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board games, gender, gender identity, social justice

Men in Tabletop Gaming… We Have a Problem

This post is my reaction to a blog post Tabletop Gaming has a White male Terrorism Problem, which was posted a couple weeks ago. It came across my news feed and I sat down and read and then reread and then reread the post. I highly encourage you to check out the original post here: http://latining.tumblr.com/post/141567276944/tabletop-gaming-has-a-white-male-terrorism-problem


I log onto Twitter and see a large conversation going on about gender identity and sexism in the board gaming hobby. This is nothing new for me. Many of the people I follow are very vocal about issues of inequity and I join into the conversation. I start seeing many tweets referencing the “latining” blog post and I start searching for it myself.

After finishing reading the blog post from the latining tumblr for the first time, I have to actively fight what I’ve been socialized to think, say, and act. I want to be shocked at the violence, hate, and bigotry in our hobby. I want to defend my own gaming group and gaming spaces… “But my group is a safe space for all people. We do not accept that here.” I want to take it personally – any critical analysis about masculinity and gender inequity is a criticism of me. Then I realize, all of that, everything I want to do or say, is a product of the toxic hypermasculine environment I was brought up in and I currently live in. Doing work to further equity, inclusiveness, and social justice means I need to be constantly working on myself and checking my own misconceptions and oppressive views. I must acknowledge that my ability to even share this post and feel relatively safe is my privilege.

For anyone who identifies as a man who might be reading my post. Breathe. This is hard. I get it. I hold many identities of privilege and power and struggle with actively resisting dominate culture. It’s okay to feel a bit defensive right now. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable. It’s okay to admit that. We are taught to lash out against anything that “threatens” our masculinity. The fact that I even have to include this, the fact that I have to remind you all to breathe, to tell you it’s going to be okay, illustrates the fragility of masculinity. Now set this all aside and prepare to step into discomfort, prepare to listen and learn and really hear the experiences of your community. Because honestly, people we should care about are being hurt and we don’t have time to to feel defensive or guilty.

“That cannot happen in our hobby!” I hear this a lot from many different people so let’s do some statistics. The number varies, but the research shows about 1 in 4-6 women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. This statistic varies because we know sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crime (why you ask? see the latining article and the many times the writer tried to report sexual assault and the responses they got). The rate of sexual assault skyrockets with LGBT+ folks, with bisexual women and trans* folks facing the most alarming rates. Yes, men are sexually assaulted as well, about 1 in 33, a much lower rate. Most of the time, men are the perpetrators of sexual violence. It’s easy to fall into that guilt/anger/defensive spot right now so I am going to offer you this: I am not blaming you for sexually assaulting or harassing someone. In fact, sexual violence is perpetrated by a small number of men; however, these egregious acts are supported by the status quo of gender oppression and hypermasculinity, which as men, we participate in consciously and unconsciously, actively and passively. So does it happen in our hobby? Absolutely. Do we contribute to the problem? Most definitely.

Reactions? Pure shock. Many folks (men) are shocked… then outraged at the idea that harassment and sexual violence could be happening in the hobby and quickly jump to the “this is not our values” place. While this seems like a good thing to say, what it really does is exclude those folks experiencing harassment and sexual violence from those spaces as well as silencing their voice. Effectively, blaming the folks who are victims and survivors of violence for the violence perpetrated against them. That fact is, this stuff is happening in our spaces. Not every space (even though that is not the point), but it is happening! And not as a one off experience. Many women and genderqueer/gender non-binary folks have spoken out about harassment and sexual violence in the hobby and many more have not yet reported or shared their experience (see again why sexual violence is one of the most under-reported crime). Sexual violence perpetrated by men is a systemic and cultural issue. So on some level, the culture of board gaming must be supporting the values that allows for sexual violence. That’s hard to accept right? Because we all think of ourselves as “good guys.” Well, honestly, that is not enough, simply being good guys.

It’s the microagressions (sexist and racist jokes and other comments or actions that target a marginalized group of people) that creates space for more egregious macroaggressions (systemic exclusion of marginalized communities and cultural sexual violence). One supports the other. Either engaging in or standing by while a group or community continues to perpetuate hate and oppressive views, maintains the status quo, while we’re over here just being “good guys.” The root of any sexist joke is to show women as lesser, as objects, as only having value in certain situations. You may be ‘joking’ but these jokes provide a look into the reality of how many people think of women in our country. Without challenge, these jokes, statements, and actions become what is ‘normal.’  Can I even be a ‘good guy’ while I stand by and let this culture happen in my game group? I don’t even know what being a ‘good guy’ means, but I think passivity in this case helps support our oppressive culture. What I do know is truly being an ally to and advocate for other gender identities is to actively work against traditional culture that continues to privilege men and oppress women and trans* people. 

Own your identity. Those of us who identify with men, we have to own it. It’s going to be okay, we’re going to make it through (again, fragile masculinity). A little challenge in our life, a little discomfort, is just a drop in the bucket compared to what our women and trans* community members face every single day. We are so afraid that engaging in something that is not traditionally masculine (see, toxic), because we think it will devalue and hurt our masculinity, especially around other men. Why is standing up against sexual violence seen as anti-men?  When I say own your identity, I mean it, but in a healthy way. Masculinity is not healthy right now. Only men can start changing the culture around masculinity.

I know I fail to speak out, I know I am not perfect in this work. I constantly have to reflect on myself to figure out what healthy masculinity means for me. I need to be vigilant in order to resist a lot of the pitfalls of traditional masculinity. Then I need to use my voice and be intentional about confronting sexism and hypermasculinity (not just in gaming spaces) because I know I have the privilege to remain silent. I need to be more accountable to the community I care about.

Men in tabletop gaming, we have a problem. Our community is hurting. Our community is telling us why it’s hurting. We have the power and privilege to start dialogues about these issues and how we can start changing them to be safer and more inclusive. We don’t have time to coddle fragile masculinity. We must step into the discomfort if we truly care about our community and our hobby and take a stand against violence targeting marginalized people. What is next for you as a board gamer?



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