Monday, November 30, 2009

Play Like a Girl?

Many of you know I have a Hunter. She's a female Dwarf named Sugarcake, and her pets are all named similarly silly things, like Sprinkles, Cinnamon, Gumdrop, etc. It is very, very (speaking in stereotypes) girly. Extremely girly. Like, Princess Lollipopsparklelips girly.

At first, I was kind of...well, kind of leery about the name. I honestly don't like attention focusing on my gender. Unless I know the people (like my guild or friends) and know they are joking around, it just serves to make me uncomfortable and awkward. I don't mind people knowing I'm female, just them making it into some sort of big deal or focus of conversation. Of course, writing an entire blog post about the subject undermines the idea that I dislike attention focusing on it, but I am able to disable that to explore something that intrigues me.

For example, a ToC 25 in which I was healing on Bellwether, my first comment in Vent brought about "cute" comments and "OMG A GIRL." Seriously, guys. Cut it out. Maybe pay attention to healing so I'm not doing 20-30% of overall healing done? Maybe? (I am not kidding about this).

The thing is, when I'm not in Vent, I'm automatically assumed to be a guy. Bellwether is perhaps somewhat neutral, but Bellbell and Sugarcake? Those are pretty cutesy names. I've seen a few guys with humorously cutesy names, but it's pretty rare. So what, then, is it that causes my characters to automatically be filed into the "male" category?

First and most obvious would probably be the prevalence of male players to female. Though there is not a huge, impassable gap, characters tend to be controlled by males more than females. At its end, I was the only raiding female in Vigilant, and one of three or so in the guild. We're by no means an endangered species, but we're certainly the less likely variety.

Next would be some stereotypical expectations of female players. One such expectation is us needing our hands held through everything. We will be bad. We will be low on DPS (LOL GURLS DONT DPS LOL). We won't be able to keep up. We will need special attention because we just don't know what's going on. Since I've been in a top raiding guild, and done very well for myself, the above doesn't apply. In fact, I am often the one leading the raid or group. I am the one giving the explanations and assignments. I am obviously not the princess-in-another-castle waiting for my plumber boyfriend to map warp his way to me.

Another expectation is in the way girls communicate. I know some of you have been in raids with sugar-sweet hyperactive flirty girls who punctuate every sentence with some word like "cute" "cutie" "sweetie" "<3" ";)" etc. They flirt with any player willing to respond (and some unwilling), whether they know them or not, and make any excuse to "pout" or inject sexual innuendo. Yeah. You all know what I'm talking about. In small doses or with friends and guildmembers, sure, that's cool. Everyone likes to be a little silly/flirty at times. But it's those who make it into their entire personality and force it upon strangers, who take a huge flashing sign and say "AMG I R A GURL PAY ATTENSHUN" that make me twitch. Gender does not make you special.

Like one of my previous, previous guildmates who alternates between acting like a concerned, condescending mother and an overly-flirty 13 year old, who dances naked/scantily clad at the South Bank and makes exaggerated squealing noises over anything "cute." While, you know, hitting on everyone and everything with two-handed weapon specialization. She also can't do anything wrong, is easy to upset, and likes to play damsel in distress. At the very least, she is a decent healer.

I don't act like that (I hope I don't act like that!). And thus Sugarcake and Bellbell and Bellwether are assumed male until proven guilty. It's odd to me, to realize my concerns about possibly being discriminated against because of my name (or even harassed, which has happened before with people who knew my gender) were completely irrelevant, because I don't "play like a girl." It's at both times a welcome relief and a concerning realization.


Com said...

On occasion you find a girl in a guild who believes that, since she is the only girl in the digital area, she is entitled to act like a complete and utter prick (no pun intended?). My friends and I dubbed this the "beta-bitch" theory. You're not the alpha-girl, but god damn it if you're not the best second rate bitch in town.

I don't think what you're describing applies to just women. There is a habit of expanding upon one's gender roles in a digital space. Girls, now dressed like catgirls and elves, start teasing and giggling as you mentioned. Guys become aggressive, obnoxious asshats who thump their chests to the beat of their damned keyboard depressions. Then you've got the "white knight" guys who decide that, while they totally respect who you are as a woman, they must be respectful to you and treat you differently.

If you actually respect someone, then you should be able to treat them the same as everyone else. Hence, I annoy guys with disturbing jokes and I annoy girls with disturbing jokes. I'm a ferminist. Or whatever you bitches call it.

Anonymous said...

The baseless assumption that you are a guy is just that, a baseless assumption. You said in your post that a sizable number of the WoW population is guys, and that you tend to raid with a lot of guys. Since in general, people do not assign the person behind the avatar to be genderless they are going to assign you a gender that they are most used to seeing, and odds are are most like themselves.

I suppose a similar example would be: Do you tend to assume that the people you raid with were born in the US? Odds are you do, but a large number of non-us nationals play on the us servers as well.

Kae said...

