To Mate or not Team-mate

This is the post I never intended writing. I’ve never been comfortable exposing my private thoughts or talking about what makes me tick. However a couple of recent posts struck a cord with me and I wondered if seeing my thoughts on “paper” would help me get a better understanding of them.

First though, I want to go back a few years.

When I was little I wanted to be fighter pilot. My parents have pictures I drew as early as four or five of a multi coloured stick person sitting on a rocket which I swore was a realistic rendering of a plane. If anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my reply was always the same, I’m going to fly. Helicopters, planes, it didn’t matter, if they could fly I wanted a ride. That feeling in your stomach as you soar into the clouds, watching the world fall way beneath you, it was like a drug to me. When we flew commercial, in the days before Sept 11th, I’d charm my way into the cockpit so I could see what they saw, watching their hands move across the instruments. I grew up on a series of Air Force bases and my father’s squadrons always had a laid back attitude towards kids so I spent summers hanging out by runways and playing in hangars. I suppose I should have seen it then, the look on their faces when carefree I told them what I wanted to be. Maybe I did and I just ignored it, after all I’d always got my own way on everything else.

I was fifteen years old and sitting in the cockpit of a Tornado. I was joking around with one of the engineers about how the plane could have been designed for me . Just enough leg room for my legs, perfect width for my shoulders. He grinned and said “pity you’re a girl otherwise it could have been yours in a few years time”. I guess he saw the look on my face because he added “they call it a cockpit for a reason” loud enough for it to echo around the hangar.  Everyone else laughed and I could feel my anger starting to tick over like an engine. Someone added “Besides, you’d only want to paint it pink, girls have no place in the military”. Overcoming the urge to kill the lot of them, I got out of that plane so fast, I tore a strip of skin from my thigh, my world crashing and burning around me.

That was lesson one. It didn’t matter how much I knew about the planes, it didn’t matter that I could have probably put one together again in my sleep because I’d studied the manuals over and over again at home. It didn’t matter what I was like inside, they only saw the exterior, they saw a female and that’s where it stopped. I hated myself for a while after that.

Lesson two came after I left University. My first “proper” job involved interviewing foreign nationals for a Government department. A lot of the men who came through the door of the interview room couldn’t believe that “this slip of a girl with a voice like a whore” had any official power over them (and yes that’s a direct quote). Sometimes even before I got to open my mouth, they had made up their mind about me because of my gender. I shouldn’t be there, I was taking the job of a man, I was clearly deviant (because I wasn’t wearing a wedding ring). Every other day, there was some guy attempting to come on to me or calling me names or quite often doing both at the same time.

Again, people were only seeing what was on the outside. Only seeing the fact that I was a woman and judging me wanting because of that.

Which brings me to WoW. One of the things I love about Azeroth is the anonymity. The randoms I play with have no idea of whether I’m a sixteen year old boy, a highly evolved cat smugly bouncing on the keyboard or a woman. They have to judge me solely on one thing, my ability to play and that’s all that matters. Can I stay out of the fire, can I keep people alive under pressure, can I keep myself alive with four dpsers trying to squish my gnome into little pieces. The rest is irrelevant.

I don’t hide my gender, I make no secret of being female here in my own personal space. There is even a picture of me somewhere on the blog. Whenever I join a “new” guild though, I don’t broadcast the fact until I’m comfortable being there. Until people know me as a good player first and foremost. Given the “voice like a whore” I really do try and not speak on vent unless pushed because I hate the combination of my accent and the huskiness of my voice. I also hate speaking on the phone at work for the same reason.

Anyway, this is where it gets weird.

I was in Isle of Conquest. It was one of those games, the long drawn out ones where everyone is on defence. We’d just cleared the Horde out of our Keep courtyard when I spotted a lone warrior going 1 v 3 outside. Now being a “team player”, I popped outside and helped him which is where the trouble began. In battleground chat, the warrior said “Thanks Sprout”, to which I replied with  a quick “Np” and returned to victimising a passing Goblin hunter I’d found. The warrior (clearly the politest WoW player out there), added an extra “thanks mate” and that’s where things went downhill fast in a rather surreal fashion.

Someone I vaguely know from the PvP forums launched into what can be best described as a “rant” aimed at both me and the warrior. By not correcting his/her “mate” I was letting every other woman who plays WoW down. I should have been yelling my gender from the rooftops because this was an opportunity to prove to all these male troglodytes out there that women can play. I was so stunned my goblin prey almost managed to escape alive.

The warrior drew their ire because he or she had assumed I was male (due to their usage of “mate”). Now I played hockey at school and my friends and I called each other “mate” all the time. It was short for “team-mate” and based on that, the warrior was perfectly right to call me that. I was a team-mate, the only one who came to help in fact.

