Misogyny in Fandom
Misogyny in Fandom is an observed phenomenon and topic of discussion in many fannish spaces, whether those spaces are majority-female or majority-male. Many observers have noted widespread blatant misogynistic comments at online social media sites, harassment at fan conventions and other offline spaces, as well as the lack of female representation--female characters, female canon creators, and even female fans (whom both fanboys and mainstream media outlets pretend don't exist). Subtler forms of sexism have been noted and commented on in relation to which fandoms attract the most fans and what fan creators create themselves. Misogyny occurs in science fiction fandom, comics fandom, transformational fandom, affirmational fandom, anime fandom, slash fandom, yaoi fandom, gaming fandom, music fandom, sports fandom, and elsewhere.
Some see misogyny in certain types of fannish interactions:
- when female fans are mistreated, sexually harassed, or simply disparaged or treated as mere "booth babes" or otherwise of lesser importance.  
- when fanboys doubt the sincerity of fangirls' interest
- when media coverage focuses on male fans and excludes or downplays the participation of women -- except for those in sexualized or ditzy outfits 
- when media coverage focuses on female fans to make fun of them, or makes fun of fandoms identified with women, such as Twilight or One Direction
- when fans do the same
- when works by female fantasy and SF writers are not mentioned, or mentioned only in passing, in general discussions on the genre; when they are omitted from 'best of' lists and other types of media exposure, mainstream or otherwise;
- when women fans themselves don't take fandom seriously, because it's "a girl thing", especially associated with young women in their teens and twenties
- when we accuse other fans of not being able to argue logically because they're women
In Media Fandom
Media fandom, and especially Slash fandom, are predominantly female spaces, so it may seem odd that misogyny in fandom has been a topic of discussion for years. In addition to discussions about pan-fandom issues, debates about misogyny in media fandom in particular center on the way fans interact with the source text:
- when fans disparage female characters, especially women cast as romantic objects for our favorite male characters or those we want to imagine in relationships with other men;
- when fans (even heterosexual ones) disparage heterosexual romance in fiction on the grounds that it's "gross"
- when fans write about the male characters in a fandom and ignore or even kill off the female characters (see The Cartwright Syndrome, Women in Refrigerators and Mysterious Wife Plague)
- when fans write hate mail to writers and producers for including a female lead or a female romantic interest for one of the heroes -- or even send death threats to the actress in question;
- the rarity of girl slash, or female-character-focused general stories, compared to the abundance of boy slash and male-character-focused gen stories.
- when competent female characters are accused of being Mary Sues or cliches, while similar male characters are beloved (see Female Character Flowchart)
- when flawed female characters are judged harshly and condemned, while similarly flawed male characters are excused, justified and defended
- when important female characters with leading roles are ignored in favor of minor male characters with minimal characterization and/or screentime (see Two White Guys)
Studio higher-ups often manipulate film and television shows with fannish appeal, in order to maintain a focus on males and sideline women characters. This meddling contributes to viewer perception of women as being extraneous baggage, or at least as less important.
Of course, these are really symptoms of a much larger problem concerning sex and gender conflicts in everyday life. But the focus of this article is on fandom. This means we must also look at business, such as the entertainment industry and the tech sector, especially game design, that have a lot of influence on fandom and may employ men and women who are fans.
Disliking female characters
Fannish dislike for female characters seems to happen much more often than random chance or general patterns of character bashing could adequately account for. Almost every fandom has at least one female character whom fans profess to "hate". She is just as likely to be an ally as an adversary. One of the most famous examples among anime fans is Relena Darlian-Peacecraft in Gundam Wing; "kill Relena" discussions abounded in the heyday of the show.
It is not uncommon to find epithet-laden screeds about virtually any woman with screen-time on any show with fannish appeal (fantasy, science fiction or action-adventure live-action shows, anime series). Female characters in RPG video games such as Final Fantasy come in for their share as well. The level of anti-female character venom among some fans is bizarrely high, especially given the general fannish love for adversarial characters such as Darth Vader.
Occasionally, communities will be formed with names like "kill [female character]". Members post stories where the character dies in a humiliating way. This type of community is only rarely found for male characters.
