Commissioned Essay: From a feminist perspective, has MLP:FIM changed the world?

Commissioned Essays are similar to the Elements of Harmony series in that they are commissioned by backers of my Kickstarter campaigns. However, they can be about any FIM-related topic, not just character studies. This essay was commissioned by a backer of My Little Po-Mo volume 2. Which is now on sale! See the Books page for details.

Sometimes, I look back at some of the things I wrote last year, when this project was new and my interaction with the fandom still in the honeymoon phase, and I cringe. There was a time when I believed that bronies actually might take to heart the principles presented in the show, might actually work toward building a more tolerant and caring world, and most importantly might actually accept that women are human beings.

I was so young and naive when I was only 32.

Hardly a week has gone by this year in which I do not see some example of misogyny, transphobia, or homophobia in the brony Facebook groups to which I belong. Anti-feminist and anti-“social justice warrior” sentiments are common. I have seen rape apologia and anti-abortion screeds, free and flippant use of derogatory terms for LGBT people, jokes about rape, defenses of people who joke about rape, defenses of the wage gap–the list goes on.

Today, as I write this, the most prominent intersection of feminist issues and pop culture at the moment is probably GamerGate, a campaign of harassment against women in and associated with the video game industry which has failed to convince anyone other than some of its own members that it has anything to do with journalistic ethics. Earlier today, feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian, one of the people targeted most by GamerGate harassment, tweeted about a death threat she received:

An October 25, 2014 tweet by Anita Sarkeesian.

Note the username of the person who sent the death threat. He’s clearly a brony. Of course the instinctive response of many bronies on having this pointed out will almost certainly be the same as with the convention molestation accusations: simply deny that it happened, because bronies have, as a group, a pathological inability to accept criticism or self-police. “Oh, he’s just pretending to be a brony because people think bronies are misogynists.”

Leave aside for the moment that that explanation makes no sense, he is making death threats against a woman he calls a “feminazi whore,” and therefore quite clearly doesn’t think being seen as a misogynist is a problem. Consider instead why bronies have a reputation for misogyny. The reason is the same as why GamerGate has that reputation: because a large enough number of bronies engage in misogynistic activity, and a small enough number try to stop or criticize them, to make it clear to outsiders that most bronies are either misogynistic or don’t care enough to oppose the misogynists.

And yet it isn’t true that Friendship Is Magic has failed to change the world, because the bronies are and have always been a sideshow, a demographically interesting distraction from the real spell the show is casting.

The Friendship Is Magic my little niece has been watching since she was two years old has storytelling, characterization, comedy, action, animation, design, and acting as good as or better than any other cartoon on the air, and from that she’s learning to expect that shows made for her will be as good as shows made for boys. In turn, from that she’s learning that she deserves as good as boys get.

The Friendship Is Magic my niece has been watching since she was two show women filling every role in society, from positions of political power to assistant bakers. It shows them in traditionally feminine roles like animal care and fashion, and traditionally masculine roles like stunt flying and research, and without making a big deal about it–without suggestion that there is a big deal to be made–gladly accepts all of them as normal. It depicts a wide variety of women with varied interests, goals, behavioral quirks, and personalities, and never suggests that any of them are more or less feminine than any other. It depicts a world in which people perform their gender in whatever manner they choose, and no one ever questions it or tries to apply restrictive norms about what is or isn’t “feminine” or “masculine.”

And because she is so very young, and because her family tries not to display or normalize the opposing, sexist attitude, she is very likely to internalize this view of the world. It will be challenged greatly as she gets older. Other girls will police her if she doesn’t conform to their standards of femininity. Boys will objectify her. Marketers will try to make her a sex object the moment she’s old enough to start dressing herself. But, critically, she will know, because brightly colored cartoon ponies taught her, that this is wrong.

She and hundreds of thousands of girls like her. Just statistically, some will fight back.

So yes, Friendship Is Magic has changed the world. We’re just going to have to wait a couple of decades before the change becomes visible.

One thought on “Commissioned Essay: From a feminist perspective, has MLP:FIM changed the world?

  1. And yes, I certainly notice the bigotries that are about as unaddressed there as anywhere else… but I also notice (and take part in) the now-annual charity drives and albums and so on, that have raised piles of money for good causes, and donated literal centuries of processor time to distributed-computing projects that cure diseases, design clean energy solutions and determine protein shapes (at least one of those projects personally thanked us for helping them complete years ahead of schedule).

    That doesn't for a moment make up for the problems. But in many ways it does count as “changing the world,” if not necessarily from that perspective (and perspective is what counts).

    As you mentioned in your “Over a Barrel” review, affecting an immediate large-scale sweeping societal change just isn't what this show is cut out for anyway.

    Like

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