Is Gamer Girl and Fem Shep Helping or Hurting?

Mass Effect 3 Shepherd Wallpaper

I have seen the term Gamer Girl or Gamer Gurl used in a couple different articles and it got me thinking. Why do we need to use the term Gamer Girl to define a woman who games? After seeing it referenced in one occasion I actually got a little mad. I consider myself a gamer, the fact that I am a woman is just another aspect of who I am, but it does not define me as a gamer. By calling out the gender, are we at the same time calling out that we are different? When really a gamer should be a gamer no matter what. By adding girl to the end of gamer, it could be argued that we are making a subtle statement that there is a difference between being a Gamer and being a Gamer Girl.

Now I do understand the reason that these terms have arisen. How do we denote the rise in women calling themselves Gamers if we do not distinguish that there is a difference. It is a fine line that has to be walked to try and confront gender norms and highlight that both men and women participate in the variety of activities. At the same time culturally the default is to think of certain things as activities for men and therefore we need to confront that. How do we do that without emphasizing that there are women participating in these tasks?

Default Male

The start of the problem is that there are many things where the cultural default means it is a man doing it. Gaming is one of those spaces where culturally it seems to be defined as something men do. Women getting involved in gaming is often seen as odd or as being fake. Some people might even claim that women getting involved in gaming is ruining it. By seeing the women as an outside force to gaming then those who see it as an encroachment can keep seeing it that way. At the same time acknowledging that women exist in certain areas can help people whose minds can be changed to change them.

Gamer Girl

At the same time I personally do not identify myself as a Gamer Girl because the term bothers me. If anything I am a Gamer, who happens to be a woman. The issue I have is that my sex should not define me because it does not mean anything about what I am capable of no matter what society may think. My sex should be secondary to either my ability or how I choose to define myself. Others can decide to try and define me, but I do not have to let myself be defined by them. That in itself lies the problem with labels in general, which could go to a whole other question. It demonstrates though the idea of having one way to define things. It is possible that we need to be more open in how we think about the words that we use to define ourselves and others.

Fem Shep

On the latest of Anita Sarkeesian’s videos she made an interesting observation about the use of the term Fem Shep. That the very fact that we have to use the term Fem Shep highlights the fact that the default for Shepard is a man. I had never thought of it that way before. Fem Shep has been praised as a pinnacle for a woman character who is not defined by their gender. Shepard is the same whether they are a woman or a man. The personality of Shepard does not change based on their sex, which is part of what makes the character such a great example of how the sexes can be interchangeable. At the same time by emphasizing that there is a Female Shepard are we missing the point of what makes the fact that there is a Shepard that is a woman so great?

Emphasizing Sex and Gender

I do not know the answer, hopefully there are smarter minds then mine working on it. I just know that part of the issue that women have is that culturally we think of certain things in terms of men. So we need to highlight the fact that women engaging in the same actions as men, happens, is okay, and does not have different meanings. There are so many layers that need to be uncovered and it is not a simple issue. Everyone is just trying to do the best they can with what they have. So we try and call out that there are women doing these actions by using terms such as Gamer Girl and Fem Shep. At the same time are we just perpetually the idea of men as default and women as other? I am not sure, but it is something that needs to keep be discussed and not just ignored.

13 responses to “Is Gamer Girl and Fem Shep Helping or Hurting?

  1. I think you really hit the nail on the head when you say that it’s an effort to highlight that women do these things too. To me, it mostly seems like a problem of visibility. As long as people seem to be unaware (or refuse to believe) that women game, it’s necessary to make it obvious, I suppose. Once people figure that out, however, it would be awesome to just identify all gamers as gamers.


  2. You had me at “a gamer should be a gamer no matter what.”

    Gamer? is a yes-or-no question for me. Gender does not come into it.

    but, fwiw, i read an article at wired or someplace like that that said half of gamers were women, like, 10 years ago.


    • It still is like 50% of players, but that is not the same with how many work in the industry. I have also heard some pretty bad stories from women who do try and work in the industry and are treated badly. It makes sense why it can be difficult for a woman to get a job in the industry and why some might leave after a while.


  3. to answer your question in the headline, though, i would say hurting more than helping.


  4. to be more specific: “Gamer girl” can go either way. but i think “Fem Shep” hurts.


  5. It very much is a question of how you define “helping and hurting”. I for one see no problems with having gendered activities. Activities like gaming are very good activities to be gendered. While Making video games is a multi-million dollar a year industry, playing games is not. Maintaining default male in gaming does not hurt women’s carriers or family life or reproduction or wages or legal rights. Gaming as default male does not hurt women unlike male defaults in management or leadership.

    Maintaining male default and female exclusion, explicitly maintaining this status quo will make the meaningful defaults and exclusions easier to fix. We can much more easily de-gender board rooms if we gender board games. If we redefine “masculinty” as FPS’s not CEO’s, we don’t run into the problem of trying to undermine and destroy the very concept of masculinity. If we redefine “masculinity” as what males do for fun and relaxation we can undefine the jobs men do as “masculine”

    On a scale of 1-10 this sexism in gaming is a 1, but if reinforced can help solve problems that are 8’s and 9’s.


    • That is an interesting premise and one I have not really heard before. I have to say I do not agree. Gaming is an industry and if we say it is only a space for men that limits the ability for women who work in that industry so it has the ability to affect a woman’s livelihood.

      My other problem with your analysis is the idea that men need a masculine space to exist. Shouldn’t we just let people be people and try to stop defining actions in gendered terms. I feel like continuing reinforcing gender in media helps perpetuate the cycle and just feeds in to any sexism that does exist.


      • This is a conceptual problem within feminism. Women are defined by their bodies. Women can just “be” women. Men are defined by their actions. Men can’t just “be” men. Masculinity is not a state of being, but a set of actions. Men must take the action of men to be men. By removing the gendering of actions, you are not arguing that men should “just be”. You are arguing for the removal of masculinity.

        The “gaming industry” is not “gamers”. The industry should and does employ women. It is not the production of games that I’m arguing to be gendered, it is the use of products. Cosmetic products are used almost exclusively by women. The cosmetics industry isn’t nearly as gendered.


  6. Pingback: Go 40%!! The Gamer Girls | iconicgamer

  7. Personally, I hate the term ‘Gamer Girl’. I’m a ‘Gamer’, simple as. -Kim


  8. Pingback: Gamergirls and Stereotypes | Behind Locked Doors.

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