Interview: L2 Eliana Rabinowitz on Microaggressions

We recently spoke with Eliana Rabinowitz, an L2 from Southern California about her experiences as a woman in the Magic community and the concept of microaggressions.

Eliana plays twice weekly and judges twice monthly at Grand Prix. Since starting with Magic in 2014, she found the community to largely be welcoming. While she recognized there was a gender disparity, she was used to it as a math major and a debater, other communities that are largely male.

”My gender did come up sometimes when someone would say something about how few women were at the store or would guess who I was based on my name on the pairings since I was the only woman,” she says. “Whenever there was another female player, other players would always make a point to introduce me to her right away, as well. None of that felt weird to me, since I was used to being in male-dominated environments, but it could be unsettling for someone who isn’t used to that.”

Eliana recalls having played in communities that were less accepting, and against some players that were misogynistic. “I would be more inclined to play local events if I didn’t have to be so selective about where I play and who I play against in order to have fun,” she says

Eliana recently spoke about microaggressions, or little actions or phrases that often unintentionally discriminate or encourage discrimination against someone of a minority group. She gives as some examples a player calling a female opponent “sweetheart” or a player asks a female judge, “Hey honey, can you take this match slip up for me?”

“Other examples include saying to a female player “hey, you’re a girl, why don’t more girls play this game?” or when a female judge politely asserts herself during a ruling, and the player says “oh RUDE, you are cranky today” or just immediately dismisses a ruling as not credible,” she adds. “Someone placing a hand on the shoulder of a female while talking to them can also be a mircoaggression that represents asserting oneself over that woman.” Rabinowitz further acknowledges that “there [are] microaggressions against groups other than women” but she doesn’t have any personal experiences with microaggressions of that sort.

While microaggessions vary in severity and in tone, Eliana says the end result is to create an unwelcoming environment for women at tournaments. “This is because these microaggessions make implications about how women are supposed to be,” she says. “Using pet names like ‘honey’ and ‘sweetheart’ that are associated with romance when talking to a woman you aren’t involved with implies that women exist to be romantic interests, or that being a romantic interest is what women are “for.” It is also really uncomfortable for a lot of women who feel like there is an unwanted advance there from someone they’ve never met! Asking women to speak for their entire gender implies that women are all the same in some way and unfairly groups a large population, and not accepting a woman being assertive or in a position of authority implies that women can’t have that kind of authority.”

Eliana says she typically does not get upset by microaggressions she experiences initially, since most are accidental. “When it happens over and over during a tournament, though, that makes the environment less welcoming, and it really wears on me over a long shift at a GP or an event I might be playing in,” she says. “It is tough, because a lot of microaggressions aren’t easily addressed by the IPG or JAR. Obviously, outward comments like refusing to accept a ruling from a female judge (and saying that’s why they don’t accept the ruling) or using offensive language fit nicely into policy, but there’s really nothing to be done for someone who uses a pet name or something similar. You can try to talk to the player who does it, but the number of microaggressions is prohibitive. (At some events, if I wanted to talk to every player who called me a pet name, I’d be there longer than the event!).”

Eliana says you have to pick your battles, and that means that mostly you can’t address issues like this directly. Plus, there is definitely a stigma against calling out behavior like using pet names. Doing so can make people think you are just whining or being too sensitive, so it is tough to find the right balance between speaking up to make the environment better and not causing more trouble than it is worth. “The problem is that while one particular instance of a microaggression might not be worth addressing,” she says, “the problem on the whole definitely is.”

After Eliana posted about microaggressions, she had a few types of responses. She had a lot of people tell her they were glad she was bringing the subject up. There were also a lot of judges concerned that she wasn’t speaking to problematic players. Her take was that it wasn’t practical to try to address the more minor cases of microaggressions.

Her suggestion for judges who want to reduce microaggressions at tournaments: “If you notice anyone (player or judge) saying something that might make others feel uncomfortable, definitely say something to them,” she says, “Don’t accuse them of doing it on purpose (they probably aren’t.) Simply point out that it may make others uncomfortable when they say/do X, and so perhaps rethink that in the future. Not every problem can be fixed with official penalties, and this is definitely an example of that.”

Moreover, Eliana says, if you notice someone looking uncomfortable, ask them about it. If they tell you that they are uncomfortable, take it seriously and see if you can do something to help.

Overall, Eliana says Wizards of the Coast is doing a “pretty good job” at inclusion.“It is tricky, because female role models aren’t made out of nowhere,” she says. “As more and more female players get to the top levels of the game and more and more female judges grow into the leadership of the judge program, it will be important to take them seriously as players and judges, not just as women.”

In the meantime, though, Eliana says inclusivity needs to come at the local level. “Does your LGS have a lot of art depicting scantily-clad women adorning the walls and tables? Maybe speak to the owner about toning it down a bit. Do you see local players acting poorly towards females in the community? Say something. Is one of your local judges a woman? Treat her with the same respect you would any other judge. Most importantly, though, just treat females players like any other player. All players want to have fun playing Magic and make friends doing it, and there is no reason why a female player would be any different in that regard.”

The discussion for this article is here.

This article was written by Raoul Mowatt, L2, Chicago, Illinois, USA.


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