In a dark, blue-lit room last December, a man known as MetaphorSX was live-streaming World of Warcraft on Twitch and, during a break, decided to rate female Twitch streamers along with his viewers. One of his buddies, a World of Warcraft commentator, had just fetched him a new specimen: a young woman, wearing little makeup, in a red top and rectangular glasses. Anyone tuning into his channel would see what was on his monitor: a zone in WoW, his shadowy face on the top left and, front and center, the woman streaming League of Legends. A few viewers dropped scores in Twitch chat ranging from 6.5 to 9 in Twitch chat.
“Those titties are deceiving,” said MetaphorSX. “They actually look pretty plump, but the angle is fucking it up. 8.5?” Over voice chat, a friend gave his take: “Listen bro, fuck the titties. If you’re fucking her in the ass, you ain’t seeing them anyway.”
The woman on the chopping block was Khaljiit, a streamer with 36,000 followers who broadcasts Duelyst and whichever indie game catches her fancy. Suddenly in her chat, MetaphorSX’s cronies appeared amongst those followers. She quickly caught on to what was happening. The minutiae of her body, and her general fuckability, had become a hot topic on some WoW stream. It was, to her, harassment—unwelcome and unacceptable. (Neither MetaphorSX nor the WoW commentator returned a request for comment.)
Khaljiit wrote several tweets excoriating the men who live-rated her. “Another egirl getting upset over something she puts on display,” someone would tweet in response. A second: “If she doesn’t like the fact that someone is talking about her she can just quit! Btw she fucking deserve all of it!” The WoW commentator later said she was “trying to create drama for [her] own gain.” A greek chorus of Twitch cronies echoed those sentiments: Khaljiit was asking for it, they claimed. Bolstering their conviction were Khaljiit’s public accounts on Instagram and Patreon, where she sells extra attention via Snapchat to her viewers: updates on her life, selfies and responses to fans’ messages.
“It’s the ‘asking for it’ mindset,” Khaljiit told me. ‘I don’t like it. I don’t think any girl wants to be told, ‘You were asking for it.’ Unless I use my words to say something, I am not asking for it. Asking requires you to use words.” Since the incident, Khaljiit says she’s been live-rated on Twitch at least three more times.
For five years, there’s been a line drawn in the sands of Twitch’s ever-expanding livestreaming enterprise, which has grown to encompass over 2 million channels. For some, the cultural divide goes like this: there are so-called “real gamers,” whose trick shots, head shots or strategic mastery endear them to real gaming connoisseurs, and, over yonder, there are “boobie streamers.” The supposed business model of these so-called “boobie streamers” is to sit pretty and solicit compliments from fans or insults from trolls in exchange for subscription money. Dressed up, made-up and maybe in a push-up bra, they while away time in front of a camera for as long as they can before streaming a few minutes of the game designated in their video description. They are considered “fake” gamers.
Over time, it seems that the simple act of streaming and having boobs has elided into being a boobie streamer; that women on Twitch are “asking for” it—objectification, sexual comments—just because they’re on the platform. Soliciting this sort of attention on Twitch isn’t a made-up business model. A few notable female streamers capitalize on it. It’s also not the business model of most women on Twitch, although you wouldn’t know it from how many Twitch viewers talk about female streamers.
Five years later, after a national conversation about catcalling and sexual harassment, the stereotype that most women on Twitch are “asking for it” has gotten more prevalent. As recently as last November, a streamer named Trainwreck went on a hateful rant about the “sluts that are coming into our community, taking the money, taking the subs.” (That same streamer was previously suspended for live-rating women on his stream). His rant, after which Twitch suspended him again, gave voice to a massive stereotype that’s spread across gaming forums. The first page of results for “female” on the 200,000-strong subreddit /r/LivestreamFail brings up the following: “Women walks around in costume, sells her nudes on YouTube and claims she is an ‘objectified Female’” (which was the most upvoted thread), “A dedicated and skilled female streamer on her way to becoming a Fortnite tournament champion!” (a clip of risque Twitch streamer Zoie Burgher gaming in a bikini) and “Female IRL streamer being put in her place” (what it sounds like).
Two big changes to the Twitch platform have exacerbated the tension. In December, 2016, Twitch added an “IRL” category for non-gaming activities like cooking and chatting with viewers. The category immediately gained a reputation: Finally, the thinking went in Twitch chats and on Twitch-related subreddits, these girls can stop pretending to like games and just use the platform to curry male attention. “Everyone was fine with the emergence of Twitch IRL until they started seeing women use it to profit,” said the female Twitch streamer She Snaps. “They were ok with watching Andy Milonakis eat a hot dog and talk to his friends on a park bench for hours, but when women started dancing and doing squats (or just chilling & talking) suddenly there was outcry about how Twitch is for gaming. Women are using it to exploit young children and steal their money, shame!”
