Race and Fandom Revisited

So, my cosplay post has mini-exploded a few times on the internet. The fat positivity portion of the post has been well-received, for which I am very thankful. It’s encouraging to know that this is an issue people are concerned about, and that people are being supportive of fat cosplayers.

Not so much with the other part of the post, the race part. What little response I’ve gotten about that part has been negative. Basically, I need to relax because we should be over this whole race thing. In short, these people seem to be subscribing to the view that being colorblind solves all problems, and probably that we live in a post-race society.

Now, maybe I wasn’t clear enough about what my original point was when I wrote the post. These responses only related to that particular Zoe cosplayer, not the issues raised by the article, or the fact that we in the geek community should actually think about racial issues for once. This suggests that I may have let my stunned response to that picture overshadow my overall point, which really isn’t about blackface itself.

Blackface isn’t the problem, but it is a symptom of it. The fact that people refuse to see what might be wrong with this way of cosplaying reflects a wider problem about race, and the overall apathy (sometimes antipathy) felt towards talking about race in the geek community. In a post that has been viewed over 1000 times, the Racialicious article has been clicked on only 69 times. The fat positivity articles and sites have each been clicked on hundreds of times.

The thing is, if race didn’t matter, if we lived in this wonderful rainbow of a colorblind society, then the author of the Racialicious article wouldn’t be given shit for being a black woman cosplaying as a white character. You can’t defend the rights of white people to paint their skin to look like black people, if you’re also ignoring the rights of black people to cosplay as white characters without receiving rude comments. That’s not being colorblind, that’s using the myth of colorblindness to absolve yourself of any responsibility to think or care about racial issues. (Which, admittedly, is the only point of the colorblind myth anyway.)

But Joanna, you might be saying, a black man is president of the United States! Surely we live in a post-racial society! Would that that were true, dear reader. Yes, we in the US elected a black man as president. This man has then received demands to prove his citizenship, which you can’t really believe has nothing to do with race.

Also, black people in the US are disproportionately impoverished, incarcerated, and affected by NYC’s “stop and frisk.” The struggles and poverty of the Asian community are often ignored in favor of the “model minority” myth. Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by alcoholism. The fact that, for some, this nonsense about Gabby Douglas’ hair overshadowed her incredible athletic accomplishments. Just this week, a white supremacist opened fire on a Sikh temple, and major news outlets responded by explaining that people can’t tell the difference between Sikhs and Muslims, implying that murdering Muslims is expected and, consequently, less horrible.

In case that’s too “real world” for you, and you’d like examples related to the geek community and fandom (other than, you know, the original article in my original post), this report on the Racebending panel at SDCC should give you some ideas of how race still affects the geek community. Some choice points: “Marjorie Liu talked about being told that she should change her name, and related a story of a friend who was told that her Asian name was ‘ethnically tainted’ leading to the friend changing her name for her professional work… David Gaiden… brought up a truly disturbing fact, that the most popular mod [in Dragon Age] allows the player to change the race of the game’s one black female to a white, blonde… Brandon Thomas shared a story about his mother, when he was writing for a website that asked for him to include a picture with his posts, his mother asked, ‘Do you really want to let everyone know you’re black?’ ‘And she was right’ he followed up with.”

And how about all the racism that popped up on Twitter after black characters in the Hunger Games were played by black actors? Speaking of movies, how many times have you gone to see a Hollywood blockbuster that starred a person of color who wasn’t Will Smith, Vin Diesel, Morgan Freeman, or Denzel Washington? And there’s the fact that in two seasons of The Walking Dead (set in Georgia, whose population according to the 2010 Census is 30% Black or African American) there have been 2? 3? black characters. Latinos on the show are virtually non-existent, and Glenn functions as Token Asian.

But none of that is a problem, because white people. Or something.

