For those of you that aren’t familiar with autism and/or with special interests, this fantastic post by Musings of An Aspie provides a good explanation. I should note that like the author of that post, I’m not a big fan of the term “special interest”; to be honest, I find it more than a little patronising. However, this seems to be the preferred term amongst the autism community and I can’t think of anything better, so that’s the term I’ll use.
These “special interests” are usually rather narrow compared to your average everyday interest. Not just an era, but a comparatively short period of history in a specific place. Not just a type of music, but a specific act. Not just a genre of TV, but a specific show, or even specific characters in that specific show. I know this because I spent most of my sixth form years completely, intrusively, unhealthily obsessed with a man who I knew to be entirely fictitious.
I’d watched the show in question for several years beforehand, so even before the aforementioned slightly bizarre crush, even before his character existed, I loved the show on its own merits. Eventually he left, it was announced well in advance, and by that point it was the programme that had become the special interest. I started to go back and watch old stuff, and as you can imagine by this point I’d spoken to a lot of fans, both in real life and online. This show is just awesome.
However, of course, I was attracted to one of its characters. And that, in the eyes of many people, must be the sole reason why I was watching the thing in the first place.
Another issue I’ve had in terms of having my fandom questioned, again slightly related to the narrow nature of special interests, is that I actually don’t watch that much TV. I have specific shows that I watch, but I don’t tend to actively seek out new shows. As a result, I haven’t seen many shows that are similar to or fall within the same genre of the show I’ve already spoken about.
This, apparently, affects how much I like the show I do watch.
My previous special interest (although it’s still a current big interest – I don’t normally drop special interests, they just get superseded by newer ones) was a band that had been around for some time. I’d liked a few of their songs; whenever I heard a song and liked it but didn’t know the artist, it always seemed to come back to this band, and things just took off from there.
However, this band has featured in the Twilight soundtracks. You can see how older fans would judge me here.
In both cases mentioned above, I’ve found myself unwilling to talk about the special interest to new people for fear they would question my legitimacy as a fan. Think about it. How many times have you heard complaints about fangirls who only know one song? How many times have you heard complaints about fangirls who are only in the fandom because they’re infatuated with someone-or-other? How many times have you heard complaints about girls wearing fandom-based T-shirts and hoodies when they surely can’t be “real” fans?
Now ask yourself this – how many times have you heard male fans being accused of not being “real” fans?
Yep, this is where the patriarchy shows up. (You knew it was coming!) Women, particularly young women and girls, are disproportionately told they can’t be “real” fans. I’ve had a conversation this week where I’ve been judged by fans of the aforementioned show for having never seen similar (though unrelated) programmes, even though male members of the group also hadn’t seen them. I’ve never heard anyone tell a guy that the only reason they like a song is because it’s been in a film; and even if that was the case, it’s rarely seen as a sign he’s not a “real” fan. If a teenage boy was attracted to, for example, Princess Leia, you wouldn’t assume that was the only reason he liked Star Wars. If you walk past a man wearing, for example, an Oasis T-shirt, you wouldn’t automatically assume that the only song he knows is Wonderwall. I see so many Facebook statuses and tweets about this, and for some reason they all refer exclusively to “girls”, regardless of the gender of the person who wrote the tweet.
I’m sure most people who implement this fandom sexism aren’t doing so maliciously, but it’s so ingrained into our society that they often don’t even realise it. Why? It starts when you’re young. Toys are marketed as “for boys” and “for girls”; anything that isn’t about fashion, weddings, kids, housework and generally being a “domestic goddess” is marketed as for boys. Occasionally, a “boys’ toy” will be made into a pink/flowery version for girls, but it’s still pink and flowery, and it’s still different from the original toy, which is “for boys”. When you grow up, this still happens; it happens through “men’s interest” and “women’s interest” magazine stands, it happens through “gifts for him” and “gifts for her” catalogues at Christmas, it happens everywhere.
There are stereotypes about “real” men, of “real” women, and of “real” fans. And these stereotypes simply aren’t true.