Sixteen Candles, and Why Fangirls Are Always Fighting: Conclusion

Conclusion: What to do, what to do?

A conclusion for this is very hard to write. Probably because this started out as a rant on my computer because I couldn’t watch the Kavanaugh hearings any longer without wanting to hit someone, and I happened upon Grady’s article as they were happening, so I didn’t really plan one at first. But, of course, there’s always a way forward, and there are two problems: the harassment and bias, and problematic media by creatives who don’t know any better.

Jack’s solution to the rampant harassment on twitter? Get rid of the like button. Clearly, he’ll be no help

Tackling the harassment and abuse seems like a thorny task, because at the end of the day you’re dealing with people who don’t have the home training not to send abuse to people online. And seeing as the places with the worst abuse and most misogynistic attitudes have irritatingly laissez-faire attitudes to policing the abusive behaviour of their users, it gets more difficult. Then there’s the fact that harassers usually know what they’re doing is wrong and don’t care – maybe we really do need a toxic fanboy documentary. The people in charge of the fandom spaces in which these attitudes fester should do some basic research on misogyny, and not let people displaying that behaviour feel comfortable in a space that you created. Ban them, block them, whatever – just make sure their abuse isn’t welcome. Quite frankly, everyone with any kind of platform should call this kind of behaviour out, but I’m sometimes wary of that because some of them really do just crave attention. And, as the people with the most power, the TV networks, movie studios, and Hollywood executives who are so quick to congratulate themselves for diversity and inclusion (read: all of them) should endeavour to support the people who receive all kinds of abuse from people on the internet just because they play a fictional character or work for them in some capacity. We all know it’s happening, and ignoring it isn’t making it go away. Unlike people like Chuck Wendig, who apparently was fired for calling out harassment, nobody can argue that the people with the power are concerned about their jobs if they rock the boat. The buck – literally and figuratively – stops with you.

Despite rampant fanboy tears, both Ep VII & VIII made over a billion dollars.

(And pay no attention to the people complaining that you have infringed upon their free speech or that they’ll “NEVER WATCH YOUR SHOW AGAIN!!!111!!1!” Star Wars caused some of the most spectacular fanboy meltdowns in history, but despite the dramatics about too many women and too much melanin, both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi made more than a billion dollars. They aren’t going anywhere and they know it, which is why they’re so upset).

As for the creatives themselves? The only advice I can give is what I have shouted about before, what I shouted about some more after that, and what I strongly suspect I shall be shouting about for the foreseeable future: writer’s rooms need more women, and they especially need more minority women. We need more female directors, more female executives, more women everywhere, from the boardrooms to the PA desks. I cannot stress this enough, and it is literally the easiest solution to a very glaring problem. More perspectives will not only help your TV shows and movies feel fresh, having women of different backgrounds will help with any harmful tropes or cliches. And putting it frankly, if you’re hiring women to act on your shows, especially women of colour, but not putting them in your writers rooms, on your sets, or in your companies, you’re not saying that you’re committed to better representation. You’re saying that you know diversity makes you money, but you don’t actually care about the people whose stories you’re telling. Just saying.

Another point I made in a previous article: listen to a wide range of fans. And I don’t just mean the ones yelling on Twitter. I mean seek out non-mainstream review sites because, again, the vast majority of mainstream sites are spearheaded by white men, and the comic book ones especially tend to all just echo each other. A wider pool of critique will help you figure out whether you’re doing more harm than good.

Hollywood loves to humanise villainous men, so it’s no surprise society rushes to forgive real villains.

Also, executives: produce more shows about women, or at the very least, show women with deep, enriching storylines. Show them as detectives, as superheroes, as media moguls, as all of it. Hollywood’s sexism problem isn’t just in the way women are treated at work, it’s in Hollywood’s insistence on producing shows that humanise cruel, selfish, or violent men – vices that we overlook because they’re “brilliant.” They’re highly intelligent, or they’re really good at advertising, or maybe they’re a mobster/drug dealer/serial killer, or any of the other immoral men that male audiences get to see themselves as without any of the ramifications. I’m not taking anything away from the quality of these shows, but it’s no big surprise that society is quick to grant misbehaving men second chances when we’ve grown up with media that has men commit deplorable acts and then spend hours upon hours convincing audiences to empathise with them because the poor things can’t help it or they’re just trying to protect their families or, like, they’re secretly soft and gooey in their centres. It’s not hard to see the link. Meanwhile, the number of women with speaking roles has actually gone down since the 2016-2017 broadcast season. Nobody needs another show about a middle-aged genius male detective who manages to sleep with every attractive woman he comes across while investigating the grisly deaths of prostitutes. We have seen them all. We are tired.

