Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Male Privilege in LARP

I was turned on to this article by a facebook friend of mine, and I think this is something of huge import when it comes to LARPing.

Male Privilage is alive and well in LARPs. For those of you who don't want to sift through the article or wikipedia, it basically means that there are things that male players take for granted that female players tend to have to remain congnisent of or, at the very worst, actively work do dispel or defend themselves against.

It's not that we (men) are bad people. It's just that we really have no concept for how the other half lives and how much we might take for granted.

Now, the article I linked is more specific to comics, but the same rules apply at LARPs. In fact, it might be more important, based on the fact that most LARP groups are rather tightly knit social clubs, which means that one or two bad apples can ruin a LARP.

Now, I'm not an expert on this subject, so I'm not going to go in depth in fear of saying the wrong thing. But here are some things that I believe you might want to consider on the subject of male privilege and how it affects female LARPers.

No Gender Stereotyping
I know that some games like to fall back on realism to defend some forms of stereotyping, but the fact is that realism tends to be a weak argument for LARPs, as they almost always involve some form of fantasy and/or magic. Don't automatically assume that women need to be healers and men need to be fighters. And stop making sexest jokes while you're at it, even if it's "in good fun".

Don't Be an Asshole
This should go without saying but it bears repeating. Even if your "character" is an asshole, you want to gauge how well others react to your roleplaying before embracing said character. LARP is not intended to be a place where you can be a chauvenist dick without any real life consequences.

IG Love Interest
Don't fawn over someone IG unless you've discussed it with them OOG. You might think it makes for good roleplaying, but it's probably more creepy than anything else. And for the love of God, if you get turned down IG, don't keep pursuing it. If you do, you're going to make the other person think you're going to go all Wild Hunt on them.

Don't Be a Creeper
I think Doctor Nerdlove puts it best with his article of the same name.

Avoid Taboo Subjects
I really don't think any roleplay situation is improved by topics such as domestic violence or sexual assault. It's not clever or cutting-edge. It's just uncomfortable for everyone.

What do you think? Have any more tips on how to make LARPing a better environment for female players?

PS: It's my birthday, so go easy on me if I said something wrong.


  1. Apparently I fail at editing :) Anyway, my post from earlier had a few ideas, but I didn't mention one pet peeve of mine. That is, give me some time to change without strange dudes in the room. It seems like every event there's a lingerer, and I'm not coordinated enough to change under cover :) And then when I do get time, people bust in without knocking.

    End rant :)

  2. Personally I could care less if guys are "chauvenist dicks". I've come across a few people in larp and RL that just dont get that women arent the thing that they have in their heads when they think of women. It really doesnt matter to me. People are people and they rarely change. I dont feel a driving need to change them or make their life less easy unless they are severely crapping on my parade. Now.. as for making the larping environment better for women? Background Checks. Keep the pervs out. Uually youll find that the ones who degrade women the most are the ones who have served jail time.
    Love and Hugs.
    Stay safe.

  3. One of the harshest examples of male privilege I've observed in my time LARPing is a thing unfortunately referred to as "Chick Armor". On occasion, some people refuse to acknowledge hits from female players, somehow rationalizing that there was no way a female could hit them or beat them. I come down harshly against it when I see it, but if you ask around enough, you'll hear stories about it.

    It's counterpart is "Cool Armor"; as in, if you're not socially privileged enough, not part of the "in-group", you can't kill me.

    I don't think it's an intentional choice on either end...though it may be...it's more like judging those brush-hits or half-hits one way or the other based on something as inapplicable as gender or social status.

  4. All five the the behavioral rules stated in this article are spot on! They make the game better for everyone, and allow someone to call "shenigans" on anyone who violates them.

    My big disagreement is putting it under "Male Privilege." The implication is the men who LARP are in the wrong somehow for the actions of a few butt-heads, and ladies who violate the rules are given a pass. As for the contention that there are "expected" stereotypes that only women have to contend with: this issue is much more universal. People will ALWAYS make quick judgements, it's built in to our survival makeup. It's on everyone to LISTEN to each other. The petite woman in the dress really does play a kick-butt fighter, and the big guy in the leather duster really is a ritualist/healer.

