Woman in steampunk cosplay / Victoria Borodinova / Pixabay
At this point, I have lost count of all the fandoms I’m in.
Last year’s lockdowns provided me with a great opportunity to finally read that high fantasy series (A Court of Thorns and Roses) or watch that anime (Haikyuu!!) or even rediscover comforting childhood gems (Avatar: The Last Airbender). As a result, I’m head over heels harder than I’ve ever been before, but not for people.
For costumes, motifs, plot points — give ‘em all to me!
Part of this prolific fangirling has spurred me to join several Facebook fan groups which, for the most part, has brought delightful fan art, memes and headcanons into my social media feed.
It has also shown me the Dark Side of the Fandom.
Although it can be easy to overlook markers of patriarchy when everyone’s supposedly bound together by their mutual interests, fandom — like most other spaces in society, physical or no — is steeped in misogyny. Gatekeeping, restricting access or enjoyment of fandom and its content, has always been rife in fandoms. And it disproportionately is wielded against women.
Gatekeeping might look like a woman wearing a Nirvana t-shirt being asked to list ten of their songs, or risk being labelled a ‘fake fan’. Gatekeeping might look like dismissing women cosplay artists as too sexual or too frivolous to be taken seriously.
Take this real-life example of gatekeeping: an 11-year-old girl visited SuperCon to meet her favourite actor (and Doctor) Peter Capaldi. She wore a TARDIS-themed dress and Doctor Who hairpins. An older man who noticed her attire approached her and attempted to quiz the girl. He asked her to name the Doctor’s worst enemies and their planet of origin, and the first Doctor.
A grown man. Asked an 11-year-old girl. To validate her interest in Doctor Who.
His excuse, writes the mother, was that he “just want[s] to be sure parents are raising their kids right.” I’m sure being approached and questioned like that would have made that poor girl uncomfortable at the least, or turned her off Doctor Who and its fandom at the most.
I suspect the reason girls experience vastly higher proportions of gatekeeping is that society ascribes morality to every single thing we do. Even the most pointless, arbitrary things. Think about dress codes: there is (apparently) a right and wrong way to put clothes on our body. Think about sexuality: there is a right and wrong way to consensually explore our own pleasure.
When it comes to fandom? You bet there’s a moral and immoral way to do it.
The moral way is defined by male geekdom (though plenty of women have internalised it): you can’t wear the merch if you haven’t memorised the entirety of the universe’s canon. Your costumes cannot be too revealing or depart too much from the original, otherwise you’re tainting the character’s image. You can’t say you like that band’s music unless you live and breath that band’s music.
Anything less, and you’ll find yourself shut out, on the other side of the gate.
Maybe gatekeeping comes from a place of protectiveness over their beloved interests and hobbies. I can understand wanting to make sure that the intention of the creators and the best easter egg song lyrics are discovered by new fans, but nothing justifies being patronising, invasive and exclusive to people simply trying to enjoy.
We all know that we have more pressing matters to fill our emotional bandwidth — like an ongoing pandemic, political unrest and climate change. Stop vetting others about what might be one of the most effortless, careless pastimes in the world. That’s certainly what I think fandom should be like: effortless, careless, an escape.
If you would like to discuss the discography of BTS in chronological order, I’m totally your gal. But on the flip side, the only two songs by Queen I really listen to are ‘Killer Queen’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. And I might put on a t-shirt of theirs one day. I don’t think that makes me a fake fan of theirs, since donning a shirt is hardly a claim to diehard fandom anyway.
Let girls be apathetic and excitable and anguished. Let girls love what they love. Let girls like what they like, without making them adhere to some stale, male stereotype of what ‘real’ fandom is.
There’s nothing wrong with anticipating the latest release of a Netflix show until it gives you heart palpitations. There’s also nothing wrong with liking a band or book series mildly. Maybe you tend your interest in the periphery, starting and stopping with following the artists on Instagram.
If all the fandoms out there are pools of water, it should be up to each individual person into which ones we dive, or simply dip our toe. And unlike pools of water, the great thing about fandom is that we have zero need for lifeguards or gatekeepers.
So stop pressuring girls into proving that they haven’t done fangirling wrong. There’s no such thing.Support Villainesse