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Archive for February, 2008

Bingo!

For those of you familiar with the blogs, Girls Read Comics (and They’re Pissed), or Hoyden About Town you may recognize the following. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these blogs, I encourage you to check out their entries For Those Playing Along at Home, and Anti-Feminist Bingo.

In any event, I thought it was high time that we have our own Bingo card for discussing women’s issues in roleplaying games. I have also provided explanations for why each of these arguments is frowned upon. Take a look.

B

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Men are victims of sexism too.

I’m a woman and I don’t have a problem with this stuff.

There are much more important issues affecting women. Why don’t you focus on those instead?

You’re reading too much into this.

This is fantasy.

I like pictures of women in chainmail bikinis.

If you don’t like it, then play something else.

So you want pictures of ugly, fat women?

Men are drawn topless too.

Why are you being such a prude? Isn’t the feminist movement about sexual empowerment?

You give feminists a bad name.

That’s censorship.

Mostly men play this game.

It’s only a game.

This is such a minor problem.

It’s better now than it was 30 years ago.

Just change it in your own game.

The game will never change. You’re wasting your time.

I’m not sexist but…

Most people don’t care one way or another about this stuff.

It’s not historically accurate to treat women equally.

Are you calling me sexist?

If women are going to be represented equally in roleplaying games, then every minority should be represented equally.

That’s just a relic from a previous edition.

Most male gamers are nice people.


Men are victims of sexism too.

While no one can dispute the fact that men experience sexism too, it does not preclude people from talking about how sexism affects women. Also, just because men experience sexism too does not mean that the subject deserves equal air time in a forum or other space dedicated to discussing women’s issues. If you really feel strongly about the issues of sexism and how those issues pertain to men, there are forums and groups devoted to discussing these issues, and I would highly encourage you to take your discussion of these issues there.

I’m a woman and I don’t have a problem with this stuff.

This argument is also sometimes phrased as “I have a girlfriend and she doesn’t have a problem with this stuff.” The problem with this argument is that while some women may not have a problem with sexism in roleplaying games, it does not mean that they speak for all women. Women are not a hivemind. They do not all have the same opinions. This statement does not, therefore, negate the opinion of the person who does have a problem with this stuff.

There are much more important issues affecting women. Why don’t you focus on those issues instead?

First of all, the fact that there are other issues affecting women does not, in any way, preclude people from discussing issues affecting women in roleplaying games. Second, who says that the person that you’re responding to isn’t devoting energy to these other causes? You’re on the internet. You don’t know what these people are doing in their free time. Third, the messages contained in pop culture references are often responding to and confirming beliefs espoused by the patriarchy, and they feed people’s ideas about how society should treat women in the home, in politics, in religion, and even in the workplace. Responding to these pop culture issues is therefore a laudable act, not a contemptible one. Lastly, unless you yourself are actually out there championing these causes yourself, you really don’t have any room to talk.

You’re reading too much into this.

“Thank Bob you came along and pointed that out to me. I guess I can pack up my things now and go home.”

If this is the response that you were hoping for, and it was not forthcoming, it probably means that the person you are responding to disagrees with you. Take time to reflect on why this is. Perhaps it’s because the person you are responding to has come to these conclusions based on observation, and from reading materials written by people who are knowledgeable about the subject. In fact, it’s entirely possible that some of this material was written by people who possess Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degrees on the subject of Women’s Studies. It is therefore unlikely that their opinion will be swayed by some anonymous poster from the interwebs. This is particularly true if you have a) failed to follow up with any further analysis, or b) have followed this statement with one or more of the other arguments presented here.

This is fantasy.

That’s right. This is fantasy. It’s an opportunity to become immersed in a fantastic realm filled with daring adventurers, terrifying monsters, and magical artifacts from a bygone era. It is not, necessarily, an opportunity to indulge in every sexual fetish that the male mind has ever entertained. If you want to include erotic themes in your game, that’s fine. In fact, there are products out there designed to do just that. However, recognize that not everyone thinks that the word ‘fantasy’ is necessarily synonymous for ‘porn,’ and recognize that they may not want those same elements in their own game.

