Ageism in Fandom

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Ageism in Fandom is a topic of discussion in fandom spaces, in the context of how different age groups interact and are perceived, and how those perceptions affect the treatment of other fans, content creators and characters.

Discussion

The topic of ageism in fandom began being widely discussed after a few prominent posts in 2014 and 2015 (see example below). There was a feeling that some younger fans were putting age limits on fandom involvement and may have been involved in a subtle form of gatekeeping

Honestly, I think a lot of it comes from VERY young women who are only used to seeing older women as mothers and teachers. And yeah, of course young girls don’t want mothers and teachers spying on their hobbies. I sure didn’t when I was a young teen. HOWEVER. How young and sheltered do you have to be to think that older women are ONLY teachers and mothers? How self-centered do you have to be to think that older women SHOULD all revolve their lives around the wants or “needs” of kids? (I know it’s natural and normal for young teens to be just THAT self-absorbed, but honestly, it’s not a good look on anyone, so stop it.)[1]

Some felt that the expectations of younger fans were rooted in outdated beliefs

one more thing, i can’t help but notice that a lot of tumblr’s popular ideas about what 30+-year-old women — and it’s almost always women — should be doing instead of having fun online seem to line up pretty closely with very conservative beliefs about what women’s options should be. especially that women should have children and that once they have children their lives should revolve around those children completely, with no time for breaks or hobbies or internet discussion or other selfish, frivolous, unmotherly activities. to be a mother or a woman old enough to be expected to be a mother is to be a specially regulated class of person, judged by her performance as a self-sacrificing caregiver and exemplar of chaste maturity.[2]

Or a lack of interaction with mature individuals outside a familial or professional setting

Part of fandom’s blatant ageism might also stem from the fact that younger people in fandom have only ever met older people as parents, caretakers, and teachers, and so they are used to their own well-being being a priority in most forms of interaction with an older person.

As parents and teachers (and doctors, and trainers, and counsellors, and so on) are first and foremost there to care for them, it’s quite possible that younger people in fandom have not yet come to the realization that there is a huge segment of the middle-aged population that is neither obligated nor willing to do the same, especially if that “caring” takes the form of special consideration, of prioritzing their well-being - their comfort, their interests, their sensibilities.

And that that segment of the population has wants and needs the same way they do, and that these wants and needs are not all that different from theirs, and that these wants and needs are equally valid and important.[3]

Others connected ageism in fandom to broader issues such as misogyny and the desexualization of older women

Which seems to be tied to the idea that a woman has worth only when she is sexually active and on the “market” (which is wrong), and that a woman’s sexuality is limited to her twenties (this is also wrong). A lot of girls seem to think that they have a very short shelf life as a human being worthy of respect, and it’s all just terribly self-limiting. And then, of course, we can get into, if a sexless woman (as are apparently all women over 30) is not worthy of respect[4]

You're middle aged and still have a tumblr?

Often referred to as one of the primary examples of ageism on Tumblr, on December 14, 2014, Anonymous asked a Tumblr user:
You're middle aged and still have a tumblr? LOL [5]
This post generated a great deal of discussion and older fans trying to enlighten others about their fandom history and continued engagement, as of June 2017 it had over 17,000 notes. Some responses:
[drgrlfriend]: I always wonder what people who make these comments think middle-aged people do. Like, sit around, doing their taxes and talking about escrow 24/7?

Do they really expect not to have any fun or waste any time after age 30? Or maybe they think that people are just not awesome enough to be able to have a professional job, a family, and still waste time on Tumblr.

Well, I’m here, friends, to tell you that it is possible! You can have it ALL — the career, the family, and the incredible time-suck of fandom! [6]
[sertetlen]: Oh middle aged WOMEN in particular are just… not allowed to have fun, I think? We’re supposed to be past it, pathetic and devote the remaining dregs of our time, energy & attention to caring for others, and studiously avoiding anything that someone might find worthy of mockery. Then we die (or become invisible). (I mean, maybe we’re allowed to have fun if it’s APPROPRIATE fun. Like, a small sherry after an age-allowed exercise class? A couple of hours of watching BBC2? Not fandom. Never fandom!) This post has reminded me I still need to do my tax return. But that’ll take an afternoon, not my whole 40s. [7]
[labelleizzy]: Also middle-aged (because I don’t figure on living much past 90) and here reblogging and yelling at stupid people on Tumblr, sharing beautiful art and writing. I wanted this when I was a teen and I’m SURE gonna enjoy the hell out of it now! [8]
[labelleizzy]: Wow, I am middle-aged now? Who knew?

Yeah, I have a Tumblr, too. I do Tumblr when I am not casting spells, watching Marvel movies, or talking to my Beast Herd.

Seriously! [9]
[spitandvinegar]:

In the spirit of clarification I would like to point out that I am not middle aged but rather a ageless and deathless dread-beast of the underdark, which is entirely different. But I do have something to say, and it is this:

Time is an anchor. Time is a weight. Time is a dog that has picked up your scent. Time is a vampire. Time is a screw. Time is the god that you don’t choose to worship, but you are the flesh that is burned on his altar.

