I’ve read a lot of great essays about how fandom is female-majority and creates a female gaze and a safe space for women and etc. But spend five minutes in fandom and you’ll have an unsettling question.
Why does a female-majority, feminist culture hate female characters so much?
It’s not a question of if it happens. You know it does. You can go into any fandom and see it. Some fandoms are worse than others, but it’s always there. Scroll down the Tumblr tag for any show, movie, book, comic, whatever, and you’ll see nothing but love for the men, and a lot of unjustified hate for the women, maybe with a few defenders here and there insisting on their love for the women in the face of all that hate.
To be clear, we’re not talking about female villains. Male villains get just as much hate. It’s fine if you hate Bellatrix Lestrange or Dolores Umbridge, you’re supposed to. (I personally stan for Bella, but I realize that wasn’t the authorial intent.) This is about people hating Hermione, Ginny and Luna, but loving Harry, Ron and Neville. This is about how ambiguous male antiheroes, like Snape, Zuko, or pretty much any male vampire protagonist can get away with walking that fine line between good and evil and not only remain sympathetic, but be even more beloved for how ~tortured~ he is, but when a female character is morally gray that bitch has to die.
So you can’t tell me it’s okay that you hate Sansa because you also hate Joffrey and he’s a dude. They’re not comparable. It isn’t even comparable if you pick a female antihero. Let’s do this apples to apples, here.
We all know that fandom does this. We all know that it’s fucked up and symptomatic of internalized sexism. What’s really fucking weird about it, though, is that the women doing this hating often aren’t ignorant. These are feminists. These are women who can go on meta-analyses of the writing. Some will hide behind pseudo-feminist reasons for their hate—oh, it’s the writing, we just aren’t given strong female characters! (I saw this used for the women of AtLA: Katara, Toph, Azula, et al. This was about when I just backed away slowly because I know a lost cause when I see it.) I’ve seen women who denied being sexist, but couldn’t name a single female character they liked. And it’s always that the female characters aren’t good enough, even when they obviously have a double standard, and they’re measuring women on an impossible scale full of contradictions and no-win binds, while the men are just embraced and loved pretty much for existing.
The reaction nearly every time one of these women is called out is not to say, “Huh, you may have a point, I should examine the way I judge and process women’s actions more closely,” but an insistence of their feminism, followed by a more detailed description of why that particular woman is terrible and she hates her, as if the whole point were not that fandom is already oversaturated with that kind of hate, and as if the person doing the calling out were not already 110% done with that bullshit.
Particularly telling is that male-dominated corners of fandom do not have this problem. They fetishize, they objectify, they ignore. They don’t hate like this.
We know it happens. What I want to know is WHY.
Theories follow below the cut.
This is an open letter to all of the social justice warriors out there in the tumblrverse. If you are immediately offended by that phrase, take your finger off the posting button and take a deep breath. Read the rest of this before you are utterly consumed by self-righteous indignation.
If you have ever called anyone “cis scum” without a trace of irony, you need to calm the fuck down. If you know me, you’ll know I’ll be right there with the rest of you calling out genuine bigotry, but let’s just sit down and take a look at this: the implication that cisgendered people, and by extension anyone not a member of a marginalized minority group, are bad simply by being part of a majority group through accident of birth, is both patently absurd and completely useless. You are accomplishing nothing but making yourself look ridiculous.
The next part of this is that y’all seriously need to stop getting hyper-offended on behalf of people you don’t know and minority groups you’re not a part of. Yes, it’s perfectly fine to be offended by bigotry, even if you’re a straight, white, cisgendered man. In fact, you should be bothered by it, and you should try to correct it, because that’s just the decent thing to do: try to lessen the suffering of others.
What is not perfectly fine is to insist that everything is an attack on someone else, everything is racism, misogyny, transphobia, and homophobia. “Black Friday” is not a racist term. It’s a marketing term invented by the media. Calling something “dumb” is not a vicious attack on people who can’t talk. Save your energy and your breath for calling out the real injustices: donate your time or money to organizations that actually help people, like the people trying to revolutionize Haiti’s tragically awful education system. (Google Matènwa. Serious. These are good people.)
Making angry posts on Tumblr does not fight injustice. Yelling at somebody for calling someone a girl doesn’t stop transgendered people from being marginalized, dehumanized, and physically, emotionally, and sexually abused by people who hate and fear them. Calling somebody a racist because they called someone “black” instead of “African-American” doesn’t do anything to stop the institutionalized racism that black people have to deal with every single day. Getting angry on the internet accomplishes nothing except to let you feel like you did something without actually doing anything.
When you see something that upsets you, take a deep breath and ask yourself why it upsets you. Are you angry because of something truly awful, like somebody’s parents disowning them for being gay, or are you angry because somebody said something innocuous on the internet and it reminded you of a negative attitude like racism or transphobia? If it’s the latter, if you’re upset because something harmless reminded you of something terrible, don’t direct your anger at people who probably don’t hold the awful opinions you’re attributing to them. Just calm down, and realize that there are more important things you can do with that energy and that fury.
If this post offended you, that’s your right. That’s your prerogative. You may have completely missed the point and failed to learn anything, but at least you got angry at words on the internet.
Most importantly, if you’re offended by this post, so what? Who gives a shit? When something bothers you, do something about it. Stand up for what’s right. Don’t whine on the internet. If you have a gay friend who was kicked out by shithead parents, let them crash with you for a while or help them find somewhere to stay if you can’t afford that. If someone goes around calling women “sluts”, by all means, take them to task on their misogyny.
But if someone says innocent words on the internet and you immediately assume that they’re a hateful person, get the fuck over yourself.