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Sexism in Fangirling Culture

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Delhi South chapter.

From holding your breath as Maradona scored the winning goal in 1986 FIFA World Cup to shedding countless tears when Zayn Malik left One Direction in 2014; from letting out choked sobs as Tony Stark breathed his last to experiencing sheer happiness when Wilhelm and Simon FINALLY kissed on Young Royals, fangirling culture has been a part of modern-day society for eons now. However, though these events might be equally magnanimous to the respective fandoms, there is but, an distinction in the public’s regard to them. An obvious disparage. While grown men screaming bloody murder to celebrate Maradona’s goal is hailed and rejoiced, two young girls squealing at Simon and Wilhelm on screen are given a nasty side eye. Mourning Tony’s death by putting up 2846 statuses is perfectly alright, but shedding a tear for Zayn Malik leaving the band automatically makes you a ‘hormonal and hysterical female teen’. Quite hypocritic, isn’t it? Yet, this is the behavior and the response that we, as a society have normalized.

So, what’s the reason behind this crude and blatant discrimination then? Simply put, it’s the same one that has been the cause of nearly every societal woe of womankind: deep rooted misogyny.

From the get go, the word ‘fangirl’ in itself is very inherently sexist. Although the gendered equivalent of this term namely ‘fanboy’ exists, what is interesting to notice here is how ‘fanboy’ is only used to describe young males who are aficionados of something and that too when their subject of interest is traditionally non-masculine. Whilst a female, be it 7 or 70, is always slapped with the term ‘fangirl’. A female can never simply be a fan.

What’s worse is that even if a girl finally finds something that makes her want to bang her palms on the table in exhilaration or makes her feel understood, she’s immediately brushed off if it doesn’t fit the ‘feminine’ stereotype. Don’t believe me? Ask yourselves or your closest female friend how many times they’ve been told, ‘Wow, you’re not like other girls’ when they confessed to being a sports fan. Ask them how many times their opinions on The Beatles were repudiated and they were told that they ‘wouldn’t understand the deep cuts behind the words’ and that ‘it wasn’t just an aesthetic.’ Funnily enough, these young girls who are now told that they wouldn’t understand The Beatles are the ones who made them into the chart toppers they were back in their day.

What baffles me even more is how we fail to see the repercussions that manifest themselves in our younger generation through this unintentional gender policing.

“Those who flock round the Beatles, who scream themselves into hysteria, whose vacant faces flicker over the TV screen, are the least fortunate of their generation, the dull, the idle, the failures.” Paul Johnson, New Statesman.

“By now we all know the immense transformative power of a boy band to turn a butter-wouldn’t-melt teenage girl into a rabid, knicker-wetting banshee who will tear off her own ears in hysterical fervor when presented with the objects of her fascinations.” Jonathan Heaf, GQ. 

The quotes cited above are more than 50 years apart, yet they propagate the very same idea of female fans being ‘hysterical’, ‘crazy’, ‘ditzy’ who would ultimately amount into ‘a good for nothing’. Why? Just because she stood in line overnight to see her fav? Just because she penned a 30k word fanfiction? Just because she bought their merch? However, at the same time, when the gender roles are reversed, not a single person bats an eye. Case in point : 2020 Euro Cup Finals. UK’s National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCVD) reported that cases of domestic violence in the country rose by 38% after England’s loss. Not just this, the ‘fans’ even aimed racial abuse at the black team members, namely Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka and caused hefty damage to public property. And even after all this, their behavior is swept under the rug under the guise of being ‘patriotic’. Even after all this, they, instead of being labelled as hysterical or ‘rabid, knicker-wetting banshees’, will be called ‘ardent fans’. Why? Because they are not female.

Meanwhile, whereas this hooligan hero worship has been promoted since forever, anything that interests teen girls is immediately discarded. As young-adult author and blogger Kerry Winfrey said, “For many people, the fact that teenage girls like something — whether that something is Taylor Swift or One Direction or Twilight — is a reason to write it off completely,”. This constant mockery and belittling not just picks at a teen girl’s consciousness for never liking anything of substance but even fortifies the idea that all things by women and by women are cringe and trash.

Coming down to the crux of the matter, whether we like it or not, fangirling culture has and will always be a form of escapism. An opportunity to leave behind the drudge of our everyday maudlin lives and peep through the window into a world of excitement. It is an expression of devotion, an expression of dedication and perhaps that is why it has always been linked to women and has had such a sexist connotations to it. A female’s psyche is such that it enables her to emote and therefore most of her wants and likes are chucked under the category of something that makes her emotional rather than something that might actually be of value. If the same principle is applied to men, the emotional connect part is given as much importance as Scully’s opinion is during a case in Brooklyn Nine Nine: next to none.

I’m tired of this constant sexism and I’m tired of being judged for my likes. Tired of being put in a box labelled ‘Hormonal and Hysterical’. Yes, I do get emotional when my favorite wins a Grammy and that does NOT make me any different than the 45 year old man out there who shed tears when Virat Kohli resigned from the Indian Cricket Team’s captaincy. For once, if we put our preconceived notions aside and let people like what they want without living in the constant fear of getting labels such as ‘fake geek’ or ‘girly girl’, then maybe, just maybe, the chokehold that misogyny has around our necks will loosen a little and women will be able to breathe a little freer.

Devanshi Mitra

Delhi South '24

Devanshi is a physics major and you are most likely to find her either doing something borderline illegal or cocooned in a blanket with her nose buried in a book and Taylor Swift blaring in her ears - there's no in between. An exuberant optimist and a firm believer of 'no judgement', when things go south, she'll be there to make it feel like home.