How to be an ally to the women of Smash

As originally posted in 2019 on the new-defunct SmashAdvice blog.

This blog post will give you tips to be an ally to women in the Smash community, in order to attract more players, retain the ones who like the game, and be an overall good person.

Before anything else, an answer to two common “but whys”

“But why do we need more women anyway?” is a common question when we start bringing up diversity and inclusion in the Smash community. The second step in that line of questioning usually being, “Why don’t you just accept the community as it is if you really like the game?”. Let’s answer both before we move on to the actual practical steps – it’s always good to know why we are doing things.

But why do we need more women in the community?

Let’s be fully rational here. Apart from the fact that enabling anyone to play the game should be a no-brainer, apart from basic respect… Let’s talk about the money.

What kind of sponsor wants to associate their public image with a small and bigoted community of insufferable young men playing in their basement?

Let’s just say, not the best kind of sponsor. The largest companies in the world focus a lot on diversity, and supporting “gamers”, this demographic that is often seen as sexist and alt-right by the public eye, is not on their agenda. However, they do want to support “video game communities”, because we exist and we are ready to consume their products. Let’s give them a reason to sponsor us.

Women make up 51% of the population. Deterring them means dividing our potential community size by two. Now, before you “but women don’t like video games” me, let’s look at more precise estimations:

  • 25% of the entire US esports fanbase is female (Variety)
  • In esports in general, semi-pro and professional players are women in only 5% of cases
  • Out of the 400+ people who filled in the French Melee Census in 2016, a dozen or so were women

How did we go from 25% of watchers to 5% of players?

Because there is something wrong with our community, as it is today. Everyone who watches the game can enjoy playing it – but these women know what they’ll have to go through if they start playing.

The good news is that with just a little bit of effort, things can go much better than this.

But why should I make a special effort for women?

You may feel like the community is just fine as it is. That’s normal! You’re a man. Here are 10 situations in which you don’t have a problem, but women may have one:

  1. When you play against someone who is better than you, they teach you things and force you to fight back until you improve. They don’t play their third character and do stylish stuff all around the stage to impress you, without ever coming near you.
  2. If you enter a relationship with a female player, good for you – but she’s a slut. If you’re not together anymore, people will think that she’s the one who should leave the local community because you’re the real player.
  3. If you play doubles with someone who’s the same level at you, you don’t get hit with “Oh, he’s really nice to let you play with him” like you’re a 5 year old.
  4. You can share housing with people you don’t know at a tournament without having to ask your friends if the people you’re sharing the housing with might assault you in the middle of the night. Cheaper housing, more options.
  5. If you lose a set, you won’t leave thinking that you’ve failed your entire gender. Your low level won’t prove someone’s point that men can’t ever be good at the game.
  6. If your weekly ends late, you can walk home alone without anxiety.
  7. Your relationships with others won’t matter nearly as much as your player level or TOing experience in most debates.
  8. You haven’t been told, from the earliest age, that playing video games is keeping you from doing anything creative or helpful to others.
  9. If you are involved in an argument, people will criticize what you are saying, not who you are as a person.

And number 10? Number 10 is the most important one in the context of this post: You can talk about women’s place in the Smash community without being called hysterical, a liar, too emotional, or it turning into a trial of your character and all women’s character.

Want to know more? Hear it from a man:

That’s why we need you as an ally. And here’s how to be an ally.

Making a difference in our daily Smash experience

In this section, we’ll talk more about the basics of making the community better on a daily basis. Start with this before you consider the second question in the article – the most important thing in most situations is leading by example.

General behaviours

Always keep in mind that we are always singled out during gaming events. Be considerate about how you bring up our gender: some compliments are actually just another reminder that we don’t fit in. “Oh wow, I never see girls at tournaments!” “Hey, you’re good for a girl!” “You play X character? That’s cool, most girls play X”. These are usually meant as compliments, but they’re often just demeaning. Same thing for variations of “You’re not like other girls” – you’re basically saying that you despise everyone who’s like us, and making us the exception doesn’t make us feel better about it. We’re not “X’s girlfriend/wife/sister/ex” either, we have our own identities: it’s weird to feel like we are a sidekick or some kind of accessory.

While we’re on the whole “vocabulary” thing, don’t say words like “rape” to talk about something that isn’t actual rape. The English language is rich and has a lot of great words to talk about destruction. Use them. About 1 in 6 women have experienced at least one rape attempt (completed or not) in the US; France has similar statistics (21%). You’re alienating these people by using the violent crime they experienced as a funny metaphor for winning. Let’s not forget about the men either – it’s not just the women who can be raped, and therefore not just them that you’re being insensitive to when using this vocabulary.

Now, on to our last wording topic…

Don’t. Call. Us. Females. Here’s the best comparison I’ve seen so far on that topic:

On the behaviour side, if you enjoy hugging people, that’s great! So do I. Just make sure the person you want to hug enjoys is okay with that. Some people aren’t comfortable with physical contact, so getting consent is a real thing. You can ask “can I hug you?”, you can extend your arms one step away and see if she does that one step, the method is yours. Just don’t hug someone who’s not prepared for it and who can’t say no.

More generally, don’t assume that random girls like you just because they smile at you and make eye contact. I won’t go into a whole sociology class in this blog post, but we are taught to do this our whole lives, in all contexts, because “being polite” is extremely valued for little girls.

Now, onto “provoking” thoughts and speech. Don’t say things “as a joke” or “just to provoke” or “to be the devil’s advocate”. Pretending to be an asshole is rarely a good way to show how great of a guy you are anyway.

During tournaments

When you play against a woman, treat her like an equal. Don’t sandbag her, don’t give her super simple advice if she’s not an extreme beginner, don’t offer unsolicited advice that you wouldn’t offer in the same way to a man of her level.

