Way back in the 80s, when He-Man and Voltron graced us with their presence on television, when Thundercats roamed the TV landscape and Jem was truly outrageous, there was no end to the cartoons a child could fall in love with. Thanks to the miracle of capitalism, every trip to the toy store allowed parents the opportunity to festoon their children with action figures of their child’s favorites. There was GI Joe for the boys, She-Ra for the girls and of course the ubiquitous Care Bears to sort out the younger kids. But every once in a while, someone crossed the aisle. There was a little girl eyeing the GI Joes and a boy who wouldn’t mind a Jem doll. There was a clear divide for what action figures and dolls were meant for what gender and never the twain shall meet.
In the 80s, My Little Pony fell onto the girl’s side of the aisle. But in the new millennium, that divide was been breached when Hasbro and HUB network relaunched its slumbering pony franchise with the wildly popular My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. And a funny thing happened—adults started watching the show too. And not just grown women either. Guys have embraced MLP and launched a fandom all their own. The term applied to these male MLP fans is Brony (short for bro pony) and they’re out to challenge some male stereotypes about what friendship—and fandom—can be.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, for anyone who hasn’t seen the show, is about a group of pony friends and their adventures in Equestria. Each episode revolves around the ponies learning lessons about friendship and having a good time while doing it. While that concept makes it unsurprising that children would love the show, the startling part is that the show is good for adults too. It’s well-written, clever, and doesn’t pander while still teaching messages about all the good things you want a kid to learn. What has startled many, however is the adult response to MLP and specifically the adult male response.
Bronies exploded onto the internet as a fandom in a big way. There are innumerable websites to the show run by bronies (like the now famous Equestria Daily), as well as fan clubs and Meetups that bring male fans of the show together. There’s plenty of cosplay with folks dressing up as their favorite ponies and entire conventions (like the upcoming Bronycon in New Jersey) that let fans get together to celebrate their equestrian pride. The Brony sensation has been met with honest bewilderment by a lot of people, who can’t understand why guys would be interested in the show. Sadly, underneath that has also been an undercurrent of nastiness aimed at the fan community, with folks asking why adult males would be interested in a show written to cater to little girls. These questions couch some old gender battles in new hurtful shaming tactics that seem eerily familiar to anyone who wanted to step outside their gender roles and do something different in their lives. The fact is, MLP‘s Brony fandom is a poke in the eye to genderized fandoms everywhere and there are folks out there who just can’t stand a challenge to stereotyped gender norms.
Girls like pink, boys like blue. GI Joe for boys, Jem and the Holograms for girls. People have been fighting to be allowed outside of their gender boxes for generations, yet while we celebrate women standing up to claim their power to choose, a backlash exists against boys out to do the same thing. Where women can choose their fandoms these days and battle the naysayers with pride, these Bronies are getting a lot of hairy eyeballs for choosing to enjoy something that is a little pink, a little cute, and a little friendly.
The question posed by the naysayers seems to be this: shouldn’t adult men stay away from things that are designed for little girls? Well then, why not ask the same question about adult women who are enjoying the show? Why not knock so-called Fillies (female adult fans) for being fans? No, Bronies get a bad name because being into something pink and friendly is not a masculine feature, and these guys are embracing something that is quite the opposite of macho. Is that their prerogative? Sure. What those critical of Bronies might want to ask themselves is what it is about men embracing lessons about fairness, friendship, fun, and happiness that makes everyone so nervous? Are lessons about good sportsmanship, being true to yourself, and ethical judgement strictly girl’s only?
The inclusion of adult men in the MLP fandom doesn’t seem to bother series helmswoman Lauren Faust. She has gone on record as supporting all genders and ages as fans of the show, saying that the show had been created for parents and their children, which includes male parents. One such comment on her deviantArt page in response to some Brony-hate is particularly telling. Faust fires back, stating: “In general, I am still inspired by bronies. As a group, they have not succumbed to society’s pressure that young men must hold contempt for anything feminine no matter what. They’ve been able to see beyond the preconceived notions that they were most likely raised with to judge something for it’s merit. And on top of that, they’re brave enough to embrace it openly despite the ridicule that they are undoubtedly subject to. ”
In the spirit of battling for gender equality in our appreciations, I’ll say that it might be nice to live in a world where I can fight for my appreciation of action films and comic books, video games and tough role models, while a guy can like a rom-com or two along with his MLP without having his masculinity questioned. If it’s good for the goose it might be good for the Brony, and in the end, who is any fanboy or girl to judge? Meanwhile, Bronies continue to grow as a positive, supportive fandom across the internet with every season of the show with little sign of slowing down.
So keep your eyes open. When next you see a guy wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a flying pony, or hear a man you know mention something called Derpy Hooves, you’ll know a Brony is among you. You’ll know you’ve met someone brave enough to stand up for their interests despite the peer pressure against being different, and that’s something courageous to be supported.
So, not to cross fandoms or anything, but let’s all say it together:
Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com