Women Gamers and the Second Shift

Despite what trolls in public forums tell you, girls do play World of Warcraft, and plenty of other video games.  It’s not just anecdote, I have some Nielsen ratings to back it up. Yet, in the most competitive parts of the gaming world, women are a minority. Starcraft, ranked FPS, high ranked Warcraft raiding or PvP — everywhere I’ve looked, women are rare. 

I’ve heard a lot of arguments repeated, some more compelling than others: games are designed for men and don’t appeal to women, game design furthers sexist stereotypes so women don’t enjoy them, the atmosphere in competitive gaming is hostile to women, and women are not supposed to be competitive.

There’s a big, overlooked factor. Women don’t have time for video games. They might have enough time for gaming in short bursts, casually, but to be a competitive gamer takes time and commitment. It takes leisure time, which women don’t have as much of as men, because of the phenomenon of the second shift.

Arlie Hochschild first wrote about the second shift in 1989 in her book The Second Shift. She found that among families with working women, women still end up doing the majority of the housework and child care. It is as though they had two jobs, one which is their public career, and a second shift, as housekeeper and caregiver. As a result they have very little leisure time.

Twenty years later, women still do the majority of housework, even when working full time: Second Shift Redux: New Study on Working Women’s Minimal Leisure Time.

With an observer in the home and recording activity of men and women at 10-minute intervals, women appeared to spend about 30% of their time engaged in after-work housework, 18.5% in communication and about 10.6% in leisure activity. Mens’ time was apportioned differently, with about 19% of their home-time spent in leisure activity, 20% spent doing housework and 18.8% communicating.

The impact of household work inequity on women’s representation in video games isn’t as important as its impact on women’s health and careers. But before we get into speculating about why women don’t like games, or game culture, or aren’t as good at games, it’s good to first consider if women even have time to play.

Only once a woman has the free time to game can she even find out about problems that female gamers have. Problems, which I assure you, dear reader, I’ll be talking about in future posts.