The Gender Divide in Gaming: A Male Gardener Weighs In

The gender issue continues to be a hot topic of conversation, but when we embrace reality...

I have a good friend who takes great pride in his vegetable garden. He also has a flower garden, which he tends with just as much care. I've received some pretty amazing tomatoes from him, and his flowers have often decorated my entryway.

He subscribes to a gardening magazine. He watches gardening shows on TV. He loves to talk about it. However, as has been the case for nearly 15 years now, he rarely talks about it with strangers. At a party, it's never his first topic of conversation; in fact, his gardening passion usually remains secret.

I know why. We all know why. He's a man and he enjoys what is commonly viewed as a female pastime. He's well aware that other men love his hobby, and he's also aware that yes, they're in the minority. Whenever I ask him about this, he always shrugs and says the same thing:

"Big deal. That's the way it is. Doesn't make me like gardening any less."

"That's the way it is"

I really focused on that particular quote. On the surface, and given all the insistent media messages we receive on a daily basis (those that essentially say every single pastime on earth must be split equally between male and female), it sounded like despondence. It sounded like he was mourning something. It sounded like defeat; like he was part of a girl's club in which he would always be an unfortunate outcast.

He doesn't see it that way, though. He responded: "Why does gardening have to have as many men as women? Is that some sort of rule?"

I had to laugh. In this day and age, as illogical and irrational as it is, yeah, it's sort of a rule. We're not allowed to say something appeals more to women or men because, God forbid, that would imply that men and women are different. "Oh, horrors," to borrow an age-old sarcastic expression from my grandmother.

While there is a great deal more drama and immaturity festering in the video game industry, and more reasons for women to feel out of place, the situation really isn't any different.

Man, that Spike TV channel is STUPID

I find it immensely insulting. If I was a woman, I'd find Lifetime insulting. Obviously, we're talking about rampant stereotypes, but that's not why I'm insulted. I know more men than women gravitate toward explosions and toilet humor. It's just sad that that's the way it is... but herein lies the key: That's the way it is. Yup, a lot more men watch Spike TV as opposed to women. It plays the dumbest trash on earth (and what does that say about guys?) but it works. The audience they want, they got.

I see no reason why women should want to like the same thing. If I were a woman, I sure as hell wouldn't. I'd gladly distance myself from that immature cesspool. However, if we look at video games, do we notice an obvious similarity between most games and the Spike channel? Indeed, the majority of games look like something that could be on Spike, huh?

There's a reason for that. And as my friend would say, it's not a "bad" reason, per se, it's - once again - the way things are. The majority of video games involve action of some kind, whether it's shooting, jumping, punching and kicking, or slaying dragons, action is the driving force behind this industry. There are dozens of different types of action, of course, and different types may appeal to various audiences, but the bottom line is that 99% of all games in existence have subject matter that guys tend to like.

So, a woman can't like action?

Of course that isn't true. A man can like gardening, as indicated above. Furthermore, there are more examples of different interactive experiences these days; for instance, Quantic Dream's Heavy Rain is an interactive drama, stirring for all ages and both genders, I think. Even then, though, the main character is a man who loses his son(s). I'm sure a woman can understand and even identify in certain said situations, but you get my point.

Yes, more males than females like action-oriented stuff. The majority of all subject matter in all video games is, at least in some way, action-oriented. This isn't a difficult correlation. This is why whenever I went to E3, the overwhelming majority of people there, from attendees to developers, were male. It's why the staff of almost every single video game publication are predominantly male. It's why forum users, newsletter subscribers, and registered users for major sites are most often male. I've delivered many a newsletter, governed many a community, and seen the listings of many a site's userbase. It's always at least 90% male, if not higher.

More games cater more toward males. Does this mean that a game has to target males? No. Does it mean women aren't "allowed" to like what a man likes? No. Does it mean, being in business, publishers will continue to target the young male demographic because that's the audience that dominates the industry? Yes.

As my friend would say, " Nobody's stopping me from enjoying what I enjoy. I wouldn't feel any better if there were an equal number of male and female gardeners out there. I have more self-confidence than that."