You are not young. You are a visitor. You have lingered in this country, but your visa is expiring.

You are standing on the deck and you are in the sunlight. You are watching the coast go by, the castles on the bank. Do you see the flowers, darling? Do you see the children waving? Wave back at them, darling. Wave as they pass. The current sweeps one way. The current runs downstream.

You will never return to the school bus, the board-books, the faith in the wisdom of your elders. It has passed. It has gone. You saw it as you fell, and you are still falling. There is no return, darling. There is no falling up again.

You will grow old and your body will be a stranger’s. You will grow old and men’s eyes will pass over you. You will grow old and you will learn what you’re made of. Will you know yourself, darling? Will you love who you have become?

You can lay back, darling. You can let yourself be carried. You can sink to the deep with the anchor round your neck.

Or you can decide that you don’t give an everloving fuck and reblog a bunch of GIFs if you damn well feel like it, because one of the benefits of not being a puerile youth is that you’re not hysterically concerned with what other people may or may not think about your hobbies. [10]
[elfwreck]: I grow old, and I stand with the power of decades in my blood and the legacy of centuries of women behind me, and I can look at the delightful shifting passions of youth and think, glad someone has the energy for all that, and also, when you have a moment to rest, sit beside me, and I will tell you of your foremothers and their passions… how they paid for the right of two women to kiss in public with blood and pain; how they built entire technologies to show their friends the thoughts that burned in their hearts when they saw the tv shows where the only true trust and love was between men; how they shared stories and songs and art with each other when all these things were hard and took irreplaceable resources–not just the fic and filk and pics, but the sharing itself.

Find me when your ex-best-friend has called you a pervert for imagining a particular romance, and I will tell you of the letterzines where the very existence of slash was cause for shock and outrage. Find me when a teacher berates you for the “frivolous waste of time” of writing fantasy stories, and I will remind you that JK Rowling was a single mom on welfare. Find me when someone calls you a “fake geek girl” for liking costumes more than collecting action figures, or for playing Portal and not Call of Duty, and I will share my stories of playing Dungeons and Dragons when schools and libraries were trying to ban it for being “Satanic”–and everyone assumed the girl would always play the healer. (Guess what? If you play a dark elf cleric with no healing spells, the rest of the party gets really upset. You’re the girl; you’re playing the priestess; HEAL ME DAMMIT. Heh.)

And in return, you can show me the fics buried in quizzes, and the vids that show up overnight when a new fandom appears (so quickly! it all moves so fast now!), and the way that twitter conversations and text messaging can create stories and art with an immediacy we never had, when I was young and fandom was new to me.

Fandom belongs to neither the young nor the “old” (for some of you, that’s anyone over 25, which makes me giggle–Google didn’t exist when I was 25; we found our fic through web rings…); if you let it, fandom will be a home and an adventure all at once, for the rest of your life.

But you’re going to miss a lot of the good stuff if you waste your energy–which is limited, I assure you, and you’ll figure that out soon enough–telling other people we don’t belong in this fannish location, or should not have that fannish hobby, or must not create some particular kind of fanworks.

We may not have speed and agility anymore, but wow do we have stamina. And patience. And time is on our side… we can wait you out, but that doesn’t work the other way around. If you wait, you’ll eventually join us. [11]
[eeyore9990]: Lol, I read them all through the power of notes, heh. And the thing is, it’ll go MONTHS with no likes or reblogs and then suddenly get a thousand new, wonderful stories in a single day. I love the way a little bit of fandom history gets added with each iteration.

I actually have more to say: Every person on this thread… We need to go ahead and build our retirement home. A place we can go when our eyes have failed and our arthritic fingers can no longer type or draw. When age really has taken our ability to do this thing we love so much.

We will sit in our rocking chairs, eating our jello, and shriek at each other – because hearing aids only do so much – about what a nice, round ass that boy on the television has. Or what gorgeous lips that girl has. Or maybe we’ll just discuss the fanfics of old. We’ll reminisce about fandon wank we survived. We’ll hang our favorite, framed fan art. We’ll watch holographic fanvids of the newest iteration of Sherlock or the Harry Potter reboot or WHATEVER.

But this is my dream. To live and die on the Fannish Road. [12]
[animatedamerican] quotes a filk ]:
So let us all gather at ConValescence,
The fannish retirement con,
And true to our habits, like drumming pink rabbits,
It keeps going on and on …
Where the Art Show has pictures of Dorian Gray,
Where the Tully and oxygen’s pure,
And where we will party, flirt, filk, shmooze, and SMOF
Till the Con Suite runs out of Ensure.
- Tom Smith, “ConValescence” [13]

Youth Perspectives

Some younger fans point out that accusing fans of ageism may be a way to cover up bad behavior:

And then sometimes having older fandom friends is like when you go home for the holidays and your grandma says something racist. And it’s like … you love your grandma … but she just said something racist … what are you supposed to do now? So you’re sort of left with the feeling of “thank gods your friends aren’t here to hear grandma being racist.” But when this happens on tumblr and “racist grandma” is “racist older fandom friend” all your friends can hear grandma being racist. (Or sexist. Or homophobic. Or biphobic. Or transphobic. Or anti-Semitic. Or ableist.) [snipped] And like how much nastiness are you supposed to put up with from the older generations for the sake of bonds in other areas, whether it’s racist grandma, or a close friend who shares media recommendations with you in a small fandom. [14]
A number of older female fans are obnoxious, immature bullies who deserve to be called the hell out for their bad behavior, and don’t have the excuse of being too young to know better.[15]

