Women Deserve a Seat at the (Fandom) Table
Recently, Ashley Eckstein probably has been the most prominent voice in the geek girl community talking about the discomfort female fans feel at times in online discussions and message boards. At events like San Diego Comic Con and Geek Girl Con, though, women have been given opportunities to enjoy their fandom on more equal footing. Things are changing, just more quickly in some venues than others.
Unfortunately, too often I observe some of the ways male fans alienate women still getting a free pass. For example, I’ve seen men dismiss a female character’s troubled emotions as nothing more than a PMS-induced craze, yet when women objected they were silenced with edits and bans while the men who made those statements were never given even a public reprimand, much less anything more serious. I could point to numerous other instances of offensive remarks about gender condoned in this way. But message boards, fandom discussions, and fans will almost uniformly rally against a dismissive statement made about race or religion. Without a doubt, a double standard still exists.
I decided to comment on this problem today in light of a recent online topic discussion about Star Wars. Really, it doesn’t matter where it happened or who made the statement. The important part is that the remark and its aftermath are typical of what I’ve seen as a longtime fan. The opening topic asked which four Star Wars characters fans would like to invite to a dinner table with a limit of five seats. The answers, naturally, are an interesting gauge of the wide breadth of interests and character popularity within the fandom, and for the most part it was an insightful and engaging discussion. Very early on, though, one male responder posted the following:
Padmé won’t need a sit, she’ll be cooking
Spelling gaffe aside, this remark indicates either that this poster is just passing through life with the outdated, ignorant notion that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, or that he intended it to be a joke but has no sense of how inappropriate and insulting (and not funny) it is. Several other men indicated their approval of the statement. The comment went unchallenged until I directly asked the individual whether that sort of statement was necessary. The rest of the discussion went on its merry way.
So if you’re sighing at the silliness of this concern, let me spin this comment around…
Let’s just suppose we made a little tweak to that statement, dismissing a character out of hand based on outdated standards of equality. What do you think would have been the reaction if someone had posted this:
Lando won’t need a seat, he’ll be serving.
In my experience, that kind of statement would have been immediately met, rightfully, with outraged criticism by numerous fans. More than likely the moderating parties might have taken down such a statement as a sign that it was inappropriate and unacceptable behavior. Certainly it’s an impossible task to take gender bias and racial bias out of everyone’s mindset, but people with those types of attitudes – be it racist or sexist – should be challenged equally for the offensive things they say in public discussions.
A big part of the problem, I believe, is that most of these lingering double standards in the fandom have their source in ignorance and subconscious bias. While that means most of the offense is unintended, it also makes it all the more important to call out this behavior when it occurs or this type of behavior will keep happening. Over the course of the past year, I’ve had differences of opinion with several male-run websites. In each instance, I corresponded with leadership and told them that they had treated me inappropriately – and differently than they would have treated a male fan who harbored a strong opinion – and I backed up my position with the facts and their own words and deeds. It was amazing how quickly, when the truth was put to these men, when they were faced with the knowledge that I felt these were sexist acts, that they apologized – and how quickly each of them went out of their way to tell me how unsexist they were.
Actions speak louder than words.
The problem for most men is that they don’t know how to tilt their head and see life through a woman’s eyes. It’s remarkable, though, that when they’re offered the chance to borrow my rose-colored glasses, they have an epiphany. No one expects a black man or a Latina woman, as two examples, to stand by and just let racist comments slide. Women often don’t get the same consideration. As I see it, there are still a lot of men out there who silently condone sexism.
By the way, I cooked dinner tonight, but I also worked on the designs of some of the most complicated signalization systems in the country. Neither is a man’s or a woman’s work; they’re just the things we humans do to get by.
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