Not. A. Gimmick. – GP Cleveland’s All-Women Judge Team

[Editor’s note – Hi there, folks! As I’ve done in the past, this is a guest post from another member of our community. Meg Baum wrote this and I’m honored she asked me to host it here. Meg’s perspective is one we don’t hear often enough in our community, and her words convey a unique, meaningful experience. Please take them to heart.]

Grand Prix Cleveland 2017 was a big event for me. It represented a triumphant return to the city after having to tap out of the last one there. The previous one was the only GP I ever had to quit halfway. I became very sick and headed straight to the hospital after the event. This Cleveland turned out to be much more important for a different reason. It was everything I didn’t know I needed.

GP Cleveland Judge staff

A couple weeks before the event, Head Judge Riki Hayashi asked me about having an all woman team at GP Cleveland. I thought it was a neat idea. It would be a chance to show we could run a team as well as anyone and kick some ass with some of my favorite ladies. Several voices spoke out against this idea. They claimed it was a gimmick, that we couldn’t pull it off, and it simply wouldn’t work.

The first thing I’d like to address is this word, “gimmick.” It has three common definitions:

1. An ingenious or novel idea designed to attract attention or increase appeal,
2. A shady or devious aspect or feature of something in a plan or deal, and
3. Finally – more a social than dictionary definition – something overdone (like a trope).

I understand why someone would feel this is “gimmicky”, but it isn’t. It shouldn’t take a whole team of us to make female magic judges more appealing (the first definition). We are powerful and capable judges in our own right. We obviously do not fit the second definition. We are not doing anything devious by existing. And an all-female judge team isn’t overdone, it had never been done.

The real tragedy of female judges at events is separating us all, one on each team. It makes us the token woman on those teams. Token having its own definition of being the sample of one of us on each team. In the world of Magic, “token” has its own definition. It is an object that ceases to exist once its leaves the battlefield. It is almost always weaker and less wanted than other cards.

This brings us to the next part: How this event made me feel. Emotion isn’t something a judge usually brings to an event. Our feelings are usually outside the expected topics of conversation. It’s a professional environment for judges. We’ve been hired to do a job. But at the end of the day, how I felt was all I could talk about.

I’ve been a certified judge for five years and been a part of the community for more of my life than not. I’ve always been a passionate person, and it’s been something I’ve done my best all this time to change, to dampen. It has made me more diplomatic when dealing with tough situations. This has become easier as I’ve matured both as a judge and a person.

I went into the day on Saturday feeling like it was going to be the same as any other GP. I knew all the ladies on my team, having worked with them all in some capacity before. They are all talented and capable judges. If anything it was a loss for the other teams to have the experience and skill of these judges concentrated in a single team. Our team meeting went like any other. We covered our duties for the event, the abnormal procedures due to the event being Team Sealed… the usual. The only difference from any other day was pausing to take a picture of us to commemorate the occasion.

GP Cleveland 2017 End-of-Round Team

As the day went on, I started to realize that I generally felt better than I usually do at large events. All day long the ladies on my team worked very well together. We relied on each other for help when we needed it. We handed off responsibilities in the team (like slip sweeping, clipboard duty, and the like). And the general common feeling was respect, as it should be with any well-run team at a large event. The other teams worked with us like any other event. The only out of place behavior I observed was male judges trying to be overly helpful. Some of them would hover near the stage at end of round and make suggestions. They would make tasks for themselves. They would try to get to the scorekeeper and talk to her. They would and call out numbers and “helpful” information significantly more than I’ve seen when a male judge had the end-of-round clipboard.

These aren’t bad men. They weren’t (and aren’t) consciously sexist, and they weren’t trying to hurt us in any way. They were genuinely trying to help. But they didn’t realize what they were doing. In that setting, when you do someone else’s job for them, you undermine them, and make them feel like they not trusted.

The most profound part of the day was our team debrief. Once again, it began like any other: congratulations for a job well done, how everyone was feeling, interesting rules discussion.

Then we addressed the Loxodon in the room: How had being on an all-female team affected our day? We felt comfortable asking for help, talking to one another, and how there weren’t any awkward power struggles between us. I started talking and really I just couldn’t stop. I finally put my finger on why I had felt so lighthearted all day. For the first time since I started judging, I had gone a whole day without having someone on my team steamroll over me in a conversation. I didn’t have to worry a suggestion of mine would be taken as being bossy or too assertive.

Finally, I felt like this tight ball of stress, anger, and tension inside of me had released. I hadn’t even known it was there. After I said my piece the other ladies on my team started telling stories about the similar things they had experienced. Story after story of being unintentionally (or intentionally) belittled, of being boxed out of conversations, and it just went on and on. I asked them if they had ever received the feedback that they were intimidating, sometimes without being given a reason why, just that they intimidated other judges and players by simply being there and judging. They agreed that they had had similar feedback in some form.

Then one of the ladies told a story about being a team lead at an SCG Open. A higher level judge had asked her if she had done something and her response was akin to “Oops! Silly me, I guess I forgot! I guess I’m just the worst!” in a flippant and jovial tone. The judge asked her why she did that, why she was self deprecating like that. She, becoming instantly serious, told him it was because it was easier that way. If she were less confident, less capable, or at least pretended to be so, it was easier for her to function at events. It was easier for the other judges around her to accept her existence, for them to be comfortable. That broke my heart, most of all because it’s true.

