Women In Magic, The 2012 Edition

Jackie Lee has been a consistent face on the Grand Prix circuit, making Top 4 in Baltimore and multiple Top 16s. But she isn’t just breaking into the Pro Tour; she speaks out against the sexism prevalent in Magic today.

All right, you got me.

This is my take on the “women in Magic” issue.

I’ve gone a decent while without writing such an article on StarCityGames.com, staying in the generally safe realm of theory and tournament reports. Sure, I occasionally throw in a side comment about some weird or funny remark I get about my sex, but it’s not a huge deal. In fact, it’s pretty representative of my experiences playing Magic. However because many people have recently asked, I feel the need to clarify what this actually means to me.

I wrote this article nearly a year ago, saying that as women Magic players, all we want is to be treated the same. But we’re not. Even in 2012, we’re not. Everything we do, everything we accomplish, must always, somehow, be weighed against the measure, “But didn’t this happen just because we’re women?”

Let me guess: you’re either interested to hear my take on it, or really tired and annoyed of the whole thing. After all, what is this, the fifteenth article written on the topic? Do we really need one more? Can one more article hope to change the world?

I think we do. And I know it can.

Why now?

As Patrick Chapin pointed out recently, women are outperforming men with their numbers and Grand Prix results. I’ll be the first to tell you that a handful of GP Top 8s and an estimation on the number of women attendants does not constitute solid data.

In fact, the problem for a long time has been that the results of women competitors are so few and far between that they aren’t statistically relevant. People have attempted to argue that because no women have won a Pro Tour in Magic’s nineteen-year history, this somehow implies that women are either inherently bad at the game or don’t possess a desire to compete. I can’t begin to express how much of a reach this is, so maybe you should just try to get that claim peer-reviewed in a science journal and report back on what happens.

Since Chapin’s article was published, Lissa Jensen has also Top 8ed a GP, increasing the amount of data on high-level female competitors to four Top 8s in six months. While we aren’t working with a great sample size either, this new development is noteworthy. It seems that women making GP Top 8s has become a trend, which is remarkable simply because they were largely absent before.

Finally, in 2012, things are coming to a head, and I think we are really getting somewhere as a community. There are still people in denial, but more than ever I see an honest discourse happening, and it’s reflected in the numbers.

Why me?

Do you think I reasonably care, one way or the other, that I’m a woman? I don’t even think about it. Which is part of why the reaction to my interview on the Daily Dot caught me—and many others—by surprise.

Over and over I’ve heard, “I had no idea this was happening,” about the negative comments in the chat stream. People sent their overwhelming support, even after I explicitly stated that I don’t personally care about the comments in the article!

I’ve been playing since 1998, and things were a lot worse back then for women. If I’m still playing now, it’s fair to assume I’m in it for the long haul. If I could endure all those years of ignorant comments, what’s one more to me, really?

But I realized something then. It wasn’t about me at all.

People want a public figure to identify with, and I can understand that, even though I felt a little overwhelmed by the attention at times. It’s interesting to be called “the best woman player of all time”—but when’s the last time we discussed “the best black player of all time?” Those two qualifiers surely have different implications and backstories, but you can see my point. It’s a little awkward, and I could easily see how a statement like this could inspire various sorts of resentment, even if it comes from a good place.

On the other hand, I can definitely understand wanting to make a deal of it. At one point, the fact that I was the only girl in the room was as fundamental to the game as the fact that non-haste creatures can’t attack the turn they come into play. I may be “over it” now, but I’m not going to deny others the chance to talk about this. And that’s what I think the community is really asking for. Discussion is a really important step, for any type of progress.

This thing is not about me.

And to anyone who thinks that I or any one person can “own” this issue: are you serious?

I didn’t suddenly decide, “You know what? Now’s a good time to start cashing in on my ovaries.” Which is good, because it wouldn’t be very profitable.

This thing is not about me.

