Pony thought of the day: Why bronies bother people

The next My Little Po-Mo post will be a few hours late due to circumstances I will never reveal. However, I’d like to debut a new feature of the blog: Pony thought of the day! These are just pony=related thoughts of mine. Sometimes they’ll be serious comments about the show or fandom, sometimes they’ll be things that I’m curious about, and sometimes they’ll just be silly, but the plan is to have one up every day that I don’t have a new episode deconstruction.

Today’s thought: Bronies produce a strong reaction from many people outside the fandom, from the incredulous tone of media articles to the sometimes intense antipathy one encounters in YouTube and blog comments. It’s not just that adults are watching a children’s show–large adult followings for Avatar: The Last Airbender, the D.C. Animated Universe, and Pokémon never attracted this much attention. Nor is it that the show has cross-gender appeal–again, not much media response to the popularity of AtLA among girls in addition to its intended boys, though it was enough to prompt the creation of the character Toph to appeal to young female fans (who, ironically, was then more popular with boys).

If you read the articles, it’s more specific than that: it’s that adult men are enjoying a show for young girls. We live in a society that constantly sexualizes women, especially young women, while also suggesting that some things are inherently for women, others are inherently for men, and the latter are always better: Men will sometimes be gently mocked for being too enthusiastic about football, but football itself is still usually presented as worthwhile and entertaining; a woman who likes ballet or musicals is nearly always represented as dragging her male companions to something boring and incomprehensible. We also live in a society that implicitly regards sex as something men do to women, instead of something people do together; the assumption is that men want, and women are wanted.

Thus, for a woman to like something intended for boys is assumed to be innocent except by the most strident gender police: it’s only natural for boy-things to be better than girl-things, and most people don’t assume a prurient interest in women saying that an underage male character is cute. For men to like something intended for girls, however, trips alarms for many people, even some who have managed to resist most of society’s sexist programming. The assumption is that the man already has access to superior boy-entertainment, so what reason is there to enjoy girl-entertainment? That’s where the attitude that men pursue sex comes in: people assume it must be sexual.

Of course, it doesn’t help that a small minority of bronies do have a sexual interest, but it’s a very small minority that’s actually easier to ignore than their equivalent in a lot of other fandoms.

I leave you with this image, which I’d love to credit but I have no idea where it’s from (Sailor Moon, obviously, but who added the text?):

4 thoughts on “Pony thought of the day: Why bronies bother people

  1. My personal “problem” with bronies stems from
    the visceral feeling that by taking their appreciation for a show and turning it into a thing, they are appropriating one of the few shows not aimed at them and, well, making it about them. Basically, I don't particularly trust male geeks not to collectively try and convince the world that the show should cater to them, or that they won't try to use it to reinforce sexist narratives (see: the idea that crying is MANLY) and shut out that original audience. And I definitely don't trust a company like Hasbro not to shift gears to cater exclusively to bronies if they ever get to think they can get away with this–if I'm reading your recaps correctly, this has happened already to a noticeable degree throughout the show.

    Now, I have no idea if the reality matches this idea I have in my head. In the end, I don't care enough about the matter to actually check and see if it is indeed easier to find Friendship Is Magic shirts for adult men than it is to find them for the actual primary audience of girls (or heck, adult women). What's more, while one person does not a fandom make, I *do* have a solid counter-factual in you. So, until more information falls into my lap, bronies occupy the same mental realm as dubstep–it'd be easier to like or dislike if I had a clue what it was.

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  2. You make an interesting point.

    My first response is that I think your concerns about appropriation are misplaced so long as bronies don't try to take control of the actual show or disrupt events aimed at child fans. Basically, I'm of the view that appropriation is only problematic if it causes harm to the people being appropriated from, and as a general rule the target audience isn't aware that bronies exist. As I discussed in my “Friendship Is Alchemy” series of posts, the show did take some false steps in that direction, but recovered and reversed itself, and found a way to be both an excellent show for kids, especially young girls, and a good show for adults.

    Also, I should have been clearer in the OP that I am talking about the popular conception of bronies. The truth is, while bronies are definitely a subgroup of geeks, they are not as overwhelmingly male as most such groups; most of the DC brony meetups I've been to are about 40% women, and when I do brony panels at cons the majority of the audience is usually women.

    Of course, there are bronies who try to appropriate or make the show “manly” or otherwise do stupid things in an attempt to reconcile their fraught masculinity with enjoying the show. In general they're a minority, however; most of the male bronies I have encountered engage the show in a way that subverts the kyriarchy and makes them better allies for feminimism, as opposed to subverting the show to enforce sexist narratives. (Hasbro is doing that just fine on their own, lately.)

    For the record, it is easier to find FIM shirts in adult sizes than child sizes… but only if you include gray-market sources. If you want something officially licensed, it's almost all child sizes.

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  3. So “brony” is now basically (if not originally) a catch-all term referring to older Friendship is Magic fans, then? Good to know: I don't want to be laboring under misconceptions any longer than I have to, and it clarifies quite a bit–I was just thinking that the female segments of the adult fandom just went by “fans”. While the semantic drift isn't surprising, it does make me wonder at what point the term stops being useful as a descriptor, and becomes essentially synonymous with “the fandom”, about which no general statements outside “likes ponies” can be accurately made. In any case, thank you for the clarification. :)

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  4. The term “pegasister” is sometimes also used to identify an adult woman who likes MLP:FIM. My fiancee describes herself as a brony, however, so I use the term as gender-neutral despite the derivation.

    Personally, I use the term “brony” more or less the same way I use “otaku” for anime fandom or “geek” for any other fandom. A fan is someone who enjoys the media in question; a geek/otaku/brony is someone for whom the media in question are an important part of their identity.

    To use an example from another medium, I'm a fan of Oscar Wilde–I enjoy his work, but my life would be pretty much the same if I'd never read it; I can imagine someone who doesn't like Wilde, but is otherwise exactly like me. I'm a Tolkien geek–I would not be who I am today if I hadn't read it, and I can't imagine a recognizable “me” who doesn't like Tolkien.

    The same goes for MLP–I am a different (and, I think, better) person for having watched it, thought about it, and participated in its fandom. That's why a lot of this blog is talking about its potentially transformative power; my own experience of it has been transformative.

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