While watching the eleven episode documentary Metal Evolution, I noticed a couple of interesting trends. There are almost no women involved in the formative years of various genres of heavy metal. Bands such as Black Sabbath, Led Zepplin, Iron Maiden, Metallica and Helloween are looked upon as laying the foundation of modern heavy metal, all put together by men. The greatest representation of female musicians in the show are in the Grunge Rock episode, which features one or two female guitarists from the earlier days, and Power Metal, which features former Nightwish vocalist Tarja Turunen.
Instead, the greatest presence of women in heavy metal history are as fans, particularly the sort willing to have sex with the band members. These were mentioned most prominently in the Shock Rock episode focusing on the band Kiss, the Glam Metal episode, and in some ways the end of the Grunge Rock episode. Glam Metal in particular was a very shallow genre of heavy metal, focusing on more simple riffs and appearances that were MTV friendly. Bands wrote songs about partying and getting laid, differentiating from the deeper materials formative bands Black Sabbath or Led Zepplin explored. Glam Metal dominated Los Angeles, while in the Bay Area Thrash Metal was rising. But women didn’t go to see Thrash Metal shows, where bands sang about insane asylums, serial killers, or war. They continued to chase the Glam Rockers in L.A., who gradually became a fad and died off.
Over a decade later, it feels like the same thing is happening to what Grunge Rock started. Women line up to go see Nickelback shows, where the band sings about stuff like partying. The Glam Metal of Grunge, so to speak.
In my previous article I mentioned how my personal perception and bias led me to believe only intelligent people enjoyed certain kinds of media. Well, growing up, it was easy to notice that most girls did not have any interest in the complex riffs or melodies of the heavy metal I loved. The songs themselves often had a tendency to paint women in a negative light.
It feels that the same thing could be happening with video games, though it’s hard to really tell. There are lies, damned lies, and statistics, and then there’s anecdotal evidence. None of it is reliable.
I’m not looking to discuss facts and figures, though. I’m here to question perceptions and thoughts about what we “know”. Based on observation, I can assume many other male gamers in their mid-twenties to thirties have noticed a lack of women that have played video games regularly since childhood, at least in comparison to men. I personally have noticed that there is a larger number of adult female gamers that started with the N64 and Playstation era, enough years younger to go unnoticed by older males.
Yet the most vocal I have encountered are big into games such as Call of Duty, and… not much else. In other words, they are a female version of the Bro Gamer.
To compare this to heavy metal, let’s look at Metallica. They were a relatively niche band writing what you’d expect of Thrash Metal, and their music appealed to that Thrash Metal community. Then came the Black Album and, by extension, Enter Sandman. Suddenly there was an explosion of new fans, ones that didn’t know anything about Thrash Metal or Metallica’s previous albums like Master of Puppets or Ride the Lightning. They were jocks. Frat boys. They were the Bro’s of the 90’s. Being a fan of Metallica could just mean you were a poser. Sure, you like Enter Sandman, but have you even heard of Megadeth, Testament, Saxon or Anthrax?
The same has occurred with video games and Call of Duty. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was the new Black Album. Amongst the “hardcore” gamer crowd, these “bro gamers” chugging PBR whilst playing Capture the Flag are no better than all the guys that hopped onto the Metallica bandwagon in the 90’s. They’re not “true gamers”.
So where does that leave the female gamers that are no different? Well, that’s where things get a bit inconsistent. In some ways you can view them as no different than all the women that fawned over the Glam Metal bands, abandoning all sense of substance. It may sound a bit more sexist as the expectation of female fans of Glam were very much groupies willing to blow the band members, but if you remove that from the equation then the two fan groups are the same. Neither the new Metallica fans nor the Glam Metal groupies showed much interest in the appreciation of music as an art form. Each music style was simple and could appeal to baser instincts. The Black Album kicks up masculine aggression and makes you want to smash a beer can against your forehead. Glam Metal made you want to dance and move your body while singing with an entire crowd at a party. Less aggression, more friendly to what is considered traditional female tastes.
Now, the Call of Duty fanbase is not a precise comparison, as the game is certainly aggressive and traditionally considered masculine. However, who is to say that males and females don’t like the games for different reasons? What game modes are more popular amongst women versus men? It could be there’s a correlation there.
