Sexism in D&D and on ENWorld (now with SOLUTIONS!)
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  1. #1
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    Sexism in D&D and on ENWorld (now with SOLUTIONS!)

    My girlfriend and I have recently been discussing the issue of sexism in D&D. I’ve been playing D&D since 1999, coming in at the end of 2e and playing through 3e (and 3.5e) into 4e now. Almost all my groups have included women in them, ranging from a single woman in an otherwise all-male group, to groups with more women than men, to one all-female groups (well, other than me, of course). And I’ve been on ENWorld since 2002. In contrast, my girlfriend got into gaming less than a year ago, has only played in one group (where she’s the only woman), and wasn’t a member on ENWorld till today, though she has read a lot of threads here. But, despite our very divergent experiences, both of us agree about the fact that there’s way too much sexism in D&D in general, and on ENWorld too. So I figured I’d start a thread on it, partly to share my thoughts on the subject and partly to see what people think.

    I’ve seen a number of discussions about gender issues and sexism on ENWorld, such as the following:

    Sexism in your campaign settings

    Can sexism be good for plot?

    Eberron: No sexism?

    But I’ve never yet seen a persuasive argument for why sexism should inherently be part of D&D. And yet it is, whether in the settings, the marketing of the game, the general climate of the game, and even on sites such as ENWorld. One of the many reasons why Eberron sticks out positively to me as a setting is (as noted in the thread above) because it explicitly eschews sexism. While I think a particular group or homebrew setting can choose to involve sexism in their games (presumably with everyone involved on board about it), I absolutely believe that the core rules and settings of D&D should be egalitarian. I think D&D is a wonderful game, which is why I spend so much time on it, and I would prefer the hobby to thrive and grow. And it seems utterly counter-productive and wrongheaded, to me, for the marketing and presentation of the game to ignore 51% (or is it 52% now?) of the population, or to treat them like second-class citizens in the game. Unfortunately, with D&D traditionally having been a game written by, for and sold to, men, it seems that many people aren’t that interested in expanding the player base if it requires catering a little more to women, as Malcolm from Channel M Publishing (which is producing a female-centered game, Witch Girls Adventures) mentions here.

    The problem, I believe, is also exacerbated by the fact that gamers in general can be quite sexist, often without realizing it. ENWorld, for example, has issues in that area. I love this site, since it’s full of smart, creative and articulate people who happen to share an interest with me. And there are many people who comment on and, in their own gaming, work against the sexism that has been and is a part of D&D. But I also constantly see comments on the site which reinforce the idea of D&D as a boy’s club, where women are an aberration. Whether it be someone trying to be chivalrous and coming across as incredibly misogynistic, or someone very explicitly being exclusionary towards women in their game, or someone arguing that fantasy art is about naked women, or random posts which show that ale and whores or wandering harlots (EDIT: I've been corrected that I missed the context in which the harlots table was posted, so I was wrong there. Apologies to Piratecat!) are assumed to be just an amusing and accepted part of the game, they all support a “this is for boys” vibe. And I’m not even getting into the creepiness which shows up every once in a while when some poster in ENWorld reveals herself to be female. I’m guessing the above has at least some influence on how many female gamers we have on this site.

    I understand that one of the primary reasons, if not the major one, for such sexism is because we live in a world (speaking mostly of the USA here, which has the biggest part of the D&D pie) where sexism runs rampant. So people bring their preconceptions and life experiences with them into gaming, often without realizing what they’re doing. For example, I’m currently running a round-robin game in a game setting co-created by two very creative and intelligent people whom I would never call intentionally sexist. Their setting, at least in appearance, seems a fairly egalitarian one. But somehow, the number of powerful and important female NPCs in the setting is about a tenth of the powerful and important male NPCs, even though there is no logical or inherent reason why that should be the case. The result – it seems like a setting about and for men, even though it’s certainly not intended that way.

