When I was younger, I grew up in a neighbourhood full of boys. Naturally, I engaged in activities that were typically associated with “males” rather than females. Instead of staying inside playing with doll houses, I was outside playing street hockey or basketball with the neighbourhood boys. Instead of buying an Easy-Bake Oven, I collected trading cards of all sorts: Pokemon, Digimon, Yu-Gi-Oh—you name it; and when Nintendo 64, Play Station and X-Box came out, I was on top of it, buying the latest Nintendo systems and getting my game on so I can beat those neighbourhood guy friends of mine.
I never realized the gender divide in gaming at that age until one of my classmates pointed it out at school. "Catherine, how did you beat Super Mario 64 already? Matt hasn’t even done that yet and I mean, you’re a girl!” Being a tomboy as a youngster, I didn’t question his remark that much. I did not scruple about why my gender had anything to do with it. I did not consider it to be an offensive or sexist remark either, so I replied, “Yes, I’m a girl and you’re a boy. Since this is out of the way, I beat the game with pure hard work, bud and so can you.” However, after this little ‘wake-up call’, I started to question if it was alright to play video games as a girl if the other girls did not engage with it. What activities should I engage in if I wanted to ‘act’ more like a girl and play with the other girls?
This moment in my life truly resonated with what Bray (2007) was saying about how “technical skills and domains of expertise are divided between and within the sexes, shaping masculinities and femininities” (p. 38). Playing with technology, be it computers or video games, were signs of masculinity while playing with dolls or having tea parties were associated with femininity. If I wanted to act more feminine, then I had to conform and engage with what other females did and gaming was not exactly what the other girls my age did. So, in the name of making more female friends, I said goodbye to gaming consoles and hello to some new dolls.
Accordingly, Bray (2007) highlights how this "modernist association of technology with masculinity translates into everyday experiences of gender, historical narratives, employment practices, education, the design of new technologies, and the distribution of power.” Yet, what can we do to counter or rewrite this ‘gendered’ association with technology? I mean, technology is not exclusively for males - anyone, whether male or female, young or old - can learn how to use it and engage with it. So, why, after at least a decade or more since the computer has been released and since video games were developed for consumption, are technology and video games still geared towards and associated with males? Why do males thrive in STEM careers and are predominant in the gaming industry? Is it because males tend to be the main consumers or users? And if this is true, what can we do to expand the audiences of these technologies to include females as well?
Although there are a quite a few females that are part of the gaming community, people have some pretty misogynistic perceptions of them. I stumbled upon a ‘feminist gamer bingo’ depicting some of these stereotypical attitudes that people have towards feminism, feminists and females in gaming. As you can see, none of them are exactly positive with most comments relating to sex, sexism, the traditional female role as a domestic and female hyper-sensitivity.
Jenson and de Castell (2014) further investigate these questions when they describe the Feminist in Games (FiG) movement as an example of how women can have voices and speak up against the misogyny that dominates most of the gaming world. FiG ultimately demonstrates that while women’s voices were encouraged to be silenced throughout history, as Odysseus silenced Penelope whose world seemed to revolve around him, women do possess the power to change the way games are perceived and how they can be designed to be more inclusive and diverse. When I think back to when I was younger, I never really met or saw any other females who were into gaming. If I did, I definitely would not have left the gaming world. Seeing more of a female presence in gaming makes a huge difference towards one's attitudes towards gaming and technology and may transform what 'femininities' can include. We really do need more organizations like FiG that provide opportunities for women to voice their opinions, desires and plans to transform other people’s misogynistic perceptions towards gaming and females as gamers as well as start to create an environment where females feel safe and welcomed to engage in gaming rather than discouraged.
Lastly, Jenson and de Castell (2014) mention how at one of the FiG conferences, their discussion centred on “intersectionality” and "how gender is just one intersecting point for oppression along with ethnicity, sexuality, ability, class, and other historical bases for subordination" (p. 193). While there are some movements that advocate for the voice of women in gaming, the sad reality is that gender is not the only point of oppression. Many groups and voices alongside those of women are being subordinated, excluded and silenced. Unfortunately, there are not enough games that deal with other social justice and equity issues concerning ethnicity, sexuality, ability and class to say the least and it is definitely an area that game designers have to work on.