Attn: Tormund Giantsbane

I drew this a few years ago while reading Book 1, and it holds up inre. recent developments on the Thronesgames show. I will never get why Brienne is victimized and harassed all the damn time. LADY, YOU ARE SCIENTIFICALLY A GIANT. And murder is apparently legal where you live. Dude on your jock? Whether he’s hatin’ or he’s coming on to you? JUST KILL HIMMMMM

briennecomix

-Meg

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The Time I Didn’t Get Murdered IRL after Inviting 7 Grown Men into my Home to Play D&D

3D model of an adventuring warlock holding an orb and wearing a scowl. A red d20 is next to tge model for scale.

My current D&D character, who is basically the warlock version of Darlene from Roseanne.

 

Last year I joined a Dungeons & Dragons group that was made up of seven grown men and me.

The only person I knew was Davey, the dungeon master, who was DMing his first campaign. I knew Davey from other, anti-oppression circles; I trusted him, but as the date of our first gaming session approached, I got nervous.

As the minutes ticked by that night and our characters got to know each other through time rifts and creepy, badly done taxidermy, I monitored the low buzzing in my ears and the slight tremble in my hands as I rolled d20s and scooted my LEGO mini-fig around on the map.

Well, I told myself out of character, it’s pretty normal to be nervous.  After all, it’s been a lot of years since you played D&D and you forgot so much.  It’s nerve-wracking to be a beginner at something, especially with male nerds.  But these were Real Nice Nerds, like me, and some of them were beginners, too.

Maybe my nerves are on account of role playing feeling a little awkward, I thought. I felt a little goofy after all; every time I had my character do anything, I kept recalling the fully armored LARPers (no shame) who meet at a local park to carry out campaigns and wondered how far removed from them I now was, having now announced things like, “I compel my familiar to collect a sample of the ooze for my collection.”

I’ll let you take that in for a second. I know how cool it sounds. (So cool.)

When everyone left at the end of the night, I realized I let out a sigh of relief and my body unclenched.  Suddenly, it hit me:

I was relieved because I had not been murdered.

Let me repeat that.  I was relieved because I had invited seven grown men that I did not know into my home to play Dungeons & Dragons (5e, if you must know), and I survived the night without being raped or murdered.  To be clear, I’m talking about me, the actual person, and not my character, whose survival continues to be deliciously precarious (thanks, Davey).

Knowing this bunch of dudes as I do now, it seems absurd to even think it. (I have actually said since then that we should campaign together until we are 109.) Yet, there it is.

Like a lot of folks, I imagine, I play games to escape the unpleasantries of life. Yet here was rape culture, showing up uninvited, stealing my enjoyment and my focus, destroying my suspension of disbelief, and defiling a good thing.  Again. Still.

You probably know about Gamergate.  Maybe you’ve read articles like this one by Latonya Pennington about how even if you aren’t subject to direct violence or threats when you dare to step into male-dominated gaming spaces (that’s pretty much all of them, FYI), dudes will (inadvertently or sometimes deliberately) push you out by making the group culture so vaguely hostile that you’ll eventually give up and go away–and then they’ll call you crazy for it.  The whole thing is exacerbated if you’re queer or a person of color.

Pushing back can lead to being alienated or less respected.  If you can’t stand the heat, they say, get out of the kitchen.  Better yet, stay there and make me a sandwich.  (That is an actual thing someone said to me once.) As if rape jokes come standard with gaming culture and there’s nothing we can do about it except continue to issue them while denying that anything is wrong.  Death to false logic!

Before my latest D&D stint, I played World of Warcraft for a number of years.  I deliberately chose an ugly, male troll as my avatar and named him something that sounded like the German word for goblin puke.  I played a warrior and eventually became a guild officer and class lead. I did that because it was fun, but also to protect myself from harassment.

My very unfeminine, aggressive, powerful character was an effective shield. When new guild members would hear my voice over Vent, they’d often be taken aback that I wasn’t a guy and I was in charge of them.  The jig was up.  My elaborate ruse to create a fantasy world/character untouched by the daily realities of misogyny and rape culture inevitably ended when my voice shattered the illusion.

Even though I was mostly playing with a bunch of people that had been gaming together for years and knew each other to varying degrees, there were still rape jokes.  Unfortunate or undesirable things were called “gay” and “retarded.”  Players were advised to not be pussies or fags. There were attempts to rename the guild after pornographic acts that demeaned women.  It was all “just joking around,” you see.

There is a hatred and fear of the feminine in mainstream culture and it’s (in my experience) more amplified in gaming culture.  Guild chat, player-vs-player combat, and talking into headsets for everyone to hear become proving grounds for masculinity.  Gaming–whether it’s tabletop or online–is creative and awesome, but absolutely not approved by the arbiters of all things masculine.

