Cinders was conceived as a free online haven for nerd girls. Fandom, the internet and popular culture are our absolute favourite things. And that’s why it upsets us so much to see bullying and toxicity win on platforms that we use to spread our stories and others. So, in the spirit of Hear me Roar Méabh McDonnell decided to share our anger for actresses Millie Bobby Brown and Kelly Marie Tran.
I was going to call this post ‘In defense of the nerd girls’ but you know what – I’m not writing in their defense. These girls are talented and powerful and shouldn’t need defending. It shouldn’t be any sort of controversial opinion that young women who are hard working, good at their jobs and take the time to be considerate and open online are in the right.
The fact that the last few weeks has seen both Kelly Marie Tran and Millie Bobby Brown driven off of social media, because of the actions of despicable bullies is a truly sad and desperate state of affairs. It is one that reflects the toxic atmospheres that can develop around fandoms.
As a magazine that celebrates fandom and pop culture (particularly female fandom and pop culture) the treatment of these actresses fills us with sadness for them and extreme anger at the people who felt that they could collectively bully these young women.
As a magazine that celebrates fandom and pop culture the treatment of these actresses fills us with sadness for them and extreme anger at the people who felt that they could collectively bully these young women.
This culture of people – often women – being driven off of the internet because of the place they occupy in an industry that many people take ownership over is so despicable. It is the dark side (pun fully intentional) of fandom that should be at the forefront of our discussions.
We’ve seen this in gaming, where female gaming reviewers have been victims of cyberbullying. We’ve seen it in reactions to the announcement of Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor in Doctor Who. We see it when girls part-take in cosplay and are quizzed about their inherent knowledge of whatever aspect of pop culture they are portraying.
The fact that we see it time and time again in a community called ‘fandom’ is truly upsetting. Fandom is about celebration. It’s about finding something: a tv show, a movie, a book series, a comic book, a game; that you fall in love with and then finding all of the other people who love it as much as you do. It’s about passion and creativity.
Fandom is the experience of enjoyment and so it always hurts that little bit more when we see that experience being tarnished for anyone. It hurts when we see it tarnished by the experiences of some fans and it hurts when we see it tarnished by the actions of so-called ‘fans’ against actresses, producers and reviewers.
Fandom is the experience of enjoyment and so it always hurts that little bit more when we see that experience being tarnished for anyone.
It’s also worth noting that it is within fandom that many who find themselves on the fringes in life find a tribe. It is the refuge of those who are often struggling and trying to find something they can hold onto.
And in finding that community and that shared experience people’s lives can be saved. Fandom is often the thing that shows those of us who felt alone, who felt different, who felt under-represented, that there are others who see us and that we are valued. It’s not just within the shows and books that fandom springs up – but through the creativity and community that those stories inspire. People create art and stories inspired by the things they love and share them with a group who love them too. Fandom is a place of inclusion.
Or at least it should be.
This is why it is so very heartbreaking to see self-declared Star Wars ‘fans’ drive the wonderful Kelly Marie Tran off Instagram. Kelly Marie Tran, who portrayed Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, was a ray of sunshine online. She happily invited people into her experience of being a part of one of the world’s biggest franchises – something she did not have to do – and was repaid by bigoted, short-sighted bullies who accused her of tarnishing a series that they saw as something they had ownership of.
Here is something we are very clear about – fandom is not ownership. It is celebration, it is inspiration and it is community but it is not ownership. No one person can claim to own Star Wars. The same that no one – save maybe JK Rowling, and even that could be argued – owns Harry Potter. They are shared commodities.
Because of The Last Jedi Kelly Marie Tran is a part of the Star Wars Universe and because of her portrayal of Rose Tico the universe just got a bit more inclusive – something it always should have been but better late than never. She is in that world. I’m looking at her face on a piece of merchandise right now. She’s in. So the idea of her being forced out of a space where she no longer felt free to be herself because they are unaccepting of her – that’s unacceptable.
As is the awful treatment of Millie Bobby Brown, a 14 year old child who has the difficult experience of growing up in the public eye because of her talent and has bourne it very gracefully. Yet despite this she was chosen as the target of a series of homophobic memes. This is a truly horrible and cowardly way to treat anyone, let alone a child who has always supported LGBT causes. Their actions led her to leave Twitter, a platform she has been vocal on and has been open about her experience as a young actress in Hollywood.
Unfortunately these are the actions of bullies and of cowards. People who are getting a lot louder in this Trumpian nightmare. They hide in groups. They hide behind people they see as powerful. They anonymously torture 14 year olds! Because they think it’s funny. Because they think they have something to prove. Because they are terrified someone will see just how small and insignificant they are.
We know this. I hope Millie Bobby Brown knows this. I hope Kelly Marie Tran knows this. But it still doesn’t stop the words from hurting and it doesn’t make the pictures go away.
Even if they come back to social media – something that I hope they do if it makes them happy – this experience will have always happened for these girls. These bullies will always have been people they had to deal with in a community that these girls did their best to nurture.
So we can’t undo the past but we can try and fix the future. We can commit to making our own fandoms better. To promote inclusiveness, to celebrate creativity, and to discourage negativity as much as possible. We should respond with acceptance, constructive criticism, and encouragement. We will shout back with our message of inclusiveness and happiness!
We shouldn’t defend the nerd girls. We should arm them.
Goodness knows we need them now, more than ever.