Sexism in Pinball: Practical Examples


I agree. Woman are definitely a “minority” in pinball. I run some events in WI and the ratio of men to women is generally 10:1 respectively.

I feel bad for anyone that doesn’t feel included or offended.

I know some men can be “jackasses” to woman. I personally don’t see it locally but would say something to an individual who was making another uncomfortable regardless of their sex


Correct, poor word choice - I realize that many of these examples happen outside of competitive pinball as well, and outside of pinball in general.

In fact, the two examples of my own inherent stupidity/insensitivity/sexism are from either arcade play or a show.

But, in a competitive setting, one would expect that the other folks know what they’re doing, correct? The talking down to, the irritation with, the rudeness, sexism and general poor behavior towards women is intolerable everywhere, but in a place with like-minded people doing the same activity…? That was my point. Women are not just tolerated in pinball, but encouraged to participate in tournaments and so forth. These examples are not surprising, because it happens everywhere. And it is sad, and maddening.

I’m not saying I am a paragon of virtue, of course. I’m dumb, human, fallible. But I know that I don’t like anyone feeling marginalized from anything, much less a game of pinball…

Hope that clears up my poor word choice a bit. Also, barf. :wink:


Hence the very last paragraph on the original post.


Here are practical examples of what I consider hostile sexist language that I expect make uncomfortable environment for women.

  • This weekend after a bad ball I was asked if I needed a fresh tampon.
  • I have been asked if I left my balls at home.
  • I have observed players dry humping machines in celebration
  • I have many aweful stories of what happened in a tournament with Stern Playboy with alt translight, and alt cards. I aired my complaints on another forum and will not rehash.

My point is Sexism, or at least creating an unwelcoming environment happens even when not directed at Women. I am going to stop posting to this thread now as I fear I am drawing the conversation too far from the original intent.


I think those are great examples.


This hit the nail on the head for me. I was struggling to come up some coherent thoughts about how I believed this was more about creating and perpetuating unwelcome environments than outright sexism.

We men do some pretty stupid and inappropriate things at times. I don’t think every example given so far qualifies as sexism, but I do think that we could be a bit less boorish and maybe take some lessons on how to act like an adult in public.


I’ve been following this thread with interest all weekend and now that I’m in front of a computer I’m excited to chime in. One thing that I think is important to note when having this type of conversation is that the behaviors and situations we are describing are not unique to pinball, nor are they endemic to pinball. They are not caused by pinball. They are instances of larger societal forces that women experience throughout their lives; as women who play pinball, we’re describing how this manifests in this particular hobby so that our community can be aware and respond appropriately.

To this end, an anecdote: a dude was interviewing me for a radio show last year, and I told him some stories about how, when I’m out alone playing pinball, men interrupt me regularly when I am obviously busy and have not indicated any interest in talking to them. The reporter asked, shocked, “What is it about pinball that makes them think that’s ok? It’s not like they’re doing it randomly in other parts of your life!” and I was like…uhhhhhh, they totally are! Men approach me when I’m on a run, taking out the trash, even stopped at a stop light with my car window rolled down. It is absolutely not pinball-specific, and it absolutely is freaking annoying no matter when it happens.

Then, the reporter interviewed a male pinball friend of mine and asked him about whether people approach him while he’s out playing alone (not mentioning what I’d previously shared). My friend was aghast at the thought. He said something to the effect of, I mean, people definitely watch when I’m having a good game, but they wait til I’m done to talk to me. Women are navigating a world where many guys feel entitled to our time, our personal space, our attention, and it doesn’t play out like that for men. It just doesn’t.

I could go on and on. I basically do go on and on, on Tilt Thru or in discussions with other women. I could talk about the stranger with no mutual friends who Facebook messaged me after I won the women’s world championship to comment on my “gorgeous smile.” I could mention the men who tried to explain to me how a tournament was structured after I’d made it to the semi finals (beating high level opponents like KCB and REG to get there, I might add), not realizing that just because I don’t travel to big tournaments doesn’t mean I don’t know how they work.