Of course battleground chat devolved at this point with the “troglodytes” revealing themselves. In fact we lost because people were so busy arguing about whether women could play or not, they didn’t notice the Horde knocking down the gate and killing the boss. Later on, standing in Stormwind I was rather bemused by the whole thing. Experience has taught me that revealing my gender tends to come with negatives, people hitting on you, people making assumptions about you and I hate that. I am so much more than the sum of my parts but am I doing it wrong?

On the one hand I feel that by mentioning my gender, whether it’s to say “Look didn’t I do awesome and btw I’m a girl” or to taunt the bad tempered lv 1 who just got his or her ass kicked in PvP that I’m diminishing women even further. Guys don’t bring up the fact that they are guys so why should women do it? I know plenty of females who play computer games, it’s  not as if we’re mysterious and special snowflakes. I am good at the game, I know that and I feel that adding “and I’m a girl” as my acquaintance wanted me to only encourages people to think that I feel gender is important in a game of all places and worse, that I performed well despite my gender. WoW is an equal playing field, my husband is bigger and stronger than me but I can still kick his ass in a duel because his size and strength doesn’t matter. Also to reverse it, anyone saying “you played well, for a girl” is definitely being insulting but yet she was asking me to insult my gender under the guise of standing up for it, by saying basically “I did well even though my gender is subpar”.

On the other, posts like O’s, Navi’s and of course pretty much everything Apple Cider writes makes me wonder if I am doing it wrong. If by ignoring or trying to sideline a part of who I am because of all my negative experiences, I’m subconsciously encouraging the cycle of abuse.

I excused my silence on the grounds that one voice won’t make a difference. That even if I manage to convince one guy that women can play computer games, drive cars and do all the other things we get accused of being bad at, they won’t see that as being all women. As someone said to me recently, “you’re just the exception which proves the rule”. Then I realised something when I was writing this post, something so fundamental I’m not sure how I missed it the first time around. It’s not just about being one voice in the darkness because when we compare experiences, most of us tell the same story. Different voices, different accents, different languages but the words are the same.

Will I be telling random people randomly that I’m female, no (because that’s just weird) but I am going to stand up for myself more. If people have a problem with women, that’s not my problem, it’s theirs.

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29 Responses

  1. Out of curiosities, I done looked up the definition of “mate”. Lotta different meanings, includings “A person with whom one is in close association; an associate.” None what said “men onlies”.

    Not havin’ been through yer experiences, I ain’t gonna have an opinion on whethers yer doin’ it right or not. But I do solidly supports everyone’s right fer ta stand up fer theyselves, when they choose ta.

    • That’s basically been my take on it. I think they’d have had a better leg to stand on if the warrior had used “dude” or something similar but “mate”…

      Although the city I currently live in, all the locals call everyone “pal” regardless of gender.

  2. I think you were totally correct to not declare yourself as female. Not only because I think “mate” is one of those few terms that is pretty gender ambiguous, but because drawing attention to it makes it a bigger deal. Like, it shouldn’t be a big deal if a girl is awesome at the game, just like it isn’t a big deal with a guy is. I guess it might change an opinion or two, but it’s far more likely that by correcting someone’s ‘mate you’ll only reinforce negative stereotypes. That’s the way I always go about it. I never tell people I’m a woman unless they ask. If someone find out and is like “omg girl!” I always try to make it seem like no big deal (because it shouldn’t be).

    That being said, the sexism you experienced in from the military is horrifying. Stuff like that makes me so angry. :{

    • What makes it worse is some of those guys laughing in that hangar had known me since I was a baby. They came to my parent’s house for drinks, I babysat for some of their kids, one guy helped me with my physics homework.

  3. The first part of your post is absolutely crushing. I saw red reading about people laughing at you because your dream seemed mutually exclusive with being a woman in their eyes. My only appropriate response goes something like “FFFFF—!”

    I think you were right not to make a big issue of your gender just because the guy called you “mate.” Sometimes in a pug if someone calls me “bro” I might say “Actually, ‘sis,'” or something, because I’m certainly not ashamed of being a woman, but a BG isn’t the time or place! Even if someone called me bro I’d probably just let it slide because it’s a huge public chat with 9/14/whatever people who are focusing on trying to actually win the game. It doesn’t matter what I have in my pants, likewise I don’t care what’s in theirs.

    It further upsets me that people have said such horrible things about your voice and made you self-conscious about it. I have a deeper voice for a woman and someone on Vent once asked if I was a ‘guy or a girl’ because ‘I can’t tell.’ I’m not sure why people think it’s okay to comment on something so intensely personal, whether positively or negatively, it seems poised to inspire discomfort.

    Finally, not sure how I managed this oversight such that I haven’t visited your blog before! Clearly needed on my blogroll. :D

    • Thanks for your support. I came so close to not posting this because whenever I tried to talk about those experiences before, people have always implied that it was my fault (said engineer used to call me Jailbait), or that I in some way deserved it or that in the case of the people I was interviewing it was just a cultural clash and I had to get on with it (my then boss).

