Brace yourselves, everypony! The second content-tastic entry in my ponypalooza starts now!
First let me start out with a big scary observation about gender roles in our society. I certainly agree that it is an ongoing struggle for women to be accepted into traditionally male careers and roles in society. However, I think that because there’s still an underlying social prejudice that male=better, it’s somehow accepted that women will want to aspire to fit that ‘better’ mold. Whereas when men want to break out of their own traditional roles and seek traditionally female careers, they’re often considered less of a man for it. To put it in sports terms, a woman who wants to play football is going to be less of a pariah than a man who wants to be a ballet dancer.
These stereotypical ideas of what is male and what is female are socialized into us from a young age when boys are given fire trucks and NERF guns and girls are given baby dolls and toy kitchens. So although it’s certainly difficult for women to find equality in male roles, it’s also frowned upon for a boy to have ‘girly’ interests because that makes him somehow less of a man. (Feel free to argue this in the comments.)
Now, to the topic at hand.
My Little Pony is easily one of the most stereotypically girl-directed franchises out there. The diminuation of manly ‘horses’ into cutesy ‘ponies’, the musical numbers (of which there are gloriously many), the pink and purple logo, and the all-female leading cast all point to a show that our culturally-enforced gender roles would pin down as a girly show.
The beauty of MLP, however, is that it has appealed to a whole different fanbase, and it is making significant waves in this demographic dubbed ‘the brony’, the high-school-through-college-age male MLP fans. This wave takes the form of legions of boys realizing that traditionally girl-oriented media is cool too, and that liking it doesn’t immediately turn them gay, or whatever teenage boys are scared of these days. And, even better, the majority of MLP fans have really taken to heart the messages of love and tolerance at the heart of the show, and are moving past the antiquated idea that ponies=gay and that being called gay=bad, and tend to respond to haters and trolls in the best way possible: by smiling, and nodding, and then totally ignoring their worthless opinions and moving on with their lives.
There are still some problems in the fandom, for example, despite the ‘love and tolerate’ battlecry of the bronies, a lot of guy MLP fans will still qualify their ‘coming out’ as a brony with some variation of ‘no homo’ or ‘but I’m totally not gay or anything’, which just spits a little bit of homophobia back into a fandom that is otherwise working really hard to break down the stereotypical gender conventions of ‘what girls like’ and ‘what boys like’.
Pegasisters (the designation for a female MLP fan) don’t have as much of a struggle with this – they just have to explain why they’re watching a show for 8-10 year olds. Boys whowant to be open about their pony-directed love, on the other hand, have to brave the emasculation of society to do so. (The number of rage comics I’ve seen about boys having to pretend they were buying pony figures for their sisters is TOO DAMN HIGH.)
Society’s reactions in general, so far, have been a bit meh. Despite the fact that geekiness has been becoming the new cool for years now, the desire to ridicule that which you do not understand (in this case, ‘grown men’ liking ponies, but the same could be said for news media’s attempts to explain lolcats or cosplaying) still continues to run rampant in the media. (Although the Wall Street Journal took the classy neutral ground.)
However, it fills my little filly-fooling heart with joy to say that the brony subculture is here to stay, and is encouraging other boys to both defy ‘demographic’ stereotypes and like things on their own merit rather than on their perceived gender audience and ‘despite’ (I say that with a great rolling of eyes) the stumbling block of a nearly all-female cast, and to love and tolerate the differences between and opinions of everypony.
Previously in Ponies: