2006-04-10 : A problem for feminists/pro-feminists

Here are two short plays I just made up. They present a problem that I have to deal with.


Enter Mitch and Vincent, talking.

Mitch: So you know this big ongoing conversation on the internet you're having, about pushing the bounds of roleplaying?

Vincent: Sure.

Mitch: I feel excluded.

Vincent: How come?

Mitch: Because I like my roleplaying fine the way it is.

Vincent: Oh.

Mitch: You should make the conversation more welcoming to me.

Vincent: Why?

Mitch: So I feel more comfortable telling you that you shouldn't push the bounds of roleplaying.

Vincent: Oh. Huh.



Enter Mary and Vincent, talking.

Mary: So you know this big ongoing conversation on the internet you're having, about pushing the bounds of roleplaying?

Vincent: Sure.

Mary: I feel excluded.

Vincent: How come?

Mary: Because I like my roleplaying fine the way it is.

Vincent: Oh.

Mary: You should make the conversation more welcoming to me.

Vincent: Why?

Mary: So I feel more comfortable telling you that you shouldn't push the bounds of roleplaying.

Vincent: Oh. Huh.



Here's my proposal, for discussion: Vincent should treat Mitch and Mary just the same, not taking Mitch or Mary any more seriously than the other.

Here's my question for the feminists and pro-feminists here: is this really a viable solution? I don't know that it is. Anybody thinks it is, please say why; anybody thinks it isn't, please say why.

1. On 2006-04-10, Roger said:

I'm not entirely sure what you mean by a viable solution here, but I'll take a stab at it.

Is it viable to treat them the same?  Yes.  Yes, at least on the Internet.  Why?  Because gender is repudiatable on the Internet.  Vincent (or "Vincent") can easily claim, accurately and non-ingenuously, that he simply doesn't know, let alone care about, the genders of "Mitch" or "Mary".

He also need not care that Mitch is a dog.


2. On 2006-04-10, Matt Snyder said:

WTF? This is a gender problem?



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This makes...
SDL go "Maybe more of a gender-interaction problem..."*

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3. On 2006-04-10, Vincent said:

Roger: as it happens, I do know Mitch and Mary's genders. My question is, should I care?


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This makes...
RaC go "Umm, hrm."*
SDL go "Better yet: Do you *have* to care?"
Lisa P go "Exactly!"*
luke go "fuck them"*

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4. On 2006-04-10, Tris said:

Personally, someone would have to give me VERY good reasons not to treat these two people the same, to avoid eliciting feelings of distaste from me regarding their sexism.

But to answer your question:

I think it's a viable solution because it does not discriminate between them needlessly.  One argument I can see is that if Mitch has previously been excluded from something, he might feel more sensitive towards further exclusion.  My answer to that would be that continuing to treat him differently is not helpful.


5. On 2006-04-10, ethan_greer said:

No, you shouldn't care about their gender.

The viable solution treats them both the same. It consists of you telling them to fuck off.

Okay, now that's off my chest. What I think you should do is explain to people that their feelings of exclusion are their problem, not yours. You invite dissent as much as you do agreement. The comfort level of a respondent isn't, can't, and shouldn't be your responsibility in any way whatsoever.

Or am I just an asshole?


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Lisa P go "*nodnod*"*
ethan go "Cool."

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6. On 2006-04-10, Julie, aka jrs said:

For what it's worth, yes, it is a viable solution.  I would not want my words to have more or less significance because I am female.  (Well, that is not completely true, but in the realm of discussing roleplaying it is.)  Now there may be valid reasons which are not apparent from the posed hypothetical conversations to give Mitch's or Mary's words greater weight that has nothing to do with gender.  That would be a different exercise.

I will go one step further and make a judgement call that anyone that claims that a conversation about change must be made more welcoming so that change can be stymied is not to be taken very seriously.

This all seems very obvious to me, am I missing something here?