I get it. Race is an uncomfortable subject. Life is much easier for white people when they ignore racism. But life isn’t easier for anyone else in the myth of colorblindness. And suggesting we live in a post-race society is about as absurd as claiming we’re living in a post-gender society. While race and gender may not be quite as oppressive as they used to be, that doesn’t mean that we’re done thinking about these constructs. Just because black people are no longer property and women can vote, doesn’t mean race and gender have no negative effects on people’s lives.

I’d like to reiterate: I didn’t bring up Kendra James’ article solely to condemn blackface cosplay. I brought it up because fandom and the geek community generally aren’t all that interested in discussing race issues. The community is guilty of trying to take the easy way out, instead of facing the harsh realities. And now that we’re talking more and more about gender in gaming, but also geekdom generally, it’s time we had similar discussions about race.

I’m not trying to strip white people of the right to paint their skin to look like Zoe Washburn. I’m trying to foster intelligent, engaged discussion about the place of race in fandom, in terms of both its people and the shows/movies/games/books they love.

I leave you with this relevant video:

(Transcript and background on La Jolla Playhouse can be found here.)

-Joanna

Fangirls/Fanboys

I don’t consider myself a fangirl. I might be ok with someone jokingly referring to me as an Aragorn fangirl, for example, but it’s not a label I identify with at all. Partly, this is because of the stigma associated with the word fangirl. While “fanboy” is certainly used derisively now and again, it is also a word with a sense of pride attached to it. (For example, the name of the comics website iFanboy.) Generally speaking, fanboys are super into geeky things to the point of obsession, while fangirls, on the other hand, are super into geeky men to the point of obsession.

WARNING: The following post contains anecdotal evidence.

I was talking to someone at work about various comics related things. I laughingly told him about how the new Gambit series’ writer has said that Gambit’s sex appeal isn’t going anywhere. Later, when I was trying to refute his friend’s anti-Gambit arguments, I ended with, “and he’s a dreamboat.” (Again, a joke. Not that there’s anything wrong with crushin’ on Gambit, but I don’t really think of Gambit like that. Gambit and I are just friends.)

My co-worker smiled at me, and made the kind of face that usually greets comments like that. A face I’m not sure how to describe. It’s a little smug, a little condescending, and weirdly knowing. He said, “Ok, so you don’t have any real arguments.” (I won’t object to that comment, because I was mostly goofing around by suggesting that Gambit’s sex appeal makes him a better character. However, it does make me wonder what happens in conversations between two men, where one man argues a superheroine is better than another partly based on her superior hotness.)

Last week, this same co-worker was gushing over Catwoman as played by Eartha Kitt and Michelle Pfeiffer. While I didn’t really have anything to add to his comments (Catwoman and I are also just friends), my reaction wasn’t a vaguely condescending laugh and a comment that suggested: oh how silly, you find this person attractive. It’s not that I really think he no longer views me as a comics fan (although some men would), it’s just that my comment was completely blown off. Talking about whether or not Gambit is sexy is not up for discussion.

Is my co-worker a meanie-pants sexist jerk? No. But his reaction to me (even jokingly) referring to a male comics character as attractive is pretty much the reaction I always get from men if I call attention to the dreamboat qualities of male characters.

This wouldn’t be a problem if that’s how men talking about female characters were greeted. But men are always talking about how hot female characters are, without women feeling the need to condescendingly nod at them and act as though it’s sorta funny that a female character might be thought of as attractive. Women put up with a lot of talk about who the hottest female characters are.

The issue with this reaction can be highlighted through the difference between the terms fangirl and fanboy.

Fangirl is often used derisively, to denote that a woman or girl only likes Geeky Thing because of a male character. This is often used to devalue said woman or girl’s genuine appreciation of Geeky Thing.

Take the first Urban Dictionary entry for each word:

Fanboy: A passionate fan of various elements of geek culture (e.g. sci-fi, comics, Star Wars, video games, anime, hobbits, Magic: the Gathering, etc.), but who lets his passion override social graces.

