Fandoms—the community of fans of a particular work of fiction, be it Harry Potter or Doctor Who (and even non-British series)—are somewhat notorious on the internet. Say one thing, and an entire fandom rises up as an angry (verbal) mob. Sometimes, fandoms get their shows renewed (sending a ridiculous volume of peanuts to a network got cult-favorite television show Jericho a second season). A lot of the time, fandoms just exist to discuss their favorite books, films, shows, writers, and characters.
And that can be a very positive thing. It can also be a very negative thing. Sometimes, people in fandoms just detest certain characters in ways that seem to be beyond justification.
Unfortunately, though I cannot name a reliable statistical study to prove this, I have noticed that a lot of the targets of this . . . fan-based vitriol . . . are female characters.
I am not necessarily talking about villains. When a character is said or shown or implied to be a rapist or a child-abuser, these are the characters whom we are supposed to hate. Other villains might be those whom we enjoy seeing but still root against. I am talking about . . . characters. And I am talking about female characters.
Depending upon the genre, a female character might be cited as being “annoying,” “having a chip on her shoulder,” or “forced on us by the writers.” Female characters who cheat on their boyfriends seem to get more hate than cheating boyfriends do. When a boyfriend cheats on his girlfriend with another woman, some fans seem to spit venom at the other woman and even at the girlfriend.
I am honestly not sure why female characters are so very polarizing. But I can guess. And, honestly, it is a discussion worth having. Because the things that we say about our favorite shows, whether talking to our friends or on posts to Tumblr, say a lot about us and our society.
First of all, sometimes female characters just make a bigger impact on us, psychologically. Perhaps because (though women outnumber men in …
… the real world), female characters tend the be the minorities on most shows—with the exception of certain types of dramas. They “stand out more,” sometimes visually and often in our impressions of the show. I’ve mentioned my fondness for strong, “terrifying” women in television. Perhaps this is a part of why fictional women earn so much ire.
But I also think that it has a lot to do with how women are regarded in real life. We are all familiar with double-standards. A girl’s boyfriend is beloved by her parents but they also do not want him “robbing their little girl of her innocence.” That hypothetical girl’s brother’s girlfriend will never be good enough for him, in his parents’ eyes, but if she’s not sleeping with him then there’s something wrong with her.
That double-standard is not universal, but it’s weird. And unhealthy. A simpler example of how society trains people to think of men and women differently is the (slowly vanishing) “stud VS slut” bias, in which men who have sex with many women are studs to be commended and women who sleep with many men are sluts who should be ashamed of herself. And that dynamic completely ignores the fact that, without sluts, it’s a lot trickier for there to be studs.
I think that our society trains us to pick at and find fault with women and female characters. “She’s too opinionated.” “She’s such a know-it-all.” And I think that this dates back to a time when women had to conform to certain expectations in order to “get a good husband.” Men, in the mean time, could be varied and flawed and have many qualities, because to “get a good wife,” they simply needed to provide economic stability. Very different pressures.
These ideas about what society separately expects of men and of women are changing, but some things are changing faster than others. I do think that female characters of fiction are met with more unfair criticism than male characters. Do you agree with my criticism? Or do you believe that there is something else at play?