Friday, July 1, 2016

Fandoming in the male way.

A very interesting thought from @avawtsn on Twitter this morning:

One of the most fascinating things to me about the world's evolution in my lifetime has been the effects of a more and more gender-equal society. The genre of mystery fiction was where it became very visible before the wave hit Sherlockian shores. Mystery novels changed dramatically as female writers became a dominant force . . . less near-mathematical or punch-em-up detection styles, perhaps?

Sherlockiana, having circled its wagons around a Victorian male detective, may have trended more male for longer. (Always supremely evidenced by the Baker Street Irregulars of New York locking the gates to women until 1991 . . . sure that seems ancient history, being twenty-five years ago now, almost in the same era as slavery and women's fight for suffrage, but in 1991, it was the present, and quite intolerable.) So when Caroline wrote of her theory that it involved "collecting stuff, not shipping, and events, not relationships," it seemed a thought worth following.

The male Sherlockian writers who dominated the 1940s through the 1970s were all about collecting, in more that just the physical sense. So much of the writing was about collecting data: Here are all the animals in the Canon. Here are all the mentions of food and drink in the Canon. Even Chris Redmond in his recent interview on "I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere" admits to starting out his internet Sherlocking with collecting links. The best of it took that data and analyzed it in some fascinating way, the worst just presented the data. Reference books like concordances and encyclopedias were grand achievements.

As for "events, not relationships," there again, Caroline hits the target. While any society is about connecting people, the Sherlockian event seemed to be the focus. A single annual dinner is definitely an event and not an ongoing relationship, even if one is seeing familiar faces that once a year. Comparing the elder Baker Street Irregulars and upstart Three Patch Podcast makes for some interesting analysis . . . though at some point, technology and changes in society itself are as much responsible as gender. Podcasts are a much better prime connection method than a quarterly journal, but they didn't exist when the old male-centric society was getting set in its ways. And that's where it gets tricky.

Sherlockiana, as a fandom, is as much affected by the era in which any given portion of it rose up as gender. When travel was harder to do, a single annual event made more sense. When no internet existed, paper publishing dictated communication styles. It would be fascinating to study a fandom that started for both genders right here, right now, to see what paths were taken, but even though the data for Sherlockiana isn't clean due to historical factors, we can still probably see some gender trends in our particular fandom . . . right?

Because women don't collect . . . oh, wait, they do. Women collect all sorts of things. And men don't write "transformative works" . . . no, wait, a good deal of Sherlockian scholarship was very transformative. Not fan fiction, but "this was really like this" articles. And shipping? Well, the lads might have gotten in trouble with the wives back then for going into as much detail as their modern female counterparts, but Sherlock and Irene, Sherlock and Mrs. St. Clair, Sherlock and Maud Bellamy . . . it was men that were constantly putting those pairings together with a nudge-nudge, wink-wink.

I really wonder if age is as much a factor as gender in the "curative versus transformative" discussion. The Baker Street Irregulars recently announced they would be giving $10,000 annually to their Harvard archive fund, as curative an act as one can imagine. But is that necessarily a male move or one of a long-standing institution whose members have those kinds of funds and are at an age when legacy becomes important? A number of women are certainly involved in helping the BSI curate their history.

Contrast that with the energetic output of Sherlock fanfic groups like the aforementioned Three Patch Podcast. They have no eighty year history to spend time fussing over, and can devote all their time to the here-and-now. The fact that slash fandom activities don't draw a lot of male participants does set up a gender divide there, which makes it a little hard to use for an objective comparison. Which brings me back to the most basic difficulty in looking at gender-based fanning.

The thing we all have to remember is this: gender is a sliding scale. This person or that might be "all boy" or "a man's man," but most of us? We're a little bit this and a little bit that, scattered across a thousand little personality traits. People don't fall into the neat little binary system we'd like them to, nearly enough.

When I read Caroline's comments this morning, I called it a "beautiful rabbit hole," and indeed it is. You can see a lot of truth to it, as well as other gender patterns in our fandom. And if we use it to examine ourselves in a friendly light, and appreciate the talents that may predominate our opposite numbers, there's something to be gained there. If we let them scare us, and see them as terrorists out to destroy our own preferred style of fanning . . . well, we're only hurting ourselves.

It's a wonderful time to be a Sherlockian, and it can a helluva good time just figuring out what that means.

1 comment:

  1. If you are looking for a predominately male space for fandom today, Reddit would be a good start.