The problem with us, as beings with some kind of moral consciousness, is that we think our morality is better than everyone else’s. Whether we mean to or not, we stand taller when we feel as though somebody made a mistake we didn’t. But that’s what they are, right, just mistakes? At some point in fandom history, it seems as though blowing mistakes out of proportion has become the norm.
If you’ve been on Tumblr, or even Twitter, in the past couple of years, you know what I’m talking about. There has been a recent policing over how different fans engage with fandom, how everyone reacts to canon, and the problem here isn’t people’s sensitivities or preferences. The problem here is the policing of the sensitivities and preferences of other people. And to an equal degree, the in insensitivity to other’s sensitivities. It is true that even in fandom spaces, we have some degree of responsibility over how we engage with other people. There are some things that aren’t okay, no matter where you do them (off the top of my hat, harassment, death threats, purposefully hurting or triggering someone to be spiteful…).
However, one of the advantages of being in a fandom online is the ability to control our environments. This is something we can’t do in real life! We can’t choose who we see, how long we see them for, and what we hear. We are exposed to everything, even the things that make us uncomfortable or unhappy. I believe that we have the rights to expect our fandoms to be safe for us, but I also believe that we have to take every step possible to ensure we are protecting ourselves, without demanding that everyone else be monitoring their behaviour for us.
I think we forget that internet socializing isn’t much different from socializing in real life, unless we take advantage of it, to its fullest capacity. It has become easier than ever to censor what we see. There are tags, and tag blockers, and plenitudes of software that can help you turn your dashboard into a place for you to feel safe, without expecting anyone else to be responsible for it. I mean, the block button has been there for ages, if nothing else. The problem here is that we refuse to take control of our situations, because it requires too much work.
It’s easier to sit down and moan about how something harmed us, without ever stopping to think how we could have avoided the situation. I feel it’s important to step back here for a disclaimer, I don’t mean avoiding the situation in the sense of seeing something actually inappropriate (pedophilia, any form of racism, sexism, or bigoted behavior, etc) and turning a blind eye. I’m talking about where we blur the lines between fact and fiction and start punishing (calling-out) people on their fandom preferences as though it truly reflects their political alignments, their stance on social issues or their personal beliefs.
I understand how it may sometimes feel as though we only watch the shows or read the books that reflect our understandings of the world, but maybe we need to step back and think about whether that’s true. The truth is that fiction is fiction, and truly problematic behaviour isn’t when you ship an unpopular couple on a TV show. It may be tempting to call it that, for reasons like the male character encapsulates every jerky white man, that the storylines are personally disturbing for us, or because of any other personal reason. But we have to think in a broader perspective, don’t we?
It’s difficult. I know, and I agree. Our stories are not everyone’s stories, and that is the simple truth of it. Our preferences are not the responsibility of other people, and neither are our triggers or our traumas, and I know that is a harder truth to hear. Fandom cannot afford to give each and every fan that consideration, though we all have the responsibility to try. Creating safe spaces is a two-way road, it is a matter of respecting other’s spaces, respecting yourself, and carrying out conversations in a civilized manner.
Too often we step into fandom and forget how to carry ourselves. We are still talking to people, who have ideas and preferences different from ours, and we can’t call them out on that. What we can do, and again, this is something we are privileged in being able to control, is safeguarding ourselves against the things we can’t, or don’t want to see. It’s a two-way road. We need to start meeting in the middle, and if we need to find a road that forks in the middle and ends up in two completely different places, that’s good too.
More importantly, though, we need to stop expecting other people to be responsible for us, which differs completely from expecting them to be responsible for themselves. So, the question is, are we taking responsibility for ourselves?