There are times where I feel my color–where I can feel the color of my skin, the otherness, and alienation of some DNA sequences and melanin. Those moments are a mix of what’s said and unsaid. For example, when I’ve been verbally assaulted, like one of the last few times I was in Southern California, I was walking in a sidewalk with my brother (who passes for white, easily). A car drove by and the driver screamed at me, “BLACK WHORE!” Or when, the kid who would be valedictorian of my high school, sneered at me outside of Spanish class and said, “All Mexicans are stupid.”
In the other category are those moments of reading between the lines of what’s not said but understood silently: when I walked into an office for an interview and immediately felt unwelcome. It was an office full of white people, absolutely no person of color in sight anywhere. I had this sickening realization then that no matter what I did or said, this interview would not go well for me. It was over as soon as I walked in the door and showed my face. Or that time I received a jaywalking ticket by a white police officer–and the ticket had previously been made out to a white male some 15 minutes before my arrival at that intersection. The officer hadn’t even bothered to change the gender on the ticket before handing it to me. (And just so you know, I was in the crosswalk; my error was not in realizing it was an offense to begin crossing once the hand started blinking.)
Then there are the moments where I feel my gender. The police officer story was a good example of feeling both–color and gender. It was particularly infuriating. So typical! Of course a white male gets off for the same offense. Of course! But feeling my gender still comes up on its own–and not in the monthly hormone cycle, although there’s that too.
Feeling my gender otherwise comes up not as often as the color, but certainly enough, often things you would think of in the workplace: having a male boss who does nothing to stop sexual harassment of other women or makes inappropriate sexual jokes (a coworker who admitted her dream job is to become a dancer was told, “So you want to be a prostitute?”), or being the victim of a creepy customer who keeps coming back to make small talk, or knowing there a lot of men out there paid more than I am for the same (or less) amount of work.
However, I felt myself particularly surprised to feel my gender Saturday evening while playing a game with a group of males.
Yesterday, we spent playing nearly 12 hours of a strategy board game called The Virgin Queen. Its rule book is over 40 pages long. Think of it like attempting to play a specific Civilization V scenario set in the Elizabethan Era.
The players were myself, my boyfriend (JL), a friend (C), and a friend of C’s (D). It was an interesting dynamic within the group, which would make for its own interesting topic at some other date…
Here’s who controlled what (D played for two major powers at once, taking those turns separately):
D: The Ottomans / England
C and D had previously played the game. This meant JL and I were new to the game and at a disadvantage. For half of the game, we had to ask C and D what the hell our cards meant, still trying to understand the mechanics of the game. Considering this was a strategy game about world domination, it was not to our advantage to reveal cards to players we were not allied with. Thus, JL and I seemed natural allies for the game.
For marriage proposals (you get to marry off your royals), C would only make a deal if I gave him a mercenary unit “for a dowry” to marry off his male royal to my female royal. I am not particularly happy with that deal (and I note to myself silently that no other player or matchmaking has asked for a dowry; feeling my gender #1), but I take it anyway.
This deal was to the Protestant advantage as C then is able to convert a large number of my cities. Well, fuck! I think as Huguenot tokens start popping up all over France. I do not like the look of this.
Spain starts out in an advantageous and dominant position, which JL had managed to keep. He and I remained allied and strategized together. At some point halfway through, C suggests throwing in The Catholic League Formation and asks if we want to add it in early. We have no idea what it does, and I feel I am somewhat starting to get this game. I also want all these goddamn Protestant city conversions to stop in my borders and the Catholic League sounds like it would help. (Nothing annoys me more than other powers converting my cities when I play Civ V.)
What C doesn’t tell us is that it means JL and I will have to break our alliance as a result and automatically be at war. It was a dirty trick, I thought. It forces me to pick a new alliance because I don’t want to be left without an ally.
No one will ally with Spain because JL remains in the lead and essentially everyone is now at war with Spain. I refuse to form an alliance with C after that bullshit, and I have a card I have been waiting to play on the Ottomans for a while–so they are out for an alliance. As a result, I am only left with England as an option for an alliance. We agree not to attack each other (I decimated England’s navy early in the game when D tried to attack me), and we form an alliance. Fine.
Without an alliance I am particularly attached to and driven by necessity to be in one, I decide to start playing more event cards to see what happens. I am not out for military domination here but more interested in stirring up the pot and seeing where the dominoes fall. Shit starts to happen. I somehow activate the Holy Roman Empire, and now get to play as them in the game, in addition to playing my role as France. I also win influence with Ireland and they fall under my control.
The men are all too absorbed in fighting amongst themselves (e.g. your standard dick measuring contest) that they don’t appear to see me as a threat even as my rank slowly moves up the ladder throughout the game and I inch closer to the top rank.
We agree to end the game after that fifth turn because by then it is near 10pm. The final results are I win (having accomplished 22 points out of the needed 25 to win, and being one stronghold away from an automatic winning of the game.)
As the guys discuss the results, JL discusses my tactics and how I win at other games and describes myself as “cut-throat.” I am hurt by that description, but I say nothing (feeling my gender #2).
I ask C what he thinks, having played a few games of chess with me some months ago. I almost beat him (and I can still see that one goddamn mistake I made that prevented me from winning). Before that I previously had only played a few games with my younger brother–only enough to learn how to play and nothing more.
C expresses disbelief in my not being an experienced player because of how well I did against his more experienced chess playing background (a remark I find surprisingly hurtful, feeling my gender #3).
I realize that I may seem oversensitive, but I know that it’s not true. If I were a man, or if I were a general, I would be described as being “strategic” and “cunning” — not “cut-throat.” And why should a woman who is naturally good at something and picks up a skillful game quickly be such a rarity that it makes men feel disbelief?
I recognize that there was nothing particularly mean or hateful in those comments, but it’s the subtleties that bother me. Its the subtleties that do the most damage because they can’t as easily be dismissed as outright sexism, and they are so damn insidious. If you met JL or C, they would likely be easily categorized as allies for women and yet…there have been other moments too where, among the same men present at this game, I’ve seen them ask each other questions, with an assumption I couldn’t possibly know the answer – yet I do.
It is a bit ironic that this all comes about while playing The Virgin Queen – named for a woman who, herself, has a legacy for outmaneuvering a number of her male counterparts, including by using what they expected of her to do as a woman (e.g. get married).
One of her mottoes was video et taceo: I see and I say nothing. It is a motto that I find myself often embracing and can think of how it has been my way of getting through life; observing, not revealing what I know, not showing all my cards, watching what others do before making a move. Men can get ahead without that strategy, but women? The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Video et taceo.