Dilemmas of the Lady Game Designer

In graduate school, a professor once told me my short stories might be a wee bit feminist to appeal to mainstream journals, and that I should seek out fringier, feminist presses. Of course, like many writers, I don’t want to write about “feminist issues,” I want to write about the essential human truths, truths that I perceive, of course, through the lens of my own identity. After my prof’s pep talk, I took on a gender-neutral pen name, started writing stories with male point-of-view protagonists, and promptly amassed a file of rejections beginning “Dear Mr. Stark…”

Because of course, books about men and men’s issues — even books that evidence an adolescent understanding of gender relations — get to be “great literature” because they’re about the universal human experience, while books that delve into the humanity of women are often relegated to the chick lit corner of the book store. This is not an argument for removing Moby Dick or The Road from the classics shelf, but it’d be cool if they could share it with Caramelo and Corregidora.

As I’ve embarked on a new hobby of roleplaying design, I’ve realized that the lady game designer faces a similar quandary. Do I want to write games that seem relevant to me in my life right now? Or do I want to write games that people will play? If I decide to write about stuff like my mastectomy, does that immediately get me sent to the chick lit game ghetto, or do I have a shot at being taken seriously on same grounds as other (largely male) game designers?

For me, writing about what I perceive as my essential humanity risks turning off a majority of the potential audience audience. I don’t think it’s a necessity for dudes designers to think about gender and game design in the same way.

Here, and in the rest of the piece, when I talk about writing games or roleplaying scenarios, I’m mostly thinking of larps or freeform games in the Nordic style — that is to say, games about regular people living their lives and aimed at evoking emotion rather than the rush of battle.


The nature of the gaming community further complicates the equation. Although there are plenty of women gamers out there, men predominate. If I write a game with a host of female characters, will men want to play it? Will men choose to run it? Or will it run a few times before disappearing down the memory hole forever? And if it disappears down the memory hole, is that because I’m a novice and wrote something crappy, or because I wrote about an experience of the world structured by femininity?

Cross-casting provides another sticking point, given the gamer demographics. In my experience, it’s easier for women to play men than the other way around. I dimly remember my college course in feminist theory, in which we talked about how we can all relate to the experience of men because that is constructed as the norm in our society. People who lie outside the norm for whatever reason get special knowledge of the dominant subculture, because there is pressure to conform. For example, many black women have special knowledge of hair — how to relax it, style it, extend it, etc. — because the norm of hair beauty in US culture is European and straight. Women are often asked to imagine themselves into the default position — that of men — while the reverse is seldom expected. Little Women is for girls because it’s primarily about girls and because of that we don’t expect boys to relate to it, but Lord of the Rings, with its all-male cast, is for everyone. This attitude contributes to gender inequity in all sorts of artistic canons — film, novels, visual art, short stories, video games, etc.

As a GM, I’ve noticed that it’s easy for men playing women to slide into stereotype, and that I’ve got to work hard to help players add complexity to their cross-gender roles. One of the super-powers of roleplay is that it can create empathy, so I think it’s good to try to step outside the roles we play every day — including gender, race, class, etc. roles. But meaningful immersion demands a certain degree of reality, I think. When play lapses too far into stereotype, this empathetic benefit is lost. And instead of walking in the shoes of someone dissimilar to you, you run the risk of reinforcing negative dogma.


Games Can Be About Gender Without “Being About Gender”

I’ve run the jeepform game Previous Occupants by Frederik Berg Østergaard and Tobias Wrigstad perhaps half a dozen times at various conventions. True to its mission, it’s a great way to introduce Americans to this style of roleplay. In the game, two people portray a young Christian couple about to get engaged and away for the weekend at a hotel where they will have sex for the first time. Two people portray an older married couple who stayed in the same hotel room 15 years ago, when the husband committed murder suicide. You play the scenes in parallel, cutting between the two, and eventually the ghosts of the past (the husband and wife) invade the present and try to work out their issues by possessing the young Christian couple.

