Twilight, Justin Beiber, One Direction- they’ve all seen their fair share of hate in popular culture. And they all have one thing in common- a predominantly female ‘fanbase’.
When South Korean boyband BTS’ (Bangtan Sonyeondan) movie came out, it broke records for the highest-grossing musical documentary. Fans were elated, and countries whose markets had previously been defined by xenophobia– like India- were shocked by the popularity of a non-English speaking artist and a never experienced before fan-ambience! People had organized fan projects with banners, photo cards, and even themed food for free; BTS’ Indian fandom’s first official meet-up was a blast. But what shocked me most was the fan demographic. The media had pumped it in us that artists like BTS have a fandom of crazed, obsessive, whiny pre-teen girls obsessed with pretty boys and shallow music. But instead, it was a diverse demographic of people of all ages, genders, and sexualities who were well behaved and supportive of the artists, and of each other. In fact, after the screening was over, the gathered fans gave a bouquet to the staff of the cinema as a token of gratitude for working hard for them.
What is doubly ironic is that on that very day, the media praised the fervor of football fans who took to streets in hordes to celebrate the win of their favourite team- and yet they were portrayed as fans and not as ‘obsessive fanboys’.
This incident is hardly the first time that popular media has portrayed a female-dominated interest as ‘less than’ or ‘crazy’ when compared to male-dominated interests. Try the ‘Beiber Fever’ of 2012, or when One Direction was still one, or even back to more mundane roots like TV shows, movies, and books like the Twilight, or The Fault In Our Stars.
Why is it that a show like the Vampire Diaries and a movie like the Sex and the City have ‘fangirls’, while The Big Bang Theory and the Fight Club have ‘fans’, even though both the former and the latter attract audiences from all genders and identities? Why is it that women obsessing over their makeup are viewed as fanciful, but a man obsessing over a pair of sports shoes is probably ‘athletic’?
One has a predominantly larger female fan base and thus becomes ‘frivolous and fatuous’, while the other has a predominantly larger male fan base and becomes ‘cool and trendy’. It is the inherent sexism in our society and popular culture that continues to downgrade female interests as indulgent or irrational. This compartmentalization of female interests as ‘fan-girl obsession’ is extremely damaging, and is pumped into us so consistently that women themselves begin to internalize it.
Not to say that women who enjoy partaking in pre-dominantly male-dominated fields aren’t genuine about their interest, but to like a male-dominated activity or interest is now deemed ‘cooler’ and they’re considered to be special and better than their other female counterparts who like more traditionally feminine interests.
It is this ‘pick-me’ complex that gets reinstated and makes women feel that an interest dominated by other women is silly and stupid. Enjoying listening to bands like BTS makes you frivolous and shallow- despite the band’s songs preaching self-love, self-affirmation, and self-care- but listening to bands like Linkin Park is completely acceptable. Both bands have had positive impacts on their fans’ lives yet one, along with its audience, is ostracised, shamed, and made fun of, solely because a larger demographic of its audience are women.
It thus becomes important to hold this thought up for debate and realize how the stereotypical “fangirl” is one of the many ways that the male-dominated popular culture uses to browbeat female interests and passions.