Rules of Engagement – A Primer for Discussing Sexism in WoW
Part of being a community is sharing a common interest, language, set of ideals, and at least a basic understanding of how the community communicates. To be a part of the Warcraft community, you probably need to know something about World of Warcraft. If someone were to write a blog post discussing “those hobbits that live in Silverforge” or “that soothsayer who played a support role in our 35 man mission last night,” it would be immediately clear to the Warcraft community that the blogger doesn’t actually understand that much about WoW. We speak the same language and we have a common set of rules for engagement with one another.
Because the WoW community is so large and so expansive after 9 years, it has naturally developed some subgroups along the way. Theorycrafters, RPers,and PvPers have specific language and tools that they use. If you are not initiated into or familiar with these communities, you probably aren’t going to have the language or tools you need to engage in a meaningful conversation with them. Imagine attempting to dispute a theorycrafter who has done extensive math to figure out whether one trinket is better than another trinket in a certain fight for certain classes, but not actually understanding any of the underlying math that supports their conclusion. Most people wouldn’t do it, and those who would are either trolls or well aware that their path was fraught with peril. A pretty basic rule of any communication, particularly any type of critique, is to know where the conversation stands and how we got to where we are now. Rule #1 before writing any sort of research paper or critical analysis is to “know the conversation.”
If one wants to join an existing conversation but has not yet been “initiated” into that particular subgroup’s existing language and framework, that’s Ok! We need more theorycrafters. We need more RPers. We need more PvPers. AND we need more people who want to talk about sexism as it pertains to World of Warcraft. But to step into a conversation with no knowledge of its history or the rules that frame it is a bit like walking into a room where a bunch of people have been talking long before you got there and saying, “Yeah, but here’s what I think.” Without having heard the parts of the conversation that came before, and without asking anyone to help you get caught up, you are speaking with a complete lack of context and perspective on what’s going on. It’s uninformed at best and rude at worst.
As a woman and a feminist who loves to play World of Warcraft, I’m really happy to see so many people taking this opportunity to voice their thoughts on character representation in WoW. Unfortunately, I am also incredibly disheartened to see so many voices joining the conversation without having the respect to learn some of the rules of the engagement for feminist discourse first, and even lobbing some criticism at the feminist movement in general that hasn’t been relevant in at least 20 or 30 years now. You wouldn’t go to Icy Veins and tell them that their understanding of how to gem and enchant a resto shaman is wrong without knowing a good deal about resto shaman. You wouldn’t tell an experienced RPer that their character’s backstory breaks lore without knowing something about lore. You wouldn’t tell a ranked arena player that they should use their trinket at a different point in the match unless you had done quite a lot of PvP yourself. Likewise, it is unreasonable and unfair to attempt to refute a feminist critical analysis of WoW without actually understanding that analysis. Nor are discussions of sexism in WoW an excuse to declare open season on all feminist discourse throughout history.
People like Apple Cider Mage, who discuss sexism in WoW regularly, are often good enough to provide newcomers with a list of resources to get them started in the conversation. If you want to talk about sexism in WoW, you should at least know what things like derailment, privilege, and internalized sexism are. There are plenty of internet resources out there that will provide you with a basic knowledge of these concepts, and attempting to enter into a feminist discussion without that knowledge is very much like stepping into a raid instance with ungemmed and unenchanted gear. You don’t do it.
All of this is not meant to sound overly academic or time-consuming. You can have great conversations about sexism even if you’ve never taken a course on the subject or written a paper from a feminist perspective. But if you respect the people in the conversation and respect the work that they have already done up to this point, it is absolutely your job to understand the basics before you decide to add in your own thoughts. Go ahead, read the resources on Apple Cider Mage’s blog, at the very least the Feminism 101 post.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
So now that you have an understanding of the basics, we can talk about the problems with the counterarguments being thrown around. I’ll get the easy ones out of the way first.
If your first reaction to a woman who sends out an alarm on Twitter asking other women to be careful because a few of her friends were roofied at a bar near the con is to call this an “unsubstantiated twitter accusation,” you are participating in rape culture. You are insisting that it makes more sense to assume that the woman on Twitter is lying or exaggerating what happened to her friends rather than being willing to believe that the use of drugs like GHB is perfectly common and likely during a gathering where many inebriated strangers are hanging around near plenty of hotel rooms. Don’t do that!
If you believe that feminists should refer to themselves as “equalists” because you believe this better conveys the desire for equality between the sexes (rather than – I don’t even know what you’re going for here – assuming that all feminists are man-hating, misandrist, feminazis?), then what are you actually describing is not a feminist, but a “straw feminist.” Describing feminists as universally man-hating, angry, and wanting to put women above men is a form of derailment. The notion that “equalist” wouldn’t be a redundant term for most feminists demonstrates a willingness to make judgments about the community without actually getting to know it at all.