Remember that the women who come to tournaments are here to play, just like you, and they paid their fees just like you. They’re not here to find a date and they’re not here just to talk to you, so don’t try to flirt with them. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself in a really interesting conversation – try not to monopolize her attention and get her contact information instead (if she is willing to give it to you) so that you can continue talking after the tournament.

If you are a Melee TO, sign the Code of Conduct and enforce it. If you are a player, respect it and report violations. Make tournaments a safe space to be in and more of us will attend tournaments.

Many women in the Smash community are also creators: streamers, writers, makers of all kinds. Don’t assume that they make more sales because of their gender, don’t ask them if they make more sales because of their gender, don’t tell them they make more sales because of their gender. It’s not true and it’s extremely hurtful. As a corollary, don’t buy things, donate, follow women with the hope (or demand) that they’ll like you in return. You’re praising them for what they do and they don’t owe you anything for being a customer.

When something happens

We are, and will keep being, sometimes the victims of harassment or of sexual assault. When this happens, there are a few behaviours that make our situation even worse.

Please listen to us when we tell you that something happens. In life in general, and especially in the Smash community, we have nothing to gain from calling out a harasser or a rapist. We will get insults, threats, and we won’t get fame or money out of it. We’re just hoping to protect other women and to play without having to fear for our security. This means that we have nothing to gain from lying. Please listen to us.

When we’re the victim of harassment, our character is not the issue. Harassment is wrong, period. Hey, some people are objectively bad – but a guy getting harassed or assaulted won’t be judged by his character, or bossiness, or previous relationships. So don’t do this to us either.

Becoming an active advocate for women

If you follow these behaviours usually, then there’s more you can do. These extra steps are what an individual can do to make their local community better, rather than basic guidelines for everyone to follow. Feel free to implement one, several, or all of these things!

The first thing we ask you to do is to speak up when you see or hear something that isn’t right. Seems simple? Good! Please, also do it when there are no women present. Don’t do it for the women within hearing distance, do it for the sake of the person who just sounded or acted like a jackass. Talk to your male friends about why you’re doing this, and link them to this blog post. Make the people around you better, because they’ll listen to you and not necessarily to us. ESAM’s video, embedded above, is a great example of something that made a real difference – and it’s just him talking about the current situation of women in Smash, nothing more. It’s all about talking.

When you’re watching a Twitch stream, if a woman is on stream, try to be active in chat. Comment on her play style, commentary style, anything that you’d comment on if you were watching a man. It doesn’t even have to be positive (although that would be nice): the goal is to outweigh the comments about her appearance or personality.

Share our stories, whether positive or negative. Yes, share harassment and assault complaints, but also share our successes. Think of all the women who work in the shadows: the TOs who are never fully credited, the ones who spend their weekends streaming, the ones who sign their boyfriend up to a tournament and drive him there and cheer him on and bring a stable income home while he’s being praised for his great level of play. These women are part of the community, even those who don’t play, and are often overlooked – don’t let this happen anymore, credit them whenever you can.

Are you a mid- or high-level player? Next time you meet a beginning woman at a local event, offer to mentor her. Not at your place, because that can be intimidating – maybe start with giving her advice at the tournament, then offer to organize a Smashfest somewhere. Build trust and don’t destroy it all by trying to pick her up. Help her improve in a secure environment.

When you go to a tournament or organize one, offer to hold a Smash Sisters event. You’ll need at least 4 women there, and they need to want to play (more in the dedicated blog post), but you can have a real role in launching your local Smash Sisters group, so do it!

Do you want to be an ally outside of the Smash community too? Great! Follow your favourite feminists on Twitter and learn about it. If you’re engaging in a debate or trying to learn more, never ask for information you could find with a simple Google search: come prepared so that the women you talk to aren’t doing the whole work and know that you have good faith. And don’t be afraid to openly call yourself a feminist ally – we need your support.

A lot of other proactive behaviours make a huge difference. One striking example was Armada leaving the 25 to give his spot to a woman when he found out that the whole Melee panel was male. This is what we need – people who will act on what they advocate.

It doesn’t always feel great

Sometimes, you’ll feel like you don’t get enough recognition. That’s true – we’re constantly worrying about our safety, and we don’t always have enough energy to thank the good men instead of changing the bad ones. Don’t think we haven’t noticed you, we have and we appreciate you, but please don’t start asking for public recognition. Most importantly, don’t start showing off how inclusive you are on Twitter when you could ask things in private – you’ll get a few more “thank you”s, yes, but we may question your intentions.

Let’s not kid ourselves. It can be very hard to be a constant ally. Of course, it’s harder for the women who do the same thing as you, but we get that it’s never really easy either. Don’t let yourself burn out. We’ll always forgive someone for not speaking up when they don’t have the energy to, as long as it’s part of an overall good behaviour. You may be called a wimp, you may be told you always do this to get laid. This is the treatment that we receive on a daily basis, and we never get fully used to it. You don’t either, and we get it.

Finally, take into account that all women aren’t feminists. Regardless of your opinion on it, the short thing here is to let women be, even those who don’t share your labels. There is no ‘Us and Them’, we all need to support each other!

To finish on a positive note, the European Women of Smash would like to remind you that not all heroes wear capes. We’ve quoted Armada and ESAM in this blog post, but we’ve had countless men find excuses to get us away from an overbearingly flirty person. Several of us have a story about how someone managed to divert a drunk guy who was heavily hitting on us at one tournament or another, and it’s an on-the-spot, extremely helpful reaction. Thank you for that.

Do you have questions about being an ally to women, or behaving in a way that will attract and retain women in the Smash community? Great! You can contact us in the comments section of this post, on Twitter or through our contact form, and we’ll be happy to answer!

This blog post was written collaboratively by several European Women of Smash.

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