I just never want to let my gender down
July 31, 2014 10:10 PM   Subscribe

As a single woman, I received a lot of attention. ... It felt that I was either pissing people off with my bubbly attitude or breaking hearts. All that said, the most difficult part of all was having everyone think I was bad at Magic simply by looking at me—and them being right. This was by far what drove me the most.
There and Back Again: A Wizard's Tale — Feminist gamer/producer Tifa Robles writes candidly about her journey in, out, and around the world of competitive gaming.
PL: Why are women not superior in any sport that’s open to both sexes? Why are men vastly more successful in open games in general?

VS: They are not vastly more successful in relation to the proportions in which they try. The problem is that in our society women are not supposed to be competitive. If they are competitive it is viewed as a negative quality – as bitchy, out of line or as not attractive.
Vanessa Selbst — Interview with the "winningest female poker player of all time."

"It is true I am [male-to-female] transgender... I don't feel like this should be a big deal," Scarlett wrote. "Most of the girls I know knew about this already and don't judge or care. In terms of actual play, there is (as far as I know) no advantage to being born male or female. But even if there was, being transgender means you are born with the brain of the opposite gender; so I would not have that advantage or disadvantage. All I ask is for people to be respectful and refer to me as 'she.'"
How a transgender "foreign hope" is challenging the pro Starcraft world — A.V. Club writeup about Starcraft II pro Sasha "Scarlett" Hostyn. (Previously)

Q: Is there something biological about it? Are women less capable in chess?

A: No, no. It has nothing to do with that. It’s society. Less than five per cent of registered chess players are women. When kids start playing chess—up to 10 or 12 years old—girls and boys are enrolled in equal numbers. Later on, it deviates a lot. The girls drop out.
Judit Polgár on chess parents, beating Kasparov and female competitors — Interview with the best-ranked female chess player in history.

When it comes to an all-female league, we've all wanted one and said that we should do that, but at the same time there’s so many girls that are like, 'I don’t want to play in an all-female league, I want to play against the best, which are with the boys.' But unfortunately it’s just so hard to even play against them when you just want to even scrim. They won’t even scrim you because they look at you as a joke because you're a girl. All in all, it's just uneven. If you even have the resemblance of a woman, they won’t give you a chance at all.
Kelly Kelley Explains Why It's Hard For Female Gamers To Join eSports 'Boys Club' — Interview with one of the top female FPS pro gamers.
posted by annekate (11 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
This is great. While I studied at Bath University, I remember sharing a bus ride home with a female sports science student. She was investigating whether there really was a difference between top male and female athletes biologically, or if it was caused by lack of participation. Its covered in that Judit Polgar article to some extent, but basically if everyone is on a bell curve, then athletes will be rare, and in the far tails, and really good athletes will be even rarer and in the further tails. The more people you recruit to do sports, the more likely you are to find a Usain Bolt. The student (whose name I forget) told me that she did find a biological difference, but it was much smaller than everyone assumes. Of course, thats physical sport, rather than mental sport.

I have played a fair amount of magic, although only ever attended prereleases. Women are rare, although at a prerelease in Oxford recently, there were a few more women (well. 5 out of 60), and one of them won by a country mile. Of course prereleases tend to be friendlier anyway: two of my friends who hardly played came along (and, sigh, did better than me) and enjoyed themselves.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:16 AM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

The first article needs a good editor, but there's a lot interesting in there. I don't know if it's a word she'd use or not, but her descriptions of being condescended to and ignored at tournaments sound like classic microaggressions; multiplied a million times over you have a hostile environment without anyone necessarily doing anything outrageously bad or even call-out-able.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:32 AM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

From Robles' piece above: Each sexist comment I received, each eye roll, each person who refused to look me in the eyes all fed the fire inside me.

I love her passion. I love how she transforms her poor treatment into motivation to be great. It's just deeply frustrating that women in gaming seem to have only those two options: transform sexism into motivation, or be hampered by sexism. Option 3 release date TBD: Play without rampant misogyny.

All that said, the most difficult part of all was having everyone think I was bad at Magic simply by looking at me—and them being right. This was by far what drove me the most.

In a weird way, I also grieve her missing opportunity to just play the game; to win a series and know that she will earn credit for the victory instead of her opponent earning scorn for losing to a girl. Or, being able to lose a game without her loss being attributed to her gender. Opportunities to just win or just lose may not rank highly on the gender-based privileges scale, but they still matter, especially if you want more women to compete in games. Competitors need to be allowed to take individual credit for their successes and failures so they can learn. Misogyny muddies the competitive playing field by taking that privilege away.
posted by Avarith at 7:04 AM on August 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

Hearthstone's competitive scene is kind of annoying me because there are a few very high ranked female players that are also very popular streamers that seem not to be invited to tournaments for reasons I don't understand.
posted by empath at 7:37 AM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I found the first article to be so moving because it describes the experience of the women who aren't at the top of the game.

I am a pretty good card player — I've played Magic, poker, and Hearthstone competitively. I'm a middle-of-the-road competitor. At tournaments you'd mostly see me go 2-2 or maybe occasionally go to the semifinals. This is respectable! But I never felt like it was good enough, and I stopped trying. Every loss absolutely did feel like a humiliating validation of the assumption that I'm an easy win because I'm female.

The other women linked here have made it by being exceptional. But where are the women sitting in between normal and exceptional? These are the ones who would boost the ratio, having butts in seats at tournaments. I think Robles' article explains it perfectly, to my own experience.
posted by annekate at 8:00 AM on August 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm wondering if women could make this a competitive advantage.

I know when I underestimate a chess opponent, the quality of my game goes down (I don't play at 100% concentration).

Trying to have opponents underestimate your abilities is certainly a tactical warfare move.
posted by el io at 12:14 PM on August 1, 2014

Every loss absolutely did feel like a humiliating validation of the assumption that I'm an easy win because I'm female.

My partner has related this same feeling to me, and it's one of the things that has kept her from really trying to push through that difficult "always losing" period to bring her play to the tournament level of Magic. Losing has too much emotional baggage for her, and it's emotionally exhausting.

I know that's anecdotal, but it's a hard example of a woman being kept out of higher-level play by the misogyny she perceives in the community.
posted by IAmUnaware at 1:16 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I should clarify: when I say "the misogyny she perceives", I don't mean to say that it's all in her head or anything. Some guys in the local community have said some pretty awful misogynist things about the game in her earshot, and on occasion directly to her face.
posted by IAmUnaware at 1:18 PM on August 1, 2014

Also also: Scarlett rules.
posted by IAmUnaware at 1:26 PM on August 1, 2014

The 'use your weakness' works for a very limited amount of time. My Magic playing (casual) days were marked by easy wins when they figured I had no idea how to play, then total and systematic destruction to prove their masculinity. And most of those guys? Went easy on n00bs to teach them the ropes but one win under my belt meant full total destruction. I've had it repeated over and over in games.
posted by geek anachronism at 12:16 AM on August 2, 2014

The "advantage" of looking helpless really only applies with non-pros. Like, I can go to Vegas and wear a push-up bra and act bubbly, then clean up the dudes at the table who can't imagine that I actually know how to play. But it really doesn't work at higher levels where people will be shooting for the cleanest possible play no matter what and not playing mind games so much.

My experience at pro Magic tournaments was that guys were way more likely to pull rules stunts, attempt to cheat/bully me, or call the judge on me (or force me to call the judge) than make misplays or "go easy on me" or anything like that. They do the same thing to young kids and older people and anyone else they might think isn't 100% on top of the rules.
posted by annekate at 8:31 PM on August 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

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