Fangirl: A rabid breed of human female who is obesessed with either a fictional character or an actor. Similar to the breed of fanboy. Fangirls congregate at anime conventions and livejournal. Have been known to glomp, grope, and tackle when encountering said obesessions.

While fanboy is sometimes used derisively too, among the geek community it also denotes a source of pride. In this way, a fanboy is the opposite of a fangirl: his obssession, rather than devaluing his appreciation, actually increases it. Being a fanboy proves your stature in the geeky community, while being a fangirl demotes it.

It’s for this reason that often women don’t like sharing in mixed company the male characters they think are dreamboats. Men usually tease us when we do. This reflects a larger societal issue of making light of female desire. Much of the negative hoopla surrounding Magic Mike revolves around society’s disinterest in the female gaze and female sexual agency. It’s ok for men to gawk at female strippers, but women gawking at male strippers is silly and up for laughs. Female sexuality is funny and shameful, unless men are calling the shots.

Dismissing conversation about attractive male characters also partly stems from the homophobia inherent in much of society and geek culture alike. Men, to some degree, don’t want to seem gay by discussing the attributes of a man, while women usually feel less inhibited adding to the reasons why Hot Female Character is attractive. Of course, that also relates to the way that it is normal to fetishize the female body, but not as normal to do so to the male body. Women are also (generally) more comfortable describing a woman’s looks because judging women’s appearances is pretty normal for both sexes.

So what does all this mean? It relates to my previous point about the geek community and society’s values. We can’t pretend like we’re better than normal folk if it means we partake in the same negative behavior as the rest of society. I don’t want men to stop feeling comfortable being attracted to female characters and talking about it. What I do want is for that same privilege to be granted to female geeks. I want women to be able to feel comfortable talking about their fictitious crushes in mixed company. I want gay geeks to be able to discuss their same-sex fictitious crushes without scorn. And I want fangirl to stop being a dirty word.

The geek community, like the rest of society, needs to embrace a more whole vision of human sexuality. And as with fat-shaming and racism, it is up to geeks to lead the way: otherwise all our self-important superiority about being fringe members of society is completely worthless.

-Joanna

Cosplay, Race, and Fat-Shaming

For someone who loves costuming as much as I do, it’s surprising I haven’t mentioned cosplay in the blog before. Cosplaying is usually looked at as a fun, awesome way to participate in a con or have a Halloween costume a million times better than everyone else’s. Cosplaying is definitely not something to feel anxiety about, right?

Well, for some people, the thought of cosplaying is very much anxiety-inducing. One reason why people feel this way is the fat-shaming that is normal in the geek community and our society in general. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that heavier people (or people who think they’re heavier) might feel self-conscious enough never to cosplay. Women (as usual, in the realm of weighty matters) in the geek community definitely have more reason to be self-conscious at a con. If you’re a woman seen as conventionally attractive, you’ll probably be creeped on, regardless of your costume, but many female cosplay options (especially superheroines) seem to invite more unwanted creeping than, say, Princess Mononoke. So, while the decision of what character to cosplay is definitely a loaded decision for geeks of all shapes and sizes, fat geeks definitely have a disadvantage.

Not only are there virtually no characters to choose who are already portrayed as fat, but people can be very cruel to/about chubbier cosplayers who dare to cosplay conventionally attractive characters. (And, let’s face it, how many female cosplay options wouldn’t be considered conventionally attractive?) Who does this fat woman think she is? Why does she think she has the right to invade male sexual fantasies about female characters? What, does she think she’s attractive or something? As though “fat” and “beautiful” were mutually exclusive, and as though the purpose of women cosplaying is to perform hotness for male con-goers.

I stumbled on a very honest article by Tabitha Grace Smith called “Why I Don’t Cosplay.” Anyone who’s never considered what it’s like to be an overweight person at a con needs to read this and think about their own behavior and ideas.

