Being a Girl on Teh Intarweb

I remember when I first started posting on message boards some time in my early teens, how people, by and large, always tended to assume I was male unless I told them otherwise. My usernames were usually on the gender-neutral side, and my writing style back then was very concise and to the point; those factors, combined with the statistical likelihood of most forum posters in my spheres of interest being male, were probably what made people default to such assumptions about me, even though I don’t recall anything about my approaches being particularly masculine. It seemed like the only time people would really call someone’s gender into question was when they had a particularly feminine-sounding username or choice of words.

I find it interesting that, back then, whenever people referred to me by the wrong gender, my instinctual reaction was to correct them. Although I’m far from stereotypically feminine, it never occurred to me to keep my gender ambiguous, or even to pretend to be male, as several people I know have done mainly for safety reasons. I’m not sure why this is, but I’m hypothesizing that it may have to do with me wanting to “prove” certain things about my gender, that it’s okay for a girl to like video games and other geeky pursuits instead of clothes and makeup and the like. [1] And as I’ve likely expressed before, I haven’t really experienced all that much misogyny, particularly over more recent years, as I’ve become known for my tendency towards sarcasm and a general I-don’t-care-what-you-think attitude.

What spurred this post was a friend’s discussion as to how a person’s gender/race/class/other defining physical characteristics holds far less weight than their ideas and opinions. In a sense, I agree, but at the same time, many of those ideas and opinions are, in and of themselves, formed by how we’ve been treated with respect to these characteristics we possess. There are many assumptions that people make about me when they find out I am female, and in truth, I mostly wish they wouldn’t. At the same time, however, my being female has given me many important perspectives on issues I likely wouldn’t have even blinked at had I been born male. That, in itself, balances out all the disadvantages.

  1. Of course, nowadays I know of several girls who like video games AND clothes/makeup/other girly stuff, and that’s awesome. I’ve just never really been able to get into the latter.
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7 Responses to Being a Girl on Teh Intarweb

  1. Lee Edward McIlmoyle says:

    I can’t think of anything intelligent to add to this. Just wanted you to know that I’d read it and am nodding approval.


  2. Max Battcher says:

    Damn it Lee, now I actually have to think of some content for my comment! :-P

    I think that I’ve generally learned a lot about gender and people’s reactions to gender from the internet. I’d like to think that my many years in forums, blogs, what have you has helped me to not bring gender into an equation and focus on a person’s ideas. At the very least I’ve rarely been accused of being sexist.

    Interestingly enough, I’ve had some small amount of experience of the opposite viewpoint. For gaming it’s quite common for me to adopt female characters and ambiguous or “female” names… It depends on the game, but the more hyper-sexualized and unrealistic/fantastic the game the more likely you’ll see me playing a “female” character. Most of the heroes I played were in City of Heroes were feminine. (Possibly most interesting psychological comment about me is that even though I had my share of female City of Villain characters my main one was in fact male… A freudian would tell me that I probably see myself more in the role of a villain in the world, but I say it was mostly the fact that I think for a robot-controlling mastermind you can’t go wrong with a guy in a nice suit and hat. It’s what I would wear if I were out controlling minions to do my evil bidding. Er… I mean to say that I’ve never thought such a thing and have no plans for world domination.)

    Anyway, back to my point, if I have one, is that I found it interesting the way people responded to my characters’ gender. First of all, I never lie about my actual gender when asked. There are certainly a few major camps of people and their responses. There’s quite a few people that don’t ask nor care. Then there’s the people that go by the rule “On the internet everyone is either male or Chris Hansen” and assume everyone is a guy regardless of character gender.

    I’ve found it interesting what words/phrases people associate with male/female. Even in an online chat room I still prefer to use full sentences and good spelling/grammar and a few times I’ve been told that it’s “girly” in the past. Now with the number of makeup/clothing/… girls out there “txting their bffs” I think that impression is changing for the worse, but it was an interesting observation I heard. Other things that were called more feminine were uses of “please”, “thanks”, “I’m sorry”… Apparently politeness is not very masculine on the internet. I ended up in City of Heroes/Villains doing a lot of leading and would constantly be shocked the few times that I didn’t lead groups how sometimes ridiculous leaders could get in rudeness and bad style and yet still be “leading”. I generally wasn’t in such groups for long, but it’s always interesting to compare/contrast leading styles. It’s funny for me to because I’m not much of leader in real life and yet have been very active in leading roles in the few muhmorpeguhs I’ve played at length.

