[Big thanks to the awesome ladies in my G+ circle who helped give me ammunition I needed to outline this post. Thanks especially to Filamena Young and Laura Hamilton for being super on-point about evil money things.]
In my last post, I looked at a sample of games-related Patreons and the not-too-encouraging gender breakdown of creators, and the breakdown is pretty dismal; only 24% of the Patreons that I looked at included one or more female creators. Of course, in the face of such numbers, the solution seems simple. Get more women to create and maintain Patreons, right? We can’t expect men to stop using Patreon to rectify the gender imbalance, so logically this means that more women have to get on board to even things out.
Sadly, I can only wish that this was such an easy problem to solve. I know that there were a number of gendered factors that made me a very reluctant adopter of Patreon. And since I ultimately did jump on the Patreon bandwagon, I know that I can’t necessarily speak to the experience of women who have considered it and decided it wasn’t for them.
So I threw out the following questions to my ladies-only circle on Google+, which is chock full of brilliant and talented women: 1) If you don’t have a Patreon, why not? 2) If you used to have a Patreon and have stopped doing things with it, why? And I got a wide variety of responses, which mostly can be broken out into four categories that form a pretty clear picture of the obstacles keeping women from being active, sustained creators on Patreon:
First: Imposter Syndrome
“I don’t have anything to offer”, “No one would be interested in paying to hear what I think”, “I’m not really talented enough to make it on Patreon”. Imposter syndrome is an asshole, and it keeps a lot of super smart, super awesome women from simply believing that they have something unique to offer that people might be willing to pay to support.
And lest you think I’m talking dismissively from my lofty perch as a “successful” Patreon creator about “Those Other Women” who need to learn to “have confidence and everything will be fine”… actually, I’m including myself in this. Because to be honest, I got pushed into Patreon out of financial necessity, and even despite the previous success of my blog, I never anticipated the level of support that I’ve gotten.
Even more absurd, I actually argue with friends who try to state simple facts about how successful my blog has been. Not opinions. Facts. Because I’m not capable of believing that anything that I do or say here is actually important, no matter how much evidence to the contrary that you might show me. Because deep down, this is still just me yelling at the internet. And shit, I’d do that for free, so doesn’t that mean that people shouldn’t be paying me for it?
So just getting past the initial hurdle of believing that you are competent enough to have something to offer through Patreon? It’s a pretty damn big hurdle. But even if you manage to clear that and you do, create a Patreon, you’ll quickly run into the next hurdle that Imposter Syndrome throws at you: feeling guilty for charging your patrons for content that you create. Never mind that you’ve laid out what you want to do and how you want to get paid. Imposter Syndrome is that voice that shouts in your ear that your work isn’t nearly as good as everyone else’s, and your patrons deserve better.
And if you happen to have Imposter Syndrome and depression, that’s when things get really fun! Because not only do you get your brain telling you that your work is worthless, but it also tells you that you are worthless, so good luck ever being able to seriously believe that people would ever actually give you money to create things.
Second: Female Socialization
So. Let’s say that you are a woman who is either 1) lucky enough not to have Imposter Syndrome, or 2) has managed to find ways of at least getting it to shut up for a while. Awesome. That’s the big hurdle, right? From here everything should be easy! Except, wait. Just believing that you produce work that is worth paying for isn’t enough, because once you start actually doing the planning required to make the actual Patreon page, female socialization rears its ugly head.
First, there’s the trap of needing to polish things. A lot of men can have an idea, spend some time throwing together a proof-of-concept, get it to a reasonable level of “eh, good enough”, and expect that when they show it to people what they will respond to is the idea behind it. Unfortunately, if you’re a woman looks matter – even when it’s your work and not your actual personal appearance. In art school, I certainly had enough experiences where my male peers had their work engaged on a conceptual level while mine was criticized for execution, despite being created with the same level of craft.
Unfortunately, “perfect” is the mortal enemy of “good enough”. I’ve seen many a project languish forever in the “polishing” stage, never to be launched because of fear that it wouldn’t been seen as “professional” enough. Meanwhile, there are dudes slapping together some pretty sketchy campaign proposals and simply throwing it out there.
There’s also the issue of marketing. Women are taught pretty explicitly not to put themselves forward, and self-marketing requires doing exactly that. And honestly, it would be pretty hard for me to overstate how drastically hard that is to deal with, because that conditioning isn’t something that simply happens in childhood and stops when you become an adult. It happens every goddamn day.
It happens when I decide to tone down my language on a subject that I feel passionately about, because I don’t want to seem too bitchy. It happens when I disclaim the ever-living shit out of something when I need to talk to a guy about a problem that he is causing because I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with him causing a scene. It happens when someone asks if there are people with specific qualifications who might be able to participate in a thing and I feel I have to choose my words carefully in responding so that I sound interested without being arrogant.
It’s a balancing act, one that women are constantly navigating. So expecting women to be good at the thing we socialize them not to do as part of their success? Yeah, that’s a problem.
Third: “Second Shift” Labor:
Say you manage to get past hurdles one and two. Fantastic! You’re well on your way to becoming a creator! Except, of course, for the fact that the internet is a voracious beast that consumes content at a ferocious rate. The Evil God of Content demands regular sacrifice, and if it is not appeased frequently and on something resembling a schedule, your audience will suffer as a result.
And, you know, fine. As Dorothy Parker once quipped, “writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat”. It’s only fitting that running a Patreon is something that takes work if that work is something you’re getting paid for, yes?
