Gnomes, Nerds, and Kyriarchy
(Early Frost will hopefully return next week, when my bandwidth resets, allowing me to download the 1GB patch)
While I am ready to admit that my time spent reading blogs are slim to none compared to writing my own blog (which by itself is also quite slim nowadays), being simply a part of the wow blogosphere at all had me eventually encountering the issue of feminism in numerous blog posts on my twitterfeed as well as numerous more linked by those posts. I am also ready to admit that my while my interest in feminism is not that high, I do advocate empowerment of those who are marginalized by influences beyond their control (i.e., minorities affected by racism and the like, the “punk” aspect of steampunk). Thus, when the topic of gender-centric discussion in WoW ran its course, from female-centric posts to male-centric posts, I began thinking that such issues go beyond gender and sexuality.
Enter kyriarchy, a term that encapsulates the scope and breadth of such issues of control and empowerment of one social group over another, based on differences in qualities between those groups, and associated stereotypes within those differences (please don’t burn at the stake if I’m not 100% correctly grasping the definition of the term). This isn’t just sexism, but racism, sexualism, mentalism, ableism, and much, much more.
To be as brief as possible, kyriarchy exists in the World of Warcraft, particularly with regards to gnomes as a race, as the lore, design elements, as well as social response to the gnomes as a class insist on particular stereotypes that I hope to outline within this post.
Gnomes as Nerds
With their engineering prowress (+5 Engineering racial), excellent cognitive skills (+5% Intellect), and overall eccentricity, it is no surprise that gnomes come across as the nerds of WoW. They are active contributors of technology to the Alliance war machine, and are responsible for such creations as the flying machine, submarine, and perhaps most important of all, the Deeprun Tram, which runs through nearly a third of the Eastern Kingdoms, including the great sea, to connect Ironforge and Stormwind. With such important technological advances and influences, one would think that the Exiles would benefit more from the credit they receive for their abilities.
Apparently, this is not so. Despite their claim to fame, gnomes are not treated with the dignity of their intellectual prowress. Instead, their assets are used merely as assets, tools of war that are to be taken for granted. Not a single gnome in lore is treated with the same level of respect or reverence that is given to the likes of the Wynns, Velens, Bronzebeards, and Stormrages. Their main leader, Gelbin Mekkatorque, was mentioned in written warcraft novels once (Beyond The Dark Portal, written by Rosenberg and Golden), and even though he only held the position of Tinker (as opposed to High Tinker) in the novel’s setting, it was with regards to a rat infestation during the development of the Deeprun Tram. Turalyon, the supposed Alpha of the humans at this time, is put off by the sheer technological depth of the contraption, pointing out the insignificance of a mere infestation. Gelbin’s character, on the other hand, is completely lost in technological translation due to the perspective from which the novel was written.
It would also seem that the intellectual prowress of gnomes is also a means of stereotyping them as nerds, and by extension, weaklings. The authors take on gnomes is that, despite their abilities to be strengthy Warriors and Death Knights in-game, they are weak as a whole, and having Gelbin approach Turalyon at all with this problem is a huge misappropriation of gnomish physical prowress. This is further expanded by the WoW lore team, who have yet to introduce an important gnome character who is a class other than engineer or caster. However, Kelly Aarons from wow.com, also known as Cadistra from WoW, eh?, has taken that opportunity in her weekly webcomic, Byron, the Tauren Rogue, by introducing a gnome rogue named Evi Daggershock. Not only does she bring up the issue of misappropriation by having a human initially dismiss Evi’s skills as a rogue, she subverts the trope entirely when Evi throws a dagger at him, having it barely miss his head.
But is Evi enough to turn around the misappropriation that Gnomes are unable to be anything but nerds? A look at warcraftrealms suggests that there is much work to be done. Of all characters level 20-80 censused by warcraftrealms, 5% were gnomes, and only 38% of them were a class other than Mage or Warlock. Considering that 3 of a possible 5 classes selectable by gnomes are physical dps classes, there is a discrepancy between what is available and what is actually selected. I cannot fathom that intellect bonuses would create such a bias towards casters, but the fact that Gnomes are the class that has the lowest representation of physical DPS classes of all the races (1.9% of all toons, compared to trolls at 2.8% and forsaken at 3.51%) is quite telling.