Women are kicking men's butts all over the place

There was a great article in The Atlantic a few years back entitled, "The End of Men." It showed how more women than men were graduating from college, more women were starting to become the breadwinners in the household, and more women were advancing in all areas, while men... well, men, sadly, are sitting on the couch more often. Maybe if men played fewer video games and picked up a book now and then (an industry where women represent the majority of participants), they'd be more mature.

Women mature faster than men. Women are really starting to prove that in many life respects, they can beat the tar out of men. So, is there any particular reason they have to constitute precisely one half of any pastime or endeavor that quite clearly targets males? I mean, why should they care? Just do what you enjoy doing and accept that you're in the minority... is that really such a difficult thing to do?

I was part of a book club where the women flat-out said more women read than men. I shrugged and said, "I know. So?"

Disclaimer: This piece was written with the knowledge and consent of the individual referenced.

Published Feb. 17th 2014
  • EllieDoodles
    Speaking as someone who had gone through several years of suicidal ideation and depression due in large part to my passions going against gender stereotypes, I can't help but feel as though this article is trying to gloss over a serious issue by touting one person who just happens to be able to cope with the oppression that he experiences. He seems to be okay with the fact that he must feel ashamed to talk about his passion with strangers, but does that mean that everyone else should be okay with hiding?

    "That's how it is" might technically be true, but the real reason things are the way they are is because society enforces these rules through social pressures. If a guy likes to look pretty, people often look at them as if they're sick or mentally ill. The very fact that people are made to feel shame for the things they love is exactly why things should change. No one's expecting an even ratio of men to women, we all know that men and women tend to lean toward different things, but we also know that these tendencies are not absolute, and it's unreasonable to treat anyone differently for not fitting within those boundaries.
  • Lynarii_4942
    The problem I see with the argument made in this post is that, for the most part, the vast majority of both men and women aren't even claiming that a strict 50/50 representation is a serious goal that should be aimed for. If the people who are interested in gaming are 70% men and 30% women that's fine... but women who ARE interested in gaming shouldn't feel marginalized and pushed out because the hobby has built a tree-fort with a "No gurlz alowed" sign on the front.

    I can't say I have ever seen the gardening equivalent of the Wartune "Male Gamers Only" advertizements, nor do I see the sheer depths of venom in gardening circles about gender issues that you see whenever the discussion comes up in gaming. There's a huge gap between mentioning your hobby and getting an arched eyebrow and "That's unusual..." compared to the kind of stuff we witnessed in the Cross Assault harassment fiasco.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    The gap is not the issue. And women who are interested in gaming wouldn't feel marginalized if men just acted as men should. It's not a number problem, bottom line.
  • Mary Yeager
    Senior Intern
    I'm sorry, but this is comparing apples to oranges. Gaming is nothing like gardening. Plants are plants. You can only change them if you are into splicing and hybrid gardening. And I disagree on how gardening is a female dominated. I'm sure all those farmers that provide the food for your table would agree. The only difference between a farm and a garden is the size.

    Gaming, on the other hand, usually involves someone taking on the persona of someone else (which is not something one does in gardening). Not everyone wants to play some big, brawny hero. And vice versa, for a heroine in skimpy clothes.

    Women also don't garden in skimpy clothing.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Gardening is more accepted among older individuals. Doesn't work among the 20- and 30-somethings. That's not going to go over well.

    I see no big relevance of "taking on a persona." Not unless you're mentally unbalanced and start to feel as if you actually ARE that persona, or something. I also don't get what changing the plants has to do with anything. The bottom line is that forcing more women into an industry that inherently attracts males due to the subject matter is illogical. It won't solve anything, and it's not necessary for every last pastime on earth to have equal parts male and female.

    That's all I was trying to say.
  • DemonicSkies
    I thought you brought up a lot of interesting points, but hte comparison didn't hit home for me. At least here in Canada, there isn't much of a taboo on a guy who really likes to garden. So maybe that killed it for me.

    The fact is, I don't bring up the fact that I like to game very often, and the reason I don't has to do with this:

    "Women mature faster than men. Women are really starting to prove that in many life respects, they can beat the tar out of men. So, is there any particular reason they have to constitute precisely one half of any pastime or endeavor that quite clearly targets males? I mean, why should they care? Just do what you enjoy doing and accept that you're in the minority... is that really such a difficult thing to do?"

