Why I don’t want Shelly Mazzanoble to represent female D&D players

[I’ve been promising to write this post for quite a while, and it’s long. Super-long. Like, the longest thing I’ve ever posted. You’ve been warned!]

I’ve wanted to write for a while about Shelly Mazzanoble and the problems I have with Wizards’ choice to promote her as presenting a female perspective of D&D players. Wizards first started promoting her back in 2007 or so when she published “Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress” – a (supposed) guide to getting into D&D from a female perspective. Here’s what I had to say about it at the time on an indie tabletop forum:

Honestly? The book made me want to scrub my brain with Lysol. It’s one of the most sexist things I’ve read in a long time, and by sexist I mean ‘using women to reinforce stereotypes about women’. (Not all sexism is perpetrated by men. Not by a long shot. A lot of it is perpetuated by women.)

But ultimately, I’m glad I read it, even if it did provoke me into screaming “WHAT THE F*CK????” at it a couple times. I found it an instructive lesson on the mainstream view of women and gaming, which doesn’t much resemble (if at all) the view of women and gaming held over here in Indie Land.

Well, it seems that my adverse reaction to the book wasn’t a commonly held one – or at least not commonly held among the demographic that Wizards was targeting – since they subsequently gave Shelly Mazzanoble a column in their monthly Dragon Magazine called “Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard”. So I decided to dig up all of the columns from 2010 and see how they compared to the book.

[side note]

I wasn’t exactly filled with confidence when I saw the title image that is used with every column (though admittedly, it might not be fair to hold the art direction against Shelly. I desperately hope that she didn’t see and approve this.)

(presumeably) Tabitha Sparkles – Shelly Mazzanoble’s tiefling wizard (about whom she writes most frequently)

[/side note]

After reading all of the columns, I was just as irritated and infuriated as I remember being after reading the book. Shelly’s column is billed as a “lifestyle” column, a view into a female experience of D&D. But the problem is that in almost every column she portrays herself as a combination of all of the negative stereotypes about female tabletop gamers and/or women ever, and it makes me cringe because omigod I don’t want THIS AWFUL STEREOTYPE to represent me as a female gamer.

To break this out a little, here are the stereotypes that pop up most frequently in Shelly’s columns:

  • Women are insecure, neurotic, and occasionally irrational
  • Women are fashion and/or beauty obsessed
  • (when talking about player error) D&D has numbers and math is haaaaaarrrrrd!
  • (when talking about player success) Oh yeah! *tee hee!*
  • Women are incapable of taking the game seriously or being dedicated to the game.

Now the “D&D is haaard” stereotype is, in my books, the worst, because that stereotype underlies these themes – which are rife throughout Shelly’s columns:

  • Women can’t make decisions or perform complex tasks without someone’s help (read: a man)
  • Women shouldn’t try for system mastery. They should stick to the basics and let other players (read: male players) worry about min-maxing and system mastery.

Now I realize that all of this is some pretty harsh criticism, so here’s where the wordiness comes in. I’ve picked out columns that I felt were particularly egregious and selected quotes (so… many… quotes…) to help illustrate my points. For those of you playing along at home, the columns I selected were April 2010, May 2010, June 2010, July 2010, October 2010, and December 2010.

In Shelly’s words (many, many of them)

Women are insecure, neurotic, and occasionally irrational

You mean my sub-par D&D proficiencies are that obvious? Suddenly I feel like those people who order “Flab-Be-Gone” or face-freezing lotion from late-night infomercials. Oh please, let this work! (April 2010, Confessions of an Overwhelmed Duckling)

“Something’s different about me,” I told my boss.
She spun around in her chair. “You’re not wearing heels? You forgot your gym clothes? You finally stood up to your cat?”
“No.” Like I’d ever stand up to Zelda. “Something… bigger. I’m not nervous about DMing.” (July 2010, Canine Encounters Part 2)

“Congratulations,” Greg said about thirty minutes into our game. “You’ve managed to cover just about every perceived female psychosis.” To be clear, I wasn’t experiencing those psychoses. My newest Gamma World character was. (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

What if I make a fool of myself? Now, these guys were not serious or jerks, but they did appear to be good at roleplaying. And I’m the new girl here. I’ve got to join them or beat it. (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what was up with Mojita other than she obviously didn’t want to be a cockroach. Or gelatinous. Or committed to one emotion. (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

“It’s true what they say about cockroaches,” Josh said. “They can survive anything.”

That proves to be true of the whole game. We defeated the glow dragons, Mojita defeated her agoraphobia, and I defeated my irrational fear of roleplaying. (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

Look, magazines, I don’t pay you to make me feel bad! My cat does that for free. (December 2010, Arcana Lang Syne)

The thing that really bothers me about this is that almost every one of Shelly’s columns seems to follow the same formula, and that always starts with Shelly being adorably and/or humorously insecure about some facet of playing D&D. This then leads into neurotic and sometimes irrational attempts to wrestle with the insecurity in which a humorous result is achieved and a lesson of some sort is said to have been learned. Only it’s not learned, because the same insecurities pop up again and again and again.

That’s not to say it’s not okay to be insecure about stuff. Heck, no one is the perfect gamer, and D&D is a tough system to master. Some insecurity is justified – especially as a woman in a predominantly male environment. It’s the fact that at no point does Shelly ever express confidence about anything pertaining to D&D that bothers me. The tone, too, bothers me. If these insecurities were addressed in a genuine way, it wouldn’t be so bothersome. But these are clearly stereotypes being played for laughs.

Women are fashion and/or beauty obsessed

I must confess. Sometimes I’m a bit insecure. And no, not in the predictable “does this belt of vigor make my butt look fat?” way. (April 2010, Confessions of an Overwhelmed Duckling)

At least I’m doing something right. The book recommends you, “shop for particularly utilitarian or extraordinary flamboyant clothing”. Finally! My work as Player-in-Chief has paid off. It then goes on to say, “Come up with a couple of interesting possessions to wear or carry”. This must be a nod to Tabby getting a new outfit or accessory every time we finish an adventure. She’s been dressed by the best – bracers by Hershey, robes by Cote D’Or, feather boa by… well… someone’s Halloween costume. (April 2010, Confessions of an Overwhelmed Duckling)

Out of ten questions I scored three points each under ranger, rogue, and wizard, and one point under paladin. (How did that get in there?) For the record, question four about my wardrobe didn’t have any appropriate answers. A taxidermy shop? Maybe R&D should have consulted me before coming up with these answers. (April 2010, Confessions of an Overwhelmed Duckling)

Ah yes, one of my greatest regrets. I’ve clearly leveled up my shopping skills since then.  (May 2010, An Overwhelmed Duckling Part 2)

“Tabby knows what that is!” I shouted. I rolled a 2. “15?”

“Tabitha thinks this stone might be amethyst.” New DM says. “Maybe rose quartz. Real good for preventing intoxication and looks nice with jewel tones and Bermuda shorts.”

“What? Tabby would never say that,” I argued. Not only did I fail my Arcana check, but Tabitha failed her fashion check. Bermuda shorts? (May 2010, An Overwhelmed Duckling Part 2)

Once I had my villain and a little information about his habit and habitat, New DM suggested I go back to the setting of my previous adventure, the one I ran my group through when I first tried my hand at dungeon mastering (with disasterous results, I reminded New DM.)

“Ah, you’re an old hand at it now,” he smiled.

I looked sheepishly down at my hands. Yeah, I could use a manicure, I guess.  (June 2010, Canine Encounters)

What’s with the high-pressure minion sales pitch? Where am I, the Nordstrom shoe department? (July 2010, Canine Encounters Part 2)

Later at home, I moved the dog-eared Nordstrom catalogs, Lucky Magazines, and Sephora shopping bags off the dining room tables and laid out my dungeon tiles, difficult terrain, and traps. (July 2010, Canine Encounters Part 2)

Welcome to the world, Mojita Especiala, a lime green gelatinous cockroach. She’s not so much cockroach as she is gelatinous. Her blobby being was forced into a roach-shaped bundt cake pan which doubles as armor. It’s like squeezing into a pair of skinny jeans after a long workout. “Very painful,” I explained. Not to mention humiliating should someone be in the locker room with you. (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

The end of another year is upon us. I know this not because the calendar tells me so. It’s because my magazine subscriptions are yelling at me to clean this! Cleanse that! Change everything! Hey Shape, I already work out six days a week. And yeah, Lucky, I’d love to revamp my entire wardrobe to include the 379 “key pieces every woman should own”. Sorry Elle Decor – I don’t have a crawl space that I can make over into a reading room. I don’t even have room to read. (December 2010, Arcana Lang Syne)

The sheer number of fashion and/or beauty-related examples really says everything for me. You know what? There are lots of women who have interests that aren’t fashion. But even if you are a woman that does love fashion, I’m pretty sure that not everything in your life ever comes back to fashion. Seriously.

Of course, there was a metric shit-ton of fashion references in the book as well, which makes me think that this is just a cynical attempt by marketing bots that want to appeal to women outside their “core market”. But let me say that as someone who is female, I am probably outside that core market, and this does not appeal to me at all. I find this one-sided depiction of Shelly-the-character as a shallow, fashion-obsessed maniac who relates everything in her life to clothes or beauty to be insulting.

