I know that you know by now that I’m a feminist. So that probably explains a lot about why I get so irritated with marketing techniques, and the tendency to paint women with one brushstroke. Quite a few other feminists have spoken out about women and marketing already; one of my favorites is wundergeek over at Go Make Me A Sandwich, a blog which regularly examines marketing tactics in the gaming industry through a feminist lens. Wundergeek’s most recent post got me thinking about many topics, one of which was being a feminist and not always enjoying feminist-friendly things or events. Another was how I could use this as an example of how varied women’s tastes are. Allow me to elaborate, starting with a little bit of background about the topic of Wundergeek’s post.
In 2007, Shelly Mazzanoble, a D&D fan and (gasp) WOMAN, wrote a book called “Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress,” which was apparently received pretty well by her target audience. Wizards of the Coast, the publisher of her book, noted her success and subsequently offered her a monthly column, “Conessions of a Full-Time Wizard.” Both the book and the column are meant to familiarize women with the tabletop game Dungeons and Dragons, as well as let them chuckle a bit at the author’s learning experiences as she navigates her way through her own gaming sessions. Wundergeek has read both the book and the columns, and she doesn’t necessarily agree with all the points Mazzanoble presented. She selected examples of the writing that address her annoyance with the way the author portrays female tabletop gamers, and explains why these comments are hurtful to the acceptance of women as competent game players. While I’ve never read Mazzanoble’s column, I have played D&D, and I certainly know what it’s like to be a woman learning the game in a group of experienced players, who just so happen to be male.
It’s important to keep in mind that I only read the quotes that Wundergeek posted, so perhaps the language didn’t hit me as strongly as it did her, when she would probably read about the same topic, written in the same style, month after month. Much like Wondergeek, some of the quotes I found to be highly irritating, such as the whole “I made this character and I think it was very difficult to do, and now I’m gonna have someone explain how to play her because I certainly don’t know how” bit, or the “Hey, I don’t know what else to resort to, so I’m just gonna have my character start crying” habit she seems to have. Others I felt were things that could potentially be annoying to some people, but some of these things sounded exactly like something I’d done in my gaming sessions. Specifically, Ms. Mazzanoble had an irrational fear of looking stupid in front of the group. She had a really difficult time getting into roleplaying, character manipulation (and by this, I mean rolling up a character and deciding how to give her talents or abilities), and then when she gets overwhelmed, she has a tendency to whine. A lot. My dilemma was the fear of looking stupid, of not wanting to make ANY mistakes. I didn’t want to be perceived as some dumb girl who didn’t know what she was doing, and yet, I had no idea what I was doing! Why? Well, because I’d never played before. And because it takes time to learn the rules of a game of that complexity. There is absolutely nothing wrong with needing help while you’re learning, but obviously at some point, you must start to carry your character on your own. Mazzanoble doesn’t do this, as evidenced by Wundergeek’s post, and she never seems to learn her lesson. She just keeps making the same mistakes, or avoids taking on a challenge, and then relies on her old tricks to save her ass.
Wundergeek also takes issue with the constant references to fashion, shopping, chocolate… you get the idea. I do enjoy fashion. Shopping can be fun if I want to go shut my brain off and look at shiny things for a few hours. And chocolate? Well I know some people don’t like chocolate, but I’m definitely not one of them. Does that make me a bad feminist? Of course it doesn’t. Feminism is about ensuring that women have choices in life, not about restricting them to only certain roles. And those roles could be what we normally think of when we consider why feminism is necessary: 50s housewife happily serving her husband, not allowed to work, and must look presentable at all times; on the other hand, we are also not trying to say women can only be the opposite of that, for that is just as limiting, and does no service to women by simply demanding they do something else. I am by no means saying that this is what Wundergeek was implying by pointing out that she didn’t enjoy these activities. The ultimate point of Wundergeek’s post was that she did not believe that Shelly Mazzanoble was really all that much like her writing made her out to be. She suspects it’s actually a marketing tactic that attempts to draw women in with the use of humor (so it doesn’t sound too powergamer-y), a lovable ditz (isn’t she cute, though?), and mentioning stereotypical female interests (all we really want to do is play dress-up, anyway! Where’s that cute
dress robe I saw earlier?).
The fact that there exist interests that intersect with stereotypical ideas of women’s desires, and there simultaneously exist interests that fall outside of this boundary or are considered non-traditional or alternative hobbies for women, is a great example of how varied women’s tastes actually are. Yes, most women experience some overlap of interests with most stereotypical marketing schemes’ tactics to garner female attention. But that doesn’t make it okay for the marketing crews to assume that this is what all women are interested in and will respond to. In fact, it further enforces the assumption that women are casual about games, or are only playing because their significant other plays, or are unable to learn the complex rules of a game such as D&D, ad infinitum. And the solution would most definitely not be to make fun of these “stereotypical” women’s hobbies either (remember that droid ad I ranted about?), because a lot of women really do enjoy “girly” things, like finding something they enjoy wearing, or eating something that tastes really good (like chocolate!). Shunning these activities only makes it seem like women are punished for just liking things that they like, and they then feel pressured to conform to another set of ideals, which are somehow defined as “better” than girly things. That’s still misogyny, no matter which way you slice it.
So my point here is not to condemn anyone for what they like or dislike. It’s to stress that, duh, women have different interests and trying so hard to draw their attention with just a few tired old tricks is kind of insulting. Humor, likable characters, and being able to relate to what is being sold to you are all vital assets in the marketing process. But they need to be careful to avoid using tropes that reinforce stereotypes, and definitely don’t limit the product to only one kind of personality. Sure, the intended demographic might be “women ages 15-60” or something, but going for GEE THEY ALL HAVE BOOBS, MAYBE WE SHOULD TRY TO REMIND THEM OF HOW FUN SHOE SHOPPING IS SO THEY’LL WANT TO BUY OUR GAME probably isn’t their best effort. That can’t be all you have to offer us… right?