  4. I think everyone has the right to decide, for themselves, their level of activism. I’ve been known to correct other players about my gender from time to time, but usually only when I intend to have a continuing relationship of some kind with that player. It is hard to find a language that has true gender neutrality/equality built in, and because there is no flubbergubbin way for people to know my gender, I find it hard to take offense at people choosing guy or gal randomly from the hat.

    • I don’t intend going “Hi, I’m going to be your healing for this random dungeon/raid/battleground and I’m a girl” but I do think I’ve tried to ignore so much of the stuff which turns my stomach because I was afraid of drawing negative attention to myself. When I was an officer in a raiding guild, rather than standing up for others, I didn’t say anything when people were spamming chat with rape jokes or any of the crap I’m uncomfortable with. Looking back, I do feel bad about that, I let my own fears and past experiences colour the way I dealt or rather didn’t deal with issues so that’s the bit I really want to try and change.

      Having been basically bullied myself for being female, I don’t want anyone else to go through that if I can help it.

  5. I actually find it off when someone feels the need to loudly proclaim their femaleness as a total non sequitur.

    This stuck in my mind from a while back:
    I was in a dungeon and noticed the healer was low on mana. So I stopped (was tanking) and said, “Mana, guys.”

    The healer gets indignant and says, “FYI: I’m a girl, not a guy!”

    Just really.

    P. S. I’m female, too, but it doesn’t affect my avatar’s performance in the game whatsoever, so I don’t give an eff if I’m lumped in a common “Hey, guys” or “mate”. When one starts picking apart common colloquialisms just for an excuse to announce that one is female, it doesn’t look like just plain not-ashamed-to-be-female to me. It screams of attention whoring.

    P. P. S. As for that pilot, I’d like to say something to him about how you know a pit is a hole or cavity where something was removed, right? So a cockpit would be…

    • Your P.P.S made me smile.

      I must admit I tend to think anyone who randomly inserts the fact that their female into conversation has to be a 13 year old boy out to make mischief. But then, experience has made me horribly cynical.

  6. Oh Erinys. I’ve read a lot of the posts on this subject lately and I am sitting here shaking with an excess of adrenaline from the “fight or flight” reaction I got from that … cockpit remark. I want to go back in history and tear that fucker’s throat out. And this is why I don’t usually comment on such things. I become decidedly unladylike. But I can’t help but think that little girl would have made a wonderful pilot if the world had been just a little different.

    I never think to declare my gender as I really don’t think about it much, I’m just me. And I generally call everyone “guys” even if we’re all female and I’ve always taken “mate” as a friendly expression like “friend.”

    I don’t really think of people by gender, just friend or foe, kind or jackass, ignorant or enlightened. Women or men can feel free to think I’m subpar at something but it damn well better be because I’m me, not because I’m female or fat or thin or brown or white or old or young.

    Sorry for my lapse of decorum. Will behave now.

  7. I just want to say thank you to all of you who commented, said things on twitter and/or retweeted this post.

    Your kind words mean a lot to me.

  8. Very good post and interesting to hear other’s stories about this topic. Think I wrote one myself last year but I see there are many new posts about it now these days. It makes me sad and angry to read what happened to you about the flying and the job, had no idea grown up people could say insulting things like that without even caring.

    I’ve never really wanted people to know that I’m a girl in WoW either cause some irl friends told others and then I got many weird comments and reactions which I didn’t like, but now I’m in a guild with people I know so well and they treat me just like anyone else which is what I want.

    • Thanks.
      I think that was sort of a tipping point, the fact that virtually everyone seems to have their own story. It’s not just one isolated case, it’s incident after incident.

  9. Hi Erinys,

    Sorry it took me so long to reply to this. I read and re-read this a couple of times, because I wasn’t quite sure what to say. But I knew I had to say something.

    I’m all about visibility – as a woman, as a trans woman, as being Jewish, etc. I think that it’s harder for people to deny you or to make you feel irrelevant when they can’t make you go away. I have been really lucky in my time playing World of Warcraft in that I have been surrounded mostly by people who want to see strong women playing the game. They love when a woman is assertive and can make her presence felt.

    So for every one person that says you can’t do something or you shouldn’t do something, there are at least two who want you to take a stand and be good at what you do. Unfortunately, we may not hear them as loudly as we may hear our critics.

    No matter what happens, I always tell people to stay visible. By you putting yourself out there you could be inspiring another woman who is staying quiet because she thinks there is nobody else like her out there. I really think every woman can make a difference and that’s what I like seeing us do.

    This was a wonderful, emotionally vibrant post and I’m really glad that you wrote it. Thanks, Erinys.

    • Thank you for helping to inspire me. It’s not just this particular post, I’ve always admired you for your ability to be so honest and upfront about things.

