“Is it okay for grown men to like a show for little girls?” I get this question a lot as a brony, an adult male fan of the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It’s a question I have trouble answering—not because I don’t have reasons, but because each reason I give doesn’t seem to be enough for the questioner. I’m realizing that answering it requires digging down into the assumptions behind the question. So let’s do that. (As a quick note, the friends who have asked me this question aren’t judging me, but some people do judge. Either way, this is a valid question to ask.)
The surface level answer is found in almost every mainstream media article about bronies: is it okay to like a show with great animation? With awesome music? With a hilarious sense of humor? With heartfelt, uplifting storylines that contrast with the cynicism of most fiction today? But for the people asking me the question, this only draws the response “yeah, but…it’s for little girls.” It seems that to answer the question we have to go deeper.
What is the concern about grown men liking a show for little girls? The first thing that comes to mind, and one that my questioners may be afraid to say, is pedophilia. But the data (here and here) doesn’t back that up. In fact, the bronies I know hardly acknowledge that the show is for little girls at all. Plus, the people asking the question are mostly my friends, and they aren’t accusing me of pedophilia, so that doesn’t seem to be the main concern.
The next thing they may mean is, why would adults like a children’s show? But, of course, a moment’s reflection shows that this is hardly the first instance of that. Entire conventions center around adult fandoms of cartoons and anime. In a more mainstream sense, Pixar and many Disney films have significant adult followings. And, of course, C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books (if not the films) are beloved by adults as well as children. Lewis had critical things to say of adults who were leery of “childish things:” “To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence…But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development…When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” (source)
But the concern about bronies seems to be more of a gender thing than an age thing. Is it okay for males to like shows for females? This, I think, is the heart of the issue. The idea behind this is that men have to like manly shows, featuring violence, sex, and drug use. The only humor they can contain is making fun of people, potty humor, and sarcasm. There may be a kind of gender-neutral show that is okay for both men and women to watch, but if a show diverges from that, it can only go in this direction. But who says this is what masculinity is? This is the narrow view of masculinity that bronies are rejecting. They’re saying it’s okay for men to value friendship, nonviolence, and positivity. (Not that MLP is 100% nonviolent.)
There is a darker undercurrent beneath the innocuous statement that shows for females are fine for females but not for males. There’s also a trend in our culture of looking down upon things that women and girls enjoy. Think about the disdain poured upon the Twilight franchise, as though men have never enjoyed anything less classy than Tolstoy. As @TotallyTrillian quoted on her blog in a post the creator of My Little Pony linked to: “As soon as teenage girls start to profess love for something, everyone else becomes totally dismissive of it. Teenage girls are open season for the cruelest bullying that our society can dream up.”
Even after acknowledging that grown men can like shows for children and for females, one objection may still remain: “but why does it have to be ponies?” The questioner is suggesting they would be open to all of the above but they prefer it not to be ponies. To respond with a Gandalf misquote: “so do all who live to see such shows. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the show that is given us.” What I mean is that, if there was a show that had awesome animation, music, humor, and stories, and represented the values of friendship, nonviolence, and positivity, but wasn’t candy-colored ponies, then a lot of bronies might watch that—but this is the show we have available to us. Lauren Faust didn’t create FiM to try to make feminine values as appealing to males as possible: she created it to appeal to little girls. And yet the message is so powerful it appeals to men despite the little-girl trappings that could be a stumbling block.
But honestly I don’t think the show would be as powerful if it wasn’t ponies. As it is, viewers can’t delude themselves into thinking they’re watching something gender-neutral: the femininity is unmistakeable. It forces the question to a head: are you as a man willing to embrace this outward form traditionally associated with femininity? Most men today think it’s okay for women to embrace outward forms traditionally associated with masculinity: military shooter video games, muscle cars, even sci fi and fantasy. Lots of men even find it sexy. If it’s not okay for men to embrace outward forms traditionally associated with femininity, then that’s a double standard. It’s saying that the things men like are “universal,” but the things women like are for women only. That might even be considered a step backward in terms of gender equality: instead of men and women being simply seen as different, men are “normal” and like normal things, and women are the aberration.
If you’re interested in reading more analysis of bronies, here are some articles and videos I’ve found helpful:
How about you: what do you think about the brony phenomenon? What questions have you asked or heard about bronies?