There's been much talk of "the elephant in the room" in Sherlock fandom over the last few years. And following the trail of that particular elephant can lead one, especially one who has a certain gender identity beginning with "m," to an even larger elephant.
Contemplating the topic of "Fandom Generations" for the panel of that name at 221B Con this year, that larger elephant gets pretty hard to ignore, and yet, like all such beasts, must be delicately dealt with. Because looking over the decades at what as gone on with Sherlockiana as a whole, we're not just looking at generational changes due to age and influences of a particular decade. We're looking at major shifts due to gender as well.
When the model for Sherlockian societies was built back in 1934, it was a boys club. Yes, female Sherlockians existed, and some good ones at that, but like most of society at the time, soooo male-dominated. And with it taking until 1991 for America's flagship Sherlock group to let women participate as full members, it's safe to say it was male-dominated for a very long time. Waves of enthusiasm came and went, Rathbone, Meyer, Brett, each helping bring surges of new fans, but the culture remained very much based around that 1930s model.
Enter the Cumber-"batch." And a new model of Sherlockiana started to arise. It wasn't new to planet Earth, just new to Sherlockiana . . . this model that has no problem calling itself "fandom." Star Trek fans were there well ahead of us, being a more progressive, and for whatever reason, more predominately female. This new wave of Sherlockiana was just as active, just as savvy, just as enthused as any generation before, but with new technologies and numbers previously unseen in Sherlockian culture. And predominately a girls club.
While the 1900s belonged to the boys, the 2000s are looking to be headed an entirely different direction. When you think of major Sherlockian events, the less ancient ones are run by women. When you think of the most popular new Sherlockian professional fiction, it tends to be written by women. And when you get to fanfic . . . well, they've owned that realm since long before it came to Holmes.
But when you come to gender, the differences can be felt so deep they might as well be in our very bones. Take season four of Sherlock, for example. Made by a couple of male show-runners for a mass-market audience, the boys did some basic boy things: Fast cars. Explosions. Pirates. Icky sister trouble. One can argue whether or not such things belong in a Sherlock Holmes story, but the numerous editions of the very gender-specifically titled Conan Doyle's Stories for Boys from a bygone era make one think they just might, from a certain point of view. When hearing Johnlock fans' utter shock at season four's finale, it's easy to think of the fable of the scorpion and the frog. In the end, the boys creating Sherlock could not help being boys.
The same goes for fan fiction and its dominantly relationship-based themes. A man can disdain the quality of it all he wants, but in reality he's probably not spending much time looking for the really good stuff, because he isn't into the subject matter. It can be hard for an old boy, grown up in that old world dominated by male writers to try to digest fiction created by and for women. Great fiction transcends things like gender, yes, but so many times we write for our own, even without purposefully doing so. Girls will be girls, just as boys will be boys, and sometimes a guy has to just accept that certain things were not written for him.
The trick, of course, is to step back and take the long view. Taking each new wrinkle to an evolving hobby as a personal afront does no one any good, whatever gender you are. Sherlockiana has had its "new Ghostbusters are ruining my childhood" types, but in my experience, they're the outliers. Most of us, male and female, are good folks . . . it's a part of how we came together under this banner of Sherlock Holmes. It's what female Sherlockians held on to when they were still barred from certain male venues. And it's what many a male Sherlockian must remember as they venture into more Sherlockian venues that come from a non-male place.
So . . . this elephant . . . how do we discuss generational changes in Sherlockian that could be related to gender without treading on the toes of our fellow Sherlockians of different ages or genders?
Well, the first thing I'd guess is to let each tell their own tale.
Perhaps follow a particular method of Sherlock Holmes and ask our questions without theorizing in advance of the facts, then listen carefully to the answers. We all spend a lot of time alone, even when we feel like we're with our fellows typing words into the internet, and in the absence of the actual present human being, it's very easy to develop our theories of what people are about before we actually meet them (or sometimes after we've already met them and forgotten parts).
But as Sherlock Holmes said, "It is a capital mistake to theorize in advance of the facts."
And, yes, the man was Sherlock Holmes. But even that paragon of intellect made some statements about the opposite sex that were pretty bone-headed on occasion. And we forgive him for those, for the most part. There is always a little patience required in dealing with any human being, even ourselves, especially when the elephants come into the room.
As Sherlock also said, "We can but try."