A recent blog post on ClubJade.net has stirred the voices of fangirls across the internet and raised the backs of a few fanboys. When I first read Erika’s Back off, guys: It’s our turn, I felt a deep empathy for her opinion. Having been a fangirl since 1977, I am well aware of the passive cold shoulder given to female fans by the industry – and the sometimes much more aggressive dismissal aimed our way by a specific subset of fanboys who don’t like the ladies playing in their sandbox. The trail of comments on Facebook, Club Jade, and elsewhere after Erika’s blog brought to light further opinions, most very supportive of Ashley Eckstein’s budding business, but some more critical.
In a follow-up blog on her site, Ashley did an exceptional job of addressing concerns aired by some of the female fans, and used the immediate attention to enlighten all of us about the many variables affecting cost and supply for her product line. Hopefully some of the female fans who were critical of Her Universe’s products will be more understanding now that they’ve had a glimpse behind the business curtain. In responding to a male fan who felt a bit put off by the attitude reflected in the ClubJade.net blog, Erika clarified she was directing her response to men who have said ““now we need something like that for guys!” when referring to the HU clothing line.”
Being a fangirl, I’d like to offer a differing point of view – my opinion that I think we fangirls need to reconsider whether it’s in our best interest to tell the fanboys to back off.
Reading Erika’s blog and related comments, and comparing them with opinions I’ve heard expressed by other women, I think it’s clear that as a fangirl community we share a common vision: easily accessible, quality merchandise that caters to our feminine tastes at an affordable price. To achieve that goal, first and foremost we need Her Universe to succeed, because if Her Universe fails the longtime naysayers who have refused to step into this market will simply take it as proof that they’ve been right all along, that there’s no profit to be made serving fangirl demand.
Given that, my own personal opinion is that engaging the fanboys is far more likely to help us achieve all parts of that goal. I’ve worked in the corporate world for twenty years now, and I have a pretty good understanding of marketing and overhead costs. These principles are pretty standard no matter what industry you look at; it’s the reason the CEO of a paper company can move on to run an automotive parts company. Her Universe has stepped into the market with some savvy branding choices aimed at a previously unfilled market. The company and its goals are relayed to the customers with unique identifiers such as color choices, softer font types, a female friendly website, and feminine product offerings.
Just like any business, though, those upfront marketing tools come at a cost – graphic designers, webmasters, sales staff, and so on. Those are hard, fixed overhead costs which have to be spread across all product offerings in order to be recouped. Each particular shirt has an embedded cost to create it, too. Take for instance the “Fettish” tank previewed earlier this month. Her Universe had to pay for graphic design plus manhour costs for all involved in bringing that design to fruition. There are large numbers of fans – men and women – who love the design.
So here’s why we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the fanboys. The artwork and design of each shirt is done and paid for once it hits the stores. Taking notice of the reaction across the entire Star Wars fanbase to specific designs, whether it be the Boba Fettish motif or any other one, in Ashley’s shoes it would be smart as a businesswoman to at least consider on occasion producing a matching man’s version and broadening the market for that particular product. The irony shouldn’t be lost on anyone that the newest product revealed amid last week’s blog discussions imitates young men’s underwear and that there was initial confusion over whether it was meant for men or women.
There are distinct business advantages to placing certain popular designs on both female and male apparel, which actually might drive us further toward the common fangirl vision I noted above. First, it helps Her Universe succeed; second, it helps spread out the initial production costs between male and female consumers, which in turn should help reduce the price of both products.
Granted there are always branding choices for any company, and Ashley and Her Universe may decide that choice conflicts with their corporate vision, or they may simply be restricted by licensing agreements. We fangirls are lucky because no matter what, Her Universe has a very clear vision of their niche and who their base market is. But consider this: bringing men into the online store for a masculine version of something along the lines of a man’s Fettish shirt may end up with that fanboy, much like Erika has done for her man, walking out not just with his tank but also something else for his fangirl. And so the market churns and the snowball rolls… Most importantly, we all move one step closer to that shared fangirl vision.
Yes, we fangirls have gotten the short end of the stick for a while. Storylines in the movies, books, and comics have been more geared toward men, clothing has been designed with masculine sensibilities, and a certain section of fanboys continue to be reactive and mean-spirited in their reception of our shared enjoyment. Times are changing, though. As discussed in my Heiress to the Throne blog, female-centric plotlines have been received well and more are coming in The Clone Wars. Likewise, the Legacy comics have earned a hard-core set of female fans largely based on the wonderful storytelling by Jan Duursema and John Ostrander. What I see as the greatest achievement for these successes is that they are not exclusive to fangirl or fanboy enjoyment, but rather that we’ve all been able to enjoy them together.
For that reason, I am reluctant to shake my fist at my fellow fans. Without a doubt we fangirls know how that feels. Haven’t we been saying for years, there is room for everyone? I quite look forward to the possibility of seeing two fans – one boy, one girl – posing side by side in their awesome matching Star Wars shirts, especially if it would help Her Universe succeed.
May the Force be with us all.