Assembling a Team of Women at GP Cleveland

At Grand Prix Cleveland, I experienced and observed a series of firsts.
I discovered Judge Love Letter, noting that four of the characters were women on staff.
I ate dinner with a judge group comprised of more women than men.
I encountered a Day One Team consisting entirely of women.

Given the longstanding underrepresentation of women in the Magic community, my mind was a little blown. Thoughts, feelings, and ideas were spilling out everywhere, and I realized I wanted to discuss these firsts with everyone I know. And at least in the case of the all-female team, apparently so did a lot of other people.

To me, each of the firsts I’ve listed felt overwhelmingly positive–both refreshing and encouraging for me as a judge. However, in my eagerness to talk about these firsts, I quickly realized that many people had mixed feelings about the first all-female team.

Although the Internet loves to squash everyone’s thoughts and feelings into two diametrically-opposed sides, situations that provoke mixed feelings are worth exploring. And I want to know and understand what women think about the idea of an all-female team. What men think about the idea. What non-binary people think about the idea. Was the team a glimpse of the future? Did anyone feel threatened by it? Was anyone else encouraged by it? Is there anything we can learn from it?

What’s a curious judge to do but investigate further?

I’ve heard a lot of speculation about Head Judge Riki Hayashi’s reasons for scheduling the all-female team at GP Cleveland. So I decided to go straight to the source. I asked Riki the following series of questions. You can read his answers below.

Did the team know about their assignments in advance?

Yes, absolutely. Every one of them had advanced notification, and either explicitly opted in, or did not opt out. On this, I could have done better and been more explicit about opting in or out. What stopped me here was probably fear, that talking about it too much beforehand would cause it to fail under the weight of expectations. I am grateful that they put their faith in this idea. Team Lead Nicolette Apraez was the person I talked with the most about it. We had some discussions about who should be on the team, and which role the team should fill. Beyond some individual conversations like this, it was business as usual.

When I published the staff schedule spreadsheet, I imagine that there were some eyebrows raised in skepticism (I got one “did you do this on purpose?” message. I didn’t reply. Again, once set in motion, I didn’t want to talk about it like a pitcher throwing a no hitter). I didn’t point the team out in any way, but it was there to see. I didn’t publicly mention the team until the team photo started circulating after the event, and now given a little distance from the event, I think it’s the right time to address it in full.

Isn’t an all-female team just a gimmick?

Like Meg, I have a visceral reaction to this being called a gimmick because there’s such a negative connotation to that word. But what I cannot deny is that it was done intentionally and with purpose. Right there I think that many of you are already on the gimmick train. But the purpose behind it, and the audience matters, and that’s when you start to see that the connotations change based on how you look at the intentions.

The important line to draw is that this isn’t a gimmick for the benefit of the majority, which in the Judge Program mean men. When bars have ladies’ nights where women get cheap or free drinks, they aren’t doing this for the benefit of women, or to attract a different clientele. They are doing it to attract more men with the promise that there will be women at their establishment. Ladies’ night is the equivalent of chumming the water for sharks. I hope that this team or any female judge is never presented as an advertisement for men to get into judging.

But I do think that an all-female team can be a powerful advertisement and moment of empowerment for women. Most of the women I’ve spoken to or seen respond to this have been very positive. I saw someone tag a Grand Prix Head Judge asking if this could be done in Europe, and I’ve heard more recently that another all-female team at GP Toronto was successful.

Did you force this team to happen regardless of their event experience?

I did have the idea for this team prior to staffing the event. These days, GPs get around ten women on staff, so I felt reasonably certain I could find a team of four to six women for this to happen without forcing anything in the selection process. However, I did not communicate the idea to any of the other individuals responsible for staffing precisely because I wanted to avoid conflicts of interest.

Among this team, the average number of GPs judged was twenty-five. The “least” experienced judge on the team had worked fourteen GPs. Given their collective event history, it shouldn’t surprise you that each of these judges is experienced with End of Round (EoR) procedures.

