Joanna Schroeder offers an open letter to Joe Peacock, challenging his claims that he is an ally of female gamers, and rising to the defense of the Frag Dolls.
Dear Joe Peacock,
Let’s get this out of the way: I’m not a geek. I don’t play video games aside from Super Mario Bros, where I’m always the little yellow mushroom guy (because he wears a diaper for no apparent reason and my kids never let me be Mario). My favorite video game character is Yoshi. I don’t have an avatar. I didn’t know what cosplay meant until I looked it up while working on this article.
Let’s also get this out of the way: I’m a pretty girl. I know I’m not supposed to say that out loud, but it’s true and it has almost nothing to do with me. Beyond washing my face and occasionally applying eyeliner, I don’t do much to deserve the privileges that being pretty has afforded me. And being attractive in the ways that American society deems acceptable is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful privileges one can carry. I walked into court once for a traffic ticket and when I smiled at the judge, he smiled warmly back. All charges were dismissed.
Why does it matter than I’m pretty and that I’m not a geek? Because I want you to know the ways in which you proved yourself a hypocrite in your article Booth Babes Need Not Apply, which appeared on CNN.com, and I want to be sure that you don’t call me a “6 of 9” in response. I’m just a regular 7 or 8, and if I can get that on the table up front maybe you won’t use it against me.
First, let’s talk about what you and I do agree on.
The premise of your article is that members of the geek community do not appreciate being manipulated, and you explain what that manipulation looks like:
I’m talking about an attention addict trying to satisfy her ego and feel pretty by infiltrating a community to seek the attention of guys she wouldn’t give the time of day on the street.
I call these girls “6 of 9”. They have a superpower: In the real world, they’re beauty-obsessed, frustrated wannabe models who can’t get work.
They decide to put on a “hot” costume, parade around a group of boys notorious for being outcasts that don’t get attention from girls, and feel like a celebrity. They’re a “6” in the “real world”, but when they put on a Batman shirt and head to the local fandom convention du jour, they instantly become a “9”.
I think you’re getting at something that concerns me, too. Social media has amped up the already-problematic issue of some women’s addiction to external validation, as potential praise for beauty or sex appeal is simply everywhere.
Once upon a time a girl had to put on her sexiest outfit and head out to the local club to be told over and over again by strangers that she was hot. Now all it takes is a self-portrait on the iPhone, uploaded to Twitter and tagged #Hotstagram and suddenly dozens, possibly even thousands of people are telling you that you are, in fact, worthy of being alive and will someday find love… If you stay hot.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not specifically against any of this technology. I’m actually a huge fan of social media and have built something of a career out of it. I love Twitter and have even fallen down the Hotstagram rabbit hole once or twice (as a viewer, not a contestant).
And it’s generally assumed that men don’t mind being the pawns of beautiful women, especially if the “reward” of that is the opportunity to look at, talk to, and maybe even get to know a hot girl. Maybe that’s unfair, or even untrue, but it is part of the damaging notion that men should have to grovel for the attention of beautiful women, as well as the same taken-for-granted societal assumption that women’s value is in their looks.
However, some of the more sensitive and clever guys among you have figured out that when the hot girl in the Batman t-shirt walks away, she never really cared about you at all. You were her drug, the thing that got her high, that made her feel good about herself for just a moment. Or you were her job, the guy she was supposed to be selling to, and she did it with her eyelashes and her smile and maybe her cleavage and you felt sorta… well… used.
Yes, Joe, you were objectified. These women never intended to know you. They never wanted to date you. And that stings. And it makes you mad. You’re justified, nobody likes being manipulated, it feels really dirty. And not all guys live and breathe for boobies and a Princess Leia costume. In fact, most guys would rather get to know a woman for who she is than be flirted with simply to satisfy the cravings of a woman who is struggling with validation issues.
But here’s where we have a problem. You offer yourself up as an advocate for female geeks, and you toss out this caveat intended to pacify those of us who may get the hint from your article that you sorta just don’t want women involved:
Now, before every single woman reading this explodes, let me disambiguate a bit. I absolutely do not believe that every girl who attends conventions and likes “Doctor Who” is pretending to be a geek.
There are lots of geeks who are female. Some of these female geeks are pretty girls. I find it fantastic that women are finally able to enjoy a culture that has predominately been male-oriented and male-driven.
And be it known that I am good friends with several stunningly beautiful women who cosplay as stunningly beautiful characters from comics, sci-fi, fantasy and other genres of fandom. They are, each of them, bone fide geeks. They belong with us. Being beautiful is not a crime.