On its surface, the game is about death and sex, past and present. But in all of the runs I watched, more than anything, it ends up being about masculinity and the demands that our culture places on men. The husband tries to contain his rage leading up to the murder, but often ends up struggling with feeling the financial burden of supporting a wife, even though this arrangement is not stipulated in the game materials. He feels put upon by his wife in some way, because she just doesn’t understand how difficult it is to be in charge. Her real or perceived infidelity — the suspicion of it, but not the actuality appears in the game materials — disrupts his constitution of himself, contributing to the crime. He is the culpable one, and she is collateral damage. Similarly, in the young couple’s story, the responsibility for initiating sex (which is not played, for the record) almost always falls onto the boyfriend, who struggles with his desires to be cool and have sex, weighed against his commitment to God. Although the girlfriend knows of his plan to propose, we infer that it’s up to him to take action and make the offer officially.

The women end up falling into traditional roles — slightly prudish girlfriend (or guiltily sex positive girlfriend), and abuse victim — and while they play a major part in the story, the growth of their characters often seems less complex, perhaps because the set up does not endow them with agency.

That these two men feel the parallel weight of responsibility  is part of what makes the game work; but it’s interesting to me that players almost never explore issues of femininity — of why the wife might stay in an abusive relationship, or why the girlfriend feels she must wait for the boyfriend to make his move. Without writing it out explicitly, the game suggests traditional relationship roles for the women. The husband and wife are older, and from the past, and therefore, we infer, more traditional, while the younger couple is Christian, and since it is mentioned at all, American players infer that that younger couple must be very conservative and evangelical indeed. The traditional relationships weaken the ability of the women to push the story into a more feminine place within the game by inadvertently scripting more submissive roles for them. Their plot lines and roles are contextual and bound up in each character’s past, but the game demands that the action take place right now in the present for each couple.

The scenario is quite a good  one — usually the players get a lot out of it — and I have no idea whether the writers wanted to make a game about masculinity or whether it’s an unintended emergent property of the game, or of the fact that I’m running it for an American audience. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that with so many dude game designers — there are plenty of lady designers, but they’re vastly outnumbered!– writing about stuff they find interesting and important, masculinity is going to emerge as a major theme whether designers intend it to or not.


The New Wave of Women Game Designers

In the last couple years, a number of women (and men) have written games that tackle femininity complexly. Maybe the trend stretches back further, and I’m simply ignorant of it, but to me, the current wave is tremendously exciting. Here are a few of the ones I’ve seen — are there more out there?

The Remodel (2013) by Emily Care Boss
A short scenario about four friends going through mid-life transitions while remodeling a house. It’s got timeless themes — how do we define ourselves when a core aspect of our situation/identity shifts?

Summer Lovin’ (2012) by Trine Lise Lindahl, Elin Nilsen, and Anna Westerling
This very short scenario is all about the post-convention gossip session. Three ladies got it on with three dudes, and now the men are on a train together and the ladies are in the car home. A scenario about women being awesome and unapologetic about it. In both runs I took part in, overhearing the women talking to one another was a real highlight for the men.

Robin’s Friends (2012) by Anna Westerling
A game about friendship among three people, and the ways that petty disagreements can distract people from the true meaning of their relationships. Interestingly, though Westerling had women in mind while writing the scenario, she made all characters gender-neutral to better fit the demographic makeup of her roleplaying scene. She also made the point to me that friendship isn’t a gendered topic, so why should the characters be locked in?

Mad About the Boy (2012) by Tor Kjetil Edland, Trine Lise Lindahl, and Margrete Raaum
A full-out Norwegian larp for 30 written and run twice there in 2010, played again with an all-women cast in Connecticut this year. A game about a world without men. Original text here. It runs twice in Sweden — one mixed gender run, one all women run — this summer.

…and this year my first game will be at the Danish convention Fastaval. It’s called The Curse, and it’s about relationships shaped by hereditary breast cancer. Will these women choose to remove healthy breasts and ovaries, or gamble with their high risk of cancer? And how will they and their partners feel about that?