7. On 2006-04-10, Dev Purkayastha said:

Yes, of course, treat everyone equal, but you're raising a strawman. No one is saying "moderate yourself so that I can put you down".

Excluding people for content focus is helpful - so don't play on Vincent's blog if you can't abide by its grounding principles, natch. But excluding people for non-relevant contexts, like a gender norm or class norm, is silly, and just prevents a potential conversation from actually happening.

If there was an intelligent gaming blog by someone who threw around "Apu" jokes, I'd probably feel excluded (not being in on the joke) and just ignore it, leaving both of us less well off.

(I don't think you ARE that guy, Vincent, but this strawman bugs me a bit.)


8. On 2006-04-10, ethan_greer said:

15 seconds after posting, it clicks what exactly you're asking about. "Ah!" I say.

You should treat the woman differently from the man. She should receive preferential treatment and consideration because gaming is totally sexist.

Because the bottom line is, 99% of the time, a woman's complaint of exclusion in gaming is going to be more legitimate than a man's.

It's like if you were talking about date rape with a group, and a man came in and was all, "Let's talk about how date rape is a problem for men."

What are you going to do? You're going to say, "That may be, but it's a bigger problem for women, so that's what we're going to talk about."

In the case of your roleplaying discussions, the woman's complaint should be taken more seriously than the man's.

I suspect this viewpoint isn't going to be popular.


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This makes...
VB go "I'm not prepared to host a discussion about rape..."*
ethan go "D'oh!"*
TB go "Rubbish"*

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9. On 2006-04-10, Vincent said:

Dev: Yes, of course, treat everyone equal, but you're raising a strawman. No one is saying "moderate yourself so that I can put you down".

Really? People say that to me a lot.

No strawman. This problem I've presented isn't every problem, or the biggest problem, or the problem you're thinking of (obviously), but it's a real problem I'm really thinking about and dealing with.


10. On 2006-04-10, Tom said:

See, I feel the script runs a bit like this:

Bob:  Roleplaying games are important and meaningful.  They're fun sure, but with that fun comes a chance to handle stuff in your life that you might not otherwise choose to deal with.  We're not a bunch of losers living in our mom's basement, we're engaged in a significant creative endeavor.

Pat:  Huh, that sounds interesting, please tell me more.

Bob:  Well, you see, first you have to PLAY WITH YOUR PENIS!

Pat:  Er...yes....good day. exits, stage left


I don't think this has much to do with inclusion/exclusion or pushing boundaries, it's more of a warning flag.  It's saying "yeah, dick jokes, ha-ha, but you run the risk of lowering the overall quality of your discussion because some people won't rise above the jokes, and others won't appreciate it and join in".

It's like gaming in general.  There are lots of games people won't play mainly because the content doesn't suit them.  It doesn't mean that they're afraid to address the themes of the game, merely that they don't care for the presentation (color, setting, et. al.).

By way of example, you (yes, you the reader) probably do not play FATAL.  Now, for one thing, the design is a hopeless train wreck.  More importantly, the game is pretty much a racist, mysoganist screed, a pean to the worst parts of humanity.  No one wants to play a game that obsesses over vaginal opening circumfrences and with good reason.  It's poor design, it's moronic content.

I certainly don't think that any of the recent conversation has really fallen to that level, but I simply want illustrate the point that the way in which you present your message determines how interested other people will be in what you have to say.

Further, if you start from the statement "Let's talk seriously about roleplaying" and then follow that up with "you must be willing to heft your man-sack up on the table if you really want to play", well, you've kinda shot yourself in the foot now, haven't you?

So, in answer to your question, I guess the solution is simply "I'm sorry you feel excluded.  I don't feel like making compromises on how my discussion is running.  You are, however, free to start your own conversation.  It's not like there's only one conversation, there are hundreds, thousands of them going on right now.  More importantly, I encourage you to create games that address the major role-playing issues that you want to address.  That's pretty much how our community got started."


