As part of our discussion on Justice Points about women and progression raiding, I made a quip about how Blizzard instituting badge gear and things like LFR and Timeless Isle over the years has eased the vectors of gear acquisition. In doing so, the collateral “damage” was potentially destroying the myth that women gained their hard-won epics through some nefarious means. When I was playing in Burning Crusade, one of the frequent charges for a woman who had a decent set of gear was that she “cybered” for epics. When I later joined a community for women who played WoW (wow_ladies), women both leveling that charge at other women as well as women in the community worried about being accused of it posted regularly. At the time, well before I really got into feminism, it felt like a sensible charge and not like they misogyny-driven urban myth that it really was.
Why was it easy to believe though? First, turn the clock back to Vanilla and Burning Crusade. When people first hit end-game in Vanilla, the only way one could acquire epic gear was slowly as part of a 40-person raid or prohibitively expensive world BOEs. The gist is that even into Burning Crusade, until badge gear was introduced, the only way into epics was via raiding or expensive methods like professions. There was no real alternate way of obtaining gear on par with raid gear. This put a considerable premium on getting into raid teams, especially when you added in things like attunements and several tiers of content. When you have a system that is significantly harder to enter, it allows criticism of those considered “unworthy” of being there. Combine this with the mentality at the time that women were extremely sparse in number and not especially proficient at playing and you can easily see how a known woman decked in purples from raiding could be seen as having gained them in an “illegitimate” way. Keep in mind that nothing about this mindset made any sense as even on my rinky-dink RP server, there were many decently progressed guilds, quite a few that were main-tanked, raid-lead or otherwise kept going by women. But since when has intolerance ever been logical?
A lot of this article is based on things I actually saw or heard from people during my time playing the game. It felt like, back in the day, there was way more emphasis on “drama” which always included women in some way and more often than not, sexually. Did this stuff actually happen? Oh, I’m pretty sure it did occasionally. But I don’t think it became a problem because of those occurrences but mostly that it’s not different than the misogyny that women regularly face outside of the game. When Men’s Right’s Activists talk about the “real power” that women have because they believe the world is oriented around heterosexual men and their desires, it’s not real power. Sexist culture dictates that a woman’s value is in her sexual availability to men. It’s not real power when a woman uses that sexual availability to gain herself a foothold, but it merely turns the system somewhat on its head and you can see the very real backlash when a woman rises above her “place.” This is the larger concept that informs something like women cybering for gear in World of Warcraft. So when certain women on a server get earmarked for having done this or when community sites start linking to high-profile guild drama around a woman and nude pics, this is really what is happening. Myths and rumors arise when people are frightened of something, and the hyper-focus on women “cheating” the system (versus everyone) is because men in were terrified of women somehow carving a path to obtaining gear and being part of high-end guilds that was outside accepted channels. Given that gear was at such a premium, you can see why this became something brought up regularly. It all plays still on the idea that most women could never play well enough to obtain them normally, and therefore didn’t deserve it. So that they would have to use something men couldn’t hope to access (sexuality) in order to get it. (Let’s not talk about how several men have admitted to me, with some chagrin, that they’ve posed as women to access this on occasion.)
Here’s the one gaping flaw in blaming women for using sexuality (or potentially stirring up drama) in order to get gear: why aren’t officers and guildmates accountable for this? Unless you’re using need/greed rolls only, there’s no way someone can get their hands on gear that isn’t turned over to them by someone in your roster. Whether it be a loot council, DKP or anything else that relies on a master looter, your loot still comes out of a raid leader’s or other officer’s hands. If someone is getting handed their gear because of cybering, promises to go on a date or because of their intimate relationship with the officer, that is still on the officer handing out the gear for abusing their position. No one seems to ever mention that when these scares ever got talked about though. Men are infallible creatures who are just victims of their own sex drives and nothing they do is up for scrutinizing. However, if one of your raiders is turning over gear to someone for any reason, even valid ones, it’s because one of your officers decided on it. This was also the reason I often heard stated for why guilds would explicitly allow no women to join – women caused drama, versus discussing that their own ranks would lose their shit over them. If I had to be entirely honest, I used to think women were shitty for pulling these kinds of antics. Looking back, I can see why it was done though. If guys were such utter shitbags to me except for wanting sexy orc sex out of the deal or wanting to date me because I played WoW, I’d want to get some gear out of the equation too. Dealing with an unfair system requires doing some pretty unfair things, sometimes. Dealing with men who have no problem turning over nude pictures of you because they are mad at you would make me not give a shit about their feelings.
So what does this really have to do with the decline of said misogyny and gear? Is it really because of badge and later on, justice point gear? I don’t think correlation is necessarily causation, as I truly believe that a lot of issues of fairness and sexism have become more and more prominent. It’s slightly harder to be an out-and-out anti-woman person so I think some of the decline in these sorts of anecdotes and general skepticism towards women has been lost in time due to the fact that a lot of us are 9 years older and grew the fuck up. But I think anything that Blizzard has done to destroy some of the barriers to entry to parts of the game, whether it be high-level raiding, PVP or otherwise destroys people the ability to be gatekeepers to people they might already hate due to societal structures. There’s still ways of keeping women out of your raid team that don’t rely on thinking they cybered or automatically assuming they are terrible players. One of those ways is still being abjectly hostile to women, making your raid team a place where no women want to be on a regular basis. But overall, raising the curtain on epic gear acquisition and letting people climb onto the escalator easier has done mostly good things. It means no one looks askance at you if you are decked in any ilevel of purples and merit dictates that only really decent players obtain the highest level of them. Gear still is a method of devaluing people but it doesn’t seem as specifically gendered anymore.
Is misogyny really dead in World of Warcraft? Absolutely not. Has it gotten better? Yes, I believe it has. The fact that the stories I heard in Vanilla and Burning Crusade have all but died out gives me at least a little hope.