Mon
Apr 29 2013 1:30pm

Geek Love: On the Matter of Bronies

Bronies

Yeah, we’re gonna talk about it. Don’t get weird.

I realize that the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic contingent is old news for a lot of us, and that most of us have made up our minds one way or the other, so I want to make clear at the outset that I’m not making a case for or against, or even really trying to take part in whatever the conversation has become, because I don’t really know where the state of things has ended up.

But I do want to talk about the time and place in which this conversation is occurring, because I think it has major ramifications for society, generally but also specific to geek culture, and maybe clear out some cobwebs as far as what is going on and why we feel about it the way we do. Frankly, I’ve thought about writing about them all along, but waited for it to die down a bit because what I want to say isn’t that loud. It doesn’t rise to the volume of the usual fight.

In some corners of the internet—both super-deep genre geek spaces and more mainstream conversations—you get a near Godwin’s-level response whenever these guys are mentioned. Which means we have two topics to discuss here: First, what they’re actually doing and represent, and secondly, why they enrage people so effortlessly. (On the latter point, I’m not talking about their ubiquity and enthusiasm and repetitive behaviors, because that’s true of every geek group—run into a Browncoat lately?—but the fact of them existing at all.)

Consider first the fact that women have been people for about a hot minute. “Feminism” was not a word our grandparents had ever heard: The Pill was invented in our mothers’ lifetimes. Sit with that a second.

When we talk about time speeding up, we’re also talking about time dilation: Because we personally grew up in the first generation of men and women raised by feminists—or at least in an epoch where they’re given voice—we think this is the eternal state of things, but it is in fact blisteringly new.

So the first thing about Bronies is, they’re the second iteration of a very new experiment. You’re talking about boys raised on the Powerpuff Girls, on Pokémon, who see no reason to limit their avatars to classic male archetypes: Girls had Princess Leia, and boys had Han Solo. But the Brony generation gets both, and doesn’t see the problem. In fact, as fans they don’t even need human avatars: Anything with a face can represent a piece of you. That’s entirely new.

As a gay man, I can’t be the leader of a Boy Scout Troop. I have mixed feelings about this. But the reason for it is that we’re still used to looking at sexuality as a strict binary: Straight men, versus any- and everybody else. The fact is that a gay man is interested in men, and a straight man is interested in women. Pedophiles are interested in neither. But because we have a history—going back, technically, forever—of lumping everything into these two categories, straight men v. everybody else, that’s gonna be suspect.

So you take a male who is interested in a stereotypically girlish thing, and—presuming you know nothing about the actual show—you’re going to lump him into the “Other” category of sexuality. Then, too, it’s nominally a product for children, which indicates a pederastic sexual retardation that can only lead to abuses. Right away, they are two things: Perverts, and preoccupied with immature and childish iconography.

But back it up: Again, you’re talking about boys raised on Powerpuff Girls and Pokémon: Their nostalgia doesn’t prevent them taking an interest in this show, as it would us, any more than our nostalgia for Transformers, Star Wars and Ellen Ripley indicates a sex-mad statutory rapist of young girls. They don’t have the walls up that we do, so what for us would be looking over those walls—playing with dolls, what have you—and possibly would indicate something creepy about us.

But it’s not us we’re talking about, it’s them: Boys, raised by feminists to proceed as if those walls never existed. (Spoiler alert: They never did. We just took all this time to realize that.) And it’s true that, like with any kid-stuff enthusiasm, there is a demonstrative aspect to Bronyism: “Look at me liking this kid thing, look at me liking this girl thing.” But from their side of the wall, it’s a point of pride, just as with any other kiddie-stuff nostalgia performance. “Look at me watching The Muppet Show on Netflix, look at me complaining about the Star Wars prequels.”

But all of that is reactive, all of that points to the feminist and patriarchal concerns we just said didn’t matter. So then what is it they’re actually enjoying, when you’re not there to gape? Well, everything I’ve seen indicates that the show is doing its stated job. Remove the pink and purple marketing tricks, remove the toys altogether even, and focus on the primary product: The show.

Which is about a loner, happier with books and solitude than the company of others, overly intellectual, nearly terrified of social contact, who is tasked with—before taking on an adult leadership role—is tasked with exploring other states of thought, other ways of being, other kinds of life. The express task of the show, the lead’s actual job, is to cross the gap from Self to Other, to understand and accept others as being different from Self and acceptable anyway.

But the obvious appeal doesn’t end there: The protagonist is introduced to a cast of characters drawn from the most terrifying archetypes of our young lives. The Jock who excels in sports and physical activities, the Stylish Popular Slytherin who is beautiful and always composed, and so on. And at every turn, we’re shown the positive and open sides of those character types we’ve been trained to hate and fear: The popular girl has affection and insecurity to spare, the Jock is more obsessed with having fun and testing herself against herself to mean you any harm.

Sound like anybody you know? Most of us call this “socialization,” and in today’s focus on things like the autism spectrum and ADHD-enhanced oppositional behavior, it’s probably the highest-minded such program since, I don’t know, ShirtTails attempted to get us to communicate our emotions rather than bottling them up. At the end of each story, the lead character is called upon to verbalize her findings—literally, write a letter to the Godhead figure on the show—and demonstrate how the trust she’s bravely used to cross the gap between Self and Other has once again helped her understand the truth: That Friendship Is, in fact, Magic.

I want my kid watching that show. I want my kid watching the heck out of that show, boy or girl. We’re only going to need more tools of connection in our toolbox as the ways we communicate with each other proliferate. There is no room for fear in the connected world.

 

But that isn’t the whole story, because we’re not talking about kids here but adults. And for a lot of Bronies, at least in the early days, the function above is not only enjoyable and comforting, but actually represents those tools in an engaged way. These are functional approaches to making friends, making connections, finding love, eradicating loneliness. Tools in the toolbox.

I cried, a little bit, at an interview in which one Brony said—with full knowledge of what’s implied here—that he’d learned more about emotional and social life from one season of the show than from thirty years of living.

Now, I can imagine a viewpoint that would find that funny, or pathetic, or “gay” (or even actually gay), but it’s nearly impossible to understand it. Because that is, to me—a person who has devoted my life to staking out new ways to talk about our personal connection to media and how it influences culture-in-general—just about the best thing ever.

In the same geek community that lauds parents whose children beg for non-gender-specific EZ Bake ovens, or mods classic video games to contain female protagonists, it blows my mind that we react to these guys with such vitriol, such kneejerk horror. It speaks a lot to where we are, at the beginning of the world’s chapter called “Feminism,” and to where we still need to talk, on the default-straight-male conversation the internet is slowly letting go. In the end, they’re doing more work toward the future simply by rising to the occasion—both as fans and in the geek world—and demonstrating what a generation actively engaged in the project of evolving looks like.

It wouldn’t be the first time the advance scouts looked like monsters to the rest of us—generally that’s exactly what happens, when a social change comes about—but to me, they’re incredibly beautiful future-mutants, men whose brand of masculine evolution is so unrecognizable some of us think of them as ex-men.

Check back with me in about twenty years, and we’ll see who was on the right side of that one.


Jacob Clifton is a freelance writer and critic based in Austin, Texas. He currently recaps The Good Wife, Bates Motel, and Defiance for Television Without Pity.com. Check out jacobclifton.com, Twitter and Facebook.

58 comments
Peter Ahlstrom
1. PeterAhlstrom
I like the show enough to call myself a brony. In my personal case it's more that I grew up with four sisters and we mostly liked the same things. My Little Pony and Transformers were on back-to-back, and we all watched and collected both. (Though, I collected fewer ponies and my sisters collected fewer Transformers.) In third grade I wrote a lengthy mashup of My Little Pony and V, where the ponies were aliens.