In the 2010s, this antipathy towards female characters has spread to the actresses who play them. Fans of Sherlock, an updated re-imagining of the Sherlock Holmes stories, reacted with dismay at the news that Amanda Abbington was going to play John Watson's (canonical!) wife Mary. Abbington, who is the common-law wife of Watson's actor Martin Freeman, reported having received death threats from devotees who support the idea of a romance between the two male leads. Many of these fans actually believe that with enough pressure, producer Stephen Moffatt would allow Holmes and Watson to become lovers on the show.
Death threats were also received by Anna Gunn, who plays Skyler White on Breaking Bad. Here, it is not a question of a woman interfering with a fantasied slash ship, but simply the fact that the show celebrates the ruthless, often criminal behavior of ex-schoolteacher Walter White, and his wife Skyler is portrayed as constantly calling him on his evil deeds. Anna believes her character's willingness to speak up and have the courage of her convictions violates the image most people have of how a woman should behave.
Sidelining or killing female characters
Another fannish trend often attributed to misogyny in fandom is that of stories that do not give the romantic history of their canon love-interest appropriate weight. For instance, this was a common complaint in Highlander fandom. According to established canon, Tessa Noël was one of the main loves -- if not the love -- of Duncan MacLeod's centuries-long life. But discussions and stories by fans -- even those that were nonsexual -- tended to make much more of his loss of his friend and mentor Darius than his loss of Tessa. Similarly, fans who write about Sherlock Holmes and John Watson tend to forget that in canon, the love (if he could be said to have such a thing ) of Holmes' life was Irene Adler. It may not be anti-female, but it definitely seems to show that some fan writers value women less.
Fan writers also tend to kill off female partners to get them out of the way of the desired male/male pairing, as in Mysterious wife plague. Some of the Mary Sue vehemence directed at original female characters and those who write them may be an offshoot of this phenomenon.
The producers of fannish media source material contribute to this attitude with their treatment of women. Often, it is not the writers' decision but that of the studio or network in charge. Canon female characters, especially those that are in power positions, are often killed off in series.  This is what happened to Capt. Tryla Scott in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Conspiracy".
These creator decisions reflect a larger problem within the media industry as a whole. Films with female lead characters are dismissed as "chick flicks", presumably appealing only to women viewers unless they "deliver" (include explicit sex scenes). In most other genres, women characters are routinely downplayed or kept to traditional supporting roles (wives, mothers), creating subtle associations for adult and child viewers. In her blog Reel Girl, feminist blogger Margot McGowan analyzes the fact that groups of imaginary characters in commercials, movies and TV usually feature several males and one female. She believes this amounts to cultural conditioning that leads girls to see themselves as a minority. In the real world, females are 51% of the population. 
Ignoring female characters
One of the oldest arguments about the treatment of female characters in fanfiction pertains to the comparative enthusiasm for male characters over female characters in fanfic. This is not only a problem in male/male sex stories (also known as "slash"); female characters are underrepresented in non-explicit, general audience writing as well, although, obviously, less so in heterosexual romantic stories.
Fans who do not consider this an issue point out that they don't have a lot to work with. It's reasonably accepted that Hollywood, at least, is actively opposed to female leads and even female strong characters. The stars of shows with fan appeal (live-action or anime fantasy, science fiction, or action-adventure series) tend to be male; bigger parts, better writing. When women are the first or second lead of a fannish type show, they're still usually written by male script writers and still tend not to be well written. It is, of course, difficult to write fanfiction about characters who are consistently minimized and given mediocre characterization within canon. (See Star Trek Dance Floor)
At this point, the first group of fans usually point out that extremely minor male characters are often fleshed out and given popular pairings in sex stories, while minor female characters generally don't get these opportunities.
In some fandoms, even the way that sexual pairings are described can be revealing. Heterosexual pairings are often written with the male's surname and female's first name, e.g. "Smith/Mary", rather than both characters' first or last names. Homosexual or "slash" pairings are usually described with either both last name, or both first name: John/Fred, Smith/Jones. 
Rarity of female/female sex or romance stories in fandom
- See also Prevalence of Femslash.