“While my body image and confidence are usually fine, going to a big convention filled with scantily clad hotties sends my shields up. I’ve been in earshot of people who snicker and laugh at the plus-sized Batgirls or other cosplayers who don’t fit the skinny actresses they’re portraying. Once I asked one of these curvy girls to pose for a picture and genuine shock crossed her face. Other times it’s been a large man in a Roman gladiator outfit who gets laughed at or the plus-sized Princess Leia. Every time I heard these snickers and laughs I was less comfortable with dressing up.”

About the few options available for plus-sized women and girls who want to cosplay as a plus-sized character, Smith writes:

“I remembered the poor girl who asked on a forum who she could dress up as being plus-sized, the only answer she got was ogre Princess Fiona. I wanted to scream.”

I don’t know about you, but that makes me sad as hell.

Even if you aren’t someone who considers yourself fat, I think we can all agree that not only is fat positivity a good thing, but that we can all relate to considering dressing up as a character who wears spandex and being nervous about walking around all day in such an unforgiving outfit. Luckily, the comments section of Smith’s article led me to two awesome tumblrs: Fuck Yeah Fat Cosplay and More to Love: Fat-Positive Cosplay. Each posts pictures of cosplayers who have awesome costumes and happen to be plus-sized.

Because my boyfriend’s favorite comic book character is Gambit, and omgomg X-Men, we’ve decided to cosplay one day as Gambit and Rogue. For me, the hardest part won’t be making the costume (a challenge I am decidedly up for), but wearing it. In public. Around other people. While I’ve never been a plus-size woman, I have always been on the higher end of the misses sizing chart, and well, let’s just say I’ve got some body issues I need to work on. But sites like this give me a little more confidence. See this rockin’ Harley Quinn? She’s wearing a full body suit and looking damn cool.

So if all these fine ladies and gents can embrace their bodies and cosplay their favorite characters, ignoring any vicious con fat-shaming, so can I. (Besides, ’90s Rogue wears a jacket. …I’m joking. Sort of.)

I also stumbled on a post on Racialious by Kendra James called “Race + Fandom: When Defaulting to White Isn’t an Option.” In it, James writes about facing all kinds of ignorant when you’re a cosplaying woman of color.

“It often feels like a white cosplayer can not only dress as their favorite characters of color but also do so in the most offensive way  without comment. But when a non-white cosplayer colors outside the lines in the same way, there’s a risk of getting an awkward look because–instead of seeing the costume–no matter how perfect it might be, others see the color of your skin and you can see the confusion in their eyes: Why is a black girl dressed as Zatanna?

Worse are the ones who aren’t confused, but then think they’re being inoffensively clever. ‘You know there probably weren’t many Black USO Girls in the 1940s, right?’ Or, my personal favorite, ‘Wonder Woman? I thought you would’ve done Nubia.’

It’s an extension of the “default to white” privilege many fans still engage in on a regular basis.”

In case you didn’t click on the “most offensive way” link, it’s a white woman cosplaying as Zoe Washburn from Firefly… in blackface. There’s nothing wrong with a white person cosplaying as a black character. The offensive line is immediately crossed once you paint your skin. Why some white people still don’t seem to get what’s wrong with blackface, I will never understand. (And seriously, did no one try to dissuade her from this awful decision, or did she just ignore them? Friends don’t let friends wear blackface.) While the woman’s heart was probably in the right place, it just shows how ignorant white people can be about racial issues, and is indicative of the lack of racial sensitivity in the geek community.

I imagine that the point where these two cosplay issues overlap (being an overweight woman of color) is fascinating and equally depressing. But as I have no articles about that particular issue, and am not an overweight woman of color myself, I’ll have to stop here.

It is important for all of us in the geek community to think about the particular obstacles faced by our fellow geeks who don’t live up to the thin, white-washed ideals of our society. And it’s important to remember that the geek community is ultimately a product of society, meaning our ideals of beauty and correctness are derived from the norms of our society. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. As a community insistent on being outside of the norm, it is our responsibility to reconsider our values and perspectives on beauty and race, and realize there is nothing alternative about fat-shaming or race-based condescension.

-Joanna

Nerd Rock (Nrock?)