It’s about the fact that some guy’s girlfriend doesn’t want to play, and another guy can’t meet a woman who shares his interests. It’s about feeling frustrated that you don’t stack up to what society claims you should be. It’s about hanging out with the same guys every week and being happy with that—but wondering if there couldn’t be something more. It’s about all of us, men and women alike.

Just look at some of the responses I’ve gotten:

“My girlfriend, who often gets upset with how much time and devotion I have to playing cards, changed her view of watching live coverage when she saw you kicking ass.”

“I am very embarrassed on behalf of all men who play MTG to see this kind of behavior. I play MTG with my wife at home and with a number of female friends in groups. I’m sure mostly kids were participating in the negative behavior, but nevertheless, it’s sad.”

“I draft with my friends, but I am definitely too scared to play tournaments, even casual ones. I almost played one recently, but when I was there, another player told my fiancé that if he had to play a girl at the tournament, he would forfeit the game rather than have to play her. I hope someday I can be as brave as you, but I think I’d also have to practice a lot more first.”

How is any of that about me? It’s not at all. It’s three very different people with very different life experiences. But they all have one thing in common. They’re all affected by this.

What are you feeling right now? Are you annoyed, frustrated, sad, angry? Do you know what that feeling is?

That’s the immense weight of centuries of patriarchy that neither of us played any part in. And that feeling is the real issue, not any one thing that’s happened to you or me.

There’s no reason anyone except me should care about my individual experiences, except that they mean something to you. And they do because we both happen to exist in a time when we’re just beginning to get over the gender roles that have historically held a death-grip on our society.

If you’re frustrated, I just want you to direct that frustration in the appropriate direction. Can I be called “to blame” for the society in which we currently live? Can you?

These issues have been around long before modern medicine, basically before life as we know it. To suddenly appoint a figurehead is ridiculous in so many ways. Paulo Vitor realized that one woman couldn’t definitively explain the gender gap in Magic, but he still decided to try asking four! The problem is, even all of us put together cannot deconstruct the years of social pressure that have gone into the situation we now have. Yet, the urge to talk about it is very real and, in my opinion, very necessary.

The site Fat, Ugly, Or Slutty is a great example of the crap women have to put up with when they’re outed as female in online video games. It’s also pretty funny, if you consider a bunch of low-energy, lame attempts to get nude photos via Xbox Live “funny.”

The site’s founders wrote a retrospective, wherein they professed feeling overwhelmed by the positive responses the site has received. Although it began as an innocent attempt at humor, the responses caused them to realize they were getting at something much larger, much bigger than any of them could pretend to be.

“I didn’t become soft or impotent. I became aware. Here we are, pushing content onto this site where I assumed all gamers could relate and viewed it as a second nature occurrence, like me, as though it were nothing. But the feedback we were receiving was one of shock and un-believability, and that is what shocked me. Since the day I hooked my Xbox up to the Internet, I expected the inevitable, “Hey baby, wanna trade pix?” messages or the, “GET A LIFE, FATTY!” line. It was just the unfortunate part of the realm that is online gaming to me… But what the site has taught me is that, though it is regrettably “expected,” it’s not okay and there’s no reason why it should be.” —jaspir

“You tell me how the f&$# I, me, the person writing faux-innuendo jokes, am supposed to feel ownership in creating any of those realities. It’s too big. I cannot physically contain it; I refuse to try. A lot of people have seen the site and it has touched them in some largely positive way. I’m afraid that if I truly think about it beyond just numbers in our analytics I’ll just start crying and never stop.” —gtz

If you want to shrug it off with, “Oh, these are just some kids acting up,” then we need to ask the question, “Why are children learning that this is acceptable behavior?” Because that’s the real problem, not any individual comment. It’s not until we stop minimizing the issue and picking it apart by details that we can acknowledge it for what it is and move forward.

Moving Forward

“Fine,” you might relent. “So this is an endemic problem that I played no part in creating. And even though it’s more prevalent in the Magic community, it’s based on a widespread social concern. So…what the hell do you want me to do about it?”

