Board Games, Gender, and Media

Last weekend I played Apples to Apples with my family. It was like any prototypical “Family Game Night:” Affluent white parents and their two children (one boy, one girl) sit on the couch around a game, laughing and playing together. Then, a particularly interesting noun-adjective pair came up: “irritating women.” I had placed the card, and when someone read out the combination, everyone laughed. One member of my family, unaware of who played the card, said that he couldn’t choose it because of the resident “feminazi,” me.

This moment, combined with the conversation in CMS.619J this past week about viewing the media with a feminist lens, got me thinking. I won’t even address “feminazi” because I could easily write for hours about my feelings on that subject. What I first thought about was how even things that seem entirely innocuous and completely without bias (it’s not like the game’s creators tried out every one of the thousands of possible combinations) can become a platform for rude, sexist, and otherwise offensive content. Even board games, which seem to be just entertainment, carry some sort of message or provide a platform for articulating a point, firmly cementing them in the realm of media. Yet I’m not even sure that the cards of Apples to Apples were created entirely without forethought. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the “Helen Keller” card played in anything but an inappropriate way, and I doubt that the creators were ignorant of this fact. Apples to Apples (like its more extreme cousin, Cards Against Humanity) is a successful game because it provides a relatively safe way for people to laugh about things aren’t meant to be laughed about. That’s also why it’s crucial to be cognizant of the role that even games and toys play in media.

The reason my family laughed, however, wasn’t that it’s ridiculous to pair “irritating” and “women;” it’s completely possible for any person to be irritating to any other person. Furthermore, the reason I placed “women” in response to “irritating” wasn’t because I find women irritating, but because I imagined that it would most please my middle-aged, married dad. I assumed the pairing would immediately call to mind a housewife scolding her husband for not putting his underwear in the laundry or taking out the trash. It is media-perpetuated messages like this that perfectly reminded me of Missrepresentation. The humor in the pairing wasn’t irony or contradiction, but a reflection of a supposed truth. Unlike “irritating kittens,” which might be amusing in a nonsensical way, “irritating women” seemed funny out of accuracy. But is it really an accurate statement? Of course not. It is a familiar television and film trope (bitchy and whining woman bothers otherwise-content man who’s just enjoying manly things), but that doesn’t make it accurate. It’s not possible to stereotype more than 50% of the world’s population in any meaningful way, yet the media has somehow convinced people that it is. Just as the documentary discussed the prevalence of “emotional” stereotypes and poor journalistic word choice in the context of female politicians, this combination of words was able to evoke that image in the minds of my family.

Although these are just my current musings on the subject of gender and media, it’s clear that there’s a lot there to unpack.


One thought on “Board Games, Gender, and Media

  1. Nice anecdote and analysis of the gender assumptions underlying seemingly innocuous board games like Apples to Apples…

    Also, if you wrote a blog post on the term “feminazi,” I’d most certainly read it 🙂


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