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.[note 1]
- 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 female fans blogging about misogyny in fandom get harrassed[note 2]
- 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. Such characters are dismissed so frequently and with such fervor that fans are beginning to seriously discuss it in terms of internalized sexism.;
- when fans (even heterosexual ones) disparage heterosexual romance in fiction on the grounds that it's "gross" (see Het Is Ew on TVTropes)
- 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 "f/f", girl slash, or female-character-focused general stories, compared to the abundance of "m/m", boy slash and male-character-focused gen stories.
- when competent female characters are accused of being Mary Sue 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 -- including fantasy, science fiction, action-adventure and "buddy cop" -- 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. As canon creators have become aware of slash fandom, they may insert content that pertains to perceived relationships between male characters. Even if this is done in a humorous, teasing manner as a way of "talking back" to the fans, it nonetheless serves as an excuse to further diminish female characters.[note 3]
When women are portrayed in a canon source as action heroes, they are often hypersexualized for the benefit of men in the audience. This preserves the illusion of a "feminist" theme or story while attracting the more desirable male demographic. Lara Croft of Tomb Raider, the adventurer-archaeologist with improbably huge breasts, is an infamous example. An attempt to make her more realistic in the second Tomb Raider adventure apparently involved making her a fragile and vulnerable "girl" rather than the tough, confident and vigorous hero of the first installment.[note 4]
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.
Sidelining, sexualizing or killing canon female characters
Another fannish trend often attributed to misogyny is fan-written stories or fanfics 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. It may not be anti-female, but it reflects a tendency in fandom to value women less.
Television producers 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. Women in general are portrayed on television as disposable, often for the purpose of showing how evil an adversarial character is. Even canon female characters, especially those that are in power positions, are often killed off in series. [note 5] This is what happened to Capt. Tryla Scott in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Conspiracy".[note 6]
These creator decisions reflect a larger problem within the media industry as a whole. Statistics compiled by various media, journalism and women's studies projects illustrate that women make up only a small percentage of media voices, to the point that legal experts have called for investigations into violations of the civil rights of women media professionals. Films with female lead characters are dismissed as "chick flicks", presumably of interest only to women viewers unless they "deliver" nudity or 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.  [note 7]
Until the 1960s, most science fiction and fantasy focused on male characters, partly out of a perception that space exploration would be a tough, dangerous and thus "manly" business -- similar to the mythologized western United States in the media fandom of its day, consisting of dime Western novels and pulp magazines. Again, the lack of identifiable-with female characters led female readers, and female authors, to identify with the men and exclude women in their own work. Sime~Gen's Jacqueline Lichtenberg explains:
I grew up on SF with all-male characters end learned to identify with males for lack of any good female leads. I guess times are changing. But as yet, I find it unnecessary to write about females.
Additionally, there is a long-established tradition in film and TV production that women must be conventionally attractive and sexualized; this demand is overtly expressed at the level of character breakdown, the one- or two-line summary of a character used by casting directors to look for the right actors.
"Across the board, audiences today are subjected daily to female characters who are not, for lack of a better word, ordinary. They are almost always gorgeous, fit, sexy and dating or married to someone not nearly as attractive as they are. Men can be all shapes and sizes on film; women must be hot.... Here are a few of the descriptors I encountered for female characters: Smoking hot, beautiful, cool, personable, attractive, fit, stylish, siren, curvaceous, sexy, alluring and flawless (did I mention sexy? It shows up a lot). For male ones: filthy rich, confident, wealthy, businessman, authoritative, debonair, corporate giant, brash, corn-fed, pudgy, adorable, serial killer, funny, smart, famous, passionate and handsome. As you can see, breakdowns for women put much more emphasis on looks."
