We’ve all experienced it. We walk into the car dealership and it happens. We buy a house, and we are subjected to it. Sometimes, we post an article about Space Marines on a blog and a nice man is kind enough to inform to us exactly what we don’t know.
Thank you, sir, for mansplaining that to me.
Mansplaining is a common ailment affecting men from all walks of life, no matter race, color or creed. Certain environments, such as sports bars and garages, can exacerbate the condition exponentially, but no area is truly safe from the malignant disease of the mansplain.
WIkitionary defines “Mansplain” as “To explain (something) condescendingly (to a female listener), especially to explain something the listener already knows, presuming that she has an inferior understanding of it because she is a woman.”
And it is a shame when it happens to gamers, but it does, a lot.
There’s often this assumption in gaming circles that, when a woman walks into a game store, she’s someone’s girlfriend, that she’s buying something for her boyfriend. When she wants to play it’s assumed by many male gamers that she’s new, or needs the rules explained to her, or is going to play in a certain way. This often results in the dreaded mansplain. Let’s look at some examples.
“I’d like to point out that you’re viewing space marines and the imperium as a progressive society when it is extremely religious and conservative. They are completely resistant to any form of social change and kill anyone that opposes them.” – Mr_Maxime from our Comments section
There is, in this statement, an assumption that I did not know that the Imperium was religious and conservative, somehow, despite the fact that I write for a gaming blog and have been playing Warhammer for years. Now, while it’s true that he didn’t necessarily know that I’d been playing for years, the statement came with the conceit that I was not properly informed as to how the Imperium works due to my views on feminism. This makes it mansplaining.
“Games Workshop has stated that you can make your own Space Marine chapter ( So if you want to make a all female “Space Marine” chapter… ) go for it. Had the writer really looked into the official rules for the game and the ‘openness’ of the chapter rules, she would’ve seen that her dissatisfaction here really holds no weight.” – Elderon
Thank you, sir. I sincerely appreciate that you assume that, since I was writing a 1600 word article on my dissatisfaction with Space Marines that I had never read their codex. Again, I didn’t offer any specific examples that I had read the codex, such as complaining about Marneus Calgar being extremely overcosted for someone without a 3++, or talking about how using the Salamanders hero was such a boon in the tournament metagame of late 5th edition due to his ability to allow his army to reroll all melta shots. The thing is, these topics weren’t relevant to what I was talking about, and I didn’t feel like anything of the sort needed to be mentioned in a topic about gender discrimination, but I had completely forgotten about mansplaining.
I can’t believe it skipped my mind that I would have to defend my position as someone who knows what they’re talking about because it would be assumed I had no clue due to my gender. This happens all the time and there’s no escaping it. Whether it’s a mechanic ignoring what I’m saying to tell me what he thinks I want, or another player looking over my shoulder and reminding me how Turbo Boost works on my Deffkoptas, there is this running idea in the heads of many men that women are new to this male dominated part of society and will need things explained to them.
Most of the time, when this happens, it’s well meaning. The guys are just trying to help who they see as a new person who might be confused, and they want to make them feel welcome. They’re just trying to help. But remember how annoying it is when someone tells you how to do something you already know how to do, or starts screaming, “Jump, jump here! Right here!” while you’re playing a video game you’ve been playing for years. It’s god damned annoying, and it’s condescending as hell, and it happens to women every day.
The gaming community, when it comes to women, is a mixed bag, but is generally much more accepting than other male dominated areas like sports or cars. Male gamers, more than any other traditionally male group, like women and want them to join in and have fun. This isn’t always the case but I am optimistic and have had much fewer encounters with overt misogyny or chauvinism in geek culture than I have at, say, a gun show, but it doesn’t stop the mansplaining from happening with annoying regularity, and often completely unintentionally. “Now Carrie,” some of you might say, “If it’s unintentional then how can I stop? I’m just trying to help!” Luckily for you there’s a way to stop this behavior in its tracks.
ASK, DON’T TELL!
Don’t tell a woman what to do, or explain something to her without being prompted. If she looks confused ask her if she needs help, or what she’s looking for, and then listen to her needs and respond. Listening is absolutely the most important thing. There is nothing more annoying than asking for help and then having your needs ignored as someone explains all about stuff you didn’t mention. Consider the following examples.
A female gamer is looking at a bunch of figures on the wall, and seems caught up trying to pick something. A male gamer approaches her in an attempt to help.
“Hey, if you’re looking for a cool army you should check out Dark Eldar. Wyches are these awesome female gladiators who can totally murder stuff!”
“I’m actually not looking for an army, thanks.”
“Oh, did your boyfriend need something? What army does he play?”
“Leave me alone, asshole.”
The male leaves, pissed off at the angry bitch he was just trying to help, and the female stays, annoyed at the asshole who assumed she must be either new or buying for her boyfriend.
In this example the female gamer was mansplained to, resulting in a caustic reaction. Let’s try again, but by asking and listening.
