Enough

For at least the second time in about two weeks, the whole "fake girl geek" meme has reared its ugly head. There's a belief among a segment of the geek-identified population that there are all these girls and women out there just pretending to be interested in geeky things in order to score themselves a geek.

The Presumption that Geek == Male

There's a trend in these discussions to only refer to fake girl gamers (and almost always phrased as girls, not women) and their attempts to trick geeks (almost always referred to as geeks, not boy geeks/male geeks/geek men). The underlying presumption here is that geek == male. For instance, take this passage from Tony Harris' rant:

You are what I refer to as “CON-HOT”. Well not by my estimation, but according to a LOT of average Comic Book Fans who either RARELY speak to, or NEVER speak to girls. Some Virgins, ALL unconfident when it comes to girls, and the ONE thing they all have in common? The are being preyed on by YOU.

He is saying a lot of things about average comic book fans. He is claiming that they are socially inept, rarely or never speaking to girls, that they are male, and are so desperate for attention that they will be easily preyed upon by these women. First, this doesn't match my experiences with the male geek audience. I know plenty who are married or otherwise involved in a relationship with someone. Sure, many of them may appreciate the female form, but I'm a little unclear about how they are being preyed upon in vast numbers.

Additionally, it's hard to get a good read on what percentage of fans are male versus female. One study of self-identified comic fans on Facebook showed some interesting results. For instance, gender bias varies widely by age, with more female than male fans among those under the age of 17. The lowest percentage is about 31% for those 62-64. While people were quick to point out the 7% number for the DC in-store purchases by women, the online survey had the number at 23%, for an overall audience of about 20% women. Similarly, women constituted about 40% of the opening weekend audience of The Avengers, 36% of Dark Knight Rises, and 42% ofThe Amazing Spider-Man . At San Diego Comic Con, about 40% of the attendees were women, and a similar number (40-50%) of NYCC attendees were women as well.

Women's Behavior is all about Men

Another trend in these stories is an attempt to always frame women's behavior in relation to men. The only possible explanation for women dressing this way would be to get male attention. It couldn't be because female characters that show off skin get more "air time" in comic books and in movies and tv shows, leading to greater awareness and recognition of the characters both among those who might cosplay and among the general audience. It couldn't possibly be because recreating some of the gravity and decency defying outfits takes a lot of skill to pull off. It couldn't be because the number of barely clothed female characters far outnumbers those who would meet a more conventional definition of "sensibly" dressed.

A number of studies have found that men are more likely than women to interpret sexual communication from the clothing choices of women and they are likely to misinterpret what is being communicated. The assumption tends to be that a woman wearing certain types of clothes, especially body revealing clothing, is looking for male sexual attention.

You have this really awful need for attention, for people to tell you your pretty, or Hot, and the thought of guys pleasuring themselves to the memory of you hanging on them with your glossy open lips, promising them the Moon and the Stars of pleasure, just makes your head vibrate.

The other ideas, the other reasons why women might wear these clothes, never enters his description. It's obvious to him, and apparently to others, that the only reason these women ever do anything is to get male attention.

So why is that? Well, for one, traditionally many of our stories have revolved around the main character entering into a heterosexual relationship, either "getting the girl" or "getting the attention of the boy." Since our culture tends to celebrate and normalize male aggressiveness and female passivity, the common narrative is one of women competing for male attention through their looks. Other forms of attention compete too directly with men and may lead to a feeling of emasculation. Couple this with the lack of female protagonists and lack of stories that present the female point of view, and we end up with a bias towards interpreting women's activities as centering around men and men's experiences.

Defining Fandom to Exclude Women

Another issue that's part of Harris' rant is the definition of geekdom to center of traditionally/stereotypically male expressions of fandom. Throughout his piece, he shows that he values encyclopedic and "hardcore" knowledge of the characters and their stories, particularly through the comic books themselves, over knowledge of items such as costumes or other ways of consuming those stories. His definition of fan precludes a large segment of the female audience and devalues traditionally feminine hobbies such as sewing.

What we include or exclude can have large effects the overall demographics of the hobby. For instance, in that Facebook survey I mentioned earlier, if Manga is removed from the list of terms, we now have more male than female fans in the age group 17 and under. Likewise, if we exclude certain types of artistic expression, say sewing and costuming, we can dramatically change the demographics.

In his post, Harris does just that:

Your just the thing that all the Comic Book, AND mainstream press flock to at Cons. And the real reason for the Con, and the damned costumes yer parading around in? That would be Comic Book Artists, and Comic Book Writers who make all that shit up.

