Compound this with the complexity around identity, the labels we use to differentiate ourselves, and entrenched issues around representation within our community, and you have a perfect trash-fire.
The most recent example of this was highlighted when Grow Up Esports had the audacity to announce they were bringing their highly successful “GIRLGAMER” Esports Festival to Australia and, oooooh buddy, did the internet have feelings about this.
So, here on the eve of a very important and ground-breaking international event specifically designed to highlight women in gaming, it’s important we unpack this a little.
What on earth is happening?
We have hit a very awkward time in our world-wide feminist journey. While we are recognising the importance of intersectionality and representation across all echelons of society, we are still vehemently disagreeing about how this representation should be executed.
Our corporations, some political parties and even local suburban clubs are setting representation goals for their boards and committees. Some are even going so far as to set quotas. However, despite the proven success of these strategies, some sectors (professional gaming included) are still caught up on this idea merit and merit alone will get women to the top of their field.
This is Australia. We know this does not work. We know what does work is creating events, spaces and work structures that allow women in, allow women to work without fear and give them strong role models to follow and celebrate, along with strong consequences against workplace harassment.
On the face of it, evoking the term “Gamer Girl” seems like a great way to cut through the murk by clearly labelling your event. So why are women in Australia so resistant to it?
I am a gaming *woman*, thank you
One of the most powerful criticisms of the term is it infantilises women.
This is a tactic that has been used to keep women out of positions of power for decades. The “Office Girl” trope, where the cornerstone of office functionality and success is dismissed while the men do the “real” work (which is, idk, drinking scotch in the corner office instead of developing the relationships your business relies on in the boardroom?) is endemic, and women have tried really hard to move away from this. And because language and perception is weird, calling someone a girl not only infantilizes them, but it can make people feel unnecessarily sexualised.
Infantilization suggests a power structure and power relationships are often sexualised in unwanted ways, and by the end of it people just feel…. [errg]
The term you are looking for is “E-THOT”
Don’t believe me? Let me give you a quick break down.
To write this article, I asked a wide variety of gaming communities (and Twitter… thanks, Twitter… I CAN’T UNSEE THAT) what they felt when they heard the term “Girl Gamer” or “Gamer Girl”. Cue my Twitter DMs meltdown.
A quick break down of the replies from men:
- The term you are looking for is “E-THOT”
- That’s my favourite search term on Pornhub
- A girl who plays games, but actually knows something about games and can talk to the gameplay, not just run around like an idiot
- A girl who plays games (>5 responses)
You can see the problem here. For decades, women have tried to get an even footing with men in this industry (and any industry dominated by men). We have tried to be really good at it, we have tried to join esports teams, we have tried to create all-women esports teams.
And you know what? It. Has. Worked. We have all-women esports teams. We have mixed esports teams. We have known and respected women who are Devs, testers, promoters and organisers.
But the pace of change is slow. Even though we are making progress, we have a looooong way to go. As seen by the third, still rather patronising understanding of “Gamer Girl”, there is still an expectation for the highest of expertise that simply does not apply to our male colleagues in the industry.
This is backed up by the evidence. Time and time, and time, and time, and time again, women with the same or better qualifications than men are perceived to be less knowledgeable or less worthy of respect or air time than their male counterparts. We cannot pretend this scourge is not present in esports and gaming in general, unless you are willing to literally bury your head in the sand.
Why not just call us gamers?
The struggle is real. Despite the fact that only a small number of women are in the top 50 viewed channels on twitch, there are still regular blow-ups on twitter about “titty streamers stealing the views”.
Then we all get shocked when women and female-identifying gamers don’t want the label “Gamer Girl”.
A quick break down of the replies from women to my question (descending order):
- Errrg, I am not a “Gamer Girl” I am a gamer stop gendering this
- I am way too old and have gone through way too much to be called a “girl” thank you
- Haven’t we had enough titty streamer shaming?
- I identify as a Gamer Girl, and take pride in blazing a trail for women streamers and gamers
Off the back of this came stories of women supporting other women in the industry, women tearing down other women in the industry, the complexities and vibrancy of mixed versus single gendered esports teams, and just so many overwhelming, visceral feelings.
A lot of women just want to be left the hell alone, leave this conversation behind, and get on with building a career.
The problem is we are not in a position to just do that yet. Without better representation of women in gaming, we will continue to get well-intentioned but slightly awkward offerings like #DressGate, and a vocal minority crying foul when a wonderful group like DreamHack have the audacity to run a CSGO event worth $100,000 to support female esports athletes. Honest to God, just stop.
Representation is Important
We know the one thing that changes perception is representation. Women seeing women in positions of leadership, succeeding at things traditionally labelled difficult, breaking glass ceilings in previously adversarial environments– This is essential.
For better or for worse, gaming is one of these areas. If you don’t want to be part of this fight, I have terrible news for you: you already are. Through the simple act of being female and actively participating in the gaming scene, you are helping change representation and perception of gaming. By going to esports events, talking to people in the crowd and supporting your local female competitors, you are participating in the fight to bring equal representation to this industry.
But it’s not enough. Major events and sponsors have to get in behind this wave and make it clear to the bewildered and smouldering trash-fire spectators that women in gaming is not only here to stay, it’s worth celebrating as something in its own right and it’s worth putting up in big lights.
These lights leave nowhere for small and sick minded naysayers to hide. It makes you watch as women smash through the games you know and love, games you thought you had some kind of zen-like knowledge and super skill in thanks to the magical powers of your patriarchal privilege.
You can’t deny the talent before your eyes without looking like a fool. Then once the girls are finished, you can go to literally any other public gaming festival or competition and these women can walk in with pride and show off their skills on that stage too. They will stride in heads held high, confident with experience and knowledge they are not walking into a hostile crowd who are either undressing them with their eyes or shit-talking them because of their gender.
That’s why events like GIRLGAMER Esports Festival are so important. In one phrase any outside observer will know exactly what this festival is about. Using such contentious terminology acknowledges two things: firstly, we know what you think of women in esports and we are going to take your terms and the power to use them negatively off you.
Secondly, fuck you, these women are awesome.
Words only have the power we give them. I humbly suggest we use these words to create the spaces we want for ourselves, take them back and own them.