A lot of people have been blogging lately about sort of feminist topics. In particular, Ophelie’s post caught my attention. Not only did she link me (thanks!) but she linked me under “hardcore”. Oddly, “hardcore” is not how I would personally define myself, but that’s a blog entry for another day. (And I don’t take offense, I just find it a curious label. It should be noted that she’s actually changed that heading to read “PvE Progression Focused Female Players” now, though.) Also, I really liked Codi’s recent post about social privilege and WoW and Blizzard being a business.

So in the midst of all these posts (there are so many that I couldn’t possibly link all the ones I’ve read recently), I realized I had a lot of things to say. I don’t really talk much here about being a woman in this game or the strange reactions I get when it’s discovered that I AM, in fact, female, or how I deal with people’s reactions. I also haven’t spoken much about the lack of other capable women at high-end levels. This seems like a perfect time to address some issues and throw my own views out there.

Where I Began

When I started playing this game, and I know I have mentioned this before, I rolled a male toon. I wanted to be an Alliance hunter, didn’t want to be a dwarf and thought Shadowmeld was basically the coolest ability in the universe. (And I would argue it still beats the hell out of Stoneform.) So my choice was to be a Night Elf. But was I going to be a male toon or a female toon? Apart from the fact that the female toon’s idle animation is to bounce (which Jasyla once said was them working their calves!) I probably would have chosen a male toon anyways, just to avoid the extra attention. I’ve been part of online communities since 1985/1986 and extra attention is just part of being a woman online. I’ve had my fair share of people crushing on me, but I’ve also had my fair share of ugly incidents, including one where someone tracked me down and left harassing voice mails because I was exerting my moderator privileges on a specific community and was doing so fairly firmly with regards to this one user. As a result, my number has been unlisted since the late 90s and will remain unlisted. This is something that, as a woman, you might actually have to concern yourself with, particularly if you’re using your real name somewhere.

So, the chance to have a male character, thereby mostly avoiding the vast majority of even virtual harassment? Talk about amazing. I could be as anonymous as I wanted, running around this beautiful world, playing, learning and never have to say a word. (This was before I had any idea about TeamSpeak or Vent, mind you.)

Where Have All The Women Gone?

The Beginning (Fated Heroes – February ’06-January ’07)

When looking back over the last five years that I’ve played this game, I realize that I have progressively moved from the realm of “women are everywhere” to “… where the hell are all the other women?”. In my very first guild, we had Tia, a female warlock who was an officer and who kicked ASS. We had me, as a kickass hunter, we had several DPS and several healers who were women. We even had a tank in training who was a woman. Then again, we had virtually no tanks, so it wasn’t a surprise to me that we had the one, lone woman in a semi-tank role.

Early Burning Crusade (March-May ’07)

In my next guild, we had a female MT, then myself as one of the main healers, another woman as a healer and I believe we had a couple of female DPSers (at least one mage), all in one Kara group. Again, no real lack of women, since that was about 40% women for any given Kara run. The guild stopped raiding after many members of that Kara group were ninjaed by the top guild on the server, and so I went off and formed Apotheosis with Maj and the others shortly after.

Apotheosis (June ’07-March ’09)

In Apotheosis, during Burning Crusade, we were overrun by women! :) We had me (although I was the only female officer), but we also had Shamalah (! I didn’t forget you!) who was an ele shammy/moonkin, Osephala (ele shammy), Darista (arcane mage), Criza (fire, then arcane mage), Lax (arcane mage), Q (resto druid), Aaza (hunter), Legs (holy priest), Myth (enhance shammy), Fallon (rogue), Kam (warlock/warlock tank), Eviil (warlock), Purple (warlock), Becca (warlock) and probably at least a couple of others that I’m blanking on. Everyone I named was a regular raider at some point in the life of Apotheosis during Burning Crusade, most of them all the way through. Yes, there were nights when our casters were all women. Most nights had a minimum of 8/25 raid members being women. Some nights, we did actually outnumber the boys.

