I still remember feeling slightly amused and slightly insulted by the warning included in the printed program for an Indianapolis science fiction convention in the early 1980s.
It said, in effect, that just because a female attending the con was dressed like a character out of the Elfquest comic books – remember, this was a long time ago – that didn’t mean she was a piece of meat to be manhandled – well, fanboyhandled, really. Women at conventions might appear to be the flesh-and-blood embodiment of your fantasies, but They. Are. Not. Yours.
In effect, keep your hands – and your thoughts – to yourself, fanboy.
After my initial reaction to the warning passed, I realized that, yes, the warning was probably necessary. We were talking a few hundred young males who, in many cases, had little experience with the female of the species when she wasn’t on the movie or TV screen. As a young male who actually had met and talked with women and genuinely enjoyed them on every level – as equals, supervisors at work, romantic partners and partners in crime – I wasn’t the target audience for the warning.
Thirty years later and a cool and curious thing has occurred. Women make up a pretty good percentage of the fandom that has sprung up from movies, TV, books, comics and gaming. Some days it feels like they make up a slight majority of that fandom.
And while cosplay at conventions has moved well beyond elves in loincloths, the “hands off” warning still applies. The woman in the Power Girl outfit, complete with cleavage window, is not yours for the taking.
The controversy that’s broken out in fandom in the past couple of weeks is an outgrowth of that same stunted attitude on the part of some male fans, but frankly this attitude, this situation, feels more toxic than anything I’ve seen in decades.
Although there’s been a Neanderthal-ish attitude in online comments sections since the first sci-fi website was built, the especially poisonous vibe came after particularly apt criticism by writer Janelle Asselin of a Teen Titans comic cover. In an April 11 column on Comic Book Resources, Asselin noted several things wrong with this cover:
Not the least of which is the typical-for-comics-yet-absurd-fanboy-wetdream portrayal of Wonder Girl, whose rack is improbably huge and whose head is bigger than her waist.
But, incredibly, Asselin’s critique was followed by a heaping, steaming load of bullshit from fanboys who, on various online soap boxes, insulted and threatened Asselin and her fellow female industry figures with everything from shunning to beatings to rape.
Of course these cowards wouldn’t actually be able to say or do any of this stuff in person. I’m sure it made them feel incredibly daring and manly to say it from their hunched-over, masturbatory stance in front of the Dell computers in their mom’s basement.
The whole thing set off a lot of back-and-forth and, happily, lots of people sprang to Asselin’s defense. Among the best of them was writer Greg Rucka, who wove a tapestry of insults and profanities aimed at the idiotic fanboys in question that still has me chuckling. Rucka’s rant was inspired in great part by this image:
The answer to that t-shirt – or at least one of them – is at the top of this column. I wish I could figure out who to credit for the image, but I first saw it on daggerpen.tumblr.com.
Who would not want the presence of women in fandom? Women are in most cases smarter than men. They aren’t the war makers, they aren’t the dominators and those who demean everyone around them to make themselves feel better. Their very presence elevates the level of any conversation, including those in fandom.
Or it should, anyway. If they aren’t so put off by ignorant comments online that they don’t avoid the conversation entirely.
So fanboys, grow the hell up or take your attitudes elsewhere. I can guarantee that you’re not going to win that online argument with a smart, driven fangirl. You’re not going to win the hearts and minds of fandom with your disgruntlement.
And you’re sure as hell not going to get Power Girl, or even that cute elf, to bend to your will.