Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What is Empowerment?

By Michelle Dalrymple (the muse)

Women are judged as women no matter where they are or what they do. When we walk into a job interview, not only are we judged on our qualifications, but on our appearance, voice, and dress. In some cases, like those of airline stewardesses, those latter variables may be the deciding factor on whether or not she gets the job at all. When on the phone, women are accused of sounding “bitchy” or “hormonal.” At no time is a woman judged solely on her abilities – she is always judged on her abilities as a woman.

With the lack of women in game development, and a seeming lack of women in online games, it would appear that even in technology, women are the suppressed minority. Feminists clamor that anything and everything leads to oppression of women: politics, appearance, penis envy, or the all-consuming “importance of cultural influences in the shaping of gender,” stresses Prof. Karen Horney (Gleman, Newsweek. 84). However, it is the newest of cultural influences that has opened new doors to women, erasing an oppressive environment typically seen elsewhere.

The internet, and all its opportunities, has opened up a new, completely gender-neutral world to women, one where people, regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity, are judged on the weight of their abilities, not on their appearance. We see this with elements of the internet like email – anything from JCHahn7766 to DownRiver1 – is completely gender-neutral. Those emails or game names could belong to anyone, the President or the 13 year old down the street.

This anonymity of the internet, while it does have its downsides, offers women the ability to be themselves and more without bias. Short tempered in an email – you can’t be called bitchy solely based on your sex! In a bad mood in an online forum? Nothing “hormonal” here, just a bad mood. These new technologies offer women a starting point that is at the exact same position as men. The internet has done the one thing that feminism and affirmative action have been unable to do: leveled the playing field.

For the first time ever, a woman is not judged as a woman, but as another person in far horizon, discoursing over the internet. She may have a name that is not hers, nor is it remotely female. Her avatar may be the same. As a result, those online may not know the true gender of the person at the other end of that internet cable. Intuitive guessing may occur, but overall, a woman only has to expose her gender when it is in her best interest. The online revolution offers true gender-neutrality.

Karen Lehrman in her essay The Feminist Mystic makes this very point: “Government cannot cleanse society of sexism; culture and time can” (The New Republic, 34, 1992). We see this effect of culture most inherently with the advent of online games. Women play everything from Spades online to World of Warcraft, and whether they present themselves to the online world as a man or a woman largely depends on the woman’s whim. She may play under a man’s name in Texas Hold’em or use a male avatar in EverQuest II. Or she may elect to present herself in a feminine form, but that superficial form holds little sway, as great numbers of men “gender-bend” in game and play a female character for a thrill.

Since there is no actual visual of women in an online environment, only the one that a woman chooses for herself, the stereotypes and assumptions based on appearance and gender are lessened. Games like Sims or Second Life, where body image is malleable, or even an animal, or Horizons, where one can play a dragon, gender becomes moot. A woman’s ability to acquire skills and earn levels in game are on par with men.

Women are even discovering fresh inroads into gaming through said games by creating their own reality through the game. Women can acquire rare items and drops and sell them for real money through a variety of websites. In some games, like Second Life, women can form their own businesses. MMORPGs have a decent female following as well; “Women took to fantasy landscapes of sword and sorcery like World of Warcraft, sometimes wielding weapons, but also inhabiting characters who seemed nurturing or bewitching,” writes Dickey and Summers in Newsweek (E20, 2005).

The idea of knowing that a woman is playing a game by her ability level (or lack thereof) is also becoming a logical fallacy. Women hold their own in online card, arcade, and MMO games, reaching higher levels of game accomplishments alongside their male counterparts. In an online forum at GamerGod.com, Grimwell posted some interesting insight on women gamers. Using gamespeak “pwn” to mean “own” or “kick your butt,” he commented that in ten years, his daughter will “pwn you” in a game, and that a female gaming friend, Rhyssa, “will pwn you now” (gamergod.com 2005). Don’t be surprised to learn that the husky Paladin, slaughtering the creature next to you, is a young woman just trying to level.

As more young girls begin to play more online and PC games, the line between men as better players blurs. The average 5 year old, regardless of gender, knows how to play, and beat, a number of videogames. In fact, several developers now create games specifically for kids, especially little girls. While the boxes may be pink and purple, with Hello Kitty and Barbie on the cover, the content is game nonetheless. These girls are growing up gaming and quickly becoming a gaming force to be recokoned with.

