Ageism in Fandom
|See also:||Misogyny 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.
Some object to calling this discussion ageism, preferring that the term be reserved for more real life systemic issues and discrimination, such as in the economy, rather than generally moral disagreements on the internet.
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.)
Some felt that the expectations of younger fans were rooted in outdated beliefs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.
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.
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
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 
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! 
[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.
[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! 
[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! 
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.
[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.
[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.
[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” 
From a fan in 2019:
It's really rather distressing to go hunting through Fanlore's pages to try to match the original artwork I have to the 'zine and fanfic it was intended for only to find that so many of the editors and Big Name Fans of my day are dead now. Of course most of them were a good deal older than I was. That was very much the norm. I was reading something on tumblr the other day about young fans being creeped out that people over 30 are still in fandom. Like so much about fandom today, I had to blink and go, "Really?" When fanzines were the thing, about all the BNFs were grown-ups -- and not just 30 year olds. Real middle-aged grown-ups with real jobs and money. You had to have grown-up money to be in the fanzine business. Because it was a small publishing business by then. I know sometimes it looks like all you needed was a typewriter, a stack of memo paper and a stapler, but no... You had to have a way to get that stuff printed and promoted and distributed. And that required money. As a writer or an illustrator, you couldn't just come up with a snappy screen name and post whatever. You had to go, humbly, and write letters to grown-up fans saying, "Here are my Mr. Spock poems. Please, may I be in fandom? Please?" And most of them were nice to you... usually...
See: Minors in Fandom
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.
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.
(To be added)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
Some Related Topics
Meta & Further Reading
- The View from Down Here: A Look at Fans, an essay by Dave Vergano, a 13-year-old Star Wars fan, reflecting on the fannish interests of young people
- A Note about the X-Files Fandom (2015)
- a historical note (2015)
- Why It Is Not Surprising That There Are Old People On Tumblr, and Why We Are Surprised By It Anyway (2015)
- Too Old for Fandom? (2015)
- Older fandom friends, Archived version (November 2015)
- You're middle aged and still have a tumblr? LOL (October 2015)
- I’m old as balls by @warlordenfilade (2015)
- PSA by @bugsieplusone (2015)
- Getting older doesn’t actually feel like anything by @catchmewhispering (January 20, 2016)
- You’re totally welcome on my lawn, but I wish you wouldn’t pee on the grass (2016)
- Ageism in Fandom: Too Old to Fangirl? by @ravenmorganleigh, @vulgarweed (2016)
- you are never too old for fandom by @hils79 (2016)
- Age and Experience in Fandom by @tppfandomstats (2017)
- Age Appropriate Activities by @telesilla (2017)
- Ageism in Fandom by @badtech-reblogs (2017)
- The idea that you will someday be ‘too old’ for the stuff you find fun by @freedom-of-fanfic (2017)
- I wish we’d stop telling each other - and ourselves - that there’s a point at which we’re too old for fandom by @vantasticmess (2017)
- Like, i’m not saying that adults don’t have a place in fandom. they can and they do, and many are perfectly great people. by @porcupine-girl, @melifair, et al (2017)
- tumblr’s disgust for older people in fandom by @bai-xue, @awkward-smiley (2017)
- Your favorite fic author is probably over 30. by Xochiquetzl (July 11, 2017)
- You are reinforcing a stereotype by @asocialjusticeleague, @olderthannetfic, et al (August-September 2017)
- If other people in fandom are older than you, by definition, they have been your age by @codenamecesare (Oct 12, 2017)
- Look I don't wanna sound like a Fandom Mom or whatever but what do you think women over 25 or so are supposed to do? by @roxolotl (2018)
- Reblog if Older Fans Are Welcome In Fandom by @cameoamalthea (Feb 25, 2018)
- Last week, I turned 36, and according to some, I’ve already overstayed my welcome in fandom by at least a decade. (August 2018)
- Adults in Fandom by @littlesystems (2018)
- Fandom culture wouldn’t be where it is now if it wasn’t for Old Fandom by @thepalmtoptiger (2018)
- Older fans are crucial to the survival of fandoms by @muchymozzarella (2018)
- Sometimes I see people in fandom talking (Ageism In Fandom) (Jan 17, 2019)
- I’m sorry but...ur telling me there’s actually people aged 30+ on here reading fanfic, Archived version (2020)
- "I’ve started to really enjoy fandom ...after my 30s, because I’ve managed to get rid to prejudices and toxicness, to find my voice and to know my needs.", Archived version (Sept 2021)
- "[In addition to] ageism and misogyny, it seems to me like they’re succumbing to the very capitalist idea that people over a certain age (25? idk) shouldn’t do anything for fun, but only for profit.,,,That is what capitalist brainwashing looks like.", Archived version (Feb 2021)
- "...it's more complicated...Adults who consume are beneficial to capitalism...There is no capitalist drive to pressure adults into not consuming fun things; there is a huge drive to pressure adults to consume more of it as a panacea...[Ageists and misogynists in fandom] haven't bought into capitalist brainwashing. They've found an acceptable target, one that is supported by social norms and their own fears. And sure, it's a reflection of those fears and feelings of powerlessness, but it's also because some of them like hurting people. It doesn't become less liking to harass people if their targets aren't their peers. They're just bullies." 
- , Archived version
- "Ageism in Fandom: Too Old to Fangirl?". Archived from the original on 2018-12-04.
- "one more thing, i can't help but notice that a lot of tumblr's popular ideas about what 30+-year-old women". Archived from the original on 2018-12-04.
- "Part of fandom's blatant ageism". Archived from the original on 2017-08-15.
- "Ageism is terrible in this fandom". Archived from the original on 2018-12-04.
- "eeyore9990.tumblr". Archived from the original on 2019-02-21.
- "drgrlfriend.tumblr". Archived from the original on 2017-04-20.
- "sertetlen.tumblr". Archived from the original on 2017-04-19.
- "labelleizzy.tumblr". Archived from the original on 2016-10-10.
- "labelleizzy.tumblr". Archived from the original on 2016-10-10.
- "spitandvinegar.tumblr". Archived from the original on 2016-04-15.
- "elfwreck.tumblr". Archived from the original on 2016-10-10.
- "eeyore9990.tumblr". Archived from the original on 2019-02-21.
- "animatedamerican.tumblr". Archived from the original on 2018-12-04.
- from an email sent to User:MPH from Teegar, quoted with permission (February 20, 2019)
- Older fandom friends, Archived version (November 2015)
- "A number of older female fans are obnoxious, immature bullies". Archived from the original on 2018-12-04.
- "I have a lot of thoughts, some of which may not be the thoughts you were hoping that I would have". Archived from the original on 2018-12-04.
- "CAROL HATE: AGEISM, SEXISM, VICTIM-BLAMING". Archived from the original on 2018-12-04.
- "Fan, Doctor Grimes. Women and Ageism on TWD, posted December 24, 2015 on spoilthedead.com/forum". Archived from the original on 2019-02-21.
- "Saying ageist things about Carol is not only hateful and disrespectful to Melissa McBride". Archived from the original on 2018-12-04.
- "RACIALIZED AGEISM AND FANDOM". Archived from the original on 2019-02-21.
- "Dragon Age Confession September 2014". Archived from the original on 2018-12-04.
- "They haven't bought into capitalist brainwashing. They've found an acceptable target" (August 8, 2021)