As I was reading Reay’s “‘Spice Girls,’ ‘Nice Girls,’ ‘Girlies,’ and ‘Tomboys’: Gender discourses, girls’ cultures and femininities in the primary classroom,” (2006) the discussion of the various enactments of femininity reminded me of how I enact femininity in my own life and how the women around me perform their own femininity. More specifically, my brain was drawn to how gender is performed within the realms of live action role playing (LARP), a type of role playing game in which the players create their own characters and physically act them out within the fictional game world. The LARP I play in is set in a fantasy setting that is vaguely reminiscent of medieval times with magic and fantastical creatures. After playing for over a year, I’ve noticed how people enact various masculinities and femininities within the game.
Traditionally, role playing games have been seen as a more masculine pursuit. In the last ten or so years, more and more women have been getting involved in various aspects of role playing games, whether via table top games like Dungeons and Dragons, console gaming, or LARP. Through these enactments of imaginative play, people can try on different presentations of gender, much like the primary school children did in Reay’s research. Live action role play, moreso than other forms of role playing games, gives people the opportunity to try on different gender presentations via costuming and gender performances through character behaviors, professions, and interpersonal interactions. For example, many women choose character classes that avoid direct combat, whether by making a magic user that uses healing magic or an archer.
For this week’s enactment, I chose to play with the enactments of femininity through the use of my LARP’s game demonstration at ConCarolinas, a science fiction, fantasy, anime, and gaming convention that is held annually in Charlotte, NC. On Saturday, I spent time both at our booth and wandering around the convention in a feminine version of a swordsman’s outfit: a pink medieval shirt, black bodice, belt with sword frog, black tights, and boots. Since I was representing my LARP, I was also wearing elf ears. As I expected, the feminine costume prompted positive responses by other convention patrons, including people stopping me for photos. Later that evening, I changed my shirt into a black shirt of a very similar style and skipped the bodice so I could take part in a demonstration of the game. All that changed was the shirt color and the bodice, and people’s reactions to me changed from “cute swordswoman” to “combative tomboy.” Even in a space where gender bending is welcomed and encouraged, where the avante garde, geeky, and outright outrageous is the norm, my clothing switched my presentation from “girlie” to “tomboy.”