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Painting All Gamers With A Sexist Brush

I’m a gamer. I’m not a particularly good one and definitely not a hardcore gamer, but the I still wear the label. I play a little bit of everything from board games to RPGs to console games. I’ve even become momentarily addicted to little iPhone games. I’ve been gaming since I started dating my husband who definitely is a hardcore gamer. That was many years ago and in that time if there’s one thing that I’ve learned about gamers it’s that they are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

Now, this isn’t to say that some of them aren’t complete idiots. There are people who cheat. There are people who are bad sports. There are people who are completely antisocial and won’t utter two words more than required in order to play a game. But those people, the ones you wish would go away, are the minority just like they are in every walk of life.

So, when I read a recent post on Chickhammer by a woman who games and accused the gaming community, specifically tabletop wargamers, of being mostly a sexist bunch of louts, it bothered me. A lot. It blamed the lack of women players on the nasty attitudes of the men and suggested the ways men could be more sensitive, clean up their acts, and make the environment more friendly for women. I’m sorry, what now?

I have no doubt that women have faced issues playing guys and don’t dispute that at all, but to take the entire community of wargamers and paint them with a sexist brush is unfair and untrue. I have talked to hundreds and hundreds of these guys. I’ve had drinks with them. I’ve played games with them. I’ve had arguments with them. I can only think of one person, one, that gave me a truly sexist attitude and it was a guy who worked for a gaming company, not even a fellow player.

The reason there aren’t more women in miniature wargaming is the same reason there aren’t more guys who scrapbook. Men and women are not the same and have different interests and attitudes so certain hobbies will skew more one way than the other. It doesn’t mean a woman can’t play games, nor does it mean a man can’t scrapbook. It simple means more men like wargaming and more women like scrapbooking. Why does this have to be turned into sexism?

Ashley, the author of the post, goes on to write at length about the prevalence of rape jokes in wargaming. Once again, what now? I’ve found this no more likely in the wargaming community, than in the world at large. Those guys exist everywhere and when they are out of line I’ve found that other men are quick to call them out on it. Those kinds of jokes are tasteless, insensitive and inappropriate, but wargamers are no more or less guilty of this than the any other group.

I was also frustrated by the reverse sexism in this post. She doesn’t want to be treated differently or given extra notice for being a woman, yet calls her site Chickhammer. She doesn’t want to be called a girl because she sees that as disrespectful, and says she’d never call guys boys, yet the tagline for her site is “Warhammer isn’t just a boys club anymore.” Isn’t that doing to men precisely what she’s accusing them of doing to women?

The one photograph in the post is captioned “My Daemon Prince, with his sword of equality, smites sexism” yet, couldn’t one call that sexist? Why a prince, not a princess? Should I be offended that she chose a male model to represent her sexism smiting ways rather than a female model? Is she implying that Sisters of Battle are not capable of smiting on their own and therefore I’m not capable of it either? Isn’t she being sexist? Is she being insensitive to her fellow women?

I don’t actually have a problem with the picture. It’s a cool model. She probably chose it because it was a cool model and for no other reason, but it could easily be twisted into a “women don’t need to be saved by men, how dare you” rant. I find that no less ridiculous than saying the wargaming community is short on women due to the overwhelming amount of sexism in the very male ranks.

I think it’s great that Ashley is blogging about her wargaming experiences, and I’m sorry to hear that she’s had some negative ones. I’m not negating her experiences, more the idea that the wargaming community is closed-off and unaccepting of women players as a rule. I have found the exact reverse to be true. I’d hate to think that women decided not to play because they thought the guys were all jerks. They’re not. They’re great. I love you guys! (wipes tear, looks for hug)

I’d love to hear your thoughts, men and women, on your experiences.


22 Responses to “Painting All Gamers With A Sexist Brush”

  1. 100% agreeance here Nicole – well done for articulating this so well.

    "Reverse feminism" as you put it, is an incredibly common form of hypocracy on sites and blogs such as the one referenced here, and all they really achieve is to widen the margin further between the genders.

    It's when we don't even need to be surprised or remark upon women involved in gaming (because it's considered just as normal as anyone else being involved) that we know we've got it won.