What has me, personally, more curious, is why there tend to be such differences between men and women in the first place. All my life I’ve been told that men are a certain way and women are different. I’ve been told that my “man card” has been revoked for knowing nothing about cars or caring very little about any sport beyond hockey. Does that mean I’m not masculine?
Yet even with that pressure from some men, there are plenty of others I can speak with that share my thoughts. Cars and sports are boring, movies, books, and video games are much more interesting. I have a group I can go to to say “fuck societal expectations of what is manly, here’s what we like”.
Do women have the same thing? I’m not sure. My most common and closest female friends growing up had a tendency to get along with men better. Enjoying things like video games, comic books, or role-playing games outcast them amongst other females, in addition to a lot of “catty” behaviors, and encouraged them to spend more time hanging out with guys than other girls. Oddly enough, I’ve more often found these same female friends to be more open to differing opinions or simply mulling upon philosophical topics than many of my more opinionated male friends.
So what can I draw from these anecdotal experiences? Well, there are a variety of socially acceptable male personalities and types. While there’s some adolescent expectation for men to be a certain way, there’s a large enough population that feels satisfied rejecting many of those notions. Simultaneously, there are societal expectations for what is feminine, but it does not seem as if those women are able to find a similar group of like-minded females to reject those notions. Instead, they are drawn to groups of men, which will always view them as a foreign element.
That sounds like an awfully suspicious situation to me.
Let me cut further to the chase. Let’s do a YouTube search for “female game reviewer”. The first result is titled Sexy Game Review - Seduce a Suicide Girl. The fourth result is a review by Adam Sessler, who I am pretty sure is a male. This is followed by a Donkey Kong Country review done by a man, and later down the page Top 5 Asian Girls in Gaming.
Alright, let’s give YouTube’s search algorithm the benefit of the doubt and search “female game reviewer youtube” on Google.
Sadly, the results aren’t much better.
Why do I bring this up? Because one of the common arguments I’ve found against gaming females lately are YouTube personalities. Women that give nothing more than top five lists while wearing low-cut tops, or show hosts that do little journalism themselves while spilling out rehearsed lines. They become labeled attention whores because they offer nothing of substance, putting themselves in front of a camera just so they can feel special.
...so, how does this set them apart from nearly anyone else on YouTube?
This sort of blows my mind the most. Granted, it’s all going to be based on personal preference, but how many simple-minded males are there cluttering YouTube with horrible commentary, horrible dubs, sad attempts at Harlem Shake videos, Gangnam Style parodies, and so much more tripe and vomit? Yet for some reason the one thing that is more offensive than all of those combined? Women with low-cut tops talking video games.
To me, there is a lack of quality games content on YouTube altogether. However, I prefer in-depth analysis along the lines of Matthew Matosis, Tasteful, Understated Nerd Rage, and Errant Signal. While there are a couple of not so serious channels I subscribe to, most of my YouTube time is spent seeking out more enlightening materials. These are hard to begin with, and I cannot help but notice it seems to be harder to find such material authored by women.
However, to blame that on women as a gender is foolish. No, I have to question if the blame might lie elsewhere.
If you look at a lot of childhood toys and television media, you can see some pretty big differences in marketing for boys and girls. As a society, we seem to expect boys to be interested in stories about heroes fighting the forces of evil. Ambition and heroism. Boys are taught that they can be something, and that it is their place to strive for it.
Rolling along through Netflix, most of the cartoons for my niece take the shape of a show like Horseland, where girls learn to work together and ride horses and…ride more horses. On the surface it is clean, wholesome entertainment, but there’s no sense of ambition or agency. It’s all interpersonal relationships and drama.
The knee jerk reaction may be to simply assume that girls just aren’t interested in that sort of entertainment, but I know that’s wrong. I know it’s wrong for several reasons. The first is because my niece, and several of my female friends, grew up enjoying “entertainment for boys” as well. The second is because Japan has a large swatch of television shows like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura, where females are the heroic protagonists that save the day. Shows whose primary demographic are younger girls.
I have a theory that, in Western society at least, we haven’t outgrown old fashioned notions of how women are meant to think and act. Unfortunately, it’s not just because of men providing glass-ceilings or other such common scapegoats. Yes, all the men currently complaining about female gamers, women at comic conventions, or just women in general, aren’t helping things. However, I feel there is an ongoing argument amongst women themselves as to how they should think and behave, what is natural and what has been programmed into them.
