Sexism in Pinball: Practical Examples

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.


Thanks for posting this and clearing some stuff up.

Also, people tend to ask me why I don’t bring my wife to tournaments…but that’s because she’s super rad and they would rather hang out with her than me :slight_smile:


If someone asks where your wife is, it is likely because they have met her and think she’s awesome, yeah? That’s different than “I never see you bring your boyfriend around. Why doesn’t he come to these tournaments?” which is itself better than the basic assumption a lot of girls get, which is that they aren’t there to compete, they are only there to watch their boyfriend.


I understand your point. I just take every opportunity I can get to point out that my wife is way cooler than me.


Thank you Elizabeth for posting this. I heard about a lot of these from female friends at Pinburgh, although I didn’t witness any myself (not that I haven’t over the years though.) The touching continually blows my mind, and I hear about it all the time. It’s crazy.

Some other examples we see at POP all the time.

  • Ask a woman about a game, then don’t believe the answer until confirmed by a guy (or the Internet).
  • See a couple and immediately start talking to the guy about pinball and ignoring the woman.

A of course worst of all, dismissing anyone who brings up these issues as over-sensitive or pc or saying they should get over it or saying “it was just a joke”. Stop and listen. Make an effort to have some empathy for other people’s experiences.


We already know this :wink:



I think your logic on point seven is flawed. Of course you wouldn’t ask Bowen if he needs a game explained because everyone knows him and how well he already knows the rules.

At Pin Masters, I started with Eric Wagensonner, and the first thing he said was related to making sure everyone understood the rules on the table we were playing, and that he would be happy to explain if we did not. At Southern Fried, Sanjay Shah offered to do the same. I was floored these guys who were competitors were offering to help me do better.

I don’t think gender had anything to do with it. Rather, they are both nice people that want to bring others up regardless of their gender. That’s to be commended, not looked down on.


I absolutely agree with you, when it’s presented as “Do you know how to play this?” That is, however, entirely different than saying, unprompted, “I’d be happy to tell you how to play this” or “Here, let me give you some pointers.”

The first is community, sharing of knowledge. The second makes the assumption that the woman obviously must not know how to play. Specifically, I’ve heard this same scenario from at least two different women who actually owned the game they were about to play, and had done nothing to foster the idea that they needed pointers.


I would say there is also a difference between approaching the whole group of players and saying “I’m happy to explain this game’s rules to anyone who doesn’t know them” vs approaching a single participant and explaining it to them, without asking, while not saying anything to the other two (which is how I heard it from someone who, as @chesh points out, owned the game in question.)


And we probably aren’t even talking about the same people because it happens that often. I see people do it to @nicoleanne and she is the person behind the counter running the place with the games.


This 100%. We need to force a societal shift, and we need to be active in to do it. I am saddened and happy with the state of media coverage of womens events in Rio. There is still a bunch traditional media writing really inappropriate things, but via social media, blogs and some traditional reporters as well, they are calling them out.

It is important that for many of these micro aggressions given as examples above they are happening due to an unconscious bias. Your suggestion to people asking if they would say that to Bowen is a great way to help break. I would suggest when calling people out, it might be worth giving them the benefit of the doubt that they were not coming from a bad place. If you ask about their intention in saying what they said, you help surface their unconscious bias and gives them a chance to save face. But I agree, getting called out by a third party is more effective.

This is something that we spend a lot of effort talking about, training people and trying to force a shift in people at work. The examples you give resonate with examples from STEM situations.

I was expecting much more extreme and blatant examples (yours lead to a better conversation), which i have seen and called BS on in the past. Overtly sexist and homophobic language is sadly still quite common place and it needs to stop. Generally, I see it via trash talking and yelling at the machine.


Which one is it? And why?

don’t want to derail it but this was one example that was all over the internet :frowning:^tfw


I am happy that articles like exist. I am saddened by the articles and incidents that trigger it. The conversation is more public this time around.

The point is social norms are changing, but it is slow, and progress is regional and cultural. I want STEM to change because that is important for my perfessional life. I want the Pinball community to change because I am personally invested in it.


Super great post- and thanks for the reminder that as an ally, I need to step up my game. I see things like what you’ve described and worse in my league night, but am often too conflict-averse to say something- that only makes this situation worse, as every time sexist behavior goes unchallenged it reinforces the assumption that it’s acceptable.


Thanks for sharing. Are there any suggestions for how men can help women feel more welcome in the pinball world, beyond not doing these sorts of things, and calling out others who do?

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Really happy to see this kind of discussion happening here. I agree on the responsibility to challenge this sort of thing, especially as dudes in a male-dominated space.

One thing that I think is very tricky, and not often discussed, is how to challenge something effectively. Knowing you should call someone out, and doing so in a constructive way are miles apart. I don’t know anyone who does this well who a) didn’t suck at it for a long time and b) didn’t deliberately work to get better at it. Something that I (as a hetero white dude) have found really valuable is this document on how to be an ally as a person of privilege.

There’s another great thread going here on this subject, and I’d really love to hear more from anyone with experience who’d be willing to share.


Something I notice all the time from men who “don’t realize they’re being sexist” is mansplaining in a variety of contexts. I see it most commonly when men are breaking down their instructions to a woman on how to play a game in terms and tone that you’d use with a child who didn’t know the first thing about pinball. It’s really painful to witness and I’m usually just left shaking my head when I hear it. I’ve called out a few repeat offenders in my local scene, and they’ve mostly been embarrassed and felt that they were doing it completely unknowingly.

Great to see this discussion on here and hopefully it will continue to make men more aware of what’s going on and how to help prevent some of this stuff.


I’m guilty of the opposite pretty often. Just last week I met a couple who was really into pinball and barely realized till the end of the interaction that I was only talking to the woman. Whoops!


It really, really depends on the situation and the person doing this. A lot of time, if you don’t know the competitor, or if they’re just not being overly friendly, it often feels like a micro aggression. Though offering that information to the entire group does help, there are plenty of times that this “helpful” behavior is reserved for women only, and done in a condescending way. I try to check myself on it all the time. I start out with “Do you know this game very well?” - regardless of gender. Because I’ve found out that there are so many ways to ask that question which make you look like a pompous dick instead of just wanting to share information.

I’d also just like to point out that the argument of “has nothing to do with gender” is more than often made by men who don’t have to deal with the same kind of behavior that women do. Just try and put yourself in the other gender’s shoes for a moment.