Please note: This gets into some grim, personal stuff, and if you’re just here for the board games then it’s ok, I understand.
I’ve been trying to write this piece for some time. This subject is difficult for me, for a number of reasons, and when I go down this path it takes me to a place I don’t want to be. But as a woman who distributes content in the tabletop community, even on a minor scale i.e. I’m not very well known, I don’t have thousands of followers or subscribers, but you get my meaning, I’m still here regardless and it seems wrong for me not to say my piece on the topic. So…I guess I’m going there after all…
For a start it’s hard for me to write about inclusivity in a sense, as I’m not a very social gamer outside of my circle and thus far I haven’t had any personal experiences of feeling excluded or harassed. But the reason I haven’t demonstrates my point; I’m scared, and that’s not right that I should feel that way. But I do. I am dreading the day it happens to me, and I’m sure it will. I feel like my time is coming, like I’ve ‘got away with it’ for too long, and when it does I’ll have to front someone up about it. I’m not shy to do that, I just hate the fact that I’d have to. So the subject of inclusivity is the very thing holding me back; from being more present in the real life world of table top gaming, and interacting with strangers. It’s The Fear.
It’s so frustrating. Why should I feel threatened or scared? I love the hobby just as much as the next person, it’s supposed to be about having fun and interacting, being a woman shouldn’t make a difference to anything. But I hear about it happening often, far too often. Not just threats and dangers to women, but people of different ethnicities, disabilities and sexual orientation being targeted. My response is usually one of ‘What the actual fuck?’ Why would somebody say that/do that/behave that way?’ But these things do happen. Perhaps not to everyone but to some people. On the other side of the coin, not everyone is putting out nasty negative vibes or doing bad things. But again, some people are. These are the people really spoiling it for everyone else and it’s our responsibility not to ignore it.
I’m no stranger to bad experiences and I do not take it lightly. It’s very much the case that in every community, every hobby, and every culture there just is a specific brand of arsehole, narrow-minded bigots and dangerous people. I’ve worked in and been involved with quite a few different industries and ‘scenes’ in my 33 years. For the three years I played in my band (in the early ’00s) and I experienced nothing but pathetic old hat sexism that showed me that there was no progression for women in rock music, at all. I worked in jobs where I was belittled and objectified, I had stand up for myself, argue my case and prove myself every single day. I have had several cases of sexual harassment, mainly in my early 20’s but as recently as 2014 when I was pregnant. To name a few: when I was 15 I was grabbed and nearly pulled into a moving vehicle. I was verbally harassed on the bus ride home from my boyfriend’s, and on the walk home after that a bloke tailed me to my doorstep on a motorbike shouting obscene things at me (a different person from the guy on the bus). Because I looked cute, it was a hot day and I was wearing a short skirt. I had a guy in my first job tell people I was sleeping with him and another slew of lies, because I politely turned down a date with him and he didn’t like me very much for it. Resulting in weeks of threats, gossip and accusations from other co-workers, making my working day a living hell. I had to front him up on several occasions, and talk to management every single day to try to put a stop to it. I was assaulted by a cab driver on my way home from a night out. I have been flashed and groped on an empty train carriage, and pestered and harassed as a commuter travelling into London. I was subject to the manager at my last job telling a customer in the store (along with several other incidents over the space of a few months) that he was going to bend me over and spank me (as this wasn’t vomit inducing enough, I was also 6 months pregnant at the time) which meant that again, I was calling and emailing HR and filing complaints every single shift. I’m not telling you this to garner sympathy or to bash men, these were very specific occasions where bad stuff happened with bad people, and I’ve met many great people before and since, men and women. But it’s to demonstrate; I have fought against this kind of thing so often over the years, and now having been dealing with a major anxiety and depression disorder in and of itself I feel like I’m done. I’m hiding from life. So when I hear of people harassing, belittling and being shit to other people in my beloved world of board gaming, I am really fucking angry, discouraged and scared.
So what’s the solution? For me personally, I try to surround myself with good, friendly, safe people. I mostly use platforms that haven’t got a reputation for people tearing each other to shreds. But really, putting myself in only safe nice places and shutting out the rest isn’t a great help, it’s still hiding. My personal aim is to attend more cons and get more involved. Get lots of advice and make sure I’m going to be around a few key people whom I feel safe with. If I am harassed or made to feel excluded, or anything negative should come my way I will be prepared. Which is sad really, but you have to be prepared and have your guard up a bit. There we go again, it shouldn’t really be that way should it? But that’s life, having to be prepared for the worst just in case. But, I will stand with anyone who feels the same way, I will unconditionally stand up for anyone who I see or hear being excluded or hurt by others. I will be there for you and I will help if you need me.
I will not change the way I dress, or act, in the sense that I’m not going to stop wearing cute clothes, or changing my fundamentally dorky personality to fit in. If people think I’m a silly tart, fine, it doesn’t make me any less of a knowledgeable tabletopper, or an unworthy opponent if I wear a dress instead of a t shirt, or laugh like a drain at dumb jokes, and it’s not hurting anyone. Just like I respect and don’t judge others for how they choose to dress or behave if it’s not harmful or nasty to anyone. We might not necessarily click or get on like a house on fire. And that’s ok, that’s normal. You don’t always like someone just because they’re into the same stuff as you, and that’s also ok. As long as you’re being respectful to each other.
Here’s the tricky part when it comes to the perpetrators of bullying or sexism, or homophobia etc., the thing is, you can’t force people to change. You can argue your point, tell them why they are incorrect, you can spell it out in as many ways as you can think of, but sometimes you just cannot change some people, no matter how archaic their views or attitudes. But it doesn’t mean we have to accept it either, whether it’s on a forum, or at a con. But you can’t silence people either; no matter how much shit they talk. So what is the way forward? I don’t think I have a definite answer right now but I have a suggestion: Awareness. More and more high profile designers, publishers and content creators are speaking up, spreading awareness that this is a thing that shouldn’t be ignored, and it won’t be tolerated. Pretending it isn’t happening, and saying ‘shut up and get over it’ or ‘well it hasn’t happened to me so it’s not a problem’ is definitely not the answer. This is the worst thing you can do.
So my suggestion is this- wherever you’re at, don’t stand for any bullshit, defend yourself and others, be a safe person for people to interact with. Accept that even though you cannot change or silence others, you don’t have to agree with them or like it or put up with it. These douche bags have always been and will always be, but we can still say ‘stop, you’re not going to get away with your shit here, it’s simply not going to fly. If you really feel the need to be gross, racist, sexist, homophobic, whatever, check it at the door or expect that others aren’t going to put up with it.’ People who moderate forums or social media, or staff at cons need to be like hyper aware, and generally I think we all kind of do, and I think that’s where it lies right now; spreading awareness, the notion of respect, positivity, and ultimately, cliché as it may sound, being a decent fucking person to each other.
I think I’m done. I don’t think I’ve said anything particularly prolific or ‘new’, but they are my thoughts. I’ll be writing something on objectivity and the representation of minorities in tabletop gaming next week. Then I’m done, for this year anyway! Thanks for reading.