Gaming and the gender “BIOS”

I originally wrote this as a speech to deliver at public speaking training at work – but it’s a subject I feel strongly about, so I decided to publish it here.

When I told people I was leaving BBC job to join Twitch, it felt like everyone I told was puzzled; non-gaming natives, they had either briefly heard of the platform, or had no idea what it was.

I say everyone – my mother was horrified. Her highlight of my career so far was meeting Robert Powell and his ridiculously blue eyes (famous of being those of Jesus in the Zefferelli film Jesus of Nazareth) – and artists formerly known as Jesus were unlikely to turn up at gaming expos…

Even those familiar with Twitch seemed confused; “but you do even like video games!?” they questioned skeptically, as people still do today when I tell them what I do.

And I could concede that they’ve got a point – because I don’t like video games. I love them.

From playing Bat and Ball on my nan’s BBC Micro Computer and Alex Kidd on the SEGA Master System, to buying my own PS One from savings (which I’d later dip into to buy a gaming PC and a Wii), video games have always been a constant and consistent part of my life. A former editor of mine back in my Channel 4 interning days even gifted me a Dreamcast he had going spare, given my fanatic enthusiasm for escapist gameplay.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t an occasional bump in the road in this relationship; when I moved to Newcastle for a radio job, with nothing but my Xbox 360  for company, I excitedly began the long arduous journey that is Final Fantasy XIII. 30 hours in, I decided to take a five year break, resumed when the eve of Final Fantasy VX kicked my paradigms into gear.

After I joined Twitch I decided build a PC for the first time and possibly became the first person to upload a video of themselves jubilantly screaming “fucking BIOS” on the internet. It was an emotional moment – firstly because I’d had some Power Supply Unit (PSU) issues, but also because I saw that certain people online reacted to by progress by asking me to – as one charmer put it – “leave PC building to the men”. (To this charmer I simply enquired why his masculinity felt threatened by a woman building a PC.)

Who's in? #monkistyle #PCgamer #LadyGang

A post shared by Frankie Ward (@getfrankgames) on

Aside from being desperate to play Overwatch in my own bedroom, after founding team Overlunch with office manager and kickass Mcree Nell, I also wanted the PC to up my streaming game. As you would expect from someone who would shout “fucking BIOS” on the internet, I’m pretty emotional on my channel – it’s a place where I can rage freely and people are more likely to join in than judge. I am accepted as what I am – a fan of video games.

In the wider world however, I am viewed as an anomaly; despite the fact I don’t think I’m at all unusual or unique. I am a “Girl Gamer” or, as some of the gaming community types when they see me on an industry event stage, a “GRILL”. To put it bluntly, I am “other” – just as the singer in a “female-fronted band”, a “female comedian’’, a “girl boss” or even a “male nurse” is. It is this culture of gendered language, where a “gamer” is alleged as solely male, and a female gamer is a “girl gamer”, that makes me appear unusual.

In 2014, the Internet Advertising Bureau surveyed 4,000 UK residents and found that those who identified as ‘gamers’ skewed 52% female. And yes, many of those are playing on their phones, but it’s still relevant. Many women may even play but simply don’t “out” themselves – I’ve spent the best part of a decade showing off my self-proclaimed genius at defeating Final Fantasy X’s last boss Yu Yevon in two moves – and a lot of people, male or female, don’t even know who that is. Until the female audience for gaming is amplified, “hardcore gamer” titles will remain targeted solely to men, and this budding market won’t fulfil it’s growth potential.

Language is one of civilisation’s most powerful tools. When we use it to single out a group, we change their status from the norm, therefore creating a set expectation for them. We expect the England Football team to be a team of men: we expect the England Ladies’ Team to feature a mixture of full and part-time pro players, many of whom earn less in a year than I do playing video games. When I skimmed through Netflix the other day, I noticed it has created a category called “films featuring a strong female lead”; the idea is so beyond acceptable mainstream cinema, it’s had its own genre invented.

When we call someone a “girl gamer”, therefore, we expect them to be less proficient than a “gamer”. When we place that “GRILL” on the stage, we expect them to be there because of the way they look, not because of what they think.

So no, I’m not a “girl gamer”. I’m not a “GRILL”. I identify as a woman who plays video games – a “gamer” – because I believe in creating a world where gendered language no longer exists in order to hold me back.

Now who’s up for a game of Overwatch? 

