For those of you who don’t recognise it, the quote is from The Lord of the Rings, specifically Eowyn’s response to the Witch King of Angmar (just before she kills him) when he tells her that he can be hindered by no living man. I think its relevant for a couple of reasons: firstly because people are still surprised when they meet women who role-play, and secondly because she’s the kind of awesome armour-wearing, sword-wielding woman you tend to find in RPGs.
In general, role-play is still male-dominated and in any given game you’re lucky to have one woman in the group. So, with this in mind I wanted to share a few things that I’ve noticed happen to me as a female role-player that I don’t think happen to my male friends quite so much (if I’m wrong, feel free to correct me!) This won’t reflect every woman’s experience and, from talking to other women, I think my negative experiences are probably on the milder end of the spectrum.
1. The character art.
I’m sure this isn’t news to anyone, but finding art that doesn’t make my awesome female characters look like someone’s wet dream can be tough. To illustrate, one of my favourite images I ever found was a dark elf who seemed to be dressed exclusively in belts (I actually found this funny enough to use as my character art, and created a backstory to explain why she only wore belts and not, y’know, any knickers). It can be so hard to find images where women look genuinely powerful that I actually have a folder dedicated to female character art on my computer, where I save likely images whenever I come across them.
Even when you manage to find art where the woman isn’t displaying copious breast, butt or leg, its next to impossible to find images of older women, non-white women, or women who aren’t incredibly beautiful. I’ve only found one or two images ever that I think look realistically like a woman who spends weeks at a time adventuring with no time to do her hair and makeup.
2. Feeling afraid
While I imagine everyone feels nervous the first time they met a new group, what I feel is more akin to fear, as it puts me in a position of vulnerability. I usually have to go and meet a group of strangers in the evening, normally all men who are bigger and stronger than me, and sometimes this will be at someone’s home. I’m aware that I’m taking a risk just by showing up, even in public spaces, because it’s still often in an isolated games shop full of blokes where I feel like an outsider. When I turn up and see another woman, I tend to feel extremely relieved. It’d be great if groups were a bit more aware of this and tried to make times/locations a bit more female friendly or less likely to intimidate a woman on her own. We might get a lot more women into the hobby this way.
3. Other players hitting on you in and out of game
This kind of relates to the previous point, as it’s another level of risk experienced by women in a male-dominated space that men don’t worry about to the same extent. In the majority of games, I’ve played, at least one member of the group has hit on me at some point. I’m lucky not to have experienced any sexual harassment as a result of playing but I’ve heard from lots of people who have. This means that when I play with a new group I always feel the need to mention that I have a boyfriend early, which is really silly and shouldn’t feel necessary, but it stops things getting awkward as soon as possible.
4. The rules are constantly mansplained
This one is probably the most annoying and ubiquitous for me. I find that in most games I’ve played, the GM and other players will assume I don’t understand the rules and will try to hand-hold me through my turns in combat (unasked). Even though I’m willing to concede that this might be with kind intentions, it can be really irritating when I’ve role-played for a number of years and know the rules as well as everyone else. It’s led me to become quite sensitive about other players or the GM explaining the rules to me, even when necessary! I have never seen this happen to such an extent (e.g. every. single. turn.) with fellow male role players.
5. PCs treat female characters differently IC
I only noticed this when I cross-played for the first time. Up until recently, I had only ever played female characters, so I just took how people treated them as par for the course. Playing as a male character I noticed a distinct difference in my IC interactions. My female characters, even when they were awful people, generally had positive relationships with the other PCs (and got away with quite a lot of shit in retrospect). If she was injured, someone usually helped her, and if she fucked up, she was always forgiven.
Playing a male character, I quickly noticed that I didn’t get the leeway I was used to, and that I was having to work a lot harder at building relationships with the other PCs. Suddenly, I was on a level with the other party members rather than ‘the female character.’ I don’t think this applies to such an extent when a man cross-plays as a female– in my experience, they tend to get treated the same as usual, possibility because the other players subconsciously don’t relate to them as a woman.
Since that experience, I’ve become really reluctant to play female characters, because (sadly) being ‘female’ is a notable characteristic that affects how others relate to you, whereas being male is the neutral/default choice and therefore doesn’t affect the character too much. It feels to me like I have more flexibility and freedom to shape my male characters, even when I’m more comfortable playing women. This is part of the reason that I’d quite like to play in an all-female group, to see if playing female characters feels any different in that context.
Thanks for reading. I’d be interested to hear from role-players both male and female if this feels familiar, or if there are other ways that your gender affects your experience as a role-player 😊