Now I have three daughters and I enjoy watching the show with them. It's a good show. If I had boys I'd watch it with them too; I'm not sure of a show aimed at boys right now that's as good as MLP:FIM.
Betsy
2. Betsy
What bothers me about bronies and the way the entire movement has gone is the underlying assumption that you hear from their more vocal sections: that because they are interested in this concept, it should be shaped to better please them.

These are the people who get annoyed that the MLP dolls have brushable hair, instead of rigid plastic hair that looks more like the characters in the show, or the people who vocally complain that certain episodes of the show are obviously made more to please 6-year-old girls than adult men.

For all of our lives, women have been presented with two choices: stay in the spaces that are "made for girls" and give us the things we are told to want, or go into spaces that are "made for boys" and deal with the ways in which we are unwelcome there. Now, there is this thing which is AWESOME, and was made for girls, and has all the made for girls things, and we are being told that BECAUSE it is so awesome, it should not remain primarily for girls.

It has "graduated" from a girl thing to a "human" thing, which is to say, a boy thing. Why can't our things be awesome on our terms? Why does the fact that you like this thing mean that you have to change it to be more comfortable for you?
Betsy
3. Quid
I have to admit, when my 13 year old started watching MLP and telling me about the Brony thing, I gave him a little crap about it. Mostly because I'm pretty sure that at least to some extent he was making a point of it to get a reaction out of me ... it's how we play, whatever. But if he was looking for a major reaction, he didn't get it. In fact, if I recall correctly, I'm the one who sent him the "Brohoof" image he's using as his cover pic on Facebook.

If there's any disconnect for me, it's that I myself never watched MLP and really don't know the premise. So thank you for that.

Now I just need to find out why my 17 year old is watching a cartoon called Chowder ...
Mordicai Knode
4. mordicai
I like the show-- though I admit, I fell off watching it after Faust left-- but I wouldn't identify as part of the subculture.
Betsy
5. L.T. Elliot
My twin, autistic sons watch MLP and love it. They're honest about how they love it. Sadly, some of their friends at school have teased them about it--but when they've said anything at our house, the response is always the same: "It's good to like different things. God loves wondrous variety."

At first, I didn't understand the draw, either. But I sat down and watched MLP with my kids to see why *they* were drawn to it. And as a mother, I feel many of the same things you outlined here: Self moving into Other. It's wholesome. It's communicative. It's "healthy" emotional and logical responses. And it's encouraging. Knowing that, I can't imagine why I wouldn't want them to watch the show.

As for what Betsy said, I agree that the show shouldn't be changed to suit a certain type of perspective/gender/viewer demand. The show should be what the creators envision it to be and hopefully any changes they make will be organic and authentic to the characters and their stories.

But on the whole, I don't care if you're a Brony or . It's a good show and I'm not ashamed that my sons enjoy it.
Noneo Yourbusiness
6. Longtimefan
@ quid

Because Chowder is hilarious. :)

I am old enough to remember the first My Little Ponies. I was not into them but I can see the appeal of combing thier hair. It is soothing in a way.

I do not know the stories behind the new My Little Pony. Don't watch enough television I guess.

I do agree with the general idea of the article though. We are all people and people like things. It is time to move past placing gender requirments on inanimate objects.

Tor.com always has interesting articles.
Alexander Gieg
7. alexgieg
Here's a comment I posted on a Cracked article making fun of MLP fanfics a few months ago. I think you'll find it relevant:

Interestingly, I've come to know MLP and bronies existed because of fanfics, not the other way around, as would be the more usual path. I've seen some good recommendations around about "Friendship is Optimal", a very clever MLP-based AI sci-fi story (which attracted me for the "AI sci-fi story" bit, not the "MLP-based" one), and then about "Fallout: Equestria", which I just began reading and can say, at about 10% in, that is one of the best post-apocalyptic tale I've ever read, and one that, if it manages to keep at this level to the end, could well get first place.

As for the actual MLP cartoon, I watched the first episode to get a feeling for the show, and while I don't anticipate watching any additional ones, I think I understand where the brony phenomenon comes from. I watch tons of anime, and one genre that's very common over there, but basically absent in Western mainstream fiction, is that of the "slice of life". The protagonists of slice of life animes are mostly adolescents in high school or similar scenarios, sometimes but not always with some fantasy or sci-fi element added. The target audience aren't adolescents though, but 30+ year old men. And what do these stories show? Nothing but the daily lives of the protagonist. In fact, very few slice of life animes have an overarching plot. It's mostly people doing their daily stuff, no matter how not-story-worth it'd seem in any other genre. And such stories are rarely, if ever, sexual in nature. Quite the opposite: *if* there's some interest between protagonists, it's of the cast, blushing-red, at-most-PG13, "my first love" kind of story. If.

What gives? Well, as far as I understand, the idea there is that most 30+ years old are at a point in which work takes a very long part of their lives, and they're starting to feel nostalgic about their youth. They like to arrive home 10pm every day, turn the TV on, and watch a mostly plot-less story that reminisce them of the good old careless days of idealized high-school, when everything was so much simpler, there weren't so many bills, nor a your child (or more) to care for, and a bad boss, and the recession, and..., and..., and... You get the idea.

I'm 35 years old, and I like to watch slice of life animes for those exact reasons. It's just relaxing. You turn the TV (computer in my case) on, turn your brain off, and get 24 minutes of bliss. Then you go to bed, for another day of very harsh reality.

That single episode of MLP I saw seemed to me to have an (unintentional, but present nonetheless) slice of life "vibe" to it. So it isn't really surprising that the same age range that, in Japan, has tons of media targeted at them, would start noticing, and becoming fan, of something pretty much similar available here, even if not specifically targeted at them.

I could see myself becoming a brony. I probably won't, since I already have access to tons of other media that fill that need. But I could because MLP's unintentional message, although simple, is powerful: there's goodness, in the world and within you. Simply put, when all you see around you, and within you, is the exact opposite, anything that comes and tells you that even so goodness is still there, is most welcome.

But as with everything else, aberrations always appears. Add enough people to anything, and at some point nastiness will reappear. It's a statistical certainty. No way around it, unfortunately. As with any other such thing, the best reaction is simply to ignore it, until it fades away, what it most definitely will.
Betsy
8. Merricat
I have been exhausted trying to explain this. Because it seems like it doesn't/can't make sense to people who aren't part of it. My brother and I can't quite overcome the barriers our mother has about his Bronyhood (nor mine, since mine is tangential to his (or orbital, or constructed), rooted in love and fascination more than in enjoyment - not the thing itself, but the idea of the thing), and, as you say so clearly, those are the same barriers she raised us to ignore.
Addison Smith
9. addisoncs
I don't know if I could call myself a brony, for mere lack of enthusiasm, but I've seen a few episodes and enjoyed them. I've never been a masculine person, and I've never considered it important in the least, but it is a bit annoying how people react.

I love cute things. I love pink, fluffy, adorable things. I'm also straight.

Those two things don't tend to go hand in hand in people's minds.
If I had it my way, I would express this more fully. Stuffed animals all over my room, including a larger one to use as a body pillow. As it is, I live with my brother, who is firmly of the other camp. I am afraid to even have a Rainbow Dash wallpaper on my computer, because I don't want to get involved with the kind of conversation he would start if he saw it.

Eventually these generational growing pains will go away. We will let our kids watch the shows they want, and play with the toys they want, with little care for preconceived gender roles.

