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 where I feel uncomfortable. But as a woman who puts out content in the tabletop community it seems wrong for me not to say something on the topic. So I guess I’m going there after all…
Let me start by saying that I’m not a very social gamer outside of my (very small) circle and I haven’t had any personal experiences yet of feeling excluded or harassed within the board game community. But the reason I haven’t stepped outside of my inner circle as of yet 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 confront someone about it. I’m not afraid 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 tabletop gaming, and interacting with strangers. It’s The Fear.
It’s so frustrating. Why should I feel threatened? 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 so often. Because of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, and other reasons that still make say ‘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 a lot of 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 we shouldn’t ignore it.
I’m no stranger to experiences of harassment and bullying, and I do not take it lightly. I’ve worked in and been involved with quite a few different industries and ‘scenes’ (I hate that word but you get my meaning) in my 33 years, and here are some personal things that I have experienced… (and this illustrates a point at the end so bear with me!)
Note: the following is all pretty grim, with themes of bullying and sexual harassment.
I have had several incidences of harassment, mainly in my late teens- early 20s but as recently as 2014 when I was pregnant. For the three years I played in my band I was subject to ridicule every time we played gigs because apparently the guys in our area didn’t think women should play guitar in public. I was verbally harassed on a bus ride home from my boyfriend’s and then tailed on the walk home by another guy on a motorbike. I had a co-worker in my first job tell people I was sleeping with him (and a slew of other lies, including a fictional date we went on!) because I politely turned down an actual date with him and he didn’t like me very much for it. And this resulted in weeks of threats, gossip and accusations from other co-workers (such as I had various STIs, I was a home wrecker etc) making my working day hell. I had to confront him on several occasions, and talk to management every single day to try to put a stop to it (which never actually happened and I left that job for a better one, so FUCK that guy and the shitty management.) I had a guy sit next to me, touch me and flash me on an empty train carriage (in the middle of the afternoon). That was the worst, but I’ve actually lost count of how many times i’ve been ‘chatted’ up, touched without consent and generally made to feel uncomfortable across my years of commuting to different jobs. I was subject to the manager at my last job telling a customer that he was going to bend me over and spank me ( and errrr I was 6 months pregnant at the time) which meant that again, I was calling and emailing HR to file complaints every single shift. He literally couldn’t stop being offensive and inappropriate in those last couple of months before my maternity leave, and I just didn’t understand why he couldn’t just leave me alone to do my job. Since having my daughter two years ago, lets just say I have become a hermit for the most part. I know you’re probably thinking that this is a ludicrous amount of incidents for one person, but this is about 17 years worth of various bullshit at varying levels right there.
I’m not telling you this to ask for sympathy or to bash men, these were very specific occasions where bad stuff happened with bad people. But it’s to demonstrate the point; I have fought against this kind of thing so damn often over the years and I just I feel like I’m done now. I’m hiding, I’m in my bubble, I’m ok with that. But when I hear of people harassing and belittling other people in my beloved world of board gaming, I am really fucking angry, discouraged and scared. And i’m not ok with that.
On a personal level, I try to surround myself with good, friendly, safe people. My aim is to attend more cons, get involved, moved past my fear and continue doing my thing. 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 I must have my guard up a bit. There we go again, it shouldn’t really be that way should it? But for me at least, and for many others that’s the way it’s always been.
I won’t change the way I dress or act, in the sense that I’m not going to stop wearing cute clothes or change my fundamentally dorky personality to fit in. If people think badly of me for those things then… okay! I know it doesn’t make me any less of a knowledgeable tabletop gamer, or an unworthy gaming opponent if I wear a dress instead of a t shirt one day, or giggle like a maniac at silly jokes. I respect others for how they choose to dress or behave if it’s not harmful to anyone. We may not necessarily click or get on like a house on fire on a personal one-to-one level. And that’s ok, that’s normal. You don’t always get on with another person just because they’re into the same stuff as you, you might not be their cup of tea and vice versa. You can just be respectful toward one another and go about your lives.
So when a person or a group of people are deliberately excluding, belittlting, harassing or targeting individuals online- whether it’s because of their gender, sexuality, ethnicity, appearance or background, or any number of things- what can we do? Whether it’s online, or at con or at games store, how can we move forward? Here’s the tricky part in my opinion: you can’t force people to change sometimes, no matter how archaic their views or attitudes are. You can state your point of view, try and start a dialogue, attempt to get to get to the heart of the matter… and sometimes find it just isn’t worth your energy. But you can acknowledge it is happening, and you can say ‘this isn’t ok’, talk about it and let others around you know what’s happening. Saying ‘shut up and get over it’ or ‘well it hasn’t happened to me so therefore it isn’t a problem’ is definitely not the answer. I’ve noticed this past year that more high profile designers, publishers and content creators are speaking up and spreading awareness that this is a thing and shouldn’t be ignored, and it won’t be tolerated. Sometimes (and hopefully) these attitudes will catch on and more people will become aware, and self aware, and in turn evolved ways to exist in the community will start to grow.
Don’t stand for any bullshit. These kinds of people will always exist in a community, they always have, but we can still say ‘you’re not going to get away with your shit here, it’s not going to be tolerated, and we’re not going anywhere’. Social media moderators and con staff need to be hyper-aware, and generally I think we all kind of do. I think that’s where the land lies right now; spreading awareness, speaking up and respecting each other.