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White Knights and Neckbeards – On Growing Up and Hostility to Women

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Either you're doing it wrong and not following me on Twitter, or you saw this tweet yesterday.

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This was not apropos of nothing, but rather the result of a conversation that took place on Facebook yesterday.

Before I get into that, let's take a look at the issue and why it's a serious problem that divides our community and serves as a significant barrier to women feeling welcomed by the community.

The Problem

Wizards of the Coast estimates that 10% of Tournament Players are female. At least that's what Wizards tells people. I have no idea how they arrived at that number. If I had to guess, I might suspect they based it off of the percentage of females with registered DCI numbers.

However, since it takes a DCI number to play in prerelease events, I feel like 10% may be a bit low given what I've always seen at prerelease events, namely that closer to 40 or 50% of the players in those events are female.

While a GP is a big deal for the competitive scene and well under 10% of the entrants are female, a prerelease is the biggest event of the year for the kitchen table crowd, and there doesn't appear to be a gender gap among casuals.

If you think that's a good thing, I'm here to tell you why you're wrong.

Open Hostility

Articles like this one paint the community in a very negative light, but, sadly, they are all-too-common lately.

Women in the upper echelons of competitive play, like Jackie Lee and Melissa DeTora, face increased hostility due to the increased visibility their fame and success affords them, but it's not limited to competitive players. Helene Bergeot, the director of organized play for Wizards of the Coast, has come under attack in the past. It's not just gynophobia either - transphobia is rampant in the community as well.

jadine

This is a facebook message sent to Jadine Klomparens and retweeted by Erin Campbell. It's unclear whether "Themagic Dojo II" knows he was attacking a member of the trans community or thought he was just being a garden-variety misogynist, but let me suggest that it isn't relevant.

Hostility to women, cis and trans alike, is a black eye to the community and undermines the effort of most of the community to seem welcoming as well as Wizards' efforts to expand the appeal of the game, grow the player base and foster a tolerant and welcoming community.

What Doesn't Help

While not as bad as messaging someone on Facebook to tell them to get "lypo" [sic], a different kind of intolerance is routinely practiced by a segment of the community and, unlike the few trolls who use the anonymity of Twitch to tell Jackie Lee to "get back to the kitchen", these people don't think they're doing anything wrong.

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Card alters like this one are readily available on eBay.

"Who's buying and playing with these?" you might ask, never having seen these on display at your LGS (you're lucky). It isn't just people who don't venture outside of their home, as evidenced by a proud alter-collector on The Source in a thread where people showed off their "pimp" decks (a silly term for a foiled-out deck; thanks Xzibit).

anime

Comments ranged from "Now I know who buys these Islands" to, succinctly, "/vomit".

Is playing with these Islands and Mountains tantamount to telling Melissa DeTora to go fix you a sandwich (something not even Frank Lepore has the balls to do to her face, I'm guessing)?

No, of course it isn't. And the problem is that it's easy to rationalize that this isn't a problem.

Full Circle

So back to the Facebook argument I got sucked into. It all started when someone posted an example of one of his card alters in a "buy/sell/trade" Facebook group, ostensibly to drum up some business. I didn't imagine it was likely to drum up much business, but everyone is a critic so I kept my critques about visible brushstrokes, uneven paint thickness and covered text boxes to myself. It wasn't my cup of tea.

Mostly because I don't like anime demon women with cartoonishly-large breasts and thighs in my tea.

I noticed that later in the day, someone posted a comment to the effect of "You might not want to play with these lands because people might think you're a creep", which was pretty mild considering it came out later that he was thinking "Stuff like this is the reason I don't bring my 8-year-old daughter to the shop".

I couldn't resist joining in when the artist fired back that he didn't find the female form offensive, and every weird rationalization of this kind of card alteration came out.

  • I don't find the female form offensive.
  • I'll stop doing these when I meet a woman who is genuinely offended.
  • Who are you to say your opinion (semi-nude alters offend women) is the only correct one?
  • "I weep for the future where art is to be censored by the outspoken minority." (direct quote)
  • Earthbind and Azure Mage are worse, therefore what I am doing is fine.

Not long after, I was called a "White Knight" dismissively, "White Knight" not referring to my ability to strike first in battle or dodge a Tragic Slip, but rather a term used by the privileged to undermine someone who is trying to intervene on behalf of women.

Let's not make any mistakes - there are a lot of instances where "White Knights" are a real annoyance and are making a big deal out of an issue to try and curry favor with someone or bring attention to themselves. It's also incorrectly used a lot by someone trying to rationalize being a poor community member.