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Selling eyeliners is one thing… but surgery? How Transform’s latest ad fails to see below the surface

I’ve been tardy with the ol’ blog recently. I’ll be the first to admit it. I was thinking of writing about my work on the recent Trainspotting Live, or the fact that I’ve just left the BBC after more than four years to start at Twitch tomorrow.

And yet, this is what has compelled me to delay my latest attempt to complete Final Fantasy XIII and only half pay attention to the latest love of my life (Gilmore Girls on Netflix). An advert printed in the back pages of Glamour magazine.

In it, 22-year-old London-based fashion blogger That Pommie Girl describes how her recent “boob job” (and yes, because it is aimed at her readers – women of her age or younger, it actually uses that phrase), has made her “love her body”, something bloggers are known for. They’ll post paid for ads for products with names like “Boo Tea” on Instagram promoting speedier metabolisms and “detoxification”, or 24 products at once for a “natural look” on YouTube. And while I’m not saying this is 100% harmless (the thought of me – with my mountain of loose leaves piled up in the corner of my kitchen – purchasing a tea for anything other than the fact it tastes good makes me shiver), it’s nothing compared to surgery.

This woman has been given a free major uncessary  surgical operation – and in my book, that’s something that’s both invasive and requiring the patient to undergo general aesthetic – and most likely been paid a lot of money to do so; she’s been paid to be cut open, stuffed, and to promote this to her young followers. Lest we forget, there’s a reason why bloggers and social media stars are called influencers. She’s someone people aspire to be. Her lifestyle is what her followers yearn to have. And her lifestyle now involves major surgery so she can like herself.

Let’s face it; a lot of young people aren’t comfortable in their own bodies yet. I have a strong body which I’ve worked hard on (I’m not ripped or anything like that, but I can hold my own in a boxing class) and, at the age of 27, I still check how much my stomach sticks out in the mirror when I wake up. I’m not That Pommie Girl’s target audience, and yet I still bought the aforementioned copy of Glamour because it came with a free Benefit eyebrow gel. (And I already own a similar one from L’Oreal that works perfectly fine.)

I decided to do a Google to find out a bit more and discovered the Advertising Standards Authority have actually banned the TV version of the advert, although you can still view videos of Sarah Ashcroft (the blogger in question), on Transform’s website.

There’s a few disturbing things about the advert, which you can view by accessing the last hyperlink. Firstly, Ashcroft explains that she never experienced anything she’d describe as “pain” (aside from back pain). Not immediately post operation or during the aftercare period.

“In terms of recovery I still couldn’t really believe it. I had geared myself up for a lot of pain when there wasn’t really any at all. I remember feeling incredibly drowsy, but aside from that the healing process was pretty straightforward, with the major inconvenience being a support bra due to the neck and back pain from my new posture.”

Surgery is going to be different for everyone, but this advertorial really does go out of its way to emphasise “no pain, all gain”.

And probably the part I find the most shocking of all, Ashcroft implies that her career has been progressed by the operation:

“It really has changed my life and cliched as it sounds, I feel like a new person with a newfound confidence and love for my body. Now, I can be as experimental as I want to be with my style; something I always wanted and I feel like my blogging has come on leaps and bounds too.”

Breasts “enhanced”, she can now wear different clothes and write better! Us women had better all sign up for surgery so we can have enough confidence to ask for a big enough pay rise to start paying back our surgery loans and wear the contractually obliged high heels, skirt and at least five items of noticeable make up to the office..

This advert probably concerns me most of all because it suggests that we still associate the idea of physical perfection – or a marketer’s idea of it – as a key to success. Why be comfortable with what you have, when the path to success is the physical embodiment of some ideal dreamed up by someone else who managed to make it catch on years ago? Already successful enough to attract Transform in the first place (and no doubt, other businesses wanting to work with her), why would Ashcroft (and a bunch of others profiled on the website) take such a drastic step?

And why – in heaven’s name why – would Glamour run this irresponsible advert? For financial gain? Don’t they have some semblance of a duty of care for their younger readers? It’s enough to make me ignore next latest lucrative freebie issue and pay full price (for a cheaper copycat version of the same product).

Monikh Dale, another featured blogger who Transform have given a “lip enhancement” explains on the site that “I wanted to be the best version of me I could be” – the same slogan that the Army are currently using in their latest recruitment campaign. But don’t get me started on that one, or I’ll never find out if Rory and Jess get together. (Gilmore Girls. Seriously – you need to watch it!)

