The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fandom & Women - My Experience

Well, here we are again. Dammit, geek culture, stop making me do this. But, the phrase "social justice warrior" needs to be burnt to ashes. If anything, anyone who uses that as an insult needs to be called what they are: a sexist pig. I shouldn't still be as astounded by the amount of misogyny in geek culture as I am, but it's still such an alien concept to me because of my fandom roots.

My first fandom was "Gargoyles", and for many years it was the only fandom I ever really participated in. I'm not saying it was perfect, but when I post on Spider-Man boards and people are shocked that a woman would occasionally post, or when I used to post on a Transformers board and again, few to any women, I was surprised. I admit, the whole "nobody is a woman on the internet" thing is something I never got used to, probably because the "Gargoyles" fandom always had just as many women in it as men; actually, I'm confident that there are more. I went to eleven out of thirteen Gatherings, and as far as I could tell, the women outnumbered the men there.

I remember when the character of Constance, a heavy-set female gargoyle from London appeared in the comic book; on non-Gargoyles boards where the comic was discussed, the character was mocked and made fun of. Not that this didn't happen in the Gargoyles fandom, but when one person did it, he got called out for it in a very beautiful and brutal manner. That never happened on non-Gargoyles boards. In fact, on other boards and fandoms, I see the phrase "social justice warrior" get thrown around with a sneering contempt for it. So while the "Gargoyles" fandom definitely had it's share of pigs, it was always made clear to them that they were not welcome. Now, to be fair, the other fandoms I've mentioned have people who call the pigs on their bullshit, but the pigs don't really tend to go anywhere. They stick around. "Gargoyles" fandom has run people out for this sort of thing.

In some ways, I tend to think that maybe the nature of said franchises plays a part in it. Yes, most of the lead "Gargoyles" are male, but we have Elisa Maza as the co-lead alongside Goliath, and she's saved his life more than he's saved her's. She was not April O'Neil. Nor was Angela, once she was introduced, and quickly grew into a very heroic character, and one who made it clear that she was not a prize to be won in some kind of contest between the trio. Aside from them, you had supporting characters like Maria Chavez, who was the Captain of Detectives and definitely tough; Robyn Canmore who went on to lead the Redemption Squad in the comics; and you also had Fox, who was every bit the equal to her husband, David Xanatos. Hell, even Demona has managed to manipulate and get the better of Xanatos on occasion. You would think I'd be describing a show that screams "girl power!" and yet, it was played so naturally, it never stuck out. The women on that show were people with their own strengths, weaknesses, virtues, and flaws.

Compare that to Transformers, where Optimus Prime did not let his girlfriend, Elita-One (who was demonstrated to be a powerful warrior) on his mission to Earth because "it was too dangerous." I remember back in the 90's on the newsgroups, I was one of the people who mentioned how creepy sexist that was, and hardly anyone seemed to get it. "Optimus isn't sexist, he cared about her" was what they said. You can care about your girlfriend without disrespecting them. Goliath almost always brought Elisa with him to fight dangerous supervillains, and even back in the Dark Ages, Demona was his second-in-command and best warrior, and had that kind of respect. Now I know some might say "Elita-One" was tough, it wasn't sexist," but, if anything, that makes Optimus Prime's actions even more sexist.

Most DC and Marvel comics, while definitely progressively better than Transformers ever was (although I have to give the "Prime" version of Arcee some credit) are still, at their heart, male power fantasies. I applaud them for at least trying to make progress in this area. Well, DC stopped with the New Fifty-Two, but Nolan's Batman movies gave us a strong Catwoman, and "The Avengers" film did a great job with Black Widow. But there is a reason that the phrase "women in refrigerators" exists. And, of course, "The Spectacular Spider-Man" did great with all of its female characters.

The DCAU and "Young Justice" both did very well in this regard, too. While both weren't perfect, I thought most of their female characters were great. Shayera Hol on JL(U) is a prime example, but I'll never forget the freak out, among many male viewers, when she slept with Hawkman on their first date... um, she is an adult, she can make her own choices. None of these same people would bat an eye if Batman slept with someone on their first date.

Now, I'm not a woman and I can't speak for any, but I tend to think part of the reason why the "Gargoyles" fandom attracted so many women to it was because the show didn't patronize their gender. Everyone had characters they could relate to, and it was done without invoking the Smurfette Principle.  This is a good thing. This is the way it should be. Caring about how women are represented in popular culture doesn't mean you're a "social justice warrior." It's not crazy or unreasonable to care about these things. But it's far better than being a pig.


  1. I agree with you about all these shows, and often it seems like creating good female characters is a way to get us female geeks into a series.

    I didn't see the comments about Elita-1, but I do remember someone asking why Arcee was so criticized, when "women just like to be nurturers", not to mention those who can't stand the idea of female Transformers characters *at all*.

    The outright hostility some fans have towards discussing or acknowledging gender in fandom spaces gets irritating fast, not to mention acting like women in fandom are sex-crazed maniacs who are "shallow" about characters, when fanboys are just as bad.

    I suppose it's a product of the many stupid male geeks who believe that women are part of the "normal" world that appeared hostile to fandom /themselves, when the truth is that there were women in fandom all along.

  2. Ah sexist bullshit, why is this a thing I keep finding.

    I just wish people would be big enough to admit there's a problem here so we can work on fixing it. But most nerds are in denial because they like thinking their series doesn't have these problems. "Optimus Prime can't be sexist therefore you're wrong" without any other thought put into it.

    I'm not sure if all of these assholes are sexist or just conditioned not to see anything wrong with their views of women. The ones on the internet are probably just sexist assholes, but outside the internet I don't know.

    On the Shayera Hol freak out, yeah that's a problem when men see sex as something "manly" especially if they do it a lot, but if a women has more than one sexual interest she's labelled a "slut." I sadly know someone who used to shout out "slut" if we watched something where a woman expressed interest in more than one man. Thankfully I think getting a girlfriend stopped that habit. It didn't stop his other sexist habits but one battle at a time.

  3. For some odd reason, fandom stupidity and especially misogyny has always been an intriguing topic for me. Maybe it's 'cause I've dealt with it so damn much. I cannot stand to see Double Standards in anything, especially when applied to perfectly good female characters.

    But at the same time, it sort of amuses me. 'Cause y'know, it's so irrational and dumb.