I really enjoy working Side Events at a Grand Prix – there are tons of moving parts and it’s a big puzzle to solve. There’s usually a jam-packed schedule full of events as well as on-demand events launching whenever they fill. As such, it can sometimes be very stressful to be around the stage. I envy a number of scorekeepers in just how calm they are able to be when they have a multitude of different priorities flying in front of them. Angela Aliff is one of those scorekeepers that I hold in high esteem. No matter how busy and chaotic things are, she’s always friendly and helpful.
At Grand Prix Minneapolis earlier this year, Angela was one of the Scheduled Sides scorekeepers and I was the On-Demand Events lead. Normally, when I’m leading ODEs, I end up interacting with the stage quite a bit and I try to act as an information conduit between the stage and the judges.
During a particularly busy time, I needed some signage over at the ODE station. Since the scorekeepers had printers, but I didn’t, I came up to the stage to ask Angela for this favor. I had tried to get this sign made earlier in the day, but the scorekeeper I talked to then didn’t think it was necessary. Now, when it was very busy, Angela found the time to help me out.
As she was prepping the sign for printing, I said to her “You know, this is why people like you. You always do what you’re told.” I didn’t mean any offense by it, and at the time I didn’t think it was a particularly bad thing to say. A few days later, at the end of the weekend, Angela came to talk to me about it. She let me know that what I said was actually a pretty rude thing to say and that it upset her a fair bit. Thankfully, we already had a good rapport with each other, so she felt comfortable talking to me about something bad I did and she felt that I would actually care that I had said something mean.
I’m sure that many of you can look at this now and think to yourself, “That’s not a great thing to say to someone, but why is this so important that you need to write an article about it?” It’s important because I never considered Angela’s life experiences when I was talking to her. I never thought about how things that she has dealt with in her life might have been different than mine. I’d subconsciously decided that she would take what I said exactly as I meant it.
In order to figure out exactly what went wrong here, let’s dive a bit into heuristics and biases. Interacting with the world is complicated, and our brain tries as hard as it can to only focus on the things that are important for the current decision that you’re trying to make. You end up making a set of mental rules that help you with these decisions quickly and efficiently. These are heuristics. For example, if you’re heading to the pairings board with the pairings, you’re going to look at the clumps of players in front of you. As the clumps move, you quickly change direction to get to the pairings board more quickly. You’re not consciously thinking through all these steps since that would take way too much time, so you rely on these subconscious rules you’ve set up. You know that moving through players is slower, so you should go around.
Heuristics are very useful at large events that have lots of moving parts. However, these rules can often lead to biases. Biases aren’t inherently bad things. Some are interesting, like pareidolia. Pareidolia is the bias where you can see some random object and it will look like a face to you, like a US power outlet.
In this interaction, I was biased toward thinking about interacting with the world as a man. It’s what’s normal for me. That frame of mind doesn’t work well for Angela, though. Her interactions with the world can be different than my own. For example, it’s often viewed as more preferable for women to be more meek and willing to go with the flow, as opposed to fighting against it, as is expected of men. If you ask any number of women about their experiences dealing with the world, I’m sure that you’ll hear stories about times they were viewed as too forceful because they pushed back to any degree when someone confronted them.
By saying “You always do what you’re told,” I was telling Angela that everybody prefers she meekly accepts whatever she was told to do. I was thanking her for being submissive. I was telling her that not pushing back was exactly what I expected of her. Framed in this way, it’s pretty obvious what the problem was here.
I wasn’t trying to be malicious with my ‘compliment’. I didn’t mean to hurt someone that I enjoy seeing at events. When she came down to talk to me about it, I actually got pretty upset with myself. It really bothered me that I was able to hurt someone I consider a friend like this and not even realize it until it was pointed out to me. I view myself as an ally of women in judging. I try to work hard to find ways to educate others on why being a woman around Magic isn’t great and what we can do to help with it. In that moment, I felt like I had completely and utterly failed in all I had been trying to accomplish. I felt like I was part of the problem, instead of the one trying to fight it.
Thankfully, those negative thoughts didn’t stick around too long. I realized that it’s unreasonable to expect perfection. It’s unreasonable to expect that I won’t make mistakes on this journey. Instead, I’ve tried to turn it into a learning moment. That’s what brings this article today, along with Angela’s companion article. I want to use this lesson as a way to help myself and others move forward.
I know that women have it pretty rough in the Judge Program and, more generally, in Magic. I’m sure that you all have heard a sickening number of stories about times that women would come into your stores and the male players would just view them as someone to hit on. I’m sure you can all think about women that you’ve met in stores that you’ve then never seen again because of how they were treated during an FNM, draft, or prerelease. A few months ago, one of my female judge friends posted that she was excited that she was about to make it through her first big event without being harassed or hit on. Then, the following day, it happened, and this event was just like the rest of them. She still hadn’t made it through a weekend without being harassed.
I think it’s incredibly easy to simply ignore these experiences as a man. It rarely affects me personally. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that I’ve been objectified when I’ve been in a judge uniform. I’ve never been told that I need to smile more. I’ve never had an event where I had to try to distance myself from another judge since he asked me out at the beginning of the shift. I’ve never had someone appeal one of my rulings so the player could “talk to a real judge”.
There are very few female judges. Women comprise about 4-5 percent of judges in the United States. It’s easy to say that this is because they just aren’t interested. I think that partly may be the truth, but a bigger reason is because the Judge Program simply doesn’t treat women well. We’ve built up all of these structures with our experiences and never considered what it’s like to navigate the program as a woman. We need to start asking questions and listening to the answers. We need to expand our views on what leadership looks like. We need to consider that there are a number of women who are trying to move up in the program and are told that they’re too assertive by some, but not assertive enough by others. We need to understand that we’re making women constantly prove themselves time and again.
I don’t think any of these things are done maliciously. I also didn’t say “you always do what you’re told” maliciously. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t harmful.