Fandom, Must We Keep Doing This?

Well, we’re having this conversation again. A shirt at a convention set off another round of discussion of acceptance of women and the geek community.

So, according to the creator, it’s okay that there’s a shirt about hating fangirls because there’s also one about hating fanboys.  Which you can’t find anywhere on the internet (the fangirl one is in the creator’s deviantart, but not the fanboy hate one).

My response?  Neither shirt is acceptable.  But the reason that the fangirl shirt is getting so much bad coverage is because there’s a lot of messages circulating right now that tell girls they are not welcome in geek culture.  It’s a very pervasive message, at least it is if the messages are directed at you and it comes both overtly and subtly.  And it’s not funny.

Rucka’s description of his daughter is hard and heartbreaking for me to read, because I’ve been where she is. I was a geeky girl in a very small town. I figured out I liked the fantasy genre before I understood what genre was. Playing house bored me to tears, I wanted to play dragons or talking cats. And it didn’t get better the older I got.

I experienced comparatively little ostracizing from my peers, at least in terms of overt bullying and shunning, but I wasn’t accepted for who I was either. In highschool, most of my friends were boys. Even with them, I never felt like I belonged, more like my presence was tolerated. If any of them had turned to me and said “you aren’t welcome here,” I would have quietly left, heartbroken and despondent. And I was uninvited from a few gatherings, othered and edged out by the boys around me at different times. Because of that, for all that I am geeky as anything, I still don’t feel like I belong in geek culture. It’s nearly impossible to get me interested in a show or a book if there isn’t some sort of fantastic element to it, sci-fi or fantasy. I game. I roleplay. I write and read genre. So why don’t I feel like I belong in geekdom?

Because of shirts like that. Because words like ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ are predominantly masculine words in our minds. Fangirl is one of the few descriptors that is clearly and distinctively female. And then people wear shirts that tell me that they flat out hate me.

I don’t find it very funny.

But okay, for the sake of fairness, let’s talk about the shirts as they were intended. When the T-shirt creator says Fangirl and Fanboy, he’s talking about the kinds of fans who talk your ear off for hours on the same subject even if you haven’t expressed any interest in continuing the conversation.  Fans who write elaborate and poorly written stories all set to showcase how fantastic their original character is.  Or who draw bad and explicit porn and then really want to share it with you.  Who will argue a point into the ground even when they don’t actually have all of the pertinent information.  Who don’t have the social graces to know when to stop staring.  Or talking.  Or start bathing.

Overexcited, over sharing, obsessive, and no brakes whatsoever.  Do you know who that describes?  Teenagers.  Basically every teenager ever, on some level. And telling teenagers that they are bad people and you hate them is telling someone you hate them because of things they can’t control.  Yes, someday they’ll stop being teenagers, but it’s not like they can rush the process. Growing up takes as long as it has to, no stops. And being a teen is hard enough as it is without adding extra hate, especially when you’re talking to geeky teenagers who are getting it from their peers.

Sometimes you run into adults who express this behavior and it’s harder to tolerate in an adult.  The thing is, there’s probably a reason the adult is like that.  They may have Aspergers or something similar. They may just be a nerd who spent their entire life alone and is therefore poorly socialized.  If that’s the case, they may literally be unable to tell when you’re actually interested in their debate and when you’re thinking of stabbing yourself in the ear to make it stop.  Body language can be hard to read.  It’s not their fault and the fact is, nobody wants to be That Annoying Fan.  But they may not know they’re doing it.

Which doesn’t mean we just let bad behavior stand under the umbrella of ‘they can’t help it.’  Geekdom is a community and we should be working to teach members of our community when their behaviors are inappropriate.  If somebody tries to derail a convention panel with a thirty minute diatribe of why Goku could totally take Superman or why Inuyasha and Sesshomaru are meant for each other, someone needs to stop them and inform them that now is not the time.  If you’re friends with someone who doesn’t seem to know where the boundaries are between normal fan behavior, try to have a talk with them about it.

People can be taught. With time and patience, teenagers will out grow their over abundant energy and scary obsessions.  And, let’s also be clear.  We’re all nerds here and we’re all fans of something. Sometimes we get overexcited no matter our age and talk more than we should and put our foot in it.  It’s embarrassing when we realize we’ve done it, but it happens.  Geeks of any age are not masters of social matters.

But another behavior that needs to stop is the hate and ostracizing of other fans. Are we not a community? Are we not better than the same bullies who made us feel so small and pathetic?