Gatekeeping is a phenomenon where certain individuals or groups try to assert their authority or ownership over a particular interest, hobby, community, or fandom by setting up artificial barriers to entry and excluding others they perceive as "outsiders" or less knowledgeable. The reasons behind gatekeeping can vary, and it's essential to understand that people gatekeep for a wide range of psychological, social, and cultural factors.
Let's explore some of them now!
Reasons Behind Gatekeeping
1. Fear of Intimacy
Sharing something you love with others can lead to vulnerability and a fear of being judged. People might gatekeep to protect their emotional attachment to a particular interest, fearing that its mainstream popularity or exposure to a wider audience might dilute its significance or change its dynamics.
2. Sense of Superiority
Gatekeeping can provide some individuals with a sense of superiority or control. By excluding others or making them feel unwelcome, gatekeepers may feel more important, knowledgeable, or unique within their chosen community. It can be an ego boost to be seen as an authority or "true fan" within a group.
3. Protection of Identity
Some people may see their interests or hobbies as integral parts of their identity. When these interests become more mainstream or commercialized, gatekeepers may perceive it as a threat to their sense of self and seek to protect what they see as the "purity" or authenticity of their community.
4. Reaction to Change
As communities grow and evolve, their dynamics can change. Gatekeeping may arise as a reactionary response to the perceived erosion of the community's original values, which could be a resistance to change and a desire to preserve tradition.
5. Social Validation
Gatekeeping can serve as a way for individuals to gain validation from their peers and feel a sense of belonging. By defining who is "in" and who is "out," they create an exclusive group that reinforces their shared identity and beliefs.
The idea of gatekeeping has existed in various forms throughout history, but it has gained more prominence in recent times due to the growth of online communities and social media. Online platforms have provided an environment for people to assert their opinions forcefully, leading to the amplification of gatekeeping behaviors.
Yet, believe it or not, gatekeeping can have both negative and positive sides.
The Dangers of Gatekeeping
1. Exclusion and Divisiveness
Gatekeeping fosters an "us vs. them" mentality, leading to exclusion and discouragement of potential newcomers. This creates a less welcoming and supportive environment for people genuinely interested in the subject.
2. Stifling Creativity and Growth
By rigidly adhering to certain rules or notions of authenticity, gatekeeping can stifle creativity and innovation within the community. New perspectives and ideas may be dismissed, hindering the community's overall development.
3. Discouraging Diversity
Gatekeeping tends to enforce homogeneity, discouraging diversity of thought, backgrounds, and experiences. Embracing a more inclusive approach can lead to richer and more vibrant communities.
4. Limiting Community Expansion
Gatekeeping can restrict the growth of communities, preventing them from reaching their full potential in terms of knowledge-sharing, resources, and support.
The Positives of Gatekeeping
1. Preserving Authenticity
By defining certain standards or criteria, gatekeeping can ensure that the community retains its core values and principles, safeguarding it from becoming overly commercialized or diluted.
2. Maintaining Quality
Gatekeepers might enforce certain guidelines to maintain a level of quality within the community, preventing misinformation or low-quality content from gaining traction.
3. Sense of Community
For some, gatekeeping provides a sense of belonging and shared identity. Having shared interests and values can create a tight-knit community where members support and understand each other deeply.
While there may be arguments in favor of some aspects of gatekeeping, it's essential to find a balance between preserving authenticity and being inclusive. A healthy community is one that encourages learning and growth, welcoming diverse perspectives while still holding on to its core values and identity. Striking this balance can help foster a more positive and constructive environment for everyone involved.
Gatekeeping in the Real World
1. Fandoms and Geek Culture
In certain fandoms, long-time fans may gatekeep by challenging the legitimacy of newer fans or those who were introduced to the franchise through a different medium (e.g., movies versus books). They may criticize newcomers for not having a deep understanding of the lore or characters, making them feel unwelcome.
2. Niche Hobbies
In niche hobbies or subcultures, gatekeeping can occur when enthusiasts set rigid criteria for being considered a "true" member of the community. This might involve having specific knowledge or using certain jargon, and those who don't meet these criteria may be looked down upon or excluded.
3. Social Justice Activism
Even within social justice movements, gatekeeping can arise, with some individuals or groups asserting that only those who have personally experienced certain forms of oppression can be genuine activists. This exclusionary approach can undermine the broader goals of the movement.
4. Academic and Intellectual Circles
Gatekeeping can also manifest in academic and intellectual circles, where experts might dismiss ideas or research from less-established scholars or individuals from outside their field, preventing diverse perspectives from contributing to the knowledge base.
5. Subreddits and Online Forums
In online communities like Reddit, certain subreddits may have strict rules about what content is acceptable, leading to gatekeeping behaviors that discourage users from participating or sharing their views.
6. Professional Fields
In some professional fields, gatekeeping can happen when established members seek to protect their positions and resources by excluding newcomers or those with different backgrounds, preventing diversity and fresh ideas.
7. Art and Creativity
Gatekeeping can also exist in creative industries, where artists, musicians, or writers may face criticism for exploring unconventional styles or ideas that challenge traditional norms within their medium.
While these examples illustrate the harmful effects of gatekeeping, it's essential to remember that not all enthusiasts or experts engage in such behaviors. Many communities embrace inclusivity, fostering growth, and innovation by encouraging diverse perspectives and experiences. Striving for a healthy balance between preserving authenticity and promoting inclusivity can lead to more robust and dynamic communities that thrive in their respective fields.