Image via Wikipedia Commons.
One thing you quickly discover as a woman in fandom is how difficult it can be to exist in online spaces.
Some fan communities refuse to engage with female users in any significant way. It’s not uncommon to see specific topics, especially those often of chief interest to fangirls (like “shipping”), banned from message boards. Or to watch the rapid deletion of accounts with little to no warning. This bizarre, watchdog attitude even extends to more mainstream sites, like Twitter. And often, when you attempt to create a refuge from this aggressive behavior, a place where you can enjoy Your Thing in peace, sometimes it’s not enough.
Sometimes you’ll run into female detractors, too.
Tumblr is the first offender that comes to mind.
The website houses a multitude of online communities where you can find like-minded fans of just about anything. From around the ages of 16-20, I myself was an active user on the site. And one of the fandoms I was a part of (which was structured around the greatest trope to have ever troped, the Villainous Crush) introduced me to a community so bleak and boring that it made my head spin: “antis”—users who policed and attacked other women solely because of the types of content and characters they enjoyed.
“This is a relationship that glorifies abuse!” people cried.
“You’re not a true feminist if you like X, Y, or Z!”
“If you’re into This Thing, then you’re just as problematic and terrible as Said Thing, and we should aim to cancel you for it!”
That ain’t it, Chief.
Fiction does not exist to make sure everyone feels comfortable. That is, in fact, antithetical to its primary role in entertainment. Fiction exists as a method of escapism—to transport us, almost supernaturally, to realms of people, places, and ideas that we cannot otherwise access. These domains aren’t tethered to reality in any tangible way—and therein lies the appeal. Should we be berating people for taking in fiction in precisely the way they’re supposed to?
I have a love/hate relationship with the Internet (as evidenced by how much time I spend on it). While I sincerely enjoy my online life, sometimes, I wind up teetering like a newborn giraffe beneath the weight of its uneasiness. Because, let’s face it: occasionally, it’s a violent sea of rawness lacking in rhyme or reason.
When we’re talking about media, fiction or fandom, we have to be aware of the unadulterated passion that weaves through these intersections, as endless and intricate as the gossamer of a spider’s web. Users can become deeply attached to their characters, their communities, their Thing. Rules and considerations that hold up IRL are re-written. Morals shift. Tides change. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not so much.
But it’s important to remember that tangible rules and moral codes cannot apply to fiction, which does not “truly” exist. It’s impossible to police what isn’t real. And online communities mustn’t lose sight of that in the spirit of what birthed them in the first place: fun.
Granted, I don’t believe that “Anti” Culture is as malicious as it looks. It reads more like a jumped-up immune response—like an agitated cat that has its back arched and its teeth bared while it hisses at you from the alleyway. When folks get shut out of online spaces, some may work tirelessly to prevent their communities from developing the same toxicity that drove them out of others. But this is the Occam’s Razor of Internet culture, and can only result in a horde of contradictions. Wouldn’t it be easier just to let people have their fun?
I know that sometimes, media can be dodgy, and there are certain films and television shows that are legitimately problematic. Case in point: Damien Leone’s Terrifier series. The movies are highly controversial due to the baffling amount of violence against women they showcase. Terrifier is an example of fiction that we might collectively consider “bad,” because it contributes to a broader, more insidious narrative that we’ve seen play out in Western culture ad nauseam.
However, I challenge you to find a review of these films that don’t acknowledge that and simultaneously praise their phenomenal, charismatic villain, Art the Clown. Is the series inherently misogynistic? Yes. But despite this, their antagonist is so well-imagined that you can’t help but notice his appeal, even if the world he resides in is regressive and troubling. Fandom can be a much healthier, more inclusive space when we can recognize when fiction is problematic without policing who should and shouldn’t consume it.
Women don’t need protection from pop culture. And should you believe otherwise—even with pure intentions—you run the risk of stripping female audiences of their autonomy. Enjoying a monster, an antagonist, or anything in between does not make someone any less of a woman, or less of a feminist. It doesn’t promote a culture of abuse. I’d argue that it’s actually an indicator of the magic of fiction itself. How brilliant and sublime is this medium, that it allows people to find beauty and depth in even the most monstrous of characters? That’s ultimately what fandom is all about, isn’t it? It’s here to provide a space for us to celebrate these varied, technicolored nuances, and find what floats our particular boat.
And if you don’t like the shape of someone else’s boat, please, don’t try to sink it.