This hypersexualization is also extremely common in video games; Lara Croft is only one of many examples. Reducing breast size or putting more clothes on an action heroine is often decried by a certain type of male player as "censorship", but creator Olivia Hill reveals that censorship frequently happens in reverse, again dictated by the company and not by the writers or artists who actually do the creative work. She describes working hard to depict mature, in-charge female warriors, only to have company executives order that all the women characters need an overhaul to be "sexually appealing and available" and very, very young:
"This is just pedophilia. They took a powerful woman and they ground her down to a sexualized child. ...THIS is censorship. This is the creators' vision trampled all over. And it happens every goddamn day in the video game industry. But the boys crying 'censorship' any time a studio puts a woman in a sports bra don’t give a shit because this is meant to tickle their dicks.
In games, developers are censored every time some creatively bankrupt trust fund kid stomps into a meeting and demands the creatives change something due to 'market demand.'
In games, censorship happens when an investor who has never played a video game before draws a big X on the developers' white board and writes '16-30 YEAR OLD WHITE MALES.' It happens.You want to bitch about 'people who don’t even play games trying to change them?' Oh god let me tell you about producers. They’re insufferable and they never play games. The only thing they know is telling artists to mimic other successful properties. They murder art."
Disliking female characters in canon
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 film or show with fannish appeal (fantasy, science fiction or action-adventure, anime). Female characters in RPG video games such as Final Fantasy come in for their share as well. These derogatory statements are just as likely to come from female fans as males. 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.
Women, then, become an obstruction to true love in such a maligning way that they essentially slander themselves and their own sexuality.
In the 2010s, this antipathy towards female characters has spread to the actresses who play them. Sherlock fans reacted with dismay at the news that Amanda Abbington was going to play John Watson's (canonical!) wife Mary. Abbington, who was 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 believed that with enough pressure, producer Stephen Moffat would allow Holmes and Watson to become lovers on the show. For more detail, see Sherlock/John and The Johnlock Conspiracy.
Mary died in a later episode. Although (and because) this is true to the canon, Mary's death presented its own set of implications and questions: Sherlock takes place in modern times, but its female characters are still being used to portray what media critic Sophie Gilbert rightly calls "stale gendered archetypes". Moffat is himself notoriously misogynistic and has made many comments disparaging women characters and fans. 
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 today's archetype or standard of how a woman should behave.[note 8]
Anger towards active, assertive female characters and the actresses who play them is not limited to female fans, of course. Men who resent the "intrusion" of such women into a perceived male fantasy often respond very harshly, using social media and other feedback to condemn the characters and the actresses who play them in derogatory terms including racial slurs. This happened, for instance, to Daisy Ridley, who played the scavenger Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Kelly Marie Tran, who played engineer Rose Tico in The Last Jedi. Similar harassment was received by other nonwhite, non-male creators in the franchise, along with white, male director Rian Johnson, who reported getting death threats.
But Star Wars is no longer a purely fun experience for those involved, because of an incredibly outspoken, organized army of trolls. Both Tran and Ridley were excited newcomers to the franchise and, although they clearly still love being a part of it, that light seems to have dimmed. The only way they seemingly felt able to deal with being a public figure in a movie that fans so grotesquely attacked was to leave part of their public lives behind. Star Wars fandom has transformed, for many people, into a battle between people who believe they have ownership over a franchise they literally have nothing to do with and people just trying to do their jobs. Fandom used to be inspiring, but a large chunk of it is now gross and off-putting. 
I was happier not knowing this, but it has become abundantly clear since 2015 that Star Wars fandom is a wretched hive of scum and villainy -- maybe the worst in all of sci-fi. The first hint came when a small but noxious minority lost their shit over the prospect of a black stormtrooper, and it’s only gotten worse from there. I’m sure most Star Wars fans, even of the tribal persuasion, aren’t Incels, Pepes, Red-Pillers, Info-Warriors, or tiki-torch Nazis, but HOLY SHIT, YOU GUYS!!!! Healthy, sane fan communities don’t chase actresses off of social media for getting icky girl cooties all over their favorite corporate-controlled intellectual property, alright?[note 9]
In fact, digital media analysis by Morten Bay of USC-Annenberg found that most of the angry messages directed at Johnson and the actresses came not from individuals but from "bots, trolls/sock puppets or political activists," including Russian trolls. In other words, social media was weaponized to manipulate fandom:
So it seems that it was political operatives, not fans, who were denigrating the movie and fomenting some of the virulent racism and misogyny against its cast.
