In my experiences, many girls don’t seem eager to try new things if they cannot predict the consequences and are without someone to explain how the new thing is done. This is especially true of things that they don’t see other girls doing. In particular, I rarely see girls playing games such as first person shooters and real time strategy, nor do I see them using circular saws and nail guns. Now, I’m sure that studies show many reasons for this, but I’d like to speak of my own experiences with how little effort it takes to break the stereotype when the opportunity presents itself. I just have a hard time believing that most girls would really rather watch their guy friends play Halo, than trying it out for themselves (if given the right circumstances).
This morning, I was driving with a friend in Delaware. She’s a few years younger than I, but hangs out with a group of post-grad, guy friends of mine. On the way from Home Depot, she mentioned that she’s tried playing multiplayer Halo at a friend’s bachelor pad and “couldn’t get what was going on.” She said she kept getting killed before she could figure out what to do. Now, most, if not all, people experience this when playing their first FPS, but why does my female friend sound so much more discouraged than my male friends would in similar situations? It appears that often, the guys I know find motivation or determination in being sub-par inplace of discouragement.
It reminded me of my college service projects. In mixed gender groups, students, mostly non-carpenter ones, would go to poor places in Kentucky and Louisiana to build or repair homes. After being on the stage crew in high school and volunteer carpentry for a few years, I’ve had opportunities to paint, put up drywall and insulation, roof, spackle, etc. Whenever opportunity presented itself, I’d ask the carpenters in charge, “can I use the power tools?” In that sense, I was never shy. After a number of these volunteer trips, I’d noticed that the girls tend to busy themselves with hammering and painting. So, as I became familiar with the tools, I’d find myself inviting the other female volunteers to try something new. I would ask them, “Hey, you wanna try out the circular saw and cut some 2x4s with me?”
I have a hard time believing that so many people would rather be painting all day when they could be experiencing and learning other forms of useful handiwork. I’d never had to twist anyones arm to convince them to stop painting, so why does such a casual suggestion make such an impact? Is it because females trust that other females over males? Is it because they need to see someone like them doing it before they’d be willing to try? I’ve never worked with a female carpenter on these projects before, so that might have something to do with it. Really though, I believe it’s because males don’t think females want to use power tools, and females don’t think that males want females to use power tools. It’s a preception of gender that is beyond mere variety of skill levels in individuals. Otherwise, why wouldn’t the guys be inviting the girls to try it? And why don’t girls express interest in trying those sort of things more?
On one of my visits, at my friend’s house, her younger sister was sitting in the living room as a bunch of us were setting up to play StarCraft. These guys seem to come over often to play games, and the girls will just watch them play (or do their own thing). My Delaware guy friends are at all levels of StarCraft proficiency– even though they are all mostly Korean, I’m sure I can take a few of them. In regards to my less aggressive female friends, this is, again, a perception of gender that is beyond mere variety of skill levels in individuals. I’m not convinced that the sister, in her own house, wouldn’t enjoy being included. She should be afforded to opportunity to make an informed decision as to whether or not she wants to play StarCraft. I asked if she wanted to learn a little bit about it, and, effortlessly, she tried a game or two with all of us– something that wouldn’t ever happen unless I was there to encourage it.
An example of being out of my own comfort areas is my wanna-be basketball playing. I’d play more if I was good, but I can’t get good because I never play. I’d love to play pickup. I even make an effort to express interest in playing, but the combination of not many girls playing basketball, I’m not very good, and I feel like I’m ruining the game when I join, makes it less likely. The pressure of people relying on my proficiency to make or break their enjoyment can get overwhelming.
On the other hand, when I started training at a boxing gym, my determination : discouragement ratio was skewed the other way. Since I was my own team, I’d get beat up, if I didn’t try harder (which is of little detriment to my opponent). In that same way, I suggested that my friend try to play a little Portal to work on orienting herself. It’s a single player game that isn’t fast paced, so the determination : discouragement ratio is likely a bit more favorable for Portal than Halo. After playing Portal, Halo may just be that much less confusing, and therefore, less discouraging.
Conclusively, the idea that girls don’t do things, because they don’t enjoy them as much as guys do can become quite a self-fullfilling prophecy (on both sides of the interaction). I don’t think I’ll be shattering any glass ceilings, but maybe I can help those, like me, in areas that I’m comfortable in to make informed decisions as to whether they’d like to play video games or use power tools.