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.