11. On 2006-04-10, Ian said:

Hmmm, are we having a normative discussion about the ethics of how to treat these two people?  If so, then the gender shouldn't play into it.  You either think that treating people one way is ok or don't.  If you have problems treating a woman the same, I would ask why—is there a hidden (derogatory)assumption that women are weaker or a hidden (also derogatory) assumption that men should just relate to each other in manly, abusive ways?  If the answer to both of those is no, then I think you are a-ok.  You can either decide that you should treat all people more gently or not.

If we are having a discussion about audience, then the plan changes.  If you really want to reach out to female gamers (or discourage men;), then of course you should change how you respond—you atttract more flies with honey, as the saying goes. Nothing wrong with targeting an audience.


12. On 2006-04-10, Bryan said:

In the two short plays above, I don't feel that you should treat either person differently, because they are both role-players, and they both like playing the way they are playing now. If they have a problem with what you're saying, they don't have to read it.  You're discussing role-playing and not gender issues.

Now, if these plays are subtly about the gender conversations going on at Story Games and the Muy Macho Credo, then, yes, I do think you have to treat the woman's concerns greater. At that point, the language used is exclusionary towards women, so considering and woman's point of view become more important than the mans.


13. On 2006-04-10, Brand Robins said:


You know I hate to be harsh. But the truth is that your skits don't give me the information I need to answer your question. They tell me plenty about your biases towards the conversation, and the perception of gender issues in a very vauge way—but without knowing something more about time, location, tone, and history the question you asked isn't really answerable.

Life is contextual, yo.


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This makes...
lpl go "Ironic!"*
LP go "Also my problem with the date rape example."*

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14. On 2006-04-10, Chris said:

Hi Vincent,

Like Brand, I think I'm missing some pieces...

With just the examples you've given, it seems no different than if you opened a vegetarian cafe and people complained that you don't serve meat.  Like others have mentioned, this is your blog, and you can choose "what you serve" here.

Now, beyond that, I recommend that EVERYONE get hip on social power dynamics, since, y'know, the Civil Rights Movement didn't fix everything.  What you take from that and how it informs your discussion methods, that's up to you.


15. On 2006-04-10, Ben Lehman said:

I think it depends rather strongly on whether it is more important that your gaming discussion be feminist or that your gaming discussion push the envelope.

If you're committed to carrying out feminist ideals in every-day life then yes, you should treat the woman differently.  You're in a patriarchal society, so a woman's concerns matter more *no matter what context they're offered in*.

If you're committed to pushing the envelope of gaming then anything that stops you from doing that ought to be ignored.

I say this with a totally straight face, and faith that neither of these is the right solution, but they're the only solutions offered in an imperfect world.



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This reminds...
Chris of CJE- potential reading?

This makes...
TB go "Woah!"*
BL go "In the ideal void..."*
ethan go "My point, better stated"*
ethan go "Er, talking about Ben's point there."
RGD go "Bah"*
BL go "We could debate feminism"*
RGD go "You miss the point"*
Sben go "Is pushing the envelope necessarily exclusionary?"*
TB go "People are specific entities"*
MSW go "Tony..."*
CJE go "Better treatment from who? The world I experience every day is far too multi-racial for being white to be advantageous i"
CJE go "Okay, trying that again.."*
MB go "Bull."*
BL go "CJE..."*
VB go "This one's done."*

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16. On 2006-04-10, Vincent said:

Ben's answer clicks it for me.

The only solutions offered in an imperfect world.

Thanks Ben.

Thanks everybody!


17. On 2006-04-10, Vincent said:

Here's sum-uppage for those of you thrashing around in marginalia above.

In the years-long multiforum conversation we're having, yes, it's inescapable that some people are going to feel excluded. They're people who like roleplaying the way it is and wish we'd knock it off. In fact they're not going to just feel excluded: because their interests are at odds with the conversation's, the conversation genuinely doesn't include them.

Some of them are women.