    Anyway, there’s a lot to say on the subject but I’ll quit here. In short, I think there’s far too much sexism in D&D (I’m focusing only on D&D here since that’s almost exclusively what I’ve played), whether in the game’s presentation and marketing or the player base, including here on ENWorld. And I think that’s a serious negative and hope that it will change.

    What do you think?


    Note: I think D&D tends to be exclusionary with regards to race, sexuality and in other areas too, but I’m just focusing on sexism here.

    EDIT: I've added a post here putting forth some quick and simple suggestions towards running a non-sexist game. Thoughts and opinions are welcome.

    ANOTHER EDIT: Just in case it helps, I thought I should add a bit about what I mean by sexism here. When I refer to sexism in general and in the game, I do not mean differences between the sexes or gender roles. What I mean by sexism is (stealing heavily from Merriam-Webster here) prejudice/discrimination based on sex, and esp. (with regard to this thread) behavior, conditions and attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex. An important element in my definition of sexism, again esp. where this thread is concerned, is the assumption that masculinity or male positions/attitudes are the norm.
    Last edited by shilsen; Saturday, 23rd May, 2009 at 11:26 PM.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by shilsen View Post
    What do you think?
    I think some people are sexist and some people aren't. Many people i think don't realize they are being sexist when they are. But i also feel that some people are over sensitive to remarks they find sexist and find it where it doesn't exist.

    I once was running a game that including a woman PC. After she read over the setting she was upset with me that in my setting I had women and men equal. She wanted to create a female character that had to prove herself to the men and over come that in a fantasy setting. Some people actually do want sexism in their game.

    In general I don't see much sexism on EN World or in D&D books. Sure, you found a few examples but those are clearly in the minority. As always if you read something on EN World you find sexist report the post. If there is something in one of the books post it as an example.

  3. #3
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    Thank god someone so enlightened came by to show us the error of our ways. Really I had no idea this hobby I'd enjoyed for so long was so misogynistic. I guess the female players that I've gamed with since the early 80s were just confused or self-loathing.

    Look, there are a number of things wrong with your arguments. In fact, you're really just starting with a conclusion and then expecting everyone to chime in and agree with you, rather than have a serious discussion.

    Anyone who knows anything about the evolution of the hobby knows why it's predominantely male. It originated with wargames (overwhelmingly male), merged in elements of fantasy literature (at the time, mostly male), and for a number of reasons was mostly attractive to the geeks and the nerds. Throw in some early bad publicity, and voila.

    Like everything else, it's evolved. The truly sexist RPG stuff is the butt of jokes (eg FATAL), or has been coopted by women gamers themselves (the chainmail bikini). The only games that draw gender distinctions anymore are the ones with some greater focus on realism or historical accuracy, and even with those it's largely lip-service.

    The bigger factor is that most people got in to RPGs because someone they knew introduced them to the hobby. When you're young, that's primarily other people of the same gender and background. And as the hobby matured, so did the gamers, and the demographics spread. Hang around with some adult gamers, and see how many are part of groups with married couples.

    And they're raising the second generation of gamers, sons *and* daughters. One of the mods here let his daughter GM at a couple ENWorld gamedays, and she wasn't running the game for kids, but for adults. I don't think he would have let her do that if he thought that gaming was a sexist endeavor.

    Every gaming group I've been a part of has had female gamers. They ran the same gamut that the guys did, good players and bad, powergamers and drama queens, rules-lawyers and space cadets.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Crothian View Post
    In general I don't see much sexism on EN World or in D&D books.
    Yep. I don't really buy Shilsen's premise, though it never hurts to be reminded that other people may see things differently.

  5. #5
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    Being female, I've never had any issues with sexism in either situation. In any game world i play I or run, except in SciFi settings, sexism happens, just not always towards women. In most societies, females are/were the ones to stay home and raise children, that's a biological necessity for not well developed worlds. Also, females tend to be less violent and may base their competition and quest for power more on being the one pulling the strings behind a ruler than being one themselves.

    I see nothing wrong with that. Me and my players both have female and male characters each (in fact my human/elf mercenary keeps ending up in the whore houses, usually without enough money to pay) so in game, it isn't an issue at all.

