Women notoriously and ubiquitously get a bad rep, whether it concerns their looks, their intelligence, or their interests. Women and girls are particularly ridiculed when it comes to their so-called “obsessions” and passions.
At some point in time, the term “fangirl” became synonymous with words like “crazy,” “over-emotional” and “obsessive”.
The double-standard present here is blatant, however we, as a society, have been socialized to see it as the norm. It is normal for teenage girls to scream at concerts – they’re crazy. It’s also normal for teenage and adult men to scream at sporting events – but they’re just passionate. Apparently, these two interests are completely dissimilar, as men are praised and expected to identify with some kind of sports team. Women, however, are instead praised when they fail to identify with an interest inherently “feminine”.
A little history lesson:
The roots of this epidemic can be seen in the age-old term of “female hysteria”. This “medical” diagnosis included a wide breadth of symptoms, some of which including: sexual desire, loss of sexual desire, irritability, and a general “tendency to cause trouble”. Simply, women were deemed ill for being human. The large array of possible symptoms created a catch-all diagnosis for women, and this thus became a means of regulating women’s behavior and policing gender norms. Treatments for this ailment varied across a spectrum, from inducing orgasms (yes, you read that right) in order to release a buildup of sexual fluids, to clitorectomies (ouch).
The 1950s saw stricter gender norms for girls. Conveniently, this occurred right around the time when Elvis Presley became a global phenomenon. Many young girls and teens became fans of Elvis, and this created a moral panic over “hysterical” teenage fans (sound familiar?). The Beatles closely followed this, and the resulting Beatlemania represented teenage resistance and rebellion to oppressive gender norms. However, this progressive narrative is rarely portrayed; a much familiar scene is of young women crying and screaming over four singing boys. (Of course, when it was just “crazy” fangirls who loved The Beatles, they were dismissed as a silly group for teen girls — not the music legends they’re seen as now.)
As a young, female millennial living in the aftermath of these events, I – along with countless others – experience the repercussions of this inequality daily. Over the years, I have unabashedly embraced my immense love for groups like the Jonas Brothers or One Direction. This has resulted in others immediately stereotyping me as just another obsessed teenage girl, thereby deeming me unintelligent and unable to contribute to society. I like boy bands, so what? That doesn’t nullify any of my other interests or accomplishments.
By definition, a fandom is a subculture of fans characterized by a shared feeling of community and empathy with others who share a similar interest. Customarily, fans involve themselves with minute details, and, as a result, end up devoting a large body of time and energy to their chosen interest. Considering this, what really is the difference between a “fan” and an “expert” or “connoisseur”? Other than the subject matter, these terms are merely differentiated by their expressed sophistication. “Wine connoisseur” sounds much more refined and respectable than “wine fan”. Point-blank, fans – especially young, female ones – are seen as less civilized than connoisseurs predominantly because of the fact that they are women.
My gender and outside interests should have nothing to do with my perceived competency. I am perfectly capable of screaming my lungs out for Harry Styles one night, and producing a thought-provoking, ingenuitive thesis with corresponding arguments the next morning. Don’t believe me? Get Harry and I in the same room and we’ll find out.
Being a fan is fun. Having interests and feelings are fun. Women should not be socially punished or disciplined for attempting to find positive aspects in life. Life is hard. We need songs like Burnin’ Up and Drag Me Down to keep us sane. The Jonas Brothers were onto something when they said “I’m slipping into the lava, and I’m trying to keep from going under.”
But nothing, neither lava nor predetermined societal stigmas, can drag me down. I do have fire for a heart, and I’m not scared of the dark. The term “fangirl” should not be something that brings shame or embarrassment. It’s true, I’m a fangirl, and I’ll never apologize for it.