Oh yeah! *tee hee!*

Hmm. When did I get wizard’s escape? Oh yeah, I have a shield. I double-checked to make sure this character sheet said “Tabitha Sparkles”. (April 2010, Confessions of an Overwhelmed Duckling)

“When Herteus gets to here,” Chris said, pointing to the square I just passed through, “a large green blob falls from the ceiling and tries to attack”. Hmm. Didn’t I just approve some banner ads that mentioned something about wearing protective headgear? (May 2010, An Overwhelmed Duckling Part 2)

Ten minutes later, I hadn’t finished my cup of peas, but my unaligned female elf thief was in my arsenal. Holy moley, I did it! I made a character using a book and a pencil. (December 2010, Arcana Lang Syne)

The use of cutesy ‘oh yeah, I knew that’ or ‘oh yeah, I should have known that’ can die now and forever and never come back. Ever. I mean, seriously. Don’t be proud of being able to create a character from scratch. It just means that you are literate and don’t have any learning difficulties that would prevent you from teaching yourself complex tasks from a book.

D&D has numbers and math is haaaaaarrrrrd!

Instead of saying, “Sorry guys, I must have been out sick the day we covered force fields,” she may have been able to offer up some knowledge that would have helped the party in a skill challenge. Ugh. I hope they don’t read this. (April 2010, Confessions of an Overwhelmed Duckling)

A long time ago, Tabitha went and got herself all multiclassed as a warlock. Oh, I never mentioned that? Well that’s probably because I have no idea what to do with her fancy warlock sophistication. (April 2010, Confessions of an Overwhelmed Duckling)

“I know,” he said, rolling his eyes like he did last Tuesday when I insisted that Tabby was bending over to pick up a penny when that minion’s arrow came at her. “What kind of encounter?”

“How about a good encounter?” I said, not sure of what my choices were. I didn’t want it to suck. “And one that won’t give me an ulcer trying to figure out how to run it.” I still have anxiety dreams over the last one. (June 2010, Canine Enounters)

“Every encounter should be a free-standing adventure,” he said. “You want to include as much for the players to do as you’re comfortable running.”

Again, I suggested just one monster… a big, slow, lazy monster. “I can handle sitting back and substracting a few hitpoints here and there,” I said. (June 2010, Canine Enounters)

With my two gargoyles, remaining minions, and one dragon waiting in the wings, I realized the importance of placement. I was kind of throwing minions out there willy nilly and kept forgetting the gargoyles could make better distance by air than ground. Aeon had a minion and a gargoyle marked. Anwar was bloodied, and I was overlooking opportunity attacks at every corner. Dungeon Masters have a lot to keep track of! (July 2010, Canine Encounters Part 2)

What’s so hard about a little roleplaying? But it was too late. Panic moved in and tossed reason’s possesions to the curb. The guys were chattering back and forth, in character, with Greg interjecting important plot developments or story elements or Alpha Mutation cards now and again. It was only a matter of time before they discovered the new girl! Was it too late to remember an appointment with my therapist? Was it too late to make one? (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

I caved to my basic instinct. “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”

“Are you crying?” Greg asked.

And… scene!

Okay, back up. I wasn’t crying. But Mojita was. Way to go, Instinct. (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

“I know, but if you really want a female wizard named Berry White, then it’s time for you to make one,” he said. “Before our first encounter.”

Ha! That’s crazy talk! “You mean, like with this book? And a pencil? Right! I actually want to play this season, so I think I’ll just stick to the gender-confused wizard Chuck misnamed.” (December 2010, Arcana Lang Syne)

As a child, my father railed against “helpless female syndrome” and abjured me to never pretend to be helpless just because I felt it was expected of me. And that’s the feeling I get when I read this. Shelly expresses insecurity about system mastery, about playing her character right, about making good choices for character advancement, about creating encounters, about just creating a character, about roleplaying – about EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING to do with D&D is painted as this herculean task and it is just SO AMAZING when the people around her manage to do these things and do them well.

There’s no shame in genuinely needing help, but this just smacks of deliberate obtuseness.

Women are incapable of taking the game seriously or being dedicated to the game.

And he failed his first two death saves. “Oh no,” I croaked over the lump in my throat. “He hasn’t even had his first haircut yet!” (May 2010, An Overwhelmed Duckling Part 2)

If I don’t learn how to write an encounter, I’m going to use this space to psychoanalyze each and every Real Housewife of NewYork, which may be fun but probably not appropriate for Dragon Magazine. (June 2010, Canine Encounters)

“Wait a minute. I don’t know if I can kill a dragon,” I told New DM. “Dragons are animals too. I’ll feel bad.”

“Didn’t a dragon kill your beloved barbarian minotaur?” New DM asked. “What was his stupid name?”

Man, Kevin can’t catch a break. “Yes, but still. This is my dragon.” (June 2010, Canine Encounters)

“What if the dragon is susceptible to tickling, and if the adventurers tickle him he laughs so hard he spits out puppies? Unharmed, of course.”

New DM shook his head, then started mumbling things like help me, please make it stop, I don’t think we’re in D&D anymore.  (June 2010, Canine Encounters)

“But you get a mutation card.” Greg handed me a deck to choose from. I drew mind trick, which would grant me a bonus to an Interaction check. Helpful, if only the glow dragons understood us. Not one to let things go to waste, I decided to use it on Viktor to make him believe he’s in love with Mojita.

“Um…” Viktor said. “You are the color of spring, Mojita.” (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

“Ah, an eladrin wizard!” I said. “I shall love you and keep you and call you Berry White.”

“It’s Berrian,” Chuck said. “I named him. I should know.”

“Trust me. It’s Berry White,” I said, explaining once again that in addition to my role as Player-in-Chief, Zelda’s lackey, and most recently “sado maso cookiest” due to my unloading thirty-seven tons of holiday cookies on R&D, I am also the Pre-Generated Character Whisperer.

“I’m like that guy, John Edward, who allows dead people to communicate with their loved ones through him. Sara: someone whose name begins with a D, always smelled like ham and used to favor plaid shirts wants you to check behind the refrigerator. Does this make sense? I know what the pre-gens want. They speak through me.” (December 2010, Arcana Lang Syne)

Everyone is familiar with the unflattering stereotype of the woman who’s only there because her male S.O. is there. The woman who does stupid shit like name her warhorse Fluffy (I’ll admit it, guilty once upon a time), constantly looks at her watch, gets distracted frequently and can’t stay focused on the game. This is like that, only minus the male S.O.

Women shouldn’t try for system mastery. They should stick to the basics and let other players (read: male players) worry about min-maxing and system mastery.

I want to help the party solve puzzles and reap rewards. And yet sometimes I choose to have Tabitha cast scorching burst because I know she’s good at it. I can attack and roll damage without once referencing my character sheet. (April 2010, Confessions of an Overwhelmed Duckling)

Maybe Tabby should ditch her dreams of becoming a warlock and concentrate on becoming a really good wizard. (April 2010) (April 2010, Confessions of an Overwhelmed Duckling)

“It could run away,” New DM suggested. “Or negotiate.”

Yeah, but that would involve roleplaying, and we all know I’m not the best negotiator. I guess I could just pretend this is a game of make-believe and no dragons were hurt in the process.  (June 2010, Canine Encounters)

Then it hit me. The talking. And not just the “What are you having for dinner tonight” or “Would you rather have eyes in the back of your head or a giant lizard tail” table talking I’m used to. This was relevant talking. Like important to the game talking. This was – gasp! – roleplaying!

I know what you’re thinking: “This is D&D, you big dummy!” But maybe you don’t remember my irrational fear of roleplaying and playing D&D with people who are: 1. Too serious. 2. Jerks. 3. Really good at roleplaying.

This is why I usually create characters that are too sullen or naive or too apathetic to talk to strangers. (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

This makes me so very angry. Shelly Mazzanoble is presented as a very prominently female voice, one of the only female voices to come out of Wizards. And she constantly presents herself as this stereotyped caricature of a woman who is insecure and thinks D&D is hard and this roleplaying stuff is pretty scary. And you know what? That could be okay if she managed to soldier on and find a way to succeed despite her many insecurities. I could roll my eyes and move on with my life if it didn’t constantly lead to the conclusion that she should just stick to the basics and let other people worry about achieving system mastery. That system mastery is for other people and is too lofty a goal for poor little Shelly to achieve.

This makes me want to hit things, because this shit is insidious and toxic and just reinforces stereotypes of female gamer behavior. This more than anything says that when it comes to gaming, women are never going to be more than second class citizens because gaming is just too hard for our little female brains. And. Gah. This is so wrong. Being a dude does not automatically confer superior powers of mathematics and gaming. It just doesn’t. Like, times a million.

Women can’t make decisions or perform complex tasks without someone’s help (read: a man)

“Don’t you remember?” she went on. “We took you and your brother to Florida for spring break when you guys were in high school and Dad put a $100 gift card in your Easter Basket. You were so overwhelmed by what to buy you never spent it.” (May 2010, An Overwhelmed Duckling Part 2)

New DM has exacted the ultimate revenge! “He’s on vacation?” I whined. “He’s supposed to be helping me with my encounter!” Technically he did help, as you might remember from last month’s column. But that was a month ago. You can’t expect me to remember everything he said about traps and tactics. I can’t even find my notes. (July 2010, Canine Encounters Part 2)

I’m pretty sure they won’t love it, but if Chris Perkins, Dungeon Master to the Stars, says to do it, I’ll consider it. My number one priority is not to overwhelm myself.  (July 2010, Canine Encounters Part 2)

Once Chuck even helped me weigh the pros and cons of cognac leather versus mahogany suede when I found myself in a winter boot conundrum. (His arguments for both were so well articulated, I ended up buying both pairs.) (October 2010, Last of the Mojitas)

“Have you become so reliant on the Character Builder that you forgot how to roll up a character the old fashioned way?”