Supporting Women Game Designers

I noticed a few things while recruiting women for last October’s re-run of Mad About the Boy. Plenty of women were interested in playing the game, but sign ups weren’t going great. I had a lot of conversations with various women who seemed like they might get something out of the game. Most of the conversations went like this:

Me: I’m helping organize this all-women game, and I thought you might be interested.

Her: It sounds really cool, but you know, I’ve only been roleplaying for like ten years? And a lot of it hasn’t been larp? And it sounds like really good roleplayers will be there and I don’t want to ruin the experience for everyone.

Me: We are very friendly to new people and have a bunch of people who have never larped before signed up. Inexperience is absolutely no object, and we’ve got this whole workshop thing happening to help get people in the mood to game. We would love to have you.

Her: That sounds cool. <signs up>

What I gathered from this process is that a lot of women secretly wanted to come to the game, but were afraid — even if they had lots of roleplaying experience — of embarrassing themselves and screwing up other women’s games. All it took was the simplest of gestures — an organizer saying, yes you are welcome and we will support you — in order to enlist players to the game. In other words, sometimes women don’t take space — they need to be expressly invited into it. I know I’m not immune. I never dreamed I could bring Nordic larp to the states until one of the Mad About the Boy creators off-handedly said, “you should run this larp.” She offered the space, so I took it.

My guess is that the same holds true for game design. While reporting and touring for the book, I was lucky enough to meet a bunch of game designers. Being the persistent reporter type, I asked for lots of design advice, and many people were kind enough to offer some. Not every woman is an irritating reporter, though — so I think it’s important to reach out to women who say they want to design and offer them support, to expressly invite them to occupy the role of designer. Sometimes a heart-felt invitation is all it takes.


My Philosophy

Here’s my philosophy on trying new stuff: it’s not rocket science. Larp and roleplaying are relatively new forms. We’re in the first generation, still, and many of the first wave of designers are still living. I may not always know exactly what I’m doing, but then, imagine the first person to try metatechniques, or Ars Amandi or whatever. They were starting from a different baseline, and now we’re in the position to build on the institutional knowledge. Larp is not rocket science. And if we fail, so what? All we’re risking is a few uncomfortable hours. So get out there, take space, and fail loudly.

17 thoughts on “Dilemmas of the Lady Game Designer

  1. A thought: being that larp is a young and often very “technical” form, with a small but enthusiastic audience of self-proclaimed “experts”… compared to fiction-writing, you get a better chance to sneak in whatever themes you want, while recruiting players base on some other aspect of the game which is not content. Like, if you make a “jeepform” about “feminist” issues, and you pitch it first and foremost as a jeepform, a few people are bound to play it exclusively because of its jeepform-ness, regardless of theme — this way, you in fact get a chance to expose them to issues they otherwise wouldn’t have thought about.

  2. Great points, Lizzie.

    I think there are “new waves” of women game designers beyond freeform and larp, roughly treading through the waters of tabletop and video game design as well. Their experiences are, of course, that the geek and gamer community is deeply patriarchal, and that the “audience” will slobber over endless reiterations of D&D and other male wish fulfillment scenarios.

    Kat made a great point to me about this: the RPG play environments are inherently stacked against women, so women must forge new ones. The success of games like Monsterhearts and Annalise (both written by men but appeal strongly to women) or Kagematsu and Under My Skin (both written by women and responding to powerful universal truths) attest to new playgrounds we can use to bring both genders in dialog without the old patriarchal B.S.

  3. So I noticed something funny-peculiar with a couple of my recent games. I think maybe men playíng women in traditionally male domains don’t just tend to slide into stereotypes, they also can get away with less without coming across cheesy. In my upcoming trench warfare game Dulce et Decorum, a male player playing the female volunteer nurse could simply get away with significantly less than female players. Female players in other test runs could and did do rather less tasteful things than my poor male test player, but when they did it, it was cool. Not entirely sure why. Maybe because cringeworthy naughty nurses and chainmail bikini babes seem not too far out of sight when men play women in trad action settings.

