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Image: "Twilight" fans
Colin E. Braley  /  AP file
Excited Salt Lake City fans come out to celebrate the appearance of “Twilight” character Victoria, Rachelle Lefevre, at the midnight DVD movie release event on March 21. More and more sci-fi fans are women.
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updated 9/2/2009 10:36:33 AM ET 2009-09-02T14:36:33

There was a time when the term “geek” was applied exclusively to men. That time has passed.

One look around last month’s massive Comic-Con International: San Diego made it clear: the fangirls have invaded.

“Every year, there’s an even larger, incredibly noticeable legion of female fans, and not just girls into the ‘Twilight’ stuff, but girls wearing comic books stuff, wearing a lot of manga stuff, wearing anime stuff,” said Jeff Katz, the former Fox movie executive who recently started the comics/film production house, American Original. “Women are clearly part of the genre audience. Anyone who’s been doing their homework in Hollywood in the last five years has certainly been aware of this.”

According to statistics from last year’s Comic-Con, about 40 percent of the people attending the show are women, something that didn’t escape the recent attention of Jeff Smith, publisher of the popular “Bone” comic book series.

“There’s women! I don’t mean to sound lecherous. I’m just really pleased!” Smith said with a laugh. “It really was just us guys for a long time.”

While any kind of growth in the industry would seem like good news, it hasn’t come without its share of backlash. Blogs since this year’s convention have taken male/female sides on everything from the potential sexism of the convention’s “booth babes” to complaints about the influx of female “Twilight” fans.

But if there’s one thing most fans and creators can agree upon, it’s that more women are around, and they appear to be staying.

In the first of a series looking at the effect of the “Fangirl Invasion”, Newsarama looks as the causes and asks: Why the change? And why now?

Why now?
Katz, who has written superhero comics and produced films like the recent “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” said he believes it comes down to society being more accepting of fan culture and genre characters in general. As the culture at large is exposed to fandom, it becomes more acceptable to be part of it.

Slideshow: ‘Twilight’ stars light up Hollywood “You have a generation of girls who have grown up with this stuff and view it as a natural part of culture,” he said. “You’ve had three ‘Spider-Man’ movies and ‘X-Men’ movies since they’ve been growing up. You’ve had ‘Harry Potter’ books and movies. And this generation has gotten it in a more concentrated level than I had as a kid. I might have had a ‘Superman’ movie every few years. But it was still a bit of a learning process.”

Although Katz thinks comics publishers still haven’t figured out how to tap into the potential of this female audience, Hollywood has started to catch on — with Katz naming “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon as someone who greatly influenced the change.

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“He’s one of the leading forces behind the growth,” Katz said, pointing toward the large number of enthusiastic female fans the creator’s projects have attracted. “I think his impact’s actually been underrated.”

Whedon himself told Newsarama he thinks the recent surge in female fans has come about mainly because it took Hollywood this long to figure out that comics and genre movies appeal to a wider audience than just geeky men.

“I think a lot more people are more comfortable with being fans of this genre because the studios and the networks have become more comfortable with them,” he said.

After ‘Lost’ and ‘Heroes,’ they get it, ‘Oh, this is a formula for money! We love money!’” Whedon said. “So people who would never have watched what used to pass for science fiction — which was all, ‘turn on the purple lights and let’s look like crap and be sort of marginalized’ — people who would never watch that stuff even if it was good, and don’t love B-movies the way I do, can now find themselves into genre.”

Women join the creative workforce
Paul Levitz, publisher at DC Comics, attributes much of the growth in the female audience to the fact that, as women have become part of the workplace and therefore the creative marketplace, more writers and artists are female.

“I think if you look at the history pattern — Joss’ work aside, which is wonderful but unusual — the success of things capable of attracting women in pop culture had women in a more significant creative role. Gene Roddenberry, although male, was very heavily influenced by Majel Barrett, his wife, during the creation process of ‘Star Trek,’” Levitz said, pointing out the female fans of that franchise.

“With the whole emergence of Vertigo, which became the first modern comics line to have serious women readers very actively involved, it’s not a coincidence that the editorial staff was led by a woman and included many women. Yes, the same story can reach both, but the odds are a little bit better to tell a story that interests a group if it’s by a person who’s in it.”

Louise Krasniewicz, anthropologist and lecturer for the University of Pennsylvania, said her studies of fan culture have led her to believe that women’s recent attraction to fandom is just a natural reaction to the human need for the stories of mythology — something they were previously discouraged from fulfilling.

“I study mythology and cultures around the world and back into ancient worlds. And it’s exactly the same thing,” Krasniewicz explained. “There is no difference between the myths that people in ancient times used to explain the world to themselves and ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Twilight’ and comic book characters. They are our contemporary myths. I think girls have been looking for something like this.”

New community
Krasniewicz, a life-long comics reader who has also become a fan of “Potter” and “Twilight,” attended Comic-Con this year to immerse herself in the fan culture she studies, and even stood in line with thousands of other people to see the panel for “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.”

“They needed something like this,” the anthropologist said as she waved her hand across the mass of mostly female fans waiting in the line. “‘Harry Potter’ partly had that. Comic books have it, but comic books have always had a reputation of being for boys. ‘Twilight’ was perfect. It was the perfect way for them to step into what fan culture provides you.”

Slideshow: ‘Twilight’ stars light up Hollywood Among the things fan culture provides, Krasniewicz said, is a community, as fans enjoy sharing their enthusiasm with other people. “People like having that connection, and people have done it for years over comic books. Some people used to do it over ‘Harry Potter’ and still do. People used to do it more over television shows, but we don’t watch the same television shows as much as we used to. But ‘Twilight’ just hit it on the button,” she said.

Because of the attraction to community, one of the reasons for the growth in women fans may be the increase in female Internet users, as the web gives women the ability to share their fandom with others. Females now outnumber males on the ‘net, with social networking serving as the key attraction. And along with that social activity has come an increase in communication among female fans.

“When we first started, we ran off a standard $100 a year web hosting, which progressed to various types of shared servers, until we finally got so large that we had to get our own dedicated server,” said Lori Joffs, co-owner of The Twilight Lexicon Web site for fans of the movie and book series, which draws mostly women ages 18 to 35. “We currently have over 50,000 unique visitors a day, which still stuns me considering that I threw a little party when we got our 500th visitor.”

According to Krasniewicz, that growth in online communities of female fans is something that comic book fans should understand, since they’ve been doing it for years. “There’s definitely this sense of the ‘comic book community.’ We hear that term all the time as comic readers,” she said. “And now women are discovering they can be part of that. They can have that same sense of community through fan culture.”

Check back with Newsarama for future installments on the Fangirl Invasion, including a look at why Hollywood in particular is taking note and whether there’s a difference between how men and women approach fandom.

© 2012 Newsarama.com. All rights reserved.

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