I’m going to talk to you about some­thing not very inter­na­tion­al. Which is sur­pris­ing because this is not just Nordic larp talk, this is inter­na­tion­al larp talk. I’m going to talk to you about a Danish ini­tia­tive that, a fem­i­nist ini­tia­tive, called the Girls In Armor move­ment, wich start­ed as a reg­i­ment of all women made for a Danish larp called Warlarp, which went [on] to be an offi­cial orga­ni­za­tion with mem­bers of both sex­es, and is now some sort of loose net­work that sup­ports this sys­tem for peo­ple who are inter­est­ed in fem­i­nism and wom­en’s rights. 

What’s up with the name, Girls in Armor? It’s a real­ly stu­pid name. We know. It start­ed up as a joke or a pun about an old Danish movie about women and enrolling them­selves in the army. It was from the 70s. We bit­ter­ly regret­ted giv­ing the group the name then, but it sort of stuck and now it has nos­tal­gic value.

This is me. And I’m going to say that I’m real­ly ter­ri­ble at mak­ing this sort of pre­sen­ta­tion. Not giv­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion but actu­al­ly mak­ing what’s on the screen. So now I just have pic­tures of us run­ning around in larp gear.

Warlarp is a series of Danish larps which focus­es on bat­tles, epic­ness, sol­dier lives, and badass cos­tumes. It’s not very com­pli­cat­ed. It has about five hun­dred par­tic­i­pants every time. It runs once a year with a dif­fer­ent orga­niz­ing group, and it’s about three days. 

In 2009, when we began this ini­tia­tive, there weren’t real­ly that many women around to play these games. They were usu­al­ly, I’m the musi­cian. I’m the one who car­ries the stan­dard. I’m at home mak­ing food.” If there were women par­tic­i­pat­ing in reg­i­ments, there was usu­al­ly just one per reg­i­ment, and the reg­i­ment is like ten to thir­ty, maybe forty peo­ple for the largest of them. So, not many women were around to play these games.

So, one night we sat down a bunch of women. We had smoked a lot of cig­a­rettes and we had drunk a lot of red wine, and some­one said, We’ll do a group of only women.” And every­body said, Yeah!” and the game was on. So now we’d said it and we had to do it. 

So, the whole project sort of start­ed for our own sake. Usually when you make this kind of fem­i­nist ini­tia­tive, it starts with peo­ple read­ing a bunch of fem­i­nist the­o­ry. I know, because I read a bunch of fem­i­nist the­o­ry all the time. But none of us real­ly knew any­thing about fem­i­nist the­o­ry and how to be a prop­er fem­i­nist activist group. We did this for our own sake. We did it because we thought, Warlarp. That sounds like fun.” Some had been, some had not. So we were kind of like, We’re going the whole way.”

With Warlarp, we kind of want­ed to chal­lenge how women were por­trayed in these kinds of larps, when you use super reg­u­lar stereo­types with women like, You go and cook. And I go and fight.” We want­ed to chal­lenge that.

We also want­ed to make it seem where no one felt like the weak link. If you’re one woman in a group of ten men and you have to be very phys­i­cal— Aand you have to be when you play Warlarp. There’s a lot of run­ning around and fight­ing and get­ting hit in the head with swords and axes. And you kind of tend to feel like the weak link. And hav­ing a group of women—all women—doing this, then nobody felt like the weak link, so it was kind of like an act of empowerment.

And we want­ed to show our male friends. They were laugh­ing a lit­tle bit at us, and we want­ed to prove that we could do this. We could all orga­nize this whole she­bang, and so we did.

And most impor­tant­ly, we want­ed to show that we could func­tion as a reg­i­ment as well as any­body. So, we found about sev­en­teen women who want­ed to par­tic­i­pate with us. We fundraised €4,000 to make cos­tumes that fit wom­en’s bod­ies. And we made a ton of cos­tumes. At one point, I actu­al­ly had a dream of being a sewing machine.

We had char­ac­ter work­shops and train­ing days. And at the game, we were awe­some. We won bat­tles. Not all but a prop­er amount. And we got praise from all the oth­er Warlarp par­tic­i­pants and orga­nizes. So, when we came home, we had suc­cess and felt pride. So, what was wrong?

Well, we dis­cov­ered some­thing, that we went from being just a bunch of women run­ning around and play­ing Warlarp, to being an actu­al fem­i­nist group. And that was that in the dura­tion of the larp, we were treat­ed so much more dif­fer­ent­ly because we were women. And in Warlarp, gen­der does­n’t real­ly mat­ter. It’s a game about being in the Warhammer fic­tion. And then you fight the oth­er army. And then you go back and then you say, Yay, we lost!” or, Yay, we won!” And then you go out and fight some more.

