When James Brown penned "This Is A Man's World," he wasn't exactly talking about comic cons, football stadiums, and concert arenas. But judging by the amount of sexism female fans have to deal with just for, you know, existing, it's a pretty fitting theme song for fandom. Gamergate, the series of misogynist attacks on female game developers, players, and critics back in 2014, is probably the most widely-discussed instance of gross sexism in the gaming community, and for good reason; it was an enormous fiasco and resulted in some of the most repulsive conversations I've ever encountered in digital spaces. Yet while this mess happened in the gaming community, I can attest that female fans encounter sexism in every subculture.
Violent cultural moments like Gamergate don't happen in a vacuum. For women obsessed with sports, movies, comics, or even cooking, geeking out often comes with a price. Personally, I'd wager that most of this sexism comes from a sense of toxic masculinity, a quality shared by folks across genders that criticizes powerful feminine identities because they seem like a threat to the status quo. Whatever the reason, the fact is that all female fans are familiar with this criticism, and if you are a part of a subculture, you might relate to the following ways that women in fandoms experience sexism.
1. "If she's at a con/show/fest, she's public property."
This is one that I've personally experienced. During my last year of high school, I took my little brother to see Metallica, his all-time favorite band. Somewhere between "One" and "Enter Sandman," the drunk guy standing next to me decided to enter his hand into my back pocket. I was so afraid of putting my brother at risk that I didn't say anything, even as this strange man smacked my ass to the beat of the song.
2. "It's up to me to decide whether or not she knows enough to call herself a fan."
Ever geeked out over Pokemon or football only to get grilled on statistics? It's 100% okay to release your inner-Charizard or defensive lineman whenever you face that kind of sexism.
3. "She has an STF: sexually transmitted fandom."
If a woman is into a band or sport, it's only because she's trying to impress her boyfriend, right? Come on.
4. "She only likes this because she's butch."
I've heard the crappy viewpoint that women and folks who present off the binary are just itching to become men, namely because all men love sports, slamming beers, and tackling each other (they don't). Quit gender policing based upon sexuality.
5. "She's faking it to look cool."
Yeah, because spending my Friday nights playing Catan and watching sci-fi is first and foremost cool.
6. "They're just watching this TV show because they think s/he's hot."
Yep, and I'm just going to the grocery store because the produce clerk is good-looking. I'm just putting gas in my car because the guy working the counter is super sexy. I'm just earning my MA to land a husband. Seriously, people?!
7. "I totally raped that game."
I've heard this a thousand times, and it still makes me totally ill. The fact that winning is equated with sexual assault says a lot about who's welcome in the gaming community and its attitudes towards women.
8. "It's science, not sexism."
Real talk: I love me some Iowa Hawkeyes. I had a teddy bear that played the fight song in my crib, and when football season rolls around, you can hear me screaming at the TV from across the street. But, here's the thing: my team doesn't love me back. More than 35 years ago, Coach Hayden Fry had the opposing team's locker room at Kinnick Stadium painted pink, since, as he explained in his memoir, "pink is often found in girls’ bedrooms, and because of that some consider it a sissy color." How did my alma mater respond to allegations of sexism? They called the use of pink psychological, not sexist. Please. That's not an excuse.
9. "Don't ruin your boyfriend's stats while you play around!"
Um, excuse me? This is my house, bro.
While most fans flock to subcultures for a sense of belonging, it's important to remember that women in fandoms only get a portion of that safety. Here's me throwing out some solidarity vibes to all the female fans out there who are boldly making change in their communities.