“Are you…watching porn?”
We were on a Greyhound bus traveling across the Midwest, and I could swear I heard moaning from the seat over. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of my neighbor’s phone screen: a busty white cosplayer, dressed in booty shorts and a low-cut ruby red crop top, swaying her hips while playing Just Dance.
Oh. This wasn’t porn.
It was Twitch, the world’s top streaming platform for video games, and the girl on the screen was Amouranth, one of Twitch’s top-paid creators. A brilliant businesswoman, Amouranth makes millions of dollars from her “IRL” streams—live recordings of gym workouts and hot tub BBQs and cosplay ASMR and naptime sessions—not to mention her premium Snap, Patreon, and OnlyFans subscriptions.
“It’s for research,” my friend assured me, which wasn’t a lie. She was working on a paper about the gaming industry; these kinds of hypersexualized videos were normal to her.
“We should be doing this,” I joked. “Just look at how much money she’s raking in.”
“Yeah, one problem with that plan,” she responded. “We aren’t hot.”
But that didn’t stop us from trying.
Fast forward a few months, and my friend and I completed our first stream. She was tipped $400 within the first few hours. Her strategy? Roasting men through freestyle raps. I, on the other hand, made a whopping $0 playing Club Penguin Reunion. Granted, I did give up on streaming after a few minutes when an army of horny 12-year-old boys began spamming my chat with “send nudes!!!” and “b00bies pls!! XD.” Twitch wasn’t a porn site, but it certainly harbored the same misogynistic viewers.
Unlike my friend, I didn’t stream again. Not because of the comments, but because it honestly takes a shit-ton of work to be entertaining. On a livestream, if you have even one awkward lull of silence, you can lose your entire audience. But I did keep watching other female Twitch streamers. I was curious to see what people were saying to them. Disappointingly, I found that no matter the channel, male viewers found some way to objectify the female streamer. This objectification was just the norm on Twitch.
“This used to be a goddamn community of gamers, nerds, kids that got bullied, kids that got fucked with, kids that resorted to the gaming world because the real world was too fucking hard, too shitty, too lonely, too sad and depressing,” roared the streamer Trainwreck in a viral video from 2017 that got him banned from Twitch for five days. He believed that Twitch had been overrun by “the same sluts that rejected us, the same sluts that chose the goddamn cool kids over us. The same sluts that are coming into our community, taking the money, taking the subs, the same way they did back in the day.”
This kind of misogynistic language is normalized in the gaming community—where literally anything a female streamer does is “wrong” or “ruining the community,” regardless of how she presents herself.
“Don’t have any reservations about wearing revealing clothing if you want to; you’re going to be called a tit streamer and a camwhore by this community no matter what you wear [because] a lot of them are inherently sexist,” explained Kaceytron, a Twitch streamer famous for her “fake gamer girl” character—which “satirizes the stereotypical hyper-sexualized female Twitch streamer and pretends to be a professional League of Legendsplayer while playing the game badly on purpose.”
“No matter what I fucking wear, there’s always a comment,” tweeted another Twitch streamer, ZombiUnicorn. “There’s always someone calling me a titty streamer, fake gamer, or a whore.”
Kaceytron and ZombiUnicorn aren’t the only streamers to call out their experiences with sexism. There seems to be a consensus amongst many female streamers: regardless of how you present online, you’ll receive sexist comments, so you might as well take advantage of that sexist attention, reclaim it, and transform it into something monetizable.
I’m all for profiting from the male gaze—especially financially. But I do wonder if, when these female streamers turn off their cameras, having such sexist viewers affects their self-worth. If I were in their situation, would I feel empowered by these men’s money and attention? Or would I just be conflating empowerment with money and fame?
In my mind, more money doesn’t necessarily equate to feeling more valuable. But capitalism tells me it should. Money is supposed to equal power, and neofeminism tells me that if I get that power, I’ll finally be equal. But in reality, capitalism was founded on inequality—and in the context of Twitch, profiting off sexism is nowhere near smashing sexism. You’re still operating within the sexist system. And while you may personally be thriving, there are countless who still aren’t.
So really, we need to reframe the narrative around female streamers—and that means radically restructuring the entire video game industry.
Sexism is present not just in livestream comment sections, but in all corners of the gaming industry. It’s present when eSports celebrities like Ninja refuse to play with women gamers. It’s clear when female video game developers get doxxed and harassed for releasing their work. It’s obvious when character artists design hyper-sexualized female characters. It’s striking when people say “girls suck at video games” considering approximately 46% of video game players are female. Until we eradicate all forms of sexism in the gaming industry, female Twitch streamers will continue to be considered the “downfall” of Twitch—when in reality, they’re revolutionizing the industry for the better. Those gamer boys just don’t know it yet.
Illustration by Damien Jeon