- Even now, there aren't a lot of shows with two strong female characters (especially where one or both of them aren't pining after male characters on the show), and they were even rarer in the '80s and '90s.
- Straight women aren't as turned on by the mechanics of f/f, so there is no audience. (This argument carries its own baggage by assuming that slashers are overwhelmingly straight women, which is not necessarily the case.)
- We are used to seeing women having intimate emotional relationships, so it isn't necessary to create fictional versions, or easy to differentiate the friendship from a sexual relationship in them.
- We aren't used to seeing women have intimate emotional relationships in fiction (as the Bechdel Test indicates), and so we have nothing to go on.
Why are women so scarce in SF -- the literature, among the fans, and most of all, among the writers? - Ursula K. LeGuin, speaking at WorldCon 1975 in Melbourne.
Women have been a presence in fantasy and science fiction from the earliest days, and have been ignored or sidelined during much of that time. Female authors for the early f&sf magazines used (or were made to use) a male pen name or just their initials. The first fantasy author not to do so was Zenna Henderson, whose "People" stories first appeared in 1952.
Notable Misogyny discussions
- discussions relating to the Open Source Boob Project
- the debate over whether Supernatural's Season 3 was noticeably more sexist than previous seasons, resulting in the Bitch Watch project in which a fan named apocalypsos counted the number of times per season the words "bitch", "slut", "skank", and "whore" were used by Dean or anyone else on the show.
- the debate over the Sherlock Holmes reboot Elementary which has an Asian-American woman playing Watson
- the unconscionable behavior of panel moderator Theodore Krulik and high-profile BNF Rene Walling towards professional author Genevieve Valentine at the 2011 Readercon. Valentine was patronized by the former during a panel discussion on Frankenstein, and stalked and sexually harassed throughout the convention by the latter. Readercon's standard rules require that behavior like Walling's merits a ban for life, but the committee only suspended him for two years. After professional author Veronica Schanoes circulated a petition, signed by both men and women, protesting this move, Readercon's committee resigned en masse and the new committee banned Walling for life.   
- As a response to the 2011 Readercon incident, Veronica Schanoes disclosed that she had been sexually harassed and threatened at Readercon in 2008 by Aaron Agassi.
Pro-female and pro-female character fan activity
Responses to the lack of fanworks about female characters have often come in the form of fests or ficathons. The Femgenficathon, founded and run by gehayi, was one such response. Originally designed in 2005 to combat the lack of female-character gen stories in Harry Potter fandom, it became panfandom the next year due to overwhelming demand.
Galpalficathon, subtitled I Will Not Be Afraid Of Women (a line from the Dar Williams)) song As Cool As I Am) was a prompt-based ficathon from 2008, specifically for exploring nonsexual female relationships (instead of female characters in isolation or femslash.)
Halfamoon, started in 2008, is an annual fourteenday challenge celebrating female characters.
The in-depth Mary Sue discussion, begun on Metafandom in early 2010 with an essay by Dreamwidth member boosette, Why Mary Sue Shaming Is Bully Culture and carried over various Dreamwidth and Livejournal blogs, led to the discussion groups So Sue Me, She's Awesome and Hooked On Heroines among other online communities.
The Rarewomen LiveJournal community was founded in November 2011 as a winter fic exchange for stories about female characters who are rarely written about.
This has all happened before, and it will happen again
In 2008, Sandy Herrold related a story that not only illustrates how long fans have been discussing responses to female characters, but points out the networks' complicity in sidelining or eliminating females. As she was reading through old forum posts, she found that she had said:
- "It was interesting talking at to fans who at least claim to have some level of inside knowledge, talking about the "I hate grrls" club on the set (not just the two leads, but everybody up to the producers); not so much because she is a female, but because the network has insisted they have one.
- "According to more than one fan, it was borderline intentional; i.e., play all of the scenes with her completely flat, and they'll have to admit that her character doesn't fit."
Sandy assumed this was part of a discussion on female characters in the 2008 show Supernatural before realizing that the post was ten years old and had to do with Cassie, a female character in The Sentinel.