Besides just sounding bitter, it's clear that he thinks the artists and writers are higher than people who create costumes. It creates a hierarchy that values the contributions that are typically tied to the male creators over female contributions. We see this bias elsewhere too in entertainment. Writing and art staffs in comics, TV, and movies tend to have a male bias whereas things like costuming has a female bias. While both are necessary to entertain the fans, one is valued as being more of a "profession" than the other.

Women as Manipulators

Another common tendency in these discussions is to frame women as manipulators.

And also, if ANY of these guys that you hang on tried to talk to you out of that Con? You wouldnt give them the fucking time of day. Shut up you damned liar, no you would not. Lying, Liar Face. Yer not Comics.

Eve convincing Adam to eat the apple. Delilah convincing Samson into revealing his weakness. The women who are gold diggers and those who supposedly get pregnant to force men to marry them. All these narratives revolve around women as manipulators. Harris' rant is just part of a long line of these stories about women and reveal a fundamental misunderstanding on his part. First of all, why is it that women can only participate in geek culture if they are available (with an emphasis on sexually available) to the people he claims are the typical attendee, the socially inept man? What if I'm married or not interested in men sexually? Suddenly, I'm a liar and not part of comics?

All of these issues quietly lie under the surface of many discussions about women and particularly about women in geek culture. Hopefully one day we can get past them and learn to celebrate the wide diversity within our hobbies. In the meantime, let's work on identifying and pointing out these tropes and their sexist origins where we can. And before he accuses me of being a poser, I haven't cosplayed yet, largely because of people like him who will group me in as people who aren't really interested in the hobby. I get enough of that as it is, thank you very much.

Raising Funds (and Building Story)

Clipper Ship Lightning by Bruce Von StetinaClipper Ship Lightning by Bruce Von StetinaMy group is using D&D Next as our main system for our new campaign. We did a bunch of cooperative world building and in discussing things, it turns out that they wanted more of a commerce and intrigue based campaign. We threw out a number of ideas but most people really wanted airships.

With their input, I decided to make the start of the game about the development of a new type of ship, basically an air-based clipper ship. For those who don’t know, the development of shipping in general and the clipper in particular changed the course of history. In Europe, we had the rise of merchant cities such as Venice and much of early US history and fortune is tied to trade. Shipping also caused a fair amount of disruptions to the status quo and played some role in the development of the middle class.

Clipper ships led to the development of markets for goods that are light and more perishable, such as tea and opium, as well as for passenger travel, given their faster speeds. As such, I think they’ll lend themselves nicely to many types of adventures, everything from a time-based run (like Smokey and the Bandit) to transporting contraband (Dukes of Hazard) to important matters of state, both known and unknown. Can the PCs deliver the peace treaty before the general’s planned strike? Can the spy get back in time to stop the assassination of the queen?

Once I felt confident that I could do something fun and interesting with the story line, I had to figure out how the PCs would build such a ship. Would I have them design it themselves? How would they fund the building? What I decided was that one of the characters, someone who had taken the charlatan background, won the last notebook of a noted shipbuilder during a card game. He looked it over, saw the applications of such a ship, and found some friends and acquaintances who might be interested in such an endeavor. This gave the PCs a reason to be together (and to look out for one another’s interests) and made sure no one character had more power than any other one.

Then came the decision for how to pay for the building. For that, I figured out how much they needed (20,000 gold pieces). Instead of making the rolls binary, there was a scale of money they could get with different DCs. Since there was some randomness to the amounts each round raised, the feeling is a bit more organic than saying, “I need 5 groups you borrowed money from and reasons why they lent you the money.”

I then had each of them decide who they would approach and what skills they would use to convince that group to give them money. So one PC comes for an old money family in the town who is currently involved in building ships. She had the nobility background for her character, making it reasonable that she could borrow a bunch of money. Another was from one of the rising middle class families and when the player rolled a 1, she determined that her character’s family wouldn’t have given him any money, probably saying something like “We had to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, you will too.” Another character owns a tavern in town (he’s a brewer) and has connections to the underworld. He used both legitimate and shady connections to raise the funds.

What I love about this is that one day, these groups are going to want to ask favors back. Since the players decided which groups they wanted to involve and they knew in advance that favors would be asked for at a later date, they’ve been given some control over the types of stories they want to tell. They decided that the legitimate business interests were going to be tea growers and they even want to visit some of the tea plantations to see what the deal is there. When it comes time to figure out who in the underworld provided the funds, I’ll be asking the players for their input there as well.

