Snapshots of a Week (or so) of Being a Woman Geek

About a week ago I read an article by Evan Narcisse, posted at Kotaku, about his concern for his daughter and what she will--and will not--experience as a girl gamer (when she's older):
[L]ike any father, I wonder what she's going to find when I start letting her engage with the medium I love and work with. More specifically, there's two big problems I see her having when she powers up her first handheld or console game.

She's Not Going to Find Anyone That Looks Like Her

Leaving aside the specific mix of her parentage—Black and Asian, if you must know—this little bundle of cute is going to grow up into a brown woman. Have you seen where brown women wind up in video game casting? Sassy sidekicks are the best of it, folks. And maybe she won't be offended by the Letitias she meets, but they're not going to engender any great love in her either. They're not going to resemble her aunts or her cousins or her school friends.


Now, you might say, "Evan, I play video games every day that don't have people that look like me. So do you for that matter!" That's true. But I want different for her. I want better for her. [...]


The Whole Girl Gamer Thing

I used to work at Teen People Magazine ten years ago. Back then, the fact that girls played video games still got treated like a mind-blowing revelation. Nowadays, the air of novelty is gone but it's been replaced by a distrust or dismissal. And the flip side of this is even worse, when women who play games are exoticized or fetishized.


If she were of age to play video games now, I'd be extremely wary of the reflections—or more accurately, the lack thereof—she'd find staring back at her.[...]
The comments. Oh the comments. They reminded me of why I generally have the rule of "Never Read The Comments". The comments are a vulgar display of privileged assholes whining about how they "don't see race", why do you people keep having to bring it up--and that 'girl gamer' thing, can't you just shut up about it already?


(Scene: checkout counter at GameStop)

Dude Employee: Did you want another game? It's buy two, get one free.

Me: Ummm, no. I'm not sure what [my husband] wants, or the kids for that matter.

Dude Employee: Ok.

(pay for game)

Me: Oh! Do you all have Kingdoms of Amalur? I didn't see it on the shelves. Also, is Dragon's Dogma open for pre-order? I was checking into both of them the other day and they look really interesting. The demo for Kingdoms was fun.

Dude Employee: Let me check here. (pause) Yeah, we have Kingdoms. Did you want it? Dragon's Dogma comes out May and is open for reserving now. Did you want to do that today?

Me: Hmmmm. Well. Noooo, not today. I should probably save my money for vacation in a couple weeks, instead of buying video games. But thank you for checking into them!

Dude Employee: Ok! Well, if your husband is still interested in either of them, especially Kingdoms because it is pre-owned, he can come in tomorrow and still get the two-for-one sale.

Me: (stares at employee) Those two games, plus the one I just bought, are for ME.

Dude Employee: Uh...oh. Uh, sorry.


Right next to GameStop is Target. I head over the women's clothing section to browse. I come across a table of t-shirts and spot a Star Wars shirt. Pleasantly surprised, I pick it up...and then notice it's a "men's" shirt. Apparently since the last time I had been in the store, they moves the men's clothing dept over to what used to be the middle of the women's dept (and had not changed any signing yet). Out of curiosity, I search out the women's & "juniors" t-shirts. Not one Star Wars shirt. Or any other geeky shirt.


This weekend I was at Old Navy to replenish some of my wardrobe that I ruined by washing a black marker in with a load of shirts (whoooops!). I also stopped by the girl's clothing dept because my daughter is is need of some new shirts herself (but from growing, not laundry accidents). To my surprise, I spotted a Wonder Woman t-shirt. I looked around the other character shirts but the rest were Smurfs or Snoopy or the like. Nothing wrong with those, of course, but I had hoped there would be Star Wars or the like as well--like they had in the boy's department. I mean, she likes Star Wars and is so not into Snoopy.

At the checkout, the cashier saw the Wonder Woman shirt and remarked: "I wish they made these in women's. I'd so get one!".


Both Target and Old Navy have a bigger selection of geeky shirts for women and girls. But not in the store--if I wanted to go online and search them out, I could. But they aren't readily available, as they are for men and boys, right in the store. Of course, I could just buy from the other department but that's not really the point, either. DC Comics (owned by Warner Bros.) and ThinkGeek--for that matter--are also available online. However, if you're wanting to buy Marvel merch, they just aren't interested in girls:

However, they'll gladly sell you a "I Only Date Super Heroes" shirt.


This morning I read an article from Emily Asher-Perrin regarding the ubiquitous "sexy" pose used for heroines, in movies or television. You know, this pose:

Emily notes:
It’s also a pose that tells you, in no uncertain terms, “I’m here for you to objectify me. It’s okay, you don’t have to feel bad about it.”

Now, there is no problem with women being sexual, of course. But when you begin to see certain trends over and over, it’s not hard to figure out who is the benefactor of the imagery. Also important to note, this doesn’t happen to men with anywhere near the same frequency.
The comments are entirely predictable.


Like Evan, I have a daughter. My daughter is older than his, as she is nine now, and she's loves all sorts of geekery. She collects Magic: The Gathering cards, she also plays D&D, she enjoys sci-fi & fantasy books (especially with women or girl heroines), etc. It's not just her, either, but my boys as well. My oldest son, in particular, is way into just about everything geek-related and he is just starting to get into playing WoW and RPG video games. Like Evan, I want the geek culture they are discovering and starting to enjoy and desire to participate in to not be the hostile, the misogynist, the ignorant--or the "exceptioneering"--environment we find it to be today.

There are an awful lot of dudes out there who appear to be threatened by any attempt at even just pointing out the rank misogyny and male privilege endemic in many geek-pursuits, from the predominant use of the male gaze in game design of characters (or in movie or tv marketing) to the simple availability of merchandise in stores to the offensive use of "booth babes" to even just pointing out that women writers in sci-fi/fantasy genre are not particularly being taken as seriously as male counterparts.

But you know what? Women are not tokens, not prizes or objects for visual pleasure, and not something to be grudgingly "tolerated" by (some) men in nerd culture. We are consumers and creators in our own right. It's about damn time for that to be fully recognized.

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