The Myth of Girl Gamer Special Privilege
In my internet travels, I have lots of conversations with lots of cool different people. Recently on a lady gamer forum, many women were expressing that they’d never experienced harassment or sexist insults in online games. I said that while I wasn’t in that camp, they were very fortunate, and perhaps it was a sign that gaming culture was changing for the better!
A terrific gentleman agreed, and joined in the positivity by saying, “Yeah, it’s not so bad! And think about all those special privileges girl gamers get!”
The conversation came to a screeching halt.
Now I wasn’t being sarcastic earlier. The guy who said this was a great person, and honestly thought what he said was true. It’s something I’d heard before, so I asked him to clarify.
From his perspective, gamers who identify as female in the game get treated as special unicorns, as well as getting free loot from other players, all from their virtue of being a woman (or appearing to be a woman online, let’s be honest here).
Let’s tackle this in two parts: first, address what privilege really is, and second, dispel the myth that women get free loot for being women.
So what is privilege? It’s not simply a few perks we get for being what we are, it’s a bit bigger than that. It’s the expectation of being treated a certain way, without hurdles, because of what we are.
Let’s paint a word picture about white privilege. A white person can grab a reusable shopping bag, drive to the grocery store, shop, and return home with very few problems.
For a black shopper without white privilege, it’s a very different story. First, he has to chose his route. The store he wants to go to is in a predominately white neighborhood, and he knows that if he takes Wonder Bread Street, the cops that always park by the school will probably pull him over and hassle him. So he can’t go that way. Next, should he take his reusable shopping bag? Of course, he’s very environmentally conscious, but he knows that if he walks in with a bag, someone will want to search it, and the store manager will probably want to follow him through the whole store to make sure he doesn’t slip anything into his bag.
Black Shopper has to take into consideration things that White Shopper doesn’t, change his actions accordingly, and face a whole mess of crap that White Shopper probably won’t ever have to deal with, simply because he is white.
Alternatively, let’s remove race and consider able-bodied privilege. An able-bodied person can go just about anywhere and do just about anything without much thought. A person in a wheelchair, however, needs to be very aware of where she can and cannot go. Which places have ramps and elevators? Which places have automatic doors? Does that movie theater have a decent wheelchair spot or should she just stay home with a DVD?
The fact that the world is already catered to us able-bodied people means that we have privilege.
Now how does this translate into gaming? Well, telling a girl she has privilege in a game because all the guys want to talk to her and help her is like telling Black Shopper, “You’re so lucky! I wish I had the store manager following me around, I can never find anything in that damn place!” It’s telling the woman in the wheelchair, “You’re so fortunate to have people hold that door open for you and help pull you up those stairs. I wish people were that nice to me!”
Black Shopper would prefer to shop in peace. Wheelchair Woman would prefer a ramp so she could do it herself. Female gamers would prefer to be treated the same as everyone else and not be considered a novelty. Be nice to everyone, not just women.
Remember that women change their behavior in games because they don’t have privilege. Many don’t use voice chat. Others purposefully use gender neutral names to hide their gender and avoid harassment. We have to take steps and precautions because we’re entering a predominately “male” space, and these are steps and precautions that most male gamers never have to think about.
But like I said earlier, there seems to be some anecdotal evidence that this might be changing! So yay!
“Okay,” you say, “so privilege was the wrong word. But don’t pretend that girl gamers don’t enjoy certain perks just for being a girl, like free loot!”
I won’t deny that some gamers out there give loot and gear to female players. But let’s not pretend this is just out of the kindness of their hearts. They want something in return. It might just be because they want female attention, or it might be because they want to cyber. It’s not free when you want something back. That, my friends, is a transaction, not a perk or privilege.
This sets up a system that turns female attention into a commodity. A female player who accepts gifts might have no idea that she now owes the person who gave them to her some sort of sexual favor. That is unfair to that female player. It also perpetuates the irritating “friend zone” BS that a guy who is nice to women deserves a sexual reward.
Women gamers are not an achievement. You don’t unlock sex with us by investing a certain amount of leet gear.
Are there women (and “women”) who trade sex for in-game loot? Sure. I certainly don’t condone it, but it’s important to remember that women are not a collective unit or a hive mind. Just because that girl strips on webcam in exchange for purple gear doesn’t mean that every girl will. She doesn’t represent every female gamer any more than that dude throwing out homophobic/racist/sexist slurs is representative of all male gamers. We are all individuals.
And as for you, those few female gamers? Do not go into games expecting free loot/special treatment. You need to stop that as much as those guys who give out free loot expect cybersex. We all need to stop having certain exploitative expectations of certain genders in our games, and just treat people like people.
Be excellent to one another, whoever and whatever you are.