“That’s nuts,” I said in my defense. “Everyone knows I rely on Marty to roll up my characters.”

And I didn’t forget. It’s quite possible I never knew. The last character I rolled up the “old fashioned way” was Astrid, my 3.5 elf sorceress, and really my old DM did most of the work. (December 2010, Arcana Lang Syne)

Getting men to either perform complex tasks she should be doing or to make decisions for her is another theme that is super-prevalent in Shelly’s columns, which – again – makes me want to punch something. In a year’s worth of columns, not once did Shelly write about turning to a female to bail her out of whatever tempest in a teacup she’d created for herself.

She’s essentially handed over all agency to the men in her life and doesn’t even bat an eyelash at it, seeming to take for granted that of course these men should drop everything and roll her a character, or write an encounter for her, or whatever it is that she’s supposed to be doing. And it’s demeaning for everyone involved. It’s demeaning for Shelly-the-character to be completely dependent on men for everything. But it’s also demeaning for the men, who I’m sure have better things to do with their life than babysit someone who could learn to do all this stuff if she exerted herself.

This is so messed up it deserves a special mention:

This doesn’t actually relate to any of the above stereotypes, but it was so messed up that I had to specifically call it out. In a column in which Shelly angsts about preparing an encounter for her group, she ends with this paragraph:

I’d love to tell you, but I’m much too busy gathering up Dungeon Tiles and minis. And maybe creating some special actions for my monsters to appease Bart. And possibly a skill challenge for Kierin. Maybe a puppy for Laura and a chocolate torte for Hilary.

My jaw literally dropped when I read this because I could not believe what I was reading. The BOYS get skill challenges and monsters – stuff that engages them with the system. And the GIRLS get puppies and chocolate. Because all that stupid system stuff wouldn’t be rewarding for them, since they’re – you know – GIRLS. Which deserves a special mention and a particularly loud “…the FUCK???”.

Argh. So angry.

In summary: some closing notes (or – tl;dr)

(This is dragging on way too long, so I’ll keep this brief.) I will give Shelly one thing. There is a certain level of craft to these columns. If one can speak of comic timing in writing, then Shelly’s timing is good and her jokes are always well-delivered, even if I hate the content.

Now do I think that Shelly Mazzanoble is all of these stereotypes? No. I think that Shelly is being used by Wizards to try to broaden their appeal to women. Only their marketing department doesn’t really understand how to speak to women without being off-putting, insulting, and patronizing. So as a result, you get Shelly-the-character’s Fluffy Adventures in D&D is Also For Girls Land.

This pisses me off. It pisses me off because I don’t want the neurotic, fashion-obsessed, passive, please-decide-things-for-me, d&d-has-numbers-and-is-haaaaaard character she portrays herself as to represent me as a female player. In her columns, Shelly frequently refers to herself as Player In Chief. This implies that she is somehow representing players of D&D, which is what I am violently against. I desperately, vehemently, passionately want to be disassociated from pretty much everything Shelly’s columns say about women. Shelly-the-character doesn’t represent me or any of the women I know who play D&D, or even any of the women I know who play roleplaying games that aren’t D&D. Not at all.

132 thoughts on “Why I don’t want Shelly Mazzanoble to represent female D&D players

  1. I have two thoughts on this

    Thought the first: All of the fasion part reads like someone is trying to write a D&D article in the voice of Carrie Bradshaw. That’s pretty terrible by itself, but…
    Thought the second: The rest of the quotes read like she is trying to create a persona who is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
    Combined, I really wonder how much of this is even real, and how much of it is, as you kind of suggest at the end, someone writing at the direction of a bad marketing department.

    • I’d say this is definitely someone trying to write Dungeons and Dragons by Carrie Bradshaw bound up in a Chick-lit cover.

      I agree, she’s ridiculous about the “haaaaard,” and really, just about everything else you’re saying here. The helplessness is insipid and toxic.

      (However, and this is certainly a ymmv kind of point, personally, I do not think D&D is a tough game to master.)

  2. Agree with everything. I was actually seriously considering getting her book as a way to get my MMO playing fiancee involved with pen-and-paper RPGs. That is: until I looked at it. I read about a chapter at a bookstore, and it made me physically ill. I vomited a little bit in the back of my throat.

    Its even more annoying since she got the job “player in chief” by whining at the games designers, and just annoying them until they started referring to her by her own made up title so that she would go away and they could get some work done.

    What seems so frustrating is that there are new RPG players who are writing legitimate help/advice for new players getting involved, new DMs getting confident, and increasing gender balance in player groups. Most notably Ennie Nominated Sarah Darkmagic. Shelley Mazzanoble may get a lot of support from Wizard, but she looks like a hack compared to a writer who takes what she does seriously. She is such a caricature that if she hadn’t been on the D&D podcast I honestly would not believe she was a real person, but simply a pen name given to a farcical female stereotype.

  3. so, the answer to some of your outrage is the format of these writings.
    Columnists are paid to generate (generally) the same thing week after week. So, while in reality, this person was probably growing and adapting to RPGs like any normal person, in her Columns she needs to stay the same person that originally got her paid.
    If she wrote about this time in a novel format, where character growth is expected, the content might be quite different.
    I guess what I’m saying is “judge the writing, not the writer”

  4. I feel really conflicted!

    On one hand, I agree with you. I think this book is sexist.

    On the other hand, I know a lot of women who are shopaholics, fashion obsessed, weight conscious, who dislike boardgames because of math / tactics but enjoy RPGs. I don’t think these traits are women specific. I could use many of these traits to describe male friends. But every single female friend that fit these characteristics who read this book loved it.

    But most of my RPG female friends are hardcore feminists, political, often punk rock, independent, and anti-consumer culture. And they all hated this book. But I don’t think this book was written for them.

    It’s called a “girl’s guide to D&D” but the cover, style, and content isn’t aimed at girls in general. Hell, I’d say it isn’t aimed at girls at all. It’s aimed at very specific demographic of female adults. I wouldn’t even say this demographic is the majority of female adults.

    As a general girls guide to RPGs, I think this book is terrible.

    As a guide to RPGs for women who love and live Sex in the City (but don’t see the deeper themes in the show that question female stereotypes), it’s seemingly appropriate.

    Is it effective though? Would this demographic even be interested in D&D? Have people started playing D&D because of this book?

    Hell, I’d go even further. This is bad marketing. D&D is about math, combat, and tactics. So why are they trying to sell a product as something it isn’t? Why not make a version of D&D that is actually about fashion and not moving minis on a map?

    The marketing is a lie.

  5. I am going to put this in a word. Shelly is a ,,blonde”. And whether or not she is willingly doing the ,,blonde” thing or is she one for real has no effect on the color of her hair (,,blondes” come in all hair colors and yes they are real) and more to the point I find it hard to believe that her work is really for female consumption.

    • The sexist slurs in the comments here, such as calling her a “blonde,” are really disturbing to me. Far worse than whatever Shelly Mazzanoble has written.

      • And you are right sexist slurs are a bad idea to use, sorry about that. Tried to save time with the word because I left a definition of what it means to me in a reply in an earlier post. Should have been more patient and repeated myself as much as needed on this post and said something more about wizards choice of representation (now it is a little too late, there is enough of critiques of wizards choice of their only female RPG player representative and I have nothing to add right now to them) instead of just going for the slur thinking that people will have the same definition as me.

        Again sorry about that everybody.

  6. Indelicately put, Shelly Mazzanoble appears to be pimping her social location. By playing to the stereotype, she also breathes life into it, making a part-time lie into full-blown mind colonization.

    Heck, maybe she even believes in some of this Insecurity Stew. But it’s not necessary for it to still serve its hegemonic purpose.

    • “pimping her social location,” really?

      And yet people are denying the accuracy of Rachel’s analysis of this as slut shaming? Just read the comments here.

      (Rachel Kramer Bussel is someone who you should listen to when she talks about these issues; she knows what she’s talking about and deserves more than being dismissed as a troll.)

      • So…despite this not being about Mazzanoble’s sex life, one comment comparing her behavior to that of an exploitative panderer qualifies the entire discussion as “slut-shaming.”  Gotcha.

        And as far as Rachel Kramer Bussel’s credentials go?  I’d like to see a good explanation of how they don’t weaken her case.

  7. I read “Confessions of a Part-Time sorceress” before I was really involved in feminism. I think the book is funny, I’ll admit it. It made me giggle. It still kinda does. I lent it to a very traditionally feminine friend of mine to read because I thought she would enjoy it more than me.
    But what I hadn’t read was her columns. I assumed that her columns would have some harkening to her “fashionista” self and a very clear display of her becoming more and more confident in the game and herself.
    This makes me sad. As a girl in D&D (and a hyper-compotent, min-maxing, well-oiled-machine-of-pain one at that) I enjoyed reading Shelly’s book the way I enjoy watching little kids try to tie their shoes. It was cute and funny at times.
    I respect Shelly’s right to be feminine if she wants to, my beef is with Wizards here.
    Wizards has decided that this is the only voice they are giving women in their company and that disgusts me.

