International Women's Day
Women’s issues within the LARP environment are not new. In Quebec as elsewhere, the consensus seems obvious to many women; when LARPing, they are often in the minority. In addition, a large number of female role-players testify having been the object of acts of a sexist or even misogynistic nature.
LARP census reports that in 2014, 35.5% of role-players identified as female compared to over 60% of males. While many state that the disparity between these figures seems to have narrowed in recent years, the fact remains that the proportion of female players is lower. The women who play these games surely deserve to be celebrated but we also want to shed some light on the realities of being a female LARPer.
Community & Empowerment
Many LARPers attribute qualities of empowerment and a sense of community to LARPs. This is as equally true for the female players as organizers despite the sexist behaviors that many of us have seen and experienced. A sense of belonging is central to the practice of role-playing games; long a marginalized activity, these are events practiced in groups and based in social interactions. By extension, the biases we carry in everyday life are inevitably transposed into the game and therein lies the problem.
For example, from their very first event, the Danish warlarp regiment Girls In Armor received countless comments questioning their presence on the battlefield and constantly referring to their gender, as if women had no place in a combat LARP other than to support male players. After a few years of confronting these sexist words and supporting each other among women, they have largely succeeded in gaining respect from the warlarp community and continue to assert themselves as equals to the men around them. Their sense of belonging to the group allowed them to see the strength they drew from it individually and it was with this strength that they led to a positive change within the events in which they participated, as much for warlarp as others LARPs!
On the US side of the ocean, influencer Raquel Skellington speaks from a very similar perspective. I had the opportunity to chat with her recently and she pointed out how in southern states too often notorious for race-based incidents and conservativeness, the LARP community has seen an explosion of progressiveness led by members of our community who belong to marginalized groups. Women of color, trans people, non-binary people and many others have chosen to form a united front to bring their region’s LARP culture to a healthier, safer and more welcoming environment for all rather than continuing to navigate spaces still too affected by sexist, racist and otherwise intolerant biases. Their efforts have led to the general LARP culture in their region evolving. While there is still a lot of work to be done, their successes help to demonstrate that it is possible to make LARPs more tolerant and welcoming of those who do not fit the mold.
In the dissertation Expression of Feminism in LARP written for the companion book to the 2016 Knutpunkt convention, Muriel Algayres points out that “problems of representation arise when female characters are forced into a position of 'inferiority', a context pre-determining roles of influence as masculine. Stereotypes are also a significant problem as they represent women in roles that are often demeaning. On the one hand, such decisions show that women are not valued to their full potential and on the other, it informs players of a sexist baseline where women in general are not as important. This perpetuates biases that women already spend most of their lives battling and facilitates the use of other negative biases. Furthermore, it creates a climate where women of color, trans women, disabled women and so many more are at risk of discrimination.
Violence against women
As mentioned previously, many women who LARP have seen and experienced sexism. While we collectively have a growing understanding of the role sexism plays in gender-based violence, the fact remains that far too many of us have had to contend with acts of violence and abuse due to our being women. While I won't go into details regarding the types of violence and their impacts on the victims, I strongly recommend taking a look at testimony pages such as here and here (use you browser translator as needed) to read testimonies of female players of all ages.
What is being done
Beyond the widespread normalization of safety and tolerance rules set by LARP management teams around the globe, LARPers in several regions have put in place groups meant to provide resources and guidelines. At present, such official organizations in existence that we have found are the Quebec LARP Federation (FDGNQC) in collaboration with Les Mélusines, the French LARP Federation (FédéGN), and the Belgian LARP federation (BElarp). Although their approaches differ, they all work towards helping LARPing communities, providing guidance and resources. Woman everywhere are also mobilizing and have been for years, be it on social media platforms, online via blogs or YouTube or within their local LARP communities. Other outlets such as the Knutpunkt conference and the International Journal of Role-Playing provide academic resources and articles that help to educate on the importance of equality. Of course, the names here are likely only scratching the surface; the world is vast and women of action all over the globe dream of LARPing on equal terms!
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Links and Resources
- FédéGN - French LARP Federation (FR)
- BE Larp - Belgian LARP Federation
- FDGNQC - Quebec LARP Federation (FR)
- Les Mélusines (FR)
- Bulgarian LARP association (ЛАРП България) (BG)
- Knutpunkt conference
- PoRtaL conference
- LARP Census
- LARPing in Color
- Electro-GN (FR)
- Bechdel test for LARPs (FR)