Thursday, May 8, 2014

Anti-Bronies and Sexism - by Jarys Maragopoulos

An example of an Anti-Brony hate image.

     I was, at first, resistant to watching My Little Pony. I had been raised as a male and had plenty of reminding that girls things were not for me. I didn't even think about it, I just assumed I wouldn't like it, like the conditioned adult that I am. It took three different people to suggest I watch the show for me to sit down and watch it. I was well pleased that I did. I found that My Little Pony's newest iteration had humor that worked at adult levels, meaningful messages about interpersonal relationships, and a positive outlook. I like it a lot, so I guess that makes me a Brony. I'm happy with the label and I like to watch/discuss the show with other adults. Fun times.

Fluttershy's animal empathy also works on Spiders!

     I was vaguely aware that the show has its detractors, but it was not until recently that I realized that it was Bronies themselves that get the most hate online. This is no 4chan reaction to a new fandom sweeping through its board, there are message boards, subreddits, and facebook groups calling themselves "Anti-Brony". Considering the positive feelings I have about the culture of Bronies, I thought it worth looking at the criticism. I was shocked by what I found. Rare were the reasonable arguments against liking the show. Instead, most statements against Bronies boiled down to the following:

1. A Brony's enjoyment of a show aimed for female children is disturbing.

     This is the primary idea I found when researching for this article. Bronies are gross, there is something wrong with them. Bronies, I read, are adult men and they like a show aimed at little girls.  What the hell? Adult men enjoying something little girls are meant to enjoy or do enjoy, the thought drives people into a rage. This is an online rage, I grant you, but the vitriol put forth in reaction to this suggests that the concept inspires a sort of cognitive dissonance in some people. If you don't remember the term cognitive dissonance from conversations with your atheist friends, the term refers to the pain caused by holding to be true two antithetical ideas. There is something in the ideas of "Little girl's show" and "adult men" that these critics find antithetical. As a quick aside, I find that strange because adult women get a very different (although, often antagonistic) response when they enjoy shows designed for little boys. More on that below.

2. Bronies are child molesters or hopeful child molesters

     This accusation is so disturbing, it was difficult to react to at first. The thinking, though I do not like to call it that, is as follows: Bronies are adult men in their 20's and 30's. They have no believable reason why they would like a show aimed at little girls. They are lying in their fandom, a lie that hides a dark secret. They only purport to like the show to get closer to female children. They have nefarious sexual purposes for-
Ugh. I can't finish it. (Thank you. -Ed)

     Words of sexual and physical insult get thrown around the court of this fear. Bronies are "Neckbeards", "fat", and "perverts". Brony-created pornographic art, especially those depicting the ponies of the show, is used as proof of this. Any group, it is suggested, that would harbor artists and consumers interested in sexualizing a children's show character must be defined by perversion and predation. Fans that sexualize their fandom aren't the exception, all the fans are like that. Just don't let these guys know about Harry Potter erotica.

     What's worse though, was an instance of fabrication I found. In order to prove their point that Bronies harbor child molesters, someone created a fictitious situation in which a child was threatened and passed it off as real. This really bothers me, not because someone made crap up to appear valid, but that they played around with a lie in which a child was sexualized. Child abuse and sexual abuse are not the tinker toys of rhetoric. You can argue what you like, but I feel disgusted. Speaking of feeling disgusted....

Why not both? 

3. Bronies are gay

     Ah, at last we come to you, the last word from any internet ignoramus. Gay, now you're gay. And you wouldn't want to be gay right? Such an insult, at this time and in this place? You showed me. Excuse me while I put the breaks on my eye rolling.

     But there is more to this "insult" than the childish 90's appropriation of the word "gay" to mean "bad" or "stupid". At least, there is in this situation. Once again, the assumption is that Bronies are adult men. They like something decided to be feminine, not made for the consumption of your manly man. Ponies for the girls, scotch for the men. So, if an adult male likes something girly, he can't be a man, or he fails as a man. He's a lesser man, to like girl stuff. If he is serious about his fandom, and thus not a child molester, his sexual tastes must be feminine, focused on other men. He's gay. If this got anymore homophobic, it would be picketing soldier's funerals. 

*Deep Breath*

Why so defensive of men?
     What do all these complaints have in common? I believe they stem from a fear of males acting traditionally "un-male" i.e....Sexism. Why? People are excused for thinking Bronies are all male, a disproportionate number of women self identified as Bronies (17.7%). So people attribute brony culture to males. They are wrong, but I understand why they have that impression. What I cannot see is why people see most Bronies as adults.  A self census found that the average age of a Brony is 18, and the distribution lies heavily between 14 to 22. Now, can I prove that Anti-Bronies believe that most Bronies are adult males? No, I'm afraid I don't have those numbers. However, in researching complaints about Bronies (not the show, but Bronies and their culture), I see this as the predominant view.

     Why is the idea of an adult male liking a show designed for female children a problem? Is it that they are adults? I don't think so. Conventions and geek culture are filled with Intellectual Properties that were originally intended for children, toys and comic books, for example. No, I believe the sentiment is based on the perception that Bronies are male, because, when women are criticized for liking shows and other media aimed for males (such as comic books, action movies, oh my so many things) we quickly find that it is due to them being women. The judgment of a person for liking something nontraditional for their gender IS sexism.