    How one frames a situation is important. I don't think this is a man/woman issue, but a listening issue. We come together for a shared experience, having the respect and caring to allow folks to play their imaginary people their way is central to the concept. I've dealt with people treating me a certain way based on my physicality. I didn't immediately call it a systemic issue.

    Be good at what you want to do, if it's fighting, casting, sneaking or whatever. Have fun, and don't let the butt-heads kill your good time, I promise, they are out there, and they come in every package humanity has to offer.

  5. While I'd agree that some of the things above could be found going both ways, I still believe that the stereotyping and taboo subjects fall squarely within male privilege.

    While stereotyping may technically go both ways (both men and women have assumed roles), the perception of an individual diverging from a stereotype is different for men and women.

    Men may get stereotyped into strength and leadership roles while women are stereotyped into support roles. But men who choose a support role are not normally considered inferior at filling that support role compared to women. On the other hand, women who choose a leadership/strength role are often considered inferior (subconsciously or consciously) at that role compared to men.

    That is the problem with stereotyping, and why it's a male privilege issue.

  6. I've only LARPed once, but what I saw fit completely into the stereotypes that surround the LARPing community.
    My biggest pet peeve of the entire event was that every single battle could have been avoided! Every time monsters popped out of the woods, a band of thieves appeared or a random encounter happened, all the PCs were way too eager to lay down some foam justice. They attacked savagely and for no good reason, even with the NPCs telling them "hey you could do THIS instead" or "please don't kill them!". The PCs were there to feel good about themselves, kick some ass, and go home a winner.
    It's that kind of overall feeling that kept me from attending another event. I don't need that kind of fantasy world BS to boost my self-esteem. I like whacking others with foam weapons as much as the next guy, but Jesus Christ could you think for a second before attacking everything?

  7. As to the term "male privilege", I can only see it being relevant in the context of men being able to more easily be able to afford game because of income, or to attend game because of unequal child-rearing responsibilities.

    That said, I'm not nearly as negative on Bill's article here than on that which was linked, but I ask that anyone seriously consider to what extent they are enshrining a culture of paranoia, victimhood, and sex-negativity (essentially demonizing the male sexual proposal).

    I do, on the other hand, strongly support the call against forcing people into essentialist gender roles without their consent. Letting people self-determine their own characters is paramount.

    As to avoiding taboo subjects, the sort of adventure gaming most of us enjoy tends to focus on the taboo of violence, especially extra-judicial violence like vigilantism. It also involves the taboo of theft; after we kill, we loot the property of "monsters" and non-player characters: essentially, the "other"; that's the taboo of xenophobia. The taboos of racism and ethnocentrism are also very common in LARP. Likewise, the taboos of the supernatural are actively played with in almost all LARP (there may be some where this is less-so, but I personally have never been in a LARP without something metaphysical in it). So, my point is, the "avoid taboos" argument is quite weak, indeed; it is certainly as weak as "realism" argument that is ruled out in the posting. Most of LARP is about exploring taboos and answering the question, "What if things were different, and both reality and the mores we've built up around it were not the same?" Ultimately, I think this is worst part of the article.

    Another point that isn't mentioned here, and probably calls out for a counter-post, are the dysfunctional aspects of LARP that do benefit women. I could see such a counter-post being written from a male, female, transgender, or gender queer perspective (as there is a lot of cisgender privilege that this article does not event begin to address).

    Some points to cover for a counter-post:

    The old Vampire LARP joke, that the most powerful of all Disciplines is "Breastitude". Essentially, female characters end up getting advantaged (e.g. given items, special treatment, etc) because of their relative rarity, and because of the subtext beneath gifting between the sexes.

    There is also the unfortunately common practice of staff member's significant others enjoying game advantages (whether that is more plot or literally improved access to otherwise forbidden game powers). This also applies to players, who (naturally) desire to help their SOs (or potential paramours) succeed and have fun in game, whether that means giving a hand up with game items, plot inclusion, or a myriad of other ways.