It’s cool that you feel that way, Joe, but something makes me doubt that you truly do see these women as equals and as a real part of your community. I suspect there is a gap between your genuinely good intentions and the attitudes you actually hold. Here’s where I was tipped off.
You start with this:
Case in point: there is a website called Fat, Ugly Or Slutty that catalogs insults, harassment and verbal abuse from male gamers to females on Xbox Live. Reading through just one page of the site made me ill. The big brother in me wanted to go pound the crap out of the thirteen year olds who think it’s cool or funny to demean women for sport.
And then you criticize Ryan Perez who “did something stupid” on Twitter. Apparently Ryan Perez called out Felicia Day and said she didn’t really add anything to “geek culture” other than her celebrity. And Ryan Perez was wrong because, as you say:
“The fact that she spent her own money to make a successful independent video feature centered around World of Warcraft puts her into ubergeek territory. Not only does she put her money where her interests are, she creates things that further the community.”
But the next line is where you get caught doing “something stupid” yourself:
But then, you have these models-cum-geeks like Olivia Munn and practically every FragDoll (sic). These chicks? Not geeks.
Okay, so what have you done wrong? First, you should be aware that the site you praised, Fat, Ugly or Slutty, was actually co-founded by some Frag Doll Cadettes. The same girls you called “models-cum-geeks” and “not geeks”.
Here are the facts: Frag Dolls are actually female professional gamers. They are paid not just to talk to fans at conventions and demonstrate products, but also to play video games.
Beyond that, as Katie J.M. Baker of Jezebel notes, the actual “Booth Babes” really aren’t trying to trick you into anything:
Booth babes aren’t trying to pretend they’re gamers; they’re hired, like all models, to sell a product. They work long hours, don’t get paid much, and many of them hate being ogled. We don’t get angry that car models know nothing about automobiles, or that hand models know nothing about watches.”
So let’s assume you have a problem with the type of Booth Babes that Baker is talking about, and maybe you’re justified. That still doesn’t give you the right to insinuate that the Frag Dolls are among that crowd, or that they somehow don’t belong in the geek community. The Frag Dolls website explains:
The Frag Dolls are a team of professional female gamers recruited by Ubisoft to promote their video games and represent the presence of women in the game industry. These gamer girls play and promote games at industry and game community events, compete in tournaments, and participate daily in online gamer geek activities. Started in 2004 by an open call for gamer girls with competitive gaming skills, the Frag Dolls immediately rocketed to the spotlight after winning the Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow tournament in a shut-out at their debut tournament appearance.
By the time of their fifth anniversary in 2009, the Frag Dolls had competed in numerous tournaments including the 2004 Electronic Gaming Championship in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, 2006 World Series of Video Games in Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, Winter CPL 2006 in Rainbow Six Vegas and Guitar Hero 2, the Major League Gaming circuits from 2005-2008 in Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, Rainbow Six Vegas, Rainbow Six Vegas 2 and Halo 3, and numerous online tournaments. The team’s tournament accolades include first place finishes at Winter CPL 2006 in Rainbow Six Vegas, at multiple years of the Penny Arcade Expo in Tom Clancy titles, a 9th place finish out of 116 teams in the Penny Arcade Expo Halo 3 tournament in 2008, and 11th place overall in the Major League Gaming 2007 season in Rainbow Six Vegas making them the first all-female team to make Semi-Professional status in Major League Gaming history.
I think it’s safe to say that if the Frag Dolls aren’t real gamers, nobody is.
To sum up: You want to beat up the guys who say rude shit to geek girls because they don’t want girls in their space, but then you say some rude shit about other geek girls? Beyond that, while you call out the guys who don’t want girls invading their community, you still want the option to pick and choose which girls should be allowed in yours.
You claim that “true” geek girls, even if they’re beautiful, are enhancing geek culture. But as much as you claim to like having women in your community, you still want to be the one in power. You still want to be the one who decides which women are “real” and which are poachers. You still want to be able to assign their beauty a value. You want the right to call them an insulting and degrading term that essentializes them to nothing but a number. A “6 of 9”, as you say.
Is that equality? No. And it seems to me that if you want to truly welcome geek girls into your community, you’re going to have to get past the idea that you get to define their identities for them first.
(aka “7 or 8”)
Photo of Booth Babes courtesy of matchity/flickr
Photo of Frag Dolls courtesy of Facebook