I play like a girl. A super-healing shape-shifting maniac who feels personally responsible when someone dies on my watch, unless they went out of their way to get themselves killed or pissed me off, in which case, well, they're screwed. And I like minipets. I can get picky over what my gear looks like (even if I have to wear it for the stats). I named my hunter's crab-pet "Skittles."

But I don't play like a "girl." Frankly, strangers hitting on me creeps me out, and I find I have to be very up front with the fact that I'm MARRIED. When I talk in a PuG raid, I am very matter-of-fact, covering only what is pertinent: no girly bubbly attention-whoring. I'd rather get by on my skill as a player than my gender.

Most true gamer girls seem to cluster together, though, keeping with guilds and groups who don't treat them much differently for their gender. Half of my (10-man raiding) guild is female. The guys are used to treating us like any other player, though it can be a shocker to applicants :) We specifically have a question on our app asking for an opinion on the statement "Girls don't play WoW." It's weeded out quite a few people.

Bell said...

@Com - I'm glad you guys were able to balance treating me like a person and joking with me. Much better experience than some guilds I've been in.

@Anonymous - still, I like to explore the reasons behind it; I don't act like a stereotypical girl, so I don't get treated like one. I started playing WoW with a Japanese friend (located in Japan), an British friend, a Canadian friend and an Australian friend...I've never been one to make that assumption.

@Kae - I have always joked "Girls don't play WoW" when I'm asked if I'm a girl. I find it to be funny to joke about with friends. Of course, when I talked about "playing like a girl" I meant in the stereotypical sense, not the sense of how things actually are.

Neil said...

It sounds like "play like a girl" is becoming synonymous with "play like an idiot." The corollary is that anyone who plays without speaking ridiculously, starting huge drama, or grossly under-performing, MUST be a guy. Because no way could any girl manage to do that.

It's ridiculous and biased and stupid, and I hate it. A good player is a good player, and a bad player is a bad player. Both genders are assigned stereotypical behaviors that can lead to difficulties in game. Why is so much hate directed at women in game?

Bell said...

@Neil - I wouldn't call it "hate" so much as derogatory. It's a little more obvious on the internet than in many other mediums simply because the internet is an anonymous medium that has less repercussions for stating negative/sexist/hurtful things. I agree; a good player is a good player regardless of gender, and the same goes for bad. The unfortunate reality is that the stereotype has reinforcement in many real people who embody/act them out. I hate it too, honestly.

Jaedia said...

Entirely agree. Annoyingly on my server, I'm quite known for being my bf's gf, though I guess not in a bad way because I despise people playing up their gender to grab attention, it's silly and pointless, so I don't do it.

I mention my bf in conversation, and how cute my latest vanity pet is, but I don't play it up, just act like myself, the way most WoW girls do, but the minority ruin the reputation for the rest of us I think.

It's probably fairly obvious I'm a girl because of the amount of blood elves, pets and fluffy mounts I tend to collect. But only that.

Kayeri said...

I must be in a really weird groove that I've occupied most of my time in WoW. There are lots of women around, my current guild is run by women and while we arent anywhere near a Vigilant, we do pretty well for ourselves, once we make up our minds we are going to do something, we DO it and we'll cheerfully beat our heads on it until we do it right.

3-4 out of 10 of our alpha strike team are women, too. Some of the best players I know are women. Are we a majority? Heck no, but we are a sizable percentage. In all honesty, I've only known one female flirty-troublemaker guild-breaking type in my three years in the game. She's server-transferred now and good riddance. In that same time, I have known two men that could be such problems they had the same effect. One per year on the average, I really can't complain.

I am a druid, resto-specced and I happen to be a damned fine healer. I have a rogue and a warlock who can dps with anyone of a comparable gear level. My pally is coming up, about to hit Outland, and my priest will follow.

I am a WoW player and I'm a good one. My sex should make no nevermind, only my skills and my interaction with others, period. I treat others with courtesy and respect, and I expect the same from others, male, female, old, young, whatever. That's pretty much the bottom line on my whole take of the sex thing.

Ophelie said...

I think its possible to be a good player and be feminine. Being a good player doesn't mean you have to act like a guy.

I use "cute" and "<3" a lot because I find it funny. I won't use them in front of strangers, but when I'm comfortable around people, I pull them out. It's not a flirting thing - I'll do it to other women too, it's just my personality.

I've never had issues with people openly expecting me to be a bad player because of my gender. I get the impression that women *expect* others to think that they're bad players.

I act like myself, end of story. I'm not going to pretend to be someone I'm not. Others can think whatever they want.

(And because it's been mentionned, the female gamer behavior that annoys me is when a girl constantly draws attention to the fact that she's dating or married to another player. Seriously, it isn't Oprah, I don't want to hear about your relationship status, just kill the damn boss.)

Anonymous said...


In a PuG ToC we did over the weekend that I helped lead, the first two charges on Icehowl killed people and enraged him. The next one targeted me, and nobody died. I snarkily quipped in vent "clearly we just needed a woman to do the job properly", which was met with much hilarity.