- On narrow genre tastes, female characters, and a wider variety of books (2007)
- "You know I wouldn't want it any other way..." (2007)
- "I've stopped being able to enjoy media with female protagonists" (2018)
- Why did Kelly Marie Tran (Rose from Star Wars) receive so much hate she had to delete her instagram? Lengthy, mostly intelligent discussion on reddit about audience reaction to disliked characters and their actors.
Misogyny and Slash
A time-honored technique in slash fiction writing is to vilify canon female love-interests to justify breaking up canon heterosexual couples to make room for a male/male pairing.
Fanfiction is peppered with character hate, and it’s almost always directed at the canon girlfriend/love interest. What I mean by this is that somehow, in order to constitute a relationship between male characters, the best way to do it is to marginalize the women in the equation. This is either done through writing them as bitches who deserve to be… quite frankly… shanked, or pretending that they don’t exist in the story at all. Women, then, become an obstruction to true love in such a maligning way that they essentially slander themselves and their own sexuality.
Slash writers often kill off canon female partners to get them out of the way of the desired male/male pairing. (See Mysterious wife plague, The Cartwright Curse or Women in refrigerators, or Die For Our Ship on TVTropes.) Some of the hatred toward Mary Sues and those who write them may be an offshoot of this phenomenon. [note 10][note 11]
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.
Most fan writers are women, and the oversexualization of females in media sources has been cited by fans as making them unable to identify with female characters, contributing to their detraction of their own body image, and as a rationale for writing slash:
I can’t normally read het romances, a little dabbled into a greater plot is fine, but a pure romance is a hell no. I can’t watch rom-coms or romantic movies that way and for the same reason:
I will never have what those women have. I cannot be that woman. Comparatively, I will always be lesser, have been told I will always be lesser, and these things make me acutely aware that I don’t measure up. So it hurts. It hurts to be reminded of all my failings and the fact that no one will ever see me as a romantic lead or even potential romance in someone’s life.
With slash, I don’t have to worry about it. I can enjoy the romance, the relationship, the banter, the squabbles, the LIFE, without putting myself in a position to constantly compare myself to the leads and finding myself coming up short every time. I’m not a man. I have no desire to be one (though if you do, go for it and I’ll support you every step of the way). I literally cannot be that character, so it’s free of that burden and I can simply enjoy two people finding each other and finding something I never will.
For me, I don’t really think it’s internalized misogyny, but more being told and taught to hate everything about me. For years, I didn’t even feel female as I did everything wrong in society’s eyes. Took me a long time to just be me and learn my gender was secondary.At least with slash, I can enjoy the idea of love even if it’s something I gave up on finding long ago.
A great deal of meta seems to imply that female fans somehow owe it to the nebulously defined "fandom community" to write female characters — in other words, "eating your vegetables." This is not a belief that is universally shared. When these meta writers are told to go ahead and write their own fic, they view it as yet more proof of misogyny.
Proghets, as the term implies, insist that hetfic is inherently more progressive than slash because it contains women. This is in spite of the fact that a great deal of hetfic is full of gender essentialism. In addition, quite a few proghets are religious conservatives who have learned to use progressive rhetoric to advance homophobic and other bigoted viewpoints.
In Original Slash
Through college and the years that followed I may not have been writing, but I was definitely reading. A lot! I’ve been a voracious reader my whole life. Starting around junior high, I primarily read fantasy. But a few years ago, I started to notice something odd: no matter what book I was reading, I found myself hating the female lead. Now, I’m sure it’s not actually the case that every single female character in fantasy is poorly-written. I can readily admit that the issue is my own. Regardless of the reason, the fact is, they drove me nuts. So I started specifically buying books that had male protagonists. Of course, then those fabulous male leads were always falling in love with the some silly girl, and I never understood why, so if I managed to find a book that didn’t even mention a woman in the blurb, I was thrilled. Which is of course how I discovered the Nightrunner series (thanks Lynn!!).
