Sexism in Pinball: Practical Examples


The main argument for a women’s division, top female qualifier, and/or separate women’s championship is that the pinball community is demographically very male. Like, I don’t know how to make the letters in the word “very” big enough to communicate how skewed it has been historically toward male participation. So, women’s divisions, top female qualifier prizes, and/or a separate women’s championship are all ways of giving talented women recognition as well as incentivizing newer female players to participate competitively by offering incentives other than “win the whole thing.” Because women as a group are so underrepresented in pinball, offering these alternatives to us is a strategy to rectify the balance and have more equal participation across the gender spectrum. Highlighting women who are participating in a tournament has the added benefit of showing other ladies who might be interested but intimidated or feel unwelcome that there are kickass women out there playing pinball and we would love them to join our ranks.




Thanks, that’s the general vibe I got, and if this actually helps rectify the balance, that’s very good. The reason I’m asking is that in many tournaments, there’s also a “Kids #1” trophy, which works the same as the “Women #1” trophy, just for kids, and I’ve always felt a bit weird about the implications.

The kids probably never get to play against another kid during the whole tournament, because it’s so heavily skewed towards adult male participants, so the trophy is basically just a recognition for the kid that managed best to hold their own against the “real” players. With kids, that’s perfectly alright, everyone is happy.

On the other hand, I’m imagining participating in some sports competition I’m ambitious about. I’m an adult male, and that sport happens to be dominated by female players. The women are welcoming, if a bit condescending, because they know from experience someone like me probably won’t be too much trouble. And they’re right, many of them are actually a lot better than me. I give it my best, and in the end I come in somewhere in the upper middle field. Turns out I was the best male competitor, so just after the best kid got their trophy, I’m getting a round of applause, too, and a little trophy that basically says “you did a great job, considering, and we’d love to have you back next time”.

That’s a nice gesture for sure, but personally, I think my ambition would take a bit of a hit, and I’ll probably not ask my male friends to come with me next time. They already think it’s weird I’m serious about competing in this mainly female sport, and this special recognition prize just makes it a bit weirder, since it highlights the general belief that my ambitions of winning the whole thing one day are somewhat misguided.

Anyway, that’s my reasoning for why this sort of trophy setup might actually prevent getting new female players into the mindset that there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to win a tournament (and women winning tournaments is probably the best way to get other women interested). Maybe I’m totally off, I’m genuinely interested in opinions.


Well if it pays money then dang right I’ll play a women’s tournament. I think I might even play better than in a normal tournament since I wouldn’t have any excuses. As long as pinball is dominated by men, having a separate women’s tournament is a good way to recognize and encourage women to play. I would only find it offensive if I was only allowed to play in a women’s tournament since it would imply that I wasn’t good enough to play in the “real” tournament.


It’s certainly insightful to flip the gender scenario, but I think the portion I’ve quoted above is where it falls apart: women pinball players are NOT misguided in their ambition and belief that they can win open tournaments, because they CAN and DO win prominent open tournaments.
Is it common at this point? No. But I hope that changes.


This seems like a “practical example” to me. :astonished:

Come check out our new league at the Flipperspiel Underground. Dolls with pinBalls is a ladies only pinBall league in Las Vegas. We are open to all skill levels - even if you haven’t played pinball since you were 8 please come out! We will be playing lots of pinball, meeting new friends, and enjoying Friday evenings at 7pm in a smoke-free environment. BYOB


Sorry jdelz, I would normally agree (and I see now you removed your post) but I was simply trying to link to the actual Instagram post. For some reason, the Discourse software takes the IG link and embeds it as nothing more than an image with no link to the actual post, so I’ve done my best to duplicate it here and formatted a proper URL now that I’ve figured out what works.


I didn’t see the context about how it was related to a league in your “quote” box. My reply was based on thinking that you just dropped the image without backstory. Deleted mine once I saw the whole post because I agree with you calling it out!


Hello I run the Instagram and Facebook page for the Flipperspiel Wunderland. Since we are getting charged with being sexist I would like a chance to defend our arcade. The entire picture and post was developed by a woman for a women’s only league that she started which is being held at our location. As a favor and to help get more people I of course posted on our social media accounts. I doubt in any way she intended this to be sexist or offensive. She intended this to be a cool and funny design to promote the league. Please feel free to come by and see for yourself the type of people we are. I’m sure other people who have visited us can tell you the type of people we are.
Thanks for following us on Instagram.


Hey Sean! I don’t think anyone was or is accusing Flipperspiel of being sexist. I had a wonderful experience when I visited a few months ago. I figured that the image was chosen by the person who organized the league and assumed the organizer was female. While that fact does add layers to the discussion, I think it’s important to note that the image could be a turnoff to women who might otherwise be interested in the group. I personally am bummed out by the image and would probably not participate if I lived in the area because I look at women’s league as a respite from dealing with sexualized imagery and unobtainable physical ideals. That said, there are plenty of women who don’t care about stuff like that or even embrace it; it’s a personal choice. When one is organizing a league, though, I think it’s important to err on the side of caution so that you are welcoming to as many people as possible. Obviously this is feedback that you and/or the group’s organizer can take or leave, we’re just people on the internet who have opinions and I think it’s probably more important to care what the actual female pinball community in your area thinks :slight_smile:


Well Ghostbusters thinks my name is Tex, sooooo…


I wish I could like this a few more times. I’m way late to this great forum, but men of pinball, please don’t introduce yourself/chat me up while I’m concentrating on playing (to go back to the first post, would you strike up a conversation with Bowen, who you have never met or maybe just seen around the arcade, mid-ball?)