It’s not a deep game. It’s not a deep emo­tion­al game. And gen­der is not an issue. So, why was it that we had ran­dom sol­diers com­ing up to us and ask­ing, Hey, I have a son at home. Could could you maybe mar­ry him?” And peo­ple were ask­ing, Oh, but why are you in this war?” And I would look at him and say, But why are you in this war? Maybe because we both signed up for the same larp.” And at some point anoth­er reg­i­ment made us a home­made wood­en dil­do because that’s prob­a­bly the sort of thing you miss.” Yeah, great. So, hav­ing your gen­der be an issue or being some­thing that the oth­er play­ers respond­ed to con­stant­ly and all the time was kind of real­ly fuck­ing annoy­ing when you’re play­ing a game where gen­der does­n’t real­ly matter.

So we came home with a dream. We want­ed to make the Warlarp more acces­si­ble to women. We want­ed to talk and debate wom­en’s role in these kinds of larps. And we want­ed to ask sim­ple ques­tions like, when you have a fan­ta­sy fic­tion, when does gen­der mat­ter? When it it impor­tant and when is it not?

So the ini­tia­tive evolved quite a lot from there. We became an offi­cial orga­ni­za­tion with mem­bers, and we had a spot on the [?] board and stuff like that. We wrote a bunch of arti­cles. We debat­ed a lot. We made a ton of debate on Facebook and social media. We also did a lot of shit­storms, which I’m not real­ly proud of, but yeah. I’ll tell you about all the mis­takes we made lat­er. This is not the time.

We went to some more Warlarps and looked epic. And most impor­tant­ly, we talked. We talked to a lot of peo­ple and not on the web site. Having your like plat­form with this kind of larp for five hun­dred peo­ple, most­ly men, it gives you a lot of peo­ple to talk to, and a lot of them don’t agree with you. But we made an issue out of it to try to be polite. These peo­ple, they were not evil, they were not vicious. They just did­n’t under­stand what it’s like to have your gen­der used against you in a larp where gen­der is clear­ly not the point. And we tried to give cred­it and sup­port to oth­er women, women which we did not know. Because we felt that that was impor­tant and that was kind of the whole empow­er­ment thing. 

So appar­ent­ly some­thing worked. We got a bunch of more allies. People step­ping for­ward and say­ing, Hey, I agree with you, and I will take this fight.” Which was great, because we would nev­er be able to do this if we did­n’t have a bunch of allies, both men and women. And we could see that slow­ly, peo­ple were begin­ning to talk a lot more about gen­der in Warlarp, but also in oth­er kinds of larp. We had orga­niz­ers call us or write us ask­ing, Hey, how do I make this game more acces­si­ble to women?” And we got in touch with a bunch of badass women who have had the same strug­gle, and we bond­ed with them, and we learned from them.

So, then it got wider than just Warlarp and fan­ta­sy games. Many of us became real fem­i­nists, not just larp fem­i­nists. I know there’s no such thing. But for me per­son­al­ly, it became a way of look­ing at soci­ety and how it’s struc­tured and how it functions. 

We also began to reflect a lot about what are wom­en’s roles off-game. As orga­niz­ers, as play­mak­ers, a sce­nario writ­ers. All that stuff. And obvi­ous­ly there were a lot of women before us who made all these things, and were all these things. But they were scat­tered, and I thought that they were hard to reach. So, we can­not begin to reflect, how can I be in that posi­tion? How can I be a larp orga­niz­er or a sce­nario writer, or all this stuff?

And we began to push each oth­er, and to encour­age each oth­er to stand up and to claim that fame, and to do that project. And we slow­ly closed down the offi­cial” part of the orga­ni­za­tion and became more like a net­work which sup­port­ed each oth­er, and— I’m not sure whether I should do this thing.” Yeah, you go and do that thing, and we sup­port you, and we believe in you. And that is prob­a­bly one of the most impor­tant things to come out of this initiative.

So today it’s been six years since we made the first Girls In Armor project. And today we have been main orga­niz­ers at the Danish con­ven­tion Fastaval forum, and main orga­niz­ers at Knudepunkt. People have been mak­ing tons of larps. People have been sce­nario writ­ers at [?], Fastaval, and Grenselandet. People have been sit­ting on boards in var­i­ous orga­ni­za­tion. And I’m talk­ing about all the women who have some­how been a part of or affil­i­at­ed with the Girls In Armor move­ment. So, we real­ly real­ly evolved our­selves in this process, and hope­ful­ly we pulled a lot of oth­er women up with us because we’re going onwards and forwards. 

Network is the thing I want to— If I had to sum up the Girls In Armor move­ment with one word, it would be net­work.” It’s that sup­port sys­tem. It is that under­stand­ing of the oth­er per­son­’s strug­gle. Being sort of mar­gin­al­ized as a woman in Danish larp because there aren’t so many, I can see that it’s chang­ing now. There are so many more vis­i­ble women doing so much more awe­some stuff. I’m not say­ing that we did it. But I’m say­ing that we maybe did some of it. Maybe we encour­aged some­one. I hope so. But we def­i­nite­ly made an effort to change how women are per­ceived, and how women are involved in Danish larp. Thank you. 

Further Reference

Overview blog post for the 2015 Nordic Larp Talks, and for this presentation