So, this week, I went and announced a gaming event in our offices that would be female-only. This is why I did it.
Those of you who hang around the web site rpg.net may be familiar with a recent post that described an incident of sexual harassment in the RPG industry. This led to discussions about the general treatment of women in gaming circles outside of actual employment in the industry, and prodded me first to write an article on this blog (which is sort of what you are reading now) but then to actually do something, however small, about it.
However, this was a culmination of something I have been considering for quite some time, and it started a while ago with one of those moments that make you stop and think… hmmmm….
It began with, of all things, an article posted on the website of the New Statesman (and if you think to draw conclusions about my political leanings from that, don’t bother, you will be way off base – I just find some of their articles interesting). Anyway, I cannot tell you why I was flicking through their feminist column, as it held little to no interest to me back then, but I came across what might be described as a curious account.
The writer was talking about what it was like to be a woman in the modern age, and she mentioned that she never liked to walk down the street on her own. She did it, sure, but there was always something in the back of her mind that was concerned for her own safety.
My first thought? What utter rubbish. After all, this is 21st Century Britain we are talking about, not some… other country where violence is rife. I mean, I walk down the street all the time, and do not worry. I’ll happily walk down a dingy alley, at night, and not think twice about it. Perfectly safe. Wouldn’t even cross my mind that there is anything to fear.
However, I did have (what I hope is to my credit) the presence of mind to ask the women around me: are you ever concerned about walking down the street on your own?
And it turns out, women are.
It is a bit of a cliche, I apologise but the result of this was… Mind. Blown.
Never even considered it before, but there it was.
That was when I started thinking about it. For thousands of years, women have been mistreated for no other reason than they are women. Unable to own property. Essentially regarded as property themselves (and we are not exactly talking about a remote period of history for that). But while huge strides were made during the 20th Century, it did seem that being a woman was still (and forgive me if I go too far here) a bit of a crap way to live.
Think of it for a moment: being worried about walking down the streets of your own home town. Every day.
If that has not happened to you on a continual basis, I am not sure you can understand it. Pretty sure I do not know what this feels like.
However, you can muster enough empathy to do something about it and agree that it should not be normal.
There are horror stories in gaming of actual sexual assaults taking place. I have no knowledge or experience of that, and do not feel qualified to discuss it. What I want to get at is something that, in its own way, is a bit more insidious; the constant pressure being applied to women, every day, that makes them fearful to walk down the street – or into a gaming convention, or a gaming store, or sitting down at a table with a bunch of guys to play.
That is just not on. It is not decent. And it is not how we should be living our lives.
(If you flatly disagree with that sentiment, I am not sure I can reach you, but I would perhaps suggest that you ask the women in your life – family, friends, and colleagues – whether they are ever concerned about walking down the street on their own, as their answers may just surprise you).
(You might also consider the things said here, which are described from a viewpoint I can never represent – but think about what it would be like actually going through those events).
The next step, of course, is to start analysing your own life and what you have witnessed – and if you are anything like me, your first conclusion will be ‘not much, really.’ But is that true? Really? Remember, you might not have known that women are afraid to walk down the street, so what else is going on that escapes your attention?
For me, I recalled an incident that had happened a while earlier. We had this guy in our gaming group who, frankly, was not the most pleasant of people – fun enough to talk to, but I had already caught him cheating and pegged him to be ejected ‘at some point.’ Hadn’t done anything before, obviously, because, you know… confrontation, and I really just wanted a quiet life.
Anyway, I was on one side of the office working, while the others had gathered around a table and were chatting. And I heard said guy opine that the reason one of my staff members won games was because she used her breasts to distract her opponent. She was not present at the time, but it was said quite openly.
That is not an okay thing to say about a woman you game with on a regular basis.
My mistake upon hearing that was to file it under ‘okay, we really need to lose this guy.’ What I should have done was thrown him out immediately. I know that now. Suitably warned, today I keep a far tighter rein on what goes on in the office.
And the guy? He is gone. He was made to feel so uncomfortable that he left of his own accord. Which avoided confrontation (if that had happened, he would have just lied about everything, and that would have seriously honked me off), though I did miss the chance to say a few choice things to him.
I know that was not handled well, and believe I am better equipped to sort things out if it happens again.
The point is, all those casual comments do have an effect. They are not always taken as jokes, however intended. They can seem threatening, even if you do not mean them that way.
Have I made comments that went over the line?
I can fairly cringe at some of the stuff I have said in the past and, furthermore, I cannot promise that I won’t say such things in the future (seriously, I cannot believe my mouth sometimes).
But I can try. We can all try.
So, that is why I decided to hold a women-only event at our offices (which, incidentally, I will not be present at).
It is not about coddling women. It is not about women being thin-skinned. It is not about these things not happening around you, in gaming and out.
It is about women still being mistreated and disrespected for no other reason than they are women.
Even if you are not the problem itself (you probably have said inappropriate things at some point in your life that made the women around you uncomfortable, whatever your intentions), it is a problem that exists and is around you right now. Even if, like me, you were previously unaware of it.
(I do wonder what women think of us, that something so obvious to them is utterly invisible to many of us, but I digress…).
And to those of you who think me sexist or an SJW… it is one day dedicated to women only, in a small office, not the end of civilisation. As things stand, you have the rest of the year to yourself. You can give women one day.
(Incidentally, I am not sure the term SJW is really an insult. Social: we all live in the same society. Justice: justice is always good, surely? Warrior: warriors are cool…).
I’ll leave it there for now. I mentioned at the start that I had been planning an article about this, and this one is only really half of it. I have also been ploughing through various web sites and Youtube channels posted by people (well, guys) who are raising concerns about the advance of third wave feminism into tabletop gaming, and I have a few things to say about that.
Want to let things percolate in the mind a bit first.