as “taken” just to keep the bonobo’s at bay. I’m sure with many men this isn’t necessary but I don’t know that until it’s too late.

    I’m also sick and tired of women’s achievements being undermined and their relationship to men or children being of primary importance when discussing their work. Men who achieve anything normally only have a spouse or children mentioned in later paragraphs, in a very clear secondary place to their work. Hell, even when a woman is killed she doesn’t have a life of her own, she’s always someone’s mother, daughter, girlfriend first before they talk about her career or achievements. Poor Reeva Steenkamp was hardly written or spoken about by name when she was killed, continually only being defined as Pistorius’ girlfriend. Never mind the fact the guy killed her…

    I hope for the day when being female is no big deal. When a woman can do amazing things and be praised for it – and for her gender or marital/motherly status to not be mentioned until at least the third or fourth paragraph, or even not at all. Surely it’s not too much to ask?

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