I like pictures of women in chainmail bikinis.

And that’s fine. However, what you find titillating and pleasing, others may find offensive and inappropriate. Respect the fact that not everyone has the same opinion as you, and recognize that declaring your preference for something is not in any way a rebuttal to an argument.

If you don’t like it, then play something else.

This is another popular argument used to try and counter the arguments of people who feel that the portrayal of women in roleplaying games is sexist. The problem with this argument is that it assumes two things:

1. That sexism is an inherent, and natural byproduct of roleplaying games.
2. That the people offended by these aspects do not enjoy other aspects of the game.

Many people who are upset about the exclusive use of male pronouns in previous editions, the depiction of women in hypersexualized poses, and the sexist portrayal of female characters, still relish the opportunity to play a capable adventurer who is able to take down creatures the size of houses with the swing of a wand or a sword. They may enjoy the mechanics of the game, the opportunity to tell incredible stories, the opportunity to slay monsters and take their stuff, the camaraderie they have with their friends when they play, the opportunity to geek out with fellow gamers, and the chance to collect little plastic or pewter figurines. Declaring that you dislike an aspect of the game does not mean that you dislike the game as a whole. In fact, constructive criticism of the game has often led to positive improvements both for women and for other gamers.

So you want pictures of ugly, fat women?

This argument is typically made in response to someone who has complained that they are dissatisfied with the hypersexualized depictions of women in fantasy artwork. The argument assumes that since the poster is upset about the depiction of beautiful women in hypersexualized poses, they must want to see ugly pictures of women instead.

First of all, the idea that the portrayal of overweight female characters, or the portrayal of characters that do not fit the cultural standard of beauty, is somehow offensive or objectionable does not say anything particularly favorable about you. Second, your argument fails to recognize that there are many other ways to portray women that don’t involve hypersexualized poses, revealing clothing, unattractive facial features, or excess body weight.

Like men, female gamers want to be able to choose from a variety of images that they think will best suit their character concepts. They want to play strong characters, they want to play formidable characters, and from time to time, they also want to play sexy characters. Having one option perpetually forced upon them, does not make women feel like they have much of a choice in the style of character that they are allowed to play. So when someone says that they’re tired of seeing only hypersexualized images of women in skimpy outfits, don’t necessarily assume that they don’t want any pictures of beautiful women at all.

Men are drawn topless too.

I want you to try something for me. Do an online image search for the term ‘male model.’ After the search results come up, I want you try to find an image of a male model (doesn’t have to be topless) that is posed like a topless, or scantily clad male character from any of the Dungeons & Dragons supplements ever produced.
When you are finished with that, I want you to try the same experiment, only I want you to do an image search for the term ‘female model.’ After the search results come up, I want you to try and find an image of a female model (again, she doesn’t have to be topless) that is posed like any of the topless, or scantily clad female characters from any of the Dungeons & Dragons supplement ever produced.

What did you find? If you’re anything like me, it was probably very difficult to find examples of male models that match the poses of male Dungeons & Dragons characters. On the other hand, if you’re anything like me, it probably only took you only a few minutes to find images of female models that match the poses of female Dungeons & Dragons characters. In fact, I’ll even wager that you didn’t have to look any further than the Core rulebooks for an example of a female character that was posed like one of the female models from your search.

So what is the point of this experiment? The point is that while male characters are quite frequently depicted as topless, or scantily clad in Dungeons & Dragons, it is often done in order to highlight their physical strength, and not their sexuality. On the other hand, if a female character is depicted as topless or scantily clad, it is often (though not always) done in order to highlight her sexuality, and not her physical strength. Because of this, the argument that men are depicted as topless too does not really address the primary concern that women are presented as sexual creatures first and foremost, while men are presented as strong and physically capable.

Incidentally, if during your online image search, you found any of the pictures of the male models disturbing, but did not find any of the images of the female models equally disturbing, perhaps you should stop and ask yourself why that is.

Why are you being such a prude? Isn’t the feminist movement about sexual empowerment?

Let’s get something straight. Objectification is not a form of sexual empowerment. Sexual empowerment is when women feel free to dress how they want and are free to choose who they engage in sexual activities with, without fear of social stigma. Sexual objectification is when women are treated as sexual objects designed to induce and satisfy male, sexual desire.