Honestly, I still remember the night that I finished Stalking Darkness. I was lying in bed, and I read the ending over and over and over again, and I swear I could feel the giant light bulb going on inside my head. I could hear the “ta-da!” music. I got up the next day, and I started scouring Amazon for fantasy books with gay male leads.Well, it turns out that list is depressingly short (at least, it was back then), but I found myself sliding down this slippery slope of books -- first fantasy with a bit of gay romance thrown in, and then gay romance with a bit of fantasy thrown in, and then before I knew it, the fantasy was gone and there were just men falling in love. I’d never in my life been a reader of romance books, but once I discovered m/m, I was hooked. — Author Marie Sexton 
Ignoring female characters in fanworks
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 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, comic book adaptations 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)[note 12]
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 in the labeling 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. [note 13] For example, Hypatia Kosh's 2000 review of Star Trek: The New Voyages mentions the Claire Gabriel novel Simple Gifts (online here), and describes it as "Spock/f", as if the female lead -- Dr. Sarah Halstead, who is the POV character for much of the novel -- is so inconsequential that her name isn't worth mentioning.[note 14]
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.[note 15]
- 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.
- Female authors might conceivably write from personal experience or insights, but may shy away from it because they've been told it leads to self-inserts or Mary Sue.[note 16]
Women are also sidelined in amateur fiction simply by the dearth of heterosexual stories in which they might appear as female love interests, even if the hero is depicted in canon as attracted to women. Female "guest stars" often appeared in early Star Trek fan fiction, as they did on the show, but became less numerous as fans moved beyond the structure of television episodes for their short stories, and particularly after the Mary Sue flak post-1973.
centrumlumina, who runs AO3 Ship Stats, created a Tumblr post listing all of the potential reasons for the lack of femslash in fandom, complete with illustrative chart: "A chart illustrating all of the possible explanations people have suggested for the lack of femslash in my AO3 ship stats survey, and the ways in which they might interlink."
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. [note 17] However, the history of science fiction and fantasy literature beginning in the 1940s reveals a preponderance of male names and a longstanding presumption that most fans and most professional authors were men. Of course, this is untrue. Female fans have always existed, along with female authors who might write using their initials male pseudonyms or a sexually ambiguous name.[note 18]In his book Partners in Wonder, Eric Leif Davin reveals that women authors also concealed their names to protect their everyday jobs, as science fiction was considered less than respectable. Also, owing to job scarcity in the post-WWII era, it was common practice to fire employees who were revealed to have a second source of income.[note 19] Women's place in the post-war workplace was precarious enough, with the U.S. government directing media and medicine to shame women into homemaker roles.[note 20][note 21][note 22] In the 1950s, women became more visible. Feminism and gay liberation rose to prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and science fiction became a more respected genre, allowing more women to openly join the ranks of authors and fans.
Many female creators started out as fans, just as male creators did. When these women are ignored or sidelined, it sets a bad example for female fans, who might have taken these creators for role models and imagined themselves as creators also.
Notable Misogyny discussions
- discussions relating to Harlan Ellison's groping professional science fiction author Connie Willis onstage during the Hugo Awards ceremony at Worldcon (2006)
- discussions relating to The Open-Source Boob Project (2008)
- 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 using the handle Apocalypsos counted the number of times per season the words "bitch", "slut", "skank", and "whore" were spoken by the leads on the show. [note 23]
- the debate over the Sherlock Holmes re-imagining Elementary which has an Asian-American woman playing Watson: Robert Doherty came up with this idea as a way of trying to address Sherlock's canon misogyny.
- 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, a mentally ill fan who had already been banned for life from several other conventions for similar behavior.  Valentine had written about Agassi's behavior in her 2008 ReaderCon review, sans names.
- In January 2013, the publishers of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America bulletin were criticized for using sexist language. Their less than mature responses sparked huge amounts of criticism from both men and women online.
