Why does female-leaning fandom come in for such criticism?

News Simon Brew 9/25/2013 at 8:42AM

Fans of female-focused properties like Twilight are often subjected to aggressive criticism. Simon explains why it should stop...

Regular tolerators of Den Of Geek may well know of the existence of a 3000 word feature on One Direction that I somehow managed to stumble into having to write, courtesy of an ill-founded bet on Twitter. In said feature, I argued that while I was hardly bowled over by the work of One Direction, I didn't feel I had the right to gleefully urinate over the fandom of someone else.

I could criticise their music, I could vow never to buy anything they ever did. But slag off those who do love One Direction, and are dedicated fans? That's over the line for me.

Yet it was in the comments field of that article that one point stuck in my head, where it's firmly resided since. As one commenter put it, "it does seem that fandoms that can be 'female' learning (such as One Direction) do get a lot of stick, but if it's male skewering (e.g. football) then it gets a free pass".

A further commenter picked up the baton: "anything with a fanbase mainly composed of teenage girls - One Direction, Bieber, Twilight etc - gets tons of these uber-macho comments from people desperate to prove that they don't like this sissy garbage". As such you get "homophobic slurs aimed at the artists and misogynistic ones aimed at the fans".

That's put it far better than I ever could.

All of this has stayed with me, primarily because it has so many rings of truth about it. And you don't have to look much further than that Twilight saga for a whole clutch of evidence.

Putting aside the merits of the Twilight films for a minute - whether you love, hate or put up with them - the core demographic was female, and primarily teenagers. I don't think that's much of a secret. That was reflected in the casting, the publicity and the material itself, and the box office rewarded the choices that were made.

Let's assume for a minute (and this isn't the biggest leap I'll ever take) that there's a big bunch of people who don't like Twilight movies, as many of you don't. There's also a big bunch of people who don't like the staggeringly successful Rush Hour trilogy. But look at how the tone of the comments both franchises attract differs. You get vilified for liking one, and nobody seems to mind either way if you like the other. 

Mark Kermode infamously wrote a piece at The Guardian back in November 2012, entitled 'Move over, Luke Skywalker... I'm a Twilight man'. He's made little secret of the fact that he's enjoyed the Twilight movies, and in the article he put across his reasons why. Granted, an introduction saying he preferred the movie to Star Wars stirred things up, but as he related in his upcoming book, Hatchet Job, the strength of feeling he encountered in the comments field was something to behold. And he's not alone. I visited a breadth of movie sites, as well as the likes of Amazon and the IMDB, to see what user feedback articles on Twilight were getting.

It was depressing, and a sizeable number of comments had a really nasty, sexist twinge to them. Twilight fans, apparently, are "all so stupid", "get pregnant at 16" (I wish I was making these up), and generally "dumb girls".

Apparently, the "only reason a guy should see this is to get layed (sic)", and the alternative name for the series is "Twatlight". Meanwhile, "if there was a movie of guy on guy full penetration porno Jacob on Edward that movie would not be as gay as Twilight".

You don't have to look far to find even less savoury comments elsewhere online. I've not pulled a few out of context here. There are thousands, if not more, comments like those I've quoted.

But it doesn't just stay online. At the Los Angeles premiere of Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2, the queuing fans were jeered by passers-by. Jeered! Just for waiting to see the stars of a movie series you happen to like. Not even jeering the performers, or the people who made the movie. Instead, it's become sport to jeer the people who want to watch it.

The people jeering were reportedly coming out or going to a basketball game, and the jeerers were, it seems, male. And doesn't that encapsulate it a little? Were the fans at said basketball game female, and were a male crowd waiting to watch the stars arrive for the premiere, would the women jeer the men? I'd argue not. So why is it acceptable here? Why is it okay to use the cover of a movie that people want to see to effectively bully human beings?

Some people hate Twilight because of what it does with the vampire genre. Some Twilight fans do themselves no favours (and let's be truthful, that's putting it mildly). Few would have quarrel with debating either of those switch. But the rampaging sexism that surrounds the franchise is depressing, and yet alarmingly tolerated.