To make up for it, gamers can work hard, level up, and become more powerful, thus allowing them to dominate their enemies in evermore fantastic ways.  Things like tea-bagging someone you just killed (bouncing up and down to simulate repeatedly putting one’s testicle’s on another avatar’s face) are displays of dominant masculinity, but they are also a feminization of the enemy.  There is shame in being feminized, in being feminine.  Here, weakness, gayness, and ineptitude are all conflated with the quality of being feminine.

mi·sog·y·ny
məˈsäjənē/

noun

dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.
“she felt she was struggling against thinly disguised misogyny”

It could be argued that the constant numerical, measurable ascension toward ever greater power in games reinforces a culture of entitlement that is already prevalent in rape culture among white, hetero, cisgender men.  I did the thing!  You give me reward! (P.S. You’re the reward.)

In fact, everything about gaming reflects that entitlement back at male gamers: the objectification of female avatars, the absence of complex female heroes, the tired save-the-princess tropes, women as rewards, women as ornamentation or backdrops, the hyper-sexualization of female avatars, etc.  Anita Sarkeesian explored these themes in her seminal series, “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games,” and–wait for it–got rape and death threats for her trouble.

When the entitlement math breaks down, when the prize is denied, that’s when things get lethal and terrifying for women and gender-diverse people.  I mean, just openly being a woman or gender diverse (or not white) on the Internet is scary; doing it in gaming spaces ups the ante exponentially.

So I walked into my new D&D crew with some considerable apprehension.  What if the men I was going to play with ended up being those kind of gamers?  What if it wasn’t safe?  What is the entire night was full of microaggressions and I wouldn’t be able to come back? There are no headsets; I can’t just turn off Vent and ghost out when I’ve had enough or need a break.

In the end, it was totally safe.  Davey put together a group of compassionate, reflexive, creative thinkers and a campaign full of surprises that honors gender diversity.  The players, too, brought surprising, atypical characters to the campaign. The guy that role plays a female character does so with nuance and care. When things come up, we deal with it.  The men I play with call each other out (“Tasha has been trying to suggest something for a while–let’s listen”) with minimal trauma and zero male tears. I want to go all the way to Mordor and back with these guys!  The long way, too–not the trick with the eagles.

But it could have gone the other way, and you just never know.  That’s the thing.

Rape culture is all around us, whether we game or not.  But gaming adds new stakes that I didn’t even know existed until we all sat around the table.

I lived to tell the tale, but how many women and gender-diverse gamers will never pick up a bag of dice or a keyboard because it doesn’t feel safe or they’ve been pushed out of the scene already?  We need some serious Title IX enforcement for gaming.

Look: Men may be the most dominant gamer group, but they aren’t the most numerous.  If you’re a guy who games, use your dominant voice to call out other guys on bullshit behavior.

Gaming culture is a living, organic thing.  It’s not static.  It hasn’t “always been this way.”  We can decide what defines it and whether or not we want rape culture and misogyny to be a part of it.

How about not.

HELLO. HERE IS AN ESSAY ‘BOUT BILLY JOEL’S FEMINISM. Thx.

beej

by Carolyn Main

One of the reasons I love Billy Joel so much is the same reason so many people hate him: because he’s super fucking catchy. You’d know him as the Piano Man, since it is on the radio half of all the time. Failing that, if you still listen to the radio, you can switch stations to catch “Uptown Girl.” Keep tuning the dial until you are sure you Did Not Start the Fire. Yes, the Beej is inescapable pop culture. I get it.

Still, you may be missing some of his best works, which also happen to be the most feminist ones. And that’s the other reason behind my adoration: Markedly unlike most mainstream music, Billy Joel’s works are never misogynist. They love women. As does he, with almost as many hits (33) as marriages (4).

Even more than that, Joel came of age in an era that was arguably more sexist than our own. One need look no further for the gold standard of ’70s gender politics than boot-faced old Charles Bronson’s Death Wish (1974), wherein his wronged daughter is spraypainted in the butt by Jeff Goldblum, basically to death. Well, it’s more of a catatonic vegetable state for life. But because of a spraypainted butt. That’s, if possible, somehow even more insulting.

Joel, though, bucked sexism of the decade to write and record some of the smoothest sax-positive songs in America. During the current election cycle, it’s really easy to feel crazy and also to hate old white men. But good news: If you ever need to listen to a boomer who you don’t hate, and who doesn’t hate you back even harder and more irrationally, just take a listen to this, the Billy Joel Feminist Playlist:

6) “Shameless”

Billy Joel will not allow anything to compromise his desire to please. Why would he? So, just ask. It’s not a problem. He’s so into you, and so over the judgment of society, that he’ll do pretty much whatever weird shit you like. Craft store? Yes. Cunnilingus? Sure. Both at the same time? He’s open to it. Featuring Cyndi Lauper’s vocals (YES) and frequently covered by Garth Brooks (shrug).