If you advertise your beliefs in your outfit, be prepared to talk about them…

The other day I was sat on the central line, music in my ears (but not so loud anyone could hear what I was listening to… probably something I should have removed from my playlist years ago) when the woman opposite me got up at Oxford Circus, pointed at me and started mouthing something at me.

I removed my headphones. It turned out she wasn’t mouthing, she was actually speaking.

“Me too!” She said. I looked down. She was pointing to my feminism necklace. I got excited.

“It’s from… um.. Oh…” I hesitated, before realising that it was from Thrift Ola, which is run by the former owner of Lady Luck Rules Ok (sadly missed). “Google Lucky Dip Club!” I called after her as she dashed off before the train started moving again. Since then, there’s been a pleasing handful of people who have commented or shared that they too are feminists. The custom name necklace I’m wearing in the photo below is now out of stock, but you can order your own ‘feminist’ necklace with companies such as the brilliant Tatty Devine and their name necklace service). 

Image

Once, in a branch of Carphone Warehouse, a guy pointed out my necklace and he confessed his mixed feelings about feminism. We had a perfectly respectable debate, where his chief concern was ‘how to approach women’ in clubs etc. I think that this is perfectly reasonable concern, but one can be easily addressed. Just be nice and respectful – it’s fine to go and say hello to someone, just don’t grope them, launch into aggressive sexual suggestions and so on and so forth.

On Monday I was walking through Kensington when a guy stopped me (saying a polite “excuse me”) said he liked my dress, asked me about myself and where I was going (in a non-creepy way). I genuinely was off to a gig with my boyfriend (I don’t really have many other reasons to be in that part of town), but I didn’t mind being stopped at all – I felt like I had control.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the male population needs to take tips from charity muggers and start stopping women in the street left, right and centre, but maybe the guy from the Carphone Warehouse should take note – respectfulness works!

More recently on the Central Line (that same Monday I ended up in Kensington) I was sat across from a man who wore a hat on his head with the bold (in both senses of the word) slogan that said “buy it or bang it”. I’m pretty sure this referred to women, although the phrase could quite as easily be applied to a fridge, among other objects. Obviously I didn’t ask him if he was a banger of white goods – I didn’t speak to him at all – but I doubt anyone will. If someone displays sexually aggressive misogynistic intent on their attire, it’s less approachable than someone wearing a one word representing a popular, if incomprehensibly controversial, ideology.

Now people have started talking to me about feminism in person, I’m keen to do it more often! I’m toying with ordering a Tatty Devine speech bubble necklace that says ‘talk to me about feminism’ to keep the conversation going…

#WonderWomen Volume One

What a week for women in the media!

I’m constantly in awe of other women and their achievements, and I’m kicking myself for not regularly giving them the praise that they deserve. So, here’s three women who’ve rocked the world this week…

Davina McCall

Anyone who knows me personally will know of my addiction to Davina’s workout DVDs (I have four). Since doing them I’ve been healthier, happier and in the best shape I’ve ever been. (I’m too much of a chocolate raisin fan to be ultra slim, ripped etc… but I’m far more confident than I was.)

Those of you who listen to Radio 1 may be aware that Davina’s been pushing her brain and her body to the limit in the name of Sport Relief. She’s run, cycled and swam 500 miles in a week and has been totally open about how tough the experience has been. Listening to her emotional updates on the radio has been equally inspiring and devastating – and everyone I know who has ever worked with Davina has absolutely sung her praises. She’s the genuine article. The focus of Davina’s Sport Relief fundraising has been to raise money for projects in the UK, but also to create opportunities for women and girls in Kenya to have a better life. She’s a woman for women.

Naturally, I sponsored her efforts: sportrelief.com/davina. Please give if you can.

Ellen Page

Ellen Page has always made awesome movies. X-Men, Super, Hard Candy, Juno and the totally brilliant Whip It are amongst my favourites. A few years ago I carried one of her observations on the perception of feminism in my wallet, having torn it from a magazine.

It read; “I call myself a feminist when people ask me if I am, and of course I am because it’s about equality, so I hope everyone is. You know you’re working in a patriarchal society when the word feminist has a weird connotation.”

I’ve had to highlight the second part of that quote because it succinctly sums up how I feel when people say feminism should be called ‘equalism’ or is purely about women.

And now, in another powerful move, Page has made the brave decision to come out as gay at a conference focused on the young LGBTQ community. Her speech moved me very much. You can watch it below:

Page, who I’ve always thought of being intelligent and bold in her choices – both in public speaking and her movie career – admits that her sexuality and the pressure to conceal it has caused her to suffer. That a woman who can be so together as to make the speech in the video above can be a victim of societal pressures says a lot about the world – and that we’re lucky that people like Page are prepared to speak out publicly so that they might change it for the better.