Actually, I think I'll use that Rainbow Dash wallpaper I've had in reserve for so long. No sense in prolonging this silliness.
Betsy
10. Kallistrate
@2: Thank you! I feel like the two sides of this discussion are arguing different points: those for it argue that boys should be able to appreciate traditionally "girl" things without judgement (which I have not actually heard anyone argue against in all my years spent online), and those who are against it often state that they object to the aggressive, disproportionate presence of those who are fans (of both sexes).

I've seen enough seasons of the new My Little Pony to know that it's a clever, sweet, and funny show that is designed for children but includes the occasional nod to adults who might be watching with those children. The only thing I object to is what Betsy stated above: There are a ton of adult men (hardly a "new" or "next" generation) out there clamoring that the show and it's products be more tailored to their interests. I would say that MLP, with its almost-entirely-female universe, is meant mostly for girls while still being accessible to boys. This is extremely rare, as most "girl" productions are limited to topics like hair, makeup, fashion, and dreaming about said boys. Most media is still tailored for adult men (and is occasionally accessible to women), so why is it that this show, which is a success in no small part due to its rarity, is so often praised not for its messages or its quality, but because it's accessible to the 40-year-old male crowd? Why do all discussions about it come back around to, "I'm an adult male; don't oppress me because I want a childrens' cartoon to be made for me, too"?

Again, I've never heard anyone in the geek community say, "An adult who likes girly cartoons? Ewwwwwww!" Always the message is one of frustration, not that young boys could like something that is stereotypically girly (because most geeks don't fuss over what other people like if it makes them happy; most geeks are angry if someone doesn't share an obsession), but that the loudest of the brony community is grown men clamoring that attention be paid to their love of the show instead of the audience it was created for: little girls who don't only like "girly" things. There's something wrong with the situation when the intended audience for a children's cartoon can't Google their favorite pony without finding unlabled porn of that pony on the front page, or can't brush a toy pony's hair because an adult fan (i.e. the fans with the most spending money) decided it didn't match his vision of how those ponies would look on his shelf.
Betsy
11. Tesh
It's a decent show with a good heart. I am happy that my kids like it. I take it on its own merits and find it welcome in our home.

...but we're not going to look at the fandom. That's the surest way to taint something.
Jacob Clifton
12. JAClifton
@Betsy: I agree with you, actually. Adventure Time is my go-to example for what happens when a property starts moving into the territory you're talking about. While in that case it hasn't been wholly unsuccessful -- Community, I've thought for a long time, really fell to this dynamic -- I do think we lose a bit when the internet buzz affects the property itself. I think it has to do with the creators of show, hungry for feedback, hearing from only the loudest fans and then, like anybody would, writing to the people they know are out there.

I would say, though, that making a case for explaining male fans of something doesn't really rule out the female fandom, or that one conversation supplants the other. I'm not sure where you're getting that from the article.
Betsy
13. Betsy
@12: What I was responding to, in the article, was this line: "you get a near Godwin’s-level response whenever these guys are mentioned. Which means we have two topics to discuss here: First, what they’re actually doing and represent, and secondly, why they enrage people so effortlessly."

My comment above was explaining why the reaction is so often brutally negative, in my experience. It's not because I think these men are acting like something less than men, or other than men. It's that I think they are acting exactly like men have been taught to act, by elevating their affection for something above women's affection for the same thing, and arguing that it has been or should be transformed by the fact that men like it, too.

I am sure bronies aren't all like that, but the vocal ones, who keep the name in front of me all the time, do tend to be. And that has affected my reactions whenever this conversation comes up.
Jacob Clifton
14. JAClifton
Mine too. The performative aspect of any fandom gets pretty tiresome pretty quickly, for me.
Juan Avila
15. Cumadrin
I'm only a recently turned Brony, having finally sampled and subsequently fallen in love with the show just this January. I do not consider myself part of the Brony community at large, though. I don't frequent Brony sites, I don't have many Brony frriends. I've never been to a convention, I don't own any pony merch, and I've made virtually no fan art of any type. In fact, I'm still pretty much a closet Brony away from my pc.

Normally I wouldn't comment, but My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is something I find myself surprisingly passionate about, like many other Bronies would probably say. And since Tor is the only site I follow any blogs on, I figure this is an ideal place for me to express some of my thoughts about the show and fandom.

I'm 25, so I grew up with Pokemon and Powerpuff Girls. I also had a very rough childhood. Fiction, cartoons, and games were all an escape. They still are.

When I first decided to try My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, it was a grudging concession to myself so I could see what the fuss was about. The last couple years I've really gotten back into television after being mostly cutoff from the home tv, and too busy/lazy to follow shows I wanted to online. On an individual level I'm quite poor, so I couldn't justify getting Netflix or the like to myself.

Anyway, in the latter half of 2010 I became alarmingly depressed, and part of my road back to becoming as stable as I am again (I use the word "stable" a bit loosely) was to dive back into the escapism of old tv shows and cartoons I loved when I was younger, and even some I found myself liking now that I'd matured a bit, I guess. This relatively new habit of marathoning a show every few months was what drove me to give My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic a try.

And all I can say about the show is it was so... refreshing. It had just the right balance of adorable ponies, good old-fashioned cartoon humor, and subtle cleverness that hit the mark perfectly for me. And it was a show I could tell was proud of itself, despite the negative reactions it knew it would be getting just because of what it was: a My Little Pony reboot.

I don't usually try to explain why I love the show so much because I've heard so many good reasons from other Bronies, and I agree with almost all of them. I love the show simply because it fills me with joy when I do so. When I feel down nowadays I just start singing my favorite Pony songs. It works for me.

Of the fandom, I still feel like mostly an outsider looking in. I know that problem is of my own making, though, a product of a lot of insecurity and lack of trust and communication skills (in person) I have thanks to my childhood. One day I hope I can really assimilate with more Bronies, I just haven't found a group for myself yet.

But I appreciate the fandom quite a lot. It's sheer output of creativity is astounding. And its level of emulation of the show is equally impressive, overall. I have not generally encountered the type of Bronies Betsy @2 has, but know they exist, and some are quite loud. I personally love the show the way it is, and probably appreciate it more so because it is a good example to little kids first and foremost. That's a noble and worthy accomplishment, in my opinion.
David Thomson
16. ZetaStriker
One thing that I'm surprised hasn't been mentioned is the positive, creative aspect of the brony fandom. Suring, there are rule 34 ponies, but far more common are elaborate art, music, comics, entire fan-created episodes and more. Bronies are on of the most creative communities I have ever come across, bar none. Sure, Doctor Who has Chameleon Circuit, but MLP has dozens such groups and artists across the entire spectrum of musical genres. It's really kind of amazing.
Betsy
17. John Farrier
I'm a brony. I like MLP: FIM, but I find the brony community and its boundless creativity fascinating. Also, I have two young daughters and MLP is something I can share with them.
Church Tucker
18. Church
@ 2 & 10

From my observations, the complaints from the Bronies have largely been twofold: They wanted more show-accurate merchandise (and in their size when appropriate,) and they wanted less interference from Hasbro in the actual show. Both of those are pluses not only for themselves, but also for the target audience.

On the first front, they've been largely successful. E.g., there's finally a white Princess Celestia toy (while she's white in the show, her toy version was inexplicably pink.) On the second front, not as much luck. Apparently there had to be a pink princess, and so Princess Cadence was introduced in stores and the show. (And let's just forget about the Crystal Kingdom.)