What was awesome about it was that it was only remarked upon a couple of times. Everyone just took it in stride, even though it isn’t really all that common. My guild was respectful, for the most part. I did outlaw various words, mind you — but it wasn’t because of the women in the guild, it was because I felt it was important that the majority not make possible minorities feel uncomfortable. My old guild was sort of a haven for me where I didn’t have to worry that my guildies were behaving inappropriately. I didn’t have to worry about being painted with the same brush as some moronic bigot or close-minded ass. We enforced a couple of language-related rules and they rarely needed enforcement.

That we had a lot of women never seemed to me to be a big deal. Until my guild stopped raiding 25s and I struck out on my own, just a few months after Wrath launched.

To Bronzebeard (March-September ’09)

I joined my Bronzebeard guild and discovered another female tank; the first one I’d really seen since my Kara days. There were some other women scattered through the DPS and the healers, but nowhere near the amount of women we had in Apotheosis. And the attitudes towards women were different, too. When I first opened my mouth on Vent, everyone was like “OMG SHE’S A GIRL”. I laughed it off, but at the time, I was inundated with whispers from my brand-new guildmates, telling me I sounded sexy or that I had a hot voice. I knew then that my time with my Bronzebeard guild was going to be very different from my time in Apotheosis.

The Bronzebeard guild, even with the female tank, wasn’t particularly heavy on women when I first joined, but we added to the ranks with some awesome healers (Fad and Carm to join Kal and myself) and some women who were DPS. We had about 5-10 women depending on the raid makeup on any given night and they were spread out pretty well in terms of roles.

Unfortunately, this is where I encountered one of Those Women. You know, the ones who like to try to woo the menfolk, who like to tease them, who think they can get by on their perceived looks? Yeah. And, unfortunately, she became an officer. And even more unfortunately, she became a raid leader, once the gnome raid leader gquit in a huff.

I’ll get back to women and leadership in a little while.

To My RL Friend’s Guild (September ’09-June ’10)

When I joined my previous guild, the one where my RL friend the resto druid is healing lead, I took about ten steps up the progression ladder. Where my previous guild had not downed heroic Northrend Beasts after 36 attempts or something, over two weeks, this guild hadn’t even TRIED TOGC, due to farming TOC25 and TOC10 and, I believe, still running some Ulduar for my friend and her mace.

So I was there for our first attempts in TOGC. We raided on the Sunday and the Monday and got NRB down on the Monday and again on the Wednesday.

I’m looking at a screenshot of us working on heroic Jaraxxas. The MT is yelling at everyone, cussing us out over the previous attempt. In the screenshot, I can clearly see my Grid.

There are precisely two women in the raid. Myself and my RL friend. That’s it. Everyone else is a guy. A month later, another screenshot. Still two women in the raid, me and my RL friend. And here’s us doing Steelbreaker last. Still just me and my RL friend. It isn’t until the former hunter officer was talked into coming back that we had a third woman in the raid, and she wasn’t even regular for a couple of months. Granted, we ran with a pretty tight roster, at least in terms of tanks and healers, but in terms of DPS, we had a bit of a revolving door. Lots of people couldn’t stand the MT’s abuse, particularly when the RL just stopped playing and the MT took over as RL. You would think that SOME of the DPS would be women.

But no.

We only added one more regular woman to the raids before I left that guild; a mage who was pretty good (and is, sadly, in a romantic relationship with that “only thinks outside the box” priest, you may recall from previous posts). We had a couple of female healers in and out over the course of the 9 months I was there, but at most, there were only four women in the raid on any given night. Actually, I should say that there was a maximum of four women raiders in the guild at any given point while I was in that guild.

That’s less than half, even a third of what we ran with in Apotheosis in Burning Crusade. And the two most dedicated women raiders (myself and my RL friend) were both healers.

It was with that guild that I earned Glory of the Icecrown Raider (25) and worked on heroic Lich King for two nights before I knew I had to leave the guild to escape the toxic environment there. (How my friend continues to put up with it, I don’t know.)

To My Current Guild (June ’10 – present)

My guild master is a woman. She’s fantastic. She is to this guild what I wish I had been to Apotheosis. She’s also a kick-ass resto shammy who will do healing assignments if the regular healing lead is doing raid leading.

