"Chicksplaining" Women and Board Games

Did you know Monopoly was originally invented by a woman?
Ah the fun of being a woman in the board game world!

Often there are discussions opened which explore the experiences of women in the world of gaming. I see these across the spectrum--in video games, console games, and board games--and there is always this impressive push back from a certain segment of men. I don't know why it is such a hard concept to grasp: that women are as varied as men and that your limited experience with women and gaming isn't representative of a whole. But also, there is a social construct around gaming in our world that has been developed over generations, and conversations like these are a way to call the status quo into question, and hopefully steer this ship on a different course. This should be welcome to anyone who truly believes gaming is for everyone and gaming spaces should offer equal opportunity. And yet I see men talking out of both sides of their mouths constantly. The old "You say women like all games, but in my gaming group, only a few show up and they only like lighter games. So that proves women don't like gaming that much, and they only like simple games." trope.

I dove into one discussion recently, and decided I would share my thoughts. This was in a thread started, innocently enough, by a father who had blogged about his daughter being an avid gamer. He speaks of how important it is that she be welcome in gaming, and how she and girls like her are changing the landscape. You can read his blog here. To catch up on the discussion I was participating in, here is a different man among the participants in the discussion:

"...Here's an idea- start a meetup group, with a focus on games that women might like. One of the more successful ones in my area blended a women's get -together with a board game meetup group. Some nights I go there, and the women outnumber the men. They are playing TtR, Roll for It, Splendor and Rack-O. I know that unless some of the guys show up, that lighter more social-oriented games will be on the agenda. I am OK with that. In fact, last Monday they had five playing TtR and I was late, so I coached the 3 new players (all senior women). I enjoyed it, too, even though it was not ASL or Terraforming Mars.

That's what they play when I get there. I have another mixed group that plays heavier stuff, but the Women's open Meetup plays lighter games. Please chicksplain what led you to believe I was talking about all women."

A little "chicksplaining" for ya' (not a thing, by the way, just like reverse racism isn't a thing):

I mean come on, now...
Here's the funny thing about stereotypes and social constructs: they tend to create a feedback loop. Girls are told all their lives "this kind of toy/game is your kind of toy/game", then some women grow up believing they would only be good at a certain kind of games. Meanwhile, little boys grow up with these same kinds of narratives, believing the spaces they occupy with "boys' toys and games" are their sole domain. They curate this space with that in mind. When women grow up with this consistent narrative, they subconsciously gravitate toward what they were taught and modeled; and in turn they then become the example that other people point to and say, "See?! Women only like those kinds of games. " Meanwhile, men continue cultivate their male-dominated spaces, content their point is proven and their assumptions are safe, and so the wheel turns.

What is great about the world we live in today is we are many of us, men and women alike, pushing back against those stereotypes and rewriting the script that little girls and boys will hear. Right now we have a culture around gaming which doesn't fully understand women in it because it hasn't considered women part of it much in the past. Don't forget we have generations of men and women--alive and well today--raised in a culture where women were breeders in the kitchen, and "game night" was a beer and poker game where women were invited only to refill the pretzel bowls. For decades (centuries?) men built gaming spaces that are expected to be just for them because that was the accepted stereotype, and now that women are entering them, there is some push-back. Whenever I go to PAX and I get treated like the wife/girlfriend who tagged along instead of the actual person who bought the tickets and dragged her SO along, I am reminded. When at ComicCon they hand him schwag left and right and I have to stand there staring for a minute with my hand out to make sure I get some for myself. Hell, this whole discussion, every time it comes up, amply demonstrates the misconceptions about women in gaming which we are fed from the time we are young.

Kids learn young. The Glass Ceiling: The Game!
But listen to the women talking to you now, right here, with their lived experiences. We are telling you that what used to be true is NOT always true any more. So when you use your language to describe what you are experiencing, consider the importance of couching it with "in my limited experience..." or "the people I game with tend to...". Most importantly, remember you are seeing a tiny sliver of the gaming world, and in that world there will be many who grew up with the old script and don't have a new script. When we ask our fellow gamers to try and make a gaming environment more inclusive, we aren't asking you to make it "easier" or to bring children's party games to the table to placate us. We're asking you to take a look at the new script--that women gamers are as diverse as men gamers and we want you to treat us with fairness and respect--and help us in handing that script out to other women who haven't gotten the memo yet.

How can you do this? When you see newcomers to a gaming group, what do you do? If you see a guy walk in, do you stare him down? Do you automatically assume they wouldn't be interested in the game you're playing, hand him Connect Four and sit him down next to another new guy and tell them to have at it? Because if you don't do that with men, don't do it with women! Invite them over, ask them if they have played a certain game before, and offer to teach them if they haven't. If they demure thinking it's too complicated or heavy or intimidating in any way, (and it sounds like in your sliver of the world, many will--remember that pesky *old* script?), respond with encouragement. "Nah, give it a try! You might love this. I've been playing this game for years and my favorite thing about it is..."

I appreciate that not all games are for all people. I am not a huge 4X fan so don't seek them out, but if I walked into a game shop and someone offered to teach me, I happen to LOVE learning new game mechanics and--should the invitation be in good faith--I would enthusiastically say yes. According to you, if I walked in you'd hand me Roll For It and send me to the ladies table without much consideration. That is the change in the script we are asking of you and men like you--don't assume. Give opportunities. Be welcoming. ACTUALLY WELCOMING. For heaven's sake, I don't know why that is such a hard thing to ask of other humans, yet it seems the uphill battle in the gaming world.

Some further reading:

Playing Safe: Making Women Feel Welcome

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