By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan for Youth Ki Awaaz:
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’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?
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.
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.