    On the other hand, in my bunch-of-people-having-fairly-creative-sex-in-a-summer-house game My Girl’s Sparrow from last year, cross play wasn’t a problem at all, either way. Perhaps because that wasn’t such a trad patriarchal setting?

  4. Hi Lizzie,

    Thanks for putting this into words.
    As a women game designer, I tend to write games about women. Not because I don’t like men, but because being a woman is closer to home for me 🙂
    I’m in such an extremely privileged situation that I have never experienced people ‘boycotting’ my games because of gender. If you play my games, you have to accept that you are most likely to be playing a woman, and people seem to accept that! I have never felt discriminated in that sense.

    However, my experience as a gamer is quite contrary to this. I can no longer count how many times I’ve had to take on the character of the girlfriend, the wife, the daughter, the mother – in short, the supporting cast. Characters who are defined through their relationship to male protagonists. Very often there will be only one female character in a game. Whereas the other players are casted after type or preference, I’m usually casted according to my gender.

    There’s an obvious answer to what must be done: We need more women game designers 🙂

  5. Lots of really interesting thoughts here, Lizzie.

    In Danish circles, I have more than a few times debated the challenge of writing credible female roles. With male game designers, of course – I know quite a few who sincerely want to avoid handing out roles that make women feel they’re being stereotyped. On the other hand, I don’t recall ever having heard women game designers talking about a challenge in writing credible male roles. Which I guess proves your point about the male perspective as the cultural norm.

    I gather that you’re coming to Fastaval next month, and I think it could be interesting for you to have a chat with Sanne Harder, who has been designing great Fastaval-style games with a decidedly feminine touch since the late 90s. This year, she’s presenting the Son of Israel scenario which is probably quite interesting in this context, being a deeply personal game about her father.

    On the whole, though, I think the Swedish arm of Nordic Larp are probably the ones who have done the most serious thinking about this subject. Which for example has led them to the gender-neutral approach that Anna is using in her scenarios.

  6. Awesome thoughts, everyone.

    Rafu, you make a good point about form v. content, and one I hadn’t considered before.

    Evan — It’s great to hear that women are starting to make headway design in other arenas too. I’m not as hooked in to tabletop/video game scenes, so I’m delighted to hear it. I think it’s great for men to make games that appeal to women as well, because that also helps diffuse this issue by changing the gender balance of the audience.

    Troels — I suspect the difference has something to do with the assumption that women necessarily have a more complex view of femininity, and that insulates them from some critique. Maybe it speaks to another angle of the equation as well — that men playing women can feel less free to express themselves for fear of being labeled sexist, etc.

    And I think you may be right about the less patriarchal setting of MGS, which is enhanced, I suspect, by its setting in the future, which gives players some extra freedom to break the normal rules of patriarchy.

    Sanne — I totally hear you. Awesome that you’re writing so many lady-heavy games. I think part of what I’m saying is that I don’t fear deliberate discrimination (“No way I’m playing a GIRL”) so much as inadvertent discrimination (“I simply prefer playing other games, which happen to be written by men, because I connect to the themes better”). Then women’s games don’t get played, which means those themes aren’t out there as much, which makes it hard to connect to them…one feeds into the other.

    Another way of putting this is, “what constitutes a ‘good game’?” I think one of the answers (for me at least) is, “a game with timeless themes that connect to my real life,” and that’s where things start getting interesting.

    The one female character in a game thing is quite problematic. Are you familiar at all with the name “Smurfette Principle?” There’s quite a good video on it here — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opM3T2__lZA

    And you make a very interesting point about being cast according to gender. I know I’m an offender.

    We do need more women game designers, but it seems like it can be a chicken-and-egg question. How do people become game designers? Well, first they play games, usually. So we need more women players. But that means making women feel comfortable in a male dominated environment, and creating games that will lure them…

    Certainly, there are some mechanisms that help that along, from encouragement and feedback to writing games that allow women to be more than girlfriends. But it’s a sticky wicket, no?