My question was, should I treat women who're excluded from the conversation and resent it differently from how I treat men who're excluded from the conversation and resent it? I see both sides and I want someone to tell me which.

Ben's answer said to me: Here in the real world, you don't get for someone to come along and tell you which. You have to decide for yourself and live with it. Probably you have to decide for yourself anew every time it comes up.

I've gotten what I needed out of this post.

If you haven't gotten what you need out of it, that's fine. Please say so. But you do need to say so in some way other than snarking and nitpicking in marginalia. LPL, RGD, this means you.


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This makes...
JW go "Pshaw"*
TB go "I missed Ben's point then"*

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18. On 2006-04-10, Vincent said:

JW: I find the assertion that the only possible root cause of exclusion is bovine satisfaction with roleplaying as it currently stands to be mistaken, at best.

So would I, if anyone were to make such a moronic assertion.


19. On 2006-04-10, misuba said:

Vincent, this might rub you the wrong way, but you might wanna clarify for the record whether or not you believe that people who object to the recent we-are-manly-men jokery and/or its associated language must therefore also object to pushing the boundaries of roleplaying. (I know you don't, but your posts in this thread could be read that way, out of context.)


20. On 2006-04-10, Vincent said:

Is the following clear enough?

The conversation must, inevitably, exclude people who object to our endeavor.

If we exclude anyone else, we could have avoided it. By using different language, by being in a better mood that time, by being smarter better subtler wiser more friendly more understanding more outgoing - however it might have happened, we needn't have excluded that person.

Excluding someone who does not object to our endeavor is a failure of us to communicate.


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This makes...
VB go "and yes, it does rub me the wrong way."*
Sben go "Writing draggily"*
JW go "What Sben said"*
misuba go "Language sucks, huh."*

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21. On 2006-04-10, Jonathan Walton said:

My trouble is that I'm all for your endeavour but really don't click with the way you typically seem to go about it.  And this is one of the reasons I've always felt a big chasm between myself and folks like you and Ron.  And it's one of the reasons I peak at Anyway whenever anybody links me to it (because you same some interesting, valuable stuff), but I don't read it regularly.

Yes, push the boundaries of roleplaying!

Yes, figure out what makes all this stuff tick!

But then I look at how you're going about doing that and it's not something I really want to be a part of.  Our goals are the same but our methods are way, WAY different.  And it's not just about communicating poorly.

So, yeah, all about the big-E Endeavor, but not so hot on the endeavor-of-the-week.  And I'm glad you're out there pushing the boundaries in your own way, but I'm going to be over here on the other side working on the same thing in a completely different way.


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This makes...
Judd go "A link to your Endeavor?"*
AG go ""Like you and Ron"?!"*
CRN go "This is the problem."*
SDM go "You got me"*
JW go "A Different Way"*
NinJ go "Fer fuck's sake."

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22. On 2006-04-11, Avram said:

Vincent, have you ever heard a great artist (of any kind—writer, musician, painter, whatever) say something along the lines of If you're going to make great art, you have to stop worrying about who's going to get offended?

This is why.


23. On 2006-04-11, Ben Lehman said:

Hey, marginalia guys.  I am not going to solve your issues with being a white male in modern American society.  The best I could do is give you my issues with being a white male in modern American society—and trust me, you would rather have your issues than my issues.

Some of you, perhaps many of you, took umbrage with what I said to Vincent.  This means one of the following:

1) You thought that my presentation of the feminist viewpoint was incorrect.
2) You thought that my presentation of the edge-gaming viewpoint was incorrect.
3) You would have rather that I lied, and said that these things match up.
4) You would rather that I had taken a specific side (I bet, since you're all men, you would have rather I taken the side against feminism.  Just a hunch.)

And, if I was writing a critical essay, I might have taken any of these things into account.