Susan Faludi writes about deliberately negative portrayals of females as either incompetent or predatory:
The popular cable television series Rescue Me, about fictional New York City firefighters after 9-11, revolved around an all-male firehouse brimming with buff studs in which women figured as bitchy ex-girlfriends, harridan wives, or, most frequently, 'booty call' nymphets in spandex whose character development generally followed an arc from brain-dead sex machine to Fatal Attraction psychotic. Toward the end of the show's first season, a lone firewoman [played by Laura Miles] was introduced to the house: "The bean counters lower their standards so they can make their bitch quotas", the chief gripes to his men. She isn't up to the job, can't win the acceptance of the "brothers", initiates an affair with one of the firemen in the house -- and is eliminated from the script by the end of the second season.
Curiously enough, this never seemed to be a problem in the very earliest Star Trek fandom, although Gene Roddenberry was an avowed sexist, who stated that women were mere "set dressing". He spoke in production meetings about how "all women were cunts" who should not be allowed into any position of real power.  His obsession with certain physical types led Bob Justman and others who worked on the show to speak about "a Roddenberry woman" -- everyone knew what was meant. His original conception for Deanna Troi was that she should be a "four-breasted, oversexed hermaphrodite". Much of the sexism in Star Trek is covered in Tom Lalli's excellent essay "Same Sexism, Different Generation".   Lalli is quoted in essays on the Christian fan blog Potluck deconstructing the Left Behind series in terms of its portrayal of women.
Yet while acknowledging that Captain Kirk seemed to have an "alien babe of the week", especially in the third season, fan writings of the period did not disparage Elaan, Deela, Miramanee etc. in the same manner. The zine Beyond Antares was focused entirely on Uhura. Many stories involved women "guest stars" in roles similar to those on the show.
Resources & Further Reading
- David Barnett, The incredible shrinking presence of women SF writers. In the Guardian, 2011-05-31.
- Eric Leif Davin, Partners in Wonder: Women And the Birth of Science Fiction, 1926-1965. Oxford, England: Lexington, 2006.
- Mick Doherty, Manifesto for an Empath. Examination of Deanna Troi's character in the context of feminism and assumed traits of Generation X.
- Eschergirls, "a blog to archive and showcase the prevalence of certain ways women are depicted in illustrated pop media, specifically how women are posed, drawn, distorted, and sexualized out of context, often in ridiculous, impossible or disturbing ways that sacrifice storytelling."
- Fannish Misogyny Bingo Card, by Esorlehcar (with help from several other fans.) Posted on September 01, 2008. See also Cheryl Morgan, Female Invisibility Bingo, posted 2011-05-31.
- Susan Faludi, Backlash, the Undeclared War Against American Women. 15th anniversary edition, Broadway 2006. The chapter entitled "Teen models and unwed witches: the backlash on TV" illustrates many examples of misogyny in the media, especially the downplaying of strong, self-willed and independent women characters.
- Foz Meadows, Rape Culture in Gaming. June 11, 2012. Defines rape culture and discusses the Anita Sarkeesian scandal.
- Elisa Meléndez, What it's like for a girl gamer: harassment in the gaming world. In Slate, 2012-08-13.
- Amy O'Leary, Sexual harassment in online gaming stirs anger. In the New York Times, 2012-08-02.
- Tasneem Raja, Why It Sucks to Be a Woman in the Video Game Industry. Mother Jones, Nov. 27, 2012. Thousands of women working in the video game industry are coming forward with stories of vicious sexism they've faced on the job.
- Robin Reid, Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy, volumes 1 and 2. Greenwood, 2008.
- Aja Romano, How female gamers and comic fans fight real-life sexism online. Daily Dot, July 28, 2012. Discusses the Readercon scandal and quotes from high-profile female fans, with many links.
- Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women's Writing. Univ. of Texas, 1983.
- Greg Sandoval, The End of Kindness: Weev and the Cult of the Angry Young Man. In The Verge, 2013-09-12. General article about the prevalence of sexual degradation and harassment of women online, including the Kathy Sierra story and the harassment of Caroline Criado-Perez for campaigning (successfully) to get Jane Austen's picture on British money. See also " The Trolls Among Us by Mattathias Schwartz, New York Times 2008-08-03.
