About halfway through my day at a local board game café on Memorial Day, one of my friends suggested we play a game called Ladies and Gentlemen. It was perfect because the game requires teams of two (we had six players) and featured asynchronous gameplay between teammates. So we brought the game off the shelf and dumped out the components. Out tumbled a ton of cardboard and cards. At first, the game seemed overwhelming tedious… sorting out all the components and setting up the game. Finally, it came to the rules, which in my opinion were complicatedly described for the actual gameplay.
The first time through the rules I remembered two things: The “women” partners shop at the stores and the “men” partners engage in the stock market to make money. And at the end of the day, the “women” give their purchases to the “men” and the “men” decide which items they will pay for and which have to be returned to the store. I clinched up on the inside… I got that social justice tingle in my stomach. How could I be playing this game with such blatant and egregious sexist themes and gameplay?! My friends also seemed phased by the rulebook but we quickly laughed it off in a sad, ironic, satire sort of way. Although many comedians have used satire to show how ridiculous systems of power and oppression are, the game did not sit right with me.
As we continued the rules, the “men’s” gameplay was exceedingly simple. The players would turn over tokens in the “stock market” with the goal of set collection. The players also picked a number from the turned down tokens (1-3), which represented turn order for selling sets and fulfilling contracts. The second phase of the round was selling sets back to the market or fulfilling contracts in turn order. There was no real choice here… Players either had something to sell or fulfill, and were able to make money. If they did not… oh well. On the contrary, the “women’s” turn seemed much more complicated. From what I gather, since I did not play that role, the “women” would simultaneously pick where they wanted to shop. If they were alone at the location, they were able to take their pick of items. If there were more than one player at a location, they would have some sort of draft to select items to purchase. At the end of that phase, they would hand their purchases to the “men” who would pay, put on layaway, or send back to the store. The “women” had to look out for set collection (a full outfit) as well as pay attention to what designers were present on their items (max 2 across all their items). They had some other things to do, which I tuned out… but it seemed fiddly at best. Overall, the goal of the game was for the “women” to be the most elegant by purchasing clothing, jewelry, and hiring servants.
For me and the players on the “men’s” side, we were mostly bored and had no idea what the “women” were doing or what they wanted or needed when they passed us their items. At any rate, after a hard day at the stock market, we purchased what we thought was best. The game was (thankfully) quick and over after 4, 5, 6… some amount of rounds? We added up the “women’s” elegance points and the team with the most points was the winner.
I have seen a number of board games use hypersexualized women characters and artwork, which consequently represents women poorly in the hobby. This game takes a whole new angle on sexism and instead of portraying women in a hypersexual manor; it reinforces traditional gender roles and the traditional gender binary. I first tried to see the theme as satirical. However, I believe a satirical approach to combating -isms still requires challenge and without a player with the awareness or knowledge of social justice in the game, there will be no challenge or dialogue in result. At best there may be a conversation and at worst the satire will reinforce our cultural norms. I also approached the game from a “anyone can play any role” angle. Although I can see some folks who would consider this challenging the gender roles (ex. A woman player in the “men’s” role), I still see the game classifying certain actions and activities exclusively from one gender or another. Further, it reinforces a socially constructed gender binary, leaving no room for a conversation or representation for transgender folks or folks within the binary who may not express exclusively as masculine or feminine.
Why does blue represent boys? Why does pink represent girls? Why is this even an issue? From a young age we are socialized through our family, media, education, and other outlets what is appropriate for boys/men and girls/women. And we rarely question it! Yes, the theme of Ladies and Gentlemen with it’s traditional and rigid gender roles may seem ridiculous and outlandish – there is no way we have those issues anymore right?! We are a post-gender society, I don’t see gender… Oh wait, I totally do and our culture does too. Gender issues and sexism may seem to have “gone under cover” but it is still here, alive, and kicking. This game may represent the overt sexist and we must focus on the systems and institutions, which allow these roles to persist.
There are many board and card games existing today and portray women positively! I believe the positive portrayal of women and gender expression will do more to change culture than a satirical approach to gender roles. Recently, a list was put together by users of games they thought represented women in positive ways (https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/191907/games-awesome-picturesillustrations-female-charact). Most are in the spirit of the thread and in my opinion, I do not agree with everything on the list. What the list did spark whether or not the game listed portrayed women positively was a dialogue.
I would appreciate any thoughts, comments, or questions.