Nobody is changing this situation overnight, and I know that very well. However, we can all do a lot by simply making minor changes to the way we interact with others.

I, myself, was guilty of many of the things I’m about to list before I realized the potential harm they caused, so if you’ve done any of them yourself, all I ask is that you reconsider before doing them again. I honestly believe the things I’m about to list have a real, negative impact on our community, and that is why I’ve stopped doing them. It might take a while to fully alter some of these behaviors, but that’s fine. That’s an excellent trade-off for becoming a more socially understanding person.

I also encourage you not to deride others for not automatically knowing all this stuff. I wish people wouldn’t write each other off with stuff like “this should go without saying” because that shames people who might otherwise try to learn. Understanding marginalized demographics is not some kind of birthright and shouldn’t be treated as such. If people born after a certain date were just auto-knowledgeable, don’t you think we would have “solved” the problem by now?

I can definitely understand that it is frustrating at times. Trying to explain these issues repeatedly to wave after wave of unsympathetic people is really fatiguing. That’s why I encourage everyone to be as receptive as possible while voicing their own concerns. There will be friction on both sides, but we should go in acknowledging that and try to reduce it.

Things are definitely better than they were fifteen years ago, and for that I’m grateful. Still, I think we have a long way to go, and we could all do a little bit more to get there.

1. Stop making hilarious jokes about women’s gender.

This suggestion is actually misworded because “hilarious” implies that the joke is funny to more than the person telling the joke. Sure, someone might laugh, but odds are that the woman you’re poking fun at has heard the very same joke at least one hundred times. Maybe, at first, she thought it was funny that you were pointing out her sex. After all: seventeen men, one woman…comedy gold! Afterwards though (outside a brief resurgence of humor around jokes 30-35), I’m fairly certain you’ve just been running it into the ground.

Still, can’t really blame you for trying, right? No, but I will tell you that you probably shouldn’t.

The first reason is that studies have found that sexist humor is more proliferative of sexist views than sexist statements. Laughter is one of the most basic ways we interact with each other as social creatures, and when we mix that with sexism, we get the impression that it’s okay to be bigoted as long as we’re acting halfway ironic about it. Really, though, it’s just a means to perpetuate stereotypes in a generally more enlightened time.

The second reason is that by bringing up a woman’s sex over and over, even as a joke, you’re eroding the woman’s patience. Why would anyone keep subjecting herself to that treatment when she could just go do something else? See the point below.

2. Stop acting like the woman at FNM is the last one you’ll ever meet.

I know you mean well, but it can be creepy and off-putting. It seems very stressful for you, too. But I assure you, the moment you relax and act like it’s not a big deal (even if you have to pretend at first), you’ll feel a lot better. The woman will feel a lot better, too. After all, she’s at the tournament for the same reason you are.

In the long run, it would probably result in an increased number of women playing the game. That would be cool, right? If it weren’t weird anymore? Eh?

This game is incredibly complex, and the learning curve is incredibly high. It can take months or years to approach a “competitive” skill level. Imagine how it must feel to also be bombarded with awkward, strange comments while you’re trying to get there. It shouldn’t surprise you that many stop trying.

3. Stop trying to tell people to shut up about this.

You are correct: nobody likes that sexism exists. You are correct: it is also very damaging to men. But every time somebody voices a problem with it and you go, “But hey, look at how this hurts me, though!” you’re halting the conversation.

It’s actually called “derailing,” and you can learn about it here.

There’s a lot to be said about the massive impact that a rich history of sexism has had on our lives, and certainly, we all deserve to say our piece about it. But please, don’t merely pipe up as a defensive measure against someone else expressing a concern. This is a serious warning sign that you may not actually be listening, and your opinion might not be formed on the truest of intentions. If you took a little time to listen to the other party and address their concerns, when the time comes for you to express your own issues you might find them a little more receptive.

