By guest contributor Rawles
Rawles is a lifelong gamer and huge nerd. She enjoys World of Warcraft, select RPGs, fighters, and numerous games where she gets to shoot things, but she’ll play pretty much anything once. When not gaming, she spends a lot of her time writing deconstructionist meta about narrative structure and imaginary social politics from the future (in space) over at her LiveJournal.
The Border House was first brought to my attention a few weeks after its inception by a friend of mine. Not a self-identified gamer herself, she recognized how relevant the site was to my particular interests, not least due to the many rants I’d directed towards her about misogyny and sexism in gaming culture.
One of the first posts I read was Why The Border House Has a Need To Exist and on the very first sentence, which notes that the site was advertised at wow_ladies on LiveJournal, I flinched. I didn’t even have to complete the paragraph to know how that went. Surely enough, the last few sentences were paraphrasing a commenter immediately questioning the value of Border House and noting that they should look to be gamers first and as such read the same news and opinion sources as men.
The post itself easily answered the question of why this blog needs to exist, but the thing I found myself considering was why that sort of response was what I expected and why it was among the responses received and that have been received, often from women, with regard to numerous and sundry focused groups for female gamers.
Women gamers are already bucking or subverting perceived traditional gender roles, right? The perfect targets for this sort of thing, right? But unfortunately, institutionalized and internalized systems like sexism can’t be overturned that easily, even amongst those who are being marginalized. One of the keys of oppressing a people is to convince them of their own inferiority, and what I realized, unfortunately, is that many female gamers suffer from what I’ve seen called Diamond in the Rough Syndrome.
At its most basic level, Diamond in the Rough Syndrome is when a woman who is engaged in what is perceivable as a progressive action or non-traditional role takes the position that while she is a girl, she is also different, special. She’s not like those other girls. It is the compulsion to distance oneself as strongly as possible from anything traditionally associated with girls, regardless of its actual quality or worth.
I credit it for why in any discussion including female gamers, women will always come forth to incredulously, indignantly, virulently reject the idea that they would ever do something so worthless or ridiculous or terrible, for instance, as choose their character race in WoW based on which one was prettiest or care most about romance subplots in an RPG or exclusively/primarily play “casual” games or be introduced to games by men in their lives.
Diamond in the Rough Syndrome is the natural outgrowth of a society that devalues femininity.
Obviously, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with women who don’t care whether their character in WoW is pretty or who don’t bother to play out romance subplots in their RPG of choice or who can’t make it through a game of Bejeweled because there aren’t any heads to make explode or who found games all on their lonesome.
But in their needlessly intense kneejerk rejections and dismissals of these innocuous feminine-labeled behaviors, they implicitly or explicitly demean Those Other Girls who do care whether their character is pretty or who emotionally invest in which person their PC will fall in love with or who are badasses at Combine or whose boyfriend got them to start playing Xbox. Those Other Girls and those behaviors are no inherently less empowered or less worthy of being respected and the only reason to think so (or unthinkingly act so) is because society’s biases still have a hold on us, even in our attempts, intentional or otherwise, at progression.
Those Other Girls are rejected because they are seen as too much girl and not enough boy. Sometimes it’s just a flat dismissal of femininity, in general. Sometimes it’s the mildly more nuanced dismissal of femininity under the erroneous idea that there’s some watermark that makes an acceptably progressive woman or an acceptable woman gamer. Either way, it boils down to the reduction of anything marked, validly or not, as female.
The answer to my initial question is that there are women gamers who don’t and won’t see the desperate need for blogs like this until we’ve all surpassed the training that makes us feel that being an empowered woman means being traditionally masculine and rejecting what’s perceived as exclusively feminine. Until then, we’ll all still have to watch women gamers be incapable of seeing value in a space like this. To many, women who want to speak up for gender equality and who desire a place where they can be heard and considered and respected, well, they’re just more of Those Other Girls.
Because for those who demand to be “gamers first” without acknowledging or realizing that absent widespread gender-aware discourse throughout gaming culture “gamers first” really just means being defaulted to male…the biggest crime of Those Other Girls is calling attention to the fact that they are girls.