On top of that, late last year, Twitch told select female streamers that they couldn’t advertise their NSFW, or, in some cases, SFW, Patreon accounts on their Twitch channels. All of a sudden, it seemed like Twitch was lashing out against streamers whose businesses extend into cosplay photography, modeling or companionship—anything extra-gaming that relied on charisma or appearance. Finally, the thinking went, Twitch is cracking down on camwhores.
Most female streamers I interviewed said that their Twitch channel’s success relies in part on the casual rapport they develop with viewers. While pro-level gameplay is one draw to Twitch streams, and some women do offer that, several women I interviewed say they offer a cross-platform friend experience in addition to good gameplay—something, many said, that differentiates them from male counterparts who have gameplay tunnel vision. Fans come to their Twitch channels because they like their personalities on Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook. They offer some level of emotional intimacy, access to their unguarded thoughts; a look into their rooms and a place in the back seat while they game. Interactive, responsive on several social media platforms and always online, a lot of women on Twitch are viewed as accessible.
In a world other than ours where “give an inch, take a mile” is not a cliche, that would be all. It’s not, and it’s led both to rampant objectification of women on Twitch and pushback from women who are trying to re-establish the norms of fans interacting with women who stream.
She Snaps hosts conversations with viewers to discuss the idea that she, and other women on Twitch, are “asking” to be objectified. Some viewers who tune in tell her that they know what kind of attention a woman wants based on how she’s dressed. “This is very similar to saying, ‘You were asking to be assaulted because you went out in the world dressed like that,’” She Snaps said. Of course, that’s absurd. Unless a woman uses her words, she’s not asking for something.
“People often treat me like I’m asking to be objectified,” Twitch streamer Djarii, who has 238,000 followers, told me. Djarii has seen women on Twitch who do cater to straight male thirst, but doesn’t think that should have any bearing on what she does. She streams Battlegrounds and makes jokes—why should another streamer who happens to be of the same gender reflect on her? “It’s their business. I can simply move on and mind my own business,” she said.
To avoid being objectified, Djarii says, “I feel pressured into dressing a certain way to avoid being tormented online.” In many of her other videos, she’s wearing a sweater or a t-shirt, and when she’s not, she’s had to point out to viewers that she has boobs and she can’t just hide them all the time. However, Djarii occasionally streams herself body-painting. Wearing little else, she tones her skin to resemble characters from World of Warcraft, Starcraft or Game of Thrones. She says it’s “a fun way to incorporate makeup into popular culture and video gaming. Essentially it’s using yourself as a canvas.” During those streams, viewers who don’t normally watch her Battlegrounds streams enter her chat to call her a whore to accuse her of selling her body in exchange for views.
“Not all women are trying to sell the sex image to grow their brand, and it’s becoming impossible to tell people otherwise because the instant prejudices a lot of people have for women on Twitch is exactly that,” Djarii says. People who don’t know her click on her channel to tell her that she’s a part of the “boobie streamer” disease that’s crippling Twitch. The streamer She Snaps, who says she has been harassed daily on Twitch over the course of two years, says she’s noticed people going out of their way to comb through Twitch’s IRL section to report women who appear to violate Twitch’s Terms of Service with sexual content.
It would be absurd to claim that every woman on Twitch draws the same boundaries when it comes to how viewers talk about their bodies. I interviewed the Twitch IRL streamer Amouranth, the woman lots of Twitch’s more maladjusted denizens point to when they claim women are ruining Twitch. She has 273,000 followers. In low-cut shirts and shorts, Amouranth does squats on stream, poses in revealing cosplay, dances around in a horse head and lolls around on the floor. Her Patreon offers “Sexy Cosplay & NSFW Video Content.” Her chat is full of compliments, solicitations for sex and the occasional insult that makes it through her moderators.
“It’s how it is for girls every day,” she told me. “Welcome to being a female. I’m gonna be objectified even if I’m wearing a shirt up to my collarbone.” And since it’s so inevitable, she said, she’s going to capitalize on it. She’s open about drawing in viewers with her looks: “If I’m feeling really sassy, I can act like I’m super offended and make them think they won. Then they post that clip on Reddit and YouTube and I get more views,” she told me. In a video she posted after Twitch banned her last August, apparently for touching her breasts on stream, Amouranth jiggles her breasts, which the camera is pointed at, and jokes, “I got banned on Twitch, guys. Can you guess why?”
Both Khaljiit and Amouranth can both exist on the same platform, identify as women and have completely different business models. What they have in common is a culture in which straight male viewers, by default, assume that they want to be sexualized. It doesn’t matter how pretty they are or what they’re wearing. They both exist on a platform where some viewers have decided how they want to be treated. Viewers should stick around her channel. Get a feel for its tone. Listening to a woman on Twitch is the only way you’ll know what she’s asking for.