“I’m not like other girls.” That’s a phrase most women now can joke about, but I still struggle when watching someone I know trying very hard to impress those around her by bringing down other women. Internalized misogyny in games is very real and a problem that is rarely brought up, maybe because of fear of coming face to face with what we used to be like, and it’s better off to ignore it. Though, I’d like to share the journey of my experience on how this issue came to be for me, and how checking yourself and the others around you, is needed 24/7.
My first game was Pokémon Blue on the Gameboy Color. It was nice, but I couldn’t work the thing without knowing how to read any English. I had the multilingual teacher’s assistant in my school at the time translate and teach me the words that popped on the small 8-bit screen. After finally grabbing some sort of grasp on the English language, I pushed my mom for a PS2 for Christmas. I woke up to the Playstation 2 Slim that winter, sitting beside Shrek Super Slam. The absolutely massive and weird library of PS2 games opened up before me, from personal favorites like Bully, Thrillville, Kingdom Hearts, Yu-Gi-Oh! The Duelist of the Roses, and more, video games started to make me feel special as a child, they offered escapism while life around me seemed to be falling apart dealing with poverty, bullying at school, and confusing feelings when it came to having crushes on girls.
Things started out pretty innocently, a usual story of video games from people in my demographic. But as I got into high school, video games were becoming more mainstream, and that constant need to prove to others how much you know more of something, as a lot of high schoolers tend to do, pushed me to be protective over my love of games. My first instance of this was when I was talking about Final Fantasy XIII’s Fang with a friend. I completely forgot Serah was even a thing in the game, and was met with laughter and the famous line all women in games will hear once in their life, “fake gamer girl.” I was 14 years old, socially stunted, I didn’t understand at the time that this guy was just being a pain, and games were the only thing that brought me joy at the time. It hurt; my teen self was devastated that someone could even think such a thing. This amplified the feeling of being protective, and the constant push to prove myself started. To prove that I was “not like other girls”. It went from just dropping little facts here and there, to needing to be in the loop of anything triple AAA coming out to impress my peers, and that becoming a source of validation. It felt good to be called cool.
During this time in the late 2000s/early 2010s, being edgy was peak comedy, and kids on my timeline, who only learned gender roles from their parents and questionable TV, were reposting rage comics and memes that had rather… problematic punchlines. This humor perpetuated racism, rape culture, GG, and poked fun at tragedies that happened online at the time. Kids were quick to dogpile and say hateful things if you came out to defend a girl on her being reasonably upset at the gross things on her newsfeed, and teen me couldn’t afford to do that. I didn’t want to be like “other girls.” Which again, looking back, that stupid and hurtful thinking. Being shamed for being a girl liking “girl” things is still a thing, and there are men on social media who have made their whole comedy bit making fun of women just… doing normal everyday things, like being on a dating app or participating in fun challenges on TikTok.
In our journey to show how much we as women are so different to what society is obsessed with having us look, how skinny we should be, how light or bronzed our skin color should be, we lose a sense of how we ourselves actually want to be. We try so hard to other ourselves when we are younger that we unconsciously compare ourselves to how better we are because we don’t like the X thing another girl enjoys, or that you know more of Y subject. That we aren’t like “other girls”. Only to realize years later how gross that was.
Still to this day, girls are pitted against each other in the community. Men in gaming love to compare who knows more of what, and women are the first to hear how stupid they are if they missed what gamers consider key information on whatever they talk about. As much as I felt othered and cool, I was not immune. From my days on WoW servers, melting my poor little home computer, I still come across comments about which guy likes who more because X is cooler and hotter than Y. Women in games aren’t free from it yet. We are constantly pushed every day to prove we deserve to be in this space, work twice as hard to show our genuine passion, and sometimes it takes years to come to terms with the fact you only have yourself to prove.
Talking with high school friends, we remember feeling constantly threatened by “other girls” for no reason. I realized now it comes from a place of survival. Trying to keep our friend groups happy because once we were chewed and spit out, that was the end of that in a time of our lives where any drama during our teenage years was the end of the world.
It sadly took me being bullied, starting college after high school, and therapy to realize “oh, my annoyance when other girls in gaming talk to me come from misogyny, and the constant need to prove I’m better than them is my problem.” Truly embodying the “I’m not like other girls” vibe, and feeling like I’ve just shown my ass to the whole world when it clicked what a complete clown I was being. However, unlearning and catching yourself, along with calling it out as you see it, is the only way to be better.
Sometimes this behavior comes from feeling defensive when you’re not the only “other” in the room, rolling your eyes when a girl starts talking about media you consume, calling someone annoying for enjoying and being excited for the real niche game they love. Basically, you do it, but you’re not about it if another woman does it too. I’ve gone through it, I’ve seen it with friends and folks I know, and we all see it every day when people defend men in the space for doing really absurd things in their positions of power. Internalized misogyny comes in all forms, and it isn’t easy to detect when you surround yourself with friends who won’t put you in your place.
Even though conversations like this are talked about on the feed often, how can we be better?
Look at your friend group, does it seem to be lacking a certain department? Why exactly can you really not “find” women to be friends with? Or are you the problem, because you don’t give that energy that you do with men? What can you do about your friends that is suspiciously asking questions – questions you know for sure they know the answers to? In an industry that tries so hard to throw out women, we need to be better with each other constantly, and bring each other up and open up new doors for us as much as we are calling out questionable behavior.
And don’t just ask your friends, ask yourself, really think about it, why you don’t like this specific streamer, or show host, or commentator? Do you not like them because you don’t like their personality type, or do you not like them just simply because they are a woman? Would you give a man with this personality type a pass?
With the years going by, this is getting better, but is still a poison to younger generations of girls that might show interest in video games. Do we need more faces of the industry being open about how crap things are handled and are not afraid to warn others coming in? Do we need more focus on online gaming communities and quicker handling of reports?
This is not to say everyone has an issue with misogyny. My relationship and mindset with games is much healthier and safer from how it was when I started. Relationships between women in gaming have never been stronger, and the call out to see better from our respected peers is now met with questions on how they can achieve this, rather than to immediately have a smear campaign. We still have a long way to go make this space feel safe, and while we are doing the work, it’s always important to keep ourselves in check. In a society that likes to drill us with very toxic ideas, it’s our responsibility to fight it.