Gatekeeping and its effects on community

A socially accepted form of exclusion


Nadia Tucey

Spiritual Exploration: Junior Cecilia Valles learns how to give a tarot reading. Valles had always been interested in tarot reading, but felt that she wasn’t allowed to learn due to the constant gatekeeping from the spiritual community. “You don’t need to read tarot cards or believe in it to qualify as a spiritual person. Spirituality is more about exploring your inner feelings and self, and tarot cards can help you with that,” Valles said.

As a society, we are made to find community. We spend our lives searching for other people with common interests, common goals. It’s a one-of-a-kind feeling when we finally find that community we’ve struggled to find.
With community, though, tends to come exclusion. Not everyone can be included in a given group, or else there’s no longer much of a group and more of a crowd. This is where gatekeeping comes in. Gatekeeping is seen as the limiting of general access to something. That “something” is usually certain hobbies, interests or media.
Gatekeeping comes in many forms. It’s seen in certain music subcultures such as punk, metal and indie. You can find it in the film community, where certain directors or genres are gatekept from the general public, as they are too “deep” or “artistic” to be understood by all. This can be seen a lot with directors like David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino or with foreign films as a whole. We see it in fashion as well, where only certain brands and designers can be promoted by certain people with certain aesthetics. Gatekeeping, whether it’s in a small or large degree, shows up anywhere a difference of opinion can be found.
Of course, gatekeeping is used as a way to protect certain groups of people. For example, headdresses have been gatekept from non-Native Americans as a way to prevent their culture from being seen as a costume. The cultural significance of headdresses to the indigenous community is bigger than the “costume” many non-natives see it as. There will always be certain things that can only belong to a certain group in order to protect it from misuse. The goal here is to protect these communities, not divide them from the rest of the world.
Senior Avery Newman has experienced first-hand how gatekeeping protects people within the punk community. He believes that gatekeeping can be vital to keeping a community alive.
“If people start allowing other people into the community that give them bad looks, it can turn what the community started as into something completely different,” Newman said.
This is where most gatekeeping differentiates from the examples above, though. Gatekeeping has now become a tool to divide others. In some cases it’s no longer used to protect, but rather to exclude and separate people. The goal of subcultures are now to provide a sense of individuality rather than bring a safe haven to outcasts. Gatekeepers aren’t looking out for other like-minded individuals; they’re looking out for themselves.
Newman has been part of the punk community for years and has a strong foothold in what it means to be punk, and he has seen that the punk community has slowly strayed away from a home for punk enthusiasts and transformed into an exclusive club with certain criteria for belonging. You can’t be punk unless you dress a certain way and hold certain political beliefs. That’s not what being punk began as, but it is the way it is going.
This is the case with many music subgroups today. Stereotypes have never been more relevant, especially due to the use of social media to underline those stereotypes. “All” Mac Demarco fans have superiority complexes, Lana Del Rey fans “always” have daddy issues, Mitski listeners “all” struggle with depression. The stereotypes never end. It doesn’t seem to be getting any better, either, so it’s hard to determine if these subgroups will ever return to their original intent.
Living in a culture where individuality is so valued is a beautiful thing, but it has left its scars. Community slowly crawls to extinction, and we watch it happen. In places we are meant to belong, we don’t. We are told we can’t like a certain thing just because we don’t dress a certain way or live our lives in a certain fashion. Bring back inclusion within these communities; stop giving a list of criteria in order to like something. Just let people enjoy what they enjoy in peace, and maybe one day we will return to a greater state of inclusion within our communities.