A few days ago—spurred by a recent PAXsims readers poll that showed that an astonishing 99% of our readers are men—I posted a few thoughts on gender and national security gaming. My argument, I thought, was fairly unremarkable: Women are underrepresented in professional national security gaming; this is due to a variety of reasons (gender socialization, male preponderance in the military, underrepresentation of women within hobby wargaming, and so forth); and increasing the number of women in this area was a good idea, since—among other things—it brings more brainpower and bodies and expertise to address important issues in serious gaming.
As part of that argument, I pointed to the massive gender imbalance within the wargaming hobby, which is probably 95% or more male too. Since hobby gaming can help to develop professionally-relevant skills, and thus be an asset for those who go on in national security analysis (or, for that matter, teaching), wouldn’t it be a good idea to try to encourage more women to participate here too?
I then suggested a few obvious things that might help.
The reaction to the discussion from within the professional wargaming community has been entirely positive. One defence analyst heavily involved in government wargaming wrote to thank me for the piece, noting that he himself was trying hard to promote women in the field, and underscoring that there was much work still to be done. Another senior wargamer involved in professional military education also wrote to note that he too saw it as a problem. A wargame designer and educator commented (as I have) that there’s no difficulty getting women engaged in conflict simulation in university settings, and we needed to think about how those lessons could be exported more widely.
So that was the good. What about the bad and the ugly?
This showed up when I cross-posted the piece to several general hobby wargaming forums. Certainly many, many comments were positive and encouraging, and in one forum the discussion was entirely and completely reasonable. Elsewhere, however, some male commentators suggested:
- women prefer shopping for shoes
- women prefer wine and manicures
- I was trying to impose “quotas”
- that encouraging more women to wargame was like demanding more male shop clerks at Victoria’s Secret
- if women were interested they would form their own clubs
- that it was good to include women, unless they were those pushy “social justice warrior” types
- wives would just criticize our game moves
- that wargaming, like war itself, is brutal and competitive and not suited for women (after all, who hasn’t been wounded by spilled beer or a sharpened pretzel?)
- that men were hard-wired to be wargamers by a supreme creator, and we shouldn’t be tampering with intelligent design
- that I was a “fag” for even suggesting such a thing
Now, as a researcher, it is important for me to mention an important methodological caveat—comments made in online fora are rarely representative of general views, since they tend to attract the most highly-motivated or aggrieved participants. They certainly aren’t representative at all of attitudes within my own gaming groups.
At the same time, reading some of these statements I’ll have to admit my reaction was: OMFG. Really? In 2016?
In one forum an articulate and highly-experienced female wargamer entered the fray, and rather forcefully articulated some of the problems she has encountered over the years. She finally left the discussion in frustration. In another forum, where the consensus seemed to be that women just weren’t interested in such things, a long-time female lurker on the website chimed in that she had always wanted to try wargaming, but had never found a shop or club or mentor that she found particularly encouraging. She commented (and I quote with her permission):
Not that many women are interested. True, but then those who are might not feel welcomed. I just wanted to share my personal experience and point of view. Putting it out there “I’m interested.” But the truth is I don’t feel welcomed. So I’m out.
PAXsims isn’t predominantly a blog about hobby wargaming, although we certainly address aspects of it. However for those of us who enjoy the hobby, all this suggests we need to think about providing a pathway for women and girls to learn more about conflict simulation that is welcoming, supportive, and reduces the various barriers to entry.
Some of that can occur in clubs and shops, although here one encounters the chicken-and-egg problem that neophytes may be reluctant to visit in the first place (especially if they get that “hey, there’s a girl in the store/club/competition!” look that will be familiar to many female players of Warhammer).
I think casting gaming wider than traditional hex-and-chit wargaming helps too: certainly we’ve seen political-military megagames grow from 10% to 20% or more women in recent years. At our own recent New World Order 2035 megagame at McGill almost 40% of the approximately one hundred players were women (all of whom had paid to attend), as were 45% of the Control team.
I’m inclined to think (and I’m sure Phil Sabin will agree with me here, since half his conflict simulation class is typically female) that educational institutions are a good place to focus efforts. Quite apart from gamer-professors or gamer-teachers using games in the classroom, there’s probably scope for gaming clubs to partner with organizations or instructors. NWO 2035, for example, was for all intents and purposes a partnership between Jim Wallman (Megagame Makers), some folks from our local gaming group, and the International Relations Students’ Association of McGill (IRSAM).
Finally, the obligation to not be a sexist ass extends beyond behaving properly to making it clear that sexist comments by others are considered unacceptable. Indeed, that’s perhaps one of the key differences with gaming in a university (or, increasingly, professional) environment: casual reference to sexist stereotypes on campus will generally win you a room full of icy disapproving stares.
Further discussion is welcomed in the comments section.