Where the Boys Are
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Where the Boys Are is an article written on the perceived gender disparity in Star Wars fandom. It was published in 1981 in the Star Wars letterzine Alderaan and reprinted in Comlink #9. It has been reprinted here with permission without edits.
Where the Boys Are: A problem media fandom will never face is a war between the sexes. There just aren’t enough guys around to make it work.
One tends to take the situation for granted, as a given, a fact so obvious about media fandom that it’s hardly thought about or noticed until, as happens every so often, someone wakes up, looks around, and says, “Hey, where are the guys?” Good question. Where are the men? Male names are rare in LoC columns or fanzine order lists, male faces scarce at media conventions, and the number of men writing or drawing or editing in media fandom so minimal as to be practically nonexistent. If there are men in media fandom, they’re certainly very quiet. To turn about a feminist phrase then, why is half the human race so poorly represented in Star Wars and other media fandoms?
What follows is the result of an informal opinion poll on the male/female imbalance in SW fandom. The complete non-scientific nature of this poll cannot be over-emphasized; the author wrote to a random sampling of people in fandom, both known and unknown to her, and no formal polling techniques were used. The results, however, were interesting. Two main theories popped up in almost every letter to explain the preponderance of females in fandom. One involves the nature of creativity as related to the sexes in this country. The other, less esoteric, involves the sexual appeal of the male characters in the Star Wars saga.
To attack the less earthy subject first, replies to my inquiries repeatedly emphasized the differing attitudes toward male and female creativity in our society. Barbara Green Deer stated the matter quite succinctly: “It’s the Han Solo theory, it’s sexists, and it applies to the way men in general I view life, “ANYTHING WORTH DOING IS WORTH DOING FOR MONEY.”
“In short, women are more willing to give their (quite considerable) talents away, while men are probably busy earning money for doing much the same things. There are, of course, exceptions to the above, but I find it quite a convenient generalization to explain the imbalance in the sexes. There really isn’t any conflict to the theory even when you look at mainstream SF fandom, where there are more men than women. A SF con is more like a business convention: smoking, drinking, bullshit, sex, etc. But if you counted up the hours each person at MediawestCon spent, in the last year, on some creative endeavor within fandom that paid no money, the results would be astronomical. And we don’t go to cons particularly to party, but to work, discuss, meet people, tell stories and share our work.”
“I think men are raised – or, at least, when I was young they were – to think of themselves as Breadwinners first. I think women are encouraged – no, make that allowed – to think more creatively because they are not primarily raised to think of supporting themselves and a family.”
Jeff Johnston, one of SW fandom’s few males, echoes the sentiment, blaming the imbalance on the stereotyped expectations that have been placed on American men and women. “Talented men are encouraged to work their butts off, run themselves ragged, get to the top of the company, so they can drop dead from a heart attack at age 50. Talented women are not encouraged to do that. I’m assuming here that the majority of all people in fandom are talented, and I believed that the level of correspondence and information exchange, the writing, the artwork, and other endeavors fans participate in bear me out in this. I suspect that there are so few talented men in media fandom for the simple reason that they can’t get anywhere using fandom. It doesn’t increase your salary, give you extra pension benefits, and doesn’t pay the rent. While this is a gross over-simplification, I honestly feel that men in this country are still driven at every turn to work like horses in order to achieve their goals. The traditional role model of the ‘man of the house’ and ‘breadwinner’ are still very much engrained in the minds of most Americans.”
So, according to a number of the fans I contacted, the creativity aspect in media fandom is mainly restricted to women because fandom “ain’t in it for the money,” while men, according to the morés of society, are in creative pursuits only because of money. In a twist of this, Michelle Malkin noted that media fandom may be a rather devious route towards filthy lucre for some women; a number of women writing science fiction and fantasy today came originally from Star Trek fandom, such as Jean Lorrah, Joanie Winston, Jacqueline Lichtenberg. “I have no doubt, “ Michelle wrote, “that within the next couple of years there will be new pro female sf and fantasy writers who started out in SW fandom.” Perhaps before long, women will be going for the cash as well, though serving their apprenticeships as writers in strictly non-profit SW fandom.
And now to the sex (got your attention, anyway). Fans of both sexes were quite frank in attributing female interest in Star Wars to the masculine beauty of some of the saga’s characters. “After all, “ pointed out Jani Hicks, “the fauchable characters (even if you count Vader) are about 4:1. (I’m counting Darth, Han, Luke, and Lando to Leia). Therefore, if each were equally appealing –hormonally speaking – we would expect four women to every man. If you look at MediaWest, that’s just about right.”
