Been a hot minute, yes?

Seems that way to me, at least. And I've got so much to post about! I've had a semester, and went to New Orleans, and worked on Chill, and had my kids out for spring break, and and and.... whew. No wonder I feel like I just rode a whirlwind. I'll get it all sorted and post something more meaningful about all of it soon, however. For today, I want to talk about this:

Stuff for Girls.

So, Chuck Wendig wrote a great piece here, like he does. And in doing so, he points out (without getting all about the menz) how gender divisions can run the risk of reinforcing stereotypes for men even with the best intentions. He gets why having something called out in specific invitation of girls is important, but at the same time, it has the possibility of "ghetto"-izing an intended audience and the material designed for it, rendering it "off-limits" to the mainstream, and hence keeping it from both being normalized and educating those who need to see what it's like to not be them. He doesn't argue for a lack of, in this case, girl-focused entertainment in comics and other genres, but simply that maybe leaving off the marketing-speak of "for girls!" might help weaken those gender divisions just a tad.

I have to say, I agree with Chuck. I've got two boys who'll be graduating high school in the next couple of years, and one of the most awesome things about them is that they seem to get women. They don't talk about or to them like they're some weird alien life-form. They don't denigrate "girl stuff." They have friend who are girls, and share things in common with them, and not in the way of "she's cool, she doesn't act like a girl" which is not something either of my kids have ever said to my knowledge. Part of this is that they had me, and I worked hard when they were younger to not draw hard lines for gender and media or activities. Part of it is that they've had little sisters and a stepmom, so they've been around women in addition to me and know, more than they ever expected to, what it's like being around girls and women. The biggest part of it is that they're awesome, of course, but that goes without saying, I think. They have benefitted from a lack of boundaries between them and entertainment/activities. They don't like "girl" stuff or "boy" stuff, they like stuff, and they're confident enough even as men to not worry overly much about cultural gender boundaries, which makes me super happy.

Also, as a girl who never conformed over much to gender expectations, I feel that aspect of ghetto-ization when I run into things "for girls," particularly when the makers have taken pains to put flowers and sparkles and pink and purple all over it. Although I like purple, and flowers, and sparkles, and occasionally pink, I am not one to want "girly" looking things, much less everything made for me to conform to that color palette. I would not buy that sort of stuff for my children, either. If it's cool, then let it be cool -- trust me, I'll figure it out even without pink sparkly flowers on it, and so will other people.

Really, this reaches over into my academic work and game design work as well. Gendering objects is really a way of reinforcing expected gender roles. Creating material specifically for girls isn't transgressive, or even necessarily progressive. Creating material that appeals equally regardless of gender -- and doesn't bother to assert who it "belongs" to -- that's an act of social rebellion. That's inclusivity, and inclusivity is scary. It isn't ordered. It doesn't disseminate social or cultural or economic power in predictable, profitable, controllable ways. For that matter, being inclusive generally -- in terms of race, socio-economic background, gender, sexual orientation, culture, all of it -- is what's a thumb in the eye of the Man. We encode our cultural expectations in our things -- our kids' toys, our clothing, our entertainment, our furnishings, our cars -- you name it. Being aware of that is hard, at least in part because we aren't encouraged to be aware of it. The messages of approval/disapproval are there, though -- what is allowed, what is encouraged, what is transgressive, what is prohibited -- and we largely abide by them unless we make a conscious decision not to. We need to make more conscious decisions not to -- that's how change happens.

Through Growling Door, Matt and I make an effort to be inclusive and respectful in our presentations to make games that include everyone and reach past those boundaries. We don't do this because it's cool or hip, but because it feels right. Because exclusion sucks. Because no one wants to be stuck in some sort of cultural ghetto while the rest of the world pats themselves on the back for "reaching out." It's not just us, though, nor should it be. So consider that the next time someone makes something "for X" -- maybe just making it "for everyone" and making sure everyone is meaningfully included is a better bet.

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