Autostraddle describe themselves as “an intelligent, hilarious & provocative voice and a progressively feminist online community.” Now one of their authors, Rose, has published a comprehensive and well-researched article about the role and nature of shipping fanfiction in our fandom.
In it, she conveys a highly positive view of the show and phenomenon as a whole, but also weaves in very specific criticisms of some of our cultural undercurrents.
So, what makes the new My Little Pony so compelling to fanboys (and fangirls)? Well, for starters, unlike some previous incarnations of the franchise (such as the infamous “third generation”), the characters aren’t prissy flibbertigibbets who care for nothing but tea parties and pretty clothes. The show’s six protagonists run the gamut in their interests and styles, showing that, as show creator Lauren Faust put it, “there are lots of different ways to be a girl.”
She is well aware of the idioms of our sociolect and makes liberal use of the, in my experience, slightly controversial coinages “fillyfooling” and “coltcuddling.” The following excerpt also shows her refreshingly balanced and humorous take on clop, linking an xkcd.
Bronies have their own ways of talking about shipping, referring to mare/mare relationships as “fillyfooling” (and relationships between stallions as “coltcuddling”). The amount of fillyfooling equals or outnumbers the amount of heterosexual shipping on many fansites. What is also surprising is how non-fetishistic these stories are. While sexual fanfic – called “clop” in the brony fandom – certainly exists (it’s Rule 34, after all), the majority of sapphic pony fanfiction I found was fairly chaste, and more focused on romance than titillation.
While, in a later paragraph, she could have tried to extend this balanced viewpoint to other topics, her main focus was on a tendency that surfaced in a little poll she conducted.
It’s interesting to ponder why My Little Pony lesbian fanfiction follows the same pattern, despite being mostly written by men. In order to investigate this, I took a survey of members of various “shipping” groups on FIMFiction to gauge their attitudes about fanfiction.
Of the 74 responses I got, 59 who responded were men, the majority of whom said they were attracted to women. One of the more interesting parts of the survey was where I asked them why they liked their favorite pairings so much. Most, again, focused on emotional attractions or compatibility between the characters.
She makes clear that a certain bias, especially in the form of active discouragement, against male-male shipping it is only a tendency among some factions of the fandom, but still observes that personal avoidance of the genre is wide-spread.
One other factor may be that My Little Pony fans tend to be a group that is more open to LGBT relationships and rights than average. As a result, that might lead them to view lesbian relationships as more than just fetishes. The survey also included questions on how the respondents viewed gay rights issues. A majority supported same-sex marriage, even those who said they did not have any close LGBT friends or family members. A majority said they enjoyed TV shows and movies that included same-sex relationships. And a number of the respondents were LGBT themselves. While it’s hard to draw anything conclusive about the fandom as a whole from 74 respondents mostly culled from same-sex-shipping groups, it is what I have seen to be mostly the case from my own experience with the brony fandom. Bronies have taken the motto of “I’m going to love and tolerate the shit out of you” as their response to the sexist and homophobic abuse they frequently get from outsiders, in tune with the show’s message. This can be seen in the mostly-supportive response that popular pony musician Not A Clever Pony received from fans when she came out as trans on her deviantart account.
But I’ve also heard plenty of instances where people did not feel that the brony fandom was quite as accepting. Making the brony fandom a paragon of tolerance and open-mindedness is one response to homophobic outsider commenters, but others have responded in less-savory ways, feeling the need to reaffirm their masculinity by making their brony communities less friendly to women and queer people. One of my close friends who is active in brony groups offline says he’s heard plenty of homophobia from other bronies, and feels like the fandom often isn’t very welcoming of male homosexuality compared to female homosexuality. This is something I heard again and again from fans of “coltcuddling” fics (who tended to be a fairly even mix of queer men and straight women) who responded to my survey, that there was a “double standard” in the community where male homosexual fanfiction was automatically voted down by straight male bronies who hadn’t even read it (something even acknowledged by the staff of Equestria Daily in posts about M/M fics), while those same bronies would give enthusiastic thumbs-up to lesbian-themed fanfiction. The reactions go beyond simply stating their own dislike of M/M (which was common for the straight male bronies in my survey), to actively discouraging other brony sites from posting it.
Naturally, she closes on a high note, lauding the genre of fanfiction for its unique merits and providing recommendations of shipping fanfics she particularly enjoyed. Let’s take this article as an incentive and encouragement to proceed further along the path of not mere tolerance but acceptance. (And love of course.)