The first day of ReplayFX this year, a male friend asked me about sexism in pinball, and at these events particularly. He said that while he absolutely believes us when women in the hobby say there is sexism, he has never personally seen it, and could I give him a concrete example.
This was a completely fair and honest question. I told him about the time at Expo where Molly and Priyanka were playing Hobbit and some dude was super pissed he had to wait on GIRLS, stood overly close to them the entire time while bemoaning his entitlement, and called them cows until they left the machine they were playing.
My friend was aghast.
That example - which is true - is also an extreme. It’s rare to get someone being such a blatant asshole. There are also people out there who will say “That’s not sexism, that’s just a dude being an asshole.” It is true that he is an asshole. It is sexism because he only felt he could be that big an asshole in public because the people he was heckling were women. It is sexism because of the gendered language; he wouldn’t call a man a “cow”.
I promise you that every single woman you know who plays pinball has a story about being made uncomfortable at a tournament/league/bar. For my part, I recognize that not everyone knows that what they are doing is sexist or would generally make a woman uncomfortable. I’m presenting here a list (by no means definitive) of some behavior that has come up in my discussions with women of things we would like people to not do while we are trying to play pinball.
A great rule of thumb to consider is: Would I say or do this thing to Bowen Kerins? Bowen is probably the best ambassador pinball has. He’s insanely knowledgeable and incredibly approachable. His face and voice are all over hundreds of hours of videos promoting pinball. So read these sentences while thinking about how you might be breaking his concentration, or how you might just be an asshole. Would you:
- Walk up behind Bowen while he’s playing a game, squeeze him by both shoulders, and say “hi”.
- Tell Bowen that he’s dressed too nice to play in a pinball tournament.
- Tell Bowen that he should smile more.
- Tell Bowen that he plays pinball pretty well “for a guy”.
- Tell Bowen how to start a four player game.
- Ask Bowen why he doesn’t bring his wife to all his tournaments.
- Tell Bowen that you would be happy to explain to him how to play this game.
- Ask Bowen why he isn’t smiling.
- Walk up to Bowen and hug him without introduction because you are friends on Facebook even if you’ve only really met a handful of times.
- Stand behind Bowen in line and loudly complain that he’s taking too long to play his game.
- Tell Bowen that he’s being too competitive.
- Lean in to Bowen’s ear and tell him you have next game while he is in the middle of a ball.
If the answer to any of the above is NO then STOP FUCKING DOING OR SAYING IT.
All of those are real examples of things that have really happened in the real world. If you’re guilty of any of the above, maybe you didn’t mean to be condescending or rude or whatever, but if it’s pointed out to you, please take it to heart. Listen to us when we tell you that these things are not OK. And beyond that, if you see someone else doing or saying these things, call them out on it, because it is bullshit and the sad fact is that someone who is being sexist is far more likely to listen to someone who doesn’t have boobs when they say “Hey, that’s some sexist bullshit right there. Don’t do that.”
And hey, by the way, grabbing someone’s shoulders, or hugging them without invite, or leaning in to them really close isn’t just a sexism thing - it’s a respect-my-goddamned-space thing. You don’t know if that person has PTSD, for example, or they just generally dislike being touched or startled. Just don’t.