I’m a man [of pinball!] and two times in the last week, random men have started trying to talk with me while I’m playing, and not even in any sort of flirtatious way. It really throws me off my game, and makes me uncomfortable enough that I’ll leave or play a different machine further away if they’re still there after a little while. I can only imagine that it gets really annoying for women, with the whole gender dynamic and increased frequency.


I know I’m super-late to this topic, but here it is anyway.…

We have tournaments like this, too. The “Best female player” trophy looks just like the overall trophy, which you get whether you are female or not. If a woman comes first overall, she walks away with two trophies: the overall one and the women’s one.

Noticeably though, the “Best female player” trophy isn’t quite the same as the overall trophy. Instead of being the standard gold color, it is plated in metallic pink. The base is pink, too. And the “Best female player” trophy is smaller than the overall trophy.

I remember feeling quite uncomfortable when I first saw that women’s trophy. It implies a lot, in my opinion, and much of it negative (if you believe in gender equality).

To me, the very existence of that trophy says “A woman isn’t ever going to win. But we’ll toss a bone to the women just so they don’t feel entirely left out.” The cliché pink only seems to add insult to injury. (I recently suggested to our TD to change the trophy to be the same as the overall trophy—gold color, gold base, same size—because the pink and smaller size seemed really condescending to me; he was receptive to the idea.)

I’m in two minds about it…

On the one hand, there is probably a genuine desire to acknowledge and encourage women in the hobby by offering a separate trophy. I honestly believe that this is well-intentioned and not meant to be sexist. In a way, it’s not so different from offering an “under 18s trophy” or “children’s trophy” to encourage children to participate. (But, should women be treated like children?)

On the other hand, the mere existence of a separate trophy seems to imply that women are inferior in pinball, will never stand a chance against the men, and therefore need a separate trophy.

Now, I can see how this argument makes sense in scenarios such as tennis or ice hockey, where physical strength and body mass play a huge role. I’m not sure though that this reasoning carries over to pinball. (If we had as many female competitors as male ones, I’d expect the female competitors to walk away with approximately 50% of the total points.)

What I’m really interested in is how the women here feel about this. Do you feel belittled by a pink trophy “just for the women?” Do you think the trophy is sexist or otherwise inappropriate? Is a separate pink (or any other color) trophy better than no separate trophy?

Is it a good or not so good idea to have a separate women’s national/world championship? Would it be more appropriate to not have a separate women’s championship?

What do you suggest should be done differently (if anything)?


I think the easiest way to see how women feel about women-specific events or awards is to look at their behavior.

Do women in your area choose not to participate in events that have separate women’s awards? When they win, do they decline the trophy on the grounds that they find it belittling? Do they ask organizers to do away with the trophies? If not, then it’s reasonable to assume that they like them.

Similarly, if women players found the women’s world championship inappropriate, then probably most of the women who were invited would not choose to take time off work and fly to Texas in the middle of the week to compete. Since almost all of the top 16 ranked women elected to do just that, it seems safe to conclude that they view the event favorably.


One comparison that made sense to me is that for some women, women’s awards and rankings can have similar appeal as the SCS. An additional set of goals to work for and rankings to try and climb.


I would push back on this a little bit. If I’m participating in a tournament that I’m not running, I’m probably not going to turn down an award/prize/recognition just because I personally dislike how it’s awarded. I’m not a huge fan of top female qualifier prizes, even though I’ve won a few of them. However, I think that the optics of refusing that type of prize could be more detrimental to encouraging women than not having the prize at all. I’m more likely to have a conversation with the tournament director regarding their aims and goals for having a top female qualifier prize after the fact or contribute my personal opinion to a broader discussion like this one.

What I’ve tried to do as the IFPA has pushed out changes related to recognizing women is gauge the general sentiment of the pinball ladies I’m friends with (which is exactly what @echa is suggesting) and supporting changes that they seem excited about; however, female opinion is not monolithic, and even individually it can be hard to fully reconcile one’s opinions on feminism and one’s opinions on pinball.

All that being said, pleeeeeease don’t make women’s prizes pink. I like pink. It’s a fine color! But “pink = female” is just so lazy.


While not all women agree on this issue, it does seem to me that the concern that women’s events are demeaning to women is expressed a lot more frequently by men than by women. At least, when I’ve had this conversation before it’s invariably been with a male player.

“Top female qualifier(s)” is, to me, a relatively uninteresting way to create a women’s division in a tournament. I’m not opposed to it, I would just rather see actual head-to-head play as part of such a tournament. Having the trophies be pink is just stupid and I’m surprised someone did that in 2017-or-whenever.

I’m all in favor of encouraging women’s interest in pinball through women’s leagues, women’s tournaments, women’s rankings, and whatever else.

In case it’s not already clear, I suppose I should state that I’m a woman.


Reminds me of those power tools with a coat of pink plastic. The people who made those genuinely thought they could get more women to buy power tools if they were pink.

But yeah, all in all, I think the most tactful way to go about it, if there’s going to be a women’s trophy, is to have it be as close to the overall trophy as possible.

At the very least, that’s still a pretty positive attitude the guys have, in that case. I’ve been in many communities about video games and anime where the misogyny permeates so deep that it can be suffocating sometimes.


At the very least, that’s still a pretty positive attitude the guys have, in that case.

That’s one way to read it. I tend to hear it as a less flattering sort of concern trolling.