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.
I’m such a nice girl, I’m so sick of being fuckzoned!!!!!!!
What’s the fuckzone you ask? it’s this zone that guys put you in where they only want to fuck you; they don’t want to have a friendship with you and they aren’t satisfied with emotional commitment, they just want sex!!!!!
I’m a nice girl!!!! Stop putting me in the fuckzone!!!!!!!
This is amazing. Shut up and read it.
First, a story.
So, my first semester of my freshman year of college, I took this Intro to Women’s Studies class. The class met for five hours a week, one two hour session and one three hour session, and the breakdown of students was what I eventually discovered to be the typical sampling in any Women’s Studies class with no pre-recs at my mid-sized, southern Ohio state school. There were a number of girls who would become, or were already part of, the feminist advocacy groups on campus; there were a number of girls who would prove themselves to be opposed to feminism in both concept and practice, one of whom I distinctly recall giving a presentation on the merits of the “Mrs. Degree,” while my professor’s eye twitched in muted horror; there were a handful of girls and at least one guy I’d come to know later through assorted campus queer groups; and there were, of course, the three to six dudebros, self-admittedly there to “meet chicks,” all but one or two of whom would drop the class after the first midterm. At eighteen, I was myself a feminist in name but not in practice—I believed in the idea behind feminism (which is, for the record, that people should be on equal footing regardless of gender, not that we should CRUSH ALL MEN BENEATH THE VICIOUS HEELS OF OUR DOC MARTENS GLORY HALLELUJAH), but I didn’t actually know anything about it. I could not identify the waves of feminism. Intersectionality and how the movement is crap at it were not things of which I was aware. Never had I ever encountered the writings of bell hooks. In a lucky break, you do not need to know about the waves of feminism, or know what intersectionality is, or have read bell hooks to read this essay! (But you should read bell hooks. Everyone should read bell hooks. bell hooks is FUCKING AWESOME.)
The first couple of weeks of this class were about what you’d expect. The professor was fun and engaging, but she was not exactly pulling out the eye-opening stops on our wide-eyed freshman asses. There were handouts. There were selections of the textbook for reading. There was a very depressing class about domestic violence, abuse, and rape that was the typical rattling off of terms and horrific statistics that everyone winced at, but that nobody really internalized. The dudebros snickered in the back corner, grouped together like they would be infested by cooties if they spread out, occasionally chiming in with helpful comments like, “Dude, the lady on the back of this book is smoking,” and getting turned down by each girl in the class, on whom they were hitting in what I can only assume was a pre-determined descending order of hotness. The queer kids, myself included, huddled in the other corner making pithy comments. The up-and-coming active feminists glared at the bros, who leered back, and the Mrs. Degree-friendly crowd mostly texted under their desks and made it very clear that they were only there for humanities credit. Again, it was a fairly typical southern Ohio state school class full of fairly typical southern Ohio state school freshmen. Nobody was super engaged, is what I am saying here. Nobody, myself included, was really eating it up with a spoon.
And then one day, my professor opened the class with, “So, who here has seen Beauty and the Beast?”
I can’t help but notice bout after bout of chaotic uproar on Tumblr, the most intense of which was my own experience last summer. I can really only take so much more of this before I vomit all over my computer.
For starters, I disagree with Tyler Oakley’s “Why Diversity Sucks” video posted 5 years ago.
No. No. And no. I very much think that diversity is extremely important — and I’ve expressed this on numerous occasions in my videos.
What I don’t give a fuck about is witch hunts and hate campaigns against fellow Tumblr users. (Well…I do actually give a fuck, I just wish I didn’t have to.) Unprecedented amounts of vitriol, bullying, and harassment are not okay, yet it is very much a reality for YouTubers like myself who grew up on camera, for people who blog about substantive, high-stake topics on Tumblr, and people who speak up about social problems.
I’ve found that Tumblr can be more cruel and hateful than any other part of the internet I live on, and that is saying something. The internet isn’t always kind to women. Being immersed in a hateful environment causes psychological turbulence, depression, and self-hate in peoples’ every day lives. For anyone affected. It’s a real problem that many people on Tumblr don’t seem to understand goes two ways. It’s a reality that much of my time on Tumblr is spent feeling like I’m walking on eggshells in an abusive relationship, which is NOT OKAY. Last summer, my partner and I had to move into a new apartment because of stalking, threats of rape, and violence from Tumblr users. Please take a moment to think about what that seriously fucking means. Again: this sort of behavior NOT OKAY. I cannot stress enough how NOT OKAY this is.
My situation is an unfortunately extreme example of an ongoing problem we have here on the Tumblrsphere. It’s unfortunate that it happened and it’s unfortunate that the same stuff continues to happen. I’m going to attempt to characterize this problem because I feel it needs to be discussed. It’s really hard for me to discuss publicly, and I haven’t done it much, because it’s scary for me and past attempts have opened me up to more harassment. But a level-headed conversation about this problem really needs to happen. We need to talk about what’s going on here, and to find better ways to handle these situations.
Great piece by Laci about fucking up, calling people out and also about forgiveness and dialogue.