Also, this meant a lot less work for me. I didn’t have to come up with all of the ideas of where the story should go but I still have the opportunity to throw in a few surprises. While I realize that this won’t work for everyone, it works for me and seems to work for this group. One thing to keep in mind is that some people play D&D in a more competitive way. There’s nothing wrong with that, but since the story evolves as we tell it and the players build the world instead of competing against it, it may be less satisfying for those players.

iPad Quick Tip - Dropbox Folders and Monster Stat Blocks

This weekend at Carnage, I wanted a way to store the monster stat blocks without printing them out. I decided to save them as images to my computer using the print preview and grab utility on my mac and then save the files in a special folder on my Dropbox account. Then I went into Dropbox on my iPad and made sure each image downloaded. During the game, I had a set up like this:

As long as you name the files something easily recognizable, it's easy to jump between the monsters during combat. While this doesn't help with things such as hit points or conditions, I found it quite easy to just write that information down on an index card during the encounter. (While I didn't do it this weekend, I often finding adding damage together easier than subtracting it from the HP pool, your mileage may vary)

It's also possible to do this with the Photos app but the issue there is the names aren't given and it's harder to jump between monsters.

I'm tempted to create a folder with other commonly used information, such as the DCs and damage by level. I'd love to see more products that supported tablets such as the iPad because I personally much prefer this to carrying around lots of pieces of paper, which I inevitably get scattered during the game.

I'd also suggest creating a folder full of level appropriate basic monsters to use when your players decide to do something you didn't expect. For instance, both groups this weekend decided they wanted to talk to someone at the clock factory instead of just barging in. Since I didn't want them to get to the person they were after right away, I added a butler named Igor on the fly. I just reused the stat block for the skeleton, making a few appropriate modifications.

You can also include other goodies in the folder, such as images to set the mood and pictures of the NPCs and monsters. The dropbox app easily hides and shows the folder contents list so you don't have to risk showing your players what they are about to face. Or you can just put them in a separate folder.

CarnageCon!

This past weekend I was a special guest at a great convention in VT called Carnage. The crew there, including Christine Crabb, were kind enough to invite me and I had a blast.

Things to do

There was so much to do, I feel like I missed some things. For games, people had their pick of tabletop rpgs, wargames, board games, and larps. Diplomacy seemed to have a huge crowd and the Pathfinder Society room seemed to always be busy. For those who needed time away from the table, there was lots of space for socializing, a theater room with movies running around the clock, and the convention itself was held at Lake Morey Resort, with lots of outdoor trails and places to see.

Highlights of the Trip

Running two games of "Dream a little dream of death" was a ton of fun. I created the scenario for DDXP two years ago and it never disappoints. There's nothing like obvious injustice and a mystery to figure out. I need to figure out how to write it up for other people to run it but none of the current adventure templates seem to work well for it.

Another big highlight was just sitting around and chatting with people. The convention is very family friendly and I believe about 20% or so of the attendees were women. The people I met were very interested in making sure everyone felt welcome. Whatever they are doing worked because I felt at home right away. Everyone was friendly and I had lots of great conversations about games.

The Future

If I recall correctly, the convention has been around for about 15 years. They celebrated their 10th year at Lake Morey and next year they will be at Killington, VT. If you live in the New England area, I recommend checking it out.

Prismatic Art - A look at some of the art

It's been a while since I've written about the Prismatic Art Collection here and I wanted to share some of the cool stuff that's been happening.

Backer and Donated Art

We offered character portraits as a reward to some backers and other people have been nice enough to donate some artwork they own. We expect more backer art over the next month or two, but here is some of what we have so far.

See Slideshow on Flickr

Concepts, Sketches, and more

Once I had the backer art requests to the artists, I was in a place to start commissioning our own art. We're not far along yet, but I'd like to share what we have so far.

See Slideshow on Flickr

Farewell to Fear

Finally, we were able to work a deal with Machine Age Productions to release all of the art developed for Farewell to Fear to the collection (and into the Creative Commons). As a warning, some of the images in Farewell to Fear have naked breasts, much in the way you might see them in National Geographic.

See Slideshow on Flickr

Fantasy M*A*S*H Up

Giant Fight © 2012 Jenna Fowler under CC BY-SA 3.0Giant Fight © 2012 Jenna Fowler under CC BY-SA 3.0My friends and I have been working on getting a new gaming group together. Our old group split up a bit, two of them moved away around the same time the third welcomed a baby girl to our awesome world. Those of us left kept talking about getting a game together but no one felt the fire to get it started. Recently that changed for me and I’m now planning a new campaign.

I realized a few things about myself from the last one. I much prefer to play an episodic campaign, with more in common with say Doctor Who than Lord of the Rings. The stress of making sure I can hold up my end of an epic tale that rivals the struggle in Mount Doom gives me too much anxiety. Plus, I really enjoy both not railroading players and interacting with their characters’ stories more than my own.

One thing I’ve struggled with in the past is making their choices matter as much as I think they should. I’ve done my best, doing things like showing them the spriggan whose life they spared went on to follow his life’s ambition and start a bar in the middle of the woods with an eclectic, but friendly, clientele.