Take, for example, Geordie Tait highly inflammatory article on the subject. It didn’t pull any punches and probably took a more aggressive stance than was necessary. But I will never fault too highly any attempt to start a conversation. In fact, that’s what having a conversation means. It’s not a one-way statement for which replies are disabled. It’s a back-and-forth between the conversation initiator and audience, and if the audience thinks the argument is somehow unfair, the speaker should take the time to reevaluate their claims and phrasing. That’s okay. We can’t be expected to say the perfect thing all the time, and the message is much more important than the language.

And please, please stop arguing it’s about freedom of speech. The right to say something is very different from the desire to do so; no one is arguing that you shouldn’t be allowed to say certain things.

However if after multiple people have told you what you say is offensive and you still feel the desire to defend and continue to say it, perhaps you should evaluate why. Why are you insistent to perpetuate a stereotype, even after others have expressed offense? What is it doing for you, or is it simply the path of least resistance?

4. Women, please stop hating on each other.

I don’t see this as much these days, but I still see it. Because there are so few women at a Magic tournament, I have heard them say things like, “She gives all of us a bad image by dressing like that.” These are otherwise very nice women, so why would they try to shame others for their appearance? As if that somehow reflected on “the rest of us?”

It’s simple, really. For our whole lives, we’ve been taught to compete with other women. Now that we’re playing Magic, there is this stereotyped idea that women can pick up wins just by hiking their skirt a little higher. We hear it all the time. And then we see a woman doing just that. Well, we’ve been dressing proper this whole time in an effort to disprove that stereotype! Now there’s one more woman in the room, reinforcing it…where does that put the ETA for shutting the hell up about our clothes?

I know why you have the reaction. But you have to understand, you can’t change everyone’s view all by yourself. Just like that woman doesn’t represent all of womanhood, neither do you. It’s very frustrating to have your clothing tied so closely to your identity in the game, but you won’t change that perception with wardrobe options. It’s a vision that runs very deep, and I doubt the people who harbor it spend a lot of time tallying up a ratio of skirt inches to make sure their stereotype is still accurate.

Just let it go. Not only will you foster a more accepting environment for other women, like you, but you’ll probably be happier in the long run. Taking on a burden that isn’t yours is tiring at best, unsustainable at worst.

5. For the love of God, stop trying to argue evo-psych.

Seriously, there is not enough data and not enough good studies to make a substantiated claim about the effects of one’s sex on higher brain function. In our society, it is ridiculously difficult to design an experiment that differentiates male and female performance and then say something conclusive about whether that difference is due to biology or…you know, the gendered conditioning we’ve received since birth. If you pick and choose studies to “prove” what you believe might be true, you’re probably just running that thing we call confirmation bias.

Even if there were some validity in evo-psych, the data is so unsubstantiated that simply bringing it up is harmful. You’re suggesting that people might somehow be limited by their bodily differences, which might be a useful suggestion if only it were at all provable.

Instead, you’re putting this idea into the back of someone’s consciousness: “Hey, you might not be able to do this one thing very well, and there’s not much you can do about it. We’re not sure yet. Just throwing it out there, though.” That would make anyone self-conscious, regardless of the innate truth of the statement.

Anyone remember that article Tomfidence? As it turns out, confidence is good for performance! Now, if we can just learn to harness it from a place of non-bigotry, we’ll get a bonus that is more frequently relevant and less of a jerk move! Handshakes all around.

6. Stop using gendered insults.

Every time you call your opponent’s Olivia a “bitch,” Avacyn dies a little inside. Keep at it, and she’s probably only going to be about 3/3 when the set is finally released. Let’s see you try to reanimate that.

Whenever I bring this up, there’s an occasional argument that someone shouldn’t have to change their vocabulary because “everyone in the world says the b-word.” You may well be rolling your eyes right now, but at least hear out my reasoning.

When do we use the word “bitch” (specifically as a noun)?