Today I set myself an apparently Herculean task: find the female Jonathan Coulton. Promote her on the blog. I thought it seemed easy enough. There are tons of musicians on YouTube; it would simply be a matter of the right search terms.

I found plenty of folksy female singers, filkers who write novels, Wiccans, non-geek comedy singers, and was reminded of Team Unicorn, the group responsible for the “Geek and Gamer Girls” parody version of Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.” I’m not spotlighting Team Unicorn because, while I definitely think you can be both traditionally “sexy” and a geek (something our culture is constantly telling women they can’t be), I don’t appreciate the way they sexify themselves. That and, really, the female Jonathan Coulton wouldn’t be sexifing herself, she’d just be herself, and if she happened to be sexy, well, she wouldn’t lie naked in a pile of comics/games/etc. (I get that they’re parodying Katy Perry, but still).

Well, my search made me so desperate I tried Googling “female Jonathan Coulton.” Surprisingly, this sort of worked. I found a Geek Mom post called “Ukulele Nerdettes!” that led me to a sister duo called The Doubleclicks.

The Doubleclicks look like nerds. I mean this in the best way possible. They remind me a lot of people involved with wizard rock, but without the Slytherin ties. Sometimes the references in their songs seem a little forced, which makes sense after reading in a Geek Mom interview that “I [Angela] don’t know if games or movies directly inspire our songwriting–mostly our songs are inspired by feelings or morals (or jerky ex-boyfriends), and I add in the details from games and culture because that’s the stuff I relate to, the metaphors that come to mind.”

Whether the references are forced or not, the Doubleclicks are definitely worth a listen (or two). If you’re a fan of the cello and/or the ukelele, musically you’ll be in heaven. If you like stripped-down, down-to-earth music, you’ll be ecstatic. If you like smart people making music, you’ll be overjoyed. And if you’ve ever fell in love with someone in your D&D party, you’ll be able to relate.

My surprise favorite is actually “Be My Stalker,” a song that’s funny, though not necessarily geeky. (I say surprise favorite because initially, when I read the title, I was like, Stalking isn’t funny! Big ole frowny face! But then I listened to the song.)

 

Another of my favorites is “Sent From My iPhone,” a song that expresses the kinds of frustrations everyone has with people who only say typeface, never font. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a YouTube video I can embed, so head over to their website and have a listen.

A great thing about the Doubleclicks is that they have a song for everyone!

For anyone with an Uncle Geek, and for those of us, like myself, who wish they had one:

 

For those of us who’ve ever fallen in love with a D&D companion:

 

For those of us who love grammar:

 

For those of us who think EVE Online is dumb:

 

And, lastly, for anyone who’s ever found themselves crushin’ on Mr. Darcy:

 

While I’m not entirely convinced the Doubleclicks are the female Jonathan Coulton, they’re damn good anyway. The Doubleclicks are themselves, female nerds, who write songs about stuff they’re interested in. They don’t need to get glammed up to sing good songs, and they’re funny. The Doubleclicks are the kind of duo that I always like to discover, but maybe that’s just me pining for my high school wrock days.

-Joanna

P.S. If anyone could suggest to me any other contenders for the title of the female Jonathan Coulton, please leave a comment!

Geeks – 1, Everyone Else – 0

Most of the time, I try not to make my blog entries too personal. But one thing has been bothering me a lot lately, and I think it’s something all women can relate to.

I’m sick of being invisible.

Not in my classes, or at work, or amongst my friends. If you’re even sexist with a little s, you probably aren’t going to be my friend for very long, and I would say my work and school environments are elevated enough to respect women, at least on the surface. The place I find myself invisible is with the friends of my boyfriend’s best friend.

Now, I know that’s an awfully specific place not to exist, and it’s thankfully a place I don’t have to inhabit very often. But when it does happen, it drives me to a fury and confusion that most other interactions don’t cause. These friends are also a kind of microcosm for the rest of society, the non-geek one I rarely delve into anymore.