    Finally, should these advantages be afforded to women? Should implicit promises of sexuality be used to curry favor or gain game effect? If not, should their be rules against it? If so, might these best be handled by the rules, granting couples synergy bonuses? There are a multitude or directions on could take this.

  8. The ironic thing about male privilege is that it's so hard for us to recognize, even when it's right in our face.

    I don't think it's fair to lump in taboos that are equally taboo to men and women. Everyone understands these terms when getting into the games. We have skills for killing, and we have rules for looting. Anyone looking into the rulebook recognizes that.

    However, some subjects are considerably less real to some people than others. As you mentioned, some games utilize the taboos of racism. But those games are not populated by people who would be personally offended by that racism or have experienced true racism themselves. The same goes with sexual assault. Women are much more likely to fear for sexual assault or have experienced sexual assault themselves, and as such, roleplaying moments that pertain to something like that are much more meaningful.

    Now, as you said, some people LARP to explore taboos. But not everyone. People LARP for many different reasons. There is a place for extending beyond our boundaries in LARPs, but those are expressed ahead of time and are often done so in controlled situations where pushing said boundaries is the specific goal of the LARP. Large scale games that stumble upon those subjects without making it clear to all parties that it can play a major role in the game is a problem. And for the large scale adventure gaming that is most common around here, the game simply isn't enriched by those situations. So why have them?

    The "benefits" women tagline is only true in some aspects. Women who are gifted items for being women (Breastitude as you put it) are being told "We value you for what you are, not who you are." This is objectification.

    Objectification of women is one of the things that I could see women going to LARPs to get away from. And then it happens here, and men view it as a "benefit," and ask them why they get upset when they're objectified. That is yet another example of male privilege - we don't worry about objectification.

    I believe the talk about signficant others in LARP has been covered a few times, and has little to do with male privilege or gender benefits, as I imagine the problems are the same with any couple, regardless of sexuality or gender identification.

  9. I 100% agree that getting IG 'advantages' because some plot person thinks you're cute is not a good thing. Bills point about objectification is spot on, but let me add: If this is something that happens (or is perceived to happen) in a game you play, it means that any time you accomplish anything IG, there will be people who say plot handed it to you just because you're a girl. I can't even begin to articulate to you how much that sucks, and it's part of why I won't play larps that don't have a pretty even gender ratio.

    I also want to back up Bill's point that having privilege doesn't make you a bad person. It just means you have some advantage that seems normal to you, but other people don't have. Most of us are privileged in some way or another, and copping to our privilege makes us more empathetic, kinder human beings, who can better relate to those who don't share our privileges.

    One way I encounter male privilege in a LARP is how assertiveness is perceived. If a guy makes an aggressive, harsh statement, it's often seen as strong, heroic, or firm. The same kind of statement from a woman seems to be more likely to be perceived as whiny, mean, or bitchy. Obviously, that sort of thing is very subjective, and varies from group to group, but I think it's one of those unconscious ways sexism seeps into our psyches.

    The degree to which taboos can safely be explored probably varies vastly from group to group, but I think it needs to be done consciously and conscientiously. I have certainly seen male staffers who are otherwise upstanding and wonderful people forget that for women, being treated as sex objects/inferior because of their gender isn't a weird aspect of a fantasy culture, it's a commonplace experience. Nothing snaps me out of game faster that the thought "That dude is a misogynist jerk."

  10. @mummerscat.com
    I've been guilty of that! This next bit is a little off-topic, but I'll pull it back in the end. I ran a table-top fantasy game that I went to great efforts to make "realistic", including sexism. In my mind, it was a chance for female players to confront and stand out; my wife pointed out that it was belittling and no fun because of daily struggles against just that sort of thing.

    So, if I'm doing it, I'm open to confrontation on it! It seems likely that I'd introduce a misogynist jerk because everyone likes to kill misogynist jerks, it makes them a villain! This is not okay if exacerbates existing privilege and discrimination. Good point and duly noted!