My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (2010- ) is one of the most discussed children’s cartoon programmes of the 21st century, receiving academic interest (for example, the “My Little Pony: A Transcultural Phenomenon” research conference at University of Brighton in June 2014), alongside nominations for two primetime Emmys. Praised for its humour and moral lessons, the cartoon has been hugely popular with its 2-11 year old female demographic.
But a simple Google search will reveal the real reason My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is so discussed. This is in fact due to the programme’s large audience of men aged 15-35, who have named themselves ‘Bronies’.
But why is an adult audience of a children’s cartoon so noteworthy? Adults have been watching and enjoying children’s cartoon programming for years. Cartoon Network based their entire brand strategy around adults and children enjoying the same shows, and Pixar always includes nods to its adult viewers in its family-friendly animations. So why do Bronies get so much negative attention? For Bronies have not just garnered attention, they have gained an unprecedented backlash and an online (and later offline) hate campaign against them. The reason: because it is boys engaging with girl-orientated programming, which is viewed as inferior to male-orientated programming.
An article posted on Return of Kings argues that “if you are watching a TV show geared towards children, you have problems… for a grown man to eagerly consume a TV show aimed at girls is to admit the complete devolution of men into female children.” Bronies have also been described as “a bunch of harmless fem-boys who stopped maturing at age seven” and “perma-virgins” who should “act like a man”. US radio personality Howard Stern spent an entire broadcast trying to determine if all Bronies were “sexually deviant cloppers” (someone who masturbates over images of the characters). Bronies apparently break the sacred gender rule that ‘boys don’t like girly things’ and, as such, are seen as traitors to masculinity.
Masculinity is favoured, so while it has become more acceptable, and often deemed progressive, for girls to adopt masculine traits and take on the traditionally masculine roles (by having a career and earning large salaries), when people see grown men sporting feminine colours and enjoying a cartoon that’s more about love than violence, they are considered ‘creepy’ or ‘weird’. Boys are discouraged and abused for adopting any traits deemed feminine. So, when these young men express their love for a programme aimed at little girls, they are deemed either sexual deviants or effeminate man-children who need to grow up, and man up.
So, why do Bronies get such hate? Because pink horses and messages of love and friendship are ‘girly’, and we all know that while it is unacceptable to be prejudiced against women, it is still common to deride femininity and feminine traits.
The fact that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is better known for its male audience than its merits, just shows that masculinity and femininity are still viewed unevenly in our society.
 2Wycked, Return of Kings. 2014. Bronies: The Men Who Love “My Little Pony” Are Losers. Available at: http://www.returnofkings.com/28416/bronies-the-men-who-love-my-little-pony-are-losers#! [Accessed 16 July 2014]
 Kurt Schlichter, Breit Bart. Terrifying New Trend: Grown Men Who Dig ‘My Little Pony’. Available at: http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Hollywood/2012/04/25/my-little-pony?internetfight [Accessed 14 July 2014]
 Howard Stern, The Howard Stern Show, Radio Broadcast, Sirius XM, New York, 16 July 2012
Claire Burdfield is a PhD candidate at the University of Nottingham. Her research focusses on television audiences and the strategies used by the television industry to predict and manage them. She is a current member of the BAFTA Youth Council and stop-motion animator in her spare time.