Dislike of Older Characters in Canon

Fandom hatred for older characters, especially older female characters, is often identified as ageism. kane-and-griffin gives examples of ageism within The 100 fandom against the character of Abby Griffin:

Ageism can look like fans who show up in the comments of the writers’ room Twitter and Instagram when they post pictures of the adults to say “nobody cares about them, post [whoever I personally stan the most] instead.” ...

Ageism can look like a blanket refusal, under in any situation where Clarke and Abby are at odds, to grant that Abby might have a point, even when the narrative is clearly telling us that Clarke is the character at fault. The tendency within this fandom for young girls who closely identify with Clarke to graft their own mom frustrations onto Abby is virtually never-ending, and it can be hard to sift through the the complex intersection of ageism and misogyny that makes it impossible for them not to see mothers as human beings who are interesting, who are wise, who are right, who know things their children do not, who are sexual, who are allowed to make mistakes, who deserve screen time and plot agency, who are just as vital to the story as the teenagers...

Ageism can look like a fan who ships all the non-canon ships … except Doctor Mechanic, because it’s “gross” and “Abby is basically her mom.” The inherent desexualization of age-difference relationships is often rooted in ageism. You don’t have to ship it! But if you insist that no one should ship it, then there may be some ageism in the roots of your ship-shaming.[16]

Accusations of ageism is also often associated with The Walking Dead fandom's treatment of the character Carol Peletier,[17] forum user Doctor grimes summarizes:

ageism is at play in some parts of this fandom. I've certainly seen my fair share of some people lobbing ageist remarks about Melissa McBride/Carol. From diminishing her capabilities solely on the basis of her age, to the fact that she's "too old" to play opposite male characters like Daryl or Rick in a romance. She's been referred to as a "mother" figure to men closer to her own age than the age of her canonical on-screen child (Sophia) -- men that she couldn't possibly have birthed. I do believe this is a result of societal conditioning. We've been shown consistently older men still being sexy and suave and roping younger women (sometimes half their age), while older women get shoved into the margins. To play mothers to younger starring characters, grandmothers, or minor supporting roles. They're rarely given the chance to be shown doing anything active -- let alone driving a plot.[18]

Also, Tumblr user jeleha reminds others that ageist comments not only discredit the character, but can hurt fans who deeply care about Carol:

Saying ageist things about Carol is not only hateful and disrespectful to Melissa McBride (undoubtedly one of the greatest actresses of all time) it’s awful to the many women who watch the show and champion Carol. Sometimes I watch the show with my Mom (a domestic abuse survivor who is Carol’s age) and I see the happiness it brings her to see a character that reminds her of herself who is such a force of nature. Representation matters, and when you diss a character like Carol for trivial shit like her (lovely) gray hair, you’re attempting to invalidate what she represents based on age alone. She represents survivors. She is strong and capable. She is beautiful and desirable.[19]

Author K. Ancrum points out that ageism against male POC characters is also seen within fandoms, using characters played by Samuel L. Jackson as an example:

Samuel L. Jackson has prominent roles in numerous popular franchises, that have big presence in fandoms with rich shipping content – Star Wars, MCU, Kingsman… Yet, his characters are always left out of the shipping pool in these fandoms – Mace Windu is ignored; Nick Fury is seen as the “dad” figure of the avengers; and Valentine is seen as nothing more than a funny villain, even though, fandoms do love white male villains.[20]

A Tumblr anon also gives an example of ageism against an older male character, Blackwall, in Dragon Age fandom:

Before Blackwall was confirmed as an LI, everyone was like “Ewww, he’s too ooooold.” And now they’re saying “Gross, he looks like my dad/my uncle/etc!” The implication is that older people... are not sexy and young enough to have hot romances. Not everyone in this fandom is under 20. Us older fans want to have love too - with people our own age.[21]

Fandom hatred, and ageist behaviors, towards older characters may occur more frequently in youth oriented fandoms.

Excluding Older Characters from Fanworks

Ageism may play a role in the exclusion of older characters from fanworks, kane-and-griffin gives an example within The 100 fandom:

Ageism can look like gifset after gifset featuring “leading ladies of The 100″ where they include Fox and Maya and Charlotte, but not Abby (who has second billing in the cast after Clarke)[16]

Author K. Ancrum illustrates the point with character of Luke Garroway form Shadowhunters:

Another one is Luke Garroway from the Shadowhunters, played by Isaiah Mustafa (43). Have you seen Isaiah? Yeah, I know. And yet, he is also seen almost as some “grandpa” figure of the group. Often people use his age as an excuse of excluding him from most fanon activities involving the main group of characters – shipping, group fanvids, group edits etc.[20]

Some Related Topics

Further Reading

Unclear Date

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

References