Between the Lines: Fandom Spaces and Problematic Behaviour

Last week, I was told that I was reducing serious problems to shipper noise, so this week I’m back to address the real problems. (Which I was going to do anyway, but whatever.) I stand by my earlier statement: it isn’t that there is no problematic behavior in fandom spaces, or that there is no bigoted discrimination in fan interactions or in the stories writers choose to tell, but it is that our definition of problematic is skewed. It is set in a way that makes us the victims of marginalization, even when we aren’t. And trust me when I say I know marginalization.

I recently read a paper on the manufacturing of victims in the psychology industry, and how we find ourselves victimized too easily. The entire paper felt politically incorrect –but only because it was painfully honest. It’s been a week since my last article on fandom spaces, and I’ve realized one thing: most of us don’t understand the root cause of our anger when we say we are upset about representation or problematic behavior.

Problematic behavior is bigotry: sexism, misogyny, homophobia, religious discrimination, ableism, racism, and the rest. It is undeniable that these things do exist in fandom, that most of the main characters on TV shows are white, able-bodied, upper middle class adults of questionable morality.

It isn’t an opinion that most of mainstream television uses exhausted tropes and dances upon them, tweaks and twists age-old stereotypes to create glorified reincarnations of them, a lousily placed Band-Aid on a gushing wound with an overenthusiastic, “Ta-da! We fixed it!” It is true that it is underlying bigotry that makes these writers feel like they’re doing us a service by writing us half-assed attempts at representation. This is all objective fact: our televisions and theater screens have yet to understand intersectionality and representation. There’s no question that we have a long way to go.

And when it comes to demanding better representation, and fighting discrimination, I would never suggest that we stop. We have, actually, barely begun. We have every right to ask for better, for nuance, for something that is better than what we get. But there’s a way to do it, I think, a way to demand, a way to expect. If I’m being completely honest, I don’t know what that way is. I’ve been asked a few times, and it strikes me that my answer is always the same: conversation.

It is conversation that is the foundation of any type of progression, conversation that builds communication that builds communities that builds a new generation of storytellers, a new wave of media. But the problem is that until we learn to decipher the differences between actually problematic behaviour and behaviour we disagree with, we will never reach a solution, we will not be able to break the great wall between us and what we want to see.

At the moment, the problem is not that we all want different things, but the problem is that no one wants to work together to create something better.

I need to clarify here that I am not telling people to become passive. I am not asking that we stop speaking out when we see injustice done to us or others in terms of representational stories, or that we step away from heated discussions, but I do say that we pick our battles. That we respect the rights of others to pick their battles and that we all, collectively, get off our high horses and realize that to speak out is a privilege not everyone can afford. When I suggest that we lower our voices, not yell so much, what I mean to say is that sometimes the loudest people are the ones who have no idea what they are talking about, so let’s lower our voices. Step back, and think first: do we know what we are fighting for? When we say that we stand for a particular community, do we really represent what is in their best interest?

And if we are leaders of a certain community, then is it not upon us to learn to speak diplomatically, to use words that are powerful enough without degrading language, without the need to point fingers, without the need to become angry, linguistically violent and aggressive? I am aware that I sound ridiculously naïve when I say that anger will not help us here, although anger is what drives us.

I am not saying that we have no rights to be angry, or that we have no right to express that anger. What I mean is that we must choose the least destructive ways to express that anger, and that we must first understand what is meant by harmful problematic behaviour. We must step back and excuse the overused analogy, but look at our black-and-white-morality and realize that the world, despite what we think, is grayscale.

I don’t know how to combat the bigotry in fandoms, I really don’t. All I can suggest is a certain type of conversation: one that is fueled by anger but is not angry, awareness that we cannot change the world, but that we should still be trying. And if anyone else knows another way to do this, please tell me.

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