    As in being a female gamer, I've never run into any RL sexism issues either. Maybe that's partly because I'm only one of two GMs they can come to, or because I'm not good looking, but except once where one of the (female) gamers fell in love with another player, we never had issues.

    Also, usually guys notice pretty fast that I'm not the standard female. I make the same type of jokes, drink the same type of beer and can fart as loud as any of them. Of course we can't expect all females to behave like that. Which is why sometimes an all guy group may feel uncomfortable if a female player is added. The flirting issues I read in one of the other threads aside - I think in a mainly male environment, a female who has issues with certain types of jokes and such is probably not best placed.
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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by shilsen View Post
    ...or random posts which show that... wandering harlots are assumed to be just an amusing and accepted part of the game
    Well, frankly, they are. That table is one of the bizarre artifacts of the 1e DMG, and generally mentioned because people nowadays can't believe that it existed. Bringing up the past is not tantamount to promoting sexism in gaming, and I'm a little surprised you used it as an example.

    Then again, folks should draw their own conclusion; I had posted the table, so my opinion is probably biased.

    I'm dead-set against sexism in real life, in gaming and here on the boards. I think it's up to each DM and player to make sure that they aren't maintaining a game that makes people uncomfortable. I have the most fun with both sexes in my game (out of 12 players in two campaigns, six are female), and both my NPC authority figures and my villains are often female. But that being said, I don't consider my game to be a soapbox against sexism. I'm not trying to make a societal point when I play D&D, I'm trying to have fun and make sure that all my players do as well. Being conscious of sexism (and racism), without dwelling on it, serves me well here.

    Like Rodrigo said, I've gamed with well over a hundred different women. They've run the same gamut as male players have, and have the same strengths and foibles. Expecting otherwise seems a bit odd to me.

  7. #7
    I found this part of the OP's post the most helpful when evaluating it.
    I understand that one of the primary reasons, if not the major one, for such sexism is because we live in a world (speaking mostly of the USA here, which has the biggest part of the D&D pie) where sexism runs rampant.

  8. #8
    Part of the problem is that gaming is, for some people, literally a boy's club to retreat to in order to find a place to fit in. And they get accustomed to things being that way.

    I'm not against boy's clubs as a general rule. People being what they are, its cool if they associate in gender segregated groups. Just look around the lunch room in a school, its how people are. But people also associate in gender integrated groups, and from my perspective I'd rather D&D was more of the latter than the former. So I'm sympathetic to the difficulties here, and don't really know what to do about it, since what I want is probably quite literally the opposite of what many disaffected young guys need.

    I'm less sympathetic to people who have internalized... have gender normative... have... crap. I'm trying to think of a way to say this without descending into incomprehensible humanities- speak.

    People, particularly guys, and particularly guys in a traditionally male dominated context, start to assume that the things specifically included to appeal to males are somehow "normal" and therefore not actually specifically designed to appeal to males. This bugs me a bit. You'll get people who look at Barbie and recognize that it's designed to appeal to girls, and then look at a cartoon entitled something like Mega Robot Viking Ninja Explosion Turbo or whatever and cannot, no matter how hard they try, see that this might just be a wee bit aimed at boys as a market. I think these are the people who are more... "the problem" so to speak, because they don't adjust their behavior when the context changes from "boy's club" to a game with both men and women playing. They think that their jokes or comments or soft porn artwork are "normal" and not actually gender specific, and blame others, particularly women, for not liking the things and the behavior they do. If someone ever uses the word "feminazi," chances are you're talking to someone in this category. Ditto "oversensitive" with reference to women who dislike their behavior.

    Obviously I'm engaging in a bit of generalization here... so please don't regale me with stories of this one girl you know named Suzie who thinks that wandering prostitute charts are totally awesome and wants to play a sex pot rape victim PC in a chainmail bikini unless you think that she's representative.

    So how do I think that modern D&D is doing in this regard?

