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I've been in fandom for almost twenty years, and here are some things that are true of pretty much every fandom I've seen: There is a lot more sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism, anti-semitism, etc., in fandom than most of us would like to admit, and the vast majority of it is unconscious. People (mostly white, etc.) THINK they're being perfectly unbiased and fair, and they really, really aren't. Their unconscious prejudices are shining through. And it sucks. We, collectively, suck.
But here's something I think most people miss: when we talk about this stuff, the point is not to make people feel bad
. It's not about who's a "good," non-racist person, and who is a "bad" racist. It's not about proving who's "pure" and who's not. (Or at least, if that's why you're doing it, you're a really screwed-up self-righteous asshole.) IT'S ABOUT CHANGE. Because the thing is, we are all swimming in a sea of racist, sexist, queerphobic crap all the time. We can't change the larger culture (at least not by ourselves), but we CAN change fandom. I know, because fandom has gotten better about this stuff over the last twenty years. There is still a LOT of room for improvement, but it's better than it was. And it can get better than it is. But not if we ignore the problem or sweep it under the rug or get defensive. The first step in sucking less is to realize that you suck in the first place. The second step is figuring out how to suck less.
This post is about that second step. This post is about how to take the knowledge that, yes, we have some problems, and work to make those problems smaller. This post is about how to work through that, grow as a person, learn to suck less, and still have fun in fandom while you're doing it.
There are a lot of posts out there about how to be a good ally. There are also lots of posts out there about avoiding racist/sexist/ableist/whateverist tropes in fic. And there are a lot of good posts out there pointing out that fandom gets WAAAAAY more interested in able-bodied neurotypical cisgender white men than about any other character. We all know what the problems are, or at least, we should. But I think there's a need for "okay, I want to be more inclusive/suck less, how do I do it" on a broad level before we get to the nitty-gritty of "these are tropes I should avoid or be careful about." Namely, how does one get oneself to be fannish about characters that all one's cultural conditioning is screaming at you to ignore?
First, some basic principles.
1) This is fandom. It is supposed to be fun. This should not be like that terrible assignment from your least favorite teacher in school, fandom should be fun.
2) We've all been marinating in a stew of racism/homophobia/sexism/ableism/
antisemitism/islamophobia all our lives. Even if, on a conscious level, you disagree with any given ism, your gut has been conditioned to prioritize white able-bodied cissexual neurotypical men over everything else.
3) Racism and sexism suck, and sucking is bad, and it makes fandom NOT fun for those on the receiving end of it. We should all be trying to suck less, both as a goal in its own right and because we want fandom to be fun for EVERYONE.
4) It is possible to work at sucking less while still enjoying fandom.
5) The higher we are in the kyriarchy, the more damage your sucking causes, and the more we are protected from that damage. So, like, a white person is part of the power structure that causes and benefits from racism; we're less likely to see it, more likely to cause damage to others because of it. BUT we also have a lot more power to change things for the better. It's not up to black people or Latin@s or Asians or Roma or LGBTQ people or people with disabilities or Jews or any other oppressed group to fix things--they're not the problem. The ultimate responsibility is up to Whites to suck less. (This doesn't mean that, say, a Black person can't suck--just that they are WAY less likely to damage others through their suckitude.)
So the question is, how do we as White people have fun in fandom while sucking less? Fear not! It's actually pretty simple, you just have to make that a consistent priority.
Let's define Principle 1. How is fandom fun? Well, for me, fandom is fun because there are shows and movies and books that I love, and I love reading and writing fanfic and meta about them, and squeeing about them with my friends. I find all of those activities fun. I hope you all do, too. I want you to keep on finding those things fun.
BUT there is a problem. We are conditioned by our society to value men more than women, Whites more than any other race, able-bodied neurotypical people more than disabled and/or neurodiverse people, etc., etc., you can all fill in the hierarchies that our society has tried to instill in us (and has probably succeeded in instilling more than you realize). The preference for white men in fandom isn't any worse than in other places in our society. It's true, and I think it's important to remember.
The problem comes in when we leave it at that. "Well, it's not my fault, and anyway even if I AM conditioned to pay more attention to whitedude more than anything else, this is fandom so I should be able to just ignore that and go on like always." Aaaaand then you continue to have fun, but you keep sucking, and hurting people in the process.
We have all been conditioned to favor whitedude above everything else. By which I mean, our society privileges stories about able-bodied neurotypical white men above stories about other people. A white man who has super incredible abilities and can do all the things is Batman, a white woman with all the same qualities is a Mary Sue, and is usually depowered to make room for the male hero, to boot. And characters of different ethnicities, or religions, or with disabilities, don't even have it that good. We think stories about white men are interesting because ... those are the stories we've read, watched, listened to the most. We're used to them. We've been taught all our lives that these are the good stories, the stories that matter. And so most of us have learned to prioritize those stories on an unconscious level. And we show that in our choices, which shows we watch, which actors/actresses we think are hot, which characters we write about.
