Data proves female fans receive more Twitter abuse than men, but we already knew that

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Sep 7, 2018

“Men will underestimate the amount of abusive posting on Twitter if they use themselves as the point of reference.”

That’s what Bethany Lacina, an associate professor of political science at the University of Rochester, said in an analysis she penned for the Washington Post. Inspired in part by Kelly Marie Tran’s exodus from Instagram and subsequent New York Times essay, Lacina researched human behavior on social media (as she discovered, “bots” are not a major issue here) when it comes to discussing women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community and all or any combination, as well as how they speak to women in fandom. 

Compiling thousands of tweets specifically about Star Wars and The Last Jedi specifically, and tweets to female Star Wars fans, Lacina determined a couple important facts:

  1. Female podcasters are far likelier to receive hate speech than their male counterparts. For men, one in 450 tweets contained hate speech, while for women, the number was one in 280.
  2. When comparing Star Wars-related tweets with offensive language to tweets specifically mentioning Kelly Marie Tran or Rose Tico, the proportion of tweets doubled from 6 to 12 percent of tweets, and the number of tweets containing hate speech rose 60 percent. 

Lest anyone pose the all-too-common argument that the fandom’s issue is with the character and not Tran or her race, Lacina dispatches with that notion quickly. “The algorithm measures abuse, not dislike. The difference in abusive language is even larger if we compare only negative posts. Fans complain about Star Wars’ first nonwhite female lead in more degrading language than they complain about other parts of the franchise.”

As Tran wrote in her New York Times piece, her decision to leave Instagram came from not only the abuse itself but because she started believing it herself, internalizing it in a way so many women do, especially women of color. 

“I am not the first person to have grown up this way. This is what it is to grow up as a person of color in a white-dominated world,” she wrote. “This is what it is to be a woman in a society that has taught its daughters that we are worthy of love only if we are deemed attractive by its sons.”

The issue of toxic fandom in the Star Wars community, and really across the spectrum of genre and comic book fandom, has gotten a great deal of attention recently but it is by no means new. But social media makes it all the more vivid and immediate. Instead of schoolyard bullies telling us girls can’t play with action figures, we have hundreds or thousands of them in our news feeds calling us slurs and threatening us physically, all for enjoying and therefore ruining their object of affection.

And like Tran, we internalize that. We believe maybe we don’t deserve a place at the Star Wars table. And why would we? Solo only just gave us the first black woman in an onscreen lead role in a Star Wars movie only to immediately fridge her. Tran and Tico were the first Asian-American actor and character to star in a Star Wars film, and look how people reacted. We grew up with Leia Organa, yes, and we love her eternally, but she was it. She was the only. We learned young that there were only so many spots for “girls” and if one of us was going to get it, it was probably going to be a conventionally attractive white one. 

The women of the Star Wars fandom deserve better — onscreen and in our news feeds. To not be attacked every time we get online, to not receive overwhelming abuse from people mad that we love the same thing they do, people who are mad we’re loving this thing wrong, that we’re destroying it by existing and, god forbid, seeing some small source of representation for once in our lives (with many more still lacking that).

“I want to live in a world where children of color don’t spend their entire adolescence wishing to be white,” Tran wrote. “I want to live in a world where women are not subjected to scrutiny for their appearance, or their actions, or their general existence. I want to live in a world where people of all races, religions, socioeconomic classes, sexual orientations, gender identities and abilities are seen as what they have always been: human beings.”

Maybe someday, in a time and galaxy not so far away, we’ll find that world.

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