An EoR Team ensures that, after time is called, all ongoing matches are observed by judges. The team helps ensure that the five extra turns are played smoothly and that pace of play remains appropriate through the extra turns. (Players often tank when the clock is no longer an issue.) The EoR Team also checks for any missing match result slips, assisting the scorekeeper in turning over the round as efficiently as possible.

From prior experience, each of the women on the team was trained and able to perform these tasks. Yet suddenly when they worked together on the same team, people got all weird about it.

Did you have to decline more experienced male judges to form the team?

I cannot state strongly enough that I did not decline any male judges from GP Cleveland to form this team. The decision to form the team was made in advance of the event, but I was content to let the normal GP staffing system, where multiple people have input, select the judges for me. Given their collective experience, the women on this team were natural and normal judges to be selected for the event without any additional influence from me.

I want to add that I find it sad that this type of narrative develops in people’s minds when something cool happens for a minority group. Look no further than the announcement of the 13th Doctor for a recent example.

Does putting women on the same team reinforce inequality?

Here’s the thing. I’ve heard many people tell me (and many more will) that doing this intentionally is counterproductive, and that we should be striving for a world of equality where it doesn’t matter who these teams are composed of. Well, I agree that this is a goal, but how exactly are we supposed to get to this world? The answer seems to be to promote the idea of equality until everyone buys in.

I’ve got some bad news for you. History has proven that this doesn’t work. Emancipation, Women’s Suffrage, Civil Rights, Black Lives Matter. We keep encountering systems where things aren’t fair, and individuals being good people isn’t changing things.

Think about this. The Judge Program is filled with good people. People who believe in diversity and equality. On the issues at hand, we are probably the top 1% in the world. And yet despite all this good will, women only comprise 8% of the L3s worldwide, and less than 5% of the total judge population in the United States. This isn’t because women aren’t good judges, or that they don’t like it. We’ve heard those same tired arguments about women as Magic players in the past. This has everything to do with a culture that, despite all the good will, has never taken a strong introspective look at how we treat women. And that is something that I hope “gimmicks” like this will open people’s eyes and minds to.

Isn’t an all-female team segregation?

Broadly, yes. But as with gimmicks, I think it’s important to look at the how and why. Just putting a similar type of people together isn’t segregation in itself. Historical segregation has disempowered people by keeping them out of power and wealth and marginalizing them with public displays of debasement and ridicule.

The End of Round Team, however, is central to the success of a Grand Prix. The members of the team are forced to interact with nearly every judge on staff. Rather than marginalize them, EoR put these women front and center as a strong pillar for the rest of the GP Cleveland staff. Nicolette specifically requested this role, and I agreed that it made sense. The team members didn’t need me to publicize their capabilities leading into the event. Their actions and the successful running of End of Round were their best form of publicity.

Do you see tokenism in your staffing assignments? Or in events in general?

I took a look at my two previous times as GP Head Judge, Indianapolis and Milwaukee in 2016. For the latter, I did conform to a “maximum of two” women per team, but for Indianapolis I had a team with three women. Trying to get inside my own head after the fact, I don’t recall the gender of judges ever entering my thoughts. Frankly, when it comes to a staff as large as a GP, things like AM versus PM and Team requests are hard enough to figure out. I do recall doing a quick pass to make sure that teams had some geographic distribution because it’s nice to work with people you might not necessarily see all the time.

I also did some research on the distribution of women on teams at all of SCG’s Grand Prix in the last two years. (I chose this timeframe mostly because I had quick access to the spreadsheets.) These events had between six and nine women assigned to the main event on Saturday. On each event, there was one instance of two women being on the same team, and every other woman was distributed individually.

I don’t know how statistically probable this kind of distribution is. So it does feel like there’s the possibility of tokenism here, that there is a subconscious (or even conscious) desire to distribute women one per team. Assigning several women to the same team is one way of resisting possible tokenism. It’s worth exploring others.

Why can’t we just treat female judges the same as everybody else?

There’s a future where 50% of the Judge Program is women, and in such a world it’s probable that some GP teams will be comprised of all women. This is a fantastic world, both in the sense that I would love to live in it and that it is highly unlikely to happen in our lifetimes.