One of my two raid leaders is a woman. I cannot express how awesome it is to have a female raid leader *who is not me* (or that crazy one from Bronzebeard). She’s also a kick-ass rogue.

The roster of this guild is substantially larger than my last one, so I could be wrong, but apart from the GM, the RL, myself, one other healer and one DPS, I think everyone’s a guy. Five raiding women, three healers, two DPS, zero tanks.

We’re 9/12 ICC 25 HM. And we raid with five women, sometimes as few as one on any given raid night.

It doesn’t feel the same as my previous guild, though, and I attribute that to the fact that the GM herself is a woman and one of the raid leaders is. Seeing women in positions of power makes me feel like less of an oddball than I felt in my previous guilds.

Strangely, being a woman in my last guild wasn’t so bad, really — I was treated like anyone else was and, ultimately, that’s what I want. I don’t think that being treated like anyone else is something that requires a lot of women around. By that, I mean that I don’t think women need to be commonplace within a guild in order to “overlook” (or, perhaps more accurately, “not care”) that a player is a woman.

Women Missing at Higher Progression Levels?

However, based on this small sample, it appears likely that the more progressed a raiding guild is, the fewer women are part of that raid group. I’m not saying that the more progressed raid groups are more progressed because there are fewer women, though! Maybe it’s that the more “hardcore” culture doesn’t appeal to women the way it does to men.

Ophelie mentioned in the comments on Codi’s blog that she had trouble finding progressed female raiders (who blogged) to link to: “I found very, very few female bloggers who were progressed raiders.” Ophelie linked to Codi, myself and Dawn Moore’s Disco Priest. Kind of slim pickings, eh? I could point to Avalonna and Derevka (even if Derevka’s a guy, Ava’s a girl) over at Tales of a Priest, since I know they’ve downed LK on Heroic 25. That’s pretty progressed. But I really don’t know of a lot of other progressed female raiders who blog.

Does that mean that there aren’t a lot of female raiders or there aren’t a lot of female raiders who blog? There are a lot of people who blog, even though bloggers still are probably a very tiny portion of the 11.5 million person playerbase.

Just based on my firsthand experience, I have to assume that a lack of progressed, female bloggers is because of a lack of progressed female raiders. This is an exceptionally small sample size, obviously, but I can’t help but feel that progressed female raiders are rare.

My first question is “why?”

As I said, I don’t think it’s because women are just naturally going to bring guilds down in quality. :P I think there’s something about the intensity required in a progression guild that might not be as fun for most women as it can be for guys, if that makes sense. There’s a lot of strategy involved in World of Warcraft, even just as a single player within a group. One has to listen to instructions and perform on cue and basically not screw up. A lot of the decisions one has to make are of the “split-second” variety.

Fortune magazine had some data about men and women’s decision-making styles that I thought was interesting. I’ve underlined the portions that I believe are specifically relevent to progression raiding “culture”.

Men love to lecture; women like to listen.

Men are more likely to act alone, apt to blame others;
Women collaborate, listen, and build teams.

Men are more focused on long-term results, women on short-term goals.

Men put more weight on the how the decision will affect the competitive environment; women consider how it will affect the team.

Men exercise their decision making power, if they have it.  Women want to work through people, even if they have the decision-making authority.

Men are more-likely blindsided by a crisis, where women will more often see the crisis looming (e.g., a woman anticipated the Enron disaster).

Men think men are better at problem-solving or decision-making. Women think women are better at both.  However, if the job is in general management, both sexes think men are better decision makers. The exception is in “female” jobs, such as human resources.

Raiding is a strange activity. You need to do *your* best in your role in order for the team to succeed. But if that involves switching DPS off the boss on to adds, or stopping DPS for a phase change or to move, that switch or the brief stoppage of DPS can affect your total damage. So, acting alone, a lot of DPS will ignore calls to stop/switch/etc. We’ve all seen people “tunnel” (vision) through X, Y or Z and cause a wipe or a near wipe.

The competition between DPS (or even healers — see Suzushiiro from Big Crits for a high-profile example of a healer who humps the meters. Around 2m45 in Week Four’s episode of Big Crits is where you can hear him talking about Sindragosa.) is healthy in some ways, but very unhealthy for your raid group on the whole in other ways.