- Anita Sarkeesian's Feminist Frequency Blog. Ms. Sarkeesian is working on the "Tropes vs. Women in Video Games" project (first episode here -- don't watch the videos on the sidebar that aren't by FeministFrequency... the others are all by people making fun of her and trolling her.). When she put up a page asking for contributions to fund the project, she asked for $6000 and received over $60,000. She also received numerous death threats, rape threats, and her Wikipedia page was repeatedly vandalized with racial slurs and images of graphic pornography... all before she even started the project.
- As an example of the way women are treated in the gaming industry itself, the DOS attack on gaming platform company SendGrid after developer Adria Richards called a couple of co-workers out on Twitter for some blue remarks. Richards was subsequently fired. See also feminist blogger Amanda Blum's take in How We All Lost.
- An Open Letter to the Doctor Who Fandom, posted July 2013, discussing the possibility that Doctor Who, traditionally played in successive "regenerations" by male actors, could regenerate as a female. "If you don’t see why regenerating into a woman would be only be “credible” or valuable to the narrative if it was the symptom of a plague that needs to be “cured” is offensive as all get out to female viewers and female-allies, you are currently demonstrating what the root of this problem is with this discussion currently: There is nothing wrong with being a woman, and a woman is not a terrible, inferior being." 
- "The only Worldcon I attended, I was sexually harassed in the hotel hallways; ignored by dealers who thought I couldn't possibly be interested in buying their manly sciency books, because my hair would get caught in the binding; and my art show sales check arrived weeks late...then bounced." Dreamwidth comment by phosfate, in response to an untitled set of links on sexism in sf/f, by feminist fan/blogger coffeeandink, dated 2011-06-21.
- Natalie Wilson, Women attend ComicCon, but don't run the show. Ms. magazine, July 18, 2012.
- Spike, The Booth Babes of Comic Con 2011
- The Costumed Women of Comic Con in Entertainment Weekly, July 15, 2012.
- The Women of Comic Con in Los Angeles Times, July 13, 2012.
- Soraya Chemaly, In tech world, women ignored. CNN Opinion, 2013-10-15.
- e.g. Kill Sam Carter community on LJ or LISA BRAEDEN MUST DIE on tumblr
- e.g. "alt.tv.startrek.wesley.crusher.die.die.die, or Die Ron Die community on Livejournal -- for Ron Weasley from Harry Potter
- 'Sherlock' fans lash out over sunken 'Johnlock' ship. Daily Dot, April 26, 2013.
- Breaking Bad's Anna Gunn Gets Death Threats From Skyler Haters -- Why? Wet Paint, August 24, 2013.
- e.g. Female characters, again, fabu. Accessed 20 November 2008.
- "It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind." From the very first Holmes story, "A Scandal in Bohemia", published in The Strand Magazine in 1891.
- In S and H 16, an anonymous fan writes: "Here is my theory. People enjoy sex. They love to imagine making out with the guys. . . but writing about S & H falling for beautiful and intelligent women makes everyone else jealous. Besides that, it breaks up the wonderful, loyal, male-male bonding friendship. . . So, we get S & H making out with each other, described in detail or not. Sex is sex and the reader can get as much vicarious enjoyment out of it as the forbidden Mary Sue stories while keeping the characters loyal to each other."
- "Apparently the worst thing a woman can commit in m/m fiction is to love one of the main characters and have any claims over him." Aleksandr Voinov, Letters from the Front blog entry "'Kill the bitch' - a couple thoughts on women in m/m fiction"
- "I just hope, given CBS’s history of killing off female characters in power positions, they’re smart enough to realize how central Linda Hunt’s acting ability is to the success of this show and will do anything they can to keep her onboard." Comment by arial2 in an entry on TVLine talking about the 2012 season finale to NCIS Los Angeles; rumors abounded that veteran actress Linda Hunt's character would be killed. (She wasn't, but Senior Agent Lauren Hunter (Claire Forlani) was.)
