Are Female-Oriented Communities or Publications Sexist?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: No, and here’s why.

Let’s start with a definition of what sexism actually is: prejudice + power. In this case, prejudice based on gender. The linked article explains that while individual women can discriminate based on gender against men, women simply don’t have the power as a group to be sexist against men. In other words, when feminists talk about sexism, they aren’t usually referring to individual acts of explicit gender-based discrimination, but to the greater societal system that conveys certain privileges upon men just for being born male.

I’m writing this post because a little while ago, I received a comment about Cerise that said by being labeled a gaming magazine for women, it “discriminates against 50% of the world’s population” and that “sexism goes both ways.” The comment was snarky and meant more as a personal attack than an actual concern, but I think it’s a point that should be addressed (if only for my own education at this point).

Because here’s the thing: sexism can’t go both ways, for the major reason briefly outlined above. Certainly not in the way meant by the comment, which is that a magazine aimed at female gamers is somehow sexist against men.

The reason that claim is ridiculous is that in the gaming world women have extremely little power, especially when it comes to online publications and communities. Go to any major “general” gaming site–GameSpot, Joystiq, Kotaku, IGN, 1UP, etc,–and count how many female editors or contributors there are. Most gaming sites have a token woman or two. Joystiq has zero. The only site I can think of that has more than a handful of female contributors is GamerTell, and even there all of the people in charge are male.

One reason for this I’ve been told is that more men play video games than women. This may have been true in the past, but it is rapidly becoming outdated. Regardless, men clearly have more say as a group in the world of video games. It is the male audience that is catered to (and specifically an assumed white, straight, young, cisgendered male audience). Women and girls are treated differently in gaming communities*: their opinions and concerns are dismissed, their gamer credentials are questioned, and they are targets of sexual harassment. Moreover, male-dominated communities are hostile to women even if most of the members believe there aren’t any women present at all: they make sexual and/or violent jokes that dehumanize women; they use “woman” as an insult and throw around gendered slurs; whenever a picture of a woman surfaces they talk about whether or not they would have sex with her, to the exclusion of all else. All of these things create a boy’s club environment that is actively hostile to women–on websites that are supposed to be for a “general” gaming audience that includes men and women.

Gaming sites and publications aimed at women such as Cerise were (and are) created as a reaction to the imbalance of power in gaming. They explicitly privilege female gamers’ opinions and experiences in order to counterbalance the way male gamers are privileged on gaming sites that are supposedly aimed at a “general” gaming audience. In addition, they create a space for female gamers so they don’t have to deal with the bullshit outlined above. Guys, female-oriented gaming spaces are created because every single other place is yours. Every single other place, places that claim to be for “all” gamers, are all about you. These places are so much about you, the men and boys, they drive women away. We can either put up with being marginalized, told we don’t exist, harassed, and dismissed, or we can create our own spaces.

Furthermore, while on IGN and other sites you’ll find plenty of articles that objectify and disrespect women (“Top 10 Boobs In Gaming” being a particularly egregious example), you will find nothing of the sort on most female-oriented gaming sites, and certainly not at Cerise. At these sites men are talked about as if they are actual human beings, not dolls that are only good for fucking.

So: prejudice? No. Power? Definitely no. Therefore: no sexism!

And then people come here and try to say this is where the real sexism is? It would be funny if it weren’t so prevalent and damaging.

*And the internet in general. I find this personal account of a man playing a female character to be continually interesting in that regard.