However, we have a female in our guild that fits your stereotypical discription to a T and singlehandly causes more drama than anyone else in the guild combined. And I cannot stand her.

I don't act like a complete flake outside of the game, I see no reason to act like on in the game :)

Anonymous said...

I am in a guild where the at least half of the members are female. The bulk of the guild officers are and I find it to be one of the most fun guilds I've been in. There is genuine concern for helping us not new but learning guildies to grow and expand our experience and to learn everything our character can do. I have been in too many Pugs with young males who either die by running into the breach and outside of my healing range or run so far ahead I risk dying because of all the mobs he left in between. My fav runs are with mostly the girls...they can cut up with the best of them but always take care of business.

ArchDruid Angela said...

I had my own guild for years, and lead a lot of raids. We always seemed to be a few people short and we'd PUG those last slots. And it NEVER failed.... I'd be half way though explaining a boss fight and I'd get a whisper along the lines of:

"OMG its so HOT when you tell us what to do"


"WOW you sound SEXY"

Now a days I only talk to a select few on vent (other than what's needed in raid like "BRing SoAndSo Now!"). Honestly it's just easier than fending off the dumb guys who can't sensor their whispers to complete strangers who happen to be female and playing WoW.

Gryphonheart said...

I think one of the contributing factors to the "everyone is a guy unless proven otherwise" phenomenon has to do with language. The English language itself has no truly gender-neutral pronoun that is acceptable for referring to someone who's gender is unknown — "it" dehumanizes the person it refers to, and so comes off as rude and condescending, and "they" always sounds somewhat awkward when used to refer to a single person. "(S)he" or "he/she" could be acceptable in a textual medium, but it's awkward to type and confusing to say, so people tend to default to "he" (which I've been told is technically the correct pronoun to use in the event gender is unknown, in addition to having a higher probability of being correct, given the context).

I'm not saying that the language is the only factor in this, but I do think it plays some part. It would be interesting to see if the same stereotypical gender bias in MMOs comes out in languages that have a pronoun for unknown gender.

Regardless, add that to the fact that good players tend to blend in, whereas bad players tend to stand out, and you skew the perception on girl gamers towards them being bad players, because good girl gamers are assumed as being guys until proven otherwise, whereas bad girl gamers tend to wear their gender on their sleeves.

It's unfortunate and unfair, but I don't see it going away anytime soon. =\

Nightwhisp said...

Thanks for a great post!
I am an officer in a mostly Girl Guild, and much of the reason that our guild exists is because of the examples that you have talked about.

We are a very young guild, mostly in the sixties and seventies, with only a few 80's (experience wise) although most of us are in our thirties (age wise), and we have banded together because we wish to learn and improve together and mature into an awesome guild that indeed plays like girls in the best sence on the phrase; with compassion and caring for the individule guildie as well as the overall objective. It also seems to me that it is our male guild mates that seem so conserned with what their individule DPS is and the other girls who are conserned with everyone performing together to the betterment of the group.

Sure we ocasionally have drama and we have kicked members for this (of both genders) but all in all playing like a girl is a very good thing for me.

Hana said...

I wish there were more raiding girls in my guild. I'm the only one, and I'm the guild leader. But on the other hand, because I'm the guild leader I don't get "OMG a girl" comments. I lead raids, I recruit, I'm one of our best dps (and a pretty good healer if I let my ego out). I look at myself as the guild leader, not the female guild leader.

Even if new guildies I interview don't suspect I'm a girl until the moment they hear me in vent, they've never commented one way or the other about it. I don't make it a point to announce my gender, I figure it shouldn't matter and they'll find out soon enough.

With pugs it goes either way, it's funny because people tend to assume my gender based on which character I'm playing. Hana, the female tauren, is often pegged as a female player. I think it's there's a stereotype out there about female tauren usually being female players as well. I've even been asked in 5-man pugs before if I was a girl. :P

My male blood elf paladin is almost always thought to be a guy, at least until I come on vent and remove all doubt.

Grimtorn said...

I'm the kind of girl who sticks to playing guy toons, after many bad experiences leveling with guys who were hellbent on "helping" me. And since I play on an RP server, we can only imagine what they were looking for in return for their "help."

I tend to not say anything on a vent until I'm comfortable with the group and know that there's no "OMG UR A GIRL?!?" types on it.

That my WoW existance, I've been almost entirely DPS. My DK has been known to tank, and I've got a resto shaman...but I have my most fun when I'm killing things.

Rohan said...

From the other side, it's actually a negative for many young males to assume you are female.

If they treat you as a girl--and to them that means flirting in a ham-handed manner--and it turns out you're a guy, that's very awkward. Young males are not so secure in their sexuality that they can laugh off mistakenly flirting with another man.

So they may just be playing it safe until you do something with confirms your gender to them. It's safer to treat you as if you were a guy until proven otherwise.