I recently played a simulation game called Dungeon Village. I frakking love that game. Essentially, you are the planning manager for a small village near a number of ruins and monsters. Your job is to make the town as appealing as possible to adventurers, getting them to not only spend money in your town but also hopefully get them to settle down and make it their home. You do this by building various shops and attractions and throwing events.

While I loved the concept of town building as part of the game, I wasn’t sure how to make it matter in terms of an RPG. Then I read the Flatpack RPG by Machine Age Productions. Now that game has a few other elements that I’d love to borrow (such as using other puzzles and games to simulate in-game challenges, more in the future), but for this, it’s the Flatpacks themselves that have me interested. In this game world, you play young or young-at-heart WRENCHes in a post-apocalyptic world. Before the big apocalyptic event, people had invented various types of buildings that folded flat for easy storage and movement. WRENCHes find these buildings, bring them back to their hometown, and set them up. As they do this, they gain resources they can use for future challenges, including access to specialists.

What I’d love to do in my new campaign is something similar. I want to set this game during a war, giving the PCs the job of protecting an important part of the supply route, most likely a ferry. They might play soldiers, medics, or even regular townspeople being asked to pitch into the war effort. They may have volunteered or be forced to serve. But all of them will hopefully be invested in improving the town. I’m using a lot of the research I’ve done on what happens when war is local. Think M*A*S*H but in a fantasy setting.

We’re likely to use D&D Next for the main portion of the campaign. The backgrounds, and especially their traits, should work pretty well for this. A number of the traits require access to something like a library or a temple for there to be a benefit. I’m also thinking of linking specialties to improvements that can be made to the town. Want to add a new skill, such as Planar Lore? Perhaps it’s time to requisition new books or find a way to entice a specialist to move into the town.

Also, since it’s war time, resources overall will be fairly constrained and they may be expected to get what they need or want on their own. Perhaps they decide that there’s too much traffic through the town for the ferry to keep up. They could build a new ship or perhaps design and build a bridge. Both need wood and some study. Want to make the work go faster? Find a way to provide enough nighttime illumination to have additional shifts (fire beetles might help with that).

By linking this to a town setting during a war, we should have a variety of stories to tell and a variety of characters we can use. This means some sessions can be closer to a more traditional playtest experience while other sessions can play with the rules a bit. It also means we can use other games some nights. For instance, characters that can be NPCs during the D&D Next sessions could be PCs for another system such as Dungeon World or 13th Age. We also could create Fiasco playsets to use on the nights when we can’t quite get a full group and play out some crazy shenanigans (I sense a play or talent show to raise morale in our near future).

I realize it’s still a rather loose idea and needs to be worked out quite a bit more, but that’s where I am at these days.

Marking the Female and Artifacts of the Male Gaze

Rook by Jared von HindmanRook by Jared von HindmanA lot of great discussion has happened since yesterday’s article
Minotaurs, Udders, and Worries of Gender Stereotyping
. It seems that two of my points about bias might have been lost a bit beneath all the other words so I’d like to talk about them here. Both of these biases individually and together reinforce the idea that the female is “The Other.” This feeling of otherness can drive away some players, particularly women who are unsure if the game is right for them. So I think it merits examining these issues a bit more.

Female as Marked

What is “marked?” Here’s a basic definition from "Marked Women, Unmarked Men" by Deborah Tannen.

The term “marked” is a staple of linguistic theory. It refers to the way language alters the base meaning of a word by adding a linguistic particle that has no meaning on its own. The unmarked form of a word carries the meaning that goes without saying -- what you think of when you're not thinking anything special.

Notice in Jon Schindehette’s article, there was no discussion of what defines a male minotaur. In fact, we rarely discuss what defines males of any race (although we might talk about average height, weight, etc) This is because we consider the male to be the default and the female to be the exception or “marked” condition.

Now at least one commenter argued that this is because there is an overlap in male characteristics, in that both minotaur and human have a penis, but there is a difference in location of the female mammary glands, and, thus, we need to discuss this. However, the issue here is that both breasts and udder on a fantasy creature could be just as easily hidden as a penis often is. There’s no reason to believe that a muscular minotaur wouldn’t be flat chested and have her breasts covered by a hairy chest. Likewise, lower body coverings could easily cover an udder and, if the minotaur tends to be naked instead, then whatever covers the penis could cover the udder as well. As a construct of the human imagination, we can create this creature however we wish. That we believe the male intimate areas would not be noticeable but the female ones would is part of this bias towards marking women.

Omniscient Breasts

Another part of our bias is focusing on the mammary glands as a way to mark femaleness. While there is a fair bit of variation due to time period and location, heterosexual males often (but not always) have a bit of a fascination with breasts. That’s one of the reasons why the “male gaze” often focuses on them as an important body part. However, this way of looking at the female body is far from universal. Kate Elliott explores this in her post, The Omniscient Breasts. Focusing on breasts as the way to distinguish a female character can easily run into this problem. In my opinion, it fetishizes them and takes them out of the context of the character as a whole.