    I think its mostly doing alright. There are actually a fair amount of female characters in published adventures and so on, and they're not all typecast as the healing chick or the rogue. The NPC victims are mixed in gender as well, and the tendency to sexualize the female victims is toned down a bit. The artwork does tend to sexualize the females depicted, and the efforts to sexualize the males depicted a little bit tends to suffer from the "this is what guys think women want to see" syndrome, but its still a big improvement over how things used to be. Sexualized characters aren't necessarily a terrible thing, depending on how its done, and while this hasn't quite been worked out yet, its still better than it has been.

    I know very little about published settings, they're just not a big part of my interaction with D&D. But as for published adventures, I think they're ok.

    Overall, I think that the biggest thing that needs to be done is no longer excising sexism so much as it is including things that appeal to girls and women. Its why I'd like D&D to take a little more influence from modern fantasy, which is much, much more mixed in terms of the genders to which it appeals. Anne McCaffrey, Mercedes Lackey, there are a LOT of female authors of fantasy and a lot of female readers. There's no particular reason why they wouldn't enjoy a roleplaying game, if it emulated the fantasy that they like. This is an area of heavy generalization, obvious, because its not like only women read Mercedes Lackey or anything, and its not like the sort of fantasy that D&D covers isn't read by women. But I think there are definitely certain trends that could be added to D&D seamlessly, broadening the experience for existing players, and perhaps appealing to some new ones.

    Blue Rose did this. But given that it did so almost entirely through setting design, there's literally no reason I can think up that D&D couldn't do it as well. There's no reason why you'd need a separate game to do Anne McCaffrey style fantasy.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by shilsen View Post
    ... co-created by two very creative and intelligent people whom I would never call intentionally sexist.
    So true!

    Their setting, at least in appearance, seems a fairly egalitarian one. But somehow, the number of powerful and important female NPCs in the setting is about a tenth of the powerful and important male NPCs, even though there is no logical or inherent reason why that should be the case.
    Well now that's an interesting observation. The funny thing is CITY (the group's previous campaign setting) was intentionally sexist and racist, and yet the most powerful and influential NPC's encountered during the campaign were women. CITY was deliberately meant, in part, to be a parody of the less-than-savory aspects of the genre. Would you call CITY less sexist than the Port (the setting for the round-robin)?

    With the Port it seems John and I were just following the genre(s). Which would make it fairly sexist, then, I guess .

    The result – it seems like a setting about and for men, even though it’s certainly not intended that way.
    Does the fact that it's largely about men --so far, at least-- necessarily mean it's also for men?

    I'll post some less personal responses later, assuming this thread doesn't go down in a blaze of politics. I think I want to make a point about the gender of particular narratives (that some skew male or female, not that's there anything wrong with that). To my mind, the exclusionary part of some game narratives is that they're fundamentally about solving problems with physical violence and looting, not their lack of strong female characters.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by shilsen View Post
    ... both of us agree about the fact that thereís way too much sexism in D&D in general, and on ENWorld too.
    I think that aside from the art, you will be hard pressed to find anything sexist about the core rules of the recent editions.

    Campaign worlds have to present a society. Most of the societies in recorded human history have had strong gender roles. It is thus actively difficult to produce a game-society that is plausible, but has no trace of sexism.

    I have, in the past, been told that the manner of eradicating gender roles can show as much or more sexism (by way of "pandering", among other things) than depicting a realistic moderately sexist culture in the game. Rock and a hard place, there.

    As for EN World - saying there's too much sexism here is rather like saying there's too much sexism in the world. We have no control over the upbringing and beliefs of individual posters. Sexism is here because it is in the general population. You won't fix sexism here, except by fixing it in the general population.

    Unfortunately, with D&D traditionally having been a game written by, for and sold to, men, it seems that many people arenít that interested in expanding the player base if it requires catering a little more to women
    I have a major logic failure here. You see, in order to "cater to women", we must have a profile of what women like that is not in the game. That's a stereotype, and inherently sexist.

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