Finally, a point to both creators and fans, and the middlemen: when someone calls you sexist, listen. When someone says that an episode or a scene in a movie or your comments in a reaction video were misogynistic, listen. Do not immediately stomp your foot and complain about people pulling the “sexism card” (which functions in a similar way to its cousin, the “racism card,” being that only ignorant people can see them) to ruin your fun. We are not saying this to move the gum in our mouths around, we’re saying it because your thinking has a very real effect on our lives. Furthermore, learning about all this stuff in more detail will give weight behind your creations. Female-positive representation isn’t achieved by ticking boxes that say “has a gun,” “says some witty one-liners,” and “badass” – you need to accurately study what it is that was lacking before, what positive representation means for different women, and learning why those stereotypes exist in the first place Yes, it requires hard work, but if you say you’re committed to good representation for women, you need to do the work and find what women want.

Having said all of that, I do have to admit that things aren’t all bad. First of all, as vile as the toxic people on the internet can be, they are by no means the norm, only a very vocal minority. A persistent, poisonous minority, but a minority nonetheless. Besides which, all of this complaining is only an indication that all of the effort Hollywood is putting forth to make our media more inclusive is working. The Star Wars fans who are upset that the franchise is no longer fronted purely by white men with a lone white woman in the background are upset because something they love is being made more accessible to people who don’t look like them, and it makes them uncomfortable that they’re not the centre of the universe anymore – which means that their choices are to stop watching or suck it up. They think Star Wars belongs to them and they don’t want to change, so they’ve taken the third option of thinking that if they complain loud enough, they’ll get people to change. Which – hello? More than a billion dollars. And they are by no means the only fans who have taken to throwing tantrums in the face of change. (Pro-tip: if they’re hard to spot, look for the obnoxious fans who start petitions to force creators to change their stories or get women fired).

Candice Patton’s Iris West has won praise, as Black women are often defined by how much suffering they can take.

Furthermore, fangirls aren’t always complaining about this stuff, and creators are attempting to give us more things to be happy about. We praise The Bold Type because they destroy the idea that women must be in competition for success, and in Jacqueline’s mentor relationship with the girls, tells us that women can be heroes for other women – particularly apt in light of the 53% of white women who voted for a sexual abuser and women who believe women except for when they don’t. We celebrate Iris West on The Flash because she is a Black woman who is allowed to show vulnerability, is a romantic heroine, and refreshingly flies against Hollywood’s obsession with Black pain because her humanity isn’t tied to how much suffering she can take, which results in very real mental health problems for Black women. We adore shows like Killing Eve because they show that women can be as violent, as villainous, as complicated, and as messy as men can – and humanises them the entire way through. And for mentioning Eve’s (Sandra Oh) race without making it her entire character. We love Anissa Pierce on Black Lightning and are looking forward to Kate Kane on Batwoman because I know nobody is going to kill these lesbians. Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians’ success speaks for itself. And I would be remiss in leaving out Jane the Virgin, which tackles issues like abortion, immigration, single parenthood, religion, and feminism, all in a Latinx family fronted by three women. What’s more, we like doing those things. Who doesn’t love telling someone their art is loved and appreciated?

More of this, please.

There are many ways use your voice to support marginalised people and fight structural inequality, even in entertainment. I am that person who moves books by people of colour – especially women of colour – to the front of Waterstones so more people see them. Shows like On My Block and One Day at a Time get played when I need background noise while I work so that Netflix knows people like those shows. And anytime a movie I want to see doesn’t have a premise that basically boils down to “Impossible White Man 2: Electric Boogaloo,” tickets are preordered weeks in advance; if I can afford it, I’ll see it more than once. Even though one of the unfortunate consequences of social media is that it has allowed the aforementioned abuse and harassment to happen unabated, we can’t forget that it has given power to marginalised voices where it hasn’t before. The internet, and social media specifically, is an equaliser when it comes to speaking truth to power. That’s one of the reasons, for example, many minority women, while supporting Rose McGowan, didn’t take part in #WomenBoycottTwitter – because their voices have historically been suppressed in comparison to everyone else’s. Women – most importantly, women are aren’t white, straight, cisgender, and middle-class – have voices now, and it’s the only way we can make sure we aren’t trampled underfoot by a status quo that doesn’t prioritise us.

And, look, I don’t expect all media to be perfect, and I certainly don’t expect everyone on the internet to become perfectly socially conscious, because that’s impossible. I’m also not expecting people to stop enjoying media that has problematic aspects of it. All I’m asking is that people become aware of the problem, and take steps, no matter how small, to do better.

Nothing that creatives produce is without incident or consequence, and the abusive behaviour of entitled fans online reveals just how much rape culture and misogyny permeates society at all levels – as well as racism, homophobia, transphobia, and general assholery. Grady’s article points out that Sixteen Candles encapsulates how people thought about rape back in the 1980s, but just because we’ve moved on from that doesn’t mean there aren’t still harmful tropes that normalise misogyny in our media, or that people don’t still think like that. Women fight about this stuff on the internet because it affects how we’re seen in society, so while we’d all much rather confine our fighting to arguments about who would win in a fight between Okoye and Black Widow (it’s Okoye), until things get better, us fangirls are going to be fighting for a little while longer.