  7. Great post.

    More female larp designers:
    J Li (Shifting Forest)
    Kirsten Hageleit (Live Game Labs)
    Amy Creamer (former prolific Enigma larpwright, but hasn’t run anything in at least a decade)
    The Hunter’s Moon larp campaign plot team is all female: Kari Brewer, Mallory Reaves, & Aya Columbia (Live Effects) – actually, Aya is more production management, creative design is Kari & Mallory.
    Messina larp: Amanda Meikle (also Live Effects)

    Though I don’t think any of the above wrote something specifically based on female themes as much as (I think) universal themes.

    There’s also Julia Ellingboe and Kat Jones, who wrote and are running “Cady Stanton’s Candyland” at the upcoming Intercon M (http://www.interactiveliterature.org/M/Schedule.php?action=25&EventId=399&RunId=771).

    For video games, there’s our friend Leslie Mathieson (Ratchet & Clank):

    I also interviewed Roberta Williams many years ago (before she retired): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roberta_Williams

    For RPGs, I know my friend Rebecca Strong has published a few Call of Cthulhu mods (http://www.rpg.net/news+reviews/reviews/rev_2723.html)

    And the big name art game designers are Jane McGonigal and Brenda Brathwaite, both of whom I desperately sought for the Wyrd Con Companion Book (to interview them), but I had no luck. Maybe you could interview them, Lizzie, and publish the piece(s) in the WCCB 2013? I think both would be great to talk to about these questions.

    Yes, we need more female game designers like we need more female politicians, national leaders, movie directors, corporate CEOs, etc. As to how to do this, I have no idea. But everything that has been said, I think, helps, and every little bit helps as she pissed into the sea. (a line from Gaiman’s Sandman)

    My limited anec-data indicates that a primary draw for women to design is a partner who is also a designer (and doesn’t mind the competition not even looks at it like a design competition; I used to be jealous of the praise my wife got for her larps, but I quickly got over that–we both have helped each other out so often that even if one of us is the lead, the larp wouldn’t have happened without the other).

    Anything that gets women creating is good, IMHO, but I’d like to see even more women than there are now who come to game design without a male influence: no boyfriend or husband or brother or father that guides and leads them to games; they come to it completely independently, or, hopefully, through the design of another female (like those you, Lizzie, mention).

    I hope this doesn’t come across as offensive or disparaging to female game designers. Personally, I just want to see the choices of games (especially larps) broaden, even ones that I can’t play, e.g., Mad About the Boy.

    I definitely think the tides are shifting now, though, as more women become more vocal about their game playing and game designing. Especially with larps, which don’t require knowledge that is stereotypically masculine or feminine (like computer programming).

    As to your questions about design, Lizzie, all I can say is that I’m struggling with those basic questions myself: should I run a larp that I want to run, about something meaningful to me, or something that people will play?

    Ultimately I say run what has meaning to you, because larps aren’t easy. They’re difficult to design and produce (at least they are for me). And they don’t make us money. So if your heart’s not in it and there’s no paycheck attached, why slog through an unfulfilling event?

    Larping about a mastectomy: all I can suggest is to consider allowing men to play, even as supporting roles. All men have mothers, and they probably know a woman who has had the operation. Some of us have even had mammograms (like me). I think there’s a universal theme present as well: surgically altering our body for a required or precautionary measure.

    But whatever you want to do, just do it. Even if you don’t have universal support, you do have a not-inconsiderable amount of honest and quite vocal support. I myself offer to shout louder than at least ten detractors on your behalf. I also offer to keep my keyboard and mouth shut if that would better serve the cause.

    “Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputations… can never effect a reform.” –Susan B. Anthony

    • Aaron: Men are scripted into my mastectomy game, which is a freeform game for four. The characters are two men and two women. While breast cancer is the hook, it frames a deeper more universal story about confronting death and the effect of that on relationships. Or at least I hope it does.