  8. “There are lots of women who have interests that aren’t fashion. But even if you are a woman that does love fashion, I’m pretty sure that not everything in your life ever comes back to fashion. Seriously”

    I cannot express how much I love the above lines.

    On a separate note, I agree so much with your rage, despite having never been near a game of D&D in my life (oddly enough, I’d probably enjoy it). It’s so demoralising for women to constantly be trying to get some recognition as gamers and then find that when they do, the focus is on the wrong kind of woman.

    I spend so much time trying to prove that I don’t fall into the stereotypes listed at the start of your post that it drives me mad to see real people championing them in this way.

    I will admit however that I used to use the “Oh help me I’m just a poor girl who doesn’t understand” in a practical class back in school where I was the only girl and had a male teacher. However that was because I understood what we were doing but was too lazy to actually do it myself. Also I was 14. This woman is clearly older than 14 so should have a bit of cop on.

    Pardon the rant.

        • Interesting article! Slut-shaming is something that’s never affected me personally, but I have become more aware of it recently and it really is appaling how mainstream it is.

          However, I really don’t see where wundergeek did any slut-shaming in her article. Perhaps you could point it out?

          • Any time someone says:
            A- “Outrageous and controversial claim!”
            B- “How does that any sense?”
            A- “Read my article!”

            I’m not going to read that article.

          • Faulting an individual woman for not representing propriety on behalf of womanhood as a whole is a classic rationale given for ‘making an example’ of wayward women via public shaming and mockery. Policing the appearance of Shelly’s avatar, for example.

            • You keep throwing words around like “shaming” and “policing.” While I won’t question your knowledge of their meaning, you’re using them in exactly the opposite spirit of how they are intended.

            • Again, I see none of that, and I’ll explain why in detail:

              Slut-shaming (it seems to me) applies in specific situations: when a woman is publicly or privately shamed for being ‘too’ promiscuous. Wundergeek made no slights towards her sex-life (which we know nothing about, nor does it matter), therefore I don’t see slut-shaming.

              However, if we were to accept your broader definition (which I really think is inappropriate) to “‘making an example’ of wayward women via public shaming and mockery”, I don’t see that either. Wundergeek, as far as I can tell, isn’t making an example of her – she isn’t interested in her at all. She’s more interested in the character she created which is made up of almost every negative female stereotype in the big book of stereotypes. However, the heart of the matter is that this character made up of negative female stereotypes is held up as THE official representation of women in D&D (it may be that it is done not to actually represent women, but to reaffirm the male gamers’ negative stereotypes about women).

              Personally, just from reading the quotes wundergeek provided, I think she’s a really skilled writer, and comedy is in my opinion the most difficult thing to write, so I can only applaud her craft. However, knowing that for several years she’s been writing nothing but ‘tee hee, I’m a woman and therefore stupid’, is rather disheartening. Not because of her character (I’m sure we all know women who act like her – heck, I’ve certainly had my ‘what just happened?! Halp! [sic]’ moments during games), but because she’s the only female personality available and she doesn’t change/grow/develop as a player. As always, the solution isn’t to censor her, but to ask for more varied female representations by showing that we are not happy with just this one.

              Public shaming for being ‘wayward’? Nope, if anything the character is so stereotypically ‘girly’ it’s an amusing caricature. Criticism for being the only official representation of the female perspective in D&D available? Hell yes. And I’m sure you’ll agree nobody is above being criticised, and certainly not a mere character.

  9. ^ Really? Now it’s a problem to point out stereotypes? There is no personal attack on Ms. Mazzanoble, no mention of her sexuality at all, and a direct critique of Wizards for being so narrow in their scope of women gamers, and for using Ms. Mazzanoble to their ends.

    “Now do I think that Shelly Mazzanoble is all of these stereotypes? No. I think that Shelly is being used by Wizards to try to broaden their appeal to women. Only their marketing department doesn’t really understand how to speak to women without being off-putting, insulting, and patronizing.”

    • Wundergeek’s disclaimer reveals that she is aware that she is shaming an individual woman for resembling a stereotype, and she knows it is wrong to single out another woman that way. But she hopes the disclaimer makes it okay. It doesn’t.

      There is zero difference between the misogynist belief in “helpless woman syndrome” that wundergeek learned from her father, and the belief that victims of abuse were complicit in their victimhood.

      Pop feminism, from the Spice Girls to Chick Lit, often reclaims feminine vulnerability by acknowledging that none of us are perfect superwomen

      • You came in here and started trying to shame Wundergeek for being somehow “sexist” herself.  Unfortunately, if you think deliberately acting silly and helpless is in any way “feminist,” or that calling someone out for it is tantamount to rape-shaming, you have no idea what’s sexist and what’s not.

      • There is zero difference between the misogynist belief in “helpless woman syndrome” that wundergeek learned from her father, and the belief that victims of abuse were complicit in their victimhood.

        Yes, there is.

        There’s actually a really big difference between expecting people, female or not, to act like mature, capable, responsible adults in their day-to-day lives* and blaming victims of abuse. Victims, by their very nature, have choice stripped away from them; “helpless woman syndrome” exists only where women have made a choice to infantilize themselves to be less threatening/more appealing to men.

        * Assuming that they have no disabilities that would prevent this, of course, but that’s not particularly relevant to the point at hand.

        And “reclaiming female vulnerability” sounds like the biggest load of rubbish I’ve ever heard. You can’t “reclaim” vulnerability — you can accept that it exists and work with it, or work around it, or overcome it, but being vulnerable is inherently negative**, and one can’t reclaim a concept with no redeeming value anymore than one can turn lead into gold.

        ** Which isn’t to say one should never be vulnerable, because there are many great and important things that make one more vulnerable, merely that vulnerability in and of itself has no benefits to the one who is vulnerable.

      • As someone who posted very publically about my recent experience of being sexually harassed at this year’s GenCon, let me confirm that in no way, shape, or form, will I ever condone victim-blaming in any form. I would hope that you would have read my blog a little more in-depth before of slinging such accusations.

        (Ikkin teases out the differences well enough for my liking.)

  10. “Holly says:
    This makes me sad. As a girl in D&D (and a hyper-compotent, min-maxing, well-oiled-machine-of-pain one at that) I enjoyed reading Shelly’s book the way I enjoy watching little kids try to tie their shoes. It was cute and funny at times.
    I respect Shelly’s right to be feminine if she wants to, my beef is with Wizards here.
    Wizards has decided that this is the only voice they are giving women in their company and that disgusts me.”

    I couldn’t agree with this more. I am also a hardcore female gamer, a co-host on a podcast (often equipped with more game mechanical know-how than my three male counterparts) and an armchair designer of games. I do think Ms. Mazzanoble is very funny, and I thought her book was cute and clever – even laugh-out-loud funny in places.
    I agree that it’s probably not worthwhile to be criticizing her directly – yes, making characters by hand is hard; yes, learning to play is difficult and not a fast procedure (especially not a game with rules as numerous or complicated as D&D); yes, it can be very nerve wracking to run a game for people you want to think highly of you or for a group of players you think won’t be accepting or easy to get along with (and if that’s the case for Ms. Mazzanoble’s group, then maybe she needs to find another).
    I am in complete agreement that this is bad marketing on WotC’s part, pandering to the thinking that ‘normal’ people only relate everything back to their ‘normal’ hobbies (like shopping, fashion, cooking or interior decorating) – it’s an insult to women first, but a second insult to people outside the roleplaying subculture, a subtle jibe that says ‘normal people don’t get it.’ This is achieving the opposite effect. If you want to expand your market to people who might not normally be interested (men included) your forerunner should not be portrayed as shallow, but should be shown coming to an understanding of all the fun parts of the hobby in a positive manner.- regardless of the writer’s gender.

  11. It might be different reading the column as a whole, but from what you brought up in the post, I don’t think it seems aimed at girls at all – or at least not mainly. Way too much focus on making guys feel special and intelligent and building their self-confidence. Or maybe she’s just that clueless about the messages she’s sending.

    • Based on the above sample of work, you could make the argument that including this kind of article in “Dragon” (core demographic: young males who play D&D) isn’t to try to expand readership to new groups but to tell the existing readership that all their gaming prejudices are true.

      For those who wish to maintain the rage, you can read those columns online (http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Archive.aspx?page=34&sort=author&category=dragon).

      In some ways I appreciate Mazzanoble’s enthusiasm for the hobby, but it grates that she’s been writing these columns for something like 4 years and still sounds like a n00b.

  12. This is the same company that had a blog that told the readers to prepare plenty of elven nature-driven characters who only use ranged attacks if you’re playing with girls (meaning females who aren’t adults; he didn’t refer to adult women as girls at least).

  13. My loathing for this column cannot be expressed in words.

    I find the last stereotype particularly frustrating, since I just recently had to quit a D&D game because at no point would any of the big manly men (excluding the charming GM) let the female players make decisions without their input. Especially galling was a boyfriend girlfriend partnership where the boyfriend constantly told the girlfriend which abilities to use. And I’m sure if no one had been telling her what to do all the time she would have eventually learned what she needed to learn. (She actually got better as we tried to crack down on the overall bossiness of some of the players.) It got to a point on several occasions where I walked away from the table. A column that makes it seem like this “help” is something women would welcome is the thing in the world I hate the most.