    Probably the biggest “feminine” thing I’ve been accused of is “:-P”, which I use for lack of a better, more well known sarcasm mark. I don’t think it is because sarcasm is inherently feminine in people’s minds, I think it more has to do with the fact that its an emoticon.

    Sad state of the art for sarcasm marks:

    On the other side I’ve got my share of people that started to question my gender immediately after I might mention some engineering homework or programming I was working on/planning. Obviously there are stereotypes and statistics on those fronts, but its interesting that such a thing in a conversation seemed to throw monkey wrenches for some of the people that I would meet. Mentions of sports were similar, which interests me as I’ve known a fair share of sports-obsessed women and it seems like the crowds to most sporting events are surprisingly well balanced, but then I’ve attended more college games than pro games and prefer college sports and some of the women that I’ve known have loved sports because of the excuse to drink and the pride in their alma mater…

    I don’t know if any of those observations are useful to you, though. Just things that I’ve seen.

    Gender is a complex topic. I think many people don’t realize how complex it all is. So many people see dichotomy where the mind feels spectrum. At the end of the day the only thing that matters is that we are all Human and none of us knows anything, really.

  3. Max Battcher says:

    I said: »It’s funny for me to because I’m not much of leader in real life and yet have been very active in leading roles in the few muhmorpeguhs I’ve played at length.«

    I meant to follow this with the opinion that even though there are other reasons, I think part of the reason I had more tendency to lead was that I was playing more feminine roles and oddly enough, in my experience, leadership/authority in the games that I’ve played tend to be more female-character-oriented…

  4. I think I posted this before, but in games where characters are hypersexualized, and I have a choice between genders, I’m actually more likely to go with the big burly male character. According to people like Sheri Graner Ray, this is unusual; while cross-gender character selection in gaming is pretty common for men, it’s supposedly less so for women.

  5. MusEditions says:

    “That, in itself, balances out all the disadvantages.”
    Excellent point! As I’m typing this I’m also listening to a radio talk show featuring an author claiming that there are less men going into professional and technical fields now, and that women are more likely to graduate with honors in these fields. Don’t know how much of this is true, but it’s interesting to speculate that the balance may be shifting. So, you’ve found sarcasm a useful tool? I’ll have to look into that. ;) I’ve never played AGs where I could chose my own character. Time to broaden my horizons. Thanks, Deirdra

  6. Sir Real (Ms.) says:

    I know that race/ethnicity is not always neatly comparable with gender… but, I recall an entry on Unresolved Endings that got my attention and interest, on December 8th.

    You mentioned that being half-Persian had exposed you to other types of storytelling than the `classic’ Western arc. I’m guessing your background and appearance have also occassioned alot of assumptions on people’s parts, _and_ also those moments of `hey, I probably wouldn’t have ever noticed x, or had a different perspective on it, if I didn’t have that difference from the ambiance I’m usually in, as part of my heritage and being – yay!’.

    I’m rambling a bit but I recall a friend of mine in college who would react to people who told her `I see you as just a person’ – she would state that yes, a person – who is black, female, and lesbian, and `looking past’ all that in fact is overlooking and missing big chunks of _who_ she is.

    Which recalls me – I guess I would’ve assumed a creator who is pretty Anglo, through the content and the personnel of your games. Assumptions again! But, if I may ask, are there overt content and/or not so obvious Persian cultural influences in your games? [Which, I should mention, I like a bunch!]

  7. In my experience, I’ve always been proud to be female in the gaming industry. There’s nothing better than “haha, got beaten by a girl…”. ;) I’ve never felt compelled to hide my gender. What a person is inherently (gender, race, etc.) can influence how a person acts, but that is never all they are. It’s like you said, those characteristics form in some ways who we are based on the experiences we’ve gone though because of those traits. So, to gender/race not being important or never being taken into consideration, I say ba-hum-bug. It factors in, but I just don’t think it should factor in too much.