If a female player chooses to play a character that wears a leather bra and a rabbit skin for a thong, that’s her choice and may be called sexual empowerment. If, that image is forced upon her, that’s not empowerment, that’s sexual objectification.

You give feminists a bad name.

This is an ad hominem argument, a fallacy in argumentation where the respondent attacks the character of the person, and not the argument itself. Using this line of argument is not going to change the mind of anyone to whom you are responding. It will, however, expose you for the idiot and the troll that you are. I would advise against using this form of argument in the future.

That’s censorship.

Censorship is when a person in a position of authority actively excludes any idea that is considered objectionable. Pointing out that sexism exists, and trying to convince others to stop objectifying or marginalizing women is not censorship, because the person is in no position to prevent these images from being produced. The term that you are looking for in this second example is criticism. Try to keep these two concepts straight.

Mostly men play this game.

This is the argument most frequently championed by people who are against eliminating sexism in roleplaying games. The argument itself usually runs along the lines of “Well I don’t see why things should change since men are the ones who usually play this game.”

So what’s wrong with this argument? After all, it’s true that men are the primary audience for roleplaying games. The problem with this argument is that, while it acknowledges that sexism exists in roleplaying games exists, it doesn’t acknowledge the fact that sexism itself is wrong. In fact, it assumes that men generally appreciate sexism, that they believe it is appropriate to marginalize women, and that they would be discouraged if they didn’t find sexism in the products that they purchase. If you don’t believe that any of these things I’ve said about men are true, then perhaps it’s time to reexamine your argument.

Finally, while it’s true that men are the ones that currently make up the primary audience of roleplaying games, it doesn’t acknowledge the fact that women make up roughly one out of every five players at the gaming table.1 In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if at least one of the players at your own gaming table is female. Given that this is the case, it seems a little ridiculous to continue to marginalize and ignore this demographic, when it’s likely that they’re part of your own gaming group.

It’s only a game.

That’s right. And the fact that it is a game implies that it should be fun and enjoyable for everyone. If someone’s objection to sexist material is taking away from their enjoyment of the game, then perhaps that material should be removed. This is particularly true when the sexist material has no effect on the mechanics of the game.

Incidentally, if your response to this is that if players find certain elements sexist and objectionable, then perhaps they should play something else, congratulations! You have just helped the respondent fill out two squares on their BINGO card (see “If you don’t like it, then play something else”).

This is such a minor problem in the game.

Perhaps by itself, the issue that you are referring to is a minor one. However, keep in mind that the poster’s observations may actually be drawing attention to a larger, more systemic problem. Also, drawing attention to a specific issue does not necessarily mean that the person is unaware of other issues concerning women gamers. On the contrary, they may be acutely aware of these other concerns, but may want to draw attention to an issue that has thus far been ignored or overlooked.

It’s better now than it was 30 years ago.

Just because something is better than it was does not mean that it’s good. Surely, this is not a concept that is difficult for people to understand.

Just change it in your own game.

This is another, common argument which assumes that since players are free to change whatever they want in order to suit their own campaign, they can simply exclude anything that they find objectionable or marginalizing towards women. The problem with this argument is that the Dungeons & Dragons supplements produced by Wizards of the Coast provide players with a kind of shared view of how certain elements of the game are portrayed. If a DM chooses to portray a particular race or culture as different from the way that it is portrayed in any given supplement, the other players at the table may not choose to portray that race in the same manner in their own games. Also, if the player decides to play with another group, it does not mean that the new group will agree with the player’s interpretation of the race. Because of this, changing an element of the game in one’s own campaign does not necessarily address the underlying problem, which is that the element is sexist, and detracts from the game overall.

The game will never change. You’re wasting your time.

The nature of this argument suggests that the respondent is aware of sexism in roleplaying games, but believes that there is nothing to be done about it. If this is actually your perception on things, I certainly hope that the person you are responding to doesn’t take it to heart. If nothing else, discussing an issue makes others aware of something that might be a problem in the game. If it turns out that by doing so, the person has done nothing but waste their time, then it’s their time to waste, so let them waste it.