- In 2014, controversy arose over Ubisoft's lack of a female playable character option in Assassin's Creed: Unity. The sarcastic hashtag #WomenAreTooHardToAnimate emerged based on many developer comments such as "A female character means that you have to redo a lot of animation, a lot of costumes," "It was really a lot of extra production work," and similar.
- Also in 2014, the organizers of WisCon were criticized for mishandling the banning of a serial harasser, former TOR editor James Frenkel, who had been a regular attendee and presenter at the convention. See WisCon's flaky response to harassment incident sparks Internet uproar by Aja at The Daily Dot. The 2013 discussion about sexual harassment at science fiction conventions started as a result of reports about Frenkel harassing another attendee at WisCon.. Despite widespread knowledge of the 2013 incident, Frenkel was allowed to attend WisCon in 2014 because the official paperwork got lost. WisCon subsequently issued a temporary ban and indicated that he could return sooner if he behaved. In July 2013, Frenkel left Tor as an outcome of these complaints. Frenkel was subsequently permanently banned from attending the convention. However, in 2017, he was on the convention committee of Odyssey Con, a different science fiction convention also held in Madison, and scheduled as a presenter. Several authors (one of whom cited unpleasant experiences with Frenkel in the past), withdrew from the convention.
- discussions relating to Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days? (2015 Tumblr discussion thread) (2015)
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.
Star Trek and TPTB
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" and once suggested that a planet's culture was peaceful because the women put out.[note 24] [note 25] Leonard Nimoy said that Roddenberry spoke in production meetings about how "all women were cunts" who should not be allowed into any position of real power. [note 26] Early casting descriptions of the character Janice Rand included: "With a strip-queen figure even a uniform can't hide, Colt [Rand] serves as Captain's secretary, reporter, bookkeeper --- and with surprising efficiency. She undoubtedly dreams of serving Robert April [Jim Kirk] with equal efficiency in more personal departments."  Similarly, early casting description of Star Trek: The Next Generation character Dr. Beverly Crusher included: "Wesley's 35-year old mother. She serves as the Chief Medical Officer. If it were not for her intelligence, personality, and beauty, and the fact that she has the natural walk of a striptease queen, Capt. Picard might not have agreed to her request that Wesley observe bridge activities, therefore letting her son's intelligence carry events further."  Roddenberry's 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. Leonard Nimoy referred in interviews to Roddenberry's preoccupation with "miniskirted, big-boobed sex objects -- toys for guys. He cleaned up that act gradually only because people pointed it out to him."[note 27] Roddenberry's original conception for Deanna Troi was that she should be a "four-breasted, oversexed hermaphrodite".[note 28] In "Wolf in the Fold", Spock comments that women are "more easily frightened" than men. This must have been a difficult line for Leonard Nimoy to say, given his personal attitude towards women. In Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath's Shatner: Where No Man, he had this to say about "Turnabout Intruder": "What [Roddenberry] set out to prove was that this lady, given command of the ship, would blow it." Marshak adds that the episode "loads the dice" by making the woman mentally unstable instead of showing a rational female in command.
Marshak and Culbreath came in for their own share of misogyny in fandom when their aggressive attitudes, especially towards other fans, apparently caused them to be labeled with the pejorative fubba-wubba, which stands for "fat ugly broad with unbelievably bad attitude". In a 2016 blog entry on his Facebook page, David Gerrold says he was told it was coined specifically for them although the Fancyclopedia entry says it may have originated in the Society for Creative Anachronism. There is apparently no analogous term for an annoying male fan.
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.
Still, Roddenberry's "females as set dressing" meant that women were visible on the show week after week. Viewers saw women in a variety of roles and engagements, with a black woman at back center stage -- right behind the Captain's chair, so you couldn't miss her -- in nearly every episode. This was especially important to children, as these women provided inspiring examples.
And while acknowledging that Captain Kirk seemed to have an "alien babe of the week", especially in the third season -- although the modern image of Kirk as a swaggering, egotistical womanizer is questionable in and of itself -- fan writings of the period did not disparage Elaan, Deela, Miramanee etc. Poems were written about Leila Kalomi and Shahna. The zine Beyond Antares was focused entirely on Uhura. In the pre-Mary Sue era, many stories included women "guest stars" in roles similar to those on the show.
