The other day, I was playing Magic: the Gathering online, like one of the cool kids. I like to play it in the evenings, because I find it relaxing to scream ‘Fuck off with your TWATTY DRAGONS’ at the telly while glugging wine. After half an hour or so of being repeatedly beaten by a bunch of cheating nobheads, I realised that I’d been horribly sexist.
“Oh look,” I’d exclaim when my opponent brought out a ridiculously overpowered beast which which to savage me. “I imagine his bastard ogre will decimate my teeny elf in a manner of seconds.”
And it did. But that’s not the point. The point is I was playing against someone with a generic, genderless username, and yet I’d repeatedly referred to them as ‘he’. In fact, almost every Magic opponent online is a ‘he’ in my mind, despite the fact that I would rage against anyone who told me any given game was for boys or girls.
I am inadvertently sexist and it fucks me off
In a recent blog post I mentioned the fact that I am pretty sexist. It’s not deliberate, and nor is it something I’m proud of. But when I write something ranty and feminist on this blog, I occasionally get guys in the comments – or on Twitter – who’ll point out that they don’t do X particular thing, therefore they’re not sexist.
I appreciate the effort, and it’s hard to say ‘you are, actually’ without sounding like a dick. But we live in a world in which we’re told from a very young age that boys are like X and girls are like Y – and, in fact, that all of us will fall at one or other end of this rigid gender binary. No matter how hard we try, there will inevitably be some things that we’ve absorbed which adhere to these messages. Rather than saying ‘I never do anything deliberately sexist, therefore I am not sexist’, I think it’s helpful to see that none of us are immune from this. Because if you’re immune you’re basically a God who is exempt from criticism, and if we were all Gods then we’d have nothing better to aim for.
I get why it sounds a bit harsh if I just point to other people and go ‘tut, look how he has internalised misogyny to such a degree that he doesn’t even realise that dumping a girl because she slept with him on the first date is a sexist thing to do.’ So instead, here’s a list of ways in which I am sexist:
- I use all of the following phrases repeatedly: ‘Amazon delivery guy’, ‘Uber guy’, ‘pizza guy’, ‘gas man’, before knowing whether those people will be men or women.
- If someone invites me to a hen night, I immediately picture hilarious penis drinking straws and expensive Prosecco.
- If someone leaves a comment on my blog picking me up on spelling or grammar, and they use a non-gendered name, I assume they’re a bloke.
- Likewise if someone on Twitter who is identifiable only by an egg avatar calls me a ‘fucking prick’, I will likewise assume that person is a man.
- I still – still – despite having had almost exclusively female bosses for most of my working life, occasionally assume when someone says ‘boss’ that boss is a man.
I’ve picked these examples deliberately, because I expect quite a few people will go ‘but that usually is the case!’ And it may well be. Nine times out of ten the person who reads my gas meter is a man. It’s rare that a hen night involves pints and darts. But there are complex reasons why this is the case, and they’re not just down to the fact that women like Prosecco and men are better at reading gas meters. One of the many contributing factors, surely, is the fact that we all make assumptions about gender because that’s what we’ve been taught to do, thus people believe that they should behave in certain ways according to their gender.
I’m not saying, by the way, that if you do any of the things above you’re an appalling person. But nor am I saying that the things above are totally fine, because I do them and I’m a card-carrying feminist. I’m saying they fall somewhere in between – in that grey area of understandable yet unhelpful behaviour. So screaming ‘not another fucking DRAGON’ and throwing down my controller in a huff is perfectly understandable, it’s still ultimately unhelpful in my end goal of winning the game.
In our brave new future, perhaps we won’t make these assumptions as much. Maybe being aware of the ways in which each of us has little sexist tweaks will mean that we swallow comments or jokes before we make them, question why it is we’re doing it, and decide to do something differently. After all, if we can – over the course of only ten to twenty years – go from conceiving of hen and stag nights as one evening of debauchery and start viewing them as compulsory weekend-long minibreaks, then surely we can change the narrative around what we expect from any given event. Which long ramble brings me to a tediously obvious point – it ‘s easy to point to other people’s mistakes and say ‘stop doing that’, but in order for things to actually change, all of us need to go ‘oh hey I can change this too.’
Maybe in ten year’s time there’ll be an equal split of people who deliver for Amazon, my Magic opponents will all be ‘they’, and thousands of women will call me a prick on the internet.