Graphic by Julia Landy
The idea of gatekeeping, or a group of people controlling an entire entity, has become more widely known in recent years. This idea comes with larger, toxic behaviors seen in the communities and fandoms. Toxic behaviors can be a wide variety of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia.
With gatekeeping comes a movement of storytelling and speaking up against the issues that are seen in fandoms and on platforms like TikTok and Tumblr.
The biggest claim many of these “gatekeepers” make is that girls’ cannot like nerdy things like superheroes or space-action movies. Many male fans then make girls prove themselves with obscure trivia and having to have intense knowledge of the fandom, even if they have just a basic interest in the topic.
Despite its long lifespan, Star Wars’ fandom has transcended generations. With these generations, of course, comes more and more groups of toxic fans. Although toxic fans come with every fandom, Star Wars’ fan base has a very specific kind of toxic group that tends to direct most of the hate towards women.
The most widespread issue with the Star Wars fandom is the mistreatment and disrespect towards both female actors in the franchise and women in the fandom.
Rey and Princess Leia are two female Star Wars characters who have been particularly targeted. Many fans try to discredit Rey as a character and hate on her for unnecessary reasons. She is commonly called a ‘Mary Sue’.
Rey is not a unique example of a female protagonist being hated for being a ‘Mary Sue’. A Mary Sue is a character who is so perfect that they warp the world around them to display their perfection. Many had criticisms about her powers being seemingly too powerful considering the lack of information on it.
Fans quickly came to her defense, however, explaining how Rey’s character is extremely valuable and much more complex than she seems.
Sophomore Miguel Garcia has been in the Star Wars fandom for years. He has many personal experiences with hate directed at women in the franchise.
“Back in 2017 when ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ released in theaters, there were lots of criticisms with the character of Rose Tico played by Kelly Marie Tran. Most of these criticisms had to do with her lack of input to the plot and overall movie. I, for one, liked her character, along with my friends who I saw the movie with, and [we] defended her character from toxic fans’ criticisms. During these attempts I was insulted and told that I do not understand Star Wars despite being a lifelong fan” Garcia said.
Although some female characters are criticized for their character design and personality, many other women in the franchise are hyper-sexualized by people in the fandom. One can see the sexualization of these characters in obvious ways, such as sexy Halloween costumes and objectifying scenes in the movies, or in more subtle ways, such as the movies portraying women under the male gaze.
Princess Leia is one of the most sexualized characters in the franchise. Her iconic outfits and hairstyle have been edited and changed over time, becoming more and more risque as the years go on. Her character was constantly portrayed under the male gaze and was one of the only ‘strong women’ that was accepted due to her appearance.
“The sexualization of Leia Organa is one of the most common things that I have seen even to this day after the release of Return of the Jedi in 1983 and the tragic passing of Carrie Fischer in 2016,” Garcia said.
The hate towards women isn't exclusively for the characters either. Female fans in the fandom are constantly harassed and invalidated as Star Wars fans by people. They are commonly discredited as fans and are singled out by male fans as fake fans.
Women are targeted the most out of anyone in the Star Wars fandom, which could be due to the heavily male cast of characters and fanbase. It is difficult to break into the Star Wars fanbase due to the heavy gatekeeping present within it.
As gatekeeping and fandoms continue to grow throughout the film industry, female Marvel fans are learning how to cope with not being able to watch Marvel simply because they are a girl. As gatekeeping girls from watching is not the only thing fans have to cope with, fans also have to cope with cosplayers being told they cannot cosplay due to their race, gender and sexuality.
“It’s crazy how girls get criticized for liking Marvel as much as boys do, I still can’t understand why that would be,” freshman Amaris Ruddock said. “It’s also crazy that cosplayers can’t dress how they want due to their race, gender, and sexuality.”
In a story shared on Twitter and Tumblr, an angry mother that took her daughter to a Supercon convention in 2018 shared in a tweet that her daughter was stopped by an older man who asked her daughter if she knew anything about the Marvel character Doctor Who, who was portrayed on her shirt. The mother then saw the daughter’s reaction and reassured her daughter that she owes no explanation to the man.
“I think it’s sad girls get to judge for watching Marvel and other comics, girls should be able to watch whatever boys are able to watch,” freshman Lucas Ginsberg said.
When marvel fans dress up in marvel costumes, several of them get bashed on social media due to their race, gender and sexuality. In addition to this, multiple marvel fans have shown up to conventions with their best Marvel costumes to find out it was not worth all the preparation. Some people also have an issue with the explicitness of the marvel characters designed.
As cosplay continues to be a major problem among fans, fans have to deal with people claiming that if you cannot afford to collect or watch Marvel movies you are not a true supporter of Marvel.
As some fans continue fighting against gatekeeping and fandoms it continues to be a success with the girl’s squad movement. Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel is faced with carrying the Infinity Gauntlet from one end of the battlefield to another. When she needs backup Scarlet Witch, Valkyrie, Okoye, Mantis, Shuri, Hope van Dyne, Gamora, Nebula and Pepper Potts all come to help her. This represents a successful moment for most fans due to them waiting for an all-girls heroic moment for a long time.
“I think it’s amazing to see amazing strong women all standing together. Many fans of Marvel have been waiting forever to see this heroic moment and now it has come.” freshman Amaris Ruddock said.
The "Harry Potter" series still grows popular even as it ages, however, that does not mean that the fans do not see issues with the books. Many fans actively read the books and point out racism, anti-semetic and homophobic text and subtext. Photo by Mackenzie Quinn
In recent months, J.K. Rowling has posted various tweets that have been seen as problematic and transphobic. Many fans have started to analyze the text more and speak out against issues such as racism and antisemitism shown in the books.
However, like any fandom, there is still toxicity. Since there is now open discourse over the source material and the author, many fans have gotten into argument and become hateful towards other content creators on TikTok and in general.
There is one debate that continues since people began to cancel Rowling in the summer of 2020: death of the author. Death of the author is a concept revolving around ignoring the author and just focusing on the texts and fandom; however, some fans see issue with this because Rowling’s biases and prejudices are integrated into each of the works.
“You don’t have to agree with her to be part of the fandom.” Sawgrass Springs Middle School seventh-grader Lynda Dubrow said. “I think it’s really toxic of fans to go out and throw a complete fit about it.”
Every fandom has its issues, even cartoons and anime. An overall issue in most fandoms is the sexualization of characters, some of who are minors. This is seen heavily in the tropes of Japanese schoolgirls or spandex, low-cut superhero costumes.
With the second wave of “Avatar: the Last Airbender” popularity, fans have deeply criticized characters like Katara for being ‘too angsty’ while loving Prince Zuko for the same reason.
In the spin-off series, certain fans have an issue with the new avatar being a girl; however, she is a character many kids can look up to because she is bisexual, suffers from mental illness like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and is generally a very strong and brash character.
Change can be seen in fandom behavior though. For example, in “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” the main cast of characters are all very powerful women but that isn’t the plot. The main character is gay but that isn’t the plot. The plot is about character development and the fan community is very supportive of each other.
Gatekeeping, controlling an entire entity, quickly becomes very invasive. This is in all aspects from race, sexuality, and gender.
Gatekeeping is also seen in music and it can cause artists to isolate themselves from society for a while.
Every day in the gatekeeping community girls constantly have to prove themselves and their understanding amongst the topics in order to be taken seriously by the males. Along with this, if someone cannot afford a collectible or to go see something, the toxicity of gatekeeping comes into play.
This movement continues to expand along with several platforms and one day plans to get justice for all of those who choose to become members of these fandoms.