I was having a discussion recently with a friend about women in comics, which led to talking about female gamers. The conversation was going well until my friend (who I always considered a pretty not sexist guy) said this: “There are two types of female gamers: ones who actually like games, and ones who are just trying to get attention.” This comment set me off, we had an argument about it, and it didn’t end well. But that’s another story for another time (or not). The point of this post is to bring the underlying idea of this comment to light. That idea being that women who admit that they’re women online or while gaming are just attention whores. So, let’s dive right in.
As any women who’s online a lot (in certain places) or who games will tell you, the number one sin is admitting you’re female (in any way). You can never do this, even if it’s relevant to the current conversation. Everyone assumes you’re male unless you say that you’re female (ugh, it’s like they think they’re real people or something!). The second you let that bit of information slip, you’re told one (or more) of the following three things: (1) tits or GTFO, (2) get back to the kitchen, or (3) you’re just an attention whore. (I’m not even sure who’s saying 1 or 2 anymore. Do they think that they’re funny or clever with that bit?)
The idea that women only like x because they want attention has been around as long as I can remember. “Women only pretend to like football so that men will like them,” “Women only pretend to like games so that men will like them,” “Women only pretend to like Star Wars so that men will like them, ” etc, etc. According to this stereotype, women only pretend to have interests so that guys will like them. Women have no agency; no interests; the only thing they want is male approval and attention. This stereotype is perfectly illustrated in the Idiot Nerd Girl meme.
Why is this happening when 40% of gamers are now women (PDF) and over 50% of internet users are women? It seems like this is just another way for women to be silenced. If you’re constantly told you’re an “attention whore” for speaking up while female, would you keep doing it? Probably not. That’s why so many women pretend to be men while gaming (here’s a small poll illustrating my point) or online. Or they just let people assume that they’re male. It just makes things easier. I know that when I’m online in certain places, I just let people assume that I’m male. The few times that I’ve admitted to being female (in those places) shit hit the fan. I was called an attention whore, asked for pictures, and told to get back to the kitchen. It’s not fun. I wasn’t upset about it, I was just annoyed because I couldn’t discuss what I wanted to anymore. This just perpetuates the “there are no girls on the internet” trope. But some women won’t be bullied into silence. Those women are called attention whores for refusing to hide the fact that they’re female and still having an opinion.
Things like this are so prevalent online and in nerd culture that it’s hard to understand why so many people are puzzled by (relatively) low numbers of female involvement in these things. It’s because we’re treated like shit by some while others stand by and let it happen over and over again. We (us nerdy women) just can’t fucking please anyone! We’re sexualized when we participate, and then criticized for being attention whores! I can understand why so many women just give up and leave or pretend to be male.
But this kind of thing isn’t limited to just gaming, nerd, or online communities. Any time women speak out, they’re called attention whores. Female skeptic talking about an awkward situation? Attention whore. Female activists bringing attention to victim blaming? Attention whores. Smart woman who blows shit up? Attention whore.
This is something that troubles me frequently. I just want to participate equally in the communities that I enjoy without someone trying to harass me into silence because I had the audacity to have an opinion, interest, or hobby while being female. People rarely ever speak out when these things happen. I can understand why some women remain silent (they don’t want to bring the attention upon themselves). But what about the ones who don’t mind the hate? What about the men who just sit by without speaking up? Won’t someone speak up? I can’t take them all on by myself.