In the digital age, it is easier than ever to connect with people with similar hobbies. You no longer have to find another fan of your favourite musician/author/TV show in the wild, with a plethora of fan communities and fanmade media right at your fingertips through Twitter, Tiktok, Instagram, or Archive of Our Own (AO3). However, with such wide access came an age-old question: can women enjoy things?
The question seems ridiculous, and the answer obvious: of course they do! Nobody is moderating what content is available to whom, the internet means freedom of expression, after all. And while women are not necessarily outright banished from online fan spaces, they are certainly judged depending on what content they engage in.
As a woman who has been a part of and actively participated in online culture and various fan communities for years, there has not been an instance where I was allowed to enjoy and share my interest in peace—I have been made fun of, belittled, and not taken seriously, simply because someone found what I liked at the time to be stupid, cringy, or childish. This can be observed for all kinds of media: music, art, video games, books, TV shows, you name it—if a woman enjoys something, there is always a man (or unfortunately, another woman) who will pick it apart.
Dividing media into gender-based categories
A more traditional example of this phenomenon would be the mainstream opinion on romance novels. Despite their consistent popularity throughout the centuries, they have not earned the same amount of respect as, say, mystery or science fiction. They are considered cheap, shallow, and uninteresting.
Coincidentally (or not), romance is a female-dominated genre: written (mostly) by women, for women, and about women. It could be argued that despite such a female presence, the narrative is still somewhat overshadowed by a patriarchal perspective—a woman’s life is sad and miserable until she falls in love with a man. While the problematic subject matter or issues with female characterisation in the genre are a separate discussion, it is worth noting that despite society graciously giving (forcing on) women their own ‘corner’ of literature to enjoy, they are still relentlessly judged for it. They are shamed for reading romance in public1, told to read something ‘more serious’. Disregarding the fact that romance novels can simply be an outlet for dealing with more serious or philosophical topics,, is it so wrong to read simply for entertainment? Must everything in life be a thought-provoking lesson? I would argue not.
Women have always strived to carve out a place for themselves in society, to not be put into boxes that control the way they can live and enjoy life. This fight for inclusivity extends to media representation, as well as personal interests—gender is not an indication of someone’s personality, their likes or dislikes. Why is media divided into content for women and men? What characteristics make it belong to one category or the other? Does liking video games make me a man? Does liking fashion make me a woman? What if I identify with neither of those? What does that make me?
Enjoying a form of content and being part of a community should be appreciated. We should celebrate that we can still find a way to connect with people through our interests, even if the medium has transitioned into the digital. We should allow ourselves to find joy and pleasure and a sense of comfort in knowing that someone can relate to a piece of media the same way we do and see beauty where we see it as well. Let women enjoy things!
- Regis, P. (2013). A natural history of the romance novel. University of Pennsylvania Press. ↩︎