Obviously, Hasbro is primarily a toy company and thinks like one. But they're also a media company now, and ideally they would have the toy department take their cues from the show and not the other way around.
Betsy
19. pootle
I watched the season finale on Youtube and was really impressed by how epic the scale was. These creatures were seriously fighting for control of the universe, and somehow the story managed to bring out that scale.
Also I like the ongoing theme of teens working to find their vocation, especially with so many female characters who are shown in a career context rather than romantic.
The only thing that bothered me (apart from the 'opposable thumbs' thing) is that there seems to be a class distinction between the unicorns, the pegasi and the normal people - it reminded me of the bad aspects of Tolkein.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
20. EllenMCM
"Consider first the fact that women have been people for about a hot minute. “Feminism” was not a word our grandparents had ever heard: The Pill was invented in our mothers’ lifetimes. Sit with that a second."

I ws going to put the kids to bed and write a lesson plan tonight. But then I read this.

I don't know what your grandparents were doing, but mine had certainly heard the word feminism. They heard it, read and wrote about it, negotiated over it, and considered its role in their lives. Olympe de Gouges was executed for being a feminist during the French Revolution, shortly before Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1798. I have the letters in which my grandfather agreed to accept my grandmother's views on feminism and birth control as his own (he described the pre-requisite reading he had done) and asked her to agree to use his financial spreadsheets. We are not in the first generation of feminists, or of children raised by feminists. My grandmother got the right to vote in her lifetime, because of the work of feminists who had worked on suffrage, and on other issues including (but in no way limited to) abolition, property rights, control of wages, the 8-hour work day, access to education, temperance, age of consent laws, access to anesthesia in childbirth, and dress reform for a very long time.

Why is it important to me to point all that out? Because women have NOT been people for about a hot second. Women have been people since women have existed, and their personhood has been acknowledged by many people for significantly longer than my lifetime, or the lifetime of my grandparents.

How does that apply to the conversation about Bronies?
I don't begrudge Bronies their existance, or their joy in My Little Pony. I enjoy a good episode of MLP as much as the next human being. It's a fun show.

I do begrudge Bronies their claim to represent a manifestation of feminism in fandom. It's fabulous that Bronies acknowledge that something intended for an audience of 4-8 year-old girls is quality entertainment and deserves respect as an artistic endeavor. But the only new thing here is the respect for a show about ponies intended for little girls. Feminism in fandom means creating safe and welcoming spaces for girls and women AS FANS, not just as subjects of fandom.

It's great that Bronies have found each other in the real world and online, and created spaces where they can share their enthusiasm about ponies. However, the presence of a lot of men in fandom does not represent change of any kind. I hope you have fun talking about Pinkie Pie, but I would appreciate it if Bronies stopped patting themselves on the back for being feminist. Men have long been able to make their interests public, especially the interests they share with other men. Women's interests have long been ridiculed and forced into the private sphere. When you create an online space where my 11-year-old daughter can safely share a picture of herself in her Twilight Sparkle t-shirt, then you can call yourself a feminist.
Jacob Clifton
21. JAClifton
I didn't. I do apologize that that particular sentence hit you in that way, for whatever reason, but: This is a popular culture blog, not a feminism blog. I have no stake in the fight you're looking for. I'm not a Brony, I don't presume to speak for feminism, and I make no attempt to engage in the feminist conversation. I don't particularly relish being told what I can and can't talk about, or what beliefs I'm allowed to hold, but surely you can understand that.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
22. EllenMCM
OK, then you can say that MLP fandom represents an accomplishment for feminism.
Betsy
25. Lee Gardener
I used to think and write about TV and culture for my job, and now I am a school teacher.

A few months ago my co-teacher and I did a lesson on the social construction of gender. At the end the kids went down to lunch, but one of my boys stayed behind. He said that I was right that boys and girls did not always want to act out their genders, and that he had evidence in his locker. He pulled out two ponies to show me, explained that My Little Ponies had been rebooted in a new series and that he loved them and they were his good luck talismans, and sat down to comb their hair.

So basically I am experiencing media from another side now--I used to believe that as commodified and reductive and normative as they were, some of our stories could give us room to BREATHE, and I would look for evidence of this on the Internet and do discourse analysis and all that to fund my hope. And now I have kids literally pulling out their evidence in front of me, breathing for a little while. He and I and all of my students are THISCLOSE to figuring out how to make our class a place where he could take out his ponies in front of his friends, I swear to god we are.
Alan Brown
26. AlanBrown
I am an MLP fan, and just got a Doctor Whooves pony as a birthday gift from my adult son. But I would not call myself a Bronie, even though my daughter-in-law does.
My granddaughter liked My Little Ponies, so I had been buying them for her as gifts, and when MLP Friendship is Magic first came out, I recorded it to watch with her during visits, and found we both quite enjoyed it. So it has become something we share, and enjoy together. I am not sure I would have found the show without my granddaughter leading me in that direction, but I am glad I gave it a try. I think the show is very well thought out and constructed, the imaginary world has a lot of detail, and the ponies and the way they represent archetypes are quite engaging. I certainly enjoy it more than some of the shows she likes (for example, Adventure Time, which she watches with her dad, is just a little too strange for me).
I noticed in the beginning that the show almost had an anti-boy bias, with about the only male ponies being named something like Snips and Snails, who were presented as punchlines to jokes more than as real characters. That has changed for the better, with more male ponies showing up in the background. That is probably a nod to the fact that the show has a broader appeal than was originally anticipated. But the focus of the show is still, as it should be, on the girl ponies.
I went to show someone a picture of Doctor Whooves on Google Images, and was surprised at how many pictures there were. And some were from an MLP wiki, and as I poked around, I was amazed at how many sites there were dedicated to pony fandom in all its aspects. It is nice to see a good show rewarded with such enthusiasm from the audience.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
27. EllenMCM
@21 - I do have a stake in the fight. I like MLP, I know and love a number of Bronies, and I am a feminist raising children who love fannish things and want to share their love of those things with others. They don't yet understand how incredibly hostile the fan world has been to women. They don't understand that, if they want to talk about Star Wars or Star Trek or MLP or Pokemon or whatever else online with an obviously feminine screen name, they will face hostility. They don't understand that because they aren't allowed to discuss things online, where fans of things meet and confer, because it is not safe for them to do so.

I would like it to be safe before my children are old enough to break my rules and spend time in online fora that don't require users to purchase stuffed animals bi-annually. I estimate I have two more years at the outside. I feel this is urgent.

Bronies do not represent work towards the future. They do not represent evolution. They represent men having fun with other men, which is fine and fun and nice, but not work, or the future, or evolution. The default male conversation may be less straight - I don't know because I am, by default, not part of default male conversations - but it is not less male.

Your article states that you think MLP fandom has major ramifications for society and for geek culture. The ramifications I see are that, in MLP fandom, men have laid claim to territory and there is still no safe space in genre media fandom for young women.

You have said you are neither a Brony nor a feminist. It must be nice to have no stake in this.
Betsy
28. Betsy
@20:
"Men have long been able to make their interests public, especially the interests they share with other men. Women's interests have long been ridiculed and forced into the private sphere."

I think that is part of what I was trying (less articulately) to say. What this feels like is less of an inclusive "we'll come play in your sandbox with your awesome toys" thing and more of an "what a cool sandbox! If only it weren't filled with girl cooties" thing. What makes the MLP phenomenon unique is not that there are men who are interested in it, but that there are enough vocal men to start to drown out the female voices. Which, thank you, but I've heard that joke before, you know?

How about if instead of pushing the message that MLP:FiM is so awesome that boys like it en masse and it's no longer a "girl thing", we try to open up the idea that anyone can like anything? That little boy in @25 can like Strawberry Shortcake or Tinkerbell instead, if it floats his boat, and it won't have to be validated by a large group of men who say it's okay with THIS girl thing, but only this one, you understand. We aren't guys who like girl shows, we're bronies, and that's different.
Jacob Clifton
29. JAClifton
How about if instead of pushing the message that MLP:FiM is so awesome that boys like it en masse and it's no longer a "girl thing", we try to open up the idea that anyone can like anything?