Blizzard could have gone out of their way to alleviate this skew by introducing another physical DPS class to gnomes in Cataclysm, but instead have decided to make priests a playable class. This strikes me as odd, since Paladins would have been better for this situation, as they are not only a physical DPS class, but have a tree that can benefit from their Expansive Mind racial as well*. An opportunity wasted, simply due to Lore junkies wanting gnomes to be gnomes: smart but weak.
*which will actually be represented as a mana pool increase in Cataclysm, rather than an intellect stat increase.
Gnomes as Unsexual Children
There’s a significant pretension that gnomes, as a result of their comic relief role in Warcraft, are highly unsexual, and that anything sexual about them is strewn about in a comical manner. For instance, the male gnome’s /dance animation is perhaps the most sexually lewd of all the races and genders for its numerous pelvic thrusts and imaginary booty slaps. Yet, I have yet to hear any complaints on the deviance of the act, due to the fact that it’s gnomes that are doing the dance. Had it been the animation for humans, orcs, elves, or any other “manly” race, I am sure that the dance would look miles more sexual, and would be more likely to become the centre of controversy. Why is this? Recalling a conversation on twitter, it would seem that there is a generalized taboo regarding gnomish fetishism, rather than the sexualization of gnomes themselves. People turn the other cheek on the gnome /dance because they’re not allowed to like it, not because it’s wrong in the first place.
I can’t explain why this is, but I definitely feel that such a practice is wrong. There is definitely something wrong with not acknowledging the sexuality of gnomes, as reflected by the relative lack of art depicting gnomes in sexually suggestive situations compared to other races such as Humans, Elves, Draenei, Trolls, and Orcs. While I agree with Pewter’s supposition that female infantilisation is one of the core causes of desexualisation, I also believe that the childish nature of male gnomes also contributes to their infantilism as well, despite the fact that most of them have beards that make them look otherwise. The race as a whole suffers from this due to misinterpretation of their eccentricity, that they treat their inventions like childish toys, or that their pursuit of knowledge is based on childish curiosity, rather than for more mature selfish gain like the other races. Regardless, Gnomish fetishism should be acceptable, and I deeply respect those who are open about it (you know who you are, and I give you mad props for it).
Gnomes as Avatars (Alternatively, Gnomes as Footballs)
As a whole, gnomes were introduced as the comic relief race of the Warcraft universe, but with the passing of time, that label has become stale. As part of a univese that is socially stratified favouring those with particular qualities, gnomes have unfortunately found themselves in the lower rung of that pyramid, both in popularity amongst the fanbase, as well as importance in Lore. The reason why I decided to take on this gnomish angle rather than the male-centric view that Pewter originally called out for, is because I chose a gnome as an avatar of myself. Of all the different races, the gnomes are the ones who I have the most in common with, and share similar philosophies and beliefs with.
For people like Blizzard to suggest that being a gnome, or being gnome-like, is to be marginalized by the superior races is to suggest that it’s not okay to be smart, to be individualistic, to be expressive; that being strong and sexy is the only way to get ahead in life. And it’s not just the developers and writers who make this mistake, but the community as well. For every person who makes a lame gnome puting joke, or enjoys the thrill of killing a gnome in a battleground or a gnome NPC in a dungeon, I see Vinnie Valedictorian getting stuffed into the locker after second period by Johnny Jock, getting his lunch money stolen, just so he can be rejected by Chelsea Cheerleader after school*. WoW’s treatment of gnomes in-game is like a form of bullying, and encourages the same type of behaviour in the real world.
I find that very discouraging, as I can imagine many a nerd picked on by his or her peers in high school retreating to the escapism of Warcraft, only to find the same treatment in-game.