This article does not represent the views of Her Campus FSU.
As someone who has been in the Tumblr roleplaying (RP) community for four and a half years, I can say without much pause that it is one of the greatest things that I have joined in my life. Roleplaying is a form of fanfiction where you can collaborate with other writers online—in this case on the blogging site Tumblr—to create stories together. As a roleplayer, it is standard to choose a character to write as, whether it is a character from your favorite fandom or one of your own creation. Within the community, having a female character is the ultimate struggle. They often have significantly fewer followers, writing partners, and nearly have to beg for someone to interact with them, while most male characters are pushing people away because they don’t have time to write with everyone. The baffling part of this issue is that—while there are some men and gender non-binary folk writing in the space—the majority of the writers are female.
From an outside perspective, it would seem like it should be the opposite. We are in a generation where feminism is becoming more and more the norm, where women helping and supporting women has become not just a mantra, but a physical reality. Tumblr is also known for a strong social justice community that rams popular media with critiques of its representations of women. So why is it that this mostly female writing community would rather delete their blogs than write with or for a female character? I think you could write a whole other article about the various reasons why this occurs, but in my opinion it ultimately it all falls back to two main factors.
The Tumblr RP community has become a hotbed for internalized misogyny. In our media, most of the interesting and dynamic stories seen on screen or on paper tend to revolve around male characters, and it is not uncommon to see the one or two females fill stereotypical roles. As a woman, it makes sense that you wouldn’t see yourself as a standard housewife or a refrigerator woman or a neverending chain of sarcastic comments with no actual personality. So, there is no other option but to relate to the male characters and place your energy and emotions into them and their journeys. When it comes to roleplaying, the same thing applies. Why would someone want to write a character who seems to be limited by their gender when you could write as a man who is normally much more interesting and has so many more plot and character development opportunities than their female counterpart?
As a side effect of this, I find there is a trend for heavier criticism against female characters. A male character could have a crappy backstory, no real identifiable traits or personality, and superpowers that make him more unstoppable than God, but slap a pretty face on him and people will be running over each other trying to get to write with him. With women, your character must be nearly perfect to get any sort of attention. There can be no tropes in your backstory; she cannot be too tough but she can’t be fragile and feminine. She has to suffer, but not too much. She has to be beautiful, but not unobtainable. She can be smart, but not smarter than the boys.
Along with this issue, there is the phenomenon that I find is somewhat niche to Tumblr, which is the extreme over-sexualization of gay men. Most of the characters in the RP world are not just male, but normally queer to some extent. I never understood this phenomenon of wanting to see two hot men going at each other, but a fellow RPer, who preferred to remain anonymous, had some insight:
“I myself was obsessed with gay male love stories in my mid-to late-teens, though I have since realized that that was my own queerness desperately seeking representation and, finding little to do with queer women, being forced to latch onto male stories. Straight girls love gay sex, and I’m sure there are a number of reasons why, but it would seem that female roleplay writers are less interested in seeing themselves represented in romantic and sexual stories and more interested in playing with gay men as if they were dolls.”
I also think a part of this phenomenon is because most of the writers are women who like men. As another RPer, who I will refer to as “S” told me, “I like to write dudes because I like dudes.” This didn’t shock me in the slightest; writers write about what interests them, and if you’re interested in men, you’re probably going to want to look at men. A lot of roleplayers are straight, so it’s not ridiculous to assume that they’d want to use male face claims for their characters that they find attractive and want to see interacting with other attractive men.
The stigma against female characters is prominent and obvious, and just because a few like me manage to break into the mainstream community and make something of their female characters doesn’t mean it’s on its way to being resolved. In my four and a half years writing on Tumblr, I have stuck with the same female character the whole way through, and even after all this time I still find it difficult to find new interactions. I have over 940 followers, yet only fifteen to twenty of them write with me on a regular basis.
As a final anecdote, I wanted to share something another RPer admitted to me, “At one point I changed the icon of my blog to a picture of a woman in the hopes that it would deter people from following me.” The fact that this is a tactic that is used—and was successful; she lost followers—is exactly what is wrong with the misogyny within the RP community. I hope one day these issues can be resolved and female characters get the representation and attention they deserve, but for now I will continue to write and do my best to prove that women can be just as dynamic and interesting as any male character.