(Additionally, suggesting that it’s silly to insist on women’s representation in WoW because Garona was a product of rape and we should really want to change her story first ignores plenty of discussions the community has already had about the prominence of rape in WoW’s story up to this point. Bringing up the problematic aspects of Garona’s history is a good thing! Assuming that no one else is talking about it and holding it against the community – not so good.)
If your entire post consistently refers to women as “females” (or worse, “girls”) then just know that we’re probably going to read the word “females” in the Ferengi voice and assume that you mean it with the same disdain they did. Generally in feminist discourse, “female” is used as an adjective and “women” is used as either a noun or an adjective. “Girls” is used when you are talking about very young women, and it should really be used sparingly if at all.
If you evaluate another person’s argument based upon their tone (a tone which is entirely your own inference because you are reading text from the internet and not actually hearing their voice in person), you are participating in yet another type of derailment called tone argument. You are refusing to engage with the actual critical argument of the post because your perception is that the writer’s tone was too hostile for her argument to be valid. Similarly, praising a blog post for being exceptionally “calm” or “reasonable,” while ignoring the content of the post itself, is essentially a backhanded compliment for the same reason.
If you tell feminists that they should quit “bitching, pissing and moaning” because it is not our right as players to tell the game’s creators what direction the story should take, well that’s a pretty giant dose of tone argument + you being Just Plain Wrong. Blizzard consistently asks and seeks out feedback about every aspect of their games, up to and including story, and Blizzard employees have actively engaged in this conversation pretty much since it began. Not to mention that the idea of “wait and see” because we are still in the early stages of the expansion ignores that Blizzard’s history with women characters is not especially stellar, so we have no reason to believe there will be representation based upon what we’ve seen in the past.
If you truly believe, particularly if you are a woman, that having diverse and interesting women characters in game is not something that is especially important to you, that’s Ok. But to insist that because you do not find this important means no one else should either, or to attempt to silence a conversation about representation with this statement is more derailment, and probably some internalized sexism too. Worse still, telling women that they should be “strong” enough not to need women characters, or claiming that it is bad parenting to want positive role models for your children rather than being that positive role model yourself is deeply insulting. Women can be “strong” and also want to see that strength echoed in the characters presented to us in game. Mothers can be “strong” role models for their daughters and also appreciate the value of additional women role models in media. Asking for these things does not mean that we necessarily need media to teach us how to be strong women or mothers – it means we are asking media to properly represent the wide spectrum of who women are and what matters to us.
While we’re at it, let’s take Narci’s suggestion and just toss out the notion of “strong” women being the thing that we really want. It’s not just about representing women who exemplify traditional (often masculine) values of physical strength, perseverance, and stoicism, but about giving us a diversity of women characters who are more truly representative of the diversity of women in real life.
If you think a lot of the feminist WoW usual suspects are sounding a bit frustrated or tired recently, you’re probably right. Many of us are frustrated and tired, as Mushan so aptly pointed out, simply because we still have to have this conversation. But also we are frustrated because rather than getting a chance to really engage and “do work” with the very real examples of sexism in WoW, we are instead being challenged with criticisms of the feminist movement in general – criticisms which have been answered again and again by the feminist movement itself.
Statements like “I’m a woman and this doesn’t bother me,” or “Stop being so angry and people will listen to you,” or “You should really focus on equality instead of trying to make women seem better than men,” do not add to a conversation. These are not challenges that invite further discussion about the topic at hand, but rather challenges as to whether feminism as a viewpoint is valid (and also gross misunderstandings of exactly what a feminist viewpoint is). If you don’t think a feminist viewpoint is valid, well that’s a different argument and one that I’m not at all willing to have with you – especially if you don’t know anything at all about the history or current state of feminism.
Still more concerning are attempts to engage feminist criticism without acknowledging or accepting its fundamental premise – that gender inequality is a fact, that it remains a fact, and that we do not live in a society that treats men and women equally. To quote Apple Cider Mage on this: “If you can’t accept that basic axis, then you’re not going to be coming into a feminist-minded conversation on the same page.” To have an honest conversation about sexism in WoW, you must first accept that sexism does exist.
So yeah, we probably are a little tired. Just as it can be a little tiring to attempt to explain to a non-WoW player why exactly you’re trying to napkin math about whether your 4 piece bonus is better than that Warforged helm you have, it’s pretty exhausting to read repeated criticisms from people who don’t even have enough respect for the topic to get the 101 basics down first. Dialogue is great. Communication is amazing. But please come to the table with a knowledge of your surroundings and “know the conversation.”