      I think it’s a great idea to let men play women in general, actually, since roleplay can create empathy and a lasting experience that stays with you. Doing it carefully is wise. And BTW: men can totally play Mad About the Boy! It’s just that we chose to focus on something else during our run. But there are many different ways to run the game, and no one is necessarily the ‘correct’ way.

  8. I’m on the “write what you care about” side of this thing. In fact I’m even further out, all the way out at “write what you care about, for those you want to play it and sod the rest of them.” You don’t move the status quo by aiming at the broad audience first, you stake new ground with others show how fertile it is.

    I’m pretty sure my genderbending game at this year’s Fastaval will score pretty low on the attendance levels, compared to the louder games. But it’s out there and those I’ve written it for can play it. I’ll be better next time around. And maybe someone will want to write another game about gender.

    Maybe you’ll only get hardcore feminists and breast cancer activist types this time around, but then there’ll be one more example for others to follow and make up the cultural balance. Make more games, get better and things shift. But for each individual game, keep the focus on the idea and those you want to tell it to.

  9. I hadn’t heard the name Smurfette Principle. Love it. 🙂

    Actually, one of the Danish gamer bloggers tried to take a data-based look at this subject only a few months ago, which sparked a good discussion, too. So, if you’ll excuse me for being Fastaval-centric, and for throwing statistics at you, I’ll draw some data from that discussion and start with the basic fast that last year’s Fastaval convention had 25% female participants. However, looking at the share of women game designers presenting scenarios at Fastaval over the last six years, we get the figure 15.1% (using a weighted method, i.e. a scenario with one male and one female designer counts as having half a designer of each sex). Since Fastaval hands out awards to its best scenarios, we can take this one step further, using the same method, and find that the share of women game designers nominated for an award in the same time period was 14.4%. But the share of women designers actually winning awards was 23.8%.

    So … First conclusion is that even in a well-established community like Fastaval, women are underrepresented as game designers compared to their share of participants. However, the women designers are on par with the men when it comes to recognition of their work, and they are significantly overrepresented as award winners. Which seems to imply that there is a structural obstacle related to getting women to design games, even if this community awards them on equal or even better terms for doing so.

    Which again makes me think that you are spot on the money about having to feel comfortable in a male dominated environment, Lizzie. Aaron’s comment about women entering the community as partners is also well taken. On the whole, I think that yes, if the share of women playing rises, the share of women game designers will follow. So openness and acceptance of games trying to appeal to women is one key, and not having women playing stereotypical supporting roles is certainly part of that.

    Another key element may be how we talk about and especially offer critique of the games. Looking at Fastaval again, where games get both pre-screened and judged, some of my women designer friends have pointed out that a male dominated community may tend to offer critique in a very masculine way. Somewhat more brusquely and less empathically, however well-meaning, which can probably be quite intimidating to newbies, and possibly moreso to newbie women (even if writing that last part makes me wonder if I’m perpetuating gender stereotypes :-)).

  10. Minor comment before we can talk in poerson at Intercon:

    “Aaron: Men are scripted into my mastectomy game, which is a freeform game for four. The characters are two men and two women. While breast cancer is the hook, it frames a deeper more universal story about confronting death and the effect of that on relationships. Or at least I hope it does.”

    Then it sounds to me like you wrote a larp about loss, or death. It’s a marketing issue. There’s a difference between plot and story in my mind. I heard this from my former moviemaking partner, referring to movies. But it could apply to larps as well. The plot is what happens, the story is what it’s about. The best example he gave is the movie Casablanca: the plot is who gets the transit papers, the story is about Rick and Ilsa.

    Or, maybe, the plot of the movie Aliens is about humans being killed by Aliens on a colony planet. The story is about motherhood, mothering (Ripley and the queen alien).

    From what you said, your larp’s plot is someone who suffers or suffered breast cancer. The story is about cancer, or death, or loss. Theoretically, could someone take your docs (libretto) and make it about prostate or testicular cancer?