  2. NJ says:

    I've also been fortunate to not have experienced blatant sexism when I game (not a wargamer however). The males I have gamed with have been supportive, with one or two patronizing guys who I managed to shut down quite righteously in-game. That being said, it can easily take just one bad experience to turn a woman or girl totally off to the gaming/wargaming industry. It's incredibly sad that this still happens.

    I would like to see more guys speak up not only on the internet, but right when that belittling/verbal bullying happens to a female. This is beyond mere white-knighting; this is standing up for fairness and saying, hey that's not cool. The biggest catalyst to change is from within.

  3. Ray Guimond says:

    Nice article Nicole and I agree, however reverse sexism is still sexism.

  4. Ah, the "girl" geek hobbyist. By putting a gender definer in your title you instantly split the sexes. It's as old as the hills and most areas of male-dominated hobbying have seen the same thing happen at some point. But to rise above the morons of your opposing gender, ruining your hobby with comments and quips, we must all be defined as morons regardless of gender.

    At the moment, some women are continuing to widen the gap and alienate anyone who feels gender association is a cheap way of having a voice heard. For example, 'Has Boobs Reads Comics' is a terrible name for a site and, while I'm sure many women don't read 'Have Penis Play Games' and believe that most sites run by men are pretty much called that anyway, lowering to those naming standards is cheap. Chickhammer is another.

    Until sites like these stop existing and forces are combined to create sites that don't shove a gender down the readers throats, the unbalance will only be maintained. But maybe you want that, I dunno.

    Still, my work on 'Hunky Geeks With Manly Chests' is almost complete. It'll dispute growing male stereotypes within games, the stresses and expectations on male gamers and the latest reviews but any mention of male body parts will be construed as offensive.

  5. Hilary says:

    I don't know where she's from, but I wounder if that may have something to do with it. I live in Washington State, and in my experience a majority of the guy gamers on the eastern part of the sate are very stand offish to me because I'm a girl. However the western part of the sate the majority of them are very open and friendly with me. I still think that as a whole most gamers are not sexist, but I could see how some would see it that way. (I too play Warhammer, and I still see the difference in the gamers on each side of the state.)

  6. It definitely does depend on the group you manage to find. There are some groups that are more open to new gamers, women gamers etc than others and it's really just luck of the draw.

    I actually think at tourneys you get a better mix when there are little groups from different areas that interact with each other.

    Like a lot of hobbies, you sometimes have to search for the right group of people for you.

  7. I agree, guys need to speak up when it happens. It's hard when this happens in any venue, gaming or otherwise, to stand up to it. Especially if a guy has a nasty attitude, being called out on it by another guy is a lot more effective than the woman being targeted speaking up to defend herself.

  8. It's a very tricky line to call attention to yourself as a woman and then say not to take notice of the fact. I actually know Jill of Has Boobs Reads Comics and she's a wonderful, intelligent woman who is a huge comic fan. I know she has her own opinions about sexism and how women are treated in geek circles, but I won't put words in her mouth. She can comment if she'd like.

    Oh, and I so expect a press release on Hunky Geeks With Manly Chests so I don't miss a single post 😉

  9. Ashley says:

    Hi, this is Ashley from Chickhammer. I appreciate you writing about my post, as it's always humbling to know that people read what I write.

    Unfortunately, I don't believe you quite comprehended my message. My experiences have been largely positive- and I said so. I love the hobby: I love playing, I love painting, and I'm very thankful for the many great people I have been able to share the hobby with.

    Of course, for all the good people out there, it can be difficult to look past the bad apples. One person can really ruin an event for someone and my post was more about them than anything. We (and by we, I mean all gamers) shouldn’t allow attitudes that are disrespectful towards anyone for any reason.

    That's what my post was about. I talked about some things that wargamers could do to make it a more welcoming and positive environment for women, and to also show some of those guys how they can be a little more sensitive so things like what I’ve experienced don’t happen to anyone else.

