Wednesday 24 February 2016

Male Dominated Environment

I want to talk about this because it is my experience and it has hurt, and I'm afraid to talk about it because I'm afraid of treading on my male friends' feelings and I'm afraid of being yelled at by people who don't see what I see. But it bothers me, and a couple of events last weekend have tipped me over to the point I want to talk. To rage.

The examples are coming from Blood Bowl, but aren't unique to it, and there's going to be more swearing than usual, because this pisses me off. 

(Edit to add a link to this article with the intention of highlighting a paragraph in the middle that ends "the content of the abstract exercise that's so much fun for them is the stuff of my life" in the hopes it will dissuade anyone intending to comment in a devil's advocate role. Although I'm pretty sure you're all too awesome for that.)

Last weekend saw Husbit and I travelling up to Bristol for Bubba Bowl. The venue was familiar: Gert Bowl took place there last year and I remembered where the toilets were. Or thought I did: the blokes' loo was still where expected, but where the ladies' had been was an unlabelled door.

I went to check with the woman at the till, and she confirmed that the toilets were both unisex and advised to use the unmarked one because it was usually cleaner. She correctly interpreted my expression, because she went on to say she'd asked why the women's sign was removed and the men's not, and was told it didn't matter.

And that's what pisses me off: not that the toilets are unisex - I think that's very sensible, really - but that the people making the decision don't realise (can't realise?) that actually it does matter, that leaving the male symbol proud and virilant and removing the female symbol makes it feel like that's how women should be in that space: unseen. And it doesn't matter, except it does.

The same weekend, I won a game despite some terrible luck on my first turn (I'll share more on the adventures of Strictly Come Wardancing at the weekend in another post). My opponent is an avid tweeter of Blood Bowl events, which is how this ended up in my notifications:
Too fucking right he lost to me. I'm a good player, was using a good team I know well, was showing no mercy due to his lack of sportsmanship in our previous encounter. I've played Blood Bowl since I was a teen. I win games all the fucking time, when I don't take a stunty team (and usually some even then).

Every time I look at this tweet I get angrier: this is the bit that's earnt the swearing warning above because it has me so fucking angry. I'm sure it's meant to be a joke, meant to be funny, but it diminishes me and my gender, reduces us to a punchline, and you know what? FUCK THAT. I am not standing for it any more. I've heard this 'joke' too many times. Of course he fucking lost to a girl - a woman - I'm a good player. And it's not like Blood Bowl is a physical sport (where of course men always beat women)(bonus interview with Dr Miller)

Oh but wait, I can beat other Blood Bowlers at physical stuff too. It's not entirely surprising - see my circus tag if you aren't familiar with how I keep fit - but if you're wondering why you haven't heard about this before, the event where I won this certificate was another event where I ran into unintended, kindly meant sexism, and that tainted my experience enough I didn't know how to write up the event without mentioning it and that meant I never wrote the event up, and missed the next few on top.

See, at Thrud Ball last summer, one of the extra charity events was to ride a mechanical bull. It's a long time since I'd tried a mechanical bull, and both my previous attempts had seen me pitched off within seconds. This time, though, the improved balance and core strength from circus meant not only could I stay upright, but more importantly when I started to slip I could correct and retain my balance - and this was happening instinctively, as my body clung on for dear life. So strong was this instinct, in fact, that when the bruising was getting too much for my poor shins, I decided to bail. It took three attempts, because I was holding on so tightly and balancing so well. If I'd had extra padding (another competitor had worn proper chaps, whilst I had cheap jeans made of fashion denim), I could comfortably have stayed up much longer. And even so I got the longest time, and was so proud of myself and wanted to boast about it but couldn't because the unexpected sexism kept creeping back and overtaking my pleasure. 

Another of the extra events was a gurning competition: all the competitors were to line up and a photo would be taken of us pulling stupid faces and the people running the event would judge the ugliest face for a prize. And I was looking forward to taking part and being in a fun group shot with my friends. Only the people organising it had other plans: I was a girl, so I could judge it. I refused, but they also kept me out of the photo and that wasn't fair. I'm sure they meant it as an honour, but I was there as one of the Blood Bowlers and should have been treated the same as any of them and they should have respected my spoken preference to be in the photo than have to judge a contest that effectively comes down to favouritism, something I wouldn't have been comfortable to do anyway.