  14. I think Occasional Reader G has it right. Whatever the intention of her original book, it seems pretty clear that the column itself exists to make male gamers feel better about themselves. It’s ego-stroking entertainment, perhaps designed to make male gamers feel less threatened about bringing women into their groups by reassuring them that even if they do, it will still be the men in control.

  15. If there were more female writers in Dragon to give different perspectives (maybe a killer GM and a system wonk would be good views too), this wouldn’t be an issue. Sure, she sounds annoying, but there are plenty of girly girls in the world who approach D&D in precisely this way. I know because I’ve played with some of them. And some of them were pretty good players despite showing all those traits you highlight.

    But what I really get from this is that maybe, just maybe D&D is a pretty rubbish system for women with it’s emphasis on system mastery, minmaxing, complex combat simulations etc. It was designed by men, for men. Maybe a game and system that was more focussed on roleplaying and storytelling would suit a lot of women better. (This I think is why Vampire scored such a hit with female players — the system may be borked but it’s easy and fluid in a way that D&D isn’t.) Maybe even a diceless system, with far more emphasis on character and story, and more control for players (as opposed to D&D where the DM gets all the control.)

  16. Thanks for the column, wundergeek. Lots of great stuff here.

    The thing is, I really do believe that real-world Shelly does all the things that Shelly-as-a-character does. I do think that she has a lot of non-geek, “mainstream” interests (dogs, cooking, fashion, etc), and isn’t as immersed in geek culture as the rest of us are. I really do believe that her new enthusiasm about gaming is genuine, and that her apprehension about “doing the wrong thing at the table” is genuine, too. It’s an experience common to a lot of players who are new to the hobby. I believe that the people she turns to most for gaming help are her co-workers who have a great mastery of game mechanics – and who are predominantly male. (WotC has a terrible hiring scorecard here, but that’s hardly Shelly’s fault.) Through her writing, she is trying to express her enthusiasm about gaming by comparing it to her other interests, and is gently poking fun at her own social anxiety issues.

    I think that’s a noble goal, but I also agree that there are serious problems in the presentation. Shelly and her editors need to step back, look at the column as a whole, and figure out how to address the issues you highlighted. Right now, in her column, the Shelly-as-a-character persona completely obscures the real-world Shelly. I bet that the real-world Shelly is much more interesting, and she should look for ways to bring her real self forward in her writing.

    WotC also needs to stop trying to sell Shelly as “the female D&D player”, and make room for other voices – men and women, gamers and “normal folk”. I do think that there’s plenty of room at the table for people like Shelly, who may not be “gamers” but still like to play. I’d like to see some changes to Shelly’s column, but I’d hate to see it go away.

  17. “But even if you are a woman that does love fashion, I’m pretty sure that not everything in your life ever comes back to fashion. Seriously.”

    Totally agree there. In college, I played with a woman who could possibly be called a fashionista, even played at her house most of our first year of gaming, and I don’t recall any fashion references – and certainly none that were outside of the natural flow of (mutual!) conversation. The closest she came was “I’ve got my headscarf off because I feel I know you guys, and it’s friggin’ HOT today!”, or discussions about cosplay. Most of the time, she talked about things like science, music, tasty gaming foods, the inevitable meme-parade that happens at every gaming session, or how her Lawful Good cleric was gritting her teeth at our grayhat antics. And come to think of it, she also didn’t defer to the men in the room – I’m pretty sure that cleric of hers was the main thing keeping us just barely on the good side of the morality line in that campaign.

    • There’s something vaguely problematic about the guys speaking up to tell us about how the women they know are really just like the guys and love talking about science and Internet memes, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

      • Yes, saying that geeks who happen to be female really do act much like any other geeks is very problematic.  Why, it might send out the message that women are human!

        Gimme a freakin’ break.

        • Reading charitabily, I think what’s being addressed is the “one of the guys” stereotype that geek women are often expected to conform to. I don’t think that Ethan was referencing that, but the “one of the guys” stereotype can be a real problem – especially when it’s internalized and used by women to differentiate themselves from other women – ie ‘I’m not girly and stupid like those other women‘.

          • Possibly, but that’s not how I interpreted Ethan’s comment at all.  He was just saying that he had a friend who neither conformed to that stereotype nor ever fell into the silly helpless act.

  18. Female. Near the top of my class since grade school. Engineer, with my degree and everything. Can’t stand the, “Alas, my poor feeble female mind,” crap.

    Thanks for reaffirming my decision to stay away from this woman and her work.

    Also? Kinda a fan of Fluffy the warhorse, played entirely straight (even serious characters need a touch of comic relief, after all). In one 3.5 game in Eberron, I managed to get a pet zombie T-Rex. My Cleric stole her from the middle of a crowded room with my grand utility belt of useful magic items (that Cleric ended up being friggin’ Batman). Rode her through the rest of the zombie apocalypse, named her Cathy, cleaned her up, gave her a pretty pink bow (I dare you to comment on it :P) and kept her my permanent thrall with a schema of Control Undead. I was gonna figure out a cost-effective way to give her a jetpack and laser vision, too (which in Eberron wouldn’t really be out of place), but the game collapsed before I could.

    Though that character was technically male, if kinda genderless, though he ended up locked as female for nine months after his girlfriend got him pregnant. Yeah, changelings are like that.

    I love Eberron.

  19. yep, I don’t have any problem with Shelly’s colums per se. They are meant to be funny and aimed at inexperienced players, trying to tell them that they might not be alone with their “first time playing” fears. What she’s trying to do is to say “hey, I’m working for wizards, and even I am no Pro. You don’t have to be ashamed or frightened, just play what you want even if it seems silly”

    The only problem is that she’s the only female columnist and that there’s no “wow I’m a newbie too” male writer. If there were, say 30% female writers for Wiz, I doubt that anyone would care about Shelly. It is the same thing as with female characters in movies or books. If there’s only one, we will almost certainly see a stereotype of some sort because “oh yeah the majority of xyz is like that”

  20. While Shelly’s column is pretty atrocious (what exactly does it have to do with D&D, let alone anything the average person would find interesting to read about?), was it really necessary to publicly shame her column and her as a female D&D player just to get your point across?

    • Yes, yes it was. I understand that socially-conscious women tend to reflexively distrust shame as a tool of criticism, with good reason, but this woman is endorsed by the people that publish D&D. That means that Wizards is encouraging encouraging this sort of behaviour in not only players, which is bad enough, but also GMs, since she apparently is one.

      Remember, this isn’t a personal choice we’re criticizing. This is a public figure that has written columns for public consumption. We are as justified in telling her “Your works are bad and you should feel bad!” as we are in telling it to Katherine Heigl.

  21. Yes, indeed.
    I like fashion, I don’t like math–which I think has less to do with my tits than with being an English major and the least detail-oriented person on the planet–and still, the level of neurosis and tee-hee damsel-in-distress attitude in this column bugs. Big time.

    @Amy: Shelly writes for a public audience. Therefore, it’s pretty appropriate to respond publicly to her column.

  22. I play D&D. A good proportion of the group I’m in is female. We get the DM and assistant DM to help us with stuff. Most of us are way, way more interested in the role-playing than the roll-playing. But it is our first game in a lot of cases. The stuff you quoted is kinda problematic, but with my personal experiences… well. I just don’t like fiddling with the numbers terribly much. I’m learning, gradually, but my focus has always been fluff over crunch. I don’t look at it as something relating to the fact that I’m female, I look at it as something relating to the facts that I started in freeform RP, and got into D&D via the Realms novels. I’m a lore-type fan, not a stats-type fan. There are plenty of us out there, of both sexes. I know that. I hang out on sites where we debate the tiniest points of the lore.
    I will however finish this by saying I do find Ms Mazzanoble’s Ditzy Doo persona rather cringe-worthy.

    • Don’t get me wrong. I’m not attacking play style or play preferences. I’m not out to call D&D-level crunch badwrongfun, nor am I out to call non-crunch badwrongfun. I play D&D occasionally when I want to kill things and take their stuff, but mostly my preference is for story-based indie tabletop systems.

      • Yeah… it is a thing though – it’s kind of like that XKCD comic – “Wow, you suck at math” vs “Wow, girls suck at math.” You know? I’m not accusing you of going that route – far from it. I just feel that the fact I don’t always get the number-system in D&D is a personal thing, not a gender thing. (Feats, though? I love the hell out of feats. I stack those babies on until they all add together to make my character what I want; hence my PC having ridiculously good use of his spell-like abilities, because all those feats added up nicely, and now he can pretty much levitate himself or 800lbs of stuff 24 times a day in ten minute intervals. For example, and that’s not his only spell-like. I think I broke them a bit… :p )

        On a side note? My DM gave my character a kitten. I loved it. It helps that my character’s male, and on the borderline of being evil half the time. It means it just makes it funny when he interrupts his ‘Grr, I’ll kill them all… *plotplot*’ with looking after his cute little pet.

    • Hell, it’s been my experience that women positively love fiddly bits, just as long as they’re fiddly bits for things they can sperg out about. “Violence for violence’s sake!” just doesn’t seem to be one of them, for whatever reason.

