At this point, it’s become predictable: a new installment in a pop culture franchise tries to be more inclusive towards women, and a few men view it as a personal attack, expressing very vocal outrage on the internet. Often it leads to trolling, harassment, and in the worst cases, threats towards the creatives involved in said franchise. This is almost always targeted towards women but sometimes towards male allies, especially if said allies are also part of another group the harassers hate. As social media exposes users to everyone else’s opinions and everyone feels entitled to yell at celebrities online, this has become more and more common.
The following 15 examples cover a range of incidents where pop culture works and creators became targets of hate and harassment due to gender-related issues. The creators have persevered and the works have often become successful in spite of the vitriol thrown at them. It’s important not to let trolls overwhelm your perceptions of people in general, as most people are ultimately fairly decent. But the angriest and loudest voices unfortunately get amplified over the internet, leading to situations like the ones we have compiled on this list.
15. IRON MAN/IRONHEART
The announcement that 15-year-old black girl Riri Williams would become the new Iron Man in 2016 didn’t set off too much rage, perhaps because at this point people had become accustomed to Marvel introducing new diverse legacy characters. There were the predictable “How can a GIRL be Iron MAN!?!” complaints (Riri doesn’t actually take the “Iron Man” title but instead goes by “Ironheart”) and an assortment of angry tweets, but overall the negative response to Riri was quieter than the rest of this list’s entries.
Marvel’s more general move towards gender and racial diversity, however, has received some prominent backlash. In April of 2017, Marvel’s VP of sales David Gabriel was quoted as saying, “What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there.” While Gabriel gave a subsequent statement reconfirming Marvel’s commitment to inclusion in its books, online commenters continued to heatedly discuss the effect of diversity on sales.
14. AMY SCHUMER AS BARBIE
Usually, the online debate over women in pop culture can be explained by a sense of ownership and feeling betrayed that women are taking bigger roles in what have traditionally been viewed as masculine properties. Barbie dolls, however, have never been seen as masculine, so the rage that emerged from certain corners of the internet when Amy Schumer became attached to a live-action Barbie movie didn’t fit this mold.
The complaints about Schumer focused mainly on her body type. The people making these complaints most likely didn’t grow up playing with Barbies, so the resistance to unconventional casting wasn’t based in fandom or nostalgia, but rather, presumably, a sense of ownership over women’s bodies. Amy Schumer ultimately left the Barbie movie due to scheduling issues. As of this publication, the new actress for the 2018 release has yet to be announced.
13. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA 2004
This is the oldest example on this list, and the only one to predate the outrage amplifiers of Twitter and Reddit. But the 2004 SyFy adaptation of the 1978 series Battlestar Galactica provoked some significant outrage from Dirk Benedict, the actor who played Starbuck in the original series. The new Starbuck was played by Katee Sackhoff, and the gender swap was the focus of the majority of Benedict’s anger in an editorial titled “Starbuck: Lost in Castration.”
Ultimately, Battlestar 2004 ended up being as acclaimed and popular a show as the old one; arguably more so. The new show was often praised specifically for its female characters and Katee Sackhoff still continues to top many a nerd’s fan-casting list whenever a new woman-focused film or TV project is announced.
12. BILL NYE SAVES THE WORLD GENDER EPISODE
When Bill Nye the Science Guy dedicated an episode of his Netflix series Bill Nye Saves the World to how modern science supports the idea of gender as a spectrum, it stirred up significant outrage on social media. Alt-right forums and conservative Youtube response videos attacked Nye as a charlatan and a pervert.
Like with all the topics Bill Nye Saves the World covers, scientific views on gender are discussed in the form of a broad overview, and perhaps going into more depth on the research could have convinced more people. But the research is there, and biology, psychology, and sociology all point to gender being more complex than some folks might think it is.
11. CARS 3
SPOILER ALERT for Cars 3: the film ends with the aging Lighting McQueen letting his trainer Cruz Ramirez finish his final race in his place. She wins, Disney gets to sell more car toys to girls as well as boys, and everyone’s happy. Well… not everyone.