“Hi there, did you need any help?”
“Yeah. I was wondering whether I should get Ghazghkull or a KFF Mek and an extra nob squad. With the new rules for Fleet I think a guaranteed maximum distance Waaaaagh would be really handy.”
“Oh, cool! I’d go with the KFF myself. That 4+ cover save all game can really save your bacon.”
The male and female have now become friends because no one made any undue assumptions based on gender. They were polite and cordial and not assholes. Hooray!
Look at how much better that went. Mansplaining sucks, and it can be avoided provided men simply think things through instead of jump to baseless conclusions. On that note, this happens to men too, though not as often, through gender role reversals, like when a man is trying to bake a cake or raise a child. There is one more point about mansplaining that it is necessary to make, though.
Mansplaining to a woman about how you’re not mansplaining to her is the worst kind of mansplaining and it needs to be stopped before it starts. Just don’t. Anything that starts with “I respect women but…” or assumes without evidence that the male in the conversation knows more than the woman because she’s a woman, is condescending and unacceptable, and this is doubly true for mansplaining itself. Trust me when I say that women know more about mansplaining than men in the same way that bullied kids at school know more about bullying than the bullies do. There’s a huge difference between doing it and experiencing it.
And finally, I’m just going to throw this out there, in sharp staccato points so I can be done with it. This is for you, Maxime.
“I guess I don’t understand why its inherently wrong for them to create a misogynistic universe or focus on male customers.”
Anything purposely inherently exclusionary is purposely inherently wrong.
“You’re simply assuming that it is a product of the creators own misogyny, but writing a holocaust story does not make one anti Semitic nor does including slaves in a story mean the authors want to exclude African Americans.”
Writing a holocaust story where the heroes are Nazis is Anti-Semitic. Writing a story where the protagonists unapologetically own slaves without negative consequences is racist. Writing a story where the protagonists are misogynists committing misogyny is misogynistic.
“People don’t ask Cosmopolitan to include more guns or tips on picking up women to the few male readers they might have.”
Cosmo is goddamn terrible and the idea that women wouldn’t be interested in guns or picking up chicks is pretty awful too.
“There is nothing wrong with writing for a specific audience nor does it imply contempt for those that are not part of their target audience.”
It does when the contempt is backed up by exclusionary hiring policies and a record of marginalizing those not of your primary demographic. Separate but Equal is bad or did you not get the Plessy v Fergusson memo?
I would like to point out that saying the sexism and misogyny in the game lore ‘makes sense’ because of the repressive, conservative nature of the Imperium is not an excuse, but a sample of the problem. Games Workshop created this world. They made a decision to make the Imperium sexist and misogynistic along with it’s many other flaws and problems. They were not trying for ‘historical accuracy’ or anything like that. There is no history of a time that has not existed yet. They could have as easily decided to have a strong unisex or female presence in all of the game’s races, yet they chose not to.
Games Workshop is both victim and perpetrator of the larger social issues of the male-dominated world we live in. They are no more or less guilty of any other group or organization that continues the same sexist attitudes that have been going on since humans first discovered that some could force their will on others and dominate them. But this is a case where if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Silence or holding the middle ground only ever helps the oppressor, not the oppressed. And Games Workshop has definitely taken the side of the dominate oppressor by having such a male-centric game and lore and sexist themes of male empowerment and female dis-empowerment.
It can certainly be said that there are no role models in the Games Workshop games, as they are all about grimdark, violent times and nobody is ‘the good guys’. Just various shades of dark grey to complete black. But it is not about having someone to look up to so much as having a group you can identify with. All of the groups have a very heavy if not total male-dominated bias and leadership. The groups/races that have the strongest female inclusion are the Sisters of Battle who exist in game only to give the male-dominated Ecclesiarchy military power since they are a loophole in the law that prevents them from maintaining a force of “men-at-arms” because they are women. Their fantasy equivalents, the Sisters of Sigmar, are crazy nuns from a convent where people would dump off their unruly daughters, to be whipped into a self destructive, self punishing religious fervor for the disgrace of not being pliant enough to their families wishes.
The races with the strongest female presence are the Elves/Eldar, especially the Dark versions of the race. which are by theme crazy, bloodthirsty, murderous maniacs. The female units distinguish themselves by being even more crazy, bloodthirsty and maniacal, and wearing almost no (Or in the case of the Witch Elves literally no) clothing. The same can also be said of the female servants of Slaanesh. The Eldar/High Elves/Wood Elves are the most egalitarian races out there. Women have a large presence in their armies. Yet in their lore, the number of units and characters, they are still by far outnumbered by the number of males.
Some people try to say that gaming is still a male dominated field, and that female characters or models just would not sell as well. That is demonstrably false, and was only ever true because people were trying to make it true. More and more women are getting into geek culture and gaming. Even among the male population this is a growing interest in strong female characters that are not reliant on male characters or just scantily clad eye candy. There is plenty of desire for those kinds of characters as well, but we as a group and a society as a whole need to realize that the mail dominated everything just doesn’t work and needs to be changed. And the only way to change it is one bit at a time.