And again: I agree with you on this. I'm confused as to where you would have gotten anything else from the article. A conversation about a particular male group of fans does not rule out or invalidate the existence of, or other conversations about, any other group of fans.

The fact that you clicked on an article about Bronies and were startled to find that it was about Bronies is befuddling to me -- but then, so is the idea that any online community could somehow "drown out" other voices, or that women or girls need men's approval to validate any of this for you.

I'm sympathetic to the concerns of establishing safe places on the internet for your children -- but I think calling for more rigidly gendered, ableist and heteronormative rules for entertainment properties is a bit of a retrograde, not to mention unrealistic, response.

In either case, I think a more stringent re-reading of the piece might be in order. I'm not really prepared to engage in justifying things I didn't say and don't believe.
Jacob Clifton
31. JAClifton
You really don't need to go there, sir.

But I will say that, in my experience, any conversation about privilege, gender, or sexual politics falls under the umbrella definition of "feminism" for many readers on the internet, and so when a piece about those things takes a different tack than usual, it can be confusing and often upsetting.

I'm sympathetic to that, but not speaking for feminism is for me, as a man, something that's pretty necessary to talk about the things I am interested in, in the way that I see them: I have no interest in "mansplaining," so I speak from my own experiences only.

Being told what I can and cannot talk about, simply because these topics are intersectionally tied to feminist discourse, is a regrettable side-effect, but it's one I am willing to weather: It's a lot easier than explaining how it's a nasty, direct offshoot of straight privilege, for starters.

For a certain kind of person, nothing is more offensive than compassion. It's not a worldview I can understand. I'm pretty grateful for that.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
32. EllenMCM
@29 - I'm not calling for things to be more heteronormative. I'm saying that, from my perspective, MLP fandom already is heteronormative. Boys get to be fans publicly, and their voices shape the fandom and influence changes to the property. Girls get to be fans quietly and privately. In your statements (which I guess are not celebrations, because you are not feminist) about how MLP helps guide viewers through complicated social situations and male viewers in this supposedly newly feminist generation don't have to reject it because it's a girl thing, I think you are ignorning this dynamic.

I'm befuddled about why you're befuddled about the assertion that online communities of men can drown out the voices of young women. But I think your statement about women or girls needing men's approval sheds light on it. I'm not worried about men's approval. I have all the male approval that's meaningful to me. it's not something I worry about for my children. My concern is about harassment of women in fan communities. People like MLP because it's a likable show. That's great. Sadly, it has a very retro heteronormative fandom, which is often touted as somehow being feminist. I hear that you aren't doing that, because you are neither a fan nor a feminist. I stringently re-read the piece a couple times before my first post. It's possible that I missed something important anyway, but I probably won't pick it up on further stringent re-reading. Perhaps it does not quite say what you meant it to.
Jacob Clifton
33. JAClifton
Again, I apologize for upsetting you. Please tell me what you would like to see happen here, and we can work together to achieve that goal.
Bridget McGovern
34. BMcGovern
Just stepping in for a moment as moderator to remind everyone that we need to keep things civil, even when the subject strikes a nerve. I would point everyone to the third item listed under Tor.com's moderation policy--let's please keep things respectful, and try to have a productive discussion, here.

@30: This really isn't the place for huge, sweeping philosphical indictments of feminism. Let's stick to the topic at hand, which is loaded enough.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
35. EllenMCM
@33 - Anytime someone claims my grandmother had never heard the word feminism and women have only been people for a short time, I get a little fired up.

Also anytime someone proclaims the decline of patriarchy when what they mean is that men are still doing the same things they've always done, and women (especially young women) still can't.

I feel strongly that this should be part of the discourse about Bronies. It's great that men and little girls can be fans of the same things. It's horribly sad that little girls can't talk about it.

You're very apologetic. It's sweet. I'm disappointed that you can't engage another perspective on this, but I appreciate your good manners.
Alexander Gieg
36. alexgieg
@34: Fair enough, although I didn't intend to target feminism as a whole, only a minor subset of it. If I caused another impression, well, thanks for helping avoid the flamewar that'd have ensued due to my not clearly expressing myself. :-)
Alan Brown
37. AlanBrown
I think part of the problem with Bronies is that instead of just defining themselves as being fans, they also define themselves by their gender. Why can't we all just enjoy the show, whether as people we are small or large, young or old, male or female? Why is one of the most segregated places in the country the toy aisles of your local department store, with 'boy' toys in one aisle, and 'girl' toys in the other aisle? Why does my granddaughter have to worry that picking up frogs might mean she is a tomboy? Why can't a little boy play with a doll without being mocked?
Betsy
38. Betsy
I'm not going to try to speak for anyone but myself here, but I am suggesting neither that you can't write whatever you want nor that I am shocked (shocked!) to find bronies in this blog post.

However, based on your statement at the beginning of the post that you waited to post this hoping that some of the noise had died down, I find it a but disingenuous that you're now turning around and saying how baffled you are that those of us who regularly read posts of this very public website might be having a feminism-based reaction to your post in which you call bronies a beautiful new evolution of men.

I'm totally on your side about the idea that gender roles hurt people all around, and I have two gorgeous sons who love MLP, princess dresses, and making jewelry for themselves. But bronies, to me, read as different from "boys who like MLP." They read as men who are trying to take MLP away from the girls and make it something they're more comfortable with.
Jacob Clifton
39. JAClifton
I want to make it clear to you that I wrote all three of these beginning essays months ago, in the run-up to the column going live. "The noise," in this case, being the buzz surrounding Bronies at the outset of the show's second season -- not the ugly situation surrounding the earlier piece. Which, frankly, isn't the sort of thing that would affect my convictions or my writing style in any case.

As for the other stuff, I think I've made my position clear, and I've heard and responded to what you have to say about it, insofar as what you've said relates to what I actually wrote.
Betsy
40. Christofer Haraldsen
I'm no "fan of the fandom" myself, but I do enjoy the tv-series and comic books. I even own some pony figurines. I'm glad there's some serious discourse on pony and I thank you for a interesting article.

And oh, Peter Ahlstrom being a brony totally made my day... no, lifetime!
Betsy
42. Nazzaroth
All in all a good article about the underlying movements of bronys, but one critic.

In your article you always say, bronys are a product of feminist education. well just that statement would make your whole article worth nothing. why can't someone like a cartoon, just because it is awesome? Why would a feminist education would be needed to tear down those walls we made up in our society.

i for my part, call myself a brony, but in no way would i say i have a feminist mother. i have a mother that can handle her life on her own, a very openminded mother, and i have a very openminded father. both of those parts formed me, and without this, i guess i wouln't have been openminded enough, to even first try this cartoon.

the only way feminism does count into thism, i would say, is in the person of lauren faust, who made a cartoon without female sterotypes. but i'm not quite sure if lauren too would be liked to be called a feminist.