Being a Good Community Member

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 Hyperbolic Strawman arguments aside, most people agree that the community is not the most welcoming gaming community to women.

Video gaming demographic studies have done a lot to completely invalidate conventional "wisdom" that females don't game, and recent studies have shown that the demographic "Adult Women" is now the largest  gaming demographic, beating out "teenaged males" for the first time, ever.

Women age 18 or older represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (36%) than boys age 18 or younger (17%)

Does a charitable definition of "video game", which includes the likes of Candy Crush Saga and Angry Birds, help that? Yes, of course. But to focus on that is to miss the point, and right now this community is suffering from a terminal case of "missing-the-goddamn-pointitis".

We should be focusing on why video gaming is more welcoming to women than Magic: The Gathering. If I had to guess, I would say it's because an adult woman playing League of Legends or Mario Kart or--God forbid--Candy Crush Saga doesn't have to deal with customers at work asking her if there is a man around they can speak to, or a coworker staring at her chest while she tries to talk to him. Or someone telling her to get back to the kitchen.

Most importantly, she doesn't have to see some neckbeard self-righteously adjust his Trilby (it's NOT a FEDORA!) and tell her "I don't find the female form offensive" when she asks him why he's playing with basic lands with topless girls painted on them at an FNM.

The First Amendment doesn't guarantee your right to be offensive at a Hobby Shop. Not only that, even if it did, why would you want to? Why would you want to keep women out of the game? Why would you want to perpetuate the stereotype that Magic players are neckbearded, 28-year-old virgins with lisps and ass cracks hanging out of their pants?

Why would you ever try to make yourself feel better by making someone else feel worse? This isn't Junior High School.

This is a community, and if you can't follow a few basic rules of decorum, maybe you don't deserve to be a part of that community. I don't care how much you admire the female form.

If we all don't start showing a little class and decency, pretty soon the only females we see at Magic tournaments will be shoddily painted on our lands.

Edit: There is a lot of discussion taking place over at /r/magicTCG as well. 

Jason Alt

Jason Alt is a value trader and writer. He is Quiet Speculation's self-appointed web content archivist and co-captain of the interdepartmental dodgeball team. He enjoys craft microbrews and doing things ironically. You may have seen him at magic events; he wears black t-shirts and has a beard and a backpack so he's pretty easy to spot. You can hear him as co-host on the Brainstorm Brewery podcast or catch his articles on Gatheringmagic.com. He is also the Community Manager at BrainstormBrewery.com and writes the odd article there, too. Follow him on Twitter @JasonEAlt unless you don't like having your mind blown.

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13 thoughts on “White Knights and Neckbeards – On Growing Up and Hostility to Women

  1. i liked it and was agreeing completely until you had to mention the first amendment.

    Yes, it does protect your right to be offensive. Inoffensive speech rarely needs protection. However the first amendment protects your speech from the government, not from social repercussions.

    The government cannot say for me to not draw tasteless anime babes on my cards, but my local game shop has the right to tell me I cannot use them in their store.

    1. the First Amendment protects you from the government abridging protected speech. It doesn’t protect you from the consequences of your offensive speech outside the sphere of the government’s influence. The First Amendment didn’t protect Gilbert Gottfried from being fired by GEICO for making a Tsunami victims joke. It didn’t protect that guy from Duck Dynasty from being fired for saying something that it wasn’t at all surprising a guy from Duck Dynasty said. In the context of basic lands at a hobby shop where no one brought up the government at all, I’m really surprised you let an offhanded comment derail you like that.

      1. His point is just that the first amanedment, generally, protects your right to be offensive- though there are some exceptions when speech acts lack any actual value, but I digress.

        If the following point is to be that people can berate you for your speech or discriminate against you because of it, then your wording is off when you say it’s not protected by the first amendment.

        The bottom line is that the first amendment does to a reasonable degree protect your right to be offensive, and that correction is more than a nitpick. It’s constructive feedback on the fact that your statement is inaccurate, though your argument is still compelling- it would just be more compelling were everything stated correctly.

          1. Jason was and is right. The First Amendment says the government can’t infringe on what you say, offensive or otherwise. However, the laws of our country make it very clear that these rights are not bullet-proof – they are subject to you’re knowledge of what you do with them, and the situation. They CAN be revoked. Such as the classic “yelling fire in a movie theater”, creating a clear and present danger is typically a top reason people know of. Much the same, contracts can ask you to literally sign away and surrender you’re rights. Anyone has the right to ask you this. Your job does it, that’s why you can’t say anything you want, and can be fired for what you say. Your right to have that offensive speech protected was surrenders when you agreed to work there and follow their private rules.