It reminded me of all those times back when I learned Ju Jitsu and my (always male) partner would refuse to hit me because his mother had taught him you don't hit girls. 'Sfunny, my parents taught me not to hit anyone, but on the mats you aren't 'anyone' and I'm certainly not 'a girl': we are both jitsuka; we are both there to learn, and how am I going to learn to defend myself from people who are happy to hit girls (women) if you won't give me a decent punch to protect myself from? Especially irksome after I got my yellow belt and novice men would still do this, even after Sensei had pointed out that if I hadn't learnt to get out of the way of their punch it was my own fault. I never showed qualms at hitting these people. I just wish they'd return the favour: the mat is a special place and they should have respected it (and me) as such.

The first time I encountered sexism in the geek community was when I was hanging out wiht a friend I knew through Games Workshop, and he wanted to pick up his comics. We went to the shop, and the guy in there kept staring at me until I felt very uncomfortable. I've been back to the shop a few times since - it was, at one time, pretty much the only place to get roleplay supplies in my local area - and every time I felt I had to prove myself a geek, prove I had a right to be in the shop as a person, not a gawking point.

University was liberating. Our Wargames And RolePlay Society had a maybe 40/60 female&non-gender-binary/male split, and I don't remember my gender ever mattering.

The worst was the Amsterdam Blood Bowl World Cup. It was an amazing experience, and at least the womens' toilets remained separate (this is not a dig at the Bubba venue, but at the Lucca World Cup, where they opened the womens' toilets to the men, who then pissed all over the floor and walls or pissed with the cubicle doors wide open and other things that are against unisex toilet etiquette, in my book), but it was marred by one thing (asides dice that couldn't roll above a 2), and to explain why it was a problem, I need to set the scene a little first.

There were 480 players in the tournament, plus referees and event staff (all male). Of the players, 3 of us were presenting as female, so in a hall of 480+ people, I'm outnumbered, by gender, at least 160 to 1. It was significant that, even though most of the people I spoke to were kind and friendly and fun and even though I was used to being one of the lads, I started to feel intimidated.

And then the team walked past me. Normally, I'm all for people celebrating their sexuality, but in that environment, with anxiety already tingling inside, to have six burly men walk past in t-shirts saying loudly "No Women Allowed", with the symbol usually found on women's toilets emblazoned on the front with in a circle with a slash through... It was horribly, horribly intimidating. I felt very trapped and alone, and it was difficult for the men around me to understand that, and it was difficult for me to explain without sounding like I was overreacting.

And this is something that vexes me: when I do complain, I get told I'm overreacting, or wrong, or it might be like that for me but I'm unlucky, most women don't get catcalled if they go out with their hair loose, or that that person is nice and would never do the things I'm hurt by so they don't really understand why I'm telling them (because I need it off my chest before I implode: because I'd like them to see it through my eyes so they know it can help if they try to diffuse it when they see other men doing it). And then, if it's in a geek situation, I'll hear the same person wonder why there aren't more women in the hobby, or why they can't get a nice gaming girlfriend, or why did their girlfriend lose interest so quickly after he introduced her to the hobby, and I want to scream because I can tell them why but they won't hear.

TL;DR: If you have a gaming venue and decide you'd rather have unisex toilets (which definitely makes a lot of sense) make sure both/all your toilets are labelled the same way (and that that way isn't exclusively male), and if you're gay male and want to celebrate your sexuality, consider the way you're doing that and how it might affect other people who are also going to be in a minority at the event. And if you're organising an event and women show up, treat us as normal people and as part of the paying crowd. 


  1. Great post. Needs to be shared, which I will do, so people can be educated. I know I learned a lot.

    1. Every time I re-read, I feel a bit better. It was very cathartic to write.

      Thanks for sharing it on; thanks for reading it deeply enough to learn!

  2. I wish there was a way to take guys who don't get it and bring them to an event, filled with aggressive women, all being super-fem (in a no-guys-allowed way), complete with trash-talking clothing, male gender infringing behaviour and event set-up. Basically, create for them the conditions many women routinely are forced to endure, and have all the women there completely discount any of their complaints. Maybe, THEN, the glimmer of understanding would be lit for them. Maybe... :-/

    1. You'd need to mak sure they were isolated and significantly outnumbered - the guys who don't get it, if you let them clump together, they could still make it unpleasant (they'd be doing it out of awkwardness and embarassment then, I think). If they're truly isolated, it would be harder for them to hide from the experience. Would be an interesting experiment, if nothing else! :)