In addition, I’d suggest that this may be one of the main reasons we end up with characters that look like they’ve had a boob job and are dressed in clothing that shows off their breasts, such as boob plate, corsets, and boob windows. I can see the thought process now: “Well, they told me they want a female character and that female characters of this race are distinguished by their breasts....If I draw the breasts too small, they might not be noticeable, so, to make sure I don’t have to redo any of my work, I better create the fantasy art outfit equivalent of big neon signs that say ‘HERE THERE BE BREASTS!’” If your intention is to cut down on artists depicting women in this fashion (and I’ve heard multiple times from multiple people that it is), perhaps telling them that breasts are the way to define a character is counter-productive.

Being Aware

The main reason I wrote yesterday's article and this one is that I think we should be aware of the biases not only that we hold but that exist in what we consume. Being aware of a bias doesn't mean that we must stamp out all occurrences of it. As Elliott discusses in her article, there are times to write a character using a "heterosexual male gaze" point of view, just as there are times we should use the "heterosexual female" or others. Rather, it's a check to make sure that we are using the one that aligns best with the story we are trying to tell. In the case of D&D Next, I'd hope that game material that discusses races and classes clings more to a gender neutral perspective than some previous editions have.

Minotaurs, Udders, and Worries of Gender Stereotyping

Minotaur Shaman by Jared von HindmanMinotaur Shaman by Jared von HindmanIn two recent posts, Jon Schindehette and James Wyatt explore the minotaur and question what defines a D&D minotaur. From everything I can tell about D&D Next, the entire mythos of D&D is getting a once over in preparation for the core books and two of the important guiding principles seems to be 1) does it feel like D&D and 2) is this creature/class/background iconic enough. For the latter, I believe they want to make sure that each creature seems unique and is instantly identifiable.

One of the issues with minotaurs is that over the years the creature has gone from the one-of-a-kind monster created as a punishment for defying a god's commands through the union of a snow-white bull and a human woman and found in the labyrinth beneath Crete to a full race with society, offspring, and the like. Since there was no society in the original stories, the earlier D&D authors had to create one. They often centered on the beastly qualities of minotaurs, and that makes sense to a degree. Hence why minotaurs often have a gore attack or are described as being incredibly strong.

It's not wrong to have some races who exhibit these traits, and I can see the minotaur as being one where it makes sense to have so a strong dichotomy between sexes. I do quibble a bit on a few elements though on how things are presented.

Physically representing the gender of a minotaur

In his article, Jon has a section on, if there are female minotaurs, how should their sex (or gender) be signified in the art. The poll has three options: human-styled breasts, cow-like udders, and they should just all be male. This left me with some questions. Why do we only talk about how females should be represented physically, but not males? Do they not see how this reinforces that females are the other? And why is the first thought to represent gender as a biological dimorphism rather than in another way? I mean, we don't have to display the male minotaur's penis to show that he's male (even though it would also fit with our mythology since bulls are often tied to virility and fertility).

Minotaurs as a symbol of Strength and Power

From James' article we have this possibility for the minotaur origin story in D&D:

Sometimes, when Baphomet’s petitioners plead with him for strength and power, he rewards them by transforming them into minotaurs. Some cultists thus transformed view it as a blessing, others as a curse, and each viewpoint largely depends on the opinion they held of Baphomet before the transformation.

This quote in itself isn't worrisome, but I start to get a little nervous when we consider that according to Jon's poll, minotaurs might be male only. One of the issues I've had with D&D (and part of why I didn't play for a long time) was that all-female races were often tied to looks, either being so beautiful that poor adventurers, especially male ones, couldn't help but want to have sex with them, or so ugly that no one would want them and that made them bitter old, well, hags. All-male races tended to be beasts of some kind, influenced by their out of control appetites, whether they be sexual, as with the satyrs, or gastronomical in nature. If minotaurs are male-only, this continues the tradition of gender stereotyping where it doesn't make much sense. I realize that cows are often seen as docile, but they are also strong.

Things I'd Love to See

Again, it's none of these are at the "this is so obviously sexist and I will not purchase these products" level of thinking, but it makes me worry a bit and is one of the difficulties of looking at individual races without seeing the whole picture. How many other races support this rather human-based dimorphism?

Focus on Needs and Motivations More than Sex and Gender - What do these races eat? Are they civilized? If so, what do they produce and trade to others? What are the race's core needs - food, shelter, companionship and the like. In just about every society, all sexes contributed more than just children to the community. If you need gender roles, give everyone jobs beyond procreation. In some early societies, physically weaker (but perhaps faster or higher endurance) people would help herd deer and other game towards the skilled and physically stronger hunters. Find interesting things for everyone to do. Characters tend to have very similar needs and motivations; their sex and gender often influence how they satisfy them.

