Thursday, February 3, 2011

History: Wrench Wench

Wrench Wench is one of the oldest titles on the wiki, and predates the Great Crash. The idea behind the trope is pretty simple. It's about a female character who likes playing around with machines, and to a mild extent is rendered romantically attractive to males in the show and also the fandom as a result of this. They're almost always portrayed with having other attractive attributes, although to be fair this is true of most female characters in fiction.
The appeal of this title is fairly obvious. It has Added Alliterative Appeal, and it rhymes. "Wrench" is almost always colloquially understood as "doohickey you smack on dirty machines to make them work". "Wench" is, well, a little weaker in that it's a fairly specific word designating a low-class woman and this trope features women from all sorts of economic backgrounds. Most people don't really care about this part though. In the TV Tropes hierarchy of beloved trope titles this is a nearly perfect combination of all the right elements. In light of this, the slight inaccuracy of "wench" is quite forgivable.

Where this all hit a snag is with a precautionary tale of the YKTTW rename proposal period. Wrench Wench was at one point nominated for a rename. The sheer rage against the idea that a title like Wrench Wench would be up for rename was immense. By the time all was said and done, the proposal had had over eighty replies, nearly every last one of them strongly against any consideration of the rename.

Here's where the precautionary part comes in. The original post of the proposal was quite vague about what was disliked about the trope. The only real complaint it had was that the title is "sexist"- which is true, to a limited extent, but the post in question did not bother to explain why. This did not stop multiple tropers (many of whom were quick to note that they, themselves, were female) from providing serious, detailed attacks on the very idea that such a title could be sexist.

Part of the reason why this one-sided "debate" went on so long was because for much of the debate there was no moderating voice telling people to calm down. Around the sixty post mark I finally noticed the proposal, and was shocked at how blistering and negative the entire thing had gotten. It had all the elements of a strawman argument. The fact that the original post itself was a bit of a strawman was besides the point- people were intimating malicious motives behind the rename for which there was no evidence. The ongoing influx of negative responses only fueled this fire, and the posts got more mean the longer on the argument went on.

At this point I came in. I explained the reasons for a rename in this case could be legitimate, and outlined the problems with the title. The key word in that exchange was "could". I noted that while I supported a rename, there was absolutely no way I or anyone else would go against such broad, outspoken support, and that such an event became completely unlikely after the first ten or so posts indicated this very strong sentiment. We needed to calm down and not panic about the wiki's fun nature being destroyed and letting rename issues radicalize us.

Other tropers, who made sure to state that they opposed a rename, came in to back me up on this point. They noted that given how little we'd seen of actual proponents of this rename, it's very likely that this topic was the work of a troll. Many outspoken tropers from earlier in the proposal made sure to come back and apologize for their inflammatory rhetoric at this point just to back this up. Impoliteness was not cool, and if someone made a rename proposal without providing a reasonable justification, then we had best just let the topic die out. A sensible person (in this case, me) would agree to disagree in the face of a reasonable argument. Non-sensible people can't be dealt with, for the simple reason that they are by definition not sensible.

It was a defining moment that helped us with some of the rename proposals yet to come, since it helped underscore how our overall goals weren't really that different. If the Wrench Wench page was working, it was free to stay- even those of us who proposed renames appreciated the wacky names on the wiki as being a part of its identity. For a sake of perspective, one tangible change did arise out of this proposal- realizing a trope did not exist to deal with mechanic-type characters of both genders, I proposed and later launched Grease Monkey. This page is not anywhere near as popular as Wrench Wench, and I doubt it ever will be. TV Tropes thrives to define the wacky- the thinking then was that so long as our directories are complete, comprehensible, and well-written, it didn't really matter what was popular. It's an attitude that still predominates in YKTTW to this day- a positive factor that has done much to help it stay functional.

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