and sorry for any bad phrases. i'm bad with english.
Betsy
43. Charles S. Couraud
I am 48. Iam a huge man of the show and yes, I call myself a brony. very openly, in public and at my very traditionally male minded job. I runa Facebook hosted, family friendly brony meet-up group. I find in my experience, that most members of the fandom, both male and female, are very shy about being public. I am trying to bring our local community together to support each other.
what you hear in public and on the internet as "loud" voices in the brony community are not those that represent the bulk of us. Would you feel that the participants in any loud public argument are truly representative of the majority? My son, 14 and my daughter,16, are both bronies. We have a deeper family connection through the show and through sharing our enjoyment with others. We feel a deeper connection to others through that sharing. We have gone together to a convention, delved deep into conversations with voice actors, animators and other fans. Never in those times have I seen a woman or younger female fan have her opinions dismissed or devalued. On the whole we might be a more male based fandom as bromies, but the female side of the community is growing fast and strong. My local group is about fifty fifty genderwise. As far as my many forays into the surrounding fandom go, I have only seen vast enthusiasm and encouragement of the female bronies. I have never seen them treated as anything less than equals. I do believe we are making steps in the evolution (at least mentally and emotionally)of men, and of male female interactions. It certainly supercedes what I was exposed to and uncomfortable with growing up.
While I do agree that some bronies carry their demand that the show be what THEY want it to be, (and the toy line, too) I have found that most of those voices are teens and young adults that don't have the patience and "outside of myself" views of the world that they c could be learning from the lessons in the show.
I think it IS nice when we are acknowledged in the show, or product line. I think Hasbro has don an admirable job with putting out toys for the intended audience AND for the older fans. They have also licensed other manufacturers to produce more Brony centered products sold in adult marketplaces. Shirts and other clothing items are redily available for adults, as well as fanbase focus toys and figurines through online stores and places like Hot Topic. I feel like our demand is being met WITHOUT disturbing the regular toy line in most cases. Most bronies are adept with scissors if they want to make brushable pony manes look more show accurate.
I understand the fear based hate. I grew up in a very rural evironment where anything different was feared and to be destroyed. I know the mindset well. I moved beyond it as a child, and away from it when I was able. I have found many bronies (but granted not all) are of a like mind. We want to make the world friendlier and more joyful. Truly. This scares people. Always has: always will. It won't stop us from trying, and succeeding in little ways where ever we can.
Jacob Clifton
44. JAClifton
Thank you for sharing that. You have a beautiful family.
Alexander Gieg
45. alexgieg
The brony subculture has two positive traits when it comes to advancing feminist positions.

First, it helps show to Hollywood that its position on the Bechdel test, namely, that two female characters shouldn't be shown talking to each other unless they're mentioning men or talking about men because otherwise men will "tune out", is false. Sure, others shows such as Buffy and Xena have shown this too, but for this kind of thing it needs repeating, and repeating, and repeating... until it finally works.

Second, it helps to break the false distinction between "typical boy" and "typical girl" interest. It does so in a convoluted way, to be sure, but it does. Over time (measured in decades, let's be realistic) this will spread more and more until we reach the point were it becomes simple common sense. In other words, the more "girl" shows attract a male audience to the point of outright public admission (and the other way around, but that's already commonplace) the better.

All things considered, the positives overcome the negatives.
Shelly wb
46. shellywb
A couple of things:

I think @7, alexgieg has it right.I too have watched MLP and thought it had the same vibe as one of the slice of life anime aimed at adults. I think people turn to it because it's a reprieve from day to day life and a reinforcement, for the most part, of the things that make life better. And sadly, like with anime, older adults who like it are often considered weird or creepy. They think our motives couldn't possibly be innocent, when innocence is at the heart of it. So it's good to see this getting some positive attention.

I have to admit I am a little annoyed that Bronies are being treated as an incredible new thing, when really they're just transposed anime fans. But maybe their newfound popularity will make it easier on the rest of us.

--
@9, addisoncs, there's a good manga called Otomen that you might like, about manly straight guys who love cute fluffy things and their struggles against gender expectations. The manga is for teens, and is thus often funny and cute, but it also has some good things to say.

--
I'm confused by the claims that women have no safe fandom spaces. I do realize there are some forums for gaming and American comics that are hostile toward women. But I'm over on LJ a lot where fandom is 95% female for all kinds of media, and the communities there encourage and support women because we are the communities. They're built by us, for us and guys are welcome but if they come they rarely stick around. I get the point that if a bunch of men came into our commnities and tried to take them over, it would likely make many of us uncomfortable and stifled. But they don't. I'm sure they have their own places where they celebrate in their own ways, and their doing so doesn't detract from us.

I will say that in most anime forums the gender of posters is rarely an issue. The people are almost always gender-blind as far as fan discussion goes. That doesn't keep them from being idiots, but it's rarely gender bias causing the issue. Because of the similarities between MLP and anime, I'd like to think that their fandom's forums are the same.
Betsy
47. ASG
I think the author has really done well in his comments, actually convincing me to agree with him when I didn't just reading the article. The key issue in my mind is that while there are many real issues in the areas of gender roles and expectations, there are also many exaggerated issues. The author correctly (imo) points out that many of these issues become worse than they are because people take a highly emotional us vs. them mindset rather than thinking things through. It's ironic that I was originally going to argue against this article because I was annoyed that it suggested my generation was raised by feminists (and I still maintain that the strong majority of it wasn't, but that isn't really relevant), when another commenter was highly offended that it suggested only one generation had been raised by feminists.

Maybe as a (mostly) traditionalist straight male I just can't "get" these issues the way others do, but many of the comments on this article don't make sense to me. In what way are women (or girls) having their opinions suppressed on the issue of My Little Pony or in any other fandom? Who is saying that women must sit quietly and not voice their opinions, especially about a show targeted for females? Why is it wrong for men or boys who like the show to express their opinions about it? Let's just allow men and women, boys and girls alike to enjoy whatever television programs they enjoy for whatever reasons they enjoy it.
Betsy
48. Merricat
Just wanted to mention that an increasingly large school of feminist thought has to do with men and boys having a sense of permission to do things that are "traditionally" part of the female gender-role. I think the idea goes that when men/boys have a barrier thing going on about where they may participate, that place where they feel they can't go has been infantalized or trivialized in some way, either because women do it or because they wanted to make someone else do it, and there women were? Which leads to backlash against ladies-only stuff, even if it's important stuff, by dudes and by people trying to break out of being trivialized. I think the thought is that if you break this stuff down, and make it so the idea of "this activity is more or less arbitrarily just for women", it is as healthy and helpful as when they did that for men's stuff, just in a sort of reciprocal or inverted form? Because then people can see that it's dumb to arbitrarily assign stuff to ladies, and it's dumb to arbitrarily assign stuff to men, and we all get to do whatever, and we all get to learn more of each other's lessons, and to make new and equitable lessons from a place where we're not so freaked out about each other.

And yeah, there's weirdness in the fandom, like there's weirdness in all fandoms, geek fandoms included - I think there's an earlier entry on this very blog about that. I don't see this article as running counter to that notion or as celebrating that concept. I don't see MLP: FIM as having somehow gained legitimacy through its adult white male fandom (though it certainly gained publicity that way). I see something that I truly hoped to see in my lifetime - something legitimate being recognized as such by men, because it is awesome and because they've been raised to understand that there's nothing to be afraid of by watching something pink, and that there's nothing to gain by trivializing something pink, and that something created for girls is the same thing as something created for people.
Betsy
49. SilentBelle
As a brony myself, I've never really found that gender was much of an issue. Many of us use the word brony as a non-gender term.

I was initially drawn in by the superb show and stayed because of the creativity and kindness I've found in the fandom. I think many of us in the fandom don't particularly think about whether one of our fellow bronies is male or female. It just comes naturally (for me at least, and I assume many others) to give an anonymous internet denizen a genderless voice until you eventually find out who they are.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't see gender-roles as one of the biggest factors of the fandom. That might just be me though...
Betsy
50. Bico
Bronies are certainly not universally of a feminist or otherwise egalitarian persuasion. Just the other day I got into it with someone who decided to very obnoxiously complain in the comments of a fanfic about the fact that it featured a same-sex relationship and that we shouldn't be promoting a "sinful lifestyle." Ironic, given that much of the popular media conflated bronies with homosexuals as well as pedophiles (which they also think are the same thing, apparently). Still, it's been shown that the majority of adult male MLP:FiM fans are very open minded and, while I have no doubt that most are probably a bit ignorant of their privilege, as that's really a problem with society in general, they are very sympathetic with the issue of equality for women and other oppressed groups.