But this isn't just about Twilight. Most recently, it's been seen with the One Direction movie, where the bashing of the movie and its fans was out in force. Again, I'm not blind: I see some of the comments coming from One Direction fans to those who criticise the band, and they're sometimes no better. I'm not defending those at all. Two wrongs certainly don't come close to making a right there. 

What about, though, the ire aimed at some female teenage Doctor Who fans for being unhappy with the casting of Peter Capaldi in the show, which again was in marked contrast to that that male fan would get?

But then, in a really good piece at Whovian Feminism, they argue there that "I’ve seen more people complaining about how heterosexual teenage girls are complaining about Peter Capaldi’s casting because he isn’t a young man onto which they can project their sexual fantasies then I’ve actually seen heterosexual teenage girls making that complaint. It seems to me that this ‘problem’ has been widely blown out of proportion". I can only add anecdotal evidence to that, but my findings - save for one YouTube video - are the same.

Let's pick another example. Sherlock has attracted an enthusiastic and sizeable female fandom too. The outside assumption is that every woman who loves Sherlock instantly wants to have wild and passionate sex with Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman/Una Stubbs. And they may well do. But that they might just really love the show seems an alien concept in some quarters.

A Den Of Geek correspondent went along to a Sherlock press event earlier in the year, where she found herself talking to a journalist from a respected (well, less respected by us now) daily newspaper. "You must be a Cumberbitch", said the male journalist in question, pretty much his opening line. Our correspondent, as it turned out, has read all of the Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories many times, has always loved the material, and now has her fandom denigrated down to three syllables that trivialise just what she's got out of the stories. Mind you, even if she hadn't, does that make it right that someone can call her a 'Cumberbitch' within a sentence of meeting her? Is it inconceivable that not every human being is comfortable with that phrase?

It's all a bit depressing. 

Look too at the recent filming of Sherlock around London. Our same correspondent walked passed the assembled crowd, and she noted that it was almost entirely female. Sherlock's fervent female support has already resulted in the aforementioned 'Cumberbitches' term (a word that some are happy to adopt as their own), but it still tends to be approached more negatively. Contrast that with the queue for the launch of a new Apple product on launch day. That queue is mainly male, still comes in for some stick, yet is seen as more 'acceptable'.

But why?

Let's go for another quick example - I'm using lots, because I don't want this to be about the individual films and show. It's about the broader underlying point.

I got talking to another colleague about the recent box office disappointment, The Mortal Instruments, another movie roundly dismissed as "for teenage girls". If it is for teenage girls firstly, does that make it any lesser a project? Does the fact that it's aimed at teenage girls suddenly make it bad? 

My colleague's argument that The Mortal Instruments was a movie based in and around female-centric fantasy. And that's seen, again in some quarters, as a bad thing. Star Wars, meanwhile, even the weaker films, is centred around a more male-driven fantasy. That's one of the biggest movie franchises of all time. 

That's not quite comparing like with like certainly (I don't intend to take any kind of bullet for The Mortal Instruments), but then what female-targeted franchises are amongst the biggest in the world? That's perhaps a question for another time, because I want to finish on the main point: that this is about the fans, rather than what they happen to be fans of.

You may or may not agree with the individual examples, but there still seems to be a general instant dismissal of films and shows targeted at women, and teenage girls in particular, that overrides the actual content and just attacks the people who like it.

How miserable and depressing is that? That online mob rule attacks you simply for what you like. Didn't we leave all that behind in the school playground?

Films are targeted and marketed at different genders, and different demographic audiences are generally receptive to different material. But isn't the bottom line this? If you pay your money to see something, and hate it, then you've every right to slag it off. But that doesn't anyone any right to slag off the people who feel differently, and to dismiss and denigrate their fandom.

Fandom is supposed to be a positive thing, about celebrating something you enjoy, are entertained by and are passionate about. It's not about sending up flares to attract a crowd of bullies who should know better. Sadly, that's just what some female-leaning fandoms in particular tend to do at the moment, and it can't just be me who's pig sick of it.