But I'm not writing a critical essay.  I'm giving advice to my friend, who is deeply committed to two ideologies, and finding them come into conflict.  My goal in the conversation—my only goal in the conversation—is that I help him get some peace of mind.  It is not to serve any political agenda.  It is not to say what's right.  It is not to advise him to do what he ends up doing (thereby being the guy who "wins" the advice competition).  It is certainly not to make any of you happy about what I'm saying.  It is simply to get him some peace of mind.

Understand this and everything becomes a little clearer, I hope.  It doesn't matter whether I give good advice or bad advice.  Or any advice at all.  All that matters is that my advice helps Vincent make a decision about the trouble he's having.

And it did.  And I feel fucking happy about that.  I feel like I did a good job as a friend.

Nothing you guys say is going to take that away from me, or wish I said anything a word different.



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misuba go "Well done IMO"*
BR go "I also have to wonder why I, and other, assumed Mitch was both straight and white."*

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24. On 2006-04-11, anon. said:


I'm not sure I have an answer for you (I realize you already got your answer already anyway). But after coming to the end of the discussion, this is what I'm left with:

I think it's very contextual and I can't decipher whether you should or should not treat Mitch and Mary differently from each other. It largely depends on what "Because I like my roleplaying fine the way it is." means.

It could mean:

"I think exploration beyond what I do is stupid",

but it could also mean:

"What you are doing is vastly uncomfortable to me, and I don't know if I can find a place to coexist happily with it."

If either one is saying the former and the other is saying the latter, then you want to treat the second one differently, because without addressing that "Why" you're missing an opportunity to make your work broader, to learn more and do more and push the boundaries more. I think that could be as true of Mitch as it is of Mary, especially if Mitch had other reasons to feel alienated by the body of work you were pursuing that had to do with accessibility rather than inertia.


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Mo go "Won't let me post again...."*
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25. On 2006-04-11, Andrew Norris said:

Wow, I took this as much simpler than all that.

Vincent talks about his viewpoint. His maleness (pardon the pun) is relevant to his viewpoint, since it's part of who he is.

Vincent also doesn't particularly go out of his way to keep his words sedate and inoffensive. (I can hardly believe I'm stating this; given his published work it's kinda obvious.) We love that about Vincent.

That's what all this penis talk boils down to for me.


26. On 2006-04-11, John Kim said:

OK, here's my two cents on the debate:

There's a subtext here that feminism is about not offending people.  Which is just bizarre to me, because in my experience feminism pisses a whole lot of people off.  Fundamentally, it's about jarring people out of their comfortable gender stereotypes, and they don't like that.

And you know, when I look at people's reactions to Dogs in the Vineyard or even Kill Puppies For Satan, I don't see many people offended—judging by the threads on RPGnet or such.  Vincent may get a clueless email or two, but most people just don't care.  The recent games people have gotten up in arms about are games like Blue Rose and Wraeththu.  Guess why?


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This makes...
LP go "Blue Rose"*
Judd go "I'll bite."*
BR go "Cause Vincent is doing his thing over in the long tail, and Blue Rose hit boys in 'mainstream' mode?"*
JRC go "Disliking Wraeththu isn't about being sexist or homophobic."*

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27. On 2006-04-11, Mo said:

Sorry all... this is just a test.

If it displays, thanks for fixing it Vincent!


28. On 2006-04-17, Barry said:

If there's really nothing more to it than the two playlets you describe, then I'd vote for treating the two complaints identically.

However, if this is based on a real life dispute, it wouldn't surprise me if there weren't real-life elements that would cause me to change my answer.


29. On 2006-04-17, Vincent said:

The two playlets distill one of many problematic dynamics.

Particularly, I've had the Mitch conversation depressingly many times, but never the Mary conversation. I'm positing the Mary conversation whole, to get at the question of including women in the conversation even when they won't contribute, vs. including men even when they won't.

Anyway no, I'm not secretly talking about something other than what I'm saying. Maybe later I'll write about men who feel excluded for reasons of bad communication on our part, not because they genuinely object to what we're doing, vs. women who do.

Maybe. That's if I think that it can go well, which just now I don't.


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