If, on the other hand, you like the way things are, and the purpose of this argument is to simply try and silence the people who want to discuss these issues, and make others aware of them, then may I ask, what gives you the right? If people want to speak, then let them speak, and if you want to disagree with them, then disagree with them. However, don’t try to tell people that they shouldn’t talk about something. That just isn’t nice.

I’m not sexist but…

Honestly, if you ever feel that you have to qualify something that you’re about to say with this statement, then please just stop typing and step away from the computer, because nothing that you are about to say is going to justify this claim. In fact, it’s quite likely that you’re about to follow this statement with any number of comments that will only help the person you are responding to fill up their Bingo card faster. Therefore, please take a seat at the back of the class and never forget that you are stupid.

Most people don’t care one way or another about this stuff.

This is one of my favorite rebuttals, because even if it is true, it doesn’t follow that nobody should care about this stuff. Also, if most people are indifferent about something, and only a select few are upset, then why not just get rid of whatever is making people upset? Seriously, that’s a win-win for everybody.

It’s not historically accurate to treat women equally.

Personally, I know of no period in history, and neither do you, when people had the capability of shooting fireballs from their fingertips. I also know of no era in history, and neither do you, when dwarves, elves, halflings, and gnomes wandered the earth. Therefore, it seems a little stupid to argue that sexism in roleplaying games should be institutionalized because of some vague idea that you have about what life was like in an era that doesn’t exist.

Are you calling me sexist?

If you have asked this question, because you do not have a problem with some element that the poster has identified as sexist, then honestly, I don’t think you’re going to like the answer that you are about to receive. In all honesty, though, if you don’t think that you’re sexist, then why are you offended by something that a person has said on the internet? If it’s because the comment struck a little too close to home, then perhaps you should take this as an opportunity to reevaluate your opinions.

If women are going to be represented equally in roleplaying games, then every minority should be represented equally.

Now we’re talking! I mean seriously, is there some sort of danger that you see in introducing ethnic and cultural diversity into the game? Do you think people would be turned away from the game if there were pictures of men and women from various ethnicities included in the Player’s Handbook? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then honestly, I hope I never meet you, because you are truly a terrifying, and messed up individual.

Incidentally, for those of you who are eager to point out that it’s geographically and/or historically inaccurate to have people of different ethnicities on the same continent in a medieval culture, then I would encourage you to read the response to “It’s not historically accurate to treat women equally.” You may find some points there that are quite relevant to this discussion.

That’s just a relic from a previous edition.

Just because something has become institutionalized, does not mean that it is immune to criticism. On the contrary, the fact that an element of the game can be identified as overtly sexist, and yet is still allowed to remain in the game, should be a major cause for alarm. The only way that things are ever going to change is if people voice their objections. If nobody says anything, then it’s likely going to stick around for another thirty years.

Most male gamers are nice people.

That’s true. And if you’re one of those people, then the comments that you are responding to are probably not about you. In fact, they’re probably not even about men. The thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that both men and women are responsible for promoting and perpetuating sexism. Just look at the women who rallied against the Suffrage Movement, and you’ll see what I mean. If you don’t feel that the comments you are responding to apply to either you or the majority of male gamers, then they’re probably not. Therefore, don’t assume that the person you are responding to has made that assumption themselves.

1. Adventure Game Industry Market Research Summary (RPGs) V1.0
http://www.seankreynolds.com/rpgfiles/gaming/WotCMarketResearchSummary.html

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Introduction

It was my hope, in writing this entry, that I would be able to bring together all of the mythological elements associated with Lolth and show how she is connected to Ereshkigal, Demeter, the Black Madonnas, Lilith, and the various spider goddesses from across a wide array of cultures. Unfortunately, the difficulties in writing such an article were too numerous, and so while I hope to convey some of these ideas in future entries, I have chosen to focus this entry entirely on Lolth, and the goddess of the Sumerian underworld, Ereshkigal. By comparing these two goddesses, it is my intent to show that Lolth, like Ereshkigal, is a spiritually healing agent that helps orient women to the feelings they have had repressed by the patriarchal culture. It is also my intent to show how, in spite of appearances to the contrary, the goddess is not divisive, but rather an agent that demands only that women be acknowledged as equals to men.

