Saturday, December 1, 2007

Female Tanks - The Rarity

(Crossposted from )

I felt it was time to address another gender studies topic, so today is about how finding a female, and actual female, behind the role of a tank is a rarity, and analyzing why this may be. May I forewarn you that everything further is entirely personal opinions and observations; this is not a research paper, it's a log of my thoughts. So don't expect any fancy pants citations. =P (I do enough of that in college already.)

I did want to do some research, but I simply haven't had the time or the ability to. What I can say is that in my guild, I am not only the only tankadin, but I'm the only female tank. I have never run across another female tank in game, though I am sure that they are out there. I'll likely revisit this topic and do a little polling on the WoW forums,, and perhaps in game on my server (and maybe a couple others just to average statistics out). Either way, I think it can be assumed in most people's experiences that the population of female tanks, is very low.

Naturally, this means what do I actually see women playing? Healers and DPS, since that's all that's left. If I think about the people in my guild, I can think of two female shaman healers, one mage, one warlock, there used to be one hunter and a second warlock who have left... and if there's any more, then I'm either unaware of who is in reality female, or they are alts. If I want to use those as (skewed) statistics, then out of a population of seven total (including myself), 14% are tanks, 29% are healers, and 57% are DPS.

Again, I know this has to be skewed, as many of the other women I see posting on the forums (who say proudly or at least generally admit they are in fact female), are healers in some way (or at least a class that can be a healer). I would wager a guess that statistics wise, it should look a little more like:

50% of women are healers
40% of women are DPS
10% of women are tanks

Again, I don't really have stats to back this up, it's just a wide generalization.

Why would more women choose to be a healer over any other class? Is there something more appealing to it to women, or is it something that the male counterparts they may be playing alongside request them to do? How many of these women play healers because they were asked to, not because they chose to? How many of these women play healers because they enjoy healing, and if that's the case, why do they enjoy it?

My theory is that the majority of female healers in the game are healers because they were asked to become healers, not because they wanted to be. I could very well have ended up as this exact example; the first role I was asked to fill was that of a tank, simply because we had few tanks. When that was remedied, I was immediately asked to become a healer instead. When the Paladin class was made available to the Horde, I was asked to become a Paladin, but it was not clear what role they wanted me to fill other than "Paladin." It is likely, though, I would have ended up specc'd Holy and never have even thought about tanking if I hadn't been so damn adamant about it on my own. (Incidentally, I'm glad I made that choice. =) )

In addition, most of the male healers I know play healers because they wanted to, not because they were asked to. Some people in general do enjoy the thrill of keeping someone safe and alive; I feel the same thing, just from a different perspective (I protect by being the person taking all the damage; I keep others alive by being the protector - all seemed very paladin-like to me). DPS seems to be a much more aggressive instinct, with the desire to pump numbers as high as possible, doling out the big damage and reaching prestige from that perspective.

That being said, is healing a maternal role, and therefore generally delegated to female players? And is tanking a masculine role, and therefore generally delegated to the male players? Females, traditionally, are the nurturer. I can understand why they would become the healers of the world; they care for others around them, and are therefore responsible for others' well-being and health. Males, traditionally, are the protectors and providers. I can understand them donning plate and stepping out in front to prevent any harm from coming to his woman, or his children, or his fellow comrades. All very stereotypical, but also understandable simply from a generalized historical point of view.

The role of DPS seems to be the only one that doesn't have a particular gender to it; it's simply destructive. Really, it's the antithesis of both other roles, though the game doesn't function without it. DPS is one of those things that confuses me; I'm never really sure if I enjoy it or dislike it. My two other favorite classes besides Paladin are Rogue and Mage (both undeniably DPS). I enjoy the stealth aspect of being a Rogue, and there is admittedly a little enjoyment in the whole backstabbing part of their functions (call it my sadistic side). Mage I really only like because I've mimicked one of my favorite and highest level D&D characters every time I've made one; beautiful but deadly, and on the inside, rotten to the core. Again, a very stereotypical character design, but it's one I've come to love. There's always an odd sense of entertainment that comes from lighting someone up. But again, that kind of hits the sadistic side of my personality; so is DPS only that? An extension of our desire to harm others?