  • To denote an unpleasant, unlikeable woman. (Linking negativity and women)
  • To denote a cowardly (or “woman-like”) man. (Linking negativity and women)
  • To denote pride in being a self-serving woman. (Linking a combination of negativity/positivity and women)

Of these, the third instance is an effort at reappropriation, but this effort at projecting the word in a positive light couldn’t even be possible if it weren’t a negative assertion to begin with.

To be clear, let’s look at the historical usage of the word “bitch.” Up until 1920, its published usage was exclusively in veterinary magazines and court cases about dogs. During the year 1920, suddenly the word gained popularity in fiction, magazines, and even some news sources. Why? What happened in 1920?

Women’s suffrage.

Suddenly, “bitch” was used to paint women in this light: malicious, difficult, or “sexually brazen.” In short, bitch is the first backlash to feminism, and by 1930, it was used more often for insulting women than it was for describing dogs.

Image taken from Bitch: A History.

Every time women have taken a stand, the word has seen increased usage. Some people have tried to reclaim it, giving it a positive spin. However, reappropriation works on a cycle and is often accompanied by a resurgence of malicious use. Reappropriation is always on the back foot. There’s never a period in the cycle when the word is viewed as exclusively, or even mostly, positive.

I simply choose not to use words like these. Not only is it the easiest way to avoid offending people, but I don’t like the idea that the words I use might have a charged subtext that is totally out of my control or scope. The words we use change how we think, a concept made most famous in George Orwell’s 1984.

You’re certainly allowed to disagree, but be respectful of others’ feelings, and do the research first. After reading and understanding the history behind the word “bitch,” make a conscious decision. Don’t just follow a habit. And know that you might come off as an asshole.  

The same goes for the increasingly graphic usage of the word “rape” in gaming. Seriously, when did this become the go-to description for winning? Think, for a moment, about the actual meaning of the word and what you are implying when you casually say, “I raped you.” This is not even considering that some people have actually experienced rape firsthand, and I doubt they find the reminder quaint. I heard this happen at an FNM once, during a D&D session happening behind us. One guy had to stop the party to explain that he was molested as a child and that he doesn’t want to relive that experience every time someone rolls a critical. The embedding of terminology like this into our casual speech is actually very insidious, much like jokes about racism or sexism.

7. Call each other out on poor behavior.

Nobody likes to cause (and feel) discomfort by speaking up when you’re not the one being spoken to.

“Um, maybe you didn’t realize this? But ‘bitch’ is actually hate speech…Yeah.

All right then, bro-five?! Anyone?”

It’s unpleasant, but part of the reason this garbage has gone on for so long is people’s unwillingness to stand alone. It’s hard, and often, the reason is you’re never sure if you might just be missing something. There must be a reason no one else is saying anything, right? And besides, what can one person really hope to change?

You can change a lot. All of us are merely “one person.”

Please say something. I’m telling you right now: if you feel uncomfortable, you’re justified in speaking up. The very worst thing that can happen is that you have a brief conversation about why the statement was or was not okay.

But we, as a community and as human beings, need to have these conversations. Without them, we can’t move forward.


I have seen a wealth of people having legitimate discussions about these issues in the past couple weeks, and I want to personally thank you. It really touches my heart to see so many people trying to come to a common understanding about a major concern, no matter how disparate your backgrounds and perspectives.

Every one of you is making the world a better place, and that’s more valuable than any prize.

Thank you all for making up this wonderful community, and thank you for your efforts to make it even greater.

I hope my perspective comes as helpful to some of you. If you have any questions, criticisms, or common experiences, I would be happy to hear them. I posted many links here, but if you have any others you find particularly compelling, it would be wonderful if you could add them to the comments. This is, after all, a discussion.

Love and battle,

Jackie Lee

@JackieL33 on Twitter

Editor’s note: I want to thank all the people who gave their feedback on this article before its publication. An issue like this one is so large and uncontainable that it deserves a lot of input.
—Lauren Lee, Content Manager