Since this blog is primarily aimed at people at least somewhat familiar with feminism, I often take it for granted that people know what I’m talking about when I say things like women are “the sex class” or that female geeks are made into “Second Class Geeks” by the way we’re treated as potential dates first and geeks second.
But what does that mean for female gamer culture?
I believe that the gaming beauty myth informs the typical archetypes attributed to female gamers. Whether it be conforming to the traditional stereotype of “geek” — the unwashed, unattractive, glasses-wearing, basement-living untouchable — or being the “hawt gamer girl” — the sex kitten supposedly out of every geeky guy’s fantasy — the two archetypes I will examine below share a common thread: percieved attractiveness.
Though I should hope this is obvious, I want to emphasize that I am not attacking any people who conform in whole, or part, to these archetypes. This post is intended to explore how the beauty myth interacts with the way that female gamers are seen by others as well as each other.
I. The Traditionally Geeky Female Gamer
When I open my mouth at any given time and state that I’m a gamer I get jaws dropping to the floor. I get the “But.. But.. you aren’t nerdy with greasy hair and glasses!!”
I think that the problem is this… for YEARS the only women who were seen in the gaming world WERE the less attractive women because it was a safe, tech driven world where they felt like they belonged. I was one of them!! I was the fat little girl with bad style, icky brown hair and no friends. Then, I decided to care about my looks a little more (figured.. the whole acting thing kinda pushed me that way) and I lost weight and “grew up”.[From Pageant Hid as Revolution: Miss Video Game 2007, comment by Becky "Aktrez" Young]
The first archetype I will be looking at is the Traditionally Geeky Female Gamer. Becky pretty much hits most of the stereotypes: wears glasses, “less attractive”, “fat little girl with bad style, icky brown hair and no friends”. You can add to that lives with family (and/or in family’s basement), has poor hygine, etc.
By definition, this archetype is part of the gaming beauty myth — she is “less attractive” than other women. This is further reinforced by some of the indicators of this archetype: wears glasses, fat, has bad style, and “icky brown hair”.
While there are people who can “get away” with wearing glasses if they’re of a fashionable brand, overall there is extreme pressure to wear contacts in order to look “better”. There are different reasons given for this — glasses hide your face is the most common one I hear — but ultimately it puts emphasis on beauty as conforming to one particular ideal: that of a glasses-less face.
Fatphobia is the next component in this, although I can’t at all say it’s surprising given the “obesity panic” that’s sweeping nations like America. I don’t want to spend too much time on this one, as it’s a whole field of study itself, but a decent starting point for information would be the posts linked in The Big Fat Carnival. Suffice it to say that issues of weight are included in the beauty myth.
I’m not sure how much style is talked about when discussing the beauty myth, but it is definitely used to promote the idea that women’s attractiveness is more important than anything else about her. Take, for instance, Condoleezza Rice, America’s secretary of state. Her appearance and style get commented on way more than men of similar and lower positions — she gets called things like a ‘dominatrix’ and has had people commenting on her hair.
Which brings me to the last one on Becky’s list: “icky brown hair”. I’m not entirely sure how much of the “icky-ness” in Becky’s statement has to do with the idea that geeks have “greasy” hair and how much of it has to do with the colour. Regardless of the statement’s intent, brown hair is definitely not the most desired colour for hair or eyes. Although a woman can have brown hair and still be considered attractive, I do feel that in Western culture there is a ranking of the colour as being less attractive than, say, the all-American colour blonde.
II. The Girly-Girl Gamer
First you have the pretty girl gamer that post pictures of her on websites and always refers to herself as a girl gamer… Pretty gamers are usually the types to come on a site and scream, â€œIâ€™m a girl gamer and Iâ€™m a hot tooâ€ as if to say they are special, but this really only kills our image for the female gamers that just play and donâ€™t need to the world to know they occasionally wear a skirt.[From What's wrong with the female gaming community, by Faith]
Here is the thing.. YOU may not post your picture online but I, and millions of girls do! It doesnâ€™t mean we are attention whores or wrong. It means we like to take pictures and we like to get feedback. We LIKE to look pretty and yea.. we LIKE the attention. Is that a bad thing? No.. itâ€™s human nature! If thatâ€™s not you then fine. That doesnâ€™t mean what I am doing or what MILLIONS of girls are doing is wrong.[From Pageant Hid as Revolution: Miss Video Game 2007, comment by Becky "Aktrez" Young]
The second archetype is what I’m calling the Girly-Girl Gamer. These are the women who have chosen to embrace the beauty myth full on and to capitalize on their attractiveness to further their popularity as gamers. While Faith sees this as a bad thing, Becky calls it being a “glam gamer” and sees it as challenging the stereotype of the Traditionally Geeky Female Gamer archetype… as long as one isn’t being a “faker” (more on that later in the series).
Removing the question of morality, however, and focusing on how this archetype interacts with the beauty myth, what are the important elements here? First of all, there’s an emphasis on being “hot” as being tied to a gamer identity. Then there’s the picture taking aspect, which is tied in with seeking attention/validation through physical attractiveness.
Faith emphasizes the idea that the Girly-Girl Gamer often states two things: that they are hot and that they are a girl gamer. It is important to this archetype to be seen as the ideal feminine, which, of course, includes being physically attractive.
Displaying photographs of oneself is also here tied to the beauty myth — and may well be related to the photo spreads of attractive women in magazines. The internet allows all women to become “models”, and some of the women, like Becky, are actually professional models as well as avid gamers. Not to mention that one of the first things that female gamers tend to be asked on forums is to post pictures of themselves. The male gamers, I should add, are under no such pressure or obligation.
Although these archetypes seem to be polar opposites, they are both tied into the beauty myth that pervades our culture. These are two of the more prevalent archetypes out there (though by no means the only ones), and yet they reveal nothing of relevance when it comes to the gaming habits of these women.
Do they prefer FPSs, RPGs, Puzzle Games, Strategy? What are their favourite consoles, or are they strictly PC gamers? Are they interested in the industry beyond just playing games, or are they just concerned about when the next game they want is coming out?
Questions like that are made secondary to the issue of if they are conventionally attractive and if so how they use that beauty. Stuff like physical beauty, what one wears, what one’s body type is, or whether or not someone posts pictures of themselves should not even be on the radar here.
Yet it’s almost always the main concern when female gamers are brought up and that’s exactly what I mean when I say that women are the “sex class”; that we’re viewed first as objects of attraction, and second through our gaming habits and preferences.