That Might Not Work…

Jackie Lee wrote an excellent article today. I wish she hadn’t written it for many reasons, but it was very good. She supported her position with facts, anecdotal evidence, stats and human psychology, and she laid it out well. I’m not her editor though, and I’m sure she’ll get ample praise for the column both because it’s good and because it “needed to be said.”

Did it, though? In my cubicle I am somewhat sheltered from the luxuries of cell reception, so I haven’t been able to follow the Twitter furore properly. While on my lunch break I did see at least one (entirely unsurprising) person talk about the onslaught of “white knights” to defend Jackie and her article, though why either should need that is beyond me. Jackie is more than capable of defending herself, if in fact she feels a need to do so, and the article stands on its own. My fear though is that all this article will do is exacerbate what is already a serious issue.

I’d venture that some people reading this have heard of Gary Quach. He was recently banned by the DCI for 6 months for what can only be described as hate speech against women in the SCG chat feed during GP Salt Lake City. This has apparently been going on for a long time but was only recently brought to the attention of Wizards and the DCI. How he got 6 months for hate-fuelled disgusting garbage when Gerald Freas got 18 for poorly-done “humour” with little to no malicious intent is a topic for another time and place. The problem is that Quach is far from alone on the internet or indeed in the Magic community. He and his ilk will read Jackie’s article…and either laugh it off or start behaving even worse than they do now. Bigotry is born of ignorance but ignorance is bliss and many people will refuse to leave that state of mind. The worst elements of our community (and I am loathe to include them in that group) are the ones who need to read this most…and they won’t care.

Others will read it and nod their heads sagely, agreeing with every word, praising Jackie for her courage and lucidity and calm in the face of such extreme adversity. Many members of that group will be male and will apologise on behalf of the gender for the behaviour of a few, either out of some desire to score points with a member of the opposite sex or a genuine distress at the poor behaviour of others. Some will even go so far as to call out and deride those who dare to disagree with anything Jackie says and suggest that they are in fact part of the problem being described.

Then there’s the majority, the ones who will read the article and think that it’s true, but don’t think it affects them. These are the people Jackie should be trying to reach, because in all likelihood it DOES affect them. I don’t think anyone will disagree with me when I say that the vast majority of people playing this game are men. Many of them have called people “bitch” or referred to a particularly dominant victory as “rape.” Some even get offended that people find this offensive. I really admire Jackie’s question: Why do you use these terms? Of course most people won’t have an acceptable answer to that, and they’ll go on using it just as they use “gay” to describe something negative or “owned” to describe a rousing victory in another fashion. More on that later.

Jackie’s points, while well-researched and supported, work only in an idealist society. Alas, we don’t even LIVE in one, let alone play in one. The ONLY way that women will become accepted as commonplace in the competitive Magic scene is for them to BE commonplace there. I wish this weren’t the case but Jackie’s own story about the etymology of “bitch” is a good illustration here. Women won the right to vote and then had to put up with vicious verbal backlash for years thereafter. We are seeing the emergence of female pros in Magic and unfortunately it will take time for that to be accepted by The Great Unwashed, as Edward Bulwer-Lytton would no doubt refer to them.

One thing Jackie did not address is how the treatment of women in Magic seems to be an extension of the treatment they receive in the internet community at large. The Mos Eisley of the internet, known as 4chan, is famous for this. I could go on for hours about the psychological reasons behind the misogyny displayed by the socially maladjusted denizens of the internet, but it’s been done time and time again. There is a lot of overlap between Magic players and internet junkies, and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense. Not every “nethead” is a raging bigot, far from it. The large overlap between Magic and the web though makes it inevitable that some of this negative element will bleed into our community, and we all know the effect that a bad apple has on the bunch.

I’ve been called a “white knight” more times than I can count. It’s rather offensive actually, this idea that defending someone’s position is a bad thing and worthy of derision. Outside of Magic I do a lot of human rights and equal opportunities work. With all that said, I have on more than one occasion called something a bitch. I’ve joked with female friends in ways that Jackie in her article calls damaging. That makes me, by her definition, a contributing factor. That comes as something of a shock to me. In Canada the Aboriginal peoples have had a very tough time of it. One of my good friends, who is actively involved with his people and represents Aboriginal issues on a national stage, has a saying: “If you want to help me and my people, ask me how. Don’t just do.” So I have asked, and I’ve been told simply that I should treat female players as I do male players. I don’t get that impression from Jackie’s article.

The thing is, female players are NOT just like male players. I’m not talking about the obvious biological differences, but instead the number of them to be found at any given tournament. One of my ex-girlfriends once stopped by a PTQ to drop something off to a friend of mine so he could bring it over to me. She walked into this room on a university campus and said she instantly felt 120 sets of eyes on her. She was the only woman there. When a man succeeds at such an event, there is fanfare for his achievement. “Bravo! You have done something few have done before you!” When a WOMAN succeeds, it’s my belief that there should be MORE fanfare. Yes it puts them more in the spotlight, but we WANT that. One of the key tenets of equal opportunities is proportional representation. We may never reach that in competitive Magic but we can certainly do better than we are now, and touting every success of a woman is paramount to that taking place.

I really hope I am wrong about this. I’ll be doing a podcast with Jackie and the crew from RamenCast in the near future, and I look forward to having a discussion about it without character limits and such getting in the way. Those of us who don’t have an irrational fear of losing to a girl or mommy issues would all love to see more women playing the game at the highest level, and I for one can’t wait for the time when the topic isn’t a topic any more. Alas, we’re not close to being there yet. Pointing out all the little things that people do that are intimidating or distasteful to women is, in my mind, more likely to cause it to increase than decrease.

Apologies that this entry sounds so jumbled. I’m really just trying to get everything into words and published while the issue is still at the forefront of the collective conscience. I’ve already been asked what the solution is, and to be honest I think the best one is a reactionary approach. Tout the successes, call out the bigots and encourage the up-and-comers. Any community that wants to diversify has to be welcoming to the new elements, but invariably there will be the “there goes the neighbourhood” crowd whose impact needs to be minimised and whose conduct should be publicly shamed. “A Field Guide to Interacting With Female Magic Players” just isn’t going to do anyone any good, I fear.

Now, as an aside and without meaning to detract from Jackie’s article or the issue at hand…how many black people have made a GP or PT top 8? I count 4: Rashad Miller, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, David Williams and Cedric Phillips. They’ve done better than women (I believe all 4 have PT top 8s, though I could be wrong on that) but the number is the same as far as I can determine. Are black people subject to the same degree of bigotry in Magic circles as women are? I don’t think so, no. But how many of you have used the word “owned” to suggest domination? Were you aware of the origins of THAT particular word in that sense? Slavery, I’m afraid. Very rarely though will anyone chastise you for its use. If we’re going to start watching when we say “rape” (which I wholeheartedly agree is unpleasant) and “bitch” (which might be taking it a little far, but if it offends then so be it), perhaps we need to stop saying “owned” as well. While we’re at it, let’s dump “gay” too, huh?

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