The good news is, that's conditioning. It's not some inborn genetic thing, it's how we've been trained. And we can train ourselves differently!
It starts by being mindful. What we consume shapes us, right? So keep that in mind when you choose what you consume, what movies, what books, what TV shows, what fanfic. I'm not saying "don't watch your favorite show if it's got too many white men." But let's be real: some TV we watch/read because OMG ITS TEH BEST EVAR!!1! and some we watch/read because it's fun and some we watch/read because our friends are and some we watch/read because it's better than other things we could be doing.
When you're making a choice between two shows/movies/books that will probably be about the same level of entertaining, go for the one that's less ALL WHITE MALE. This is the age of the internet, where our choices are much greater than they've ever been before. When you're browsing Netflix on a Tuesday night looking for a fun movie to watch, give higher preference to diverse shows. Not in an "OMG, I can't ever watch anything with white men again, no matter how awesome it is!" way, but rather in a "I've seen so many movies about White Men(tm) in my life--is this one going to just be more of the same? Are there other options I might enjoy?" way. When you've got a variety of options and they would all be enjoyable, go for the ones least likely to reinforce the WHITE STRAIGHT ABLEBODIED NEUROTYPICAL CIS MALE IS THE DEFAULT AND BEST inside your head.
What this can look like in practice: I like Marvel, but I am not a big enough fan to watch all of their shows. I pick and choose and leave myself time for other shows as well. On Netflix there are two Marvel shows I could be watching that are roughly comparable: Daredevil and Luke Cage. Both are about urban superheroes, but Daredevil is white and Luke Cage is black. (Also, Daredevil has some really terrible Yellow Peril stuff.) So I watch Luke Cage. I enjoy it. I'd probably enjoy Daredevil, too, but I don't have time for everything, and so I prioritize. And I don't treat it like I'm taking my medicine and forcing myself to watch something because it's more socially just and not because I like it. I go in expecting to have fun. And you know what? Usually I do.
Another example: back in 2011, I needed something new to be fannish about. I had enough time to be fannish about one television show in addition to the stuff I was already fannish about. There were two shows premiering that fall that looked interesting to me, both rather similar: Grimm, and Once Upon A Time. Both were urban fantasy. One starred a white man, one starred a white woman. I chose the one starring the woman and went in to it prepared to love the show. Not grudgingly, but "ooh, this could be fun." And I loved it. If I hadn't, I would have stopped watching it after a couple of episodes and switched to Grimm. That was always an option; I wasn't watching OUaT to be masochistic about "doing the right thing." I was choosing which of two interesting options to give brain and heart space to, and I was going in to it with a brain and heart open to being pleased. If, despite that, it didn't please me? I'd move on to the next thing. Plenty of other fish in the sea. But I started with the less-whitedude option.
What this does is it gives brainspace to new possibilities. It erodes the assumption your hindbrain makes that white men matter more than other people do. It erodes the assumption your hindbrain makes that white men are more interesting. The more attention you pay to people outside the cultural norm, the more interesting you find their stories. When you do this, you are actively re-training your cultural conditioning about who matters and who is interesting. And you are having fun while you are doing it.
This has two ways that it will erode your suckage in fandom-related ways. First, it increases the number of people likely to be in non-whitedude fandoms, which is a slight counterweight to the overwhelming whitedude nature of fandom in general. One more person reading the fic and (hopefully) commenting. One more person posting about it, whether you do meta/art/fic/gifs/fanmixes/videos/
whatever. Second, if you do this consistently over a long period of time, you will find that your instinct to always focus on white male characters will erode. Your background assumption of who is interesting and who isn't will start to shift.
Do this with the fannish content you produce, as well. You have a tumblr? Give preference to reblogging women and people of color. If you see something about white guys that is AWESOME AND SQUEEWORTHY, go ahead and reblog it and enjoy it while you do. But, you know, a lot of times we reblog stuff that's interesting but not full-on capslock squee, right? Stuff where it takes a second to decide if you should reblog or not. Where you could go either way. And in those cases, make a conscious decision in favor of diversity. Stuff about white men? If it's in that "should I reblog this?" category, don't reblog it. Stuff about anyone else? Do reblog it. When figuring out new content to post, do the same thing. AWESOME SQUEEFUL STUFF? Post away! Interesting but not incredible? Give more weight to stuff about women and people of color and queer people and disabled people and neurodiverse people and Jews and Muslims and all the rest. It's not about harshing the squee, or putting your fannish tastes through some kind of quota system. It's about balance. Trust me. The world and fandom both have PLENTY of whitedude stuff, they'll get along just fine without more. But there's a shortage of everything else, so that's where the focus should be.