I would say that the brony phenomenon is really more indicative of and may even help encourage a general breakdown of gender essentialism and cisnormativity than it is of specifically feminism, though I would say that this positively effects feminism as well. I think what some of the people making comments may have not considered is that there is a fundamental problem with labeling things as "for girls" and "for boys." It's the old "seperate but equal" problem, in that anything seperate cannot be equal. The fact is that things "for boys" are considered good while things "for girls" are considered poor. When a woman enters the "male sphere" she may be criticised by misogynists, but even the most devout woman-hater will consider a woman who is successful at something "for boys" to be more competent and more worthy of respect than a woman who is successful at something "for girls." On the other hand, if a man does something "for girls" and is very good at it, he is viewed as weak, incompentent, and childish. Why? Because women are viewed as weak, incompentent, and childish, and if you do things meant for them you must be, as well. The positive effect that a significant and vocal number of men have on gender equality is that it makes the wider society reconsider its notion that things for girls are inherently poor quality, and thus may lead to the realization among some, at least, that the same applies to women, themselves.

Now, as for bronies seeking to influence the show or Hasbro into suiting them better... well... yes, we do that. However, every fandom does that. I'm a member of multiple fandoms, and I can assure you that the demands of bronies for more show accurate merchandise or that this episode should have been more like that are completely par for the course. This is what being a geek is all about. It's certainly not about taking something "for girls" and making it "for boys." Consider some of the best loved episodes vs. some of the ones that aren't so much adored. Most male bronies I know thought the Grand Galloping Gala episodes were some of the best episodes. Suited For Success was about making dresses and holding a fashion show. This is perhaps one of the most "girly" concepts you could get, and similar concepts were used for episodes of earlier MLP series. The earlier series, however, assumed girls were stupid and shallow, and the episodes were stupid and shallow... and, frankly, boring. Suited For Success, however, had depth and character growth, which made it exciting while also being girly. The Best Night Ever was the finale, and was all about going to a ball. Again, really girly concept, but pulled off in a mature way that didn't pander to its audience. Now, on the other hoof, when you hear a bunch of bronies grumbling about an episode, it's not because its girly. Some might say that's the reason, but that usually comes from some guys who really are just ignorant. The actual reason bronies complain about an episode, like the recent Magical Mystery Cure (though reactions after it aired, having been handled... fairly well by the writing staff, were more positive) are because it is not just girly, but it is panderingly girly. It's the type of girly that the old MLP would often dabble in, in which they assumed their audience was stupid and easily entertained by sparkles and rainbows (though those are entertaining, I'd just like more than that, please). My wife's a brony, and she loves "girly" things, but she complains about those episodes, too. She complained about there only being brushable pony toys and plushies with rag strips for manes, not because that was "for girls" but because it was "shitty" (her word, not mine... I like being able to style Rarity's hair, even if I'm upset that they don't give AJ a hat, and I can't style Twi's mane into proper bangs).

Do bronies represent some milestone of equality? Nah, that's silly. However, I think it's a mistake to say that it represents no progress, and bronies are just "men being men" (which I find reprehensively gender essentialist, in itself). Bronies are definitely doing something that men aren't supposed to do, and that's obvious enough if you've watched any media that reported on it and the fact that it's garnered media attention in the first place. The male fans have become the most visible aspect of the fandom, true, and that's unfortunately because a) it's considered weird, and thus interesting, that they like it while the other fans are overlooked with a "well, of course they like it, they're just girls" and b) because, yeah, the power of males in society means they end up being listened to more than women.

It is sad that it takes men liking a girls' show to push Hasbro into upping the quality of their merchandise and is possibly the only reason that the show's been allowed to keep the level of artistic integrity it has after Lauren left the show, but the fact that a "for girls" property is even being taken so seriously now is, I think, at least a good indication that people are rejecting the notion of gender essentialism and that our society may be making progress in being considered as actual equals rather than just having their legal freedoms patronizingly tolerated.
Betsy
51. BenHead
I don't think those who are expressing the core negative view of bronies found in this comment section - that we're trying to "take" the show away from girls - really know this fandom very well. Because I have seen exactly none of that.

As to the show itself, bronies fear change as much as any fandom. The creators making major changes to the show to pander to bronies is the last thing we'd want. We love the show for what it is, not for what it might be if only they'd "man up". Anyone who did want that would probably be watching something else. Fortunately, the crew of the show have said that they don't intend to go overboard trying to appeal to bronies, and so far, they've held to that. The show always included some asides for adults, originally meant to appeal to parents, and if those references have gotten slightly geekier to appeal to bronies, they've gotten no more frequent than the jokes for grown-ups ever were.

As to the merchandise, I call for better merch aimed at adults as much as anyone, but I hope that's done in addition to making the toys for kids, not instead. I walk into a Disney store and 90% of it is toys for kids (and most of that is higher quality than those available now for MLP) but there's also that room in the back with the snow globes and porcelain statues and stuff. That's what I really want to see for MLP. Everyone knows the two aren't mutually exclusive, so this seems an odd argument to make.

And as to the fandom...the brony community is one of the most open, welcoming geek/fandom communities I've ever been a part of. Okay, Xenites may have them beat by a hair, but I'd put them well ahead of Otaku and even Trekkies. This is true of how accepting they are in general, and of women and girls especially. As fans of a show that is not only ostensibly "for girls" but one whose cast and crew are largely female, how could we not be? It's exceedingly rare that I see any sexist comments on MLP forums, even when discussions get heated and people may reach for any available insult, and on those rare ocassions, the offender has been chastised by a dozen others. To be honest, the assertion that bronies explicitly try to exclude girls or women is so far outside my experience that I wonder if the commenter is projecting traits of some other fandoms onto bronies. (Unless she's referring only to official policies of websites, in which case I'll note that complying with the COPPA law in the US is so arduous that most sites not exclusively for children - even Google and Facebook - simply don't allow anyone under 13 to join.)

This is what I've seen of the fandom. This, and some of the most amazing art, music, animation, and crafting I've seen from any fandom. Are there exceptions? Sure, there are some jerks, as you'll find in any group this size, but I'd happily argue that they're a tiny minority - fewer than in most fandoms, and far fewer than in society at large. These reasons are exactly why so many of us express pride at being part of this group. As Jacob says in the column, acceptance of others - "love & tolerate" is how the bronies usually put it - no matter how different, is one of the most important lessons of the show, and it's the main one that we seek to represent.
Betsy
52. Karen Nemes
Excellent article, thank you! As the parent of a brony, I've watched this unfold with bemusement, followed by appreciation--and then puzzlement at the negative backlash.

Perhaps some of this can be attributed to the fandom's origins on 4chan, which is notoriously fickle and known for routinely eating its young.
Betsy
54. 123abceasy
My friend made a Brony related YouTube video, you have to watch the whole thing to get the effect though, he goes all Brony at the very end...It is hilarious overall though! Here is the link to it.
https://www.youtube.com/user/PrinceBrando
Betsy
55. BronyPassions
While it may be hard to believe, we have created an online dating and social networking site for Bronies & Pegasisters. Brony Passions is a place where members can enjoy all the features in generic dating sites, but with other people who 'get' MLP. It's 100% free, so check it out if you are interested. Http://www.bronypassions.com/
Betsy
56. dschneider
Thank you for this article. I work at a store that sells brony stuff and I wanted to learn about the culture. Most sites I visited were basically people spewing obcenities about bronies..not very informational. I'm glad I found this post.
Betsy
57. Arcanineryu
Actually, I disagree with the other commenters who say that bronies don't really do anything to further feminisim.
Personally I think it's actually a huge boon to the movement because it does something absolutelly brilliantly that many in the feminist movement forget to consider, and that is to show those who are against feminisim or unsure about it (mostly men) what they stand to gain from changeing their ways and trying to acheive real gender equality.

