You Shall Not Pass: Fandom & The Gatekeeping of Femme Fans

Nerd culture, aka the world of fandom, use to be an exclusive club for the outcasts of society. We were the people who explored the Shire, solved mysteries with an alien, served justice in colorful costumes, and took on zombies in a fancy mansion. We were ostracized by society for what we liked and sometimes it even got violent. Despite it all, we kept being nerds.

Then one day, Hollywood got access to our secret world and turned it into a billion-dollar money maker. Nerd culture became pop culture. Now, what once got us stuffed into lockers, is being celebrated worldwide. The newfound popularity should have come with open acceptance, and there is, but not for everyone.

Anyone who identifies as a woman, as well as non-binary femmes, are finding themselves the new outcast in fandom. The exclusive club for the marginalized is doing the same to a group that is already facing bias and prejudice. Non-male nerds often experience gatekeeping- “the activity of controlling, and usually limiting general access to something.”  

As a cisgender female, I have often experienced gatekeeping, which often includes having to prove my nerdiness. This experience isn’t just exclusive to everyday causal encounters; it happens professionally too. My experiences with gatekeeping made me want to talk to others about it. So I talked with 10 female/femme-identifying nerds about gatekeeping and the world of fandom in general.

~*~ the participants all took a survey about nerd culture and fandom. The identities of the participants will not be disclosed. ~*~

Here are some interesting statistics based on my research:

The Average age range of participants was 25-30.

10 out of 10 participants have experienced some form of gatekeeping.

9 out of 10 participants experienced some form of gatekeeping from males.

3 out of 10 participants experienced some form of gatekeeping from other females.

The most common forms of gatekeeping experienced by the participants were quizzing, belittling, and harassment.

The most common form of quizzing is asking the origins of a particular character.

8 out of 10 participants got into nerd culture when they were kids.

10 out of 10 participants were into more than 1 fandom.

The most common fandoms between all the participants were anime, Nintendo, horror, and comic books.

I shared with the participants a funny gatekeeping story. How one day I was wearing my Green Lantern shirt and a UPS driver came to deliver a package. He asked me if I was a fan of Big Bang Theory. “No, I like the Green Lantern,” I told him. The UPS driver scoffed and asked, “What do you know about the Green Lantern?” I lifted my shirt to reveal my $900 Green Lantern tattoo that included Mogo. The driver finally handed me my package and said,” Oh! You probably know more than me.” I closed my door loudly.

Many of the participants shared their own personal experience with gatekeeping and how it makes them feel.

Participant 1 is a cosplayer and shared a story about her first time going to a comic book store, “Some are fine, but the majority are either gatekeeping really hard or sexualizing me. If I’m in cosplay I get a lot of creeps, and sometimes just going to a shop/con brings that out. If they’re not hitting on me they’re trying to make me prove I’m a “real fan”. I distinctly remember my first time going to a comic store (when I was like 11, too) and getting teased by the male clerk, and now I pretty much just order comics online instead so I don’t have to deal with it. I see this from men not only in the typical “nerd” communities but also in a lot of music areas as well (metalheads are the worst!)”

Participant 2 was in the 36+ age range and talked about quizzing, “They’re usually shocked that I know my stuff, but I’m always prepared to be asked extremely exclusive and specific questions before I claim to be a fan of something in front of a male nerd.”

Participant 6 is heavily into the James Bond franchise: “[male nerds are] Reductive, patronizing and condescending. I avoid mainstream or non-fanfiction fan spaces because of male presence. They think they’re hardcore and that our interest in fandom is only based on attraction or something frivolous.”

Participant 7 has many superhero tattoos: “I’ve been told I’m a fraud for having a superhero tattoo and that I know nothing about them.[…] It makes me feel shitty.”

Participant 5 shares her experience with other female nerds: “[…] Eh, sometimes. Most females tend to be competitive sometimes anyway. Those who aren’t tend to be my friends.”

Participant 8 discusses the friendliness she’s experienced from male nerds: “I have not experienced [gatekeeping]  personally or cannot remember. Mostly I am asked questions like, have you heard of this? Is the thing you’re wearing from this?”

All the participants agreed that gatekeeping is frustrating. but hope that one day, fandom fans of all identities could enjoy being nerds together.

Participant 9 said it best, “We use to be the Losers Club and now we are the cool kids. Let’s just be cool together and embrace those who are now seeing the magic we always saw. ”

How can we come together as the participants’ hope? The answer is acceptance. We have to learn to accept our differences and unite based on our shared interests. Just as there are many kinds of fandoms, so too there are many types of fans. So next time you feel the urge to quiz someone about their fandom, consider asking them what is their favorite thing about it? Turn it into an opportunity to start a conversation and not a fight.

How do you feel about nerd culture being pop culture now? Do you have any experience with gatekeeping?  Share your thoughts in the comments and online. We would love to start a positive conversation on how we can make the world of fandom and more inclusive and positive place!

About Yali Perez

When she's not writing about pop culture for Fandom Spotlite, curating social media for the*gameHERS, or helping to produce the DB4L podcast, she is a single mom to the coolest kid in the world. In Yali's free time she likes to bake, exercise, watch horror films, and play Mario Kart. Yali's goal as a writer is to share her nontraditional and colorful view of the world with readers everywhere.

View all posts by Yali Perez

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