To level the playing field, all a woman needs is her internet connection. There is no longer any learning curve between men and women in gaming, and the nature of the internet had allowed women their full voice in gender neutrality. A woman no longer has to shed her femininity, dress like men, or act unfeminine to play with the big boys. Online gaming empowers women because it breaks the gender bias. In online games, the only thing that could hold a woman back or thrust her forward is her own ability, her computer hardware, and her broadband.

Works Cited:

Dickey, Christopher and Summers, Nick. “A Female Sensibility.” Newsweek. October 17, 2005. v CXLVI n16. E20.

Gelman, David. “A Fresh Take on Freud.” Newsweek. October 29, 1990. v116 n18. 84-86.

Lehrman, Karen. “The Feminist Mystique.” The New Republic. March 16, 1992. v206 n11. 30-34.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

OMG! I've Got a Book!

I'm published in book form on the web! Here is the link to my cheesy romance novel - feel free to take a look and thanks for browsing!


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Nothing Bad to Say

Nothing Bad to Say
By Michelle Dalrymple

At the end of every semester, my freshman composition students must write a final paper, an argument paper. This paper is a culmination of all the styles and practice they have learned during the course. As an added bonus for the final paper of the class, the students have a choice of topics on which to write their paper. Over the semesters, the topics have included censorship, religions, and money. A few semesters ago, however, I put up education up as a possible topic choice.

Within these topics, students can select any aspect of that topic they choose. Under the umbrella of education, students have written about school funding, banned books in libraries, and special education classes. Inevitably, one student will want to approach the topic of homeschooling. Honestly, I welcome this, regardless of the approach (pro or con), with open arms. I can often offer some resources to help them in their research. Plus, students have come up with sources I am not familiar with or present information in a unique way.

Usually, students will take a pro-homeschooling approach. One student who did so was a quiet girl who had been homeschooled herself, so the topic was within her purview. She was able to add some more personal information that worked well in her paper. However, most students who decide to write on homeschooling are not familiar with the subject at all. This makes for some interesting research and conclusions on behalf of the student writer.

Of course, there are the students who decide to write the contrary. One student in particular did a more than fair job looking at homeschooling as it lacks in “experiences” that schools can provide. I gave her full credit, not only for writing a decent paper, but she also knew that I homeschooled my children; she was not afraid to face the beast.

This past semester took the homeschool debate in our class to a whole new level. A student was intrigued by the homeschool conversations she had heard, and she wanted to write about it for her final paper. However, she wanted to look at homeschooling from the other side and write about how homeschooling is not as good as conventional schooling and does not produce “good” results.

I told her to have at it. I had researched some information, typical arguments, about the “downside” to homeschooling. I had no doubt she would utilize at least some of these sources as the basis of her paper. I also knew that some students in the class had personal experiences with homeschooling, so I wanted to see where this was going to lead.

The students had a week to come back with their formulated theses and some examples or sources for the final paper. When we met that next week to discuss the final papers, she raised her hand to volunteer her thesis and information.

“No offense to anyone in this class who homeschools,” was how she began and I laughed and gave the class a warning “uh-oh!” Then she continued.

“I can’t write on the drawbacks to homeschooling,” she told the class. “Everything I have looked at and researched tells me that there are none. That home schooling is so much better than public schools! I can’t find anything!” She seemed happily surprised at her conclusion, and the class gave a surprised laugh as well.

I then pointed out that maybe she didn’t need to apologize to the homeschoolers in the class; maybe the “no offense” should have been directed at those in the public schools. After more lighthearted laughter, I did let her know that there are sources out there to the contrary, and if she wanted, I would help her research her topic.

She brushed it off with a wave of her hand and let me know that would be way too much work (ha ha, the teacher in me thought). She had already thought of a different education topic and was ready to present that. As it turns out, she wrote her paper on the benefits of homeschooling over public school.

As we continued, I couldn’t help but think of what an impact that was. One would think that public schools, organizations like the teachers’ unions, and the media would make that information readily available. On such a controversial topic as homeschooling, while there are some significant theoretical debates, there were no concrete facts or resources to support anything “negative” about homeschooling. In fact, there was only the opposite. There was so much of the opposite, that when looking for the bad, this student could only find good.