      I mean, imagine if we said that men just aren’t interested in number crunching if the numbers in question were in a hypothetical game whose mechanical complexity was a primarily in a fashion system, let’s say, instead of a combat system. It would be just as moronic an assumption.

  23. I think the character portrait is actually the lest sexist thing about Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress. The character is wizard or warlock, so she probably isn’t wearing any sort of armor and in many cultures both genders go aroud nerly butt naked. Hell, the thing that tiefling wears looks kind of like westernized varian of ancint Minoan dress with covered nipples to make it acceptable.

    Just that I played character who only wore koteka and scary mask? Was it sexist?

  24. I am a male who has read this blog regularly and have found it illuminating and thought-provoking. I agree with almost everything that is posted on this blog, but for some reason this article bothered me. I’ve thought about why this is, and I’ll try to explain it the best I can.
    To me, feminism is about fighting for equal rights. Women have the same right to not be harassed at a gaming convention that most men take for granted. Women have the right to play games where their gender isn’t composed entirely of giant-boobed mages, because men don’t have to stare at their male characters destined to wear only banana-hammock speedos. If a woman in this country wants to be an engineer, she has the right to be one without being looked down upon or mocked.
    The problem, however, is that sometimes people cannot seperate “men and women having the same rights” with “men and women BEING the same”. Science is pretty clear that men and women are wired differently. Not always, but statistically, women are better at seeing problems from multiple angles at once and men are better at focusing on one task at a time. Is this a sexist statement? Only if you define sexism as “viewing women different from men in any way”.
    One potential fallout of this is that sometimes self-described feminists look down upon other women who think differently than themselves. Granted, I havn’t read this woman’s book or her columns (except the fragments in this article) but it seems to me like she is a woman who writes about what she loves, stands her ground in a male-centered DND culture, and likes to promote her viewpoint. So what if she is so centered on fashion? Is she not ALLOWED to because it’s such a stereotype?
    I guess this article threw me off guard, because I’ve never had an issue with an article in this blog until now. I hold the author of this article in high respect but I don’t respect the animosity and (in my opinion) narrow-mindedness of this particular entry.

    • Thing is, Ms. Mazzanoble is being represented as the voice of female gamers. As in, “oh, you girls, you all know what I mean, I know.” sort of thing. If she was one voice among many it’d be different, but that’s what she’s being billed as: The Female D&D Player. The Authoritative Voice for the Female Gaming Experience.
      She can like what she wants. But the representation advocated by the company, which is giving her the column space and promoting her as that voice, ties into negative stereotypes to the point that there are those who feel demeaned and insulted by her presuming to speak for them.

      • I think I understand your position better now, but if that is the case, shouldn’t the company be ridiculed and held accountable instead of Ms. Mazzanoble? This blog post seemed very personally directed against her. It’s impossible to be “the voice” of a group as huge and diverse as women. She writes about the gaming world as she sees it, and that is her right. If Ms. Mazzanoble is carefully crafting a false identity promoting stereotypes, that’s different. Also, I didn’t realize that D&D was basically saying “Here ladies, here’s your viewpoint, like it or not”. That obviously puts D&D to blame. Perhaps Ms. Mazzanoble is partly responsible for going along with it.
        I guess I summerized this blog post after the first reading as “Ms. Mazzanoble fulfills too many stereotypes when she writes about her experiences in gaming, so I will now mock her.” It seemed very cruel and narrow minded and out of place for this blog. After reading the article again, I see it a bit differently, but it took a great deal of effort.

        • I should point out that I’m not the one who made the blog post, and in fact slightly disagreed on some of it. But that was my take on why. Ms. Mazzanoble has her stuff featured on the WotC website. It is marketed that way. She cannot possibly be ignorant of that, which does make her complicit.
          She speaks as though all women in gaming are like her, which does those who are not like her a vast disservice.

    • There are two things you need to take into account though. First off, you should see this slideshow: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/09/02/does-biology-explain-why-there-are-so-few-women-in-computer-science/ – it describes the irrelevance of possible genetic differences rather well, plus we have no way of knowing how much of the difference really is “wiring” and how much of it is good old socialization.

      Secondly, you have to take into account that this isn’t a private blog. When looking at commerical media, you cannot ever write off a stereotype as a personal trait, because regardless of wether it’s a magazine, a tv show, news anchor or reality tv, the output is always calculated and controlled in some way. Note how she’s not only the onle woman among the columnists, but as Wundergeek pointed out, she’s folowing a formula and it’s been the same format for for years. I haven’t read the columns admittedly, but it’s also pointed out that she doesn’t seem to have gained any form of confidence over the years in any area of the game, which would be worrying even if it was true. So all in all, the complaints here have less to do with individual style of playing than the fact that this is a caculated character who is such a caricature of female stereotypes that one actually has reason to worry about wether or not she has some serious confidence issues. It shouldn’t be taken for granted.

      • I guess I wasn’t aware that Ms. Mazzanoble was a carefully calculated character, I thought she was just writing about her experiences in gaming from her natural point of view. That certainly changes things.
        For the record, I also wasn’t suggesting that biological wiring determined one’s destiny or anything like that, just that men and women are different in ways other than physical. Does that make one gender better than the other? No, and I’m disgusted by any who suggest it.

        • All evidence points to it

          Noone ever thinks that. But if you followed the link, you’ll see that the difference that there might be in maths skills is so small that it shouldn’t have any real impact in how men and women live. The same thing probably goes for other “known” differences. So the question is: why do we keep putting emphasis on differences that, if they even exist, should have no impact on our lives whatsoever?

    • Science is pretty clear that men and women are wired differently.

      This really isn’t true. It is a subject of constant debate.

  25. […] It’s only in the past couple months that I’ve been reading Go Make Me A Sandwich but I love it so much that I’ve read through the archive. It’s insightful, amusing, and points out many things that are completely facepalm worth. And while I’ve been thinking a lot about the addressed topics, I hadn’t taken the time to write up any posts about them. However, I can’t stay silent about yesterday’s post about Shelly Mazzanoble. […]

  26. If they really wanted to have a newbie-friendly column, it seems like a far better idea would have been to have their regular columnists take turns writing about their early days. Surely it would be more encouraging to know that people could go from “oh, crap, my THAC0 is X, what do I need to hit again?” to being such an expert on the game that they have their own column. A column about a perpetual noob doesn’t seem very encouraging.

    Now, a column from a casual player could be interesting, but it wouldn’t sound like an improbable stereotype. And holding up a stereotype as a view into women D&D players is wildly offensive on the part of Wizards.

    (As an aside, there’s a problem with the idea that men and women are inherently different. While it’s…kinda…true, it’s true in a way that might as well be false. If one thought of the categories as big circles, the midpoints of the big circle Men and the big circle Women would be in different places, but there would be a huge overlap between the two circles. We’re more human – and more our culture – than anything else.)

  27. Yeah, Shelly and her writing is terrible, and a lot of people on the D&D forums agree. I don’t know what Wizards is thinking, keeping her. Ungh.

    • So wait, how long has she been ignoring criticism? And Wizards has a thing for her?

      I don’t actually like D&D, so It’s probably easier for me to suggest this than it is for a fan, but once situations get to this level, the only thing that can hammer the point in is boycotting.

      • She’s not great but I dont think she is a reason to simply walk away from a hobby that you tend to have invested a lot of time into, to boycott Shelly you would have to cancel your D&D insider sub….which would lose you access to the char builder (and all your character sheets for your players), online rules compendium, all the more recent dragon + dungeon magazines and possibly the virtual table top.

        Seems like an awful over-reaction to a two or three page column that barely merits glancing at which is tacked onto the ass end of the dragon magazine, I get that she irks (understatement) WG and others but … I just dont think she is that relevant to anyone who plays d&d or wants to play.

        • I can do all of that stuff with 3rd party tools for my games, but I don’t know how hard Wizards’ legal team comes down on that stuff for D&D. If it’s persistent, well,that’s a bit harder, but no corporation can really dictate terms to the internet. (see: bittorrent)

          Honestly, though, I’m baffled at why people stick with a company that plainly hates them so much. This isn’t like comics where there’s a monopoly on a genre you like, there’s thousands of fantasy RPGs. Hell, Paizo has been doing the exact same thing as Wizards except better (in that it does not have this sort of shit we’re complaining about here nearly as often) for years now.

          So, sure, it’s not your fault that Wizards is doing this, it but this will keep happening as long as you keep giving them money. I know that’s inconvenient, (Like, I personally know. I’m boycotting Nestle, and goddamn is it a pain in the ass) but it’s the truth.

          • Wizards comes down *hard* on 4e infringers from what I can tell and whilst Paizo are pretty cool it seems an awful lot of effort to retool their stuff into 4e.

            Funnily enough though I have canned my D&D insider sub today, though for reasons unrelated to WG ‘s varying 2 minute hates 😉

  28. I can see why you think that is terrible and I completely agree. Plus I think she does not come across as a particularly clever or original writer. She tries too hard to sound self effacingly humorous and overshoots the mark and does way too much of it. What a one trick pony.

  29. The main thing that bugs me about the “D&D for girls” mentality is–why would women need to take a different approach in the first place?

