In her almost seven years of streaming on Twitch, Katie Robinson, known as PikaChulita, has seen a lot. One thing that really grinds her gears is when viewers pit her against other women on the platform.
Take one incident three years ago. Robinson was streaming Overwatch, and a viewer popped into her chat and complimented her for being a “real” gamer, unlike other women on Twitch. She fired back immediately.
“I am not any better of a streamer than the girl who decides to have her boobies out,” she said on the stream. “If you prefer to watch me and you don’t like to watch ‘titty streamers,’ that’s absolutely fine. That’s your prerogative. But the compliments when people come into my stream and say ‘I like you because you’re a real girl streamer, like, you’re not a titty streamer,’ that’s a backhanded compliment. Don’t compliment me while tearing other women down.”
It’s a matter of respectability politics, Robinson told BuzzFeed News. Women are pressured to distance themselves from showing skin in order to be taken seriously. But, simultaneously, Twitch culture says the way for women to get ahead is to lower their necklines. Either way, women lose.
Twitch recently passed its 10-year anniversary and for much of that time — similar to the gaming world at large — it’s largely been a boys club. The top streamers have consistently been men, with only a few notable exceptions, such as Pokimane and Valkyrae. Women streamers of all kinds have made major strides on the platform, yet their followings and accomplishments are continually picked apart and debated, to say nothing of the harassment they face.
Women’s presence is once again at the forefront of debate in Twitch culture thanks to what’s called the “hot tub meta” — women who stream while in bikinis and soaking in a hot tub or tiny pool. The genre gained popularity earlier this year, and the fight over it came to a head when Twitch demonetized the streams of a popular streamer, Amouranth, without warning in May.
That decision was met with both anger from her supporters and cheers from people who thought she had it coming. That same month, Twitch made an entirely new channel called “Pools, Hot Tubs, and Beaches” to contain and demonetize that content. These streams, while risqué, don’t actually violate the site’s terms of service, but Twitch wanted to give advertisers a way to opt out of appearing on this content. Still, these streams remain controversial.
But even before the hot tubs, women on Twitch have routinely been scrutinized for their appearance. Show too much cleavage — or really, any cleavage — and you’re just derided as a “booby streamer,” using your body to get viewers. Show no skin, and you’ll be hounded to fix that. Either way, you might get harassed if someone decides you’re not good enough at whatever game you’re playing.
Still, the myth persists that women on the platform have it easier. The go-to advice, typically floated sarcastically by men on forums such as Reddit, for people who want to get into streaming games on Twitch is this: Be really good, or be really entertaining. Or just be a woman.
Robinson called that assumption “bullshit” and Keda, known as Kedapalooza on Twitch, who has been streaming for nine months, said much the same thing. It isn’t easier to find success as a woman streamer on Twitch — it’s actually much harder.
“I don't think we have it easier for many reasons, and the people that say that need to work on their content,” Keda said.
A 2017 analysis bears this out. Done by Stream Hatchet, the data on the top 500 Twitch streamers was studied and it showed only 3.2% of hours watched were spent on streams hosted by women. That data is a few years old now, but the current top streamers are still mostly men, and in the highest ranks, it’s only men.
That also debunks another tired trope — that women on Twitch, especially hot tub streamers, are taking views away from other people.
The bar is also much higher for entry. A lot of women are overlooked or derided as “casual” players for streaming games like Animal Crossing or The Sims, Keda said.
“Where can we have fun? Where are we allowed to just exist in the gaming space?” said Keda.
“We have so much more to prove, even though we don't, you know what I mean? We don't owe anything to anyone.”
The stakes can also feel higher for women who aren’t white, straight, and fit into Western beauty ideals. As a Black woman who identifies as fat, Keda said she keeps her camera on because representation is a powerful thing, but it also means enduring occasional harassment.
A 2016 study from Indiana University found that chat activity on Twitch was “strongly gendered,” with women far more likely to receive comments about their appearance and bodies than men.
Emma Pearl is also new to Twitch, with six months of streaming retro games under their belt. Like Robinson and Keda, they have zero interest in any narrative that pits women on Twitch against each other.
“I fully support folks making content that works for them that is not attacking others or harmful to others,” they said.
“I maintain quite strongly that no other streamer in general, especially not a hot tub streamer, is stealing anything from me.”
Pearl said it’s just plain old misogyny rearing its ugly head online.
“It's just another attempt to try to control women and control what they do, and what our perception of what a woman should do on the internet,” they said.
The trick to being a successful woman streamer, they all said, is to find your own community. The more you curate your own audience of followers who enjoy your style and values, the less trouble you’ll have to deal with. Twitch has tools that allow streamers to block users from participating in chat as well as block particular words. They can also designate other people as moderators who can keep an eye on chat as they’re streaming.
Twitch also has made moves to try to make it easier for women to find success on the platform. It launched a Safety Advisory Council in 2020, aimed at developing new ways to keep streamers safe from harassment and improving moderation tools. This year, the platform also launched identity-based tags for sexual orientation, gender identity, race, and mental health to make it easier to find and connect streamers who share certain identities. BuzzFeed News has reached out to Twitch for comment.
Christie, who streams as MittensKittens, told BuzzFeed News that building her own community has been vital for her few years on Twitch. Both on chat and on Discord, she said she feels like a “mama bear and I'm taking care of my little cubs.” Plus, her mods keep her chat safe.
But harassment still happens. She said there is one guy who keeps making new accounts to come back after being blocked and writes sexual comments, trying to get a rise out of her.
“We basically have a dossier on this guy, like a whole document of all of his screen names that we have ever banned,” she said.
Even though she’s a self-described tomboy who streams in snapbacks and T-shirts, she said she does get men coming in and asking when they’ll see her in a hot tub.
“I don't want to and you shouldn't expect me to,” she said. “That's not fair.”
She said she works hard to prove wrong anyone who thinks being sexy is the only formula for women to succeed on Twitch.
“I spend a lot of hours just practicing and getting good because I feel like I have more to prove. And I feel like I have to work that much harder than some of my male counterparts,” she said.
For any women unsure about getting into streaming, Christie said you shouldn’t be afraid, and you don’t even have to use a webcam if you’re not comfortable. But also recruit some mods to keep things running smoothly.
“Just have fun with it and make sure you take out the trash accordingly.”