Healthy: Good competition to be tops on the meters means people want to pull out all the stops and perform to their highest ability.

Unhealthy: Pushing phase changes or not killing adds can totally wipe your raid. (Healer version might include not cleansing or decursing or not swapping to, say, the Jaraxxus Incinerate target. Or not moving out of a Shadow Trap on heroic Lich King.)

Time and time again, the people I see screwing that stuff up — tunnelling — are men. The women respect the assignments they’re given, more often than not, in my experience.

Example:

Picture it. Black Temple, facing Gurtogg Bloodboil’s room.

We reorganized all the groups in the raid so Group 1 would be the first to eat the first Blood Boil, Group 2 would be the second, Group 3 would be the third, Group 1 would be the fourth and Group 2 would be the fifth.

Our fully-holy priest (ie: with Circle of Healing and no Divine Spirit) was seen as our “strongest” AOE-healing priest. We put him in Group 1 and told him he was healing Group 1. The priest who was the best technical healer, who could live without CoH and still heal well and effectively, was put into Group 2 and told to heal G2. They were both men. Our third priest was holy with CoH and was a woman. She was also a bit of a part-time raider, due to work, so she wasn’t quite as geared or quite as familiar with the fights. We put her in Group 3 and told her to heal Group 3, which meant she only had to heal through one Blood Boil per phase.

We told the priests, specifically, to use Prayer of Healing to help heal through Blood Boil. That that was why they were in a group, that that was their responsibility. Our G2 priest (hi, Euphie!) had even found the sweet, sweet rank of PoH that was the best one to use for output and for mana conservation. (I miss downranking!)

For something like four or five wipes, Group 1 kept dying due to Blood Boil. Could not figure out why. Group 3 was fine, Group 2 was fine, Group 1 kept dying.

Our melee officer, whom we called Football, finally looked at his Recount (back when Recount was new!) and was like “Kurn… that G1 priest? Is healing his group using only CoH.”

The female priest had no problems listening to us. She trusted us, she knew what she was doing was for the team.

The CoH-happy priest in G1 was asked what the hell he was doing. “Healing my group?” he said. “PoH is too expensive, I’m oom all the time, can’t heal.”

“Are you downranking to the rank Euphie said to use?”

“No…”

“Do it.”

Once he did, we were able to heal through the encounter beautifully.

To me, it was clear that he was trying to conserve mana by using CoH instead of PoH so that he would have enough mana for the second round, trusting in his CoH to hit his group and keep them topped off enough that he didn’t need to use the mana for PoH. He acted alone. He was trying to stay competitive. He had the decision-making power in the moment when he realized PoH (max rank) wasn’t viable and so he decided to use CoH.

The female priest listened. Did what was best for the team. Didn’t seem to care about being competitive. Listened to us when she had to exercise her own decision-making, in the moment of the encounter.

That’s one way in which it seems women are naturally good at raiding; we listen, we like the team, we like to work through people.

However, there’s another facet I underlined which might very well explain why progression raiding might not necessarily appeal to women:

Men are more focused on long-term results, women on short-term goals.

From expansion to expansion, you’re looking at almost two years. Two years. That is a long, long, long time. That is an eternity. It’s one thing to go on a pug and raid for three hours every once in a while to build up your character. It’s another thing entirely to apply to a raiding guild where they expect you to be there at least 75% of the time for, basically, the rest of the expansion. It’s daunting!

Maybe this is why so many men are GMs; they have a goal, they want to achieve it, nothing stands in their way.

When I was a GM, I had that goal too, but I focused on the short-term. What do we need to recruit? What boss fight is next on our list? Actually, funny story that illustrates that perfectly…

I believe that we had downed Hydross, back in SSC, with only a little bit of concerted effort and then went on to The Lurker Below, which gave us a lot of trouble, actually. So much trouble that I’d basically only glanced at some strats with regards to the other bosses we could attempt (Tidewalker and Leotheras) after Lurker. On a new reset, we got Hydross down easily and most things clicked for Lurker and Lurker died, early in the night.