“And I’m changing, I swore I’d never compromise
But you convinced me otherwise
I’ll do anything you please”

5) “Stiletto”

Billy’s comfortable with a woman on top. Perhaps to a fault. Is this an unhealthy relationship, or does she just get in the best one-liners? (Along with the knives/stabbing heels entendre, over and over.) Either way, he’s stuck, and he’s loving it.

“She cuts you hard, she cuts you deep
She’s got so much skill
She’s so fascinating that you’re still there waiting
When she comes back for the kill”

4) “Only the Good Die Young”

Every day is another potential assault on a woman’s sexuality; politics, the patriarchy, and religious propaganda try to control a pussy and put it behind lock and key. Fuck the stigmas that would keep a woman from the power and pleasure of her own sexuality. And once you have thoroughly dismantled that nonsense, would you please consider bringing your heat to Billy Joel’s meat? Well, it doesn’t hurt to ask. There’s a reason this song was so controversial to the Catholic Church, as it makes the case for fucking instead of going to mass. There’s pretty much no comeback to that.

“Well, they showed you a statue, told you to pray
They built you a temple and locked you away
Aw, but they never told you the price that you pay
For things that you might have done”

(The video above is a cover by Melissa Etheridge, who makes it much more suggestively lesbian-tastic and hot hot hot.)

3) “Code of Silence”

Just like a sea witch, what’s the first thing the patriarchy would steal from you? Your voice! (Because from there, they can strip away everything else.) As a woman, you are being diminished from all sides and are taught that there’s no one can hear you. So, you’re expected to just tamp it down and try to move on with a slit throat. But look. Billy Joel is ready to dismantle those blocks in your throat chakra and encourage you back to an authentic person who speaks their truth. He’s ready to listen. Also featuring Cyndi Lauper, YAY, who should have done even more songs with Beej. And maybe they should have probably had a baby.

“So you can’t talk about it
Because you’re following a code of silence
You’re never gonna lose the anger
You just deal within it a different way
So you can’t talk about it
And isn’t that a kind of madness
To be living by a code of silence
When you’ve really got a lot to say”

2) “Modern Woman”

This is an all-out doo-wop-style 1980s feminist anthem. It’s bordering on corny, but it’s still somewhat shocking when you think about it, since how many other mainstream dudes of the era would say such a thing? Name one. I’ll wait. Because if they exist, I would really like to hear more of these. BJ was born in 1949, and he formally recognizes outdated the gender norms he’s grown past. He’s totally ready to embrace and celebrate his empowered paramour. She’s not his uptown girl; she’s a grown-ass modern woman.

“She looks sleek and she seems so professional
She’s got a lot of confidence, it’s easy to see
You want to make a move
But you feel so inferior
Cause under that exterior
Is someone who’s free.”

(By the way, this song was featured as Bette Midler’s workout montage in the ’80s flick Ruthless People. Fun! But Bette, FYI, you don’t need to diet or work out, tho. You’re fine Just the Way you Are.)

1) “She’s Always a Woman”

Billy’s most direct response to misogyny, he wrote it for his wife-slash-manager at the time, who was much maligned by every passing sexist in the music biz. Because she was powerful. Of course, Bill had no problem with that.

Even though their relationship would turn out to be doomed during this album, as evidenced by the title track, “The Stranger,” this creamy balled endures. Here, Bilj loves his woman, and he tells the dudes who wanna hate her that that’s just their problem. This came out in 1977, for godsake; music should be way, way more advanced by now. Mike. Drop.

“She is frequently kind
And she’s suddenly cruel
She can do as she pleases
She’s nobody’s fool
But she can’t be convicted
She’s earned her degree
And the most she will do
Is throw shadows at you
But she’s always a woman to me”

Isn’t his ’70s perm amazing?

Billy’s hair, like that marriage, has since fallen away. However, unlike too many iconic pop stars of late, Billy Joel remains, still playing to sold-out audiences. Via helicopter. And he reserves the front rows, not for the 1 percent who game Ticketmaster, but for the fans who he likes to perform for the most: women. Thereby proving to the world that even if you’re a worldwide musical legend (who happens to be a dude), you don’t have to be a misogynist sell-out to rock ‘n’roll.

carolynCarolyn Main is a cartoonist and writer in Portland, Oregon, who is in the process of releasing her own card game, Pitch Please. She has tickets to see Billy Joel at Shea Stadium for the first time, and she is hecka pumped. You can check out more of her art at www.carolynmain.com.