Bronies Are Redefining Fandom — And American Manhood

The future of male masculinity:
male masculinity

On the internet, no one knows you’re a pony. At least, they don’t have to.

When the largely male, largely adult contingent of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic fans now known as “bronies” emerged shortly after the show’s premiere three years ago, they were a largely disorganized, largely anonymous band haunting places like 4chan’s /co/ and /b/ boards. They got trolled. A lot.

And to be honest, it’s amazing that such a fandom even formed, let alone blossomed. When I first wrote about bronies in early 2011, most people considered them a random fad, a meme that would vanish faster than planking. But the phenomenon didn’t just persist—it thrived.

Like countless other outsiders who found each other online, bronies sought each other out and created places to congregate. Now they’re everywhere: Fan blogs, Tumblr, Ponychan, even the United States military. A brony delegation is building MLP worlds in Minecraft. They host gatherings and conventions that attract thousands. And they’ve used their love of the show to challenge entrenched notions about what men and boys can like and feel, even as they’ve reshaped the meaning of fandom.

The reasons why people enjoy brony fandom are complex, in part because of the gender assumptions surrounding the show and its “intended” audience. The cartoon, as well as its values (caring, generosity, and kindness), is widely seen as being “for girls,” so men who like it often are mocked as feminine or childish. Bronies fully realize this, which explains why fewer than half of bronies surveyed would be comfortable admitting their broniness. Identity is a tricky thing, and being a grown man wearing a My Little Pony T-shirt can get you harassed—it’s much easier to find like-minded friends on the internet. Bronies who convene online were drawn by the show, but they stayed because they’d finally found like-minded people who share the values behind it.

Taken together, My Little Pony Friendship is Magic, the conventions it inspires, and even the documentary itself have all conspired to create a space for a new kind of fan. “We need to allow men to be gentle and to be sensitive and to care about one another and to not call them weak for caring,” Lauren Faust, one of My Little Pony‘s creators, says in the documentary. “My Little Pony might be opening some people’s minds about what is acceptable in behavior for men and what it means to be a man and whether or not being sensitive and being caring is part of being a man.”

“It emphasizes how narrow the definition of true masculinity can be that anyone who deviates from tradition in any way risks being labeled as feminine or homosexual,” Molly Lambert notes in a particularly insightful essay about the Brony documentary. “And bronies, like all of the women and queer people before them, start wondering, What’s so bad about that?” (For what it’s worth, one survey found 70 percent of bronies are straight, 16 percent bisexual and 3 percent gay — others identified as pansexual, asexual, or unsure.)

This is the quality that differentiates bronies from almost every other fandom: Their very existence breaks down stereotypes. Socialized gender norms (not to mention marketing) dictates that boys are supposed to like things like trucks, while girls are supposed to like princesses and pink stuff. Bronies obliterate that ideal. (A recent piece in The American Conservative went so far as to ask, “Is this the end of American manhood?”)


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