But that would be a monster-length post (and I feel like this already is), so I’m only going to include one more example: I have been organizing pinball tournaments in Portland for 6+ years. My co-organizers (both men, and rad feminist allies to boot) have been involved in pinball for a long time, but have not been involved in the Portland scene and our long-running tournaments nearly as long as I have. At Portland Pinbrawl 2015, two A-level players from out of town, both of whom knew me and had played against me in the past, approached the tournament official booth to get a ruling. I was the only TD in the booth at the time. They asked me if I could call one of my male co-organizers over so that they could make a ruling. They literally didn’t realize that I was on the same level as the other TDs, even though I was the one who was most visible, making most of the announcements on the microphone, recording match results, etc. When I said, “…or I could make the ruling…” both players were appropriately mortified, but the fact remains that they didn’t read me as a full TD, and gender is the only thing that differentiated me from the others.

Okay, I’m done (for now). Thanks Elizabeth for starting this topic, and thanks to all the forum participants for being cool, respectful, open to learning, and receptive to new perspectives. This is the kind of conversation I envisioned when we started Tilt Forums and I’m glad to see we’ve cultivated a community where it can happen.


I’m going to clarify this one as I’m the player in question who dealt with this individual and his behavior speaks to an issue this conversation has touched on but maybe not addressed directly.

This individual did not lose on Skateball. He had a really great ball and I said so. His response was, “Well, I just stared at the backglass the whole time. You know, because she’s well-endowed.” This was absolutely 100% a power play move. He wanted to make me uncomfortable. There are so many examples of this type of behavior that are not necessarily enforceable or directly harassing women, but they absolutely aim to make women players feel ill at ease being there.

The next day when I saw this individual again, he voiced his displeasure at being “beat by a girl.” When I didn’t laugh along, he backtracked, trying to say he was “only kidding.” He wasn’t kidding and I told him so. He was genuinely upset that a female player beat him.

This is when our allies can say something. I had an amazing conversation during a layover on my way from Pinburgh with a player I had just met days earlier. He wanted to know ways he could help make a better climate for women in pinball. We talked about how the men making these comments will not listen when women say, “That’s a crappy thing you said,” because these men have already shown they do not respect women. If another man speaks up, however, that may be more impactful.

The pinball scene has been incredibly welcoming to me since I started playing a year and a half ago. The positive interactions I have with players far outweigh the negatives. The support I have received in starting Belles & Chimes here in Portland has been AMAZING. I believe this has helped to make it very easy for new female players to join our community and crossover to competitive play. Hearing the, “Why do you need a women’s league,” comments is frustrating, Portland has seen a rise in women turning out to play in tournaments since Belles and I hope to continue to improve those numbers.


I find these conversations are more productive when we focus on the behavior instead of the person. X thing that Joe did isn’t cool vs. Joe is an asshole because he did X.

Yes, there are a small number of “total assholes” our there. But for every jerk who responds to a female TD’s warning with “I’m sorry, maybe it’s the way I was raised but I just don’t believe in taking orders from a woman [shrugs shoulders and walks off],” there are 100 dudes who don’t consider themselves sexist, who don’t make a habit of being gross to women, and who still occasionally do or say something pretty insensitive.

I’ve seen almost all the behaviors on @chesh’s list many times from men I genuinely like and I believe are nice people who don’t hate women. Related: [quote=“tjuchcin, post:16, topic:1800”]
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?
When someone calls out your own behavior, don’t take it personally. Just say you’re sorry and stop doing it.

So many people’s instinct when told something they’re doing is making other players uncomfortable is to immediately get super defensive, explain at length why what they did wasn’t out of line, or they didn’t mean it that way, or whatever. I get it - nobody wants to think of themselves as sexist. Try to realize that whoever brought it up isn’t branding you as a creep for life, they just want you to stop doing this one thing. If you do, they’ll probably never think about it again.


