While this discussion about “the lack of ~well-written/feminist female characters in media justifying fandom’s lack of interest in them” is going on, I think I’ll use the opportunity to talk about the potential of fannish activity/interaction and the way fandom’s very nature blows that half-baked red herring out of the water.
Yes, the prevalence of misogyny and sexism in the media is a real problem. Yes, many female characters are done a disservice by their creators, who sexualize, objectify, fridge, marginalize, and otherwise fail to develop them with the same consideration they invest in their male counterparts. Critiquing these issues is vital in raising awareness among fans that these are problems that must be addressed and rectified, but do not think stopping there is all you can do. If you want woman-positive media (or queer-positive, diverse, inclusive, respectful media in general), it behooves you to seek out, consume, and promote those works where they already exist. Works by women/non-male creators, or works that are written by men but are woman-positive and anti-sexist. Raising consciousness about these works can have a profound effect on future media that will get funded, produced, created, and so on, and will otherwise help support creators that are writing the kind of media we want to see so they can continue creating more media like it.
Does this mean that you absolutely cannot like or appreciate problematic works, or works with male-dominated casts? Absolutely not—and here’s where the very nature of fandom comes into play.
At its core, fandom involves reappropriating entire source materials, settings, themes, characters, and relationships to create art, fiction, meta, and foster discourse and interaction between fans. And that’s reflected everywhere you look on this website: the prevalence of m/m and other queer ships in art and fic, the way long meta analyzing a single glance or instance of body language in a five second scene receives hundreds if not thousands of notes—
…so when the majority of fannish content concerns itself with male characters and their relationships with other men and a good amount of it is created and/or appreciated by the same fans who use a female character’s ~lack of complexity to justify their lack of interest, you can begin to discern how that claim is hypocritical. Taking canon into your own hands and doing whatever you want with it is the very foundation of fandom…so why can’t we put the same effort we invest in analyzing the way male character A’s two-second, background glance at male character B reveals his agonizing feelings for him in our consideration of female characters and their relationships?
If you complain about “poorly written female characters who lack complexity,” then try to read complexity into them. Look harder. Give them the same consideration you give your favorite male characters. Think about why you don’t care for them, and how your feelings would change if they were a male character. It’s not enough to criticize female characters for not being “complex enough,” whatever that means, and put the onus and blame for your lack of interest on their creators while you continue to celebrate, appreciate, and produce content about the same creators’ male characters. It’s certainly not enough to reblog a few of those gifsets of female characters who fit the “woman-positive” quote of the month; that’s literally appreciation-through-template. If the kind of female character you want to read about does not exist in the canon, focus your fannish efforts into fostering rich, woman-positive fanon. Discard your reductive checklists of “what makes a ~good, ~~strong female character.” Look at the character how she is, and build from there. By all means, keep critiquing creators who fall short or don’t make an effort. Call out their mistreatment of their female characters, but separate their failures from the female characters themselves. Take those female characters, and show them the consideration they deserve through your fic, art, meta, RP-ing, or however it is you participate in fandom: look for woman-positive fanworks and comment on them, reblog them, recommend them to your friends, etc. There is always something you can do, no matter what kind of fan you are.
At its best, fandom can uplift. Using the creator’s failures with respect to their female characters as an excuse to dismiss them is nowhere near a valid defense from a fan who wants woman-positive media when the power to create, seek out, and foster that kind of media is at your fingertips, whether on this site or from creators. Be an active consumer, have higher standards, and extend female characters the consideration you criticize their creators for failing to invest in them.
A few more considerations:
- Criticizing creators for their failures with their female characters, then focusing all your attention on male characters yourselves through fandom creates a vicious cycle wherein we bring the problems we call out in media into fandom, creating a male-dominated, female-critical/negative space where we can create a space that celebrates women and combats misogyny and sexism with more than just criticism instead.
- In an age where creators are more involved and in touch with fandom and social media than ever and they can see what fans love and focus their attentions on most, in many cases while they’re actively in the process of creating new content for their works…it is a very good idea to celebrate women in addition to offering critical feedback so that fan-conscious creators can 1) fix problematic writing going forward and 2) incorporate what we demonstrate we love and want to see more of into their work so that we, their fans, will be satisfied consumers.
- There’s a valid argument out there about the different responsibilities older fans and younger fans have; rather, that younger fans must have woman-positive content handed to them early to combat and prevent misogyny from being internalized. To that I say: hand them that woman-positive content through fandom and fanon. This is especially necessary because a lot of younger fans flock to whatever is most accessible and most popular for their age group, i.e. through mainstream media or “mainstream fandom,” which are not the best sources of anti-misogynistic/anti-sexist/anti-racist/anti-homophobic/anti-transphobic content. Write positively about women in your fic, even and especially if it’s m/m fic; recommend woman-positive fic, art, and source materials; reblog meta about women, and especially meta that celebrates women. Don’t just call out problems surrounding fictional women, which is crucial, but give them alternative sources where they can find positive and diverse representation of women.