Back in 2011 writer Lisa Bloom of the Huffington Post questioned how we talk to little girls, and that we should be careful to discuss and complement them on topics aside from just their beauty. Devan McGuinness of Babble observed people treating her daughters differently than her son. They’d ask her son about his age, hobbies, what he’s been doing in school, while saying how pretty her daughters look and how their clothing looks nice. Both women are calling to stop focusing so much on a girl’s beauty.
Yet there are other women, such as Mandy and Jeanne Sager, that feel it is important to tell their children they are beautiful. They disagree with Lisa Bloom and Devan McGuinness, though unfortunately I feel as if they miss the overall message those two women were trying to get at.
What you have, however, is an argument over beauty. Somehow, a woman’s physical appearance is constantly at the center of these sorts of arguments. Is a woman on YouTube in a low-cut top discussing video games? She’s an attention whore. Is there a woman on YouTube discussing video games while dressed modestly? You probably never heard of her until she complained about how female gamers are treated in the community, and then you made some remark about her needing to get laid. That is, unless she agreed these women are making too big of a deal.
Either way, a woman’s appearance or how often she has sex is called into question. This is a problem with how men view women, but it is simultaneously brought about by how many women portray themselves. I once wondered how magazines discussing the top ten ways to “please your man in bed” could continue to sell, then I worked at a major shopping network. I got to listen to conversation, read customer reviews and opinions, and read about some of the show hosts for the network and website. Women put an emphasis on appearance in ways men do not, and turn a critical eye towards other women in ways men do not.
To me, it all links back to childhood. Boys are asked about their hobbies and accomplishments, and are provided entertainment that encourages them to dream big. Girls are told how pretty they are and are provided entertainment about the mundane.
Is it any wonder, then, that so many girls that actually dare to enjoy “boy” media would feel outcast by their own gender? Is it any wonder that a pair of mothers would insist on calling their daughters beautiful because “every woman deserves to feel beautiful”? From childhood men are taught that their accomplishments are what make them valuable. A woman is taught that it is her beauty, even though society is also telling her she can do whatever a man can do.
When I was younger, I used to call women who showed off their breasts while talking about video games on YouTube attention whores. Now, I see a woman that wants to find value in themselves while simultaneously enjoying their hobbies. I don’t think their love for videogames, or certain video games, is not genuine. I do, however, feel that some of them may not know how to have value beyond what society has taught them (while others simply like expressing their sexuality and there is no deep, insecure reasoning for it). Similarly, there are plenty of men out there trying to write game reviews or create games, churning out horrible product because they’re convinced they have the talents to achieve something they’re not equipped for.
No one makes a big deal about the latter, though, and I think that’s the important thing to note.
There is so much more to discuss on this topic, as well as society as a whole. I have had to keep my arguments here simplified, and fear I have stretched a bit far from the intention. As discussed earlier, terms like “geek” and “nerd” are a product of personal perception, a label that many hold close to their identity. That they’d lash out at what they perceive to be imposters is an attempt to keep that identity personal, their own. They don’t want it to be taken by those that they feel have rejected them.
With the advent of bro gamers and women becoming a more common gaming force, it is only natural that you’d see several groups lash out. It is immature, and often fraught with what is, quite frankly, pseudo-intellectual bullshit. However, I’ve seen many proponents of female gamers making fraudulent arguments of their opponents and treating them as little more than dirt.
I’m sick of heated battles and “us vs. them” mentalities. I’m sick of everyone wanting to play the victim and accusing the other of being the villain. It’s getting us nowhere, and hasn’t for the past century or more that such arguments have taken place (seriously, watch shows like Boardwalk Empire or Mad Men to see how often history repeats).
My goal here wasn’t to provide answers. It was not to provide alternatives. What I wanted to discuss was that we need to rethink our approach. Look at it like an episode of House, or any random crime drama on television. There’s always a bunch of misdirection, providing false leads and premature conclusions that turn out to be false. The truth, the solution, is always buried where no one was looking.
I feel like this describes society, and additionally, our problems with sex, sexism, and gender relations in video games. They are just an extension of how confused our society as a whole is, and we will never find a solution to our problems if we continue making the same arguments made up to a century ago.
It is time we start asking “why” more often than saying “because”.