    • In theory, yes. It’s actually not about actual cancer, but rather cancer risk, so modding it will work better for other types of hereditary cancer, such as colon cancer. I don’t know a whole lot about testicular cancer, but I don’t think heredity or screening work quite the same, so if people want to hew to medical fact, some adaptation might be needed. The game also depends on a certain sort of family history, but that could easily be changed for a different result. It’s also not necessary, I think that the sisters in this game be involved with men.

      (Can’t find a source on this right now, and maybe I’m remembering wrong, but I believe we thought about investing money to find a gene for testicular cancer, but decided against it because if people are high risk, you screen them more, which results in more biopsies. Men who are at high risk are more likely to develop testicular cancer in where the needle has entered their scrotum).

      The blurb is here — http://www.fastaval.dk/aktivitet/the-curse-2/?lang=en

      And Krisoffer — I think you make a good point about inviting women in, namely that it’s also a tonal thing when it comes to the sort of feedback given, etc. etc. But I think that changing that ends up being problematic. Give more polite feedback if you’re working with women? Erm… So while everyone is responsible for making the environment more women-friendly, I think that women are most likely to be effective at it. I’ve talked to organizers whose larps went from 25% women to 40% women and what they said was basically, “cool people breed more cool people, and women make other women feel more welcome.” So part of it, too, is finding ways to help women network with one another. Or something.

  11. Lizzie – I totally agree that giving forcibly polite feedback to women is not the way to go. It would kinda be a throwback to the misogynist assumption that women suffer from hysteria, are emotionally unstable etc. But I do think there is a communications issue there, which has to do with establishing the right framework for feedback, so that everyone understands the hows and whys, and not only see/feel it as a negative thing. And that’s not a gender issue per se. Giving useful feedback is a skill of its own.

    And yes, cool people breed cool people.

    • I hear you. I think you’re right, it’s just frustrating that what should happen is sorta evident, but getting there is tough. If the culture needs changing, then how does it need changing and what’s the best way to accomplish that? Those questions are tough, no matter which way you slice them.

  12. Pingback: Killing Smurfette: Connecting Women Gamers » Lizzie Stark

  13. “Lizzie – I totally agree that giving forcibly polite feedback to women is not the way to go. It would kinda be a throwback to the misogynist assumption that women suffer from hysteria, are emotionally unstable etc. But I do think there is a communications issue there, which has to do with establishing the right framework for feedback, so that everyone understands the hows and whys, and not only see/feel it as a negative thing. And that’s not a gender issue per se. Giving useful feedback is a skill of its own.”
    So with giving feedback to men and women, I have a datapoint – I work in a very male dominated workplace (a railway company), which has some pockets of teams that are weighted much more towards women (frontline staff are almost all men, engineering focused teams are mostly men with a few women embedded here and there, accounting and admin functions weight much more towards women, and I have to work with people all over the company.) We also have some… dysfunctional staff members with respect to communications, so if you want to get something done you kinda need to work on your emotional intelligence.

    I’ve found that:
    – a strategy of lots of positive feedback, cracking jokes, making sure to say thank you, that kind of stuff, is a really productive way of communicating with almost all the women there, plus maybe a third of the men.
    – another third of the men are reasonable to deal with, just quite business oriented and not much interested in chit chat. As long as they do what I want, I’m fine with it.
    – another third of the men (to varying degrees) are jerks. The intensity varies, but they’re generally acknowledged around the company to be difficult to deal with. I don’t think I collect more flack from them than the men they work with do, but I’m certainly less willing to put up with it than the average bloke is. (Have had to file bullying complaints a couple of times.) The thing is, if no one pushes back against that kind of behaviour, the toxic people are just enabled to get worse, and that affects not just the women in the workplace, but also the milder mannered men who just want to get on with their days. So general codes of conduct around basic civility are no bad thing for everyone except the trolls.
    – the blue collar front line staff tend to be a little chauvinistic, in a sweet kind of way – like getting a really stuffed kind of expression when I’ve walked into a breakroom and one of them was swearing. Good times! (White collar staff don’t seem to self censor to the same degree – they all assume I’ve heard Bad Words (TM) before.)

    Anyway, my 2c.