- "My historic strong female captain is Tryla Scott. She appeared on screen long before Janeway, was highly respected by her peers; was in fact the youngest officer to gain the post of Captain in quite a while. And ends up possessed, controlled, shot and never heard from again." From Open Letter to Elizabeth Bear, on the blog Seeking Avalon, 2009-01-13.
- Case in point.
- Margot McGowan, Females 51% of the population, but a minority in imaginary characters and real-life power positions. Reel Girl, March 14, 2012.
- just a typical prototype (that's all that you'll let me be), musesfool. Accessed 20 November 2008.
- "Why film schools teach screenwriters not to pass the Bechdel test", Hathor Legacy blog. Accessed 19 November 2008
- Warner's Jeff Robinoff declares "We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead". Page found 2011-04-25.
- A-G-E-N-C-Y, jonquil. Accessed 19 November 2008.
- Meta/Rant: thetimebeing's LJ: Pairing Names and the Diminution of Teyla and Ronon and Female Characters in General. This article also talks about the way this happens with stories featuring alien/human couples. This may be connected to the fact that in general aliens are racially coded other, another contentious discussion in fandom.
- According to Susan Faludi in her book Backlash, Cagney & Lacey barely made it to television at all. The studio insisted that Sharon Gless be cast in favor of the "too masculine" Meg Foster, and repeatedly demanded that both women be made softer, more "feminine", and be given clothing and backstories to indicate that they were "ladies" off duty. Their rationale was that female viewers might be "intimidated" by realistic women police. Storylines were altered to cut out references to abortion rights, and a cameo by Gloria Steinem was vetoed by the network's Standards and Practices bureau. Even after the changes, Cagney and Lacey were perceived by CBS executives as "inordinately abrasive, loud, lacking warmth" and spending "more time fighting the system than doing police work. We perceived them as dykes." When the show was cancelled in 1986, tens of thousands of letters came streaming in from loyal viewers. They had to put it back on.
- poll: ficwriting and sexuality, wisdomeagle. Accessed 20 November 2008.
- Public Post: M/M vs. F/F, tehilis. Accessed 20 November 2008.
- come home before midnight, copracat. Accessed 19 November 2008.
- Ursula K. LeGuin talks about this in The Language of the Night. One of her first stories was published in Playboy under "U.K. LeGuin". "I have felt a little bent, a little bit U-shaped, ever since."
- Veronica Schanoes, Letter/petition to the Board of Readercon, dated 7/29/12.
- Genevieve Valentine, The Bad and the Ugly, dated 7/16/12.
- Genevieve Valentine, Readercon: The Verdict, dated 7/27/12.
- Genevieve Valentine, Updates on the Readercon Response, dated 7/28/12.
- Genevieve Valentine, Readercon: Updates, Responses, McMuffins, dated 7/31/12.
- Genevieve Valentine, Readercon: The Outcome, dated 8/5/12.
- Veronica Schanoes, Why Not Come Forward?, dated 7/20/12.
- Post in Sandy's blog, dated November 19, 2008.
- Susan Faludi, The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-911 America (New York: Holt, 2007).
- See Clay Geerdes' essay on Clay Geerdes Essays "Star Trek: The Expose", a review of Joel Engel's book. The complete review is near the bottom of the page; you'll have to do a control-F search as he doesn't have the individual essays linked. All of Geerdes' essays are worth reading for his frank observations of the objectification of women and children in American society.
- Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman, Inside Star Trek, The Real Story. Pocket, June 1996.
- Joel Engel, Gene Roddenberry, the Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek. Hyperion, June 1995.
- This memo must have leaked out behind the scenes. Fans of Frasier may recall Noel Shempsky's petition to the producers of Star Trek to create a new character, "the all-powerful space vixen Rozalinda, the four-breasted queen of the planet Rozniak.'
- In Walter Irwin and GB Love (Eds), Best of Trek 15. Roc, June 1990.
- Ryanagi, Sexism and the Star Trek Universe, 2011-07-24.
- A Side Trek into the “real” Beam-me-up realm (gender roles redux), Still Trekkin' and Trek's End, written by 'The Old Maid' in October 2005.
- reference link for An Open Letter to the Doctor Who Fandom