    Yes, for a lot of women, it is difficult. Accepting we'll always be the minority will discourage more women from jumping into gaming. It can get pretty hostile especially in MMO/multiplayer games, when you're one of three women playing with a lot of guys. The idea of "acceptance" is a passive way of dealing with an industry that needs more women in it, desperately. More women designing games and playing them. More women to shut up the idiots who think "girl gamer" is a joke term.

    More women playing it will mean fewer executives thinking the white, straight male demographic is the only one that matters. Maybe then we wouldn't have the spectacular disaster that is the Amazon class in Dragon's Crown.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    "Maybe then we wouldn't have the spectacular disaster that is the Amazon class in Dragon's Crown."

    You mean, as opposed to the insane dimensions of every male hero in the history of video games?

    And why exactly does the industry "need" more women in it? Why? As my friend asked, "is it a rule, or something?" There's no logic behind it, unless we say "need" just to make women feel better about playing. The way to make them feel better is to promote maturity among the gamer community; not illogically force the industry to have more women in it. Immaturity is the core disease, not an unbalanced number.

    Lastly, women keep forgetting, over and over, that most grown men who play video games were mocked for doing so when they were kids. It was the epitome of a nerd hobby back in the 80s. They were picked on left and right. It drives me nuts when girls act like they're the only ones to have ever faced ridicule and hostility for participating in this hobby. At the dawn of this industry, video games were considered a kid's toy; specifically a MALE kid's toy (because it fell into the tech/electronics category).

    Hence, BOYS were the first ones who were tortured for partaking of a "nerd hobby." For a very long time. So, I don't want to hear it from women who seem to think male gamers, especially older male gamers, have never experienced what women are now facing. And it proves my point:

    It was almost entirely a boy's club in the early days of gaming. Didn't stop boys from being picked on by other boys. So, the gender balance is irrelevant; immaturity is the rampant plague, the same plague that affected me when I was a kid, and the same one that affects females today.
  • Katy Hollingsworth
    Former Staff Editor
    Y'all quote stats, but I have yet to see them. Sources?
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Well, at PSXE where I work, for example, it's about a 97/3 split in terms of registered users, newsletter subscribers, forum participants, etc. At previous sites where I've worked, the split has been about the same, if not even more in favor of males.

    Like I said before, GameFAQs usually runs a poll every year and asks simply, "Are you male or female?" Last year I think it was 92% male; the male count has never been below 90%, I don't think.

    Then there are the largest sites in the world that cover the industry, like GameSpot, IGN, Eurogamer, Kotaku, CVG, MCV, etc. I'd say the staffs for all sites are probably at least 90% male (for Eurogamer, for example, 20 of 21 employees are male), and the comment sections are essentially dominated by males. For the latter part, I can see why girls might hide their identity because of immaturity on the part of the guys, but the slant is still heavy.

    This is not a stat, but I'd bet every penny I own that if you placed that same aforementioned poll at any of the biggest gaming sites (or really, most any game-centric site), you'd never see a result that's less than 90% male. Like I said in the article, it's just the way things are.
  • Elizabeth T
    Featured Contributor
    As an avid gardener myself I would love to converse with your friend about his passion; techniques, strains, dirt, etc. In fact, where I live, (Pacific Northwest), this wouldn't be unusual. It is still a female majority in the Master Gardeners Society, but the males in it tend to dominate. They grow the biggest, the best, and the most. You can see that by reading the tags on the flowers and produce entries at the county fair. Of course it helps that I live in a small rural area where those male gardeners are famous for their gardens rather than living with a secret passion that would shame them if known.

    Look at the gender of gardeners hired for large estates. See any female names on the employee lists? Only if they're maids or housekeepers and sometimes cooks. Ok, in the US the gardener is called a caretaker, in Britain HE is "the gardener". And in Britain the vast majority of hobbyist, (sorry guys, but if you're not getting paid to do it, it's a hobby), gardeners are men and it is passionately dominated by men. There are also a lot of professional gardeners who compete as well as develop new strains; another male dominated area.