Resources & Further Reading
- 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."
- Women in Speculative Fiction at Wikipedia.
- Erin Horáková, "Kirk Drift", entry in Strange Horizons online magazine, April 10, 2017. Does modern American culture, both fannish and mainstream, have a distorted view of James T. Kirk as a reckless, macho womanizer? Detailed examination of James Kirk as the complex character he really was in the show vs. the popular impression.
- "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.
- For examples in the gaming community, see the Vox summary of Gamer Gate, September 7, 2014; Gamergate and the New Misogyny, Medium.com, November 14, 2014; and How 4chan Manufactured the #GamerGate controversy, Wired UK, 2014-09-10. Following the suicide of game developer Alec Holowka, his colleague Zoe Quinn was blamed for having spoken up about his sexual harassment of her that set off "Gamergate" in the first place: Gaming's #MeToo Moment and the Tyranny of Male Fragility by Laurie Penny in Wired, Sept. 6, 2019. See also The All-Too-Familiar Harassment Against Feminist Frequency, and What The Gaming Community Can Do About It at The Mary Sue, June 12, 2012.
- "Now that it’s evident girls really like guys who like guys, no matter how misguided it may be, we have come to a unique time in television writing: queer-baiting. The idea of queer-baiting is specifically putting gay/homoerotic subtext in relationships in order to keep girls interested in the show. However, the writers/cast keep just enough out to keep the men interested." Alison "Boom" Baumgartner, The Downside of Slash Fangirling. In her blog Loving the Alien, August 28, 2013. (One assumes "the men" refers to the straight men.)
- Suzanne Lazarus, Jessica Chastain: movie studios over-sexualise kickass women. In Radio Times, September 28, 2015. Chastain gives Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Alien, Sarah (Linda Hamilton) in Terminator 2 and Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) in The Hunger Games as more realistic examples.
- "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.
- See also Alison Flood, "Study finds huge gender imbalance in children's literature: New research reveals male characters far outnumber females, pointing to 'symbolic annihilation of women and girls'", The Guardian, 6 May 2011.
- "Because Skyler didn’t conform to a comfortable ideal of the archetypical female, she had become a kind of Rorschach test for society, a measure of our attitudes toward gender.""Breaking Bad's Anna Gunn Gets Death Threats From Skyler Haters -- Why?" Wet Paint, August 24, 2013.
- Scott Ashlin, Review of Solo at 1000 Misspent Hours & Counting, 2018. Ashlin goes on to criticize the portrayal of L3-37, a female-appearing android who constantly criticizes the way androids and robots are treated, in a heavy-handed satire on feminism: " She's so transparently a parody of how the alt-right sees its opponents that I'm amazed her designation doesn’t include the letters "SJW.'"
- For an interesting, in-depth look at slash as a reflection of internalized misogyny, read defenestration-and-more's response to 'Why do Fangirls Always Make Them Gay', July 7, 2014.
- "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"
- As of summer 2017, we shall see if this changes with the new Wonder Woman picture starring Gal Gadot and Connie Nielsen.
- 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.
- "Claire Gabriel, who wrote 'Ni Var,' is now online, and her novel, 'Simple Gifts' is as well. The story is Spock/f, although slash fans may also enjoy it." From Pro Book Reviews, by Hypatica Kosh, 2000.
- 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.
- In What I don't understand about the fear of Mary Sue (2003-01-26), fan writer/analyst Carmarthen said: "I have seen m/m slash writers say that one of the reasons they write what they write is because they are afraid that if they write about female characters, they will use their own female perspective in the writing, which leads to Mary Sues."
- The first science fiction novel, Frankenstein, was written by Mary Shelley. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Marjorie Bowen, Ellen Glasgow, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps and Dion Fortune are some other early fantasy/SF/weird fiction authors.