Lizzy Yarnold

I think it was when we were in year 9 (possibly 10) at Maidstone Grammar School for Girls (MGGS) that Lizzy joined my school. Instantly she became ‘the one that was good at athletics’ – particularly the javelin, which no one else had a clue about. In sixth form we were put in a form together and she became a Head Student (I was a House Captain). Lizzy was popular, pragmatic and intelligent. Although a shock to see someone I had shared a classroom with appear in the papers, it wasn’t a surprise that Lizzy would become an Olympian – that it should be for fearlessly throwing herself down an icy track, subjecting her body to mind-numbing G Force and terrifying turns wasn’t either!

Quoted on the BBC Sport website, ‘The Yarnold’ (her competing nickname) says; “If you’re committed and dedicate the time to need to, then you can achieve your dreams.” Having won the first gold medal of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Lizzy is going to have an epic year  – here’s I’m hoping to bump into her in Broadcasting House soon.

Is there someone you’d like to nominate as a #WonderWoman? Tweet me!

Bridget Christie Minds the Gap

Earlier this week I met up with comedian Bridget Christie to chat about feminism ahead of her new series, Bridget Christie Minds the Gap, which starts tonight at 23:00 on Radio 4.

We spoke about Mary Wollstonecraft, the British Enlightenment thinker who set up a school for girls in Newington Green and later authored A Vindictation of the Rights of Woman, widely seen as the text that started the modern feminist movement.

Please share if you can and spread the word!

Finding out about feminism

Next week BBC Radio 4 is doing a bit about feminism, including the start of a new comedy series written and performed by stand-up Bridget Christie.

I’m doing a bit more on the website for it – so it’s not going to be the fairly plain space currently there, but I wanted to post some links here first – BBC Editorial Policy means I can’t publish all the links I want to because most feminist sites are campaign based, or (quite rightly) have a bias towards, well, you know, feminism!

So here’s some ace sites I think are worth checking out:

The Vagenda

From their ‘reasons to be a feminist’ series, to an articles on women in pop culture and the freedom of cutting your hair not having to imply political or social beliefs, the Vagenda is one of the most prolific feminist blogs on the net, while remaining utterly accessible to all. It is edited by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter, who also write ‘The V Spot’ for The New Statesman.

The Everyday Sexism Project

Laura Bates set up this pioneering website to give women a platform to discuss their experiences of sexism – from derogatory comments to abuse. The stories now feature in weekly columns on the Huffington Post and the Independent newspaper and a book is on the horizon. Ultimately the project aims to dispel the myth that equality has been gained and ‘the fight is over’.

The F Word

Founded in 2001 by Catherine Redfern, The F Word is a contemporary feminist site, featuring articles and interviews centred around feminist culture and politics. The site welcomes contributions from new writers and does not subscribe to one particular feminist viewpoint.

The Fawcett Society

Leading the lobby for equality in Britain, The Fawcett Society is a charity named after peaceful suffragette Millicent Fawcett. The site features news on their latest campaigns – including equal pay and the impact of austerity measures on women – and how you can get involved.

PinkStinks

PinkStinks is a social enterprise that aims to defeat the ‘culture of pink’ that determines the ‘acceptable’ appearance of girls and replace it with one that motivates children to achieve based on merits that don’t rely on beauty or attractiveness, such as educational ability and effort.

UK Feminista

UK Feminista is a network of campaigners who want to see political, social and economic equality between women and men realised. As well as organising campaigns, they provide support and training to activist groups. It was founded by author Kat Banyard and men are encourage to get involved too.

Feminist Library

This South London library houses an archive of Women’s Liberation Movement Literature, particularly from the ‘second wave feminism’ period between 1960 and 1990. They support feminist networks and research projects, host events and raise awareness of Women’s Studies as an educative subject.

Gender Agenda

Gender Agenda welcomes everyone to submit articles on the subject of ‘feminism, gender, sexuality and anything related’. They host discussions between feminist with the aim that people will work out what their ideas really are if they can share their thoughts with the rest of the feminist community. You can submit a post for publication on the site and, aside from formatting, it will be published unchanged and uncensored.

Bridget Christie Minds the Gap starts at 23:00 on Thursday 7th March. (And it’s really bloody funny.)