Should D&D be sexist?
If you want it to be, yes.
It should also be racist, violent, malevolent, and threatening if you want it to be and it fits the tone of your campaign and maturity of the people you game with. After all, if your villains are “Evil” but all they do is wear dark clothing and look different to the Good Guy Races, isn’t that just being Racist (not to mention Gothist, if there’s such a thing) by another name?
And if you don’t want it to be, no. It’s your game, when all is said and done.
The role-playing hobby is somewhat unique in that it provides a “safe” environment in which to explore issues such as racism, sexism, slavery and other such evils that exist in the real world. We can look at such things and let our Heroic PC personas make a stand for Good where in our daily lives all too often we look the other way.
Perhaps just a little of that Heroic might just rub off too. Who knows?
Ok, so should the players be sexist? The Gamer Code of Conduct (written or unwritten) should insist that players should be polite around the table at all times, and that includes not being a jerk about the opposite sex. That’s not the same as what goes on in the Theatre of The Mind. Your Barbarian might well be leering at the Barmaid (are we still allowed to call them Tavern Wenches now? Ah crap), because he’s from a culture where Male Dominance Rules (and he’s never seen a women who washes her hair before), but that doesn’t mean the player is “being sexist”. He’s playing his character, who is. That’s a part of what role-playing is all about – being someone who isn’t you, for just a while.
Oh course, playing a Barbarian who breaks that particular stereotype is even cooler, but that’s up to the player, and I don’t think that’s a decision which should be forced upon us by Political Correctness. I don’t know about you, but my Medieval Fantasy settings aren’t democratically elected Utopias where everyone is born equal and free regardless of race, sex, colour or creed. And nor would I want them to be.
What of D&D art? Should that be sexist?
Hmmmm. Here’s where I turn the fire hose on myself. Good thing I brought a towel.
All too often, art is labelled “sexist” because it shows a large amount of bare female flesh. To me (a white male, and therefore possessing no opinion worth a damn), that’s not sexist at all. That’s other people being prudish, and I had hoped such Victorian values died out with…. well, with the Victorians.
That being said, I do wish that fantasy art depicted women wearing clothing that at least partially resembled their male counterparts. Women in plate armour should not wear nothing but panties from the waist down!
That’s not sexist. It’s silly.
Of course, one person’s definition of sexist might not be the same as another’s, and that’s a part of the problem. Sexism means different things to different people, in different cultures, in different places. Reconciling all of that too often legitimizes the lowest common denominator, and that’s a shame. The person with the strictest views isn’t necessarily the one who is the most right.
Sexism is demeaning. It is depowering. It is ridiculing and enforcing the stereotype that a woman is weaker than a man, and belongs in the home with the children. That’s sexist, and wrong, and I certainly wouldn’t advocate D&D art ever showing a woman in a lesser position to anyone.
The age of the Damsel in Distress is dead, and long may it Rest in Peace.
Thanks for listening.
Thanks to for Joe Schindehette opening the thorny topic of Sexism in Fantasy. I look forward to hearing your views.