And you can do the same with fanfic! Again, I'm not saying "never read your favorites!" I'm saying, be mindful. Are you a big Captain America fan? Check out the Sam Wilson and Natasha Romanov and Maria Hill fic in that fandom, and keep your eye out for more. When you do so, consider filtering out Steve/Bucky stuff occasionally. (http://erindizmo.tumblr.com/post/
filter-out-characters) After all, presumably you already read a lot of S/B. Your goal isn't to find fics where Sam is in two scenes to get the Whitedude together or help them work out their shit, but fics where Sam gets to really shine. As himself, not just the sidekick to the whitedude. And don't do it grudgingly; do it with open heart and mind, ready to embrace Sam in his awesomeness. This isn't to say you should never read whitedude fic, if that's your thing, but rather that there should be a health(ier) balance. This isn't about forcing you to choke down your bitter fannish medicine; it's about expanding the things you love. It's about creating more opportunities for joy and squee.
And when you read those fics, comment on them! Spread the love! Authors who write about women or people of color tend to get fewer comments on those fics than on stories focused about white male characters, which is discouraging. Share the love; kudos and comment. A comment saying "Good fic" is great, it doesn't have to be long and involved. This holds true for all your fic, by the way, not just the fic where you're consciously diversifying your reading habits. Reading a Steve/Bucky fic and the author wrote Sam well, or Natasha, or Maria, or Rhodey, or Dr. Cho? Tell the author! Point that out specifically. Doesn't have to be elaborate; "I liked Sam" is fine. The point is to reward people for being more inclusive.
When you find a particularly good fic based on a certain woman or character of color, check out the author's page. Chances are, they've got more like it. If they do, and you like their work? Subscribe to them so when they write something, you see it. Again, the goal is to still have fun with awesome fic, but shifting what you consume to be more diverse. Because that will shift your internal default away from the Straight White Neurotypical Ablebodied Man that our society tries to push as the default. And that will affect how you see the world both in fandom and out of it.
Part of the fun of fandom, for many of us, isn't just about consuming content, it's also about creating it. I love writing fanfic. And here's where a lot of peoples' asses start to show, and where they start whining about how they just write what they write and they only get plotbunnies for whitedude. And that may be true, but again, this is something you can actually change. If your brain doesn't come up with plotbunnies for characters of color, or for women, or for lesbians, or for a mixed-race canon couple, or for disabled or neurodivergent people? You can work on coming up with plotbunnies on your own and train your brain in the process!
For example! Say you are a fan of The Flash. For every episode you watch, come up with one plot bunny for a non-white male character. You don't have to write it; that's another step down the road. It doesn't have to be something huge. The first step is getting your brain used to generating plot bunnies for characters you normally wouldn't. If Iris had a big part in that episode, think up a story idea for her. What was she doing while Barry was fighting the villain of the week? How's things going at work for her? If Joe had a big part, think up an idea for him. If there was an Iris/Barry moment, think up a story idea for that pairing. Wally, Cisco, Caitlynn, Lisa Snart, you get the idea. If you're a Supergirl fan, come up with a story idea for Hank or James or Renee Montoya or M'Gann each episode. You don't have to write it, the goal for this part is to get you used to thinking of these characters as people with stories. People you are interested in. I mean, if you get a great idea and want to write it, awesome, but step one is to get your gut and your hindbrain primed to think about these people and care about their stories. You've already been primed to care about and think about white male characters by everything you've seen and read and heard since you were a baby, but there's been precious little priming you for everybody else, so a little extra effort is probably going to be needed.
The next step is similar to the choosing-fandoms step, only for choosing plotbunnies. You will probably have some ideas that just yank you over and demand to be written, so write them. But if you are anything like me, there are also times that you want to write and have a lot of different ideas you could write, you just have to decide which. And in that case, you can probably guess by now, give more weight to the non-whitedude options. If you have four plot bunnies you could write, and two of them are about white male characters and one of them is about a white woman and one is about a character of color? Give more weight to the woman and (especially) the character of color. I'm not saying "you can never write white men again!" I'm saying that in your decision-making process, recognize that the rest of the world is weighted WAY THE FUCK IN FAVOR OF WHITE ABLE-BODIED NEUROTYPICAL CIS MEN, so to provide balance, we should be weighting in favor of everyone else, and giving the most weight to the people that society gives the least weight to.
The things I've outlined in this post don't magically get rid of all that social conditioning overnight, and they don't magically fix everything. What they do is they give you a place to start, and aim you in a direction so that, if you work on it over time, you will suck less while still having fun in fandom and making it more inclusive. And the more people who do stuff like this, the less fandom will suck over time.