For the past few days, popular Twitch broadcasters and their audiences have been embroiled in a heated debate. The topic? Women streamers and whether they should — or shouldn't — be showing skin on stream.
Now, it should be noted that Twitch has a pretty strict dress code policy already, so it's not like people can strip while they stream. I mean, I guess they could remove a jacket or a glove or a salacious ankle-revealing sock or something, but naughty bits are a no-go.
However, some people still believe that some women streamers rely more on flashing flesh — for instance, by wearing tank tops or other cleavage-revealing articles of clothing — than competitive skill or critique or in-game gags or what have you. Over the past few days, that's all come to a head.
OK, so why is this suddenly such a big thing?
In truth, tensions have been quietly running high for a while now. However, the lit match in the proverbial powder keg was a video by popular Smash Bros and League of Legends streamer Sky Williams. Its title? "Dear Female Streamers." It's gotten more than 430,000 views since it was posted.
In it, Williams argued that women who don't cover up — who use Twitch overlays that focus more on their physical characteristics than games — are trading credibility for popularity, for easy hits from horny dudes. In doing so, he claimed, they aren't just hurting themselves, but all women streamers.
"You're benefiting yourself at the cost of condemning your own gender," he said. "If another female is streaming, playing in non-provocative attire with her attention on the game, she will be subject to the same torment that you get when you just flaunt your body... You are creating a standard for the female streamers that want to continue."
He also implied that skin-showing women streamers are partially responsible for continued online harassment of women, claiming that their behaviour encourages people to keep saying stuff like, "show ur boobs" to any women streamers they might come across.
"The women who don't do this get made fun of, get called names," Williams said. "It makes them not want to stream, and that sucks."
After that, others on Twitter and Twitch picked up the torch to further argue that some women are stealing the lion's share of Twitch popularity with cheap tactics, not real skill or entertaining shows. It's worth noting that Williams didn't really try to say this, but it became a big part of the ensuing argument nonetheless.
Huh. So why all the backlash?
While Williams is far from alone in holding the opinion he voiced, many people — both women and men — strongly disagreed. It's at this point that people took to Twitter, Twitch, YouTube, and the like to lob a million different verbal bombs. Things got nasty. Williams was accused of slut-shaming, making women feel bad for doing anything that doesn't conform to social norms. He claimed that he didn't intend to come off that way, but others pointed out that intentions and outcomes are very different things. The argument went back and forth from there:
OK, but what about women streamers who've been accused of this stuff? What do they have to say?
The aforementioned debate popped up on Twitter, Twitch, YouTube, Reddit, and other corners of the Internet, all of which culminated in a live show featuring prominent women streamers Kaceytron (who satirizes many of the things Williams critiqued, but still encourages women to dress and promote themselves as they please), Lolrenaynay, and Dodger, along with Twitch admin and manager of Survivor GameZ ShannonZKiller. Here is that discussion, in its entirety:
They covered numerous topics, largely focusing on what it's like to actually be a woman streamer. It's an enlightening chat, and I encourage listening to all of it if you've got a couple hours. However, here are some of the key arguments they made:
- As long as they're following Twitch's rules, women should be able to do what they want with their bodies. Some women have big boobs. Deal.
- Specific women, regardless of how they choose to dress, do not inherently speak for or represent all women. They can do what they want, and that should not suddenly condemn all other women.
- Some people want woman streamers who show a little skin, just as some people want dude streamers who are pros, or who suck at games but tell jokes, or who yell a lot, or who have cool voices, or who play music, or who pretend to be drunk, or what have you. Streaming is rarely just about games. There's almost always a hook.
- Scantily (ish) clad women aren't actually taking over Twitch. Right now only 8 of the top 100 streamers on Twitch are women.
- If all you do on Twitch is show skin, you're doomed to sink to the bottom, same as anybody else with a one-note gimmick. Yeah, you might get a thousand-viewer boost when you first start, but they will go away before long unless there's substance to back it up.
What happened next? Was that the end of it? Did everyone agree to disagree and then go get ice cream?
Hardly. This is the Internet, remember? Williams and those who share his opinions refused to back down, which led to a debate during one of his League of Legends streams. This time, it was Williams and SivHD vs Kaceytron and Destiny. After a little while, YouTuber Totalbiscuit jumped in to moderate.
Much of the discussion rehashed points that were made in previous videos and discussions, but Williams tried to reframe what he was saying, to clarify what he said was his actual position versus what people took away from it. In short, he explained that he didn't intend to argue that women streamers should never show cleavage. Rather, he wanted to argue against it being done in a manipulative manner, same as if, for instance, a dude faked crying on stream to get attention or subscribers or money. He added, however, that he thinks using physical features — boobs, butt, whatever — is still a little worse, especially if your audience is young.
OK, so now it's over, right? And there's ice cream this time?
Nooooope. But people have distilled down their main points, both in words and actions. Many women streamers have added "boob" to their Twitter handles to show solidarity in not being ashamed of their physical features, nor of people who use them as they please. That's backed up by tweets like this one, from YouTuber and streamer Natalie Casanova:
Meanwhile, YouTuber Jesse Cox weighed in on Twitter with this particular nugget of perspective:
Others, however, still disagree, and the debate is ongoing. Cases in point:
Meanwhile, other discussions have blossomed from this one — for instance, why aren't there more popular women on Twitch in general? Why aren't more women present in competitive gaming? Where is all of this breaking down?
What's happened over the past few days is a boiling point, a standout moment in a discussion that's been simmering for years now. So long as different expectations are placed on women than on men in various gaming spaces, it will continue. Still, this whole thing was indicative of where many people are at with this topic right now, and that's important. Snapshots aren't encyclopaedias or history books, but they still speak volumes all the same.