Most of the time they're only really talking about what women stand to gain from the movement, with the only obvious proviso for men being that when/if they have daughters/wives/ young boys/people of a different sexual orientation/ or women in general that they care about, that the social enviroment will be much less harmful to them. It's almost always just about expecting dudes to sacrifice for those they care about.

But MLP:FIM show's people otherwise. It shows thousands upon thousands of men that respecting and celebrateing feminine things is in and of itself benifitial to all involved. It says that you aren't sacrificeing your privilages as a man to consider a women as your equal or even your superior when thesituation callse for it, your gaining some. You're opening yourself up to a wealth of incredible content and ideas that are just plain fun and healthy and innocent and joyful to be a part of.
It's like they took a carrot on a stick made to lead people into not being a bunch of sexist twats and made it a bold fasion statement for guys everywhere. Took all those feminist ideals based around having thoughtful, well written and realistic female charaters and situations in media and then made it fun, made it encourageing, and made it addicting while still setting a pretty great example for everybody.

And really, for some people, even something as simple as watching a movie and thinking "Yeah she's hot and all, but Twilight Sparkle has a waaayyyyy better personality. " is a step in the right direction

And not only that, but with a show so steeped in female ideals, characters and artwork, made by celebrated female artists that are adored by the shows fans, it builds a much needed desire for more of the same, and with the entertainment industry being so male dominated as is, ANYTHING that encourages more female artists to try and get into the industry, and more importantly, encourages the industry to be more accepting of them, is always a plus.
And with such a large, and still growing franchise to serve as an example to the amount of profits and notoriety that could be made from what is largely considered to be strictly female based material, which has almost allways been looked down upon in film/tv/videogames/etc. as being a nich audience you'll ocasionally throw a bone every once in a while, this could be very encourageing for getting producers to take more chances with female writers, stories, directors, etc. and it helps to encourage the audience to simply desire better written and less steriotyped female charatcers, as well as watch more media that includes more feminine content. It's an incredably powerful thing in the media to have hard evidence that something will make a profit, and it seems to me that mlp has that in spades.

So sure, it might not be an all encompassing change belonging solely to the brony community, but it's definatly a step in the right direction, and i'd imagine that there's gonna be quite a few upcoming lady artists in the media who're gonna owe ther sucsess to My Little Pony.
Betsy
58. Walloper
The problem with bronies is that as a sub-culture they share a great deal in common with pedophiles: they are generally anti-social adult men who have an obession with young girlhood. Because of this they are always going to be viewed in a suspicious light by anyone with common sense. Does that mean they are all perverts? No, of course not. Many of them are men who have simply made the decision to openly embrace their effeminate tendencies by basing their identity upon a show created for pre-pubescent females. However, because of the confluent interests this sub-group shares with actual pedophiles it is inevitable that there will be some overlap. The prevalence of pornography featuring MLP characters on the internet is proof of this fact.
Betsy
59. Jaybels
In regards to the straight-man vs. everything else argument, I don't think that's the entire reason homosexuals (and other "deviations from the norm") are disproportionately equated with pedophilia. I mean, sure, that's part of it, especially during periods when there was a particularly high fervor over the concept of gays trying to recruit youth, but I think something even darker's at play. I think an unfortunately high percentage of straight, adult men fear that young boys are being viewed by homosexuals as they view young girls. It's the same reasoning behind high school dress codes that dictate how wide shoulder straps on a tank top must be; this "boys will be boys, and girls have the burden of responisbility" mentality. It's the fear that this mentality is universal, which, honestly, is no better.
Betsy
60. Damabupuk
Thanks for this. Both myself and my son are Bronies, and I once ran across a thread comment that claimed that all Bronies should be shot on sight. Chilling.
When I first found out my son was a Brony, it was literally a kind of coming out, discovering all the files downloading on his computer (not creeping, just doing some maintenance), asking him about it, and his confession of what was going on. So we (my son, my wife, and myself) sat down and watched a few episodes, and were hooked.
The show, as the title clearly states, teaches friendship. I can't think of any "boys" cartoon, not in my time as a young person, nor currently, that is focused solely on trying to be good and kind to other people. That Bronies can be vilified in such horrible ways for their support of such a philosophically laudable show just goes to show the distance we still need to go.
Betsy
61. tbb
I don't intend to be argumentative, I actually agree with a lot of what you've said - breaking down these gender walls is definitely a step forward, however I just want to put my experience as a female fan out there?
I got super into MLP FIM from the moment I heard about it being released, I always loved MLP growing up, it was good and nice and lovely, (a little vapid sometimes sure but most kids stuff was?).
I remember watching FIM, the moment it came out, showing my female friends (and the boys but they were like, no thanks), going 'look at this cool thing we should watch this i love it' and they loved it, and yay, awesome.
But the brony "ownership" of this is so over reaching, that now I get mocked for watching it??? I'm the intended audience (well, maybe I'm a bit older) and i get ridicule because there's this claim from the brony community (and im sure it's not intentional) that overshadows mine, a GIRL'S. Like, it was created as a female space, and I can't talk about it with my friends, the girls who once liked watching it with me won't, and eventually my enthusiasm waned so much that I don't even watch anymore. Because when people find out I've seen it, they think I'm attempting to adopt the brony subculture (key word bro, as in dude, male whatever) which makes me, a girl, an aberation amongst aberations. God forbid I mention LIKING the show, without some dumb excuse about younger cousins or siblings (that i dont have :S my kid sister is 16). If I know a fact about it, and say it, I immediately tense up for the teasing, and weird side eyes (always "why do i like this brony thing" never "why do i like a modern sequel to the show most of us girls watched as kids")
This is what girls are talking about when we get annoyed about bronies, sure we love that there's less emphasis on gender based consumption (is that the correct way to phrase it? shrugs). It's great that some men feel comfortable with feminity but just... the value of men liking something still edges out the value of women liking something. Men chose to bridge the gender gap, perfect, but men still are worth more than women to society, and now it's read as a male obsession, and women aren't as free to bridge that gender gap in return, because the mockery is a little more serious, we're not a joke, or a group, we're a single weird ass loser, and I feel like I'm always read as desperate too, not even good enough for the bronies (which the general public holds in contempt).

I just remember it as a feeling like a slap in the face, the first time my little pony went from "maybe a little immature but cool and entirely appropriate" as a personal interest and I began being read as a pathetic little limpet on a community that already has very little respect, and as having made a venture into the masculine, and being mocked for it by my friends (i wanna say punished but it feels too strong).

I'm sure the majorities intentions are altruistic, but it doesn't change the truth of the matter, that the movement/subculture makes women like me feel uncomfortable in a space that was created for us. I can't even muster myself to search out female friendly spaces, i don't like being closed off about my interests with my friends, and I can't discuss this with them without being judged bc this unintentional "ownership" of FIM is so pervasive that mainstream society views FIM as the brony show.

Sorry, i just thought it would be important to read, because it would be great if all it did was take down that gender wall between men and feminity, but it builds another one right in front of the women the show was FOR in the first place, unintentionally of course, and there's not much to do about it, but this is the source of my frustration with bronies as a community/idea.

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