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The Mary Sue

How Being in an All-Girls’ D&D Group Reminds Me that Femininity and Feminism Can Coexist in Harmony

Because dungeon mistresses are the new dungeon masters.

2015-08-02 13.19.52

The first time I remember hearing anything about Dungeons & Dragons aside from a passing comment or joke about its nerdiness was circa 2006. Some friends and I went to see Stephen Lynch (remember him?) perform live at the UCF arena, and his closing number was a song called “D&D.” If you’re not familiar with the song, which I wouldn’t fault you for, some of the more memorable lyrics are as follows:

IT’S D&D!
Fightin’ with the legends of yore.
IT’S D&D!
Never kissed a lady before.
Nope.
Whoo!

And the unforgettable:

Now the Lord of the Rings, the Dark Crystal and things
We use these as a reference tool
And when we put on our cloaks and tell warlock jokes
WE’RE THE COOLEST KIDS IN THE SCHOOL!

No we’re not.
I know.

The rest of the lyrics include such references as a diet of Funyuns and Mountain Dew (which I’m not hating on in general, because yum), not having a girlfriend, etc. Looking back, the only thing that really saved this song’s live performance was the New Kids on the Block dance at the end, which I appreciated but had nothing to do with the rest of the song.

But my point is that after hearing a couple of thirty-something dudes sing about their memories surrounding this game, it’s understandable that I had little interest. So I wrote D&D off as a thing immature boys did and didn’t really think much of it—especially since, by that point, I’d played my fair share of World of Warcraft, which I’d heard was like a sped-up version of D&D. I was content—that is, until my computer decided it wasn’t advanced enough to load the other continent. Then I maxed my troll shaman out at level 28 and went back to The Sims.

Fast forward to today. I’d participated in exactly one D&D game up until 2015, and to my chagrin, it was pretty much exactly how Stephen Lynch described—except the guys playing were obviously toning down the debauchery because a girl was in the room. I had fun, but it was just the one game. I didn’t go back. So a couple months ago, when my best friend mentioned wanting to put together a D&D group, I was hesitant. I thought about Stephen Lynch; I thought about my one real attempt, and I thought about male-dominated shows like The Big Bang Theory that didn’t really add much female influence to the idea of D&D. But then she mentioned it would be all women—most of whom I already knew. I was sold.

Going in, I wondered what it’d be like. I wondered if I’d be expected to know all the ins and outs of the game beforehand (I wasn’t). I wondered if I’d be the most clueless one there (I wasn’t), and most of all, I wondered whether we’d spend the time trying to create an experience that I knew men had traditionally dominated and made canon, or if we’d be able to have creative liberty to do what we wanted to make it our own and still have it count as “real D&D.” I wondered if I was going to have to suspend the part of myself that was OK with traditional femininity to fit into this world, and whether the other girls would feel like they had to do that as well.

When I arrived, the hostess—whose pregnant sister was serving as Dungeon Master—had wine, hummus, chips, veggies, and lots of other snacks laid out beautifully on her dining-room table right next to the multiple sets of many-sided dice of various shapes and colors. We each had a place set up with a wine cup, a crisp character sheet, and a pen. I had a place to put my purse. Soon, I was surrounded by five women whom I know to be creative, fun, and intelligent—and not just because they all hold at least a bachelor’s degree (most with a master’s, one with a PhD)—and most of them work in engineering or tech. The first things I talked about with these women were whether we wanted to do a Sailor Moon or steampunk maze-focused campaign and which miniature dinosaur we’d each take for a piece.

It was at our first meeting that I realized I really had some strong and badass female friends, and I was excited to be in the company of women who weren’t afraid to say “F you” to a society where men dominate sciences and nerd culture. And in this environment, the six of us weren’t afraid to let our freak flags fly. I wasn’t afraid of spending way too much time dwelling on my character’s name or outward appearance because damn it, it was a big deal. I couldn’t name her Black Mamba, a nod to Uma Thurman’s character in the Kill Bill movies, if everyone else had cute names like Lita and Rena and Sophie. So I settled on Minerva—a nod to Minerva McGonagall, the greatest and most underrated Harry Potter character.

Together, we’re not afraid to talk hit points and perception checks while crocheting between turns (no really, two of my friends do that). We aren’t afraid to fight golems while at the same time wondering where those dinosaur hotties by the water fountain wandered off to, only to find out they got hypnotized and we have to be the ones to save them. We aren’t hesitant to attack a stronger monster over a bloodied one to save a friend who’s nearby just because our dice are pink and sparkly. We get excited planning a girls’ weekend at the Hard Rock while simultaneously deciding which spells to cast at enemies and have no shame in making a monster into a huge cat who is reminiscent of my best friend’s IRL evil Siamese cat.

Because we’re surrounded by other women, we’re OK. Because we’re taking a traditionally male-dominated thing and making it whatever the hell we want it to be, we’re OK. And because the six of us have created a safe environment where we can be ourselves, I can’t wait until our next meeting.

Jen Juneau is a writer, editor and ’90s-pop-culture enthusiast with a weakness for cats and anything with chocolate in it. She runs sometimes, and is currently training to run a half marathon all the way through without dying. Find her at jenjuneau.com, and on Twitter and Instagram: @wordswithjen.

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