A little background: My boyfriend and his best friend have been best friends since they were little. They stay best friends, more a ceremonial title these days, mostly because of that fact. They’ve grown apart the last several years, in part because BFFL now spends his time mostly with tools (not the useful kind). He and my boyfriend rarely hang out anymore, especially because my boyfriend doesn’t like BFFL’s friends. (And they do seem like very difficult people to like.)

There are two male friends of his that I think represent the two kinds of men in that social circle: sexist with a little s, and sexist with a big S. The first one, let’s call him Taylor. Taylor seems like a nice enough guy. I haven’t been around him much, but when he is around, he’s never said anything offensive. One way he probably avoids this is by never acknowledging my presence in the room and ignoring every single thing I say. Even when my boyfriend introduced me, he didn’t even look at me, let alone nod vaguely in my direction, or say something normal like, “Nice to meet you.” When I responded to a comment he made about the Guitar Hero controller, it was as if I hadn’t said anything. When he left, he said goodbye only to my boyfriend, not to me. Taylor is what I classify as sexist with a little s. While every word out of his mouth wasn’t “bitch” or “slut,” he clearly doesn’t value anything a woman has to say.

The other friend is a far more open sexist. He’s a misogynist with a big fat M written in red marker. My first encounter with this friend, let’s call him Matt, was when BFFL brought him over for some pre-gaming before they went out to the bar. (The image of what kind of social circle this is should become ever-clearer. It’s the kind of social circle where guys wear Tapout shirts.) We were watching some werewolf B-movie that featured a female scientist. Literally every time Matt meant to say something like “woman,” “girl,” or “female human being,” he said “bitch” instead. For example, after being attacked by a werewolf, that scientist was now going to become “some crazy bitch-monster.” That same scientist was also “the only bitch in the movie.” You get the idea. That was the most personally infuriating and degrading 2 hours of my life. But I, a coward, didn’t actually say anything to shut him up, and instead glared mercilessly because I didn’t want to make things awkward. (I have since realized that this is stupid; I should never let someone continue to make me feel like less of a person in order to avoid “awkwardness.”)

I have thought about that evening often, even though it was months ago. So, when BFFL brought Matt around last week, I was pretty upset the second he walked into the room. But I was ready for a rematch. Things were going ok until a hilarious story was told about how when his Skyrim wife said she’d make that food tomorrow, he killed her. Then, when I was talking about how I just died (I was playing Skyrim at the time) because one of my attackers went behind me, Matt thought it was hilarious to tell me that I was raped. By the time BFFL was telling a woman in a fictional conversation, “listen, bitch,” and Matt was advising him to “slap that bitch,” I exploded in rage and my boyfriend told Matt to get out. Once Matt left, my boyfriend explained to BFFL that he shouldn’t ever bring  Matt around again, especially if I’m there.

I may have won the rematch, but it was a small victory: not only does Matt not actually realize what the problem was, but there are plenty of other Matts in the world that I will never get revenge on. These Matts will keep hating women, because their little culture condones it. I didn’t even win a battle, I won a skirmish. A skirmish that, ultimately, means nothing.

In this kind of social circle, when you’re someone’s girlfriend, it seems that, by having totally removed yourself from the “fuckable” category, you become a nonentity. Nothing you say or think matters. And it definitely doesn’t matter if you don’t want to be the only “bitch” in the room.

I’m not used to being around the Matts and Taylors of the world. I’m not used to being The Girlfriend, which is just code for Untouchable. While geekdom obviously has its gender-related problems, it’s still more welcoming than some other societies. In face-to-face dealings with geeks of any gender, I’ve never been completely ignored or insulted in these ways. I’ve seen some things on the Internet that compare or are worse, but never in actual life. I also can’t remember a time among geeks where people spoke to my boyfriend instead of to me. It makes me glad I’ve always chosen the friends that I have. It means I never ended up surrounded by people like Matt and Taylor, people who see a woman as insignificant as a human being once she enters into a relationship with someone else.

