When my daughter was small, I’d dress her in camouflage cargo shorts and tank tops. Then, she’d walk around in a tutu, waving her fairy wand. When she wanted a baby doll, she insisted it was the boy Baby Alive with its anatomically correct infant penis. She would play with her miniature Disney princess figures endlessly. She’s made friends with both boys and girls; opting to have co-ed birthday parties far past when the other kids seem to have given them up. Now, she cuts and sews her own fashion creations and then wears basketball shorts and t-shirts. She skateboards along our porch and beelines it to the heels when we’re near a shoe department. But the thing is, for how much she’s liked and all the things she likes, my daughter is practically invisible as a girl. Why? Because she’s a fangirl living in a fanboy world.
Here’s what I mean: When we walk into a store, like we recently did to shop for clothing, my daughter’s t-shirt options were a Grumpy Cat v-neck and a soft cotton pastel tee with, “Not everyone who’s lost needs to be found” curly-cued across the front. My own fangirl heart just about shriveled up and died; and I’m not even going to mention the sizes of these shirts because that’s for a different day. Then, like we’ve been doing since she was little, my daughter and I made our way to the boys section where, of course, the pop culture gods reigned down and made it glisten with the coolest t-shirts, ever.
There was nothing “deep” in this section. The store got right to the point: superheroes, a vintage Nintendo game controller, Minecraft, Harry Potter, Masters of the Universe, minions, Jurassic Park. Basically, if you loved a movie or TV show released within the past twenty-five to thirty years, it had a t-shirt in the boys section.
I was pissed. I’ve been battling this conundrum for more than a decade with my daughter. I don’t mean girls t-shirts that say inappropriate and stupid things like “Math is hard.” What I mean is an acknowledgement that girls like t-shirts beyond floral prints and cats. Yes, we have two cats, and my daughter sleeps next to one every night, but c’mon! She’s a cool girl, reward her. Let her walk into a store and not make her feel like there’s something wrong with her because she has to, in a way, be a gender traitor. Boys don’t corner the market on liking cool shit, but you’d never know that if you weren’t a fangirl yourself. And, as any fan knows, you wear your fandom front-and-center; that’s why this is a big deal.
There’s this insidious perception that men and boys drive fandom; that anything popular and has an element of geek – like zombies, motorcycle gangs, video games, comic books, books in general, superhero movies, social media, etc.—are popular because men and boys are the core fan base.
Wrong. It’s all wrong.
The Walking Dead is watched by more women than men. Sons of Anarchy is watched by more women than men. Women gamers surpassed boys AND men as players this year. Guardians of the Galaxy opened big with, you’ll never believe it, a huge amount of women in attendance. Women read more books, they share more on social media and they buy more than men hand-over-fist. I mean, who cared about Dr. Who before women started watching it? Think of one thing that boys and men turned into a phenomenon. I’m having a hard time thinking of one. Just because men outnumber women at a convention like Comic Con doesn’t mean they drive sales; it’s a false positive. Women drive fandom. Hollywood knows it—they’ve known it for years—yet the studios have a gender problem and so do the stores that sell their licensed merchandise.
It’s like fangirls are this “secret” that encompasses half the population. It’s mind-numbingly infuriating. Try explaining to your daughter, that she's part of the majority but completely invisible. Shit, I’m part of the majority, and it never feels that way and I’m OLD. J.K. Rowling, the writer and woman behind the Harry Potter series, had publishers question if she could write a story about a boy wizard and have it sell, so they asked her to cloak her gender by using two initials.
I want to tell my daughter it gets better, but does it? Jo had to change her name to J.K. and Comic Con is basically a bropalace and The New York Times still reviews more books written by men, and tech startups aren’t exactly thriving with women at the helm.
A mother not finding the right clothes for her daughter seems like an annoying inconvenience until you realize, in your tiny corner of your run-of-the-mill department store, in your regular ol’ town, you’ve encountered quite the significant problem: