I’d heard of bronies before… they were sort of a strange urban legend as far as I knew – until the night that I met the composer for the reboot of the 80’s kids’ cartoon, (which is now in its 6th season). He confirmed that bronies are, in fact, a very real thing – though he didn’t elaborate much, and seemed eager to avoid discussing it. So tonight, when I watched the documentary A Brony Tale, I found myself point-blank with what social stigma around gender expectations looks like… and was reminded once again why I loathe them.
And yet, in the midst of watching a load of almost all men geek out over their beloved show, and the fandom community of which they are a part, I found myself feeling quite proud of them all for standing their ground against social pressure (which can sometimes be rather intense for them). The reincarnation of this little show, that I myself watched on occasion in the 80’s, is now a sociological phenomenon. This little show, filled with female unicorns and pegasi, is giving young and middle aged men, from all walks of life, an avenue to examine their own feelings and relationships. Filled with life lessons that revolve around individual personality issues and conflicts within social dynamics – things that “real men” NEVER discuss – these unexpected My Little Pony fans are finding healing, friendship, and community.
Two psychiatrists – parents of a young brony – point out, that in a post-9/11 era of wars in the Middle East, ISIS, and racial conflicts (speaking of American issues, particularly), it is predictable that people would reach out for something that professes peaceful resolutions to conflicts, tolerance, compromise, and acceptance. It then goes to follow that fans would want to find others who feel the same way – especially in this age of the internet and social media. And while I most certainly agree that this is a contributing factor to the brony phenomenon, I counter that this does not address why 80-90% of bronies are male, and that the vast majority also identify as heterosexual.
We live in an age where we are increasingly questioning and challenging the socially enforced paradigm of the gender binary, and the expectations that are put upon us all as a result of it. We are in an age where we are increasingly embracing that we are all, as people – not pegs in a two hole gender sorting system – a blend of all the available personality traits and adjectives, and that none of them have anything to do with gender. But changing how we understand gender is far easier than living in a world that still holds on tight to the “rules” that we’re all “supposed” to follow. And this is where this little, bright pastel, “girls” show comes in.
Somewhere along the way in human history, we were sold the idea that emotions are weak, and weakness is female. We were all sold the idea that females are allowed to cry, and touch, and want intimacy, while “real” males do not need or want these things… which is a crock of steaming manure. From the moment our physical sex is identified – at birth, or by ultrasound – who we are as individual human beings ceases to matter. Everyone immediately, and unwittingly, decides who we are, and how the’re going to treat us. We don’t colour code babies for THEIR sake, we do it so that we all know how to treat the child according to the “rules”.
It is well studied and documented that male infants are deprived of intimacy, and experience less physical touch. And the long term effects of that difference in treatment is also well studied and documented. So how can men and boys break free of this cycle, where their inner lives are suppressed, and their basic human needs for connection and intimacy are supposed to not exist? Well, if you’re a brony, you watch this show. And really, it’s an ingenious solution to the problem. Because if you can’t simply connect with others – as they’re still following the “rules” when you’re not – then you’re going to have to find another source to meet those fundamental human needs. And luckily, for bronies, we live in an age where finding others – aka community or tribe – is easier than it has ever been, in the entirely of human history, courtesy of the internet. And that’s where the real roots and branches of this phenomenon take off.
Online, people join meetup groups, social media groups, they post their fan creations, follow brony media, and share their enthusiasm in all its forms. They talk, they share, they gush, they celebrate, and they discuss the issues and character flaws that reflect the social challenges that face us all. And then – courtesy of finding social safety online – they find each other in real life. They create social gatherings, host dances, and even have conventions. People make art, music, videos, costumes – anything and everything, really – as they are inspired, and eager to share their love and passion with the rest of the fandom. And the fans love it ALL. Within all of that enthusiasm, a wonderful and nurturing environment is formed and enjoyed by everyone.
In a world where males are ridiculed and rejected for being or liking anything “girly”, finding a place where you’re allowed to be a complete human being – who needs deeper friendships, doesn’t want to solve every problem with violence &/or alcohol, and has a full spectrum of emotions – is not only a relief, it should be normal. If being allowed to be a balanced human being was the norm for men, one of two things around bronies would happen: (1) men wouldn’t be so interested in the show & the fandom wouldn’t exist; or (2) no one would find it odd that men liked the show, & wouldn’t care about the fandom at all. But because boys and men are expected – and trained – to not be complete, people balk at the entire concept of bronies. (And this reaction from others is probably the exact reason why the composer I met was so reluctant to discuss the subject.)
And let’s face it, it’s far more interesting – and important – to examine our own reactions to people who refuse to comply with the gender “rules” that are imposed upon us all. Because the subtext within the gender binary “rules” is a very ugly truth that is the root of many of our societal issues. Underneath the taboo of boys & men being / liking anything that is “girly” is a brutal cocktail of homophobia and misogyny. And it’s this that we should be examining and shunning, not a harmless bunch of cartoon pony enthusiasts. It takes courage to go against the tide, to be true to one’s genuine self, and it demonstrates a high level of integrity. How we respond to those who do this – in this case, bronies specifically – says a lot about us, not them. They’re showing their strength of character by being Pony-proud… And how we respond to them reveals how gender positive – or negative – we really are.