Write from the Point of View of the Female Members - My experience with many previous editions is that they took either an outside observer stance or spoke about the society from the male viewpoint. The main exception I can see are the Drow, but they are so incredibly problematic in my opinion that I can't advise someone use them as an example. I'd love to see more of a person on the ground approach.

Value Female Contributions Equally (Where it Makes Sense) - Yes, we will have some societies and/or races that are horribly sexist (like the Drow). However, as noted above, in many societies, especially where there isn't an overabundance of resources, everyone has to contribute to society. In societies that have gender roles but aren't meant to be oppressively sexist, consider valuing the contributions from female members of society as highly as those from the male members. Remember, many fantasy societies still rely heavily on a barter economy rather than a currency based one. Food and clothing was often a more immediate need than a new sword or iPod and, in settings that lack of technology, could be a bit more expensive to get.

Understand the Biases in the Source Material - Many of those myths we use as the basis of our stories, including D&D, were meant to transmit values to younger generations. The heroes and monsters were meant to convey what behavior would be rewarded and punished by the societies that told them. Likewise, many of the earlier editions took a field guide approach to discussing creatures, concentrating on what they ate and looking at their mating and childrearing habits. One thing to consider there is that there's a long history of scientists trying to use nature to reinforce what they considered to be proper human behavior and they hid or would not report on behaviors that deviated from their expected script.

Is Sex-DIfferentiation Important for this Race? - Consider how important sex-differentiation is for the race. There are lots of animal species out there where it's rather difficult for humans to tell the sexes apart. They still seem more than capable of reproducing, so why should it be so important to every race in a fantasy world to outwardly display their sex?

Move Beyond Primary and Secondary Sex Characteristics - This emphasis on primary and secondary sex characteristics, especially of women characters, feels a bit creepy to some women and men. Seriously, a female character should be more than her organs, whether they be her legs, her breasts, or her skin. Many societies find it important to mark the transition to adulthood in some outward way. Perhaps we can use those as signifiers instead, and have them for all sexes and genders in the society?

Consider non-heterosexual and non-cisgender viewpoints - Throughout human history, we've had differing opinions on close and romantic relationships between members of the same sex. We've also had differing opinions on the importance of gender and even whether or not gender is binary. By bringing some of that diversity to the gaming world, we can cut down on some of the sameness we often experience.

Remember Rule Zero - Rule Zero doesn't just work in the game, it happened in real life. When war came knocking, people often didn't care whether or not so-and-so didn't want women to have weapons. Women are just as intelligent and resourceful as men and they would use what they knew about to try to fight off invaders.

Stop Giving Gendered Answers to Poll Questions - Seriously, guys, enough with poll answers like "My kid sister could kick its butt."

Comics I Love: Captain Marvel

I'm pretty sure I've stated this before, but one of the nice things about having a few comics I like is that I can use them as a seed to find more. Since I love Stumptown and am excited that new ones are coming out soon (tomorrow I think), I perked up when I heard that a podcast interviewed Greg Rucka. I had never heard of the 3 Chicks Review Comics podcast before but I think I'll start listening to it now. During episode 43, they asked Rucka to name one of his favorite female characters in comics now (outside of his own). He mentioned the new Captain Marvel, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. I read the first few issues last night. Here's what I love about this comic with some slight spoilers.

You're On. Copyright 2012: Marvel Characters, Inc.You're On. Copyright 2012: Marvel Characters, Inc.I paused from the episode to find out information about the comic and was immediately impressed. Having a woman take on the Captain Marvel mantle is pretty cool in itself. But it goes beyond that. Through Carol Danvers we get to explore a relatively unknown part of our own past, the contributions of women to WWII and the space program. I've been doing a lot of research in that area myself because it wasn't something they taught us in school. I had always known about the domestic programs, like Rosie the Riveter, war bonds, and victory gardens, but I didn't know about the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), the Women Army Corps (WACs), the nurses who served on foreign soil, the 800,000 Soviet women who served in combat, etc. It seems that only in recent years has it become acceptable to point out that then Princess Elizabeth drove a truck during the war.ComicMix has a great story about the historical roots of women's aviation presented in this comic.

De Facto Discrimination Copyright 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc.De Facto Discrimination Copyright 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc.Now we have a comic that explores those issues, for instance revealing one of the reasons why it took so long for there to be a female astronaut. In short, it's a comic that speaks to my experience and counters the argument that women didn't do these things because they weren't interested. I also love that Carol Danvers is portrayed as a woman who is fiercely competitive and that competitiveness gets her into interesting trouble.