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I was with you till Mortal Instruments. Mortal Instruments' biggest problem is the plagiarism by its author, Cassie Cla(i)re. She who changed the spelling of her name so googling would not reveal all the articles about her theft from Pamela Dean's books during the writing of the Harry Potter fanfic that was then stripmined and turned into TMI.

I would love to see a strong female centric series make it big. Seanan McGuire is way past due to get some Hollywood love. Also N. K. Jemesin. But Mortal Instruments? Hell to the no. That can die in obscurity, and gender had NOTHING to do with it.

Well said! I'm a 35 year old woman who is a fan of all these franchises, and Star Wars, Star Trek, etc... I'm an all around fangirl. But, to your point, if I mention that I love Sherlock, it's suddenly all about Cumberbatch/Freeman, versus actually loving the writing and overall cleverness of that show (not to mention the original stories). Did I become a fan of them through the show? Absolutely, but the initial draw was that Moffat was writing it, then I discovered the actors (well Freeman had me at H2G2 and The Office UK), but you get my point... Just the other day I was geeking out on some Star Wars and a male had the audacity to quiz me on some stuff to see if I was a legit fan. Do you think he would've asked another male fan how many parsecs the Falcon did the Kessel Run in? Hmmmm... So, why should I be made fun of for liking Twilght? I'm an equal opportunity geek.

Great article! It's a topic close to my heart. We've published two books recently exploring just this - how much shame women have about being fangirls and where that shame comes from. Fandom At The Crossroads is theory and explanation and lots of interviews, and Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls is a lighter look at the same topic. Both on amazon fyi. #noshame

Some film franchises are painted as meaning more than they do. Twilight has been skewered using it's own material to do it.

I personally don't get sucked into it however there is no exemption from critique and in the case of Twihards...the material to do it with numerous.

If it's a fantasy story like say Harry Potter that is seen as such but is not seen as something to emulate then whatever.

I don't care if someone likes Twilight. I get annoyed when people want to emulate it.

Nor do I care if it's the eye candy that draws them. Hell I sat through Gossip Girl because Leighton Meester and Blake Lively were hot.

Hear hear! There's another related article this month over at Apex Magazine entitled "Fangirl Isn't a Dirty Word." I'm pleased that this phenomenon has been brought out into the sunlight so much lately. http://www.apex-magazine.com/f...

Great article! As a female whovian, I'm super tired of the male bullies who attack all of us Tenth Doctor/David Tennant fans saying that we are dumb and wrong for prefering his era and his Doctor over the others (I'm a grown woman, btw). It seems like in their opinion that era and Doctor aren't worthy of the praise and assume we simply like it for the romance and because Tennant is attractive. Maybe a few only like it for that, but I've seen many females who love the era because many of the stories were really good and the characters felt very real and relatable. Plus lets be honest, David Tennant is an excellent and iconic actor. Again, thanks for the sensitive article, it needed to be said. Let's respect each other, yes? We all have a right to like/love what we want.

Sorry, but as a female fan of Doctor Who and Sherlock, while I understand where you're coming from, I have so many qualms with what was written here that it would take me far too long to list them all.
People of ALL fandoms are made fun of. Football takes a pass? Men standing in lines to buy Apple products is "acceptable"? No, not that I've seen.
Look at how video gamers and "comic book nerds" are treated. Being called "Cumberbitch" doesn't even compare to people claiming your form of entertainment will turn you into a mass murderer (not that I've ever actually seen anything but positivity for being a fan of Sherlock, because it's a damn fine show). Besides, men are demeaned all the time as only being interested in a character because of, well, the size of her chest (directly and indirectly; as in, this is why so many female video game characters wear the minimal armor they do).
Whovians of both genders are ridiculed. The only way women are ridiculed more is for *some" fans' rabid obsession with David Tennant (something that is a] not applied to the entire female gender of the fandom and b] completely earned in a lot of cases - I have seen more young female Whovians complaining about the choice of #13 because he's "too old" than I would ever care to).

