Noble Hierarch is Not a Slut

As big nerds, Charles and I like to do nerdy things. Recently, we’ve managed to infiltrate a dear college friend’s weekly Magic: The Gathering club. This is super good news! I’m the only woman, but I’ve come to expect that. We have a lot of fun, though, so the strangenesses are pretty much excusable.

There’s just one problem.

At least two of the other regular attendees make extremely liberal use of the word “slut.” I’ve never actually heard it used like they use it. It’s often just a generic term for woman, or female. It’s not entirely dissimilar from “fag” in internet parlance. It carries with it a slight derision, but seems to apply, pretty much to everyone (who is female).

Examples:

  • “The other day I was playing against an Azami [a female creature card in Magic] deck—”“Oh, yeah, that slut who draws all of the cards?”
  • Upon the death of a Mesa Enchantress, “Oh, no! My slut!”
  • “I’ve been playing the Siren in Borederlands—”“Yeah, I played that slut.”

I’ve said before that I’m a fan of call outs. Usually, I respond to slut-shaming with a calm, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” With these people, though, I don’t feel like I could do that.

This is partially because I don’t think what they’re doing is strictly slut-shaming. It definitely is, but it’s also plain old misogyny. This use of “slut” has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with gender.

Their usage is so broad that I’ve felt like I had to start a little further back on the Feminism Progress Chart than “it’s okay to be a slut.” So, I tend to say things like, “Azami’s probably not actually a slut, you know. Her job as Lady of Scrolls probably keeps her pretty busy.” These comments are met with a total lack of uptake, either positive or negative. It’s frustrating, but we move on.

Tonight, though, this exchange happened:

One of the players plays a Noble Hierarch, a card whose art depicts a woman.

Noble Hierarch

Him: “Well, I’ll play this slut.”

Me: “I… I really don’t think she’s a slut.”

Charles: “Yeah.”

Him: “Oh, she is.”

The fourth player: “Yeah, totally, look.” He points to the verdant background of the card. “This is totally 82nd.” (82nd is the dividing line between middle-class, suburban Portland and poorer, lower-class Portland. In the common imagination, it is a land of big box stores and street prostitution.)

Charles (getting a little testy): She’s from Bant. It’s the shard of light and valor. I’m not buying it.”

At this point, the player ends his turn. Things start happening again in the game, but I’m still on edge. It was actually hard for me to believe that both of us had just called someone out on something so obviously terrible and the response had been an extremely casual closing of ranks around the usage of the word in the form of the jocular affirmation that, no, this woman is, indeed, a slut. The smoothness of this motion made me feel like they didn’t see anything wrong with what they were doing.

This results in an undercurrent of misogyny that persists, despite the fact that apparently well-regarded female friends and family members come up in conversation fairly often (I don’t think either of the problem folks are dating women right now, but please leave any and all nerd stereotypes at the door). They don’t seem to treat me any different, but the issue definitely has effects on me.

It puts makes me uncomfortable, bewildered, and causes me to worry about what they think of me, especially as the only woman in the group. Doubly so as a woman who is marked as sexually active by the presence of her partner. They’ve only directed the term at cards and fictional characters, but for all I know, in moments where my name escapes them, they might think of me as “that slut,” “the slut who comes to Magic,” or even “Charles’s slut.” The seemingly relaxed disregard and derision these people—these people I’ve seen often enough and had a good enough time with to call my friends—show for women actually leaves me at a loss.

Staying in the group and not speaking up more loudly or more forcefully makes me feel like a crummy feminist, but doing those things would make me feel like a jerk. Not to mention the fact that I don’t even know where to start with these people, who easily and without apparent second thoughts closed ranks in defense of some of the worst misogyny I’ve seen in real life. I’ve thought about leaving the group over it, but sacrificing a consistent play group is not something I particularly want to do. I also don’t want to be the kind of person who stops talking to somebody because I don’t like how they talk.

But I have a glimmer of hope. I hope that if I keep calling them out, maybe someday there will be uptake. Maybe someday we’ll talk about it, and I’ll be able to explain that, what they’re doing really isn’t okay, and actually causes me some harm. I hope I’ll be able to educate them. I hope I’ll make them think about and question their behavior. They’re nice kids and I don’t think anybody’s a lost cause. I hope I can bring just a little bit of good into the world if I stay. And that good becomes much less possible if I just leave.

So for now, I’ll keep quietly, gently calling them out. I’ll keep playing with them. I’ll keep using the correct pronouns for cards and correcting people when they get them wrong. I’ll keep casually bringing up gender issues that relate specifically to Magic and talking to Charles about them in front of the others. I’ll keep trying, on this smallest and most individual level, to effect change.

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Comments

  1. “It puts makes me uncomfortable, bewildered, and causes me to worry about what they think of me, ”

    I’ve seen nerds before making references to something, but having a completely different reaction to the same thing in real life. As though the social model and the real life interaction aren’t connected inside their heads. So I’d say it’s possible that it hasn’t occured to them to apply their misogyny to you.

    Of course, that’s not something I’d want to bet money on.

    • Olivia Davis says:

      I think you’re right, that it’s likely not the case that they particularly have problems with me. It doesn’t seem to be that big of a jump from “all women on cards are sluts,” to “you, Olivia, are a slut,” but I agree that it’s probably not a jump they’re actually making.

      Though, most of them are single and I’ve seen single nerds get really, really bitter and icky.

      And, one of them did just call me a whore yesterday (I did something bad to him in-game), so who knows!

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