            As such, the first amendment does not guarantee your right to be offensive at Hobby Lobby. They have every legal right to decide on their own how to handle your speech, as far as it violates their rules or otherwise effects their business/establishment. Jason Alt is absolutely correct.

  2. Good way to start the conversation, Jason. As a guy in technology, I see these problems extend from the gaming community into peoples’ professional lives. Over the past two years I’ve worked pretty hard to open similar conversations with my female friends and colleagues, and I’m happy with the results. Those women are my allies. I feel comfortable asking them for a different perspective on issues and ideas in my life. They feel similarly toward me.

    I’m not much for jumping through hoops to make other people comfortable, but I learned one amazing trick that I think men should understand. The idea is called proofing, which is setting another person up to have a reason to be the next speaker in a small group. If you are outside your gaming store talking with a few guys and a woman you know approaches, just say something like: “Hey guys, you know Annie, right? She and I were talking last week about how Brimaz sucks in this deck. Didn’t you think Master of the Feast was the better choice, Annie?”

    Some subtleties: talk with each ally ahead of time and talk it out. Make sure she knows you, knows what kinds of topics you are going to act like she knows about, and that she wants the favor.

    Say something like “I know sometimes it can be helpful if friends give other people a reason to listen. If you would like, when I introduce you to a stranger, I could gently point out that you know what you’re talking about.” If she agrees then follow up with “If I do it in a way you don’t like, just tell me later and I’ll figure out something better.”

    If she wants to know what’s in it for you, then just say “exactly the same thing. If you’re talking with other women and I walk up, could you give me an easy ‘in’ so I don’t look like a bumbling idiot?”

    With a little practice, it’s very easy to use this method to set up a platonic atmosphere where ideas and thoughts get all the attention. Alliance is profitable for everyone involved, no matter their gender or sex.

  3. Maybe I don’t know about lisps or speech impediments in general, but aren’t lisps involuntary? That seemed pretty thoughtless in an otherwise good article, why lump that into crack-pants and neckbeardery? Doesn’t MaRo have a slight lisp?

  4. I just want to add in 2 cents

    1. % of participants are female. 10% seems *way* too high for me. Here in Vancouver, there are hardly any female players at sanctioned events, and we have a pretty strong population of MTG players. My wife is often the only female at any event we attend.
    GP Vancouver was maybe 2-3% female, from my estimate… Larger prereleases might have been more like 5%, if that.

    2. On the other hand, my wife’s experiences have been pleasant ones. She has yet to run into any real sexist situations, or any of these weird anime alters. Even the teenagers we’ve played against don’t seem to have made any issues about ‘playing a girl’. Good luck, or just the city we’re in?

    3. What is wrong with people? That tweet/msg… ugh…

    1. Notice how one person says the percent is too low, the other says it’s too high. Anecdotal evidence is not the same as empirical data, for this very reason – just because overall the playerbase is listed as 10% female, doesn’t mean ANY given environment has one girl per ten guys. Each area is different, and the figure is looking at the big picture, which will show peaks and valleys in different communities.

      Personally, I’ve met mixed response when girl gamers are involved. The only constant ever seems that they are treated a bit different and they notice, though it seems to “wear off” as they continue to participate and “earn respect”

  5. You… you put the insults in the title. What you are doing here is the opposite of helping. When you use insults, body shame, fashion shame, etc. in your criticism of someone, you don’t change that person’s mind. Instead you push them away from the viewpoint you’re encouraging. Who wants to agree with the person who’s being shitty to them? Because it is really lousy behavior. A bully for a good cause is still a bully. You need to do better than this.

  6. Privileged is a term used by social justice warriors it refers to their marxist worldview in which women are an oppressed class and men are a privileged class, not that I didn’t see plenty of red flags before that. Sad that so many otherwise intelligent people don’t bother to look into this worldview’s flaws and see the logical fallacies and factually false premises that inform it.

  7. If we could have a serious discussion without use of a term like “neckbeard,” that would be awesome, considering you’re trying to talk about social advancement, and stereotypes like these are harmful.

    The card thing is an issue with the anime community. It’s a symptom of a problem, not a problem in itself. There are some instances where anime objectifies men too. Those are quite a bit less common than the alternative, but I digress.

    But with anime, you’re talking about something that comes from a culture that’s comparatively backwards with gender roles. Women are even more feminized there, and much more strongly objectified, and that culture feeds into ours through our consumption of anime, manga, and merchandise.

    The point? You can’t tackle this social issue through one small example of its impact on society.

    But really though. “White knight,” “neckbeard”… these are ad hominem terms that contribute nothing. Rather than trying to look at tougher issues, we are invalidating people.

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