Saturday, May 24, 2014

Girls Who Love Superhero Movies: Young Women are Taking Over Fan Culture

I saw the new X-men movie on Thursday and I enjoyed it, as I have always loved sitting down and sinking my teeth into a good superhero action movie and have seen all the other X-men movies. It is interesting that while women make up just over half of moviegoers that movies, particularly superhero movies, have been designed to appeal to young boys, with little thought given to young women. Or so one would think.

Women are more than ever a strong presence in fan culture, and are spending the money and building the interest in the vast number of comic book movies coming out these days. They are not only watching the movies, they are picking up the comic books too; an arena that for decades was dominated by men.

One might wonder why, with so few female characters being given significant roles in these movies (The X-men franchise for example generally ignoring the vast array of great female characters at their disposal) that teenage girls keep flocking to these movies. It's not because their boyfriends or their brothers want to see them. It seems that one piece of the puzzle has been left out. Young girls go to these movies because they like seeing hot guys, and have built up an entire fan culture around these hot guys and their imagined sexual exploits, usually with each other.

Because there are so few well developed female characters in these movies and in the comics, girls are placing themselves in the roles of male characters, writing fiction or drawing images that feminize one of the male characters in their imagined homosexual relationships with other characters. This aspect of fan culture has been around since the days of Star Trek, in which female fans kept the interest in the show alive and their love for Kirk and Spock's love for each other in a way managed to save an unpopular, cancelled show. But today girls are more easily able to find other girls in the fan community through social media, and have become an increasingly vocal part of the fan culture related to science fiction and comic books.

 Of course the creators are not totally oblivious to the existence of this fan culture. In some cases they encourage it in canon with at times blatant homoerotic undertones. But the most fascinating thing about how these girls relate to these movies is the way in which they subvert the misogyny inherent in the superhero world; one largely created by men for men. They take the hyper-masculine power fantasy of the superhero and feminize it to make it relatable to them. They use these homosexual relationships as a venue to counter the lack of well developed female characters.

Some may lament over this aspect of the fan culture as "ruining" the comic book and sci-fi community, but really it is a reflection of women carving out their own space in media that is largely unfriendly toward female characters and female fans. And they are also some of the most knowledgeable and passionate fans. It will be interesting to see the effects of fan culture becoming mainstream, and if this growing demographic may usher in a more female friendly generation of superheros.

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