Growing up in an ethnic household, I was raised being told that I could be anything—if “anything” fell in line with what any potential husband wanted me to be. I was taught that playing with computers and liking “boy” things would make me unappealing as a woman. I was 7.
When I was a teenager, I started reading comic books. I fell in love with most that I read. But whenever I’d try to talk to people about them, I was quizzed intensely. It wasn’t good enough that I simply enjoyed something, the entry barrier to being a “real fan” was knowing everything. It did seem weird that it was always women met with these quizzes, not men. “It’s okay” I thought, I just have to make myself knowledgeable enough, and maybe then they’ll respect me.
When I started playing Magic at stores, people would make comments like “she’s a girl, it should be an easy win.” I’d spent my life being told that as a woman, I couldn’t do what the men were doing. That being female meant that I wasn’t good enough to be what men could be. Around the second time I heard I’d be an easy win, I was determined to be a winner.
Sheer force of will can get you through a lot. And anyone that knows me can attest to me being headstrong. Every single time I’ve wanted to quit (for whatever reason) I’ve thought to myself, “you can’t. If you do, they’ll win.” “They” didn’t necessarily mean people at an LGS who told me I’d be a bye. “They” was every single male, female, or otherwise, that told me that being born a woman meant that I was disadvantaged. I was determined to prove them wrong.
“You’re Pretty Good… For a Girl”
So I worked hard. I tested and played MTGO. I didn’t have many people to play with outside of an event, so MTGO was the best resource available to me. The switch to the PPTQ system was a nightmare, logistically. But playing that much competitive Magic did wonders for my gameplay and understanding of Magic. I Top 8’d a lot of the PPTQs I played, but I wasn’t winning.
This brought about a new wave of comments, “you’re pretty good… for a girl.” The comment was frustrating, because I didn’t want to be good for a girl. I just wanted to be good.
I don’t think I can communicate how furious the concept of sexism makes me. Being told “I couldn’t” has only ever made me push harder to prove that I can. This was no different in Magic.
I began testing with some really great guys. They not only helped me become a lot better at Magic, but they also reminded me that you could have fun playing Magic, a concept almost lost to me at that point. I started not only Top 8’ing PPTQs but winning them too. I won my first PPTQ because my partner scooped to me in the finals. I tried to stop him because I was afraid of the backlash. Turns out, it’s really hard to interact with a concession.
I traveled to as many close GPs as was feasible, which took my annual GP count from two to four. People would ask where I was from (reasonable) but when they would find out that I’d flown a fair distance to be there, I was often met with astonishment. They may not have always said “I’m surprised a girl would travel this far,” but the understanding nods that came when I informed them that I was there with my boyfriend told me enough.
“Oh You’re the Girl that Won a GP”
As time passed, I Day 2’d a GP, cashed a GP, and scrubbed out of a lot more. I was regularly attending RPTQs and enjoying events as a whole. I was happy. I was finally getting somewhere.
Earlier, this year I won a GP.
When we made Top 4, I was excited because I’d qualify for a Pro Tour, something I’d been working hard at doing but kept falling short. I never in a million years thought we were going to win. But when we did, it was soon established that I’d become the first woman to win a GP. The comments that ensued were something else, though.
There were people who were unhappy that my teammates had not received equal credit for the win. I didn’t do this single-handedly—my team was definitely there—but there was a bigger picture to be looked at. It took me a while to see it.
After we won, I was not happy. I spent days having panic attacks and feeling terrified whenever a notification popped up on my phone. I turned my phone off to try and concentrate on work. I begged friends to stop showing me the hateful comments. I closed my DMs on Twitter and unfollowed people to revoke messaging privileges.
We received some mainstream media, but the comments attached were not worth it.
I was called fat and ugly, with many iterations of both. I was told I didn’t deserve the attention and the win because I wasn’t a photogenic physical ideal. In other words, screw the hard work I’d put in—I wasn’t pretty enough to be good at a game I loved.
For days and weeks, I fell into unhealthy habits. I wouldn’t eat and I wasn’t sleeping because I was scared I’d wake up to more abusive comments.
I am not kidding when I say that I am a confident, tenacious woman. But people can make you feel something else.
The amount of times I was ready to throw in the towel was approximately infinite.
What changed was each day, I’d receive positive messages. Sometimes they were people congratulating me. But the ones that struck a chord were the women thanking me for providing hope. It reminded me of why I’d started doing all of this in the first place. If I gave up now, they’d win. On a personal level, I promised myself that I’d take this and become a better person too.
At this point, I’d spent a lifetime trying to prove myself. To whom or what? To everyone who told me I couldn’t.
So Why Don’t More Women Play Competitive Magic?
Mark Rosewater conducted a survey, which gave us some numbers on just how many women were playing Magic. Of those who responded, 38% identified as female. The issue I found with this survey was that it counted kitchen table players too. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with playing casually, but it didn’t give me an answer to my question.
At a GP, I can look around the room and count how many women I see. At a local GP, I’m confident that I can do it with just my hands (I like to depress myself by counting the number of women in the main event). This number drops dramatically when we look at the numbers for Day 2.
I think there are countless reasons why more women don’t play competitive Magic, but I’ll list a few below:
- At some point, they may have wanted to, but someone didn’t take them seriously.
- Finding another girl at a store is rare. Early on, I was immediately more comfortable if I saw another woman around.
- Being told you’re there as a support act for your male counterpart is never a compliment.
- People constantly being surprised that a woman is around and/or doing well: It’s hard enough being a minority. Being made to feel as though we’ve overcome some odds just to be there and doing well is even more marginalizing.
- There’s a stigma surrounding competitive gaming that it’s a testosterone fueled environment. Not being made to feel welcome by men is definitely a factor in this. You don’t have to be friends with all Magic players, but I know a lot of women would appreciate being able to have a friendly conversation with someone outside of a match, without wondering if there were ulterior motives.
Which brings us to being hit on at events. Recently, I was at a double-GP weekend. I was conversing with a non-opponent on Day 2. He told me that he was glad to have scrubbed out of the first GP. Upon seeing the confused look on my face, he took mercy on me and explained, “If I hadn’t scrubbed out, I wouldn’t be here talking to you.”
There’s always the possibility that he was complimenting my ability to hold a conversation. But I could be too cynical to see that.
So How Can We Make Competitive Magic More Welcoming for Women?
Recently, there was some discussion about advantages women could be provided to encourage greater attendance.
We all have the power to change the future of Magic. To make it more inclusive. To abolish the idea that it’s a “man’s world.” But this change does not begin by providing women with unfair in-game advantages.
Here are some things to try first:
- Stop having expectations of what a woman should be or do. Stop expecting us to be on aggressive decks because you think they provide the pilot with “free” wins. Stop telling us how to play our decks. Stop asking us if we own our cards. Stop asking us where our boyfriend is. Stop being surprised that we’re doing well. Stop treating us like we don’t belong.
- Stop using your pro status to slide into DMs.
- Start treating us as equals. Start being supportive of our attendance. Start respecting us. Start respecting us in spite of our sexual predilections. Respect us even if we’re not interested in you as more than a friend.
- And please, stop thinking that we’re only there for you. Our existence within a hobby is not because we’re looking for potential suitors. We are not fake nerds. We shouldn’t have to prove that we’re good at something to be there. Don’t be the guy at the comic book store quizzing me.
If you’ve made it this far, you have my undying gratitude. Thank you for reading.