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Who Says Girls Can’t Be Kickass Gamers? Aunty Feminist On ‘Boy Things’ That Aren’t Really

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By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan for Youth Ki Awaaz: 

Hi everyone,

I may have to do an edition of why-do-you-hate-feminism soon judging by the comments on the last column, but lucky for you, this is not that day. Today: girl gamers and the system. Let’s get started!

I asked:

I’m a girl and I frequently play video games. Thing is, each time I’m playing with/against other people, they quickly assume that all the players in this match are male and so I get referred to as ‘he’ or ‘him’ often (although I don’t mind it). When I do correct them by telling them I’m female, I usually get these responses:
“You’re doing it for attention.”
“That’s probably why you suck.”
“Girls shouldn’t play.”
Or I get harassed a lot.
Why can’t people just accept that women play video games for the same reason as men: for fun? Why is that each time a boy asks for any gaming related stuff, they say ‘It’s normal, boys will be boys and they should be allowed to play.’ but if a girl asks, she is quickly denied the same? Why is there such a huge bias in this area?

I'm no man lord of the rings

Dear I,

Back in the 1990s, my two cousins, who I spent every holiday with, acquired a Nintendo box—or a Chinese rip-off of a Nintendo box—with games to go with. I don’t know how old you are, but this was a sort of grey box with a slot in the back, into which you inserted a video game cartridge. The console would think about it for a few minutes, leaving my cousins free to figure out who would be Player A and Player B. Then Super Mario Bros would load, and that was basically my summer vacation that year.

I was used to my cousins occasionally doing “boy stuff” for which I showed no interest. Cricket? Nah. Matchbox cars? Boring. But watching them spend so many hours in front of this machine made me curious and so I asked for a controller—well, begged for a controller, as a gamer, you must know how hard it is to give up your turn for a noob—and sat down, prepared to conquer this, as I had conquered so many other “boy” things. However, I sucked, and while the two watched me sympathetically, or shouted out instructions which I couldn’t get my hands and fingers to follow, they exuded the personality of suits in a boardroom being very courteous as the sole woman in the room — set up to be pretty and not much else — speaks and then waiting for her to leave so that they can go back to business. We were all between the ages of eight to eleven, but I felt it, so I left them to their game and went off and read a book.

As the years went by, I was called in occasionally when there was no one else to play with and handed a controller, but I stuck to that original impression I had of myself. If I won, I thought it was luck, and so I passed on that cue to the boys who looked at me in disbelief and said, “What? Another game!” To be clear: I never showed this sort of deference in anything else I did. When trump cards were a thing, I was a formidable player. I could swim further out than one of them and even though I was a lazy child, I still went on their adventurous jaunts. Why this feeling of diffidence when it came to video games? Why had I completely conceded it as a “boy thing”? I played with friends for many years, but always as an “okay, okay, I’ll try it too” and as you know, gaming, like everything else, takes practice. I was a noob for the rest of my life.

What it boils down to is that I made it a boy thing for myself so many years ago, and a Boy Thing it has remained in my head. People bought little boys video game consoles, and they bought little girls dolls. Which is not your fault, it’s just centuries of patriarchy moving things into categories by gender. Archery: for men! Sewing: for women! And all the way back to our first cavemen ancestors when the women stayed at home with the babies and the men went out to hunt and gather.

Symmetra - adding a little bit of Desi to Blizzard's latest shoot 'em up 'Overwatch'
Symmetra – adding a little bit of Desi to Blizzard’s latest shoot ’em up ‘Overwatch’

However, we’re in the 21st century now, dear I, and that means that you can do whatever you want to do, “boys things” and “girls things” be damned. Will men continue to be douchebags about it? Probably. There’s always a few douchebags waiting to fulfill their douchebag roles in your life. But, repeat after me: it is not my problem if my life makes you uncomfortable. While people may not accept that girls can play video games just as well as boys, it is not your problem. You’re just doing something that makes you happy.

Sometimes all we can do as women is to hang on to the thing that gives us joy and ignore the faces of all the pissed-off men who think they should be give us a prescribed list of things that make us happy and get annoyed when we go off their list. The next time someone says to you, “That’s probably why you suck/you’re doing it for attention etc,” you say, “Why am I threatening you so much?”

I may not have ever gotten very good at video games, you know. I have a tendency to give up when things are too hard. But in an alternate universe, it’s just the sort of thing that I love and I’m good at. Maybe you’re in that alternate universe now. You can’t change all of the thinking, but you can change a little of it. And you get to play games while you do it.

Aunty Feminist

Aunty Feminist loves to hear from her readers! If you’d like her to answer a burning question you might have, send it to us at or tweet your questions to @reddymadhavan.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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