    As for my Daemon Prince, I thought it was just a cool picture, but it does illustrate a good point. Women alone don’t have to take on sexism, men can smite sexism as well and I applaud when they do! It's in a woman’s best interest to do so, but when a man objects to sexism, he does so out of respect and out of empathy and that is to be encouraged.

    Please don't ignore the reality of the situation that there are women who would be interested in miniature wargaming but are put off because of bad experiences and the sexist nature of many (but not all or even most) gaming sites. Yes, it is great that you have not been affected by this or have been able to overcome it, but not everyone has or should be expected to.

  10. Hey Ashley and thanks so much for commenting!!

    I did get that you enjoy wargaming and have had some great experiences. Clearly, you enjoy the hobby or you wouldn't be writing about ways to make it better.

    And I do agree, that when there's rude or sexist behavior on the part of men toward women at a tourney it is totally out of line. I think what rubbed me the wrong way was that the post implied it's a huge problem in wargaming. I don't think it is.

    Does it exist? Absolutely. There is sexism in wargaming as there is in every walk of life, but I don't think that wargamers are worse than any other group.

    The way you addressed the issue of sexism and the rape discussions made it seem like this is a big problem and is holding back the masses of women that would otherwise play. Is it holding back some? Quite possibly. Is it holding back numbers along the lines of that 40% in video games. I don't think that answer is yes.

    It's a male dominated hobby because it simply appeals to more men than women, not because they're sexist and exclude women. My issue isn't that sexism doesn't exist in wargaming, but that it's no worse there than anywhere else.

    Calling out wargamers to clean up their acts, or to clean up the acts of the rest of the community because it's so bad, is an unfair characterization of the community at large.

    Again, thanks for commenting, Ashley and happy gaming!!

    I think it unfairly

  11. Anton says:

    Hi there,

    I wonder what is your opinion on "Feminist Frequency" and especially her amazing and successful Kickstarter campagin on tropes, women and video-games …

    To be crystal clear about this: Although I am no backer of her campaign, I really appreciate what Anita Sarkeesian (the person behind Feminist Frequency) does over there; and if you would not mind watching her different youtube shows of the past, then you could learn a lot about what actually happens there.

    Sexism is not so much of an issue within gaming groups or gaming communities – probably because most people simply don't care so much about transferring "real life sexism" into the game world while the actually transfer rude language and opinions on women into the game or while game-producers simply use the sex-sells-scheme in marketing and product-development.

    I have no clue about the other way around, i.,e. how "women" speak about/ of males in their absence. But I imagine it is no less "interesting" then what happens when men speak freely in the absence of women. I don't want this to be understood as a general rule that this, what I imply here, happens all the time; the opposite is true. But it is also true that speaking in sexist ways is not challenged as regular as it (maybe?) should be.

    And that is actually why I enjoy the shows of Anita Sarkeesian; I don't acknowledge everything she states or says. But I accept her as "comrade" in pop-culture and as a gamist, although I don't know her personally. And I am in deep respect and very thankful about her opinions and thoughts on "gender-issues" in pop-culture of different kinds, because she simply does not "unreflectedly live" with the sad and annoying conditions as they are (at the moment).

    So again: What opinion do you have about what she does?

    Best wishes!
    Anton aus Allerwelt
    – Germany – so sorry for my complicated way of spelling –

  12. Hi Anton,

    I actually am familiar with that kickstarter as it received a lot of much deserved attention.

    I think it's addressing something a bit different. It's more the portrayal of women in games as opposed to how real-world people are treating each other while playing games. I know one can affect the other, but they aren't quite the same thing.

    Looking at the characters in video games, card games, board games and miniature wargames you can absolutely see very stereotypical characters appearing again and again and again. I have more than once looked at a character with huge breasts and the smallest armor ever and wondered what the heck was going on.

    I think it's a valid concern and worth investigating and am interested in seeing the final videos that come out of the kickstarter.

    Playing devil's advocate, there is a fair amount of stereotyping of male characters in games as well. Guys have biceps that could crush your head and I swear some of them have more abs than are anatomically accurate.

    There's a tendency to portray men and women both at extremes in games, sometimes it fits the nature of the game with modified humans and the like, and other times it's absolutely ridiculous.

