Preventing violence – with ponies

Originally published for: Print Journalism class assignment

More men are going for My Little Pony toys in the plushie aisle. Photo: Joseph Tunney
More men are going for My Little Pony toys in the plushie aisle. Photo: Joseph Tunney

Of all the things one would associate My Little Pony with, social activism probably wouldn’t be one of them. Yet, one local advocacy group says that ponies might be a key in the prevention of violence against women.

In fact, the popular franchise has garnered a surprising fan base in the last decade. Bronies, as they like to be called, are the adult male fans of the cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

Jenn Richard of White Ribbon Fredericton, a group that engages men in preventing violence against women, saw an opportunity to use the fan base as part of their mission. She helped to bring a screening of the 2012 documentary Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony to St. Thomas University on Oct. 15.

“We were kind of looking at getting some young guys,” says Richard, “and Bronies is about that demographic of 20-year old guys.”

She says that White Ribbon was looking for new opportunities to talk with younger men about gender roles after previous efforts had fallen short. She and other members agreed that My Little Pony was the perfect starting point.

If you were a girl growing up any time after 1983, chances are you had at least one My Little Pony figurine in your house. My Little

The latest incarnation of My Little Pony debuted in 2010. Photo: Joseph Tunney
The latest incarnation of My Little Pony debuted in 2010. Photo: Joseph Tunney

Pony was launched in the early ’80s as a toy line and television series aimed specifically at the little girl market.  The franchise had gone through various incarnations since, but it’s the most recent version that has caught on beyond the ages 10-and-under set.

My Little Pony was rebooted in 2010 with the debut of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. From there, the Brony phenomenon emerged. Bronies – a portmanteau of “bro” and “ponies” – are grown men who tune in every week, discuss the latest episodes on Internet forums, buy pony merchandise, and even attend pony conventions. The Brony community largely exists online, though local communities like the New Brunswick Brony Alliance are becoming more common.

Contrary to media portrayals, being a Brony is not a sexual fetish. A typical Brony enjoys the show because of its simple and honest themes about friendship. In a sex and violence-soaked culture, Bronies say it’s refreshing to see a return to kindness and values in media.

Shawn Dorey is a student at the University of New Brunswick, who is writing his thesis on gender roles in the media. He agrees that Bronies are misunderstood by the general public.

“Once there [was] this big grouping, there was natural movement against it because these were these individuals who were not conforming to their gender roles.”

Dorey says that though he doesn’t identify as a Brony himself, he has several friends that do. Characters in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic carry typically un-manly names like Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie. However, Dorey says that Bronies are turning the idea of manliness on its head.

Jenn Richard speaks at the "Bronies" screening on Oct. 15. Photo: Emma Chapple
Jenn Richard speaks at the “Bronies” screening on Oct. 15. Photo: Emma Chapple

Richard says that it’s My Little Pony’s emphasis on compassion that she finds the most important.

“There have been a lot of guys who have been around and have been… looking to belong to that type of group. They do value those things like friendship, and love and peace, but felt alienated about it,” says Richard. “And so, I think [Bronies] were a result of that cultural shift that’s been happening.”

Richard and her colleague Barry MacKnight, who also helped organize the documentary screening, both discovered the existence Bronies on their own. Both say that once they got past the initial shock of the idea, they were excited to share it with the rest of the committee.

MacKnight, a former police officer, says that violent behaviour is connected to masculinity. He thinks that Bronies can be used to show men that they don’t need to resort to violence to prove their masculinity.

“It’s very relevant to all the discussions we have about violence in our society,” says MacKnight.

Multi-coloured magical ponies and social activism don’t seem to have much in common, but Dorey says he draws parallels between Bronies and the feminist movement. He says that now more than ever, people are more accepting of differences, but having a piece of media like Friendship is Magic drives the message home in a media-driven culture.

Dorey says that even though he doesn’t watch the show, he appreciates the return to quality in the media.

“I love that there’s people out there watching it, because there’s so much useless media that comes out, like Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

My Little Pony is no longer the girly plaything of the 1980s. In 2014, it’s moved beyond its original purpose to become a symbol of the changing role of men in society, all thanks to a group of men who call themselves Bronies.

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Preventing violence – with ponies

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