One review of Cars 3 attacked the film, claiming it was trying to “brainwash young boys into being subservient to females.” It also claimed that Cruz is “fat,” which is strange because she’s a car and cars presumably don’t have any body fat. The one exception, perhaps, is their tongues, which appear to be organic matter, which could contain a tiny bit of fat? Then, of course, there is whatever other organic internal organs they might possibly have inside their doors… we guess?
10. WOMEN’S-ONLY WONDER WOMAN SCREENINGS
The Wonder Woman movie itself didn’t arrouse much anger, probably because anyone shocked that a Wonder Woman movie would be feminist is someone who has been living under a rock for 76 years. The Alamo Drafthouse theater chain, however, faced significant blowback when they announced they were doing a women’s-only screening of Wonder Woman the Tuesday night after the film opened. The event sold out quickly and was just a single screening among many regular ones. Some people, however, got very angry about it, some even trying to sue Drafthouse for discrimination.
Drafthouse handled the controversy with humor, responding to Facebook comments sarcastically, and added additional screenings. They also let a radio station host a men’s only screening of Metallica: Through the Never, so any criticisms about “reverse sexism” on their behalf were roundly dismissed.
By the time Mockingbird became a target of the internet, the series was already canceled, coming to an end after just eight issues. But the cover of that final issue, featuring the hero wearing a T-shirt reading “Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda,” outraged a certain audience; i.e., those who take issue with what they deem “feminist agendas” in comics and at Marvel in particular. Chelsea Cain, the writer of the series, had to leave Twitter in October 2016 in response to the harassment she received.
The attacks on Mockingbird and Cain ultimately did more than anything to boost their profile. Mockingbird, which struggled to find an audience in single issues, became a best-seller in trades, and Cain’s colleagues in the comics industry rallied to her support with the #IStandWithChelseaCain hashtag.
8. JANE FOSTER AS THOR
One of the most publicized of Marvel’s new legacy character announcements was that a woman, later revealed to be Jane Foster, would be wielding Mjolnir. As could be predicted, many were excited, while many others were upset. Breitbart tried to frame Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman’s run of Mighty Thor as a bomb, using an, at-best, rudimentary understanding of comic book economics and how books naturally drop off in sales. Twenty issues in, however, the book is still among Marvel’s top sellers.
The anger about a female Thor has been responded to within the comic itself. In issue #4, the villain Crusher Creel complains while fighting Thor about how “Damn feminists are ruining everything!” While punching him in the face, a thought bubble shows Thor thinking “That’s for saying ‘feminist’ like it’s a four-letter word, creep.”
7. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
Some Star Wars fans on Twitter called for a full-on boycott of The Force Awakens due to having what they called “social justice” content. Basically, they were angry that the film had a female lead and a black co-star. Some outlets claimed the boycott cost the film $4.2 million. The Force Awakens, however, was the highest grossing film in the United States ever (the 11th after adjusting for inflation) and made over $2 billion worldwide,.
So, in the end, it’s unlikely Disney was crying over any marginal loss of tickets, perceived or otherwise. That such a diverse movie in one the biggest movie franchises was such a gigantic hit proved to be further polarizing to some fans, with theories abounding on both sides long after the movie’s release.
6. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY
The second Star Wars film to center around a female protagonist, Rogue One‘s response got even more heated than The Force Awakens‘ due to the 2016 election. With fears of conflict on the rise following the hotly contested and nationally divisive election, screenwriter Chris Weitz posted an image of the Rebel Alliance symbol with a safety pin, a symbol of opposition to bigotry, on his personal Twitter.
He emphasized that Star Wars is about a diverse array of people, aliens, and robots rising up against a conformist fascist regime. Cue the “SJWs ruined Star Wars!” rants. Some more hard-lined websites leaned in to the controversy, stirring up the online pot with rhetoric over “anti-white hatred.” Regardless, though, Rogue One went on to be the highest grossing film of 2016.