People complain about Twilight for so many more reasons than just that it is entertainment for girls. It pushes out better literature, gives young women (and young men!) a destructive role model, promotes terrible life choices, and a litany of other reasons... including that it's just GAWD AWFUL writing. Comparing it to things like Rush Hour just doesn't work. Those're bad, no doubt, but they are nowhere near the level of bad that Twilight is.

"Just the other day I was geeking out on some Star Wars and a male had the audacity to quiz me on some stuff to see if I was a legit fan."

This is a MUCH better argument about sexism in fandom than this article presented, IMO.

Weird, I know a lot of whovian females on twitter and FB and none of them complain about the Capaldi casting. I'm personally fine with it (I think we needed a change after Matt) and I'm looking forward to seeing a fan playing the Doctor again. I think some people only see what they want to see.

...I'm just sick of hearing about David Tennant by the fangirls. I loved his Doctor, but he's gone. I've enjoyed his other work too. I don't have a problem with the old Doctors and I'm excited about Capaldi's arrival, I like all of them. Have seen all since Tom Baker, caught up with 1, 2, & 3 early on and I even like Colin Baker. But the incessant D.T. idol worship drives me more insane then I already am.

You're so right about Tennant's abilities, he is good at his craft.But it's funny, Turn Left is one of my very favorite eps of his, and IT'S the Catherine Tate show... well, Donna Nobel anyway.

And why is that funny? The other characters also deserve the spotlight sometimes.

I have never allowed myself to feel shame for being a geek and female in all my near 50 years. The sooner female geeks of all ages realize they don't need male justification of their geekery to be an out and proud fan of whatever fandom, the sooner we can all get back to enjoying our respective fandoms. Bottom line is that geekery is empowering and perhaps some men are threatened by that. Yes, I'll throw some feminism in there for good measure.

Agreed. There is an excellent set of pieces on the subject by someone handled as Das Mervin.

She went through and gave a ply by play of Twilight weirdness and negatives.

The Hunger Games is a strong female centric series that made it big. And it also seems to escape the ire thrown at female centric stories, perhaps because the books and the first film are full of merit.

I agree about Mortal Instruments and Cassie Cla(i)re. Although I would argue that the general public is completely ignorant of the plagiarism scandal and that the film failed, as most films do, because it simply wasn't that good.

Maybe I just don't' get it. Maybe its not my taste. But what I see is an industry that has the perfect formula to get tween girls to go nuts. And rarely is ever talent involved.

I gave the first movie of the Twilight series a chance. That movie sucked. Hard.

I am a male and personally speaking, I think the reason Twilight fan gets lots of flack has to do with more complicated reasons, to over-simplify? The story is crap, the writing lackluster, and the message it gives girls...particularly young girls... is incredibly shallow and WRONG. I was under the impression women were supposed to stand up for themselves, motivate themselves, and want to contribute to society. Twilight boils everything a woman does to..."GIRL LOVE BOY. KEEP TABS ON HIM ALL THE TIME!" Its message basically says that all girls can do is find a man.

So no, I don't hate Twilight fans because it is "gay" or "sparkling vampires" or anything along those lines; I dislike it because I like to hold entertainment to a higher standard and I groan at the effect books/movies like Twilight has on CULTURE as a whole. Teenage girls grow up looking at Twilight like it is a the bible on dating. I can understand guilty pleasures, I have a few myself, but when I see die-hard fans of the series hold it up like it is EVERYTHING...I will freely admit i judge them. It has nothing to do with the fact that they are mostly women, I judge them for not being able to recognize that they are feeding a system that, in my opinion, DEGRADES society.

I do the same thing for people who like Two and a Half Men, CSI Miama, Micheal Bay films, ect, ect, ect. All of it is crap and I wish people held themselves up to a higher standard of what they take as 'good' entertainment. Yes, yes, this is all relative...and I know that I am an elitist-culture-snob-out-of-touch-with-the- common-population....but still...

Now I do see the point in this article and obviously there is a double standard in fandom...but I would like to point out that there are a lot of us out there who hate Twilight purely for STORY reasons. If you want teenage vampire action, with a great plot and fantastic messages, watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That is a show made for younger girls; look at the fantastic, witty, and thought-provoking some of those stories are! Buffy is a role model, Bella is not (I just noticed both start with B, and contain 5 letters, 2 of which are double).

