Without condoning or condemning (or even having read it), here is the article for those who do not wish to follow a link to a link to the article.
Before we get to Emily’s post, I (Dan) wanted to give her a bit of an introduction. Shortly after I began posting blogs, Emily contacted me and asked if I would want someone to go through my posts before I published to correct my typos, run-on sentences, sentence fragments, spelling errors, and punctuation mistakes. Because I am not a complete fool, I quickly agreed to give her that responsibility. Since then, she has been working patiently and without complaint to ensure that I embarrass myself as little as possible. She and her husband, Clint, have been fixtures in the St. Louis X-Wing scene for the past year, and it has been a real joy to get to know them. And now to Emily:
Gaming is seen, rightly, as a domain of the social minority. And within every minority, there’s another sub-minority. In the case of X-Wing, we’re a minority made up of white males, and our largest sub-minority is women.
It’s not that only men play X-Wing. There are a few female X-Wing players here in St. Louis, enough that you might get one or two per tournament. I skimmed through all 30-ish tournaments on List Fortress, and found six names that appeared not to be male. You can’t always tell by names of course, but to me, six in a pool of a couple hundred feels about right.
And how does it feel to be a female X-Wing player? I can only speak to my own experience, but personally I often feel like an awkwardness wrapped inside an awkwardness stuffed with awkward. So probably not much different than any other socially backward Star Wars nerd, regardless of gender! Being non-male only adds an extra layer to the onion of social barriers we have to peel through in order to have fun. I think a lot of us have other barriers in common; at an open play, it’s harder to ask for games when we are shy, or when we are more casual players who don’t entirely feel like part of the dedicated in-group, or when we just don’t know how to form and execute non-awkward sentences on the fly like a “normal” human being (guilty on all counts!). Then add to that the out-of-place feeling of being the only person of your gender present. It’s human nature to feel less confident when you’re in a group of people who are all noticeably and obviously different from you, even if it’s a difference that shouldn’t matter.
The good news is that my personal experience shows that it doesn’t matter too much in the grand scheme of X-Wing, at least no more than any other social barrier. I rarely win games, but that’s because I don’t practice as much as I should, I play Rebels in Second Edition, and I prefer to build my own lists rather than follow the meta; not because I’m female. I’m only a casual player, but that’s because I have many other interests in life to consume my time and brain power; it’s not because I’m female.
So if it doesn’t matter, then why don’t more women play X-Wing?
It’s a really similar question to “why aren’t there more women working in IT?” (another sub-minority that I personally live in) and I won’t diverge into that topic, but I think this question has some overlapping answers.
For X-Wing, the culture of Star Wars, from which the game draws its theme, is one reason. Up until the more recent movies, Star Wars was written primarily for a male audience and featured mostly white male protagonists, and therefore has historically attracted a white male fan base. Leia and Padme, our most notable female leads in Episodes 1 through 6, were both portrayed as independent and capable, but the movies hadn’t given us any major force-using, lightsaber-wielding female characters until Rey (we can at least say of Disney that it has done better on the diversity front). It was the Force and the Jedi that so strongly captured the imagination of the audience and made Star Wars such a cultural phenomenon. When all the main Jedi heroes and Sith villains have been men up until recently, it only makes sense that the movies drew more male fans, on the whole. And to bring this back to X-Wing, if, for social and cultural reasons, there are more white male Star Wars fans on average, then of course there are more white male X-Wing players on average.
But even that doesn’t account for a 30 to 1 disparity in numbers. I know there are a lot of female Star Wars fans. Why don’t they play X-Wing at the same rates that male fans do?
Think about why you started playing X-Wing. Was it because a friend who played it suggested it to you? Not only are men more likely to be Star Wars fans, they’re also more likely to be friends with men. The social networks that draw people into games can easily follow gender lines; even if you are friends with a non-male Star Wars fan, your subconscious assumptions may cause you to overlook the idea that they might like to be invited to play, in the same way that it might not occur to me to ask a male friend if he’d like to join a yoga class.
Additionally, before you start something new, you have to be able to imagine yourself doing and enjoying it. Otherwise, why start? So once the trend has been set, there’s a cycle of self-perpetuation. Men are primarily seen playing miniatures games; therefore it’s easier for men to imagine themselves doing the activity, because they have a model for it. The X-Wing community as a whole doesn’t model much diversity of any kind; gender, ethnicity, or otherwise. Thankfully, however, the cycle goes the other way too. If we collectively put in a little extra work on the front end to include the minority, that investment will eventually perpetuate of its own accord, as non-white-male people encounter more and more models and social network touch points to inspire them.
And now the call to action: it’s pretty simple. I would like to ask X-Wing players of all genders to make a quick bias check. Are there some members of your network with whom you haven’t yet thought to share the joy of X-Wing? St. Louis (and everywhere else in the X-Wing world) has to have some potential left untapped – people who could be having some great fun playing X-Wing and aren’t, and not all of them are male or homogeneous. Let’s find them!
And speaking of finding people, if you are in the St. Louis area or coming to visit, reach out to Arch Alliance X-Wing on Facebook to find out where we are playing on any given night. I promise you’ll be welcomed.