#BreakingtheStereotype: Suit Up Ladies, We're Crashing the D&D Boys' Club

In the past two years, I’ve traveled across the continent in search of a long-lost lover, fought gun-wielding hippos in a gladiator ring, outsmarted a dragon and set eyes upon unfathomable riches in the depths of long-forgotten ruins. All these adventures (and many more) color my real-life experiences in Dungeons & Dragons: making life-long friends around my small dining room table, laughing until we’re breathless over bad accents or plot twists and wiping our sweaty palms before making life-or-death dice rolls.

While I’ve only dipped my toe into the world of tabletop role-playing games fairly recently, I’ve become passionate about the endless creativity of D&D, and I have been incredibly lucky to share that passion with good people. I’ve had such a great experience with the game that I wanted to see like-minded girls thrive in the community too. However, you can imagine my disappointment (but not surprise) when I started to notice a persisting trend: many girls who show interest in D&D feel intimidated or reluctant to join the perceived male-dominated spaces and narratives of the game. And I don’t blame them, since many of them have experienced gatekeeping and even outright objectification by male players that made them shy away from joining their local groups.

As a resident veteran of all things nerdy, I’ve seen fandom and gaming landscapes change a lot over the years. And, by extension, I’ve also seen how things haven’t changed much at all. Before I fell in love with the world of D&D, I originally got into gaming with my two younger brothers. And, while it remains one of our favorite bonding pastimes today, I know that our experiences within the broader community haven't always been the same. Women are still frequently subjected to gatekeeping and hostility from the gaming community, despite making up nearly half of the gamer demographic. Now, I know what you’re thinking—“C’mon people! It’s 2019!”—and you’re right: Gamer communities are more diverse than ever, but just as many are still nailing “no girls allowed” signs to their front doors as ugly stereotypes persist. So… what’s up with that?

Wanting to learn more about what’s going on in my local gaming community, I decided to sit down with my own D&D group—a lovely group of ladies who play with me once a week—and ask them about their experiences, not only in the realm of tabletop gaming, but as part of the nerd/geek culture in general.

First, I asked Anna, Ariel and Ashly if they have ever felt unwelcome or been treated differently by men during a game of D&D. Anna, a recent UNC-Chapel Hill graduate with a BA in Linguistics, answered that she’d been lucky enough not to have any man make her feel unwelcome, but she said that she often feels like the odd one out in groups that are dominantly male. Ashly, a graduate from the University of Nevada, answered, "Definitely, yes. At a table, where I was the only female player and my character was the only female adventurer, I had a male DM who consistently put my character in sexual situations that neither she nor I consented to, and the other male players said nothing about it, often role-playing into the situation as if it were normal.”

All I can say to that is yikes.

Second, I asked if any of them believed that there’s a lingering stigma against nerdy/geeky girls, and their answers were a unanimous yes. “It's just weird that nerd/geek culture is very male dominated, so you're already set up to feel like you're not part of the group. To compensate, I feel like I have to prove I am ‘nerdy enough’ to be talking about it,” Anna told me. Ariel, another graduate from Kenyon College in Ohio, agreed:

“I think there's been a stigma for a long time. As far as personal experience, exposure to it depends on what circles you socialize in, where you are and who you play with. I think there are many instances in the modern patriarchal world where men see women ‘encroaching’ on their spheres (whether it's a professional field, like math or science, or something like D&D), and in reaction, they try to invalidate the women in an attempt to keep them out.”

Despite all of this, we have both D&D old-timers (like Anna and Ashly) and women who’re just starting out (like Ariel) who are playing, contributing and creating content for tabletop games. D&D, in particular, is in the midst of a renaissance right now, spearheaded by a growing population of diverse players. That led me to my final question: do any of them feel like D&D is still considered a boys' club?

The three of them agreed that, in their experience, D&D groups and narratives are still often dominantly male. However, the community has changed a lot over the years, and we all agree that it’s for the better:

“I’m really excited that women are branching into these hobbies more and that [the creators] themselves have acknowledged that both players and characters can come from a wide breadth of demographics and backgrounds. D&D in popular media has also helped it reach a wider audience. I would love to see more groups like ours that welcome a minority into a game they might not have felt welcome in before.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, Anna.

Personally, D&D has become one of my most treasured creative outlets. It has become a place where I can vicariously explore my sexual orientation, gender and wanderlust in fantastical settings where the only limit is my own imagination. Therefore, if you’re thinking about digging out an old set of dice and playing a round of D&D on your next free weekend, I only have one thing to say:

Suit up ladies, we’re crashing the D&D boys' club.