This line of getting into fandom is pretty dead-ended for men, as both male and female fans were quick to point out. “Okay, where did I get into SW fandom? By writing myself into a story so I could interact with Han,” wrote Susan Matthews. “How would a man similarly involve himself in fandom? Either by setting himself up as a rival for Leia’s affections – assuming he wanted to interact with Leia — or by setting himself as Han or Luke. How many of us would permit a guy to get away with that? How many male fen can carry it off? Precious few. So the major accession point, or what I feel to be a major accession point, for female SW fans, is more or less out of bounds for the guys in the very beginning. Perhaps there are just as many men as women out there who consider themselves SW fans. But because they didn’t respond initially to the movie with sexual attraction to one or more of the leads they never got involved in fanzines, conventions, all the things we tend to think of when we speak of ‘SW fandom’.”
Tim Blaes, a Leia-fan, concurs, noting that most fan fiction is written for female tastes, with erotic scenes involving the male characters, but that male writers definitely don’t feel encouraged to do likewise. In fact, he said, if a male writer did an erotic scene with Leia “he’d probably get bopped on the nose.” He confessed at feeling rather constrained in his writing, because of being surrounded by women,.
Mark Walton agreed that men are simply not encouraged to fantasize for pure escapism. “The old-fashioned image of the female is full of this idea,” he wrote. “She is supposed to sit home and dream about all of these men. For a woman to write a soapy letter to a movie star was most acceptable. It became just as acceptable for a women to write some story putting herself into a sexual relationship with some male. It’s a way for her to live her sexual fantasies. A man is not encouraged to either have such fantasies or to sit down at a typewriter and live them out.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, most I contacted hoped for an eventual evening out of sexual imbalance. Wrote Maggie Nowakowska: “I, for one, would love to see more guys active in stories. We in SW fandom tend to have more males drawing [artwork] for us at least. I ‘m a firm believer in male input, mostly because I have seen ST fandom become too ingrown with culturally ‘female” interests, i.e., overemphasis on characterization and inter-character relationships over plot and action. SW is a story, not a slice of life. It’s very interesting to explore how characters feel about each other, yes, but only so far. I want to know how the characters are going to affect the galaxy, the empire, and the Rebellion.”
Jani Hicks points out another area where it affects the writing: “Any good writer will tell you that it is extremely difficult to write across gender lines. That’s what gave George Sands away – she wrote such good, believable woman characters. So, since there are a predominance of women writing Han and Luke and Darth and Lando, there are predominately women’s –ideas-of-men floating around in fanfic.” To Barbara Green Deer, some of the “sidetracks” of fandom have grown out of this imbalance, “and I’m specifically thinking of the Kirk/Spock premise. Everything gets lopsided whenever some fundamental part of a duality is out of balance. I believe that, in fandom, as in all aspects of life, men and women both have important contributions to make.”
Interestingly enough, there was one dissenting vote on the issue, from Charlene Terry. “I think for women it’s good. I’ve had many fen females tell me that they were not particularly aware of feminism, outside of the negatively biased mass media presentation of it, until they became involved in media fandom, and were usually in the company of other women exclusively in fannish events. Being around women a good part of the time has made some women realize that women can be creative, inventive, clever, and outright intelligent in their own right – directly contrary to what a lot of women have been brought up to believe. Also, I have heard women say that fandom made them realize they don’t really need men in their social life. And because media fandom is populated by a female majority, it tends to be nurturant. (I have no idea whether are nurturant by their natures of because of socialization –six or one, half dozen of the other, most likely). One can fall flat on one’s ass in fandom, lose a job/loved one/home/whatever, be in a major mess emotionally, and still have a lot of friends willing and able to help. I don’t think this is quite as true of SF fandom, which seems to my wandering eye to have a majority of males.”
Here, then, is a summary of some fan opinion on the male/female imbalance in media fandom, grossly shortened and perhaps simplified to that it won’t take up the space of six issues of ALDERAAN. Instead of procuring answers, it has left at least me with the feeling that I know as little as I did originally. The subject is perhaps as slippery as the related one on what the basic differences are between men and women, but for what it’s worth, here my survey is. To quote one of my correspondents, Susan Matthews: “I know I’m oversimplifying grotesquely; but it’s either that or I haven’t the foggiest, Pat.”Amen to that."
Reactions and Reviews
In 2009, Maggie Nowakowska offered the following perspective on the article:
"We so assumed that we were SW (Star Wars) fandom, period. That probably comes from the roots of SW fanlit fandom in Trek fandom. Because Trek fandom truly was an independent entity, its organization primarily run by women from the beginning (ex: Bjo Trimble and the letters written to Save Star Trek; Winston and the early NYC cons) and well into the late 70s as an amateur enterprise, those of us who came out of Trek fandom into the SW fandom that revolved around fanzines tended to assume that we would be as independent as Trek fandom. It was difficult enough to contact other fanzine fans! We had no easy way of connecting with large numbers of other SW fans and, in the early days, the commercial cons had not yet organized. In fact, early on, Lucasfilms let the word get out that it would not allow its stars to appear at the fannish cons, as had the Trek stars."
- An inside joke highlighting the fic A Marketable Commodity.