You’ve probably heard by now that Rotten Tomatoes recently made some changes to the layout of their website. This is because trolls decided to bombard the site with negative early ratings for “Captain Marvel,” even before they’d seen the film.
It’s disheartening to see people trying to create negative buzz surrounding Marvel’s first female-led film, simply because the film stars a woman. And even though I’m glad Rotten Tomatoes is making changes, I fear those same trolls will be bombing the site with negative reviews as soon as the film releases, not unlike what happened with “The Last Jedi.”
I love being a geek, but sometimes I just feel…tired. I’m tired of the negative discourse that takes place online surrounding my favorite fandoms. I’m tired of the anger, and I’m tired of the controversy.
And yet, I also know that ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. Sometimes, we have to talk about it — to pull this discourse into the light and examine what is really happening, so that we can all grow better together.
As a female geek, I feel like many of my favorite franchises are making a real effort to help women feel more included, and that means a lot to me. Yet when I see trolls complaining about female superheroes like Captain Marvel, it steals some of that joy away. It makes me feel sad and invalid as a fan; if female lead characters aren’t welcome, am I unwelcome in the fandom also?
I’m not sure what we can do about the situation, and sometimes that makes me feel discouraged.
I’m blessed to be a part of many wonderful geek discussion communities online, including WordPress bloggers; the ESO Network and the Story Geeks podcasts; the Star Wars Cantina group on Reddit; to name a few. I love the people involved with these groups, and I’m proud to call them my friends.
Yet how do we stop the trolls hiding behind their computer screens, who are complaining about women in geek films and acting as gatekeepers as they try to keep out the influx of new fans? Do we call them out on social media when they make an inflammatory post, or does that only fuel their fire? How can you teach someone that their behavior is hurtful, when they’re so entrenched in their own opinions that they can’t see beyond their own point of view?
Change takes time, and we may never completely wipe out this negative undercurrent from fandom. But I do believe that change is possible, and I think it starts by sharing our stories. Stories have power — we know this because we’re all passionate geeks, and stories are what bring us into these fandoms in the first place. We have to keep sharing why female heroes matter, on a personal level.
Here’s why they matter to me.
When I think about the impact of female heroes in film, the first movie that comes to mind is “Wonder Woman.” I wasn’t prepared for how deeply this film was going to move me. Walking into the theater, I was excited to see a female-led superhero film, but when it came to the part where Wonder Woman climbs up the ladder and starts walking across No Man’s Land, tears actually filled my eyes.
I hadn’t realized how long I’d been waiting to see a female superhero have a big, badass moment in her own movie. Wonder Woman was out there in the line of fire, unapologetically fighting for justice and freedom and saving the day with her courage and compassion. Not just as a member of a larger ensemble, and not relegated to the role of “love interest” — it was just her, burning as a bright beacon of hope in a desolate war zone.
About a week after I watched “Wonder Woman,” I received a life-changing medical diagnosis. Even though “Wonder Woman” was just a movie, this story gave me hope in a difficult time. And as I struggled to adapt to my new reality, that scene from “Wonder Woman” became an important metaphor for me, inspiring me to keep persevering. Wonder Woman was strong, and I could be too.
I felt something similar when watching “The Force Awakens” for the first time. There are many things I enjoyed about “The Force Awakens” — seeing Han, Chewie, and the Millennium Falcon again; hearing John Williams’ famous Star Wars theme and watching the opening crawl; and so many other special moments. But the scene that stood out to me the most is the lightsaber fight between Rey and Kylo in the snowy forest on Starkiller Base.
Kylo reaches out through the Force, trying to call Anakin’s old lightsaber to him, but it doesn’t respond…until Rey reaches out through the Force and it snaps into her hands, the music swelling.
I got a little teary-eyed then too. Star Wars has had great female characters in the past, but there was something especially moving about seeing a young female Force user as a main character in a saga film for the first time. Rey is a character that continues to inspire me, and cosplaying as her at geek conventions brings me so much joy.
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, either. About a year ago, I went to a Star Wars cosplay panel at a con, featuring one of the major Star Wars costuming groups. The speaker commented that they’d seen an increase in interest in their costuming group as part of the Disney Star Wars era — and a lot of that had to do with people wanting to dress up as Rey.
Rey, Wonder Woman, and now Captain Marvel as well mean a lot to female fans, regardless of age, but I think it’s especially important for young girls. I can’t wait to introduce my 2-year-old niece to characters like Rey and Wonder Woman. I want to share these stories with her and show her that yes, she can be a hero too.
However, sometimes I fear what my niece may experience in the fandom. I hope that some of the things that have happened to me will not happen to her, and I don’t want online trolls to take away the joy she could experience.
It hurt when someone I didn’t even know found my tweet on Twitter about why Leia and Rey mean a lot to me and then “explained” to me in a very condescending way why I shouldn’t like Rey because she “was not an interesting character.” It hurt when a stranger walked up to me in an amusement park because he saw my Star Wars jacket and eventually ended up lecturing me on why I shouldn’t like “The Last Jedi,” not even letting me speak for myself or share why I thought the way I did. It hurt when I saw people complain about “SJWs” in “Captain Marvel” or the new female “Doctor Who,” because I felt like what they were really saying was “I just don’t want women as main characters in my favorite movies. You are not welcome in this fandom.”
Fellow female geeks, don’t let the negative discourse stop you from being involved in fandom. Keep sharing about why characters like Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman matter to you. Leave positive comments and reviews, and share your stories. These female-led movies are clearly resonating with audiences — just look at the box office results for films like “Wonder Woman,” the Hunger Games series, the new Star Wars films, and the projected $100 million+ opening for “Captain Marvel.”
We are not alone, and we CAN change tone of the discourse. Whoever or wherever you are — you have a voice and a place in fandom. When my niece reaches the age I am now, I hope she’ll find a fandom that is even more welcoming and full of rich female characters that she can look up to.
Like Captain Marvel, let’s reach “higher, further, faster” together.