Since I've already mentioned my take on DPS, let me re-outline the other two roles from my perspective:


I love tanking. I love the challenge in keeping the monster in my face and away from my friends. I love the idea that I am protecting others, a role I've always felt I'm never going to get to experience anywhere else - after all, to anyone who simply visually perceives me, I look like a little girl who needs to be protected (I'm 5'3" and weight less than 110 lbs; just the other day when I was getting carded at a grocery store, the clerk told me I looked 14). But I'm stronger than that, and being allowed that opportunity through a game is a treat for me. A taste of what I can hopefully one day do on my own. I guess I have more paternal instincts than I previously assumed. I can understand that; I grew up around two elder brothers and I'm daddy's little girl. I'm very tomboyish.

In antithesis, what is it about healing that I hate? I don't really know; I just find it boring. I would sit back and relegate myself to healer any time before level 70, simply so I could progress myself. Every time, I found it rather boring. I prefer being in on the head-to-head action. Somehow, even though I know I'm in one of the most important roles as a healer, I just don't get a sense of satisfaction out of it; I feel disjointed from the encounter. I hate it even more when I'm healing while still specc'd Prot simply because someone else is the "better tank" for the situation; because now I'm neither optimal, nor really contributing. They could be doing this just fine without me, and if I stood and did absolutely nothing, the odds are no one would notice until the healing charts were posted. That leaves me with a sense of dis-accomplishment (if that's a term, but hey, I'll use it anyway); I prefer leaving with a sense of "Hey, I did this and I did it right" rather than "Hey, I did this and I don't know if I did it right because they probably didn't notice or care."

Or maybe I just prefer being in the spotlight, being needed and wanted. Maybe it's a sense of belonging for me, of knowing everyone is happy for me to be there because I'm part of the team, and I'm important, loved, liked, whatever. Maybe it's for a sense of social security, even if it's in something silly like a virtual realm.

Beyond that, it might even be that I just like being unique and different. That sounds about right; after all, I'm an actor, right? And we're all full of ourselves. =P

I guess what it really comes down to is playing what you want; and everyone's tastes are different. It just happens to be interesting to note a pattern in relation to gender; that's really all this analysis is about. So even if I'm a little strange and go against the grain, it's not going to stop me. I love what I do, and I probably always will. Same goes for everyone else.

And really, I wouldn't have it any other way.


Sabin said...

Dunno if you already know about this but there is a forum dedicated to paladin tanking here:

We actually had a thread a while ago about the gender disparity in tanking... but I can't find it anymore.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I love tanking as well. The only reason i resigned myself to healing was to progress.

Pretty soon, I am going to go back to doing what I do best...watching people hit my shield.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I'm Alissakuduk. Don't know if you remember me, but I posted the survey about gender on the WoW forums about a month ago. I'm finally checking out your blog as you recommended.

I find that for me I prefer a mixture of the dps and tanking roles. I'm an 70 Arms warrior, and recently have been doing a lot more pure DPS because one of my good friends has an 80 prot warrior and 80 paladin and ends up tanking the majority of the instances we do. When I PuG or group with my cousin (a prist), though, the fact that I'm a warrior means I usually end up tanking.

Tanking appeals to me because I like being able to keep monsters off of the members of my group. I pride myself on being able to pay attention to all the monsters around me and making sure I keep their aggro.

I didn't spec Protection, though, because I like the versatility of Arms and I like doing damage. A lot. It's partially because of the thrill of seeing those high crits, but I also think a large part of it is the same urge that leads me to want to get aggro -- I want to keep the monsters off of everybody else, and the best way to do that is to kill them before they kill me and/or everyone else runs out of mana. I think this line of thought stems from the fact that the majority of my WoW career has been spent in 2 or 3 person groups, where I'm relied on as either the tank and dps, or as main dps. Even now, when I'm dpsing in larger groups and so try to avoid getting threat, I'm always watch the clothies like a hawk and am usually the first melee to notice if something's attacking them.

On a different note, as a 5'2 1/2" 109lb female, I empathize with the desire to prove I don't need to be coddled. :) Yay two-handed weapons and plate.