Women don’t write fandom history?

January 18th, 2009 by Laura Leave a reply »

Fan History’s sports section is pretty awful. Really awful. It is downright pitiful. And that’s really sad as I’m a huge sports nut and I know my Chicago Cubs sports fandom history fairly well. I and Fan History’s other admins have just not invested time in improving it because really, sometimes, why bother?

Sports fandom has traditionally been dominated by guys and they’ve done a lot to document the history of fans. Heck, there is a whole cottage history dedicated to documenting the thuggery that goes down in soccer (football) fandom. This academic work has traditionally been done by guys. It is really well done.

Media fandom has traditionally been dominated by women and they haven’t done much to document the history of fans. There have been a few things done here and there but most of the research focuses on the product itself. If fans are looked at, it is from perspective of how they interact with the product rather than how fans interact with each other. It is totally different from sports fandom. So women aren’t writing fandom history and aren’t writing the history of their own communities.

Of course, this could be something that isn’t a gender issue. It could be a product issue. In sports fandom that tends to be historically dominated by guys, the product and fans aren’t really separate; they share an identity. You can’t really talk about the Chicago Cubs with out talking about its fans. (And if you’re a Sox fan talking about the Cubs, you can’t do it with out slagging on us.) Sports owners encourage that and really crank out the merchandise so fans can brand themselves as fans of a team. Our culture totally supports that by having “Support your team dress day!” type days at work. My local Jewel does that when the Green Bay Packers play the Chicago Bears and employees are encouraged to support their team. Sports fandom also continues on and on. Teams generally don’t collapse/disappear over night and many have histories that are 20+ years old. They have a product you can get behind and have the time to get behind as the background for your life.

Media fandom is different. The producers frequently don’t encourage that sort of relationship with the source. In a number of cases, they treated their most loyal fans as thieves or belittled them, telling them to get a life. When we think of Harry Potter and Twilight, most people outside of fandom don’t immediately think of the canon as batshit insane because the fans are batshit are insane. Most fans aren’t flaunting their relationship with the show in a way that a whole town could relate to and have special dress days for. Media fandom’s products also lack the time lasting factor. When Sex and the City went off the air, women picked a different show to watch or found another way to identify.

So women generally aren’t writing fandom history. There are a few notable exceptions. Fan History is one but our major contributors early on came from spaces dominated by guys or from educational backgrounds where the approach more systematic, quantitative, regimented. Some of the other exceptions came out of competition with other women.

Will this pattern radically change ever? Probably not. Women might write sports fandom history (And they do. Some have found walls that their sisters in media fandom haven’t encountered because of their gender.)  but they will probably remain in the minority for a long time. Women are so closely identified with media fandom and the source code has those identity issues that I see it as a huge barrier to overcome, and that won’t ever be overcome in terms of similar participation by men in sports fandom history documenting.

  • sidewinder_FH

    Hmm. I do wonder what are the biggest factors in this: if it's gender, product, or the simple scope and size of a given product's fandom. The more people in a fandom, the more likely *someone* is going to eventually document that fandom's history in some form or fashion. And the simple fact of the matter is most active media fandoms are dwarfed in size by sports fandoms (Think about it: if you held the biggest, most fabulous Star Wars event to take place in 20-30 years, would you draw the crowds of people who showed up and basically shut down a city for *days* like when the Phillies won the world series? Do you have radio stations in every major metropolitan market devoted to 24-hour discussion of media/sci-fi fandoms the way you have sports radio? Of course, I know some might argue that you would if the mass media wasn't so male-dominated, and that's when it gets into a whole chicken-before-the-egg argument...)

    So while there are women who have documented aspects of fandom history--and specifically fannish history vs. just the product/media--it's on a much smaller scale, I'd say. Things like the Star Trek fanzines collecting historic fan-fiction and interviews with some of the leading authors who'd written in that fandom. Or like the fanzine I'm currently working to compile collecting stories from Police fans and their experiences on the reunion tour. But there are things that make you wonder, I mean...while the two main administrators at PoliceWiki are two women, the primary contributor as far as acutal data and content is...a male fan.

    Go figure?

  • I should really talk to you about that Police project and how you might want to do that. I sort of have a thought but I lack the cash to do it. :/

    I'm not certain why women aren't writing fandom history more either. :/ I think we see a lot more women willing to document wank but they move on really fast and aren't always doing it for the permanence. Bitch Magazine is one of the few places I've seen where they look at history of fandom. There seemed to be more when it was a zine tradition and people compiled lists of all fanzines ever published for a fandom. (I really wish Fan History had more of that going on.) There was Verba's Boldly writing. Some of that might just not get the attention that sports fandom gets because every new season seems to be reason to celebrate that history again. And big fandom events, like the disco riot for one of the Chicago baseball season is another reason to celebrate and get fans to the ballpark. And you have people who create songs about their teams. If I created a song like Eddie Vedder' rel="nofollow noopener">, it might be laughed at, belittled and would hardly be embraced by whatever media property as an anthem for their show or book.

    Just a confusing issue. :/ (And we need to improve our sports section. The whole thing is a mess.)

  • sidewinder_FH

    I'm probably going the Lulu or other self-publishing route on the book. There is someone else (in a better position than I) working on a more professional history of The Flag within Police/Stewart fandom; mine is strictly a fannish record that, if nothing else, I'd like to have done in time for MediaWest this year.

    The syndrome of the Fannish Butterfly is certainly an issue in media fandom, I think. You have a few stalwarts these days who stick with their primary fandoms for years/decades, put the work into recording and indexing their histories, but most people just seem to flit from one shiny object/fandom to the next, following the crowd. Is it that the product is more "disposable" these days? Possibly. Either that or we just have short attention spam syndrome. My "primary" fandom has been my primary fandom since 1985, so...there you go. And if you look at sports fandom, those who jump from one team fandom to the next are derided as "bandwagon jumpers". It's an entirely different mindset.

    But it also should be mentioned that there can be a lot of resistance to accepting women in sports fandom too, as you did bring up. It seems a common stereotype that if you're a straight woman, the only reason you're interested in sports is when your boyfriend/male significant other is around. And I will admit that most of my knowledge of sports has come from the men in my life: my grandfather, who I used to religiously watch football with as a child, and now my fiance, who has taken the time to explain the dynamics of offensive and defensive playing in football and baseball in a way that has made it much more interesting to me. So it's more...it's not, I don't think, that we aren't less inclined to be fannish about sports than men are; we just, as women, don't have people "mentor" us into sports fandom as much. Mentoring is--or at least, used to be--a huge part of getting women into media/science fiction fandom, much more so than with sports (because that was what fathers introduced to their sons, I guess.)

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