Ereshkigal

Before we can begin to understand the similarities between Lolth and Ereshkigal, it is important that we understand a little bit aobut Ereshkigal herself. Ereshkigal, whose name means “Lady of the Great Place Below,” is the goddess of the Sumerian Netherworld, known as Irkalla. There are many legends associated with Ereshkigal and how she came to rule the Netherworld. According to one, she was carried off as a prize to the Netherworld, by the dragon god Kur.1 According to another, Ereshkigal- known initially as Ninlil, the grain goddess- followed her consort, Enlil (chief ruler of the gods), into the Netherworld, after he had been banished for having raped her.2 In the Netherworld, Ereshkigal becomes a creature of raw emotion, “full of fury, greed, fear of loss, and even of self-spite. She symbolizes raw instinctual feelings, split off from consciousness- need and aggression in the underworld.”3 After this transformation, Ereshkigal is banished forever, never again being allowed to return to the realm of the gods.

Lolth

With this knowledge of Ereshkigal in mind, we can begin to see the similarities between her and the goddess Lolth. Like Ereshkigal, Lolth was also originally known by another name, that of Araushnee, the goddess of elven destiny.4 After having tried to wrest power from her lover, Corellon Larethian, Araushnee was transformed into a spiderlike demon, and cast into the Abyss.5 This forced transformation, a symbolic violation of the female body, and banishment is not unlike the rape that Ereshkigal experiences at the hands of Enlil and Kur. Also like Ereshkigal, upon being banished to the Underworld, Araushnee changes her name to that of Lolth, the ruler of the Demonweb Pits. In this form, Lolth is described as “cruel and capricious,” which is not unlike the description given of Ereshkigal. Lolth’s transformation from Araushnee, the violation she experienced from her lover, her ultimate banishment to the underworld, her association with primal emotion; these are all aspects that are shared with the goddess Ereshkigal, suggesting that the two goddesses are part of the same archetype. With these parallels in mind, we can now begin to look at Lolth from a mythological and feminist perspective.

Lolth and Ereshkigal as Rulers of the Underworld

“From the perspective of the patriarchy, the rape of the goddess establishes masculine rule over conscious cultural life… and relegates feminine power and fertility to the underworld.”6 This quote, from Sylvia Perera’s essay “The Descent of Inanna: Myth and Therapy,” could just as easily apply to Lolth as it could to the goddess Ereshkigal. By violating her sacred body, and casting her into the Abyss, Corellon, a symbolic representation of the patriarchy, was attempting to establish his dominion over Lolth, a symbolic representation of the threat that women present to the ideals of the patriarchy. “But,” as Perera goes on to say, “from the perspective of magic-matriarchal consciousness… death is a transformation to which… the goddess willingly surrenders, and a process over which she rules.”In other words, by claiming rulership over the Demonweb Pits, the goddess transformed her defeat into a victory, claiming dominion over the aspects of the feminine divine that Corellon (the patriarchy) tried to suppress. Because of this action, Lolth’s power is still active in the world, reminding us that the feminine divine cannot be so easily denied or ignored.

Lolth and Ereshkigal as Healers

There is another quote from Perera’s essay, about Ereshkigal, which could just as easily apply to Lolth, and which is helpful in understanding the nature of the goddess. “When we are reduced to such depths of numb pain and depression, to timelessness, preverbal chaos and emotionality- all that we call awful or infantile and associate with the archaic dimensions of consciousness- we can know that the goddess we must serve and revere is [the goddess of the Underworld]. Contact with her grounds a woman. It coagulates feminine potency to confront the patriarchy and the masculine as an equal.”7 To put it another way, identification with the underworld goddess is identification with all that has been suppressed by the patriarchal culture. Lolth, like Ereshkigal, is the goddess that helps women make sense of their feelings of being treated as less than men. Her challenge to Corellon is a challenge to the idea that men have authority over women, giving women the power to make that challenge themselves. Her fury at having been given power over the destiny of the elves by Corellon is fury over the patriarchal concept that feminine power is extrinsic, not inherent, and that it must be given to women by the patriarchy. Acknowledging Lolth is acknowledging that the feminine and the masculine are equal, that anger is appropriate, that one must be willing to sacrifice everything- status, relationships, and security- in order to be acknowledged. There are no ‘shoulds’ in the presence of Lolth, no expectations of social or political correctness. She is the goddess who forces women to acknowledge their own thoughts, their own feelings, their own needs, and she is the one that orients them in a world that is otherwise hostile to and suspicious of feminine power.