- Among them were L. Taylor Hansen, C.L. (Catherine) Moore, Leigh Brackett, Andre Norton and James Tiptree, Jr. (Dr. Alice Sheldon). Ursula K. LeGuin had a story published in Playboy under "U.K. LeGuin" and says "I have felt a little bent, a little bit U-shaped, ever since." Zenna Henderson, whose "The People" stories first appeared in 1952, insisted on using her full real name. Other female F&SF authors of that period include Clare Winger Harris (the first woman SF author to use her full name, beginning in 1926), Kit Reed, Katherine MacLean, Margaret St. Clair, Doris P. Buck, Carol Emshwiller, Miriam Allen deFord, Mary-Alice Schnirring, and Mildred Clingerman.
- Viewers of classic 1950s-60s television may notice references to "moonlighting" as a controversial, quasi-illegal practice. This is why.
- "'He's head man again,' the magazine House Beautiful reminded its female readers. 'Your part . . . is to fit his home to him, understanding why he wants it this way, forgetting your own preferences.'" Yeesh. Stephanie Coontz, A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s (New York: Basic Books, 2011), chapter 3.
- "Broken only by the pluckiness of Debbie Reynolds, a serene, pedestaled femininity was radiated by the young actress Grace Kelly, by the older actress Loretta Young (thrusting open the French door on her weekly TV show), by models Jean Patchett and Suzy Parker, and by the soft-portraitured Breck Girls in Life magazine. Advertisements and commercials of women in cocktail dresses kissing their kitchen appliances drove home a schizophrenic mandate: Lure men with elegant wiles and then become a cheerfully addled serial procreator." Sheila Weller, Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation. Atria, 2008.
- See also Courtney Catt, Trapped in the Kitchen: How Advertising Defined Women's Roles in 1950s America. Thesis submitted to Baylor University, Waco, Texas, May 2014. WebCite
- Bitch Watch : Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. "Season one -- Dean or Sam refer to a woman by a pejorative three times in twenty-two episodes. Season two -- Dean or Sam refer to a woman by a pejorative three times in twenty-two episodes. Season three -- Dean or Sam refer to a woman by a pejorative eighteen times in sixteen episodes."
- "Let’s establish that the nature of this place keeps women eternally young, beautiful, and remarkably busty. Perhaps hormones work better here. At any rate, let’s cast and clothe in that direction with a vengeance. This place is remarkably peaceful because the women are beautiful and they screw a lot. Isn’t that logical? Or, if we can’t be logical, let’s at least be provocative." Memo by Roddenberry, quoted in Joel Engel's Gene Roddenberry, the Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek and in Herbert Solow & Robert Justman's Inside Star Trek: The Real Story. John D.F. Black told Engel that remarks like this were a near constant with Roddenberry.
- Fred Freiberger, who came aboard as the third season producer, was no slouch on the misogyny front. According to several sources, including screenwriter Margaret Armen, he was well known for summarizing Star Trek as "tits in space".
- 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.
- Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman, The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek, The First 25 Years. Thomas Dunne, 2016, p. 37. Nimoy's comment follows directly after a probably sarcastic quote from Roddenberry that he paid no attention to women at all during the first Star Trek.
- 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.'
- Jim C. Hines, Don't Look Away: Fighting Sexual Harassment in the Scifi/Fantasy Community. Gizmodo, August 29, 2016.
- Natalie Wilson, Women attend ComicCon, but don't run the show. Ms. magazine, July 18, 2012.
- Spike.com, 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.
- Louisa Peacock, I don't need reminding that Lara Croft is a woman. Telegraph, 2013-02-26.
- Cindi May, The Problem with Female Superheroes. Scientific American, June 23, 2015.
- Soraya Chemaly, In tech world, women ignored. CNN Opinion, 2013-10-15.
- Dead Girls, Killer Ratings at Salon, 2015-04-14.
- Soraya Chemaly, 'Too Much Estrogen': The Golden Globes, Chris Christie and Men Who Don't Want to Share Culture Huffington Post, January 13, 2014.