    I am looking forward to seeing the results of Anita's project!

  13. Anton says:

    Hi there,

    now, THAT was a quick response. Thank you very much.

    And yes, I think you are right: There is a difference about FemFreq's focus on gender-roles within games and real persons' behaviors at gaming. Thank you. I have not thought about this.

    In fact: I just have started thinking things through, since I am new to Anita's projects and this whole topic in general … (And I am very happy to having found something "new" about my hobbies …)

    As for extremes and displaying characters in games: Yeah, I agree with you – men and women, both genders are being treated very stereotypical, which is kind of kickass on the one hand, but sad on the other as well. And so it depends a lot on the people dealing with the games. This is what you and others have mentioned above a few times.

    All the best and happy gaming.
    Anton aus Allerwelt
    – Germany – sorry for my complicated spelling –

  14. jaklumen says:

    Hi Hilary–

    I'm from southeastern Washington, actually, and I'm familiar with what you are speaking of. It's quite annoying, actually, considering some of my friends and family (my wife and one of my sisters, for example) are passionate about gaming.

    Furthermore… I live in the land of RadCon. I really have to say my local area is in a rut, and that's not just the gamers.

  15. jaklumen says:

    "I can only think of one person, one, that gave me a truly sexist attitude and it was a guy who worked for a gaming company, not even a fellow player."

    This reminds me of when my wife picked up a copy of Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress. We both had a hard time swallowing Shelly Mazzanoble's girlie-girl stereotypes, more particularly those of her D&D characters. We didn't know any women gamers like that, and she's more or less from a gaming family. Basically, the book seemed like a hard sell of D&D to shoe-collecting, shop-a-holic, beauty-obsessed women.

    That said… with your title in mind, there's obviously more in the world of gaming than the wargaming tradition, and consequently more stereotypes, to boot. Some friends pointed out the prose-based, freeform online tradition to me some years ago. From the explanations I got, it grew from writing circles. It also seemed like it was part of the wellspring that developed fangirl clichés, being a more female-dominated community.

    In short, prose-based was an underrated and little-known contributor to the gaming world. And as I was learning about it, well… I did say fangirl, so there's the female sexist stereotypes too. I saw what seemed to be a train wreck of the two worlds in live action roleplaying, specifically the Camarilla (White Wolf's 'World of Darkness' horror genre). On the one hand, there were alpha male gamers from the 'hack 'n slash' wargaming tradition– the "Hurr Hurr Boobies Squad" stereotypes, if you will. But then there were the prose-minded 'schmooze and scheme' female gamers, who seemed ensconced in the "Homoerotic Fantasies With Your Favorite Male Characters" stereotypes. I remember one in particular got many perverted delights about sharing a "Slash Valentine" that basically involved Snape and Harry Potter… 'nuff said.

    I point this out, Nicole, that while many gamers CAN be a delightful bunch, I also weary of the bad attitudes of some… and sadly, that includes some women as well.

  16. Anonymous says:

    If someone is being picked on for anything they have no real control over it should be stopped such as gender/race/disability and even some things like religion/economic status should be off the table of you don't know the person. That being said The noble art of sledging your mates (both male and female) shouldn't be abolished. Great for a laugh to try and throw them off and keeping the mood jovial and good natured to stop it getting serious. There should be more equality in all aspects at life but when I crack out the controller or my little toys for wargames I want to leve the seriousness of the world behind and just have a good time with friends. I think things can be taken to seriously especially in the war gaming community in regards to gender, prices, Matt ward, anything GW, the inherent competitiveness of some systems, etc. and sap the enjoyment out of what' meant to be fun

  17. Hi I hope you don't mind but I linked to this article from one of my Sunday Sermons. Not going to post a link here as that'd be rude without permission. Would be genuinely interested in your thoughts.


  18. Ken L says:

    Hi Nicole

    Heard what you had to say on d6gen, and found what you wrote here somewhat more measured than your comments on the podcast. The podcast is what brought me here (and led me to read what Ashley wrote).

    Ashley has already responded to you, and I have not much to add to that, as I felt that she was correct — there was a significant mischaracterization of what she wrote, I think. But she's said her thing to you, and you've responded. So I'll just mention one or two other things I found rather problematic in your treatment of the topic.

