Why Be Gatekeeping?

[Image © Can Stock Photo / francescorizzato ]

Once upon a time, Science Fiction was poo-pooed as “that Buck Rogers stuff”, Star Trek was a silly television show that only housewives watched, comic books were “kids’ stuff”, the Beatles were a stupid boy band for teens, and anything animated was for school children.

Then men came along and decided that they actually liked those things. Suddenly, anyone who was not a man and liked those things had to prove themselves to the men.

Someone on Tumblr came up with the term “Mentrification”. A portmanteau of ‘gentrification’ and ‘men’.

Like gentrification, mentrification gradually pushes out and excludes everyone from the core fandom bar the (usually) straight, (generally) white men who then get hostile against everyone else.

Science Fiction used to be a farce, until men decided they liked it. They took over, and now you’re hard-pressed to find any outwardly female sci-fi authors on your average bookshelf. Go look. I’ll wait. I can tell you now that within the two-foot-wide section of Science fiction [five feet if it’s Sci-fi and Fantasy together] that there will be maybe two or three titles with a female author. I bet you a dollar that most of those will be part of established franchises like Doctor Who and Star Wars, too.

Fantasy is a little more diverse, but just like you don’t get a lot of male-coded names in the Romance section, you still don’t find a great deal of female names authoring Fantasy books, either.

This is unconscious gatekeeping. A bias in the industry. Wealthier males have the resources, time, and support structures in place so they have the time to write a book or more. Females, regardless of income level, are expected to shoulder the time expenditure in maintenance activities. So much so that even females who have adult children are asked who is looking after those kids when she has a public office.

A more conscious gatekeeping is the habit of males to engage in The Quiz. Also known as The Challenge. A female in a fandom is expected to have encyclopaedic knowledge of every last technical detail of a thing in order to be allegedly accepted into bro-ship with the challenging male. Spoiler alert- even if she does, she’s accused of memorising said facts “for the attention” and derided as a fake geek girl.

There’s a long history of erasing women in favour of the accomplishments of men. To this day, there are people who think Isaac Asimov invented science fiction when, in fact, even he credits Mary Shelley with the creation of it. There are people today who won’t know the important roles of Verity Lambert, Marcia Lucas, or Lucille Ball play in their favourite genre.

It’s happened more recently with My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. An animated series aimed at little girls was appropriated by men. It got to the point where adult males geek-checked and bullied little girls out of a convention for fans of the show. The less said about the stultifying amounts of pony porn, the better.

Now adult men are complaining about the ‘sexiness’ of She Ra and the Princesses of Power. I shit you not. Yet another animated series aimed at girls has men complaining about it. Did you know that She Ra is supposed to be sixteen? No? That’s a little geek fact most males tend to gloss over.

The male side of fandom has an alarming propensity for being disgusting. There was a count-down page for the legal age of consent for Harry Potter’s actress Emma Watson. Red carpet photographs of Stranger Things’ actress, Millie Bobby Brown, have her highly sexualised and looking older than a teenaged kid. It’s gross. Please stop doing that.

Gatekeeping a fandom – keeping people out because of an initial unfamiliarity with the thing – does nobody any favours. When newcomers are greeted with open hostility, a test they have to pass, a test that is impossible to pass… there is no new fandom.

I would rather educate and enrich someone’s experience with the thing. Welcoming newcomers to a fandom is always a joy for me. It means I get to rave about it. I can show them all the cool parts.

Fandom should never be about passing a test. Fandom should be about sharing what you love. Fandom should be about letting each fan love a thing at their own level… like not blazing porn across a fandom aimed at children. Or not challenging someone new to the Trek fandom on how the warp engine works. Or not asking someone wearing a band shirt to name five-to-ten of the band’s songs.

Fandom should be about not spoiling it for others. That means not ruining it. If someone wants spoilers, that’s their look-out, and a completely different thing. If you like some Dark Alternative View of -say- Sunshine Happy Daisy Club [I just made that up] then that’s your thing. Tag appropriately and don’t tell the four-year-olds it’s aimed at that Mr Sunbeam is really a serial rapist or whatever the fuck you’ve cooked up in that musty noggin of yours.

You can’t force other fans to like a thing in the exact same way that you like the thing.

I know that’s a tough pill to swallow and way too many males refuse to even try. Too many people think that passing a test is the only way to keep the fakers out.

My question is: Why do you think people are faking an interest in the first place?

What could anyone possibly gain from feigning love for a thing?

I do not understand it. Keeping people out is never good. We should be letting people in.

When I get fans for my works, and I hope it happens soon, I’d love them to be the kinds of fans who share and love to share. I hope they’re the kinds of fans who say things like, “Oh, you’ve never heard of [THING]? Here, I have a spare copy you can try.” You know, instead of “That’s a [THING] shirt. Prove you know it off by heart with this pointless trivia quiz.”

We have enough hostility. As my favourite band has said, life is short so spread the love.

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