    That being said, I agree with you, however I think there are more reasons for the differences than natural preference. As a female gamer, I can attest to how many games are written and promoted for more men than women. There are exceptions to every rule. We're not all born equal, some men are physically weak, but genius "scribes" rather than being the big, strong "warrior". Some men have intense "maternal" instincts and stay home to care for the kids while the woman goes out to work. Some women are warriors, whether in fact or secretly in their hearts. More and more women are entering the male dominated fields of math and science. (Thank you, Marie Curie)

    My point here is that much of what is male dominated is because we are a patriarchal society that traditionally views women as the "weaker" sex both physically and mentally. Generation by generation, that is slowly changing as women take a stand, encouraging our daughters to do the same and teaching our sons that women are not chattel, but a partner in life. I'll stop with that statement, as the subject has been written on by hundreds of authors in hundreds of books.

    Like I said, for the most part I agree with you. We're not all born equal. Each individual has their own strengths and weaknesses in life. This is also true in gaming. I've encountered areas in games where I needed someone else to help me over a hurdle where I just couldn't manage the right combination of moves to overcome it, and I've helped them in areas they found difficult. No one gets offended.

    Should we be offended? YES! Only by being offended and not accepting things as being "just the way it is" can situations be changed. Should everyone be offended? ::shrugs:: Not everyone is a warrior. But, only in the US is gardening considered to be "women's work" and men hide their passion in shame.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Oh, he has mentioned that the Pacific Northwest is like a mecca of gardening for men, although he's never really understood why. He also knows that it's different in other countries. Around these parts, though, gardening just isn't the most masculine thing you can do, and sometimes people remind him of that. He always ignores it, though. :)

    The point I always try to make is that it's dangerous to keep focusing on the exceptions to the rule, because people start to believe that's the norm. Yes, there are "some" men who are more about being sentimental than adopting the warrior vibe. However, it's genetically inherent that the man will more likely adopt one than the other. It's not wrong and nothing is universal; it's just the way things are.

    I know more women read than men. The stats say it's a clear fact. Doesn't offend me when people point this out, because I know it's true. What offends me is that more of my male brethren don't read. :)
  • Stephanie Tang
    Featured Columnist
    Not being a gardener, I would not know how being a male gardener affects him. I honestly do find it odd that it would be even close to an uncomfortable subject to discuss, even with strangers because I personally find that profession and pastime largely gender-neutral. When you refer to "the gardener" for example, you almost always refer to a male, whereas when you think of "someone gardening" you usually imagine a woman puttering around in her flowerbeds. Perhaps it is different where you are, I wouldn't argue that.

    I don't have a very large base of experience (outside of my own involvement in communities, which I admit to being minimal, it takes too long for me to feel accepted ;_;) or a large database of statistics to draw from. I would find it fascinating if one day some of these companies did come up with hard numbers for all of their games to see if the ratios really are as lopsided as you say.

    I know you mentioned E3, which I have never been to, but I've been to ComIc Con and BlizzCon where the attendees certainly were much closer to a 50/50 split. Out of my personal experience I would say the ratios are only going to keep balancing out between the sexes, so 'the way things are' isn't something that's going to stay that way. (While on the subject, you might find it interesting that GameSkinny's demographics - as of August last year anyway - are 18-34 and approximately 40/60 male/female.)

    In any case, I think the two things most ladies in gaming clamor for are acknowledgement and dignity in an industry which, as you say, is full of people who will give neither. So say you're right, and the ratio really is 95/5. Well there's really nowhere to go but up. And while your friend the gardener may not care whether or not his field is dominated by women, his biggest priority should be his own plants, his own garden, his own space, not everyone else's. I don't have that luxury. My game is the same game everyone else gets to play so in that respect, I think the comparison falls a little flat. So I like to think that there are many things wrong with the industry and it's target market (you, for example, are not a 14 year old boy, and I would think that you would enjoy an industry that would reflect that too) and only speaking out and speaking up will change that. Sometimes we err on the heavy-handed side, but that is bound to happen.

    I personally think the video game industry is following in the footsteps of the much older film industry (for all its good and bad) so a little equality in the future is not that far out of the question.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    "And while your friend the gardener may not care whether or not his field is dominated by women, his biggest priority should be his own plants, his own garden, his own space, not everyone else's. I don't have that luxury."

    What? Why not? You're only talking about multiplayer, are you not? I almost exclusively play single-player; it makes no difference to anyone what I play, because they have no idea what I play. Just like my friend can plant what he plants and nobody will know or care.