And as for Mortal Instruments: CIty of Bones...I have no opinion on it, I will say that I think the reason it was swept aside as crap so easily...is because of the Twilight connotations and that pop-culture these days sees almost anything PG-13 with vampires tones in a completely different light now due to those movies. No one sees these supernatural teen-dramas as a vehicle for good story-telling anymore, all they see is Twilight, Twilight, and MORE Twilight.

But what about another genre?

Look at how popular the Hunger Games are, and those are mostly respected for being good teen-drama and storytelling. With a female character who is a role-model and actually accomplishes things. Are they viewed by a lot by men? No, but then, are they supposed to be? They are more directed at females anyway. And that is good, because if we get more character's like Katness and less characters like Bella...I think you will see the average person give female geeks more respect. Because they like respectable characters.

In fact, I think I will go as far to say that I blame Twilight for this double standard; maybe not completely, but it certainly DOESN'T HELP female geeks...especially when it is SO popular and when you see these die-hard fans of Twilight being shown on the news...think about what the everyday people sees...

Am I over-simplifying a lot of these issues? Yes and again, I do agree with this article. Women are not seen well in popular media (look at how people treat Skyler in Breaking Bad). Look at how people treated Snow-White and the Huntsmen fans...well...that wasn't a very good story either...but STILL. There is more to play here than simple sexism for the sake of sexism... It is a system that BOTH sides need to fix because it is self-perpetuating.

Personally speaking, I think this can be helped (NOT FIXED) by a simple call for better entertainment, stories, and characters...but I can dream.

On a side note:

Your comparison to Rush Hour movies doesn't really work, because those movies have had FAR from the same culture impact of Twilight (for good or ill). Maybe Star Wars would be a better comparison...but...see...those tell a good story with well-developed characters...well...at least the originals do. Male orientated fantasy? Yes they are! But good storytelling at its most basic level? You bet they are!

tldr; I feel bad for these girls who like this stuff...but only to the extent of how GOOD the story they are a fan of. You won't see critics rush to the aid of Twilight fans being jeered at...because it is Twilight. Not because it is for girls...but because the story is terrible.

PS: Sherlock is awesome and that report was a fucking moron.

....not in a humorous way, it seems a little odd to me because The Doctor is barley in this episode. It proof of what you said above. A great character and a great story, driven by Tate's acting. She's good to great most of the time, PERFECT in this one.

A very good article.

it does seem that women's taste in popular culture/entertainment is belittled in a way men's isn't.

Or maybe women are just nicer and don't like making fun of men's stuff?

But if it makes you feel better, men are still harsher to other men (and I suspsect women to other women) than to the opposite sex.

Yeah well Turn Left was a 'what if' type of story; what if the Doctor wasn't there anymore to prevent disasters. He wasn't there but it was still pretty much about him. It also showed that the companions in the RTD era were developed well-enough to drive the story. I can't see Clara doing the same for the show. Not yet. Very thin character, and the actress didn't impress me either.

I don't think female geeks are looking for male approval of their choices. Just to be free of male denigration and spite for their choices.

Sadly I don't think it's just boys/men bashing female-leaning fandoms. Other girls do it too. People just can't seem to keep their opinions to themselves anymore. I'm not sure why you'd want to bash something that made someone else happy. If you don't like it, that's just fine, but if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything! Be cool.

It seems dervitive and simplistic to cry sexism...but it's true.

I'm in agreement with you, but i feel like you want more. ("Yeah well...") I'll end with this, Tate is the best of the new-Who companions, and I prefer her Donna, over, perhaps, any other companion with the exceptions of Sarah Jane and Leela.

Piper couldn't have pulled it off, Agyeman couldn't either, but I'll take Martha over Rose ANY day. Smith's companions were average at best, Rory and Jack were more interesting then the 'pretty' ladies. Clara IS boring, though her relationship with 12 could bring something out that's been lacking... but i doubt it.