    Hell, it was a woman (my 8th-grade math teacher!) that showed me D&D in the first place. I’ve played with women on a fairly regular basis since. Remarkably, none of them were only around to humor their game-obsessed boyfriends. About the only one who did something that was consistently stereotypically “girly” (she always played a healer) was someone who’d been gaming since she was about 8, with her siblings. The rest were all over the place.

    And the aforementioned 8th-grade math teacher’s favorite character she placed was a huge axe-wielding fighter.

    • “The main thing that bugs me about the “D&D for girls” mentality is–why would women need to take a different approach in the first place?”

      Because D&D has become ubiquitous for P+P roleplaying, just like how band-aid is the only form of adhesive bandage anyone knows about. That means that when you have people trying to get women into this sort of gaming, you’ll introduce them to D&D even if they have no preference for sterile fantasy genocide simulators.And women are less likely to enjoy it than men, for whatever reason.

      So when it fails, that monopoly means that the people in question don’t go “”Well, maybe we should try something that’s designed to appeal to your interests?” They think, “How can I make D&D about shoes?” or whatever, and obviously that makes it a terrible experience for everyone involved.

      Of course, there are quite a few women that actually like murdering orcs in dungeons, but the sort of people that shoehorn ‘girly’ stuff into D&D are the sort that are looking for women players because they fdon’t have tose women around. They need to fill a quota, see. Maybe standard male guilt, maybe “this is kinda gay with only guys here” homophobic anxiety, it doesn’t matter. The point is that they’re not doing it because they think those women are nice people that would be fun to game with; they don’t respect women as people, and that’s why “girls that hate Lord of the Rings will like D&D if it has shoes!” is even considered an option in the first place.

  30. Disclaimer: I actually like Mazzanoble’s writing usually.

    The big problem here isn’t this one particular woman, it’s the sexist system that says that only one female voice — and only one kind of female voice — will be heard.

    I’m not saying Shelly’s the victim, but neither is she the villain. I am a little worried about the focus on Mazzanoble herself and not on the bigger problem: She is the only woman who WotC allows to be heard regularly, while countless male voices are heard from over and over again, usually doing core gaming-company activities.

    If there were as many women writing for Dragon and Dungeon as there are men, Mazzanoble wouldn’t be a problem; she wouldn’t be “representing” all women, she’d just be that doofy Shelly woman with her humor column. Instead, she’s often the only woman heard from at all in typical average issue of Dragon or Dungeon magazine.

    There’s nothing wrong with this post per se, but don’t forget the real problem and don’t ignore the fact that Shelly herself has close to no power in this situation. She didn’t set up the system; we need to change the system.

    • I think most of us would agree with you on that.  And I believe Wundergeek did point out that her main issue isn’t really with Ms. Mazzanoble herself, but rather with her overblown show of feigned haplessness plus the way she’s presented as “the female gamer.”

      • Wundergeek may have pointed that out, 90% of this post and the comments to it aren’t about the decision-makers at WotC and why they would only want one particular female voice to be heard, but about that specific voice and stating why Mazzanoble should NOT be heard.

        FWIW, I don’t think Mazzanoble ever claimed to represent all women D&D gamers. I think that by making her the only female gamer we ever hear from, WotC gives that impression. But that means we need to direct our ire appropriately, to the people who have the power in this situation.

        I would love to see a post that says “Why I don’t want 95% of the content in Dragon Magazine to be written by men.” I’d love to see someone advocating for more articles by Tracy Hurley, for example — rather than fewer articles by Shelly Mazzanoble.

        • But no one has said that Ms. Mazzanoble “should not be heard.”  The post merely argues that, as long as she maintains that persona, she’s not a good “poster face” for female gamers.  There’s a difference.

          And, like it or not, she is held up as a “poster face” for female gamers—regardless of whether or not she’s ever claimed to represent all of us.

          • Except this crusade is all about attacking a specific woman instead of attacking the root causes, i.e. the decisions made by men.

            There’s no reason that Mazzanoble is a bad role model necessarily for female gamers. The problem is that she’s the ONLY female role model presented by WotC, a company run by men.

            Focus more on their actions and not on Mazzanoble’s perceived personal or writing flaws.

            • Drura, there is no attack, it’s just criticism. There is no crusade, it’s just one blog post. Nobody is above criticism, not even -gasp- women on a feminist blog. Yes, WotC is wholly responsible for presenting her as the only official female voice of D&D players, that is why wundergeek criticised her ineptitude for that position. Who knows, maybe WotC might see this and get a hint (unlikely, but one can hope). I agree with you that maybe wundergeek could have kept the focus more on the company, but it’s not a big enough concern for me, and I don’t think her article is weaker for it.

              • Just to ask, you’re hoping that WotC “gets a hint” and does … what, exactly?

                Fired her due to her gross ineptitude? To be honest, Mazzanoble’s continued presence there shows that she’s giving them exactly what they want. They seem to want stuff that plays off sexist stereotypes — okay. There are a lot of women in a lot of professions who have to play to stereotypes in order to keep their jobs.

                Why aren’t we more concerned with the system in general and using Mazzanoble as an example of how women have to be demeaned in order to get ahead in this setup, instead of focusing our ire on Shelly and her perceived “ineptitude?”

                Oh, and the claim that there are no attacks against Mazzanoble in the blog post (let alone the comments) is pretty laughable. Hint: This blog post isn’t a threat to the system. It’s women-against-women, which is what the patriarchy really wants to encourage.

              • The fact that you’re accusing my blog of being “women against women” indicates to me pretty clearly that you haven’t really read this blog at all. In this space I have publically gone after Louis Porter Junior and argued with Erik Mona in the comments. I have also repeatedly stated my loathing for Destructoid’s Jim Sterling, expressed my perpetual annoyance with Wayne Reynolds, and my horror at Japanator’s Dale North for his casual attitude regarding rape. And those are just the most notable males I’ve gone after – there are plenty others. So trying to paint my entire blog as women against women is just flawed.

                Secondly, the fact that we’re still talking about Shelly-the-person is because you are perpetuating the conversation. Yes I agree that it’s bullshit that Shelly is the only regular female writer for Dragon. Yes their marketing policies are full of shit. Yes the system that allows that to happen is bullshit. It seems that where we differ is my criticism of Shelly’s writing. As an artist and writer, I think it is entirely reasonable to hold someone responsible for the work they create and to criticize that work strongly when it has problematic aspects. My experience as an artist has also taught me that one can criticize a work without criticizing the person, which is what I am doing here.

                However, even if you disagree on that last point, we still have a lot of common ground. So rather than continuing to flail around about whether or not I am shaming Shelly, how about we have that conversation that you claim to want to have about the bullshit system that has caused Shelly to be the only female voice of D&D in the first place? Frankly, I think that conversation would be way more valuable than the one we’re having now.

  31. From a genderqueer perspective, I see an interesting and troubling distinction being asserted here, between how Trans-Shelly chooses to identify in her public persona, versus how BiologicalShelly presumably “really is” “for real” “IRL”.

    It is allegedly kosher to trash TransShelly (the way she identifies) because she’s “just” a bogus construct.

    The attackers deny any hint of ill-will against BiologicalShelly.

    We know TransShelly isn’t “real” because, the attackers assert, TransShelly is different from BiologicalShelly. If Shelly isn’t Cis Shelly, the way she identifies is not valid. TransShelly chose to be ‘that way’! It’s a lifestyle!

    Feminism has transphobic skeletons in her closet. I would hope that Feminism has progressed beyond the belief that “All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves. Transsexuals merely cut off the most obvious means of invading women, so that they seem non-invasive.” Janice Raymond, The Transsexual Empire, 1994.

    I’m sure Go Make Me A Sandwich disavows transphobic feminism, but the same outdated assumptions are alive and well in the blog and comments section.

    • I don’t want to sound like I’m cis-‘splaining here.  But are you really comparing gender identity to deliberately behaving like a space case? 

      Your comment reads, more than anything else, as trivialization.

    • I must agree with Farseer Lolotea, but like her I can’t really give my opinion on the subject without a pinch of salt since I’m also cisgendered. I hope you can give me some leeway so that we can discuss the issue?

      I see what you did by equating Shelly’s real persona with biological sex and her ditzy character with gender identity, but I think it’s an ill-fitted metaphor. If anything, her ‘ditzy character; would fit better as her ‘gender performance’ (I saw another transgender blogger explain that she believes there are three ‘sexes’: biological sex, gender identity and gender performance – you may or may not subscribe to this, but I like it :)). Gender performance can be criticised because it is socially constructed and potentially harmful (e.g. women are weaker and dumber therefore they must act delicate and silly to be feminine – that doesn’t help anyone). Gender identity is something that only the subject can know and should be respected, regardless of the subject’s biological sex, which can’t be criticised anyway.

      As such, even if we were to apply your transgender metaphor, with that one very important (and correct, in my humble opinion) modification (gender performance instead of just TransShelly), it still should not be insulting to transgenderism, but a statement against harmful gender performance. Furthermore, equating transgender identity to a character produced for public consumption (and possibly a specifically male public who want their egos stroked and their stereotypes about women confirmed) is, to put it mildly, problematic.

      But again, that’s just my take and I’m cisgendered.

