Recently I saw this youtube video where some young boys (around 9 years or so) were asked to play DnD with some girls of the same age. The video is interesting because of two main reasons: Firstly how the boys reacted to the idea of having a girl at the table with them and most tellingly, how the (clearly adult) Dungeon Master reacted.
Starting off the four boys were asked about how they felt about Dungeons and Dragons with most of them having some understanding of what it was. When the same was asked of the four girls in this video, they said that they didn’t really know what it was or assumed it was only related to a video game of some sort. That’s a pretty typical reaction, because very often certain things like fantasy are assumed to be “For boys” and that’s definitely shown in some of the responses to the question “Why aren’t there girls playing Dungeons and Dragons?”. Many of the boys say things along the lines of “Boys like Aliens and girls…. like princesses?” and here we have an interesting answer from the (again, adult) Dungeon Master. “It has certain aspects in it that I don’t think, generally appeal to girls of that age”.
So they ended up asking these four girls if they would like to actually play Dungeons and Dragons, which only ever had one actual result: Everyone had fun! The game didn’t explode and everyone managed to get along at the table fine. All of the girls thought that the game was fun and a couple indicated they really wanted to play again. The boys seemed to be very surprised that not a lot had actually changed, the girls could actually play the game and one of the boys hilariously says “The girls were more violent than I thought!”. I suspect that has to do with DnD being a game very focused on killing things and taking their stuff for the most part.
In any event, what was really notable was how the DM said “I think that boys are taught that there are certain things that men do and there are certain things that women do, and that’s what they do, while girls are taught that women can do anything”. Interestingly, the DM has actually demonstrated that he seemed to have a similar idea at the start to what the boys did where he didn’t think it had elements that would appeal to girls. This is interesting when taken in context, because it should be obvious that girls (and women) are very much into fantasy and similar as well: Even ones largely viewed as male dominated or centric.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy has made a total of around $3 billion dollars and did so by attracting numerous men and women to see it. You don’t hit numbers that obscenely high by appealing to a narrow or specific demographic. This shows there is more than enough interest in fantasy, action movies (consider the ridiculous box offices of Transformers, Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy) and so on to appeal to a very wide demographic. In my experience, girls and women are actually interested in things that people might expect to be largely male dominated like roleplaying: It’s just as some of those girls in the video say, nobody asked them.
This is because both the boys and the DM just assume that girls aren’t interested, so they don’t ask them to find out and therefore firmly establish their previous belief girls aren’t interested. It’s effectively a socially generated tautology. As a young man, many years ago now, I would frequently wonder if girls actually enjoyed anything like DnD but I never particularly asked. I admit, I just assumed it would be an irrelevant question. The groups I was in were primarily dominated by boys or men my own age until University. The first time I had a woman in my game was in 4th Edition DnD and I had a couple of further games where that was the case. Primarily this difference was simply the result of just asking anyone I could think of over facebook or whatever. You’d be amazed who might be interested the moment you just invite them!
Now that I have had a long period of experience with this idea of “Women play tabletop games” (I’ll extend this point out to all tabletop roleplaying, not just DnD) I don’t honestly think it should be regarded as weird. Let alone the idea of women sitting down to play DnD being “Laughtrack” worthy. Additionally, I’ve always found that women often fall into the same kind of players that have been talked about for years in DnD circles. Slayers, Powergamers, Actors, Rules Lawyers and many others are just as frequent as men, which makes this artificial barrier that “Roleplaying” is for men all the more confusing. I feel it is more “Roleplaying is for people who actually get asked or invited”.
For example, to turn this discussion away from gender specifically, I once had a player in my 4E game who didn’t really get into RPGs or similar on computers at all. While looking for players I figured “Well, why don’t I ask him anyway?” and to my immense surprise he did actually completely defy my expectations and said yes! When I finally had to leave to go elsewhere in life nearly 3 years later, he was by far the most reliable of players and attended almost every single session. Had I just assumed “He’s never expressed an interest in roleplaying or even many computer RPGs, he won’t be interested in playing DnD” I would have missed out on some really great moments that he was a part of during that time.
The long and belabored point of this is to put aside what you think people “Should” be into and instead just try asking in the first place. You might be surprised who actually does actually want to play!