Happy New Year’s Eve! Today I want to talk about a subject that’s near and dear to my heart: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
The newest addition to the classic My Little Pony franchise was created by Hasbro in 2010, produced and directed by animator Lauren Faust, who has worked on a number of other successful children’s shows, including The Powerpuff Girls (another great show for girls, I must say). Faust claims that in producing the new pony series, she wanted to create something that was closer to how she had played with her own ponies as a girl, and hopefully something that would be relatable to a lot of little girls, and enjoyable for their parents to watch also. She also wanted to prove that “cartoons for girls don’t have to be a puddle of smooshy, cutesy-wootsy, goody-two-shoeness.” 
In that, most will agree that she succeeded. The ‘mane’ cast of the show consists of six ponies, each with her own individual personality, strengths and weaknesses, who, despite the occasional argument, still manage to be best friends. The cast plays on archetypes, but without— for the most part— letting them fall into stereotypes. Twilight Sparkle, the bookish one, is highly intelligent and slightly socially awkward, but (at least after learning an important lesson about friendship) also enjoys spending time with her friends and actually experiencing the things she reads about. Fluttershy is quiet, timid, and gets along better with animals than other ponies, but she isn’t weak or helpless, and can be incredibly assertive when it comes to standing up for those she cares about. Rarity is a fashionista and a bit of a drama queen, but completely avoids the stereotype of ‘snotty mean girl’— she’s generous to a fault and always thinking about the needs of others.
Perhaps most importantly, even as each character learns lessons about what it means to be a true friend, none of the characters are ever shamed for being who they are. Twilight is never looked down on or scoffed at for being a ‘nerd,’ Fluttershy isn’t told that she must “come out of her shell” to be a worthwhile
person pony, and Rarity’s fashion design is looked at as a legitimate career and an art form, not as a shallow or pointless pursuit.
However, because of the depth and relatability of the characters, and the fact that it was designed to be enjoyable for parents as well as children, Friendship is Magic has gained a popularity far outside its target demographic, specifically among older teens and young adults on various internet forums. This isn’t in and of itself a bad thing; in fact, for a children’s show (especially one aimed at girls, “girl cartoons” being a notoriously shallow genre) to have such appeal to an older audience speaks volumes about its quality and content. However, there’s a particular segment of the show’s following that I find to be intensely problematic.
They call themselves “bronies:” 18-35(ish)-year-old male fans of the show who congregate on self-created fansites
such as Equestria Daily and Ponychan. They (generally speaking), tend to be very vocal about being male fans of the show, seeing it as a sort of badge of honor. The word brony itself was originally created to separate the “cool and unique” male fans of the show from the target female fans. The word was later taken to be a sort of blanket term for all of the older, online fans. Brony became gender-neutral, because maleness is, as usual, taken as the societal default.
The thing about bronies is, they seem to think they’re the most important— or sometimes perhaps the only— viewers of the show. “My Little Pony isn’t for girls!” they shout. “It’s cool!”
… Do I even have to explain what’s wrong with that statement? My Little Pony is, in fact, for girls, that being the demographic the show and merchandise is marketed toward, but, more importantly, the fact that something being “cool” must mean it’s “not for girls” says a lot about how our society perceives femininity.
Bronies also tend to complain that the show doesn’t cater more to them. “There should be more male characters!” for example. Nevermind the fact that there is not only a male main character: Spike, the baby dragon, but also a decent number of male background characters of varying importance. Cartoon shows targeted primarily toward boys may have a token female character or two, but rarely very many important background women.
The toy line is also a problem for them. “Why do the ponies have such stupid hair?” they demand. “It isn’t show-accurate!” Never mind the fact that little girls (again: target marketing group) would probably much rather have fun, brushable, styleable hair than stiff, show-accurate molds.
Even the news media has noticed the phenomenon, writing articles about how extraordinary it is for grown men to like a little girls’ show, rather than the fact that the show itself is a standout of the genre and the excellent message that it sends to the actual little girls who watch it.
Overall, the main problem with the brony phenomenon is not that they are men who are fans of a show designed for young girls— there’s nothing inherently ‘creepy’ about it when the show was intended to be enjoyed by parents as well, which includes male parents. The problem lies in male fans demanding kudos for being male fans— by “pushing the envelope” by liking something perceived as girly or “sissy”— in what should be primarily a space for girls, about girls, and by girls. It lies in the fact that they clamor to be acknowledged above the target audience of the show, and complain bitterly when they aren’t catered to. It’s in the fact that they frequently completely overlook female fans of the show— both the young girls it’s aimed at and the older women who also populate their online communities. It’s in the rampant misogyny of the fandom: calling Rarity useless (or a bitch) simply for occupying the fashionista role, even when she completely defies the shallow girl stereotype, while simultaneously lauding Rainbow Dash (probably the character that sticks closest to common media tropes) for being tomboyish and tough, and therefore awesome; or wanting to protect and “take care of” poor, submissive little Fluttershy, while ignoring the fact that she isn’t actually submissive, nor does she need a man (or anyone) to take care of her.
I fully admit that there are male fans who don’t fall into this category in the slightest, and I appreciate that, but when so many of those who identify as “bronies” exhibit this entitled and misogynistic behavior, it’s a small wonder the word makes me twitch a bit each time I see it.
1. A Rebuttal, Oct. 4, 2010.