      Anyway, I whole heartedly agree that feminism has had a terrible relationship with the transgendered portion of the population (among others /sigh), and the only way to change that is through, yep, criticism. So by all means, I personally would love to hear more from your perspective 🙂

    • I’m not at all familirar with trans as a philosophical dicsourse, so could you explain how trans and biology relates to this? As far as I’m concerned, do we don’t know anything about how she identifies, and considering that she is the only writer and that she writes from a formula, it’s unlikely that her persona in the columns is more than a column persona. And sure, we could and maybe should consider it authentic, but there’s still a very vaild criticism that that particular persona is supposed to represent all women and that it is a problematic one. As I’ve written before, the excerpts here are more indicative of confidence issues that anything else.

  32. I’ve got a question: does it matter that WG is criticizing a person if said person
    A. Never reads this blog
    B. Doesn’t care.
    or even if
    C. WG Does it in a humorous way (like she usually does) like most comedians?
    Heck, even if WG does hurt Shelly’s feelings, would that make her criticism any less valid?
    Are insults, a form of humor for centuries, no longer accepted in a blog?

    • Nick: I would hope that people don’t read this post as an insult, because that’s not what it’s intended as. This is intended as a criticism – and as someone who majored in Fine Art there is absolutely a difference between insults and criticism.

      And yeah, say I were trashing Shelly Mazzanoble and calling her a terrible human being – that would matter. Even if Shelly didn’t find out, it still wouldn’t be okay.

      • Ok. I’m not a fine arts major so I didn’t know that. But in my defense, my idea of insult was not “terrible human being” but more light hearted jabs of wit.

  33. I don’t think that everything should be only be one way or another, people see some things differently, have different perspective or sensibility. Some finds this entry a spot on criticism on Shelly Mazzanoble column in Dragon Magazine and that’s perfectly fine, and some finds this criticism a bit too personal for their sensibility and that make them uncomfortable and I think that’s perfectly fine as well. I don’t think that’s a right opinion that everyone should share on this.

  34. Oh my god. I have never deconstructed Shelly’s articles like that before. The neurotic thing got old quickly and I stopped reading them, something was off, wrong with the whole presentation and offended me in some way. Not at first of course, not the first couple, no at first I went “Ah, ok, sure, haha, whatevs”. I thought maybe, eventually all this talk of fear and anxiety would lead to confidence and true character growth.

    Now I know what it was that really bothered me, it wasn’t just that Shelly never seemed to grow as a person through her experience with the game, which, being the subject of her work really should have happened along the way…it was that this constant pandering to a stereotype for laughs was offensive to me. Which is sad really, because I would like to think that she’s a fine person in real life. But it would be great to see her, just once, speak with confidence about herself and her position as a gamer.

  35. Farseer Lolotea: “Not doing it again would have been better.”

    There was no repeat occurrence.

    I will not engage with you any more because, in my opinion, you are reacting to disagreement by lashing out, rather than obeying the rules of this forum.

    This is not “my house, my rules” and wundergeek certainly may not agree with me. But I have the power to withdraw, so I will.

    • @ Kristen: So I suppose accusing people of “quasi-transphobia” for criticizing Shelly Mazzanoble’s column doesn’t count.  But I’m also sure that accusing people of “lashing out” fits into one or the other of these categories.

      Again: we criticized the idea that someone who makes a habit of putting on an act that reinforces negative stereotypes should be held up as a representative of “Group A + Hobby B.”  If that’s really such a touchy subject for you, perhaps it’s best that you do back off.

  36. I think they teach them in J-school to pretend to be completely ignorant. For one example, someone I know wrote an article about wiccans, and she opened with a whole bit about how she expected them to be riding on brooms with crooked noses and warts, blah, blah, blah, and then she interviews the head of the local wiccan association who corrects all of “her” misconceptions. But I knew for a fact she had friends who were wiccans.

  37. Farseer Lolotea wrote: “And as far as Rachel Kramer Bussel’s credentials go?  I’d like to see a good explanation of how they don’t weaken her case.”


    Rachel Kramer Bussel is a woman.

    She studied at NYU law school, and holds a bachelor’s in Political Science and Women’s Studies from Berkeley.

    She is a former columnist for the New York Blade gay weekly, and the Village Voice, as well as AlterNet and the Huffington Post, Jezebel, and Salon; penning essays such as “Why the Ubiquitous Use of ‘Postfeminist’ is an Insult to Feminism”,
    “When It Comes to Sex Education, There Are No Stupid Questions”,
    “Loving My Body—Kinda, Sorta, Sometimes”,
    “‘Are Your Breasts Real?’ and Other Questions Not to Ask a Sex Writer”,
    “I’m Pro-Choice and I Fuck”, “The New Faces of Chastity”, and “On Not Having Sex”

    She identifies as bi-sexual and is the co-author of “The Lesbian Sex Book: A Guide for Women Who Love Women.” With Wendy Caster. (2003)

    As an editor of over thirty anthologies, she has an excellent track record of inclusivity, employing writers from across the LGBTQ spectrum, as well as straight women; authors representing a variety of race, class, and national backgrounds.

    As editor of Penthouse Variations, she has successfully applied THE EXACT FORMULA WHICH DRAGON MAGAZINE SHOULD FOLLOW: rescuing a print brand with a predominantly-male readership from extinction in the online era by recognizing the way to grow in a declining market is to pursue a wider audience, admit that women enjoy it also, and make editorial decisions which win those consumers. (To those unfamiliar, Penthouse Variations is magazine of text erotica, thus prizing how well a woman can express herself, not how she looks in front of a camera.)

    On the other hand, as Farseer insinuates, there’s one troubling aspect of her credentials:

    Rachel Kramer Bussel is obviously a slut.

    • Okay, I’ll admit I might not be remembering correctly since this comment thread is now at 120 comments and counting, but I’m pretty sure no one called Rachel a slut. We’re pointing out why her position is flawed, because if you take her logic to its logical extension it means that no woman who creates a work that contains a portion of biographical content can be criticized without that criticism being slut-shaming. That’s what we’re arguing with.

      No one is calling Rachel a slut, just like no one is calling Shelly a slut. So ease off with the accusations of slut-shaming, mmkay? Because here’s the thing. When I first started this blog, I did say stuff that was slut shaming, and people took me to task for it, and I re-thought my position and apologized. If this was truly and genuinely slut-shaming, then I’d be happy to apologize. And I’m sure Rachel is very qualified and knows a lot and is a super-awesome person. But here’s the thing – I think she’s wrong. Not that she’s a bad person. I just think she’s wrong.

      [Here’s where moderator me steps in. More than half of the comments are now about an argument that is completely tangential to the issues mentioned in the article. Both sides are entrenched in their position and neither side is going to back down at this point, and all of this has pretty much killed what could have been a useful conversation. Therefore, any subsequent comments about “shaming-or-not” will be deleted as derailing. If that upsets you, feel free to dismiss me as a terrible feminist who hates freedom. This is still my space.]

  38. I would hope we can get into media criticism without it being taken as some kind of personal affront to the author. If we have to consider the feelings of the author, it would probably make any kind of criticism toothless.

  39. I can’t bring myself to read the whole thing, but I just have one comment: I don’t try for Systems Mastery. But that’s solely because it’s not what interests me about being a gamer. I’m very much in it for the roleplay — making a character, feeling them out, and playing them true to themselves, rather than being the ultimate super-character. Except that she suggests that is also outside the reach of the silly girls who bother to play RPGs.

    That and the puppies and chocolate for girls just horrify and disgust me to the point I can’t bring myself to read the whole post.

  40. […] examines marketing tactics in the gaming industry through a feminist lens. Wundergeek’s most recent post got me thinking about many topics, one of which was being a feminist and not always enjoying […]

  41. I don’t think Shelly is actually intended to represent “female gamers” at all. I think the intention is for her to show you don’t have to be a “female gamer” to enjoy D&D. The articles seem to be intended to appeal to women who aren’t doing things like playing WoW, reading comics, etc, and showing them that they can enjoy the game too. Whether it works or not, I can’t say.

    That being said though, as the only woman writing monthly articles about the playing of D&D for Wizards, the mantle of “representative of female gamers” is kinda thrust upon her I guess.

  42. It sounds as if Wizard had her write this b/c it’ll reassure insecure sexist male players that the girls in their D&D games are secretly stupid vapid idiots. That’s part of the allure I think and why it’s portrayed as “confessions”, it implies that even if we visibly seem to know what we’re doing, inside we’re just a big pile of helpeless girl goo.

  43. I agree with the theme of the argument, if not the argument itself. While I’ve got nothing against Ms. Mazzanoble or her works, I do understand that there may be something inherently sexist in her presentation of D&D and how it relates to women, even if it is unintentional.

    She’s being marketed and promoted as “Women’s voice and opinion when it comes to D&D”, which is troubling, given that she’s only one woman and is made to represent an entire gender. As the go-to poster child for ‘Women who play D&D’, perhaps she’s not the best choice.

    Still, hate her or not, she’s opened up the hobby to at least a different demographic than the one WotC typically advertises to. She’s also gone on record showing her support for any other women who play D&D to blog about it and share their opinions and ideas.

    I got to interview her for my podcast. You can listen to it here: http://dungeonsdonuts.blogspot.com/2011/10/coffee-break-podcast-shelly-mazzanoble.html

    That said, are there any other female D&D bloggers with more feminist sensibilities? That’s not rhetorical; I actively want to know. Given how generally awesome and insightful most of the women I’ve played D&D with have been, I’m keen to find and promote more D&D bloggers who happen to be women.

Comments are closed.