Guest posts are a rare occurrence on the blog, this being the second time it’s happened. It was written by Hjalti Nönnuson, and originally published at the Yawning Portal. It is reprinted here with his kind permission, and sums up my feelings on the matter in a way that I feel you deserve to read the original, rather than whatever bleak imitation I might have been able to come up with. Now, then: The hard life of privilege:
I’m a straight, white male between the ages of 18-49. In the West, there simply hasn’t been invented a prejudice for us and what’s more, we’re considered the most valuable and sought after demographic in a high proportion of marketing etc. – because the averages make it clear that we are in position of privilege, have disposable income and are quite willing to spend frivolously.
If you belong to almost any other group, I’m pretty sure you’ve experienced how great we have it. If you haven’t, then I’m happy for you and hope you never will.
If you’re a fellow member of the group then welcome. You’re exactly the fella I wanted to see for a while and discuss some things with.
But I can’t guarantee you’ll like it…
THIS WILL BE A BUMPY RIDE
Odds are if you’ve been making the rounds in the past few days in RPG circles, you’ve come across this piece. This one here is a riveting but tragic read that has been seared into my mind for a few years now. If you haven’t, I urge you to read them. Not only that, but actually think about them.
It also brings up some things in me I have to discuss. Unfortunately, to do that properly I’ll have to dance on the line of mansplaining, which I cannot say I like but feel it’s a necessary evil in this case.
WHAT GIVES ME ANY RIGHT?
… You may well ask, since I belong to the group o’ privilege. Well, let’s get a little background on me.
This marks twenty years since I last had a friendly conversation with my father. He is a deeply troubled man whose worst enemy is someone he cannot escape.
My life is shaped by the strong women in my life. Incredibly strong, but all have had to endure the societal pressures, prejudices and negative experiences that only happen to women. Things I have never directly felt, but very clearly seen and experienced through their eyes.
Women like my mother, who had my sister very young and had to struggle as a single mother before meeting my father and then suffer through years of torment with that monster before finally tearing herself free and subsequently becoming Iceland’s best known and celebrated food writer (she’s written about 30 books) and a completely fearless voice against all forms of spousal and sexual abuse.
Women like my wife, who has a PhD from what is currently ranked the second best university on the planet and was almost the first Icelander to compete in the Olympics as a fencer. At the same time, she has repeatedly experienced that men with far lesser experience or qualifications are chosen over her and academic sexism is rampant. When I wrote a piece on this site that was highly critical of the old Spelljammer setting, I received a threat from someone stating that he would hurt her and not me. He sent me a threat for my views but aimed them at a person who has never and probably never will played any RPG.
Women like my tough as nails mother in law, who was the first female head doctor in Iceland – and that at the department that administered to rape and sexual abuse victims. Later she took over the hospice department. And yet, even today and nearing retirement, she still sees a lot of gender discrimination in the medical field.
Women like my three sisters, who all had to grow up faster than they deserved. My oldest had her first child very early and had to struggle with the challenges of young and single motherhood, as the father couldn’t handle the responsibilities and left, before becoming a successful marketing director at two government agencies. My two younger sisters experienced terrible tragedy far too young, as they lost their mother as children and were then stuck with my father for years before finally getting free. It shows their resilience and determination that both are now well adjusted young women with the world at their feet.
So yes, I’ve seen how the world treats women. While I never have and never will experience it on my own skin, I have years and years and years of experience of seeing how it drains them, how it makes things that are nothing to us men terrifying for women, how things we think are funny just hammer it home for women that they should feel inferior.
And how hard it is to get too many men to simply listen and think and realise that this isn’t women moaning or griping, but describing a reality they go through every day. We have no right to dismiss that.
To make something very, very clear – I’m writing this as an Icelander who has spent almost his entire life in Iceland. Iceland is almost every single time ranked as the best country on Earth for women. The best country for women. And still, the only way to miss gender-based inequality here is by being wilfully blind.
If at this point you’re scoffing and thinking to yourself that this is a minor issue in the RPG world, whether now or ever, then I’m sorry to say you’re a part of the problem.
HOW ABOUT WE STOP GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS?
I’ve been playing for 30 years. 2017 was the first year I ever met a woman player who has never had a bad experience because of her gender while playing. And that is my youngest sister, who currently plays in my group. Think about that. I’ve met a massive number of female gamers in my time and that’s the first and so far only one.
There is one very positive thing to say and that is that things are slowly and steadily getting better. Getting better is however not the same as “solved”. There is still rampant and virulent sexism in gaming, even if it is getting better and it will never go away until a vast majority of players stop burying their heads in the sand and refuse to tackle the issue or, even worse, participate. Can anybody explain to me the positives of gender discrimination or even exclusion at the gaming table?