Hmm, not sure if I understand this correctly, do you have issue with background lore or GWs focus on male customers(or both). If it’s the lore, I honestly don’t think the Imperium is inherently sexist society, at least according to Black Library books(I suggest A. Dembski-Bowden and Dan Abnett). Imperial citizens from lowest worker to High Lords, there is quite even split between sexes, in Inquisition, noble houses, leading functions(civillian though, I don’t recall ever seeing a female general or warmaster in those books). Mechanicum doesn’t care, nor Ecclesiarchy. Also, Imperium is culturally incredibly diverse, with instances of matriarchal societies, purely female IG regiments etc. The reason Marines are male is I think fairly reasonable, Emperor based geneseed designs on his own genetic material(primarchs are basically imperfect modified clones), which is the reason female body can’t accept it. Also, Marines don’t have much in common with humans, aside from general appearence(they are, in the end, brainwashed killing machines).
As far as focusing on groups of customers, well, I don’t see how this is in any way bad. You try to please everyone, and end up pleasing noone. As customer base is vastly dominated by males, they want characters they can identify with, that’s why even Eldar\Elf personalities in codex lore are mainly male. Because it sells. Products are designed with male customer in mind, because female wargamers are only few. Look at Holywood production over last few decades. Once they realised there is a market for stuff like super-hero movies, or there is is a sizebale demand for female-centric(is that even a word? I’m not a native speaker :)) movies(not talking about rom-coms, but they certanly belong to that category), they started making more and more of them. But there is no such market of female wargamers, or it’s negligible. Why bother then, from business perspective? I suspect female wargamer market will grow, slowly, in the future, as it did with video games, but until it’s sizeable enough, I wouldn’t expect a lot to change in that regard.
“Writing a holocaust story where the heroes are Nazis is Anti-Semitic. Writing a story where the protagonists unapologetically own slaves without negative consequences is racist. Writing a story where the protagonists are misogynists committing misogyny is misogynistic.”
This is just plainly wrong. Just because characters condone something in the story doesn’t mean story or author condones it as well. I don’t have to go far for example, society and pretty much every character in 40k stories is devoutly religious and anti-science, yet I have yet to read anything based in that universe that actually suggests that such a society is a viable idea(this is basicaly the point of every story based dystopic world or society).
1) “If it’s the lore, I honestly don’t think the Imperium is inherently sexist society, at least according to Black Library books(I suggest A. Dembski-Bowden and Dan Abnett).”
I’ve read those books, among others. Of them Abnett does the best service to women, but only in the Ravenor series. Among the other authors Sandy Mitchell does decently in the Cain series with Amberly and Col. Casteen. The Enforcer series are notable in having one of the very few female protagonists in a nongender restricted organization, but besides one single sentence in the second book Shira Calpurnia could have had her gender switched to male without changing anything but pronouns across all three of her novels, which is not a good thing.
2) “Also, Imperium is culturally incredibly diverse, with instances of matriarchal societies, purely female IG regiments etc.”
it is described as diverse, but in examples it is not. All female guard regiments in the fluff or the tabletop are all but nonexistant, as are high ranking members of the Ecclesiarchy. Mechanicus does slightly better, but not often, and at the higher levels are all but genderless, defeating the point. It’s impossible to be gender positive by stripping someone of their gender.
3) “The reason Marines are male is I think fairly reasonable…”
You think wrong. This is a pseudoscience explanation. The fact that someone went out of their way to think of a reason why Space Marines can’t be female is exactly the problem, not an excuse.
4) ” Products are designed with male customer in mind, because female wargamers are only few.”
In contrast, the reason female wargamers are few is because products are designed with the male customer in mind. This advertises the hobby as a “Boy’s Club” where women aren’t welcome. There are plenty of women who would love to get involved with wargaming, but they feel, quite rightly, that is an exclusionary hobby where they’re treated by the companies as second class citizens.
5) ” Just because characters condone something in the story doesn’t mean story or author condones it as well.”
Correct, but that’s not the point. In stories about the holocaust nazis aren’t portrayed as the heroes. In misogynist stories the misogynists are often portrayed as the heroes with no negative consequences for their misogynistic actions. These stories have an impact on their audience, communicating a message that it’s okay to act this way. This is bad.
Really? You think there are fewer female wargamers due to game design? How would you “fix” the problem? I’m all for having more female gamers but somehow I doubt you can change the essence of the game to appeal to female interests without killing it for the males. Bottom line tho -don’t state there’s a problem unless you also have a solution – otherwise all you’re doing is complaining. On a lighter note…in the year 40k there are those who get dressed up in terminator armor to go forth and do battle with the enemies of man, and those who make sandwiches.
Obvious troll is obvious.