I disagree on Billie; her character Rose is one of the reasons the new show was so successful. Rose is my fav companion, with Donna in second place. I just loved Rose's story and her chemistry with both Chris and David. Let's agree to disagree.

The general public is also completely unaware that there was a Mortal Instruments movie; all the advertising, to the degree that there was any, seems to have been squarely aimed at already existing fans.


Thank you. Doctor Who offers male viewers fanservice all the time. Our first view of the grownup Amy Pond, for example, was a lascivious camera pan upward across her entire body, making sure we all knew she was dressed in a sexy outfit. Only women viewers get criticized for finding Doctor Who characters attractive.

So true! Like Peri's chest or Leela's nakedness... And don't tell me it was just a coincidence.. It was about time us females had some eye candy too.

That one shot River Song episode was written by Moffat, and the character created by him.

Wasn't the point of that shot supposed to be contrasting that the little girl had grown into a woman? Throughout the rest of the series Pond is a much different character than the one you are portraying. Whilst ye Karen Gillan is an attractive woman, the character was never played on for her attractiveness alone, other than that one shot which had a reasonable explanation.

In fact later in that very episode its actually the character of the Doctor that removes his clothing and its Amy's character that treats HIM like a sex object!!

You raise some incredibly valid points. My objection to the Twilight movies however is that the character of Bella is an incredibly poor role model and the first two movies were utterly bereft of any character development outside of Bella perking up and feeling suicidal depending on whether she was getting attention from someone she craved. It leaves you with a character defined purely by her only finding validation in a hot broody guy.

I know that. I said she was good in her one-shot episode. He is fine at one-shot women, Sally Sparrow, River Song, Madam Pompadour, but long-term women, he has no idea what he is doing.

Right, because the only way to show that a woman is different from a child is to dress her in a sexy outfit and do a long pan of her, gams to boobs. No way people would be able to differentiate a child Amy from an adult Amy based on, say, her face. Give me a break. Amy is a sex object from the get-go without a single ounce of brains. She is sexually motivated in everything she does without consideration or compassion for others. Yes, she objectifies the doctor, but because Moffat write her with only objectification in mind, of Amy and how Amy views others.

So, they want to freely enjoy whatever they like, and also control the reactions they get for it? Where on Earth is that a reasonable request from *anyone*?

>The Hunger Games is a strong female centric series that made it big.

Kinda funny you chose that particular book in response to that particular comment, considering that Hunger Games has the exact same plot as Battle Royale.

It's laughable that you honestly think only female-leaning fandom comes in for criticism.. Honestly it's very selfish of you, and shows that you are willfully ignoring many data points to make this opinion piece.

Anyone who has ever been an avid gamer, be it a video game, card game, table top RPG, or live action role play has felt a much harsher an longer enduring criticism than anyone here.

Anyone whom has ever been a fan of a cartoon series that was largely targeted to the opposite sex.

Starwars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings... all of these people have been ridiculed.

But see what I've one here? I've made it gender neutral! Because THAT is equality, not bandwagon-ing on about how only one side is being treated poorly or shunned.

Simply put criticism exists in a great deal many places, but since you are only looking to shed light on what you feel is important (the criticism/opression of your gender) you perpetuate sexism and inequality, but I'm sure you'll delete this comment under the guise of the "Patriarchy oppressing you" further, even though my gender shouldn't matter.

Keep that bitch in check: MANHOOD101. C O M

time to tell the truth here: MANHOOD101. C O M

I'm sorry, but as a male author of a book which looks at the Twilight series from a scholarly perspective, you're mistaken, and wildly underestimate the abuse women-focused fandoms are getting.

I see your point, and it's not entirely invalid, but you aren't seeing what's really going on. Which is pretty much Simon's exact point.

>and wildly underestimate the abuse women-focused fandoms are getting.

I wasn't saying that women-focused fandoms don't get crapped on, I'm saying they're not experiencing anything *unique to them*. And if you've studied Twilight, and are also a guy, you cannot tell me you haven't seen how society views men who look at pornography.

If I'm not seeing what's going on, explain it. Don't just say I'm wrong. Show, don't tell.