     When a woman is criticized for liking Spider-Man or Transformers, I have yet to see her accused of liking that thing so she can have improper conduct with children. My scope is small, I am one person, show me if I am blind to this happening in significant numbers. But male Bronies are accused of this, why? Because the behavior of enjoying the show is seen as so strange that it is distrusted. What is it hiding? Why would a man want to be closer to a female and female media? Sexual reasons, as is 'obvious' to a sexist. While the vast majority of reported sexual predation is perpetrated by men (almost 99%), that is not the same as saying most men are sexual predators or men are likely to be sexual predators. That is a bigoted and illogical statement, much like the thinking that, if a Brony isn't preying on little girls, they must be gay. The assumption that a man who likes female things must also be gay is an insult to "female things", men, and (most especially) gay people.

Yeah Yeah, you don't think ponies are masculine, we get it.

     The trunk of this entire branch of complaints is based on the following assumption: men are strong, unemotional, and active while women are weak, emotional, and passive. Things made for men are tough, unburdened by emotional development, and require effort. Things made for women are easy, emotional, and require no effort to consume. In this presumed system of thought that unfortunately pervades our culture, a woman who wants a man's things may be precociously upwardly mobile, pitiful, or an invader to what is not hers.  Women get this attitude all the time in fandoms and communities dominated by men. In our society, some women are encouraged to be more like men. It is seen as a "step up" for them, so why not allow them some of the awesome -man stuff, if they are worthy?

     A man, in this system of thought, who wants a woman's things gets a different treatment. These men are seen as failed, fallen from masculinity, lowering themselves, shirking their manly responsibilities, or condescending so that they may later show their strength in sexual predation. Gay men are seen in these terms by sexists already, so it is a short hop, skip, and a jump to put the gay label on all bronies. In the semi-sexist evolution of society, in which women's stuff is seen as undesirable, but women have every right to man's stuff because, ho ho, we wouldn't want to be bigots, men are still condemned for liking women's stuff. No one wins.

     Sexism lies at the heart of these Anti-Brony statements, and I see that as entirely natural because the culture of My Little Pony and Bronies of both sexes are anti-sexist. In the show, only one of the main characters acts traditionally female, being concerned with looks and showing a dislike for more traditionally male activities. But none of this is framed in terms of gender in the show. That character just likes fashion and dislikes physically engaging activities. It has nothing to do with her gender any more than the other ponies likes or dislikes are framed by their gender. The show tries to tackle gendered culture, not always successfully, but they mostly present culture and activities outside of gender labels. None of the characters are shown to be main characters because of their gender. The characters do not exclude secondary characters because of their gender. It's a pretty progressive show.

Bronies = Nazis, apparently

     Similarly, Brony culture values gender equality and defies traditional expectations of gender. Male Bronies are encouraged by other Bronies to be as much as a fan and as male as they want to be. Among the Bronies with whom I have shared experiences gender and love for the fandom are not seen as related, traditionally female activities such as knitting and wearing bright yet soft colors are not discouraged for anyone, and qualities such as understanding and tolerance are applauded. Moreover, I would argue that Bronies, if not sincere to a person, are known for their sincerity in their fandom. There exists in academia a philosophy, called the New Sincerity, which values the introspection and meta-awareness of postmodernism while rejecting the latter philosophy's cynicism. They argue that society and it's media can introspectively evolve without needing to patronize media ironically or with a misanthropic view. These philosophers have cited Brony culture as conformation, for its sincere fandom and aware evolution of gender norms. 

     Two allowances, though:

1) Yes, there exists pronographic illustrations that sexualize the characters on the show. This does not mean that those who draw or look at these images are pedophiles, however. Child pornography is different, and there is yet to surface any evidence that MLP porn contains an disproportionate amount of such images, if it contains any. The fact is that, as Rule 34 of the internet notes, people will create pornogrpahy of anything, especially their fandoms. People have been writing and drawing sexualized images and sharing them on the internet as long as there has been an internet. I neither judge nor endorse this. It just is. 

2) Yes, the place of young girls in this fandom does require reflection and awareness. It is questionable, and worth looking in to, that young girls would feel as comfortable in conventions dominated by adults. While no one should be made unwelcome to the fandom, we owe it to everyone in the community, no matter their gender and age, has a place to congregate where they feel comfortable expressing their fan status. This could easily be done be creating and endorsing family oriented Conventions alongside conventions geared to all ages. Nothing keeps us from creating age appropriate settings for fans, no one need be forgotten. If you are a parent fearful that your Pony-loving child will search for MLP images on the internet and find porn, I suggest you set google as your search engine and turn safesearch ON.

     In the writing of this article, the following links were very helpful. I hope I have used and cited them correctly.

Some incredible person(s) conducted a statistically accurate census of Bronies, called The State of the Herd

Nimaru created an infographic to help reason out many Anti-Brony accusations of Bronies.

Much thanks Ken, Mark, and to the /MyLittlePony Subreddit for their advice in writing this article.

Jarys Maragopoulos is an educator and writer in San Francisco. They enjoy ginger based drinks, Terry Pratchett, and long walks on the beaches of philosophy. Fnord.

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