    The GameSkinny demographics are not indicative of the core gamer group. They're just not. It's a community comprised of an interesting group of MMO and comic fans, but it's not the same group that frequents the GameSpots and IGNs of the world. In those places, stories about the latest next-gen console update get hundreds of comments; here, they're barely noticed, while an article about something related to the MMO realm will get plenty of attention.

    The problem is that "speaking out" too often takes on the tone that gaming shouldn't be targeting males. That it shouldn't be a male-centric hobby. I see no reason why it can't be, for the same reason my friend doesn't see why gardening has to be of equal interest between men and women. It doesn't. You shouldn't care that you're in the minority. I don't care that summer blockbuster movies are brain-dead productions aimed at easily titillated male teens. I don't demand that Hollywood make more movies for me.

    Again, your last sentence: As Rothalack and I said above, "equality" is not about just having an even split, and it's not about denying inherent truths. Forcing the industry to equally cater to males and females doesn't make any sense, and certainly won't result in equality. Equality only comes if everyone is mature and doesn't pass judgment on everyone else for stupid things.....that's the real problem.
  • Raeyn10
    While I agree to an extent, I think the bigger issue is that people ARE ridiculed for having interests that go against their stereotype. It's silly to say, "You're a man, you must like stupid shows on Spike and enjoy killing things in video games" just like it's silly to say "You're a woman, you need to like sappy shows on Lifetime, and if you insist on playing video games, only play the ones about make up and baking."

    The problem is not so much what we naturally gravitate to (though the way society is structured does guide us in certain directions). The problem instead is that you are ridiculed or mocked for simply being you. Equality doesn't mean that we all like exactly the same things or feel the same ways about all topics--that would make us robots, not humans. Instead it means that your friend can enjoy gardening and I can have a sword collection and no one bat an eye at either thing. It means that when I was a child perhaps my family would have bought me the nerf guns and foam swords I asked for rather than little kits to put ribbons and beads in my hair.

    If we take away stereotypes in general, no one has to feel ashamed for liking what they do.

    Really excellent article--I definitely agree with your general idea, but I think there's just a little more to it. :)
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Of course there's more to it. You could write a book on this. :)

    My point was simply that if video games are indeed geared toward males (and they are), and more males play than females (and they do), that doesn't necessarily make it a problem. As my friend says, it's not a problem that he's a guy in a female-dominated pastime.

    It's okay to say some things are more for guys, and some things are more for gals. It doesn't make anything "unequel;" it's just different. Sadly, I guess people will always ridicule others for stupid reasons.
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    This was a great article. You really point out all of my similar opinions. Political correctness and perfect equal 50/50's in anything is just absurd. There is a radio show clip from that guy from the man show, Adam Carolla, where he talks about this. Obviously he blows some things out of proportion and makes some offensive statements, because like you've hinted at above, he needs ratings. Anyway he basically makes the point that Men and Woman aren't equal, its completely stupid to even think for a second that they are. NOOO I don't mean equal rights, I mean literally equal. We are different genders and nothing will ever change that, a majority of men like certain things and a majority of woman like certain things. Obviously there are exceptions and crossovers, but statistics are statistics and you can't just change that.

    He made a point in there that why did Micheal Jordan make what he made? Because that's what people wanted to see, should woman take offense to that? No?? Why do female models make more than male models....? Obviously because people want to see female models more than male models. Video games make more money when they are targeted at men... How are we supposed to avoid that? How can we change that?

    I don't think anything should ever be equal, our world just doesn't work that way and you can't expect it to. What we should do is accept and CELEBRATE our differences.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Exactly, I agree. Rather than trying to prove there's no such thing as male and female preferences and differences, let's embrace those differences. That's what makes things interesting, right?

    What Carolla (sp?) says is right, of course, but nobody wants to hear it. Stats are stats and nature is nature. Ignoring them entirely wastes everyone's time. We have a really nasty habit of finding the exceptions to the rule and trying to prove that they're the norm. It all stems from this rampant desire to prove everyone's inherently the same (has the same potential, gender doesn't dictate anything, etc.), which is one of the most idiotic things humanity has ever tried to do.

    The day we figure out that "equal rights" is not the same as equal in absolutely every facet of life is the day we can start to embrace truth once again.

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