Perhaps I am wrong to be congratulating geeks. Perhaps the sexist subtext of much of geekdom is worse than overt misogyny. Perhaps it is simply my experiences with the people I’ve met in my life. I don’t know. But, for me, it feels better to be around people polite enough to at least pretend they think you’re a person, rather than people who just don’t fucking care.

-Joanna

Nerdy New Year

Because we’re milking the holiday season for all it’s worth, it’s time for some nerdy New Year’s Resolutions! (Hey, we’re on vacation too.)

1. Watch all three Lord of the Rings movies (extended editions) in a row, for the 10th time.

2. Sell soul and/or jewelry for Comic-Con moniez.

3. Stop crying because I see dragons (Joanna).

4. Finish ALL THE SKYRIM!

5. Complete superhero movie collection.

6. Re-evaluate Ren Faire garb/add more pieces.

7. Work on my real-life Mage Hand (Joanna).

8. Begin to play D&D (BatCat).

9. Create a fantasy internet web series.

10. Become internet blogging sensations with pointless ten-bullet lists.

-Joanna and BatCat

Ladies’ D&D Night In

I’m re-posting a great article by Aminah Mae Safi over at Geek Feminism. It’s called All My Nerd Ladies, Put Your Hands Up, and suggests that women get together and play D&D, an idea that I’ll honestly admit never actually occurred to me. It’s obviously not rocket science to suggest that a bunch of women start their own D&D group. I’ve probably never thought about it because I’m used to not having a large enough group of girlfriends to do that. But it also might be because, somewhere in the deep, dark dungeons of my mind, I never actually thought you could do things like D&D without men. Obviously, if you were to ask me, “Is it possible to play D&D without men?” I’d say, “Well, duh.” But the thought has never really consciously crossed my mind. That fact makes me deeply uncomfortable.

One thing Safi discusses in her article is that she and her fellow players didn’t have to worry about being insultingly called “girly”  and felt “free enough to admit excitement over planning our characters’ costumes and buying pretty dice.” Women, myself included, often feel like they have to prove to their male nerd friends that they’re nerdy enough to be nerds.  About this Safi aptly says, “I didn’t have to prove myself by quoting an entire Monty Python sketch or discussing my favorite extended universe character.” Just today, I was discussing Skyrim with a male acquaintance, and I felt I had to know all the right terms, all the right evil gods, couldn’t confess my much-lower level. Even though he is a very nice, non-judgmental guy, I found myself nodding at names of people from quests I hadn’t gotten to yet, because I didn’t want him to think, oh it’s another girl who thinks she’s a gamer. This need to prove myself is embarrassing, and yet I can’t really blame myself. My whole life I’ve had to prove that I belong amongst geeks. I had to outdo a kid in seventh grade in a discussion about the Return of the King, because I knew he didn’t respect my knowledge of Tolkien, because he was male and I was female. I even think about what clothes I wear when I go into a gaming or comic store, wondering if the employees will think I really belong, if I’m wearing a lacy skirt or a fashionable waist-cinching belt. And unfortunately, the habit isn’t going to die just because I know it’s unfair.

So, while I’ve never experienced outright hostility in my own D&D group, which is mixed gender and generally welcoming, I think about the idea of playing D&D exclusively with women, and I have to say I like it. When one player decides, “hey I just got some Crackle nail polish, can I paint your nails, it’s so cool,” and another player says, “sure,” and the nail-painting happens between turns, without interrupting gameplay, you don’t have to watch as the male players cringe and shake their heads, just tolerant enough not to actually say anything. There’s nothing to prove. (That really happened one night. I was the one who said, “Sure.”)

As Safi says, she isn’t trying to suggest women permanently segregate themselves into a cutesy little ivory tower of ladies playing D&D. But it is a good temporary suggestion for those of us who want to break free of the habit of having to outdo other nerds with obscure knowledge, just to earn our seat at the gaming table.

-Joanna