“I like fangirls how I like my coffee. I hate coffee.” Three days after being spotted on a T-shrt for sale at WonderCon, this idiotic slogan is still making waves in the geek community.
Why? Well, for one thing, it seems like a perfect example of the hostile environment women have to deal with when they attend conventions. However, the T-shirt’s manufacturer, Tankhead Custom Tees, has just come forward to explain why the shirt isn’t sexist.
“the fangirl/fanboy shirts can best be explained like this: fangirls/boys =/= fans. Fans are people who like and genuinely respect a fandom, and it’s creators. Fangirls/boys are like those creepy fedora wearing neckbearded bronies, or hetalia fanfiction shippers, who make us all collectively cringe in pain at what they do to the things we love.
No one should ever defend these kinds of people. Seriously, they make the rest of us look bad.”
So, just to be clear here, the shirt isn’t insulting toward all women, just the ones who are the wrong kind of fan. And that’s totally not a gendered insult because bronies (i.e. male fans of a media source that’s traditionally aimed at girls) are repulsive as well. Right?
The idea that it’s OK to be disgusted by certain types of fan is pretty widespread in geek culture, and it’s ridiculous to suggest that this habit isn’t connected to sexist prejudice. In the nonsensical social strata of geekdom, “serious” sci-fi literature fans are somewhere at the top, Trekkies and comic book nerds are somewhere around the middle, and anything women are interested in is invariably right down at the bottom. Popular examples: Supernatural, YA novels with female protagonists, fanfiction, shoujo anime, and pretty much anything that’s popular on Tumblr.
It’s no coincidence that “fangirl” is most commonly used to describe women who read and write fanfiction. By the logic of people who use fangirl as a pejorative term, fans who spend hours reading and collecting superhero comics are at the cool, respectable end of the geek scale, while “fangirls” who write tens of thousands of words of superhero fanfic are embarrassing weirdos. In other words, if you conform to the old-fashioned, male-dominated form of fandom then you’re fine, but if you prefer to join the subculture that was primarily founded on the work of female fans, then it’s acceptable to publicly mock you at an event like WonderCon.
I tried not to read more of this bullshit, mostly because it makes my blood pressure rise and I’ve got anxiety enough to deal with right now, thanks.
But: For 100 years dudes have written “histories” of Sherlock Holmes, “scholarly articles” exploring his life, and “biographies” created out of whole cloth. They hold meetings and dinners and parties and create “pastiche” and “literary criticism” and they’re hailed with societies and awards and called Good Fans.
And then women do all of these things, and they might be grudgingly accepted into the inner sanctum but only if they prove their worth by being of the Good Fan type. If, though, they ship a couple, or, heaven forbid, write fanfiction, they’re dismissed as fangirls. Because girls are silly and stupid and unserious and not worth your time, amirite?
I identify as a woman. I do all of those traditional Sherlockian things, have done them off and on for over 20 years. I also now write fanfiction. Even *gasp* shippy slash fiction. I go to cons, I giggle at fanart, I swoon over cosplay.
I’m also a mother, a wife, a scientist, a reader, a feminist, and a big ‘ol nerd. I’m 37 years old. And you know what?
I am a fangirl.
And you gatekeeper neckbeard types can go fuck yourself.