And I had NO idea what boss to hit next.

I believe my precise words to my officers were: “… shit. Anyone know where to go next?”

Since then, I always research a couple of bosses in advance, but if not for the quick thinking of Football, who had already done reading, I believe, we wouldn’t have even known right away to go for Tidewalker. (Elite murlocs FTL.)

So that’s my guess. I think that women may not like the overall idea of showing up, night after night after night over the course of the expansion. I think we’re more focused on shorter-term goals; getting hit-capped, getting a specific item, downing a particular boss, than we are when it comes to downing, say, Illidan. While downing Illidan might have been a motivator for Majik, for example, even when we were back in Kara, I was thinking more about just getting Shade of Aran down for the teleporter, or getting Curator down to get someone T4 gloves.

I’m not saying this applies to all women, but I think that it probably plays a large part of why women are suddenly almost absent, comparatively, when you look at more progressive raiding guilds.

Your Questions, My Guesses

I asked you guys if you had any questions for me about being a female raider and such and you guys had a lot to say.

Mailynn asked:

Do you think women raiders aren’t taken as seriously? / [D]o you think women tend to avoid tank toons because of the tendency to be, like me, emotional about things?

Absolutely. I have had people be very surprised that I am a halfway decent player. I think that as soon as some people hear a woman’s voice on Vent (or whatever voice communication you use), their interest is picqued but their level of respect drops until proven right or wrong. Just because I have an awesome voice doesn’t mean I can’t play, but it might mean that people judge me to be inadequate until they’ve seen me play.

Do you think women don’t play tank characters because of the preconceived notion that tanks == men?

I can’t answer that for all women everywhere, but I’ll tell you why I don’t play a tank very often. The combination of melee-range (I hate hearing all the hits and blocks and parries, but I like the other noises — heals, for instance), the fact that you’re basically staring a boss in the crotch (or knee or whatever) and the sheer responsibility makes me decide it is less fun than, say, healing.

I initially didn’t tank because I didn’t know how. Now that I know how, I choose not to do so, because I don’t enjoy melee-range — or the view. ;) But I still find that responsibility daunting. Tanks are hugely important in this game and if they don’t perform their roles adequately, you threat-cap the DPS, the healer gets eaten, you hit enrage or you die early and you wipe.

Why, for instance, did Apotheosis have no female tanks? Well, we had lots of people playing as tanks at least somewhat regularly throughout BC – SC, War, LP and B as warriors, Anta and Dayden as pallies, Fin, Poo and Kaiu as druids. They all just happened to be guys. I was the one who was actually the add tank on Hydross for a few resets between losing Anta and gaining Dayden. (God, that was crappy, but not as crappy as murloc add tanking on Tidewalker, which I also had the, er, “pleasure” of experiencing.)

We just didn’t get female tank apps. Plenty of DPS apps from women and a good amount of healer apps, too. It just turned out that all of our tanks were men.

In looking back at my Wrath experience, which now comprises four guilds, if you count Apotheosis, I have raided regularly with one tank who was female.

I don’t think emotion plays into it — perhaps women tend to be a little less reckless than guys? Every male tank I’ve ever played with LOVES running in headfirst and grabbing aggro. I am always much more cautious. “Is my cooldown ready? How’s my mana/rage? How’s my healer’s mana?” It’s like I have a mental checklist I go through before I pull. A male tank (or perhaps just a more experienced tank) may just charge in and chain pull and not give thought to the things I do. That’s not to say that they’re playing poorly, but I am definitely more cautious when tanking. That might play into it. I think a tank probably SHOULD be careful, but not as cautious as me.

Also, do people really believe that the only reason women raid is because their significant other raids/plays? / Does this [...] mean that men often equate to two people applying instead of one? / Are women viewed as only capable of minor supportive roles and thus lack the motor skills to do anything other than mash a few buttons?

Some people do believe that the only reason women raid is because of their SO. Actually, I take that back. Some people believe that the only reason women raid is because of their boyfriends. More than once, I’ve been asked why my boyfriend and I don’t raid together. Seriously. (In response: I’m single at the moment and I started playing WoW of my own accord, thanks.)

