It’s Not Much Ado About Nothing: Female Fan Opinions in Pop Culture

If you were anywhere near a computer this week and are even remotely interested in pop culture, you may have seen a headline or two about the great controversy of the week. The UK general election, you say? The earthquake in Nepal? No, we’ve already moved on from that. How about the fact that crazy weather events are making it harder and harder to deny the truth of climate change? Nah, we’ve stopped caring about that a long time ago. I’m talking about the fact that a bunch of “feminists” allegedly chased Joss Whedon off Twitter.

Now, I realize I’m giving this story even more of a shelf life by writing about it myself. But I’m interested in something a bit deeper than this eye-roll of an “entertainment news story”. If you would like to know Whedon’s actual reason for quitting Twitter, which I believe because it’s not some gross assumption, but rather the words straight out of his mouth, go here.

What disturbs me most about the traction this story got in the media is the subtext behind almost ever post, blog, and think piece about it: “Oh, those crazy women and their opinions.” It was basically a bunch of pundits giving life to and pursuing a story that was the equivalent of a dude reaching for the remote and turning up the volume to drown out his wife’s nagging. Oh, those feminist fangirls. They’re always so outraged! Look what they did this time! Poor Joss Whedon—one of their staunchest supporters—can’t even catch a break!

I am *so* tired of this narrative. It’s just another way of othering people of different genders, sexual orientations, races, and social classes. It’s a narrative that assumes that, 1) all the people upset about the treatment of Black Widow in Ulton are female; 2) all of those females hate the treatment in exactly the same way; 3) all of those females are feminists (Why? Because they dared to open their mouths?); 4) all of them banded together to blame Joss Whedon for the film’s flaws; and 5) there is something inherently wrong in criticizing a piece of pop culture, especially if you’re a woman.

We saw it with GamerGate, we saw it with the Hugo Awards debacle, and we’re seeing it again with this non-issue. Apparently, a raging horde of feminists and their opinions are so terrifying that there’s actually some white-dude panic button that gets hit every time someone who—let’s be real—opened himself to criticism by making a public work of art does something some women somewhere judge to be sexist or problematic. Cry me a river. The only good thing about this story is that it attributes a certain level of power to the collective voices of women—the wrong kind of power, a bullying power, but power nonetheless. That’s poor consolation when the reaction is akin to sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting, “Lalalalala! I can’t hear you.”

The most infuriating thing of all was that not one of these news outlets quoted any of the so-called abuse directed towards Whedon in their stories [Note: No, I did not read them all, but in general]. Throngs of angry feminist fangirls allegedly had their pitchforks out, but not even the most reasonable of their arguments was worth quoting. It’s not like there was a lack of source material. The most cursory Tumblr search yields reams upon reams of thoughtful, well-articulated opinions on the subject. There’s also quite a bit of caterwauling, but so what? Why aren’t those fans entitled to express their outrage on social media? If those fangirls are really to blame, why aren’t their perspectives represented in these news stories and think pieces? Could it be because that would require a level of nuance these paint-by-numbers stories lack? Could it be because the “rabble of raging women versus beleaguered feminist-sympathetic auteur” angle wouldn’t work if someone reported the actual words of actual women who criticized him? Could it be because there isn’t one single totalitarian feminist fangirl voice, but a multiplicity of opinions, on this and every subject?

As usual, the media took the easy way out. But one day, that collection of diverse, insightful, knowledgeable voices is going to band together—to drown out the misogynistic subtext, to change the narrative, to scream for their right to be heard.

And I, for one, will be proud to lend my voice to the din.



P.S.: One of the few good opinion pieces I read on Whedongate was by the lovely Sarah of LaineyGossip and Cinesnark fame. Read it here; it’s definitely worth your time.

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