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Part One

A funny thing happened to the online Ghostbusters fan community… back in the early to mid-1990s when Bill Emkow’s Message Board was the only game in town, I could count on one hand (a difficult feat for me) how many female members actively posted and contributed. If memory serves, half that number were the significant others for the male members that posted on the then appropriately titled “Ghostbusters Homepage”. But with the recent resurgence of Ghostbusters in the public eye based upon the new licensed properties, the forthcoming sequel, and the general nostalgia for how things used to be: it’s only natural that there’s a new diversification of those that actively visit and participate in the online community.

According to GBFans.com Webmaster AJ Quick, 10% of the over 13,000 registered users of his site are now female – and on top of that, nearly a third of total visitors to the site are female. It may sound like a lot in comparison to the five folks I remember from the stone age but given these numbers I immediately think of the other 90% testosterone filled, woman crazy, male members and my God, what must these female members think of it all? I mean, there are “Sexy Ghostbuster” calendars on some sites, there are clueless male members posting diagrams as to why they don’t believe the female anatomy is capable of wearing a backpack, and if you’re a lady and post a picture on the message board – you’d better be prepared to fend off the hoards of lonely dudes that will be outside your window playing Peter Gabriel on a boombox… why hasn’t this 10% demographic run to the hills in fear?

So, my dear Private Sector readers, I decided to turn investigative reporter for a two-part column to give the female fans out there a loud and resounding voice. To find out how and if participating in the message boards, comments, and immensely interactive fan community is overwhelming, intimidating or, as I found, if a lot of the ladies out there have learned to take a lot of things in stride. This isn’t meant to be a sociology experiment, thesis paper, or scientific work – after all, this is The Private Sector and my opinion will be dispersed throughout (read: if major news outlets are reading this, they’ll probably hire me to cover politics). More so this is meant to be a glimpse into a different perspective in this crazy community that we call home.

You might recall, several weeks ago at the end of a Private Sector column, I had asked for the help of female members willing to participate in answering some questions. I expected three or four responses… I received dozens. Right off the bat it was clear to me that the number of women visiting the fine sites that publish The Private Sector was well beyond what I had expected. In fact, the response was so overwhelming that it took me a while to respond to them all and actually gave me the opportunity to expand the scope of just what I wanted to know from the ladies in the community.

The majority of women that responded were actually new to the community, or had joined recently and still considered themselves to be new to the whole atmosphere. The new video game seemed to be the catalyst that inspired many of the Girls in Grey to seek out Ghostbusters online. A couple of the veterans (including one whom I’ve known for quite some time) were also kind enough to chime in with their experiences and perspectives. No matter when they joined, no matter their age, no matter their sense of humor, everyone responded that it was clear the Ghostbusters fanverse seemed like a boys club. In fact, dear friend Michelle whom I have the privilege of knowing from my days running GBHQ commented that it made sense given the characters that populate the franchise. Michelle kindly observed that, “Hey, even Stay-Puft and Oscar are male!”

But the broad appeal to the imagination (and funny bone, obviously) of Ghostbusters is strong and there’s no reason that a female audience shouldn’t enjoy the world and the characters that populate it… there isn’t a startling divide between male and female about Ghostbusters as there is toward a franchise like… oh… I don’t know… Twilight (have you ever seen men more hostile toward something? I mean, honestly dudes, all our blood boils but the ladies love it). With Ghostbusters, the broad appeals makes sense as to why both male and female members would seek fan sites out on the internet and want to share their fandom. But why aren’t there more of these Girls in Grey signing up and speaking their voice?

Interestingly enough, I found that the majority of responses said that they were shy when it came to posting on the message boards and popping into the chatrooms. They lurk, they read, they’ll utilize prop references and discussions without ever actually chiming in. It seemed like the consensus was a resounding shyness toward participating. However, an exception to the rule was recent GBFans Costume Contest Winner Traveler of Games who told me confidently, “If you like something, you shouldn’t feel afraid to join in.” She added, “I learned that from being a gamer for many years.”

But why were some still hesitant to chime in? Michelle put it best for those with pause when she told me, “At times, I feel like I am stepping on their ‘male’ time and so I leave them to it.” To me, based upon the responses, the sheer numbers sound overwhelming to our female friends. It recalls the attitude and response a patient and loving ex-girlfriend had toward my friends huddled around playing poker, exuding testosterone, throwing back beer as if water… she holed up in the bedroom with the door closed or left the house entirely. It didn’t matter that she loved poker and could have kicked all our asses. She just didn’t want to be around all the grunts and bodily noises.

It’s absolutely not a sign of weakness or lack of confidence though. Every single response that I received showed that The Girls in Grey had incredible senses of humor, were patient, and most of all – for lack of better term, they sounded like really tough chicks akin to Traveler of Games’ fearless viewpoint. Arizona Ghostbuster Stina mentioned to me that she was selective with her posting and was nervous when she first joined, but took comfort in knowing she was surrounded by fans of something she loved. It sounds to me that silently observing isn’t something our female members are forced to do by a long shot, but rather a choice that they are making.

It’s abundantly clear that the female fans are just as rabid, just as passionate, and as much fanatics of Ghostbusters as their male counterparts. Any adversity doesn’t seem to discourage them in their enjoyment of being a fan, or their confidence in calling themselves a Ghosthead. In fact, when interactions were strictly on a level playing field about fandom, propping, movies, cartoons, you name it – that’s when I could hear the passion exuding from every response.

But when we started talking about personal interactions, that’s when I started to hear the Girls in Grey (digitally) start shifting in their seats uncomfortably.

Join me tomorrow for a special Thursday edition of The Private Sector, where part two of The Girls in Grey gets personal and looks at how those outside of the online community react to their love for Ghostbusters (including boyfriends) and will tackle the question that I know is on everyone’s mind…

How many of these lonely fanboys have hit on you?

(The Private Sector is a weekly syndicated column written by Troy Benjamin presented every Wednesday on Proton Charging, Ghostbusters.net, GBFans, and via Cross the Streams as an op-ed look at the goings on in the world of the Ghostbusters franchise. Learn more about Troy at www.troybenjamin.com)

(click here for Part Two)

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