From Twilight to ‘Basic’ culture, will girls ever be taken seriously?
In the past year, the ‘I’m not like other girls’ trend has dominated online meme culture and become a weird unique selling point for a girl to prove herself worthy of acceptance in society. I have to admit, I too fell victim to this, shielding the things I loved and enjoyed from the world in a messed up ‘Hannah Montana-esque’ way – I thought if I hid my most ‘mainstream’ hobbies and interests from others, I would somehow achieve this air of individuality associated with the trend that stood me apart from ‘other girls’. When I noticed this pattern of behaviour, my embarrassment in liking popular things, it made me question: what in the internalized misogyny made me ashamed to be like ‘other girls’, and who even are they?
Pop culture liked by ‘basic’ teenage girls, otherwise known and mocked by the terms ‘E-girl’ and ‘Fan Girl’, is frequently invalidated by wider society. This culture is therefore embarrassing to be associated with – the power of a teenage girl simply liking something naturally makes it uncool. My question is:
why has society allowed us to feel ashamed of the things we are genuinely interested in? and why are teenage girls deemed the most ‘uncool’ of them all?
The simple answer to this is misogyny. But what is so frustrating to me is that girls can never win. Never mind our lack of equality in the workplace, politics, etc., now what we seek refuge in–the music we listen to, films we watch, hobbies we have–is also being regulated. Teenage girls cannot live without being shamed and struck down by grown adults, typically men, from all angles. And I am so tired of it.
The first and possibly most relatable example of this ‘basic’ culture is the popularity of British boyband One Direction, whose fans were largely teenage girls previous to their hiatus/breakup in 2015. These fans, including myself, have been subjected to sexist labelling such as ‘mass hysteria’, ‘manic fans’ and ‘the One Direction Infection’. Similar labelling has been seen before with ‘Beatlemania’. You may at first think nothing of this, as the sociocultural impact of both of these bands were huge. But when compared to nationalistic language used to describe football fans, typically male, phrases such as ‘lively spirit’, ‘patriotic sentiment’ and ‘proud’ show the clear sexist divide.
The word ‘hysteria’ derives from the Ancient Greek medical condition ‘Hystera’, in which women were prone to bouts of erratic behaviour, large emotional outbursts and mood-swings as a result of the condition believed to originate in the uterus. This was entirely false, but as a result of the fictional condition women were deemed unfit to participate in politics.
So, when teenage girls become excited by something, they are labelled as the deeply misogynistic ‘hysterical’, which suggests they cannot be trusted to make important decisions or behave properly. On the other hand, when male football fans become violent, destroying property, using foul language and becoming drunk and disorderly in public after a match, they are admired, rewarded or excused – something doesn’t quite add up here.
Another example of this ‘basic’ culture is the Twilight book and film series. Written by Stephanie Meyer, Twilight is a YA (Young Adult) series following Bella Swan and her vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen. It includes things all women stereotypically love, especially teenage girls, such as love triangles, fantasy, and drama. Twilight fans existed worldwide, and the series grossed over $3.3 billion, making it the eighteenth highest-grossing film series of all time.
The successful franchise was targeted at teenage girls and true to expectations, teenage girls enjoyed it. Yet they are ridiculed for reading and watching this too, even though it was quite literally made for them. Media coverage again labelled young girls in ‘hysterics’ when they caught a glimpse of the actors who played the lead roles, and the patriarchal notion of female unintelligence was enforced through coverage of teenage girls deciding whether they were ‘Team Jacob’ or ‘Team Edward’, as opposed to using their energy for study or work.
And yet, my ability to enjoy One Direction or Bella and Edward’s love story does not undermine my intelligence, nor my ability to contribute to intellectual debate. I can be sad about Zayn leaving One Direction whilst simultaneously being sad about the UK leaving the EU.
With fangirling out the window and reading clearly a firm no, maybe teenage girls should take up a sport? But then they enter a game of ‘20 questions’ about the off-side rule from any male, as they have to prove themselves or work harder to be a fan of something that is typically of male interest.
Politics, perhaps? Alas no, when teenage girls take part in politics and intellectual debate–for example Greta Thunberg and her Environmental Campaign–they are again discredited and mocked by powerful men in powerful positions. Whilst this is a generalisation, it doesn’t take a genius to see that women in politics are often ridiculed, belittled and ignored – seen when former US President Donald Trump tweeted about 18-year-old Thunberg telling her to “work on her Anger Management problem” and to “chill“.
None of it makes sense. Women can’t like or do anything without being ridiculed. It becomes a virus present everywhere, and another clear way to control and degrade women.
More and more frequently, adult men are making money out of mocking teenage girls in social media videos titled ‘How Girls Drive’, and ‘Pick Me Girls’. When will these sexist double standards that belittle teenage girls and their passions end? It is painfully obvious that society hates women; this has to change, or we can never progress.
There is power in being like ‘other girls’. We are defying the outdated narrative that girls have to be unique and different to be special. We are all special and worthy of space in this society, it’s just that misogyny makes us question this sometimes. We should not be shamed into hiding or ignoring our interests – the more honest we are about being like ‘other girls’, the better!
Words by: Anna Duffell
Edited by: Millie Reed