  10. Erinys I thought I replied this but I must have not entered it correctly coz I come back and there are heaps of replies!!!

    I have to say I wouldn’t even think twice about mate, but I do correct when I’m called Bro. Even thanks Man, I don’t even bother correcting. I think I”m with you, I won’t go around proclaiming I”m female but I will correct them if they call me the wrong sex. I am actually not afraid of telling people, so I wonder why I just let it slide. I guess, because in my mind it really DOESN’T matter if I’m a guy or a girl, I’m just a person and we are all people who play world of warcraft.

  11. [...] jackasses to each other. What got me in the irate, raging, fuckity mood was the comments made to a 15 year old girl who dreamed of being a pilot. I usually try to remain calm and see things from both sides but that remark made me think that [...]

  12. Just read this–excellent post. You stated my point better, about the other side knocking down the walls while the group was arguing amongst itself.

    My hackles originally got raised when anyone mentions doing anything because they are a [fill in the blank]. None of can escape who we are, but those things we did not choose should be ever be dictates of others.

    Very interesing discussion, through the lens of gaming, and the greater world beyond. Thank you!

  13. I finally got around to sitting down and reading this. I can see where the “OMG HOW DARE YOU ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE MISGENDERED” thing is coming from. It’s exceptionally hard to know how to inspire other women to be more present, but like all things that require social awareness and a bit of recklessness, it’s up to a person if ze want to reveal their gender. However, I do look critically at how male-normative all our terms and discussion is in WOW. When someone misgenders me in a dungeon, I correct them. That’s it. Just “Oh he can sheep that” “she” and so on. That’s it. I just kinda slip it in there unless the discussion is more in-depth. It’s a hard see-saw to be on between wanting the ideal of men thinking about what they say to women in-game and allowing other women to choose how far they want to express their gender in-game. It can be pretty intense or anxiety-inducing! So the anger should be directed at the men, not the women.

    Anyways, thank you for writing this. I don’t think you’re doing it “wrong” – there’s nuances here that aren’t just right or wrong. There’s comfort levels, accepting the current situation and having real critical looks at ourselves. I think you’re pretty keen.

    • Thank you for reading it.

      I have to admit that recent developments both in the blogosphere and in the world outside Azeroth are making me feel I want to be a lot more open. I’m still not sure whether I’ll correct people in battlegrounds (after all there is enough name calling there already) but I’m not going to shy away from speaking on vent and nor am I going to let people I play with regularly/semi regularly keep thinking I’m a guy.

  14. [...] work and blog focus being mocked and derided, but the fact that these things were coming out after significant posts about people’s experiences had been expressed (including my own.) It shocks me when people tend to shrug off things that don’t directly [...]

  15. I’ve never considered mate or mates to be a gender based term, but then maybe my experience in Australia is we are all mates.

    I admittedly carry that gender neutral attitude across “guys” and “fellas” – while I know that in origin they refer to males, it’s not the usage I have seen over 40 odd years.

    That said, I have always respected a persons right to not be lumped in with the generic collective term I (or anyone else) am using.

    I think the difficulty often then lies in what the alternative collective term is. Appreciating that you may not want to be one of the guys, fellas, mates, whatevers, what do we use.

    I have always thought gentlemen & ladies somewhat patronizing (and I couldn’t count the number I times I’ve been told “don’t call me lady”, likewise I fear it would be worse to say “mates and girl”.
    How should I approach it & if the need is felt to highlight the exclusion of yourself from a “neutral collective term”, is there a need to provide an alternative term?

    As your your destroyed piloting dreams, it just makes me fucking angry. I guess once again I have been fortunate to have worked in environments where equal opportunity was just that, on merit, where women were just as strong and powerful role models as men.

    • I fully admit I tend to not think there is anything wrong with “guys”, my friends have always used that and “mate” as all encompassing terms. In the work environment, I don’t have too much of an issue with “ladies and gentlemen”, but in game it seems a bit too formal?

      As for the piloting, I still get angry thinking back but sometimes I wonder if they did me a favour. My nickname as a 12 year on my Father’s squadron was “Lolita” or “Jailbait”. I remember being made to sit on Santa’s knee one Christmas when I was a 14 or so (Santa was one of the younger pilots) and his hands finding their way to my breasts. If they were willing to treat the daughter of someone they called a “friend” and a “brother” like that, what would they have done to me had they been in a position of power over me, if my promotion prospects were in their hands.

      I have complete respect for women who can battle through stuff like that in the workplace, but I suspect my adult response would have been one of two things, neither positive. To resort to violence or to blame myself. It’s likely either way someone would have got hurt.

  16. [...] makes reference to another article from Harpy’s Nest here. In short, a 15 yr old girl is told how as a girl she could never be a fighter pilot and that the [...]

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