    (1) Gender essentialism. I understand that it's very appealing to say "boys like certain hobbies more than girls and vice versa", but even were that true in aggregate, the disparity in some hobbies doesn't match the actual, measurable differences between men & women generally. There ultimately isn't a huge difference between the two, and the overlap is quite large. There are more differences between extremes of men, than there are between the 'average' man and 'average' woman. So I don't think that making a call to essentialism — even were it a significant factor — sufficient to explain the gender disparity in the wargaming hobby.

    (2) In the same vein, I think it would be useful to avoid false gender equivalences. Calling a woman a "girl" is not equivalent to calling a man a "boy". There are layers of meaning and centuries of context (almost all negative and demeaning) to one that does not exist for the other. Likewise, a thoroughly modern construct like "reverse sexism" is not at all equivalent to a millenia-old, deeply rooted, institutionalized concept like plain old regular vanilla sexism. I don't think that pointing out sexism… isn't reverse sexism.

  19. Ken L says:


    (3) Given the demographics of the wargaming community, I think it's not possible to ALSO claim that the wargaming community is simultaneously a part of broader human society, and also claim that it is comparable to the prejudice ratios of broader human society. In other words, the strong demographic skews in wargaming (white, male, middle-to-upper middle class) lead to a rather skewed set of prejudices as well. To wit, it would actually be REMARKABLE if wargamers were *not* more sexist, more misogynistic, more racist, more classist, more politically conservative, more homophobic, and more privileged (both consciously and not) than society at large.

    That said, I agree that I don't think wargamers are any more prejudiced than their demographic skew would lead you to believe. If you were to argue that gamers are somehow more *enlightened* than society at large, however, then I'd (a) laugh uproariously, and (b) ask you to provide conclusive evidence.

    (4) To that last point, you mentioned on the podcast that you (personally) had NEVER experienced sexism in wargaming. I found this a remarkable enough statement that I was inspired to respond. I've both witnessed and experienced many, many, MANY examples of sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, and nativism in the wargaming community. I've also seen repeatedly that many of the fine folks I game with (no sarcasm intended) simply…do not see any of these things. By amazing coincidence, they also are never the targets of any of these kinds of hatred, by virtue of being male, white, upper/middle class, straight, and American.

    Institutionalized prejudice is in some ways even more pernicious and cruel than the overt kinds that even the clueless can notice. My read of Ashley's blog post was that there's plenty of (among other things) institutionalized sexism in the wargaming community, and given the overwhelming demographic skew of the wargaming community, many gamers simply DO NOT SEE IT…and even if they do, they might not be at all motivated to fight it. After all, it's **work** to fight institutionalized prejudice, and why bother when there are so few (or no) women involved? Why bother when there are so few (or no) minorities involved? Why bother when there are so few (or no) homosexuals involved? Etc.

    I think it's wonderful that you have not experienced or witnessed any sexism or prejudice in the wargaming community, although your response to Ashley (in comments) suggests that you were referring only to the OVERT forms therein. I think it's reprehensible when gamers are blind to, ignorant of, or willfully ignore institutionalized forms of sexism, and as a result throw up further barriers to entry for female gamers.

    Unfortunately, without an 'in', what's a new gamer to do in such a situation? Stop me if this is familiar: if someone calls you a ho and you object, you are now a bitch. If you speak up and no-one else does, you are now a *hysterical* bitch with a serious attitude problem… and who wants to participate in a (supposedly) **social** gaming community when that's how people are going to label you when you walk in?

  20. Anonymous says:

    It depends on which community of gamers you're hanging around. A lot of competitive gaming communities, for example, tend to be more sexist.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Interesting, because earlier in the day i had the sudden urge to see a women point of view in wargaming, being a devout gmaer myself, and came across that Chickhammer blog, then i stumbled here. My first thoughts as i was reading were, sure men are not getting their act together, but by making such a big deal out of it, they become just as in the bad. Almost as if they are using the problem to insult us, and are in doing so highlighting the problem… I don't know if im making sense.

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