We understand a fan to be someone who’s affection for a media product to be above and beyond that of the rest of the audience (Jensen, 1992a, b). This affection involves higher and more various ways of engaging with the media product than others would exhibit. A common question in fan studies asks if this affection is different between fangirls and fanboys – or, when is gender important in determining who is a fan, of what, and to what extent?
Oftentimes in fan studies people are studied in regard to a particular media product, studying particular fandoms and the practices that constitute being a fan. This separating reflects the conceit that the nature of the media product is fundamental in determining the reaction to it. This conceit is interrelated with the perception of some media products being meant more for one gender than the other (Reinhard, 2008a). As fandoms emerge around specific media products that have been traditionally meant for one or the other gender, fans are often studied in relation to their specific gender: women and soap operas, slash or yaoi, and romance (Kuhn, 2002; Radway, 1984; Reinhard, 2008b); men and sports, science fiction and action-adventure (Barker & Brooks, 1998; Gantz, Wang, Paul & Potter, 2006). If this gendered line is crossed by fans, then the research focuses on this transgression, and women tend to be the focus more than men (Mackinnon, 2002; Nyberg, 1995). What is called for in fan studies is the expanded analysis of underlying processes of engaging with various media products that constitute fan experiences, regardless of the nature of the media product and the type of fandom that emerges from it (Gantz et al, 2006).
This paper reflects on a study conducted for my dissertation on people’s experiences engaging with gendered media (Reinhard, 2008a). Interviews asked people about the times they engaged with media they saw as meant for their own gender and those meant for the opposite gender. The interviews on their same-gender and cross-gender media engagings were meant to focus on the commonalities as well as differences in experiencing such media products. By understanding the processes involved in selecting, interpreting and utilizing media products in their everyday lives, similarities were revealed as being more common than differences.
The implication is that gender is an interpretive frame that can be activated in times of engaging with a media product that is interpreted as being gendered. When this frame is activated, it can impact how the person performs when engaging with the media product, with the performance being on the levels of affect, cognition and behavior. However, the frame is not an always-on construction. Instead, there are times when the conditions of the situation being experienced are more influential than sense of self as gendered. Even when a media product was interpreted as being meant for the opposite gender, people responded to it in ways more determined by what they were experiencing in their everyday lives.
The conclusions of that study centered on deconstructing the oft-employed concept of gender as the cause for differences in media engagings. The purpose of this presentation is to explore how gender is related to the fan experience. This preliminary investigation builds on the data gathered for my dissertation to explore gender versus fan as being interpretive and performative acts.
Men and women were asked to discuss experiences with same-gender and cross-gender media products to which they repeatedly returned. Many reasons were given in the interviews as to why they continued to engage with the media product. Of these reasons, four can be classified as being indicators of the individual being a fan of that media product: preferring the content; reacting well; relating to self; and, relating to life. These gendered media engaging situations serve as the basis for understanding these four reasons as the basis for fan experiences for men and women.
The analysis is qualitative in nature, and will be presented using quotes from the interviews to argue how these reasons are common for men and women in their same-gender and cross-gender media engagings. These four fan reasons are also related to other reasons given for why people repeatedly returned to the media product for some span of time. These reasons show similar patterns of being mentioned and being interconnected for men and women; interestingly, as the below illustrations show, these reasons occurred more when the repeat engaging was with a media product seen as meant for women.
Just as gender as an interpretive frame does not always predict performative acts if the demands of the situation are seen as primary (Reinhard, 2008a), so too can the person’s identity as a fan of a media product take precedence in how a person engages with a media product. Even if the media product traditionally has been meant for the opposite gender – that is, socially and culturally constructed as such – a fan is someone who interprets that media product as relating to his or her own sense of self, view on life, and overall deference for the content. The affection for the media product, combined with seeing how the media product relates to his or her own experiences, can intercede any notion that she or he should not be engaging with that media product.
To be a fan of a media product is to feel that something about it speaks to us on some fundamental level. For some people, it may speak to them on the level of how they see themselves as being male or female; but even this categorization of a type of identity is based on the interpretive/performative act of comparing a sense of self to a media product. An identity, or sense of self, can be comprised of many different facets, of which gender is only one. To be a fan, the media product may touch upon any of these facets, but what the facets are is not as important to understanding the fan experience as why and how these facets are touched.
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Reinhard, C. D. (2008b). If one is sexy, two is even sexier: Female fans negotiating identities through online slash activities. Paper presented at the 2008 Central States Communication Association Conference, Madison, April.