Alyssa Blocker has explored many genres of anime since she first discovered shows like “Naruto” and “Dragon Ball” as a child, and she values the connections she’s made with other anime fans.
“Being a business student, sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in a bubble because I almost never have to leave Alter Hall,” said Blocker, a fifth-year international business major and president of the Temple University Anime Club. “It’s just nice that I’m in activities where I’m not stuck in a business mindset because I get to meet other people.”
Blocker is one of many women at Temple who have found a community of like-minded people through fandoms, which are groups that discuss, celebrate and critique bodies of work both online and in person. However, many of these women have also experienced sexism as a result of their involvement with fandoms.
Women often join fandoms because they provide a space for people to understand their identities and express themselves, said Christine Dandrow, a sixth-year year media and communication doctorate student who studies fan studies and game studies.
“When they seek out a fandom they are first and foremost seeking out a community of people who will sort of like respect them for who they are as people, which is not a thing they find always in their day-to-day lives,” Dandrow added.
Nadya Dereskavich joined the fandom for Dan Howell and Phil Lester, two British gaming YouTubers who frequently collaborate, as a refuge from the bullying she experienced in the fifth grade, she said. Through that fandom, she has met and befriended other fans online by commenting on their Instagram posts.
“As someone who had social anxiety, finding other people who liked the same things as you but were going through either the same thing or much different things was very validating just to know that you’re not alone,” said Dereskavich, a junior music therapy major.
Although fandoms can foster a sense of community, they can also harbor societal issues like sexism, with women in fandoms often experiencing microaggressions and harassment, said Nicola Govocek, a fifth-year literature doctorate student studying popular culture, gender and sexuality.
“It’s important when talking about fandom to recognize that it’s far from a utopian entity, it has its own elements of toxicity,” Govocek added.
Other people have questioned Blocker’s interest in video games and anime because of her gender, assuming she must have learned about them from a brother, she said. She usually ignores people who make these assumptions, feeling they are not worth her time, Blocker added.
“Sometimes I’ll question them and ask someone how they got to that conclusion, or why they’re so surprised, or what made them think this,” Blocker said.
Male fans tend to be concerned with memorizing trivia or collecting fandom-related items which can give them a sense of legitimacy that can allow them to police other fans, especially women, Dandrow said.
Dereskavich’s first experienced sexism in a fandom at the age of 10 when a boy in the “Doctor Who” fandom didn’t believe she was a real fan and would make her answer obscure trivia questions to prove herself, she said.
“I was so scared that if I didn’t remember, like, what color Matt Smith’s shirt was on the second episode of the season, that would invalidate me as a person,” she added.
Dereskavich has also faced harassment from fans of video games like Overwatch, who have blamed mistakes she has made on her gender and told her to get back in the kitchen, she said.
At the end of the Spring 2021 semester, Dereskavich became the president of the Temple Esports Club, a student organization dedicated to competitive video gaming. Since then, she has felt more confident talking about her interests with other fans in person, she said.
“I don’t really feel nervous because, like, I have this title that I don’t have to try and explain myself, because I feel like I’ve earned this,” she added.
Even though she feels more confident offline, Dereskavich still finds it difficult to defend herself and other women online because she feels like her club title carries less weight in virtual settings, she said.
“If I see another girl getting attacked in a public voice chat, I usually try and stand up for her,” Dereskavich said. “But then it comes down to two girls getting bullied.”
The sexism and discrimination women face in fandoms often result in them becoming advocates for other women in their fandoms and fighting back against sexist depictions of women in media, Govocek said
As the Temple University Anime Club president, Blocker has led discussions on the portrayal of Black people and women in anime, she said.
Blocker started the discussions by asking questions about the stereotypes present in anime and letting club members chime in and debate, she added. Blocker added.
Dereskavich encourages other women in the Temple Esports Club to run for executive board positions, she said.
“I know that we’re not, like, an actual job in the esports industry — we’re just the club at Temple — but giving them that…opportunity to get their name out there in that leadership position and kind of like show people that they’re competent, I try to do that,” Dereskavich said.