This is something that regularly pops up and little or nothing gets done about it. That is not because the active participants fight back, but because the far more common enablers spit out the same tired phrases and either refuse to see the problem or even that they are helping it along.
So let’s look at the good ol’ familiar phrases and why nobody should get away with them any more.
“THIS DOESN’T REALLY EXIST”
Or its close cousin “This is so rare that it isn’t a real problem”. Well, it doesn’t for you, you’re in that lovely group that has strong representation and you can rely on the others to speak up or be uncomfortable about your bad treatment. There will be a bunch of people to talk to afterwards that will empathise and agree with you. Can you say the same for the women?
“THIS HAPPENED IN THE PAST”
Ah, yes. It’s not a problem anymore. You sure about that? Have you actually tried to find out if women players agree with you? I repeat – 2017 was the first time I met a woman player who had never had a negative experience based on her gender at a gaming table. Getting better and solved are not the same thing.
“SHE SHOULD HAVE SAID SOMETHING”
Maybe. But it’s not your place to say that. I think everyone has been in that uncomfortable situation where it’s just so hard to speak up. Or where you’re so uncomfortable that the right words don’t come your way. You cannot dictate how other people should react in an uncomfortable situation.
“SHE’S READING TO MUCH INTO THIS”
This is a common one and makes me oh so mad every time. First, if you weren’t there, how can you possibly know? Second, another person is describing her experiences. I stress experiences. You have no right to tell any other person that what they experienced was wrong. Finally, let’s not forget that casual sexism generally isn’t a thought out, meticulous plot. It’s learned and even subconscious behaviour. The sexist may be completely unaware of what he is doing and unless being first confronted and then making a conscious decision to change his thoughts or behaviour, he will not change.
“I DON’T DO THIS”
That’s great and I believe you. However, even if you aren’t, are you enabling or reinforcing behaviour you find unacceptable by staying silent when you see it happen? Because if you are, you’re helping it happen even if you’re not directly responsible. You’re halfway there, brother – go all the way and speak up. Otherwise it won’t go away. If this is the one and only thing that stays with after reading this, that is actual progress.
REPRESENTATION IS IMPORTANT
Whether you are younger or older, think about how it used to be for roleplayers. When I started, it was the obscure hobby of ostracised people. We were not the cool kids. During my early teens in school, I was in a sort of Limbo because I was doing other things than just gaming. When I was with the gamers, I was very much just a part of that group and we were all pariahs. When I was with the other kids, we were popular and got a lot of positive attention. It was a strange experience and made it clear that the pressure was on me to abandon gaming and live the good life. The gamer group was a motley crew of exactly the kind of mid 90’s nerds you are probably visualising. I always had the feeling some of the didn’t even want to be gamers, it was just their lot in life to be in that group. When we played, their games were lathered in homophobia, racism and especially misogyny to the point that I left and actually quit gaming for a while. I don’t know where these boys are today and frankly don’t care. I hope they are in a better place and their views have evolved. It seemed to me that the trodden upon were desperately trying to find something that they in turn could stomp on and have gotten similar stories from others that have gone through much the same.
Now there are so many more women playing. Not just that. This used to be the hobby of ostracised nerd boys – in some circles, this is now a refuge for those who can use the escapism and reality bending qualities of our games as a way to relieve their own tensions and anxieties about the often too rough world we live in. People of all races, gender identities and sexual orientations flock to our games – where and when they feel welcome. Take any of my arguments above and insert words like gay or trans and you’ll quickly see how the same applies. Representation matters, not only among players, but in the game itself. I think it’s vital for our future.
D&D is as popular as it has ever been and it’s never been easier to make and distribute an RPG system. Old Spice had a brilliant marketing campaign just a few weeks ago aimed at players. Stop and think about that, that idea would have been considered laughable a few years ago. We’re big and getting bigger and it’s time to get rid of the caveman attitude, if not the cavemen.
At my own table only three years ago every player was also a straight, white 18-49 year old man. Now, I have a young couple (one of them my sister), a trans woman and some lovely old farts (that includes me). I will not for a second pretend to be perfect. I think what many people curse as political correctness has done a world of good but also gone too far on occasion. I’ll laugh my head off at some dumb sexist jokes. It took me years to get where I am today and there were some bad missteps along the way. I’m not perfect. I never will be. But I try to be better.
Yes, things are better. And they will continue to get better. But it’s something that must be maintained and fought for. If you don’t agree or can’t see how this will make our little and special world better, then I can’t help you. I pity you, but I can’t help you.