Thursday, July 18, 2013

Bronies in the Mist pt III - How Bronies Think They're Perceived By Outsiders

It would not have been unreasonable for readers to conclude from the wrap-up of the previous post that this post would be up relatively quickly.  That being said, I'm nothing if not easily distracted - Between having to go out of town for work and then taking a vacation with the Wife for our first wedding anniversary, it would not be entirely untrue for me to say that I kind of forgot about my Brony research for a while.  That being said, I'm now back again and ready to soldier on.

In Which We Discuss the Wording of Questions and Answers
I've never been a fan of 5-point responses to survey questions.  You know what I mean: "Rate statement X on a scale of 1-5, where 1 means that you strongly disagree and 5 means that you strongly agree."  It's not that I have any evidence to back up my dislike of them, it's just that they irrationally bother me.  Thus, when I was designing the questions used in my Brony study I had a notion that I would leave them largely open-ended, the better to get more precise data.

This was an error.

I say this because many of my survey questions were poorly worded to the point of clearly confusing the respondents.  Furthermore, when I decided that I would use graphs to represent the answers, I found that having that nice 1-5 agree-disagree scale would have been hugely preferable to trying to manually categorize freely worded answers.

For example, the question we'll be discussing to today ought to have been worded thusly: "Bronies are unfairly thought of in a negative light. Do you agree or disagree with this statement?".

It was, unfortunately, worded like this: 'Do you feel Bronies as a group are stigmatized on the internet or society as a whole?"

That's...well, that's just pretty terrible.  In addition to the fact that it's actually two questions ("Are Bronies stigmatized on the internet?  How about in society as a whole?"), it was so open-ended that the responses I got varied in length and content to the to degree that it was not at all easy to categorize them.  Here are two sample responses:
From Respondent 6, a 14 year-old male:
A little.
Certainly to the point, maybe indicating weak agreement on a 5-point scale.
From Respondent 7, a 36 year-old male:
I'm not going to say that. For various perspectives to be optimally told. I could simply say that bronies are the most misunderstood part of the fandom. Hate groups or people are in fact out there. We can be as loving and tolerant all we want but that currently is a fact we cannot deny. But hate is really just living and judging things based upon a lot of things that funnel into this thing called ignorance, and what is ignorance other then ignoring your own insecurities and fear and not thinking.
That's a response that requires a bit more unpacking.

Do Bronies Feel That They are Portrayed Unfairly?
Be that as it may, I have attempted to categorize all of these responses into four categories for ease of graphing.  "No" and "Unsure" seem to me to be self-explanatory.  Looking at Fig. 4 below, you'll then see "Somewhat" and "Yes".  Answers which were placed into the "Yes" category were unequivocal in stating that the respondent felt that Bronies get a bad rap wherever they go.  "Somewhat" implies some degree of equivocation - specifically, a number of respondents stated that they believe Bronies to be looked down upon on the internet, but that the average "real-life" person has no opinion about them.

Fig 4.  n=64

Because of the artificial groupings I had to impose upon the responses in order to graph them, these numbers are necessarily even less scientific than those presented in the previous section.  That being said, I think we can still see that a significant majority of respondents would agree that to at least some extent Bronies are the victims of negative stereotyping.

This is borne out to some degree by the occasional appearance of negative news reports about the subculture in the news media.  For example, a host on a FOX affiliate once famously compared Bronies to "baby lifestyle" fetishists.  Internet humor sites such as Cracked, as well as pop culture oriented sites such as Topless Robot, also occasionally poke fun at the Bronies, although usually in a rather more good-natured way.

Straight From the Brony's Mouth: Bronies Discuss Misconceptions about the Fandom
At this time I think it may be illustrative to allow some Bronies to speak their minds at length.  I had the pleasure of doing in-depth interviews with two of my survey's respondents.  The first was a 20 year-old man who asked to be identified by his forum moniker Antismurf9001.  I asked him what he thought was the most common misconception about Bronies.
Antismurf: While I don't have a huge amount of experience with those that are intolerant of bronies, my guess is that the most common misconception is that we're all homosexuals (which I can confirm to be false, considering that I'm heterosexual).  This is probably a large part of the reason that I choose to not let people know that I'm a brony.
I posed the same question to Ashley, a 20-year Pegasister, and got a similar response.
Ashley: [People assume] That we're all sexually repressed, mentally ill, homosexual, or perverts.  Basically that there's something different or "wrong" about us.  We can't be seen as normal people who happen to be at peace with who we are and who are happy as a whole.
Later on in my conversation with AntiSmurf, we turned the discussion to how expectations of gender roles may or may not color an outsider's perception of Bronies:
Antismurf: I'd say that it's definitely more acceptable for females to like male things than it is the other way around, or at least that's the case in the US....In fact, I'd go so far as to say that women being masculine is now seen as attractive, whereas men being feminine is often the punchline of a joke...It's hard to say whether or not this colors people's perception of Bronies, since there really isn't a masculine element to compare it to.  I can say though, that male Bronies are certainly less socially accepted than female Bronies...Even in the infamous Fox News segment, I believe it was said something to the effect of "Well, I suppose there are worse hobbies for my son to get into...", specifically saying 'son' and not a gender-neutral term such as 'child'.
I asked Ashley a similar question: Does she think that in society it is more accepted for a woman to be interested in traditionally masculine things than for a man to be interested in something that is thought of as feminine.
Ashley:  Yeah, I do feel that. In society, men are supposed to be the head of the household, the strong member of the family who works and holds everyone together. Women don't have that. We stay at home, work, and care for the kids. We're not watched nearly as closely, I think. More people care about what the men do, if they're taking good care of their family and such.
Antismurf also had a message for outsiders who may run into tales of rabidly obsessed super-fans online:
Antismurf: To the non-Bronies, I understand that there are fans that are overly obsessed and/or completely intolerable within the Brony fandom...All I ask is that you please, please, don't assume that every Brony is this way.  I've met some amazing and wonderful people in the fandom, and it really isn't fair to them if you stereotype them as irritants, creeps, child-molesters, and/or jerks.  You don't have to like use, and you certainly don't have to join us, but please don't hate us before you know who we are.
From the interviews I did with Antismurf and Ashley, as well as from the survey responses I received, it seemed pretty obvious that many Bronies chafed at the labels that are sometimes applied to them just because they're fans of a particular cartoon franchises.  Specifically, many of them feel that assumptions are being made about their sexuality or even their mental health due to the "feminine" or "cutesy" nature of the My Little Pony cartoon.

_____
Well, that just about wraps up this section.  I may take a break from the Brony study for a while, although I'm likely to post the full interviews with Antismurf and Ashley at some point.  The fact of the matter is that the bulk of my survey questions were so poorly designed as to be nearly useless for generating meaningful data, so there's not much point in my fist-fighting responses into graphs from which we can't draw many meaningful conclusions.  Regardless, I've had fun working on this little project and I've enjoyed my time amongst the Bronies.  I'm not sure when or if I'll come back to this subject, but I'm glad you chose to join me along the way.
 

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