Lolth and Ereshkigal as Feminists

There is one more subject about Lolth that needs to be addressed. To the uninitiated, the goddess of the underworld appears malicious, chaotic, terrifying, ugly, threatening, and anathema to everything that is masculine. Because of this, it is not surprising that some have described Lolth as “the original psycho feminist supremacist.” By trying to kill Corellon, and usurp his portfolio, it appears that Lolth is trying to exert her dominance over men. However, if we turn again to Ereshkigal, we begin to understand Lolth’s behavior. In one myth, the arrogant god Nergal refuses to stand in the presence of Namtar, Ereshkigal’s servant. Enraged, Ereshkigal demands that Nergal be brought before her so that she might kill him. After consulting with Ea, the god of Wisdom, Nergal agrees to descend into the Netherworld, where he overpowers Ereshkigal’s servants and threatens to kill her. Before he can slay her, however, she says to him, “Don’t kill me, my brother! Let me tell you something… you can be my husband, and I can be your wife. I will let you seize Kingship over the wide Earth! I will put the tablet of wisdom in your hand!”8 After hearing her words, “[Nergal] picked her up, kissed her and wiped away her tears, saying – in sudden enlightenment; ‘It was but love you wanted of me from months long ago to now!’”9 In other words, Ereshkigal’s reaction- which appears, at first glance to be a threat to the masculine divine- stems from a desire to be treated as an equal, one who is worthy of respect. Considering that Lolth and Ereshkigal share so many of the same qualities, it seems logical to conclude that Lolth’s desire to kill Corellon also stems from the desire to be treated as an equal, and makes one think that if the elven god had acknowledged her, then perhaps the wounds between the elven nations could be healed.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, unlike Nergal, Corellon never acknowledges Araushnee’s desire to be treated as an equal. Instead, he does just the opposite. By stripping her of her power, and expelling her into the Abyss, Corellon is trying to ignore her demands of acceptance. However, as Corellon has undoubtedly learned, the power of the goddess cannot be so easily suppressed. Her fury remains ever strong, and she waits in the Demonweb Pits for his acknowledgment. Perhaps, the players, by acknowledging the goddess’s fury, and by paying her the proper respect, might be able to heal the wounds of history between these two deities, and bring peace between the elven nations that the gods themselves could not.

1. “Inanna and the Huluppu Tree”
http://www.piney.com/BabHulTree.html

2. “Enlin and Ninlil”
http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section1/tr121.htm

3. Perera, Sylvia “The Descent of Inanna: Myth and Therapy.” Feminist Archetypal Theory, p. 151. Lauter, Estella , and Carol Rupprecht. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1985.

4. Boyd, Eric L. and Erik Mona Faiths and Pantheons p. 40. Renton: Wizards of the Coast Inc., 2002.

5. Williams, Skip Races of the Wild p. 26. Renton: Wizards of the Coast Inc., 2005.

6. Perera, Sylvia “The Descent of Inanna: Myth and Therapy.”
Feminist Archetypal Theory, p. 150. Lauter, Estella , and Carol Rupprecht. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1985.

7. Perera, Sylvia “The Descent of Inanna: Myth and Therapy.” Feminist Archetypal Theory, p. 154. Lauter, Estella , and Carol Rupprecht. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1985.

8. “Nergal and Ereshkigal” (Amarna Version)
http://ereshkigal.net/

9. Stuckey, Johanna “Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld” Matrifocus Cross-Quarterly for the Goddess Woman. Beltane 2005 Volume 4-3
http://www.matrifocus.com/BEL05/spotlight.htm

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