However, actually finding the time to do that work? Is pretty damn difficult if you’re a woman. “Second shift” domestic labor is something that still disproportionately falls on the shoulders of women. If you work all day, then have to come home to more domestic work, when exactly are you supposed to find the time to be creative? And if you have children? Multiply that problem by about three. Nobody is as good at finding ways to interrupt your concentration as a small child, because they love you and want to spend all of their time with you. Which is, okay, adorable (sometimes), but not exactly a boost to one’s productivity. So finding a way to manage all of the competing demands for attention and time, it’s not surprising that a lot of women simply don’t feel they have the bandwidth to sustain a Patreon for any length of time.
Personally, it’s something I struggle with quite a bit myself. I’m incredibly lucky to have a partner who does his fair share of housework and parenting. But being in school and raising a toddler are both full-time jobs, and much as my husband supports me, the economic realities of our situation means that if there is some sort of childcare emergency or doctor’s appointment, I’m always the one who gives up work time to deal with it. As such, keeping up with blogging means that I have to be pretty damn creative about finding time to do research and work on the posts I write here. It also means that I’ve had to learn to be able to write in small chunks – twenty minutes here and there. I don’t have the luxury of slowly “getting into the groove”. When I have time to write, I need to write. It takes a hell of a lot of discipline, and it’s not always something I’m capable of.
So it’s not too surprising that some women would consider all of the factors and say “you know what, I’ve got too much going on in my life to add yet another highly demanding obligation”.
Fourth: Practical reality – money
Even if you manage to deal with the previous three obstacles, money is still going to bite you in the ass. The wage gap is a thing for a reason – it didn’t just spring out of nowhere. Work produced by women is seen as having inherently less worth, which is something you run into… just about everywhere. Take, for example, the fact that white women earn about 78 cents on the dollar for what white men earn, and for women of color, it’s even worse. Hispanic women make only 51 cents on the dollar! Or how about the fact that only 3.5 percent of works of art in the MOMA were created by women – a figure that has held pretty steady despite noises being made about increasing the representation of women artists in the MOMA’s collection.
It’s a self-reinforcing conundrum. Part of the reason women have trouble believing that what they create is worth paying for is because everyone else has trouble believing it too. And if people aren’t going to pay to support the thing you’re making, that causes problems. In some instances, it can be a simple matter of “the time to dollar ratio means that I am working for less than minimum wage”.
Or there can be other problems specifically related to Patreon’s funding model – which takes pledges monthly off of credit cards. Inevitably, when a portion of your pledges get declined (and it happens every month), that’s money that you should have gotten but didn’t. And if you planned your milestones around needing a certain level of support, and your page says your getting that level of support, you can wind up being on the hook for doing extra work for a milestone goal that you didn’t actually financially achieve.
Which, you know, is pretty shitty.
Lastly, according to Pledge Society, there are a whopping 2485 games-related Patreons right now. Given the number of Patreons that exist, and given that we seem to be reaching a level of market saturation in that most people who are patron supporters have long since reached their cap of money that they are willing to contribute to support artists looking for patronage, there is a limited pool of money that is being chased after. If women’s work is seen as having less worth, how exactly are women supposed to compete with the dudes who are hogging so many of the available patron dollars?
For a lot of women the answer ends up being “I can’t”. And I’m not going to lie, sometimes when I look at the amount of money that some dudes are making off of Patreon to do stuff that requires significantly less effort than what I put into what I do here…? It makes me question why I even bother, sometimes.
Fifth: Practical reality – gender
Okay. So there are conceptual hurdles, social hurdles, and practical hurdles, none of which are easy to navigate – even if you happen to be someone with comparatively high levels of privilege like me. (I’m a woman, but I’m also white, middle-class, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, and culturally Christian, so believe me. I’m well aware I have a lot of advantages.) But even if you manage to deal with all of that, gender is always going to be a factor that you absolutely can’t control.
IF you persevere through all of the shit I just described AND you manage to achieve a level of success, congratulations! You’re making something of yourself as a female creator!
Except, don’t forget that making something of yourself as a female creator means that you’re also just plain making yourself more visible as a woman, which on the internet is often a dangerous proposition – especially when one is dealing with gamers. As a consequence of writing this blog, I’ve had some truly unnerving shit happen to me simply because I had the nerve to express opinions about games while female. I once had one dude write more than 11,000 original words about what a terrible human being I am in the space of about a week. (For perspective, my games average between 10,000 and 20,000 words.) I’ve had a professional comics artist swamp my blog with fans after telling them to tell me what a horrible, awful cunt I am. I’ve had people accuse me of being a professional victim for making money off of this blog at the inception of Gamer Gate when Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, and Anita Sarkeesian were being crucified using that same language.
I’ve stuck it out this far because I’ve been lucky – I haven’t become a hate meme (yet). And because I’m stubborn, and contrary as hell. But I also make a point of telling women in my circles who lament that they don’t have my “courage” that not being willing to put yourself in a situation where you can expect this sort of abuse isn’t “cowardice”. It’s fucking self-care.
Does becoming a creator on Patreon guarantee that you’ll get harassed? No. Of course not. But any time a woman makes herself visible online, that is always a risk, and for some women that just isn’t something they are prepared to deal with. And good for them for knowing that about themselves.
[That turned out a lot longer than anticipated! Next time: I turn my gaze to KickStarter and the unique problems that women face there.]
 And look. Self-marketing SUCKS, okay? For anyone of ANY gender. But as bad as it sucks for dudes, at least they don’t have an entire lifetime of socialization screaming at you that you’re a terrible person for doing it.