One of my friends is a brilliant writer and she said something wise on Twitter the other day.



This is very true, for the record; when I was a kid I spent a fair bit of time online trying to figure out what the deal was with trans people. Television was just showing me Jerry Springer and Maury-levels of exploitation, and it didn’t really present trans people as being full individuals. My parents were no help, since they would rail at me about the vile perversions that constituted trans identity. And frankly, there were a lot of toxic corners of the web with messed up ideas about what it meant to be trans as well.


It was only after sifting through all the bullshit for the grains of truth embedded here and there that I finally got to a point where I could say that I was trans. My tipping point, as it were, was seeing a trans woman in marble, a relic of the Roman history that I so enthusiastically studied in high school. Being in the same room with that statue I realized that there was a long history of people who felt the way I felt, and knowing that let me explore those feelings. It let me become me.


I was thinking about this in the context of some of the defenses I’ve heard over the years justifying the major demographic discrepancies in Magic’s public events. When I started playing in public, right before Zendikar block dropped, guys were still arguing that women were inherently inferior at the type of logical thinking Magic “requires”. (The corollary implication was that I was okay at Magic because, as a trans woman, I had a “male brain”.) Not only was this whole line of reasoning toxic and poorly thought out, but it had a bit of a “self-fulfilling prophecy” aspect to it.


You see, Magic is not a game that comes quickly to most. It’s easy, once you’ve been playing the game for a while, to forget what it’s like when you’re still trying to figure out the phases and tapping land and a competitive format like Standard or Limited. It is hard, and it takes some time, and if you scoff at that and say something like, “well I understood it super fast, so everyone should,” you are selling yourself short. In that period what people new to the game need is support and empathy, and many male Magic players could only muster up that empathy for little boys of their own demographic background.


A lot of the gender divide in Magic traces back to this empathy gap. We don’t need to look at Magic to show that, though. There are three salient examples of the ways in which self-fulfilling prophecies have limited women’s participation in male-dominated fields.


For starters, let’s keep in mind the first point: everyone thinks women talk more than we do. This is not new, for example this was addressed in a study in 1990, and that’s just what I could find in five seconds of Googling. In situations in which men and women are talking in a group, women regularly overestimate the amount of time we are speaking while men reliably understate the amount of time they were speaking. As such, male voices have more of an opportunity to influence female development than the inverse.


This has been shown in point two, studies of girls in math class. When I was growing up it was considered a truism that women were inherently worse at math than men. This was something that saturated our society from intelligentsia to Barbie dolls, and young girls were hammered with this message throughout our formative years. Shockingly, this belief perpetuates itself in societies with high levels of gender inequality. As we come up on our first female presidential candidate in the 240 years of our union, one must recognize that on an institutional level men have more access to the government, the board rooms, and the media… and once they have that access, they still think they talk less than they do.


Finally, there’s the not-so-strange case of women in coding. Initially, coding and such technical fields were seen as being secretarial in nature. While this assumption was in effect, computer programmers skewed female. Then, in the 80s, a variety of factors, many having to do with the reflection of implicit bias, the number of women coders started to fall precipitously. If you achieved full sentience after this point, it may seem to you as though there is something inherent to the “male mind” that explains the current disparity. When you see that this is a newer phenomenon, though, that argument vanishes.


Those are three simple lies about women: we talk more than we do, we’re worse at math, and we don’t have the minds to write code. Together they have had a major suppressive effect on women’s participation in the STEM field, something which (coincidentally, I’m sure) US politicians have been pushing ever since we started taking an axe to our educational system. And it’s by that same logic that many defend the glaring gender imbalance present in Competitive play.


To be a woman who is good at Magic you first need to learn that women can be good at Magic. This is why representation is key. A woman, in the booth or in coverage, provides concrete evidence that the neanderthal position is a lie. That women are not inherently inferior when it comes to this strategy game. And because women are less likely to get that positive modeling when we leave it up to the ground-level players, in whose laissez-faire hands this problem has only gotten worse, it is well past time for Wizards, pro teams, and the content creation sites to make a concerted effort to dispel these myths.


And that’s going to require change on the parts of the men invested in perpetuating these lies as well. They have all sorts of things to be proud of; playing life on easy mode shouldn’t be one of them.


Jess Stirba probably spends more time writing than Hamilton, if you count social media.

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