One of Zoe’s anecdotes brings to mind one other need: tournaments should list somewhere who the TDs are vs. who’s just helping score keep, data entry or whatever. That way players know whom to ask or not ask for a ruling.


In this case, as we were doing announcements before the tournament on the PA, we listed out exactly who the three TDs were and had us all raise our hands. But yeah, in general, I do think that would be helpful, especially for tournaments where people can come and go as they please.


In my opinion, that’s enforceable. But it won’t be, unless the TD with the cards is told.

Matching shirts/badges/hats really help. They also make it easier to go ‘off-duty’ if you have enough folks to have shifts.


YES. I had a conversation with a local player who I would call one of my closest pinball friends last night in which I told him that he had been really loud and distracting during a tournament (not even a sexism issue!) and that if I were the TD I would have given him a warning. He then debated with me a couple of different scenarios trying to justify his behavior…I engaged in the debate with him, but, like, should I have? Should I even have to? I think especially because women are socialized to be nice and accommodating, and men are socialized to expect us to be nice and accommodating, when I draw a line and am not willing to compromise, if a player doesn’t like my stance, they take it personally and take it into how they feel about me as a person.


In this situation, we had matching shirts. I understand that you’re trying to troubleshoot for future events that might not have thought of all these things, but it’s frustrating being told that I was probably at fault for not IDing myself properly. I did everything that any experienced TD would do and these dudes still didn’t take me seriously.


Wait, I get to actually carry yellow and red cards? How did I not know about this![quote=“CFFLegs, post:74, topic:1800”]
In this situation, we had matching shirts. I understand that you’re trying to troubleshoot for future events that might not have thought of all these things, but it’s frustrating being told that I was probably at fault for not IDing myself properly. I did everything that any experienced TD would do and these dudes still didn’t take me seriously.

You’re just going to have to come to Pinburgh and TD next year. It’ll be a cool social experiment! (No, it’ll be great, because you’re a good TD and we need more.)


In which case, the guy is an even more sexist idiot than I thought, and I apologise. Given that @heyrocker had mentioned announcements, I thought there might be room for confusion if the announcement was missed.


Earlier in this thread I asked that we not direct criticism to each other, but to engage more in discussion around the topic in general. Lets not judge intent in each other’s responses, but assume good faith in all questions and discussion. I’ve just removed an entire thread of discussion that violated this principle. I will continue to do so and take further measures as necessary to guarantee that things remain civil here. I am not judging any of the viewpoints that were put forth, or saying someone was right or someone was wrong or any of that. If we can’t keep things on an even keel then we’re totally lost here.

Thanks everyone.


Something that I said in the off-shoot conversation I feel is relevant, so I’m going to reword it in a more general manner:

For men who don’t see these kinds of behaviors, or see things that are similar but don’t think they qualify as sexism, please take note - a woman taking a man’s comments in stride and joking along with him doesn’t necessarily mean his comments were acceptable, or that she wasn’t made uncomfortable. If women in this thread are in agreement that certain behaviors are upsetting or discomforting to them, and you see those behaviors elsewhere, try to make sure that the women involved are actually ok with it, and not just “playing along” to “avoid making a scene” or some other socially-expected means of tacitly endorsing that behavior.


Also… Can we not “rape” the spinner any more? Playing alone after Pinburgh finals, this loud threesome of bros were all over the “We’re gonna rape this bitch” language. Even Privilege-rich me was uncomfortable having to listen to them while I played. I should have called them out on it, <sigh>.

Pillage. Plunder. Crush. There’s plenty of good battle words.


Is that even still a thing? I haven’t heard it in a long time but maybe that’s just because people have learned not to say it around me but still say it to each other.

For the record this is specifically listed as unacceptable in the TiltForums Code Of Conduct.