As to your second question in there, as a former guild master/officer, there was a definite prejudice against the female partner of a male applicant. If a husband/wife team apped to Apotheosis, I know at least some of the guys who were officers were going “Oh God, she’s going to be terrible”. How do I know that? Because I worried about that, too. Far, far too often, women who apply with their husbands or male partners are not appropriately geared/etc for the content their male partners are geared for. As such, one gets used to thinking “oh man, she’s gonna be horrible”. It’s not something of which I’m proud, and I obviously don’t think all women are terrible, but this is a pattern. It makes me want to shake the female players out there and tell them to research their class before applying as a raider with their significant other.

I’m not sure if women are only really viewed as being in support roles (hybrids, healers) because I’ve raided as a healer for four years. I’ll say that people have been surprised that I’m a good hunter, though.

Kaleri asked:

What do you think about women choosing healing classes?

Well, I chose to be a healer because I enjoyed it. It was very different from DPSing and brought my focus off the game field and on to my group members. I like the ability to really contribute to keeping people up. Killing Vashj for the first time was because I popped Lay on Hands on our sole remaining tank and it CRIT for 15k and Vashj died 20-25 seconds later. You rarely get to make that big a difference as DPS, so that’s what keeps me as a healer. Everyone always needs a healer.

I think women in general might choose healing classes because society tells us that’s what we should do. Take, for example the Star Trek series. I choose them because they’re science-fictiony and we’re dealing with a fantasy MMO and I think there are a lot of similarities between the two genres.

In the original series, you only had Uhura, communications officer, as a major female character. She wore a miniskirt.

In TNG, you had Dr. Crusher and Counselor Troi and Lt. Yar. Yar dies in the first season and that leaves Troi and Crusher as the two major female characters and they’re both in the caretaker role.

On DS9, you had Kira and Dax. Kira was the first officer of the station and she was pretty kick-ass, but she was also very religious, which made Sisko uncomfortable and he doesn’t always take all this “emissary stuff” seriously. So right there, you have this difference — Kira, the woman, is religious and Sisko, the commander, the MAN, is not. Ergo, Kira, despite being kick-ass, is relegated to being someone who is not always taken seriously due to her religious convictions. Dax was less seen as kick-ass and more seen as “brainy” and “sexy”, IMHO.

On Voyager, you had Captain Janeway, Lt. Torres, Kes and Seven of Nine. Janeway was shown to be very much kick-ass and strong… until she fell in love with a hologram. Torres was strong… until she fell in love with Tom Paris. Kes… well, she eventually left, leaving Seven as her sort of replacement. Seven of Nine was bad. ass. She was a freaking Borg! In spandex. And high-heels. She wasn’t very emotional, acting very much like Data from TNG or Spock from TOS and while she was very much capable of being kick-ass, as soon as she showed any emotion, she was pretty much helpless.

All of that to say that even in a genre like science-fiction, it’s always the men who are the “strong” ones, the ones who kick ass and take names and even though they have HELP from the women, the women are ultimately weaker than they are. Or at least, that’s my (very basic) reading of gender roles. So if a woman wants to be helpful, useful in this game, she won’t roll a tank (IMHO). She’ll roll a hybrid and be okay with DPS and healing, but the tanking is “for the men”. In my opinion, based on gender roles in our pop culture. And WoW is definitely part of pop culture.

I like what you had to say about your bear. “sometimes I feel like I get less hassle if they think I’m a guy” I agree. I think people are more likely to just think “that guy’s a moron” if I make a mistake and they think I’m a guy, versus “goddammit, girls can’t fucking tank”. :P

thansal said: I do think that being a tank and a raid leader require similar personality traits. Specifically they tend to lean in the direction of the ‘type A’ personality.

While I do think that more raid leaders and tanks (and they’re definitely not always one-and-the-same) exhibit more ‘Type A’ traits, there’s nothing I can find that tells us that men are more likely to be Type A as compared to women. But I do think this is an interesting point in general. Reading the description from the page I linked above is pretty much a classic tank or raid leader.

So. There you go. Over 5000 words of my thoughts and stories. What are your thoughts? :)