Many people want this world of equality, but they think we will get there by being passive, good people. I think that we can get to that world faster by taking the opposite track. Rather than wait for a lucky draw to give us an all-women team, I just decided to make it happen. And now that it has happened, one era of the Judge Program is definitively over, and we can move on. Others can try this type of thing again, and while it will get talked about, the novelty won’t be there, and the people involved can focus on what matters, themselves.

The first time is the hardest. When you’re talking about overcoming a system that has made it harder for that thing to happen, you need to celebrate the achievement. You celebrate it until you’re tired of celebrating it. However, if after the first time you say, “What’s the big deal? We shouldn’t celebrate this. This should be the norm,” you are ignoring the struggle it has taken to reach this point. When it does become the norm, then we’ll stop celebrating it.

Here’s another take. Many commuter train and subway systems have women-only passenger cars during peak hours. This is unfortunately a reaction to the frequency of casual harassment and actual groping attacks that women encounter on these trips. The motivation for this reaction is safety rather than segregation. You’re probably starting to see where I’m going with this, and it’s making you uncomfortable because I’m implying that female judges don’t feel safe.

I would challenge you to go back and read Meg Baum’s article. Safety in this case isn’t about physical safety from attack; instead, it’s about safety from attitude and words. White Knighting. Mansplaining. Manterruption. These are real problems even in the progressive sphere of Magic Judging. Why can’t we treat women judges the same way we treat men? You know. That’s a great question. Why can’t we? These issues need to be discussed. It turns out that they are harder to discuss while they’re happening on your team.

For one day, a group of women in Cleveland didn’t deal with those problems within their judge team. I honestly didn’t know that the effect of this would be so profound. On this front, I learned a lot from reading Meg’s article, for which I am grateful. This is an important takeaway here. I set up team assignments, but I couldn’t predict all the results. Now that Cleveland is over, the most important thing is to listen to the people affected by it.

Men, what percentage of your day do you spend watching how women are treated by men? Less than 1%? Don’t dismiss their concerns with “I’ve never seen women treated that way.” For women, observing the way men interact with them is inevitable. Women are the experts on this topic. If women say something’s happening, take them seriously. Talk to the women around you, not just about this team, but about the underlying issues that Meg brings up. Listen.

I appreciate the time Riki has taken to answer these questions. As I mentioned at the outset, this conversation is important to me, and I believe others also find it important. I’d like to return to some of the many questions popping around on this topic and invite you to join the conversation.

What do you think of the idea of teams comprised of a single sex or gender? Are they threatening? Encouraging? Intimidating? Something else? Why?

Is there anything we can learn from the all-female team in Cleveland? And from the dialogue that has followed?

What does the future look like for women in the judge program and for everyone else? More importantly, where can we improve? What can we do better? Do you have ideas you’d like to see implemented? Do you have more questions that need answers?

Join the conversation in the comments below or message me on JudgeApps!

4 thoughts on “Assembling a Team of Women at GP Cleveland

  1. While I agree with the sentiments about women as L3’s and head judges, etc, I think the better litmus test is “how does the percentage of women in vary from the percentage of women in “–the goal should be to have our program demographics mirror the demographics of our membership (within reasonable variation) and try to, over time, shift the demographics of the judge program, with respect to any minority/underrepresented group. 50% female L3’s probably doesn’t make a lot of sense if the judge program is 75%+ male. Not to suggest any sort of quota, but rather that the ruler by which we measure ourselves should be ourselves(the judge program), not society and not the overall mtg playerbase.

    1. I’m not quite sure I understand why having 50% female L3s doesn’t make sense if the judge program is 75% male and would love if you could expend on that (sincerely curious).

  2. I am not sure that judge teams being 50/50 split is even something that should happen. Different people have different interests, and gender plays a role in forming those interests. Having that be the goal may mean having to pass over more qualified and enthusistic candidates in the process.

    1. Hi, Paul. I think I agree with most of what you’ve said. I believe Riki was imagining a future where half of the judges in the program are female and the statistical odds of all-female teams goes up (as would more evenly split teams).

      Aiming for that kind of representation isn’t the same as enforcing it. I doubt anyone would want to enforce some sort of 50/50 staffing ratio; that would present quite a few issues even beyond what you’ve mentioned.

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