Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


A "Representative" Group

Awake far too early this morning but at least that gives me a chance to write a bit before the rest of the day kicks in.

I attended last night's meeting about the K-8 transition for Kate's school. Turns out they won't know if there will be 6th grade classes available at Orca for the 2007-2008 school year for another couple of months. Unfortunately, they have to start planning for a lot of things (the K-8 curriculum, the physical move of the school, permits for rebuilding Orca's greenhouse and other facilities necessary to the program) before that crucial issue will be settled, so they're trying to form a steering committee to get work done and input from as many people as possible, as soon as possible.

One of the phrases that the principle used was "a representative group" meaning they want to bring in volunteers to the steering committee who reflect the different racial, cultural, social and economic backgrounds of Orca families. Nice, sensitive, inclusive...right? Well, interestingly enough the one black woman who attended this meeting (other than one of Orca's teachers) at whom the principle kept looking as he said this had something to say on the issue. Basically, she said that she's tired of people assuming that because she looks a certain way that she thinks/feels/behaves as every other person with her skin color and that people make this mistake all the time. She doesn't want the burden of "speaking for" every other person who shares her skin color, and suggested that maybe the school should solicit the opinions of people interested in giving their opinions but just be thankful that there are people willing to volunteer their time to this process and accept their contributions as offered.

I've often felt the same way in the game industry as companies grasp for products that "appeal to women" and people raise the question, "What do women want?" As a woman I've frequently been looked to as if I can be held up as a representative for my gender and while I feel that I can certainly provide some insights (I was born and raised a girl, I am now a woman raising a daughter of my own, I've had a few experiences unique to my gender) I cannot possibly speak for "women" as a class. All women do not think identically, feel alike, or want exactly the same things.

There are many complicated assumptions people make about each other based on the first obvious qualities they can see: race and gender are certainly atop that list, social class (wealth, education) following closely thereafter. One common assumption I use to run into in the game industry was that as a women I must be someone's girlfriend or wife along for the ride, not a gamer myself. Thankfully, as more women have chosen gaming as a hobby and a career, that assumption is far less common than it used to be though it hasn't entirely disappeared. At Orca the common assumption seems to be that if you're white you're some sort of yuppie gentrifier, a member of the privileged class who needs to learn a thing or two about sensitivity (because you surely don't know what it's like for the "real" members of the community). I bristle when I see that assumption being acted upon, as I used to bristle at the assumptions based on my gender in the game industry. I come from poverty, I grew up there. I'm white but I'm no aristocrat. No million dollar home. My daughter does not have a nanny, we don't even own a car! I guarantee that my daughter's elementary school teacher makes more money herself than Chris and I make combined. If they're putting together a "representative" group and think that they're representing my sliver of Orca by putting a white doctor or university professor in the group (hey, we're both white and we both like lattes, right?) I would have to disagree. I mean, I appreciate the effort but my family faces issues that aren't even on the radar for some of these people and those issues have very little to do with my race or gender.

Bottom line for this steering committee is that they've got work to do, so they'd be best served if they just got to work. Kinda like my advice to the people who want to make "girl games" and want to know what women like: just make good, fun games and people will play them. Among those people will certainly be women.


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