5. THE 13TH DOCTOR
The announcement that the 13th Doctor on Doctor Who would be played by Jodie Whittaker, the first woman in the role, has been greeted with intense opinions. Much of the fanbase is ecstatic about the announcement. A female Doctor is long overdue, they would argue. It’s established that Time Lords can regenerate into any form and have a fluid concept of gender. The most recent season heavily foreshadowed the casting; when asked, “Is the future female,” Capaldi’s Doctor replied “We can only hope.”
But humans in 2017 are not all as progressive as Time Lords have been written as being, and there has been vocal opposition to the casting. Look in any comments section and you’re sure to find at least a few people accusing the show of pandering to a particular base, claiming they will never watch the show again and that a female Doctor will kill the show. Time (and space) will tell.
4. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
Boycotts based on gender might have actually increased the box office of Mad Max: Fury Road. The film didn’t have much mainstream hype until the weeks immediately before its release, when two things happened: critics gave it almost universally rave reviews, declaring it the best action film in years, while other websites called for a boycott.
Those in favor of the boycott claimed the movie was ruining an American icon (Mad Max is actually an Australian series) and that Mad Max should never take orders from a woman (he actually did so in all the previous movies; Fury Road just makes the women more prominent). Fury Road went on to gross $378 million worldwide and win 6 Oscars. The film’s combination of badass car chases and commentary on oppression was irresistible, and Charlize Theron’s Furiosa became an instant icon.
Did anyone seriously expect the most controversial film of 2016 would end up being Ghostbusters!? It might be years before anyone will be able to give their fair opinion on the movie’s actual quality because the controversy already had most people predisposed to either defend it or destroy it. While any remake of a film as beloved as Ghostbusters would stir up passionate debate, the arguments got far uglier than your typical movie debate, because a portion of the opposition to the movie’s existence had to do with the leads being women.
The trailer became the most down-voted on Youtube. While there were reasonable criticisms, they were often drowned out over anger at the female-led cast, with cast member Leslie Jones especially being bombarded with harassment online. Alt-right mouthpiece Milo Yiannopoulos even got banned from Twitter for libeling Jones, forging screenshots of fake tweets to defame her character.
2. THE RABID PUPPIES
In 2015, two groups gamed the Hugo Awards’ nominations process. One, the Sad Puppies, was a conservative group that claimed the awards were biased towards left-wing writers. Their points and methods were debatable, but they were more reasonable than the other group, the Rabid Puppies, led by outspoken and polarizing writer Vox Day with the goal of burning the Hugos down.
While the Rabids dominated nominations in 2015 and 2016, their goals were soundly defeated. Categories which the Rabids had filled with their own nominees were given a “No Award.” All four of 2016’s big writing awards went to deserving women (NK Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, Hao Jingfang, and Naomi Kritzer), three of whom are women of color. The Hugos changed their nomination process thereafter, and while a few Rabid picks got in, thoughtful and diverse sci-fi dominates the 2017 selection.
In August 2014, a blog post by an ex of game developer Zoe Quinn alleged she slept with critics in exchange for positive reviews of her game Depression Quest. This was a lie, and the post later edited out the allegation, but it was enough to provoke doxxing and death threats towards Quinn. The “Quinnspiracy” gave way to the hashtag #GamerGate, which claimed to be about “ethics in game journalism” but heavily harassed and threatened women and feminists in the games industry.
The targets of GamerGate persevered. Quinn runs the Crash Override anti-harassment organization and has both a book and a new game arriving later in 2017. Anita Sarkeesian continues to post feminist criticism on Youtube, and Brianna Wu is running for Congress. The hashtag has petered out, but mobilized by Breitbart and others, the core of GamerGate has evolved into what we now call the alt-right.
How did you feel about these controversial moments of internet outrage? Let us know in the comments!
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