The following is a post from Anna Rutledge, Nat’s wife.
“What are your hobbies? You know, what do you do for fun?”
At social events when people are politely trying to get to know me, I absolutely dread being asked this question. The only reply I have is always something like, “Well, I have a pretty demanding job so I don’t do a whole lot… What about you?”
Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to the question of what I do for fun. And although I play boardgames, I’ve never really felt like a “boardgamer” per se. The conversation about “Women and Boardgaming” on @BoardgameHour this week provoked me to consider the subject. I proudly consider myself a feminist, so it was time for some thinking.
All of this thinking happened to coincide with my first trip to a major convention, Unpub 4, where I accompanied Nat to test and show off New Bedford. When we showed up at the registration on Friday, I was welcomed with open arms. Everyone was incredibly kind, friendly, and inclusive. We went to pick up a badge for Nat and discovered that one had been made for me, too. Both our badges said “Designer” on the bottom. I was touched to be included, but something didn’t feel right to me. I’m not a designer. I married an incredibly brilliant, thoughtful man who worked really hard on his game. And sure, I helped – oh boy, did I help –but I did not want to take anything away from what Nat accomplished. For the rest of the event I spent my time introducing myself with various jokes about how New Bedford wasn’t actually my game. “I’m chief naysayer,” I chuckled, “but this is my husband’s game.”
Apparently, I am the queen of self-exclusion. Even if you take a look at my Bio on this site, I’m kind of downplaying myself. This is the exact pattern of behavior I spend my days at work discouraging in female colleagues, and here I was doing the same thing in my personal life.
Before I get all Sheryl Sandberg and say that women need to stop limiting themselves, let me say that this is not the only problem for women in the world of boardgaming. The Unpub 4 Publisher’s Panel, which had a very interesting, enjoyable conversation about how to diversify boardgaming, was conspicuously all white men. But why? Anyone could establish an indie publisher if he or she wanted to.
The very nature of boardgames is engrained with the element of competition and winning (and yes, I know there are cooperative games, but they are not the norm). Women competing with men is generally frowned upon. It’s not “ladylike” behavior. During a game of TC Petty‘s Don’t Get Eated, which is an incredibly fun game, I found myself struggling to be heard among the male players. I tried to make a joke out of projecting my voice and was told by a player that the result was “cute.”
At another point during Unpub 4, someone asked me if Nat and I had children. This doesn’t seem like the kind of question Nat would be asked if I wasn’t there, but I was definitely not offended. “No,” I said, “We’ve got some time.”
That, I think, is where the real issue lies. Women are still expected to take on most of the childcare responsibilities, and since most families are still 2 income households, I probably wouldn’t have time for a hobby either. And I’m already applying this thinking to myself before I even have any children.
My conclusions about women and boardgaming can be summed up in one thought. The issue of feminism and boardgames has more to do with feminism than boardgames. Like in all social groups, there is progress to be made in the boardgame community. Part of the responsibility lies in the men to cultivate an accepting community, as well as a society where shared home responsibilities allow women to explore their interests. Part of the responsibility lies in the women to speak up, stop limiting themselves, and give the guys a break once in a while.
Guess what, everyone? I’m a boardgamer. And to Ben Rosset, who challenged me to have my own table at Unpub 5 with my own game design–game on.