- ACLU, Citing Bias Against Women, Wants Inquiry Into Hollywood’s Hiring Practices. New York Times, May 12, 2015.
- 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.
- Jacqueline Lichtenberg, creator of Sime~Gen and many other professional novels, along with the Kraith fan fiction series, speaking in 1979. From a letter exchange in A Companion in Zeor #4.
- Victoria Frings, "Why TV Wives Are Always Way Hotter Than Their Husbands". Alternet, September 29, 2014. Originally appeared as Hollywood's Hidden Sexism, Salon, January 25, 2014.
- Olivia Hill, "So. You want to whine about video game censorship?" Twitter thread, archived at threaderapp, dated July 6, 2019. The thread was subsequently deleted by the author. The game in question was Evertale.
- 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
- Alison "Boom" Baumgartner, "The Downside of Slash (Or When Slash Isn’t Sexy… It’s Sexist)". In her blog Loving the Alien, 2013-08-28.
- 'Sherlock' fans lash out over sunken 'Johnlock' ship. Daily Dot, April 26, 2013.
- Sophie Gilbert, The Troublesome Women of Sherlock. The Atlantic, January 5, 2017.
- Aja Romano, "Why does the man behind "Doctor Who" and "Sherlock" still have a job?" Daily Dot, January 13, 2014. Comments on the article including by Romano herself are worth reading as well.
- e.g. Female characters, again, fabu. Accessed 20 November 2008.
- "Star Wars’ toxic fanbase may have driven The Last Jedi actress off Instagram" Polygon, 2018-06-05. Reaction to Viet-American actress Kelly Marie Tran's decision to cut off her Instagram account after receiving sexist and racist taunts over her role in The Last Jedi.
- I Won't Be Marginalized By Online Harassment Statement from Kelly Loan Tran: she says the worst part was that she began to believe the slurs.
- Weaponizing the haters: The Last Jedi and the strategic politicization of pop culture through social media manipulation. First Monday, vol. 23, no. 11, 5 November 2018. Page found 2019-12-24.
- Annalee Newitz, "'Star Wars' Fans Are Angry and Polarized. Like All Americans." New York Times, Dec. 24, 2019.
- Alison "Boom" Baumgartner, The Downside of Slash (Or When Slash Isn’t Sexy… It’s Sexist). Loving the Alien, August 28, 2013.
- "Anonymous Lane, State of Anonymous", letter to S & H 16, December 1980.
- lokeanrampant's tumblr post dated July 9, 2014.
- Guest Blogger: Marie Sexton! dated January 22, 2011.
- anonymous submission to confessionsofexlarries tumblr dated February 18, 2016.
- anonymous submission to confessionsofexlarries tumblr dated February 18, 2016.
- 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.
- 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.
- Eric Leif Davin, Partners in Wonder: Women And the Birth of Science Fiction, 1926-1965. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books 2006.
- The Harlan Ellison Incident at shrub.com, 2006-08-30.
- Jen Volant, GropeGate. Livejournal entry dated 2006-09-03.
- 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.
- Fan blogger teamvalkyrieftw, Zero-Tolerance Except if Sowwies, aka That Noise Happening with ReaderCon, dated 7/30/12.
- Fan blogger the_archfiend, Readercon: the Late Unpleasantness, and then some dated 9/11/12.
- Genevieve Valentine, Readercon 2008, dated 7/21/08.
- A Timeline of the 2013 SFWA Controversies by S.L. Huang.
- WisCon Subcommittee Statement on Jim Frenkel
- Twitter feed of Patrick Nielsen Hayden
- Concom decision on Jim Frenkel
- Withdrawing as a GoH from Odyssey Con
- Monica Valentinelli Withdraws as GoH of Odyssey Con
- 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).
- from The Star Trek Guide (1967 official publication)
- from March 1987 issue of Comlink
- 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.
- William Shatner with Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath, Shatner: Where No Man... (Ace, 1979).
- David Gerrold, "Just for the record, I always assumed Sulu was gay." Essay dated July 8, 2016.
- 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.