This article was also posted on Substack.
Remember the Smurfette, the lovely, pretty, only woman in a village of 99 Smurfs, that everyone's in love with? She also exists in gaming. But it's really not that nice of a position to be in.
Today, we talk about women competing for that one single spot in a male-dominated field, taking the example of Smash scenes.
It is too hot outside for me to tell you why there aren't too many women in Smash. So here's a tiny recap, and if you want to know more, just tell me and I'll do research and everything. In the winter. When it's cold outside. Please, please, let it be cold outside. In short - not too many women play to start with, because of social barriers - little girls (who don't have brothers) don't get an early access to video games by relatives getting a console for Christmas, for instance. When they do, schoolwork is prioritized. When they grow up, they take on more chores than boys, and they also leave home earlier, which severely affects the free time they have, and thus, the free time they're ready to spend on gaming. And then, of course, the gatekeeping and harassment if they do decide to pick up gaming.
Let's say that's enough. There aren't many women in esports. If you, as a woman, decide to get involved, you're going to find out that women are allowed to belong to four categories:
- The princess
- The slut
- The crazy feminist
- The "girlfriend of", "sister of", "friend of", etc., which I'll refer to as "girlfriend", even though it's not the only case.
(Also, if you want to know more about the buckets, you can read my first-year sociology research report here.)
As is relatively easy to guess, the princess is usually the role we strive for. I can guarantee you being the slut or being the crazy feminist isn't fun. Being the girlfriend isn't great either, especially if you're actually a girlfriend and there's a breakup and people still define you through your ex. Not great either if you really get into the game, get relatively good, work hard, and... still don't get recognized as a person of your own.
But the princess? The princess tells a joke, and all the boys laugh. The princess streams, and all the boys watch. The princess says something nice to someone in another category, and all the boys... disown her and find another princess. Because that's the thing. There's only one Smurfette. In an incredibly male-dominated environment, unless there's a lot of work being done to change things at a community-wide scale, you just don't have enough space for two princesses. Because treating two women right would be breaking the idea that the princess is a "cool girl", or "one of the boys". It would imply that women in general can be cool and treated as equals. We don't want that, do we, boys?
And sometimes, the person who wants that the least is the princess herself. She knows. She's not an idiot. She knows that if she says, "uh, guys, that joke about boobs wasn't really funny", she's done for. She'll be sent straight to the crazy feminist bucket. So she says "haha, awful feminazis, of course the community doesn't have a problem, boys! I'm happy!"
I used to be the princess, a long time ago, away from gaming. I thought I was one of the boys. I was the token. I was the reason they could say "feminazis are calling us sexist, but cool girls, like Lexane, she says we're fine, so clearly women are the problem and we shouldn't listen to what to say". And I'd nod, because I had great friends, and I had built my friends circle around them, and I didn't see the problem. Until I started seeing it. Then, I started telling them that maybe they could give me another nickname than "Double D". And I promptly got replaced with a new cool girl. Being the princess is either very stressful or very lonely - at least in terms of women. There's only one Smurfette.
So, how do we make place for a group of women to be treated decently?
Well, sorry, I haven't done research about that. Yet. (If you know of a good online masters' degree in sociology, I'd love to write my masters thesis about it. Please reach out.)
But for the French Melee scene, what I saw was a group of women who loved and supported each other and who weren't afraid of all being seen as enraged feminists. And with time, over a few years, our group - 5 women, just 5 women - changed some things in the general perceptions. We worked hard, and we never shut up. We had some girlfriends, we had some sluts, we had some ex-princesses, but what we were, was women. Ready to change things together - take us all, or lose us all, but there would be no Princess this time. It made things better - at least, I hope so. But we're not there yet, be it only because there's still half a dozen of us in a community composed of close to a thousand players. I’d say that the environment is now ready to welcome women - but now, women have to find out about our community and want to join a group with 1000 boys and 6 women, as safe as we say it is.
So we'll work on the next steps, with other women, with the men too, and we'll do our best to create an esports world in which you don't need to be the Princess to be treated properly.