As awful it is, it’s true that it’s easier for us to exist if we can be put in a box where we are damsels in distress, where we are not our coworkers’ equals. We agreed it was a major relief to simply function as judges. We could perform to our best ability without being told we were being too assertive or too confident. We didn’t have to worry that someone would tell us we were being a bitch. I’ve never, in the years I’ve been doing this, had that freedom. Maybe that’s why this experience hit me so hard, because I’ve been doing this for so long, had this pent up for so long.

The most important part of our debrief is also the most important thing I want to tell any lady reading this article: You are not alone. We all expressed some version of “It happens to you too?”

There had just never been a place to talk about it. To experience an event without those experiences and feelings. Any time we tried to talk to our male peers, to explain ourselves and show our concerns about these feelings, we got the feedback they thought we needed. They told us how to work on those “problems” what we needed to change about ourselves. Rarely, at least in my experience, was the possibility that we weren’t the ones in the wrong explored.

It isn’t their fault, they are trying to help. Trying to be good mentors as they were taught to be. The problem is that the personality traits celebrated in male judges are not celebrated the same way in a female judge. It’s something we need to change, something we need to fix, to suppress in ourselves. Confidence is haughtiness, outspoken is bossy, passion is being emotional, assertiveness is bitchiness. It isn’t a phenomenon unique to magic, it’s true in most male dominated spaces.

It’s harder in Magic to swallow, and subsequently more crushing to the spirit, because as a community we are very accepting and welcoming. It’s so hard to constantly hear the things that make you… well, you, are wrong or bad. After some time it just feels like being told “here is what you need to change about yourself to make me more comfortable around you. If you don’t you might as well quit.” Of course this isn’t really what they are saying and isn’t always true, nothing ever is. Women can succeed in magic and in judging. It has to be said that it is more difficult. Painfully so.

That’s why this team, this event, was so important. It gave us the space to voice those concerns and be heard without the judgement. It gave me an understanding that I’m not sure it’s even possible for a male judge to have. I don’t want to see this done at every event. Forcing this type of team at every event won’t help make the change we so desperately need. But I do want to see this happen more.

Most of all I want to see the mindset change. Next time, or sometime in the future, I want, “Wow! Look, a team of all female judges!” to just be, “There’s one more team of professionals in this event.” It won’t happen overnight, and the work isn’t over. But it’s a damn good start.

When you feel like hope is lost, like you’re crazy for not being able to internalize the feedback you get, when you feel like being successful means you have to change who you are, please know you aren’t alone. We are here to talk and to help. I’m here to talk and help.

You are not alone.

You never were.

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5 Responses to Not. A. Gimmick. – GP Cleveland’s All-Women Judge Team

  1. Francis says:

    Very cool article. I’m not a judge but I’ve been a part of the MTG community for a long time (in many different locations) and I hadn’t been aware of this issue (in Magic, I’m very aware of it in business/professional settings). Write ups like these will hopefully help people be a little more conscious of the problems they contribute to without even knowing.

    Great job at GP Cleveland, and thanks for sharing your experiences!

  2. Drew says:

    This was a really nice read. Thanks for doing this!

  3. Mark Koster says:

    Thank you for this article. I am a male judge, and although I never judge competitive event I will do my utmost best to change any sexist attitude (I really didn’t know I had, but probably have) because there should be no difference between male and female judges. We are all just judges and people and we all should get and give the same respect, regardless of gender (or anything else).

  4. Nate Becker says:

    Great article Meg! I have always appreciated your mentoring, and your observations and outlook continue to do the program service. Thank you for giving us males points to think about for upcoming events as well as life and I’m sure other women will appreciate it as well.

  5. Jacqualyn Nelson says:

    I can relate to this all to well. As a player, on numerous occasions I have become frustrated by, and ultimately accustomed to, players angle shooting and undermining the integrity of the game. However, even in my ventures to judgeship, I have not been taken seriously. For example, in my most resent attempt, the local L2 informed me to read all the rules, to which I responded, I have reviewed them and feel ready for a more formal role of mentoring and preliminary judging (FNM amd such, under his guidance). Instead of presenting me with examples of situations that may arise to test my knowledge and response, he continued to brag about his experience and all of his contributions to the magic community. I vaguely even remember whether I would consider his efforts to MTG commendable… But what I do remember is the feeling of being marginalized, almost as if I’m an inconvenience. Honestly, it sucked, but at that point, I had become accustomed to this response. In the past, I had even been physically cornered by two judges, who happened to be brothers, simply because I questioned a play one of them had done (both were judges, but not in an official capacity because they were both playing in the same even as I… Though, I was a novice player at the time and wasn’t familiar with rulings on sportsmanship…). In any sense, though, it represents the innate problem that females face when attempting to enter the varying worlds of Magic (as a player and/or judge)… We often face additional adversaries simply to prove our knowledge, experience, logic, aptitude, and, ultimately, worth in the Magic community.

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