Is This Gender Equality In Fandom?

Gender equality in fandom culture has been an issue since before we even used the term “fandom” to describe the community that surrounds a particular movie/game/series/etc. Video games have been largely marketed toward males since the '80s, and the same is true of genres such as science fiction throughout the late 20th century. That gender bias is also seen in the creation of female characters that exist purely to appeal to heterosexual men and is often unnecessarily sexualized, if not by the writers, then certainly by the fans. Even media that did not need to have sex appeal would still often feature “something for the dads.”

In recent years, the media has increased its focus on gradual improvements in the writing of Strong Female Characters™, but at the same time, some writers have also been shifting toward another form of equality — sexualizing male characters like females were in the past.

This is not entirely a new concept. In the '60s, there was a plethora of female-written slash fiction — fan fiction generally focused on non-canon same-sex relationships between characters — based on "Star Trek" — to the point where “K/S,” short for “Kirk/Spock,” became practically synonymous with a slash. The difference in recent years is that such things have become practically mainstream.

Where we had an unrealistically busty Lara Croft, we now have Marvel's shirtless Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes. Instead of just male viewers sexualizing the first TV shows with bare breasts, we now have male genitalia unapologetically on display in "Game Of Thrones."

And this has become even more prevalent in fandom culture. As movements like feminism and gay rights have made progress, it has become more accepted in fandoms for people to sexualize male characters. It is common nowadays to find people "shipping" — or endorsing relationships of — "Harry Potter's" Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, BBC "Sherlock's" Sherlock Holmes and John Watson or any combination of Marvel's Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson.

On many social media platforms, there has been an increase in people talking about new male characters in their respective fandoms, as well as big-name celebrities, such as Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch, in ways historically associated with heterosexual men talking about women. Nintendo's recent live-streamed preview of "The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild" even featured a segment with a (female) commentator going on about being able to undress Link, the game's male protagonist, and make him fight in his underwear. A male commentator making such remarks in a demo with a female protagonist would be immediately rebuked for sexism — and rightfully so.

Sex in media is not inherently bad, nor is sexualizing fictional characters where it makes sense, but I think it is important to differentiate types of equality when discussing social progress. It is a sign of progress that we, as a society, are now accepting enough of women's rights to express their sexualities that a woman can appreciate a male character on a major company's E3 live stream, but in some cases, the existence of such examples is used to divert attention from other forms of progress, such as creating options for playable female protagonists (in the case of "Breath Of The Wild," a female version of the main protagonist was created for a non-canon spin-off, but she has yet to make an appearance in the main series). Similarly, balancing the amount of male and female genitalia featured in "Game Of Thrones" is certainly a form of equality, but does that really make up for the number of shows in which male protagonists “get the girl” as, effectively, trophies for making it to the end of the plot?

In short, it is not 100 percent bad for fans or creators to subject male characters to some of the treatment female characters have historically received, but while that is a form of equality, it should not take priority over giving female characters some of the positive treatment male characters have historically received.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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