Slowly but surely, Twitch is becoming more diverse but it’s still heavily dominated by cis white men. Where exactly does that leave female streamers?
It’s fair to say that Twitch – along with social media in general – can be toxic for women. Between body-shaming, stalking, unfair bans, alleged sexualisation, being demonetised and even cosmetics brands lacking diversity, the amount of harassment faced by women online is appalling.
A recent survey found that 59 per cent of women hide their gender when playing games online to avoid harassment. The main reason for this is that 77 per cent of women have received gender-specific discrimination when gaming.
So how does this impact female Twitch streamers?
“I feel like women tend to be targeted with appearance related insults in a way that other people aren’t,” says Psyche. “Unsolicited comments about our weight, how attractive we are, and other similar kinds of comments are made rather than commenting directly on our content or gameplay in the case of streaming.
“I hate that it feels like, as a woman, my worth as a content creator is measured by how attractive I am to a particular person rather than any of the cool things I do or create.”
At least three or four times per stream, Psyche says she receives an insulting comment about her looks or the fact that she’s a woman.
PikaChulita notes there’s a misconception that women have it easier on Twitch.
“Being a woman on Twitch is not as easy as some people may believe. There’s the ridiculous idea that women somehow have it easier on the platform because of women’s attractiveness and/or sex appeal. The math doesn’t add up, especially when you factor in the intersectionality of women of colour,” she says.
“The presence of straight cis white men makes up the majority of Twitch overall. If women have it easier, why aren’t we pulling the same numbers and receiving the same opportunities as our white male counterparts, especially us Black or brown women?”
Sadly, she believes that being a woman almost guarantees some form of abuse.
“It doesn’t matter if you are fully clothed, only showing yourself from the neck up, or being sexy and showing your cleavage and other parts of your body – you’ll get harassed. Sometimes it’s being asked to show your breasts. Sometimes it’s being told to ‘cover up’ and being slut-shamed. Sometimes it’s being name-called and other times it’s unwanted advances.
“For many women, this occurs almost every time they go live. I think I receive more gender-based harassment than I do race-based harassment, if not, an equal amount of both.”
“On a regular day we can hold down the fort pretty decently, but [harassment] 100 per cent forces all of us to constantly be on edge,” says PleasantlyTwstd. “It inhibits our ability as creators to make the quality content that we want to make, and it prevents people who want to be there to enjoy the content to do just that.
“It’s honestly frustrating and tiring.”
The sort of abuse received by female streamers is incredibly invasive, distressingly regular, and often extreme.
Says PikaChulita: “I’ve been asked to see my breasts, feet, legs. I’ve been called a b***h, a w***e. I’ve had someone come and say they wanted to repeal the 19th amendment (that gave [white] women the right to vote). I’ve been messaged privately and asked if I’ve ever been caught masturbating.
“My experiences are very similar to so many other women. Many have even received physical threats.”
Early in her streaming career, PleasantlyTwstd was hate raided by trolls through Reddit – an all too common occurrence.
“I was hate raided from Reddit with about 20-30 people who all came in trading off on either calling me slurs while making sexualizing comments at me, or pretending to come to my defense while still calling me slurs,” she says.
“[We have] people coming in to call us slurs, profanity, terrible people, refer to us as creatures, the works. Every blue moon we’ll get at least one chump who shows up to tell me that asexual people aren’t real, or that queer people aren’t real, but that’s like once a night so at this point my mods and I giggle about it.”
How can women be supported on Twitch?
So what can be done to better support women – and non-men – on Twitch, to ensure a safe environment for all?
“People always say to ignore it, or that you need thick skin to be a streamer, which I think is unfair,” says Psyche. “Expecting everyone to be able to respond to comments in the same way is unreasonable, and some trolls have an uncanny ability to pinpoint things you’re already sensitive to and pick on those, which can make them harder to ignore.”
That goes for trolling of any kind that’s inevitably hurtful and often hard to deal with. It’s clear that Twitch needs to do more.
“I think Twitch needs to implement features like IP banning for serious offences (such as stalking, threats of physical violence/rape/sexual assault), and not allow people we’ve banned to still view our streams,” says PikaChulita.
While streamers and their moderators can ban viewers from their stream, it’s all too easy for trolls to simply create a new account and return. IP banning would eradicate this.
“Actual. Support. Tools. Real action. I cannot stress this enough,” says PleasantlyTwstd. “All the initiatives, campaigns, rollouts, swag, events in the world do not mean anything if Twitch, and platforms akin to Twitch, refuse to curate the space to actually welcome us in. That means when it comes to us reporting these types, when we snapshot the harassment we deal with, taking it seriously and removing them from the platform.”
This, she says, is particularly important when Twitch uplift marginalised creators – through front-page streams, for instance – but aren’t capable of supporting and protecting them from harassment.
“Me getting a shirt and front page time doesn’t change the fact that when I ban an anti-nonman from my channel they will go out and harass someone else. They need to be removed from the platform, period,” she says.
“You can’t say ‘we want you on the platform’ and when we point to the reasons we leave or struggle with growth or how we’re harassed, drop off a shrugging emoji or explain down to us how ‘well, you can just ban or go sub-only’-which has been shown to hamstring growth.”
PikaChulita also notes the harassment from male streamers which too often goes unchecked.
“During last summer’s gaming ‘Me Too’ movement, many people within the gaming community were removed from spaces (including Twitch) for rape, sexual assault, etc. However, many of them still have their platforms. They should also be held accountable to send a message that it won’t be tolerated,” she says.
There are also groups outside of Twitch looking to support women gamers. The*gameHERS have recently launched a women’s Collegiate Division to support women in esports.
What’s more, their community is dedicated to amplifying the voices of women, femme-identifying gamers and non-binary gamers, so that all can be authentically themselves.
Outside of these structures, PikaChulita believes that women need to support one another in online spaces.
“I think women should do as much as they can to cultivate a ‘sisterhood’ environment and support one another (and not see existing on Twitch as an inherent competition), and have each other’s backs,” she says. “We’re really the only ones who will.”
Rape Crisis England and Wales works towards the elimination of sexual violence. If you’ve been affected by the issues raised in this story, you can access more information on their website or by calling the National Rape Crisis Helpline on 0808 802 9999. Rape Crisis Scotland’s helpline number is 08088 01 03 02.
Readers in the US are encouraged to contact RAINN, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline on 800-656-4673.