Content Warning(s): Pedophilia, Bullying, Assault, Abuse, Harassment, the Word "Problematic".
Day twenty! April is Sexual Assault Survivor Month! This post will contain sensitive material; please exercise caution if you see a topic that could be upsetting to you. A final caveat: these are written from my limited perspective as a bi woman who was raped. I don't have all the answers and I'm still working through my own journey. There are many other kinds of sexual assault and abuse that are relevant this month. Take time to consider the needs of your diverse fellow survivors. Speak up for them when they can't speak up for themselves, but don't speak over them. Thank you!
Oh man, this topic. Something that I've noticed only in the past few years is the development of an online fandom culture, on Twitter and Tumblr especially, wherein anti-shippers have become more vocal against shippers for various pairings to the point of harassment and bullying.
The first time I noticed it on a large enough scale to affect my personal feeds was with the Voltron fandom, although I'd known about issues with fans becoming vocal against Steven Universe creators. There were imagined scenarios in which certain characters were "underage" and paired with characters "of age or older"; in ye older fandom times, this would mean anyone who didn't prefer the ship because of that would follow "don't like, don't read" policies and stay away. However, what I saw was a massive movement of people (and from what I personally saw, they were in the age range of about 18-20 themselves) accusing the character, and therefore the creators of the show and shippers of the pairing, of pedophilia. Personal blogs began listing "pedophile artists/writers that you should avoid"; the arguments escalated to the point of secondhand stressing ME out, and as the kids say these days, I don't even go to Voltron. I was shocked to see that fans were reaching out to creators to harass THEM and asking inappropriate questions within the scope of the fan-creator relationship. Of course, this relationship goes both ways; creators, whether professional or fans themselves, should never bully back in response to this. But the situation I just described is very real and fans are still recovering from the repercussions of these accusations and witch hunts.
I also know someone who was personally affected by large-scale fandom bullying for their choice of pairing. In this case, fans mobbed together to begin calling this person's pairing "abusive" because one of the characters was a major bad-guy antagonist and the other was a beloved fandom sweetheart. This person wrote a large and lovingly-crafted fanfic of the antagonist's redemption through how they began to see the other person in the pairing. But other fans who dislike the pairing used it as a means to continue to harass this person, even going so far as to vague AND explicitly tell fellow fans not to follow this person or read their fanfic because "it's abusive." It disturbs me even more that one of the most influential anti-shippers in this movement against this person was not yet 18, and the fandom this argument was based in was for a work rated M.
This is more of an aside: does anyone else notice that there's a lot of backlash from younger fans directed at older fans lately? We've been minding our business for decades, shipping problematic things for their inherent dynamic value rather than in support of abuse, but here come these teenagers calling US abusive for either supporting or creating fanworks for a series relationship they call "problematic." I'm 28 at the time of this entry. While I haven't been personally bullied for my ships, I've been harassed by people younger than me by at least a decade in fandom in the past year. It doesn't stop me from doing my thing, but it does make me raise an eyebrow at how young fans are treating the source and fellow fans.
Let me be clear: It is NOT acceptable to harass content creators OR the people who enjoy the content if you dislike it. Disliking content and calling it "problematic" does NOT excuse you from being a bully if you're using it to mock, defame, or dox someone who likes the content. Take the high road; if you dislike content, either keep it to yourself if you know you don't want to budge on the debate or discuss it in an adult way (e.g., with an open mind, not directed OR vagueing at a specific user or users including a fandom at large, and with a willingness to step back if the argument is getting heated). You're no longer playing "devil's advocate" when you're interrupting someone's life to get your point across.
Live and let live; ship and let ship. When you consider the viewpoint that someone's chosen OTP represents what they desire from a relationship, it might open your eyes as to why someone would ship X character with Y "problematic" character. Perhaps the person had been in a relationship similar to that one and wants catharsis from it. An example of this is a ship of mine from Tales of Xillia. Alvin and Presa used to live together until he sold her out, which led to her torture. In the game, they reunite and out of convenience, start dating again. Do I enjoy that he lies, betrays, and uses her? No. I enjoy seeing that she emerges from the first failed part of the relationship a person strong enough to leave him the second time around once she realizes how he disrespects her. I live through Presa and feel as though I can gain back what I've lost from previous failed relationships where I trusted too much and was burned. Therefore, I enjoy seeing that on-off dynamic in this pairing, but I don't support how one party treats the other. I imagine that someone who likes to see a pairing where one character canonically abuses, assaults, or harasses the other character is doing so out of a similar need to see things resolved differently than perhaps they were in the person's own life. A pairing can be something a person can be interested in without supporting the motivations and actions of both characters because it's a fictional space. Fiction is not reality and exploring parts of relationships that are actually or imagined to be "abusive" can allow someone to vent their emotions about their own lives and experiences in a way that feels safe to them.
Particularly for those of us who are survivors of actual situations of abuse/assault, projecting ourselves onto a character similar to ourselves in a situation where the character can bring justice or light to what happened to them can be incredibly healing. I ask that you respect the fanworks of others as well as fans themselves, particularly if and when they don't agree with your views.
Thanks for reading! Tomorrow's topic will be rape as a plot point in contemporary works.
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