Bechdel Test

Copyright 2012: Marvel Characters, IncCopyright 2012: Marvel Characters, IncOne of the things I love about the comic is that it passes the Bechdel test fairly often. How does it do that? By having lots of female characters who have different personalities, different outlooks, and who do things. It's pretty difficult not to have meaningful conversations between women when you're dealing with an all-female unit or when you have two female friends interested in a hobby or profession. The competitiveness between Danvers and her mentor, Helen Cobb, provides plenty of non-male centered dialogue. In the end, these are just women who are doing what they do and cooperating and competing in a way that helps get things done. I've read the first 3 issues and can't wait to read more.

Artwork

Edit: I forgot to mention this earlier, but I LOVE the artwork in this. Sure there are times that it feels a little awkward, like pictures that emphasize that one of the female characters has her rear end up in the air, but overall, it's just crazy awesome.

Understanding Boundaries

A frequent topic in gaming and game socializing has to deal with respecting personal boundaries. Just about everyone has a line (or multiple lines) that they prefer people don't cross. Sometimes they are common boundaries, part of our culture and/or subcultures. Other times they are personal and often point to our individual traumatic experiences. These boundaries may shift, for instance I know my husband has different boundaries from my close friends and they have different boundaries compared to complete strangers.

One of the difficulties we face, particular online and at gatherings where people outside our core social groups might be present, is a misunderstanding over boundaries. I feel there's a tendency to normalize the behavior of our friend groups and assume that new people we meet, especially ones that seem similar to our friends, will welcome the same behavior. When we act in ways that others have welcomed and the person ends up not responding in the expected way, it's a form of rejection. That can be hard for many people to take, especially people who haven't experienced it before.

We also have an additional problem, at least in the US, of certain sayings that minimize and or dismiss the boundaries set by women in particular. "Boys will be boys," "you can't blame a guy for trying," etc, these all are meant to tell women that they should keep quiet when faced with someone who doesn't respect their boundaries and they tell men and women that the boundary crossing is normal and expected. It's not the person violating the boundary that's at fault, it's the woman who complains.

I bring this up because I've received quite a few comments recently that attempt to defend a person who disregarded either my own or another person's boundaries.

Do you like ribbons?

The first I'd like to bring up is a benign interaction that happened to me in a GenCon hallway. Sunday morning I rushing to get to a morning meeting. As I walked down the hall, someone came up to me to ask a question. From what I could gather in the brief interaction, he had seen that my badge had some ribbons, he wanted to play Settlers of Catan, and asked if I wanted to play. I told him thanks but no, I had a morning meeting to get to. He said ok and we went our separate ways.

For the most part, not much going on there. Except it did bother me a bit. I couldn't figure out why he thought he should stop me, even though I was in my city-walking pace, to play a game. There were a fair number of other people around. I don't think I made eye contact with him first and I was walking pretty quickly, not sitting or standing. As far as I can tell, I wasn't anywhere near the actual games area, although he could have interpreted the ribbons I had gotten from Susan Morris and E Foley to be Catan resource ribbons. Was it because I was wearing a skirt? Or maybe he was hitting on me? I didn't know at the time and still don't know.

I wrote about this experience on G+ not to say that the guy was horrible, because he wasn't. However, I did feel a little uncomfortable and I wanted to explain why, partially in a naive hope that it would enlighten people about the ways some women think. The response from some people, however, was quite disheartening. They wanted so hard to defend the guy and explain to me why I had no right to feel uncomfortable.

Example comments:

Note to self - if inviting a random stranger to play a game at a con, read badge and make sure it's not +Tracy Hurley because, holy crap.

But I also think that sometimes an invitation to play Catan is just an invitation to play Catan. And if every time a male has to read the mind of every female before inviting her to play a game at a convention? Screw it. He'll just ask other dudes to play.

Sorry everyone, if my defense of random ConGoer's completely normal and not-at-all inappropriate actions translated into me being a bit of an ass. It's probably this penis I have that's causing all the problems. Stupid penis!!!

If I am reading this right, you are interpreting a guy inviting you to a game as hitting on you. And making a pass at a woman is bad because she may not be comfortable?

No offense, but if that is the case you are taking it a bit strangely. People interact with strangers all the time and sometimes they want to follow their biological urge to reproduce. That's life.

okay, that detail wasn't clear to me. the stopping you while you were obviously in a hurry has nothing to do with being a horny guy. It's just rude. But life is full of rude people, so I stand by "that's life"

That being said, don't blame guys for being interested in women. That's what they do. Men try to be agents, they see women as goals to be attained. This is biology.

Tracey, you can find it as fucked up as you want. Humanity is not pretty, it's a biological-social mess. I don't blame you for wanting to vent when a person inconveniences you, or makes you feel uncomfortable, but dudes are gonna try to do what their body tells them too. Maturity is the control of these urges. You dealt with an immature person.

Throughout these comments (by two different men, but lots of men said awesome stuff, so keep that in mind too), there are some common themes. The first is a bit of myth about men and masculinity, that is men can't help themselves whenever they see a woman they are attracted to. We see this a lot in classical mythology and the motif is repeated in many stories since. People who buy into this sometimes believe it's hatred of men to be made uncomfortable by this "fact" of male sexuality. The issue is that men are more than capable of comporting themselves and not violating another person's boundaries even when their passions are aroused. It's a skill people learn as they grow up. The problem is, if you tell them they don't have to learn it, some won't.

Another common theme is the belief I'm supposed to care more about the man's feelings in this than I am my own. That the man's desire to tell me something or interact with me should be given more value than my desire to move from point A to point B in a timely and efficient fashion, and that by not valuing that person's desire more than my own, I'm not being nice and am someone who should never be randomly invited to play games. But here's the deal, the context is all wrong for those conclusions to be the ones drawn. If I had been in the gaming area, or come up to a group playing a game, the question, as asked, would have had a context that would have removed the elements that made me uncomfortable.

Some of the responses to the story made me much more uncomfortable than the event itself. I was getting the clear message that I was not allowed to establish boundaries if they violated what some people feel are men's rights to chase women.

Who uses the word banging anyway?

A few days before the Catan incident, I was at a bar near GenCon relaxing with some friends. Trevor Kidd and I were sitting on bar stools having a nice chat when this guy comes over and starts talking to Trevor. I listened to the conversation for a bit and at some point the guy realizes that he mistakenly thought Trevor was someone he talked to earlier. He decides at that point to introduce himself. They exchange names and then the guy turns to me and says, "Hi girl who's banging Trevor." Yeah. I had a choice to make there. I could have let that ruin my evening. I could have gotten mad. But you know what, I was having a pleasant evening. I was enjoying hanging out with Trevor. So Trevor and I just sort of looked at each other and laughed.

I'm glad I was in a place where I could do that, surrounded by friends who probably would have understood if I hadn't taken the laugh it off approach. But it also made me feel nervous and uncomfortable. I was with a bunch of other people are in the industry. I have a column for Wizards of the Coast, I have a well known blog, I freelance, and I do podcasts. I was on a panel the next day. Yet, to this guy, the main thing he considered about me was that I must be there for a sexual reason. If I hadn't known the people so well, I probably would have been really embarrassed and would have felt unsafe enough to leave the bar.

Telling people they make you uncomfortable is disrespectful?

This story isn't about me, but it has some of the same themes. Recently, my friend Chelsea had a guy on twitter who was saying things to her, at first over DM but then publicly, that made her feel uncomfortable. He made it clear that he paid enough attention to how often she tweeted to be able to assume that she was asleep, a comment he sent via direct message. After she unfollowed him, he started making comments to her publicly, including telling her that she needed to know that she is pretty. Even though she rarely replied to his messages and had even unfollowed him, he didn't get that he was making her uncomfortable.

When her boyfriend told him to stop contacting her, the guy went after him, doubling down and saying he had a right to say what he wanted, that it was freedom of speech and that she should just ignore him if she didn't want to hear it. He even went on to seek out some of the people who were providing her support.

At some point, she realized that this guy who wasn't respecting her boundaries also was a customer at the store where she works. That made her feel uncomfortable and she said so. The person responded by claiming she was disrespecting him and sending a tweet to the corporate twitter account of the place where she works. He claimed that she should not be able to say this about a customer because he was not acting creepy.

I've seen this a fair bit unfortunately. Some people, in many of my experiences men, get upset when people point out that they feel uncomfortable around them. That someone finds them creepy is disrespectful and must be "corrected." But here's the deal, when you not only ignore someone's boundaries but claim you don't have to respect them because you have a right to something, you are being creepy. Being creepy isn't about particular actions or behaviors (although there are some behaviors that are highly likely to cause that response within a particular culture), but it often is about not respecting a person's boundaries. Yeah, I get that sometimes it's hard to know what those boundaries are going to be in advance and that not everyone is great at picking up on non-verbal cues and that there are some medical conditions that make it much harder to discern these things. Most people I know get that too. But, there's a difference between unintentionally crossing someone's boundary (at which point, it's probably best to just apologize or at least step back a bit) and claiming that they have no right to set that boundary in the first place.

These repeated violations of boundaries and the arguments that women's boundaries don't have to be respected if they conflict with traditional male behavior are wrong. They make some women feel that it's better to opt out of the community and are one of the biggest barriers we have to getting more women to go to conventions and to participate in public spaces.

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