Written by Nikki Sztolc
Cover art by Lauren Fox
For as long as I can remember, I have been a “fan” of something, from my early teen years spent being obsessed with My Chemical Romance to, more recently, watching Bo Burnham’s Inside every day for three weeks straight. Why then have I always felt a sense of shame around liking something? Why has the word “obsessed” always left such a bad taste in my mouth?
I spent a lot of time online in the late 2000s when the rise of Tumblr and Twitter brought about a world of amplified fan culture. Where you once had posters on your wall and screamed your lungs out at the concert of your favourite band, now you could also run a micro-blog dedicated to a celebrity and engage with users who were fans of the same thing. It also opened up a pool of opportunity for criticism that judged your gender and your interests as if they have any correlation. If you were too passionate about something or deemed yourself a fan of the “wrong” thing, you would best be prepared for an influx of hate.
“To be a “fangirl” means you are obsessive, overexcited, and neurotic. Even when it’s not intended to be an insult, being called a “fangirl” has never been a compliment…”
I will begin with this: men who attend sporting events, screaming from the stands when their team scores the winning goal, are seen as passionate, while female fans screaming in excitement when their favourite musician comes on stage are labelled as “crazy”. We have heard it all before, I am just not convinced that anyone is really listening. The horrifying and extensive history of violence following sports games haven’t tainted the mainstream, predominantly male sports fan persona, but a primarily female audience screaming when they see The Beatles is enough to label female fans of (almost) anything as insane. How is that fair?
Take the word “fangirl” for example. This word was always thrown around by my male counterparts to have negative connotations. To be a “fangirl” means you are obsessive, overexcited, and neurotic. Even when it’s not intended to be an insult, being called a “fangirl” has never been a compliment. I have always wondered why we gender this expression of passion in the first place. Why is engaging in fan culture seen as such a negative experience by those whose interests don’t align with our own?
While men who are fans of music, movies, and/or celebrities have also faced extensive criticism, I can’t help but feel this might be because of the association with these things being “feminine”. It’s a difficult line to draw where there may not be one at all, but typically men are shamed for being fans of more feminine subjects, where women are shamed for engaging with interests deemed masculine. The fact that this theory doesn’t account for non-binary and gender non-conforming fans is all the more reason not to gender people’s interests. Deciding what is “feminine” and what is “masculine” in popular culture is counterproductive and has certainly left me feeling like I can’t express myself through what I like in fear of judgement.
“Deciding what is “feminine” and what is “masculine” in popular culture is counterproductive and has certainly left me feeling like I can’t express myself through what I like in fear of judgement…”
You would hope that fans with the same interests would support each other, but the truth is – especially in music – there has always been a prominent gender bias. More masculine genres, such as metal, procure a fanbase with a history of gatekeeping and shaming women for listening to the genre. Online fan culture has perpetuated this shame, providing a platform for men to tell women they should like pop music and bands with conventionally attractive frontmen and not bands with heavy guitars that sing about darkness and death.
The rules are unclear, but let me give it a shot… I am allowed to listen to One Direction, but I will be called a “fangirl” and “hysterical”, and I will be made to feel ashamed by everyone around me who isn’t a fan. I am also not allowed to listen to Parkway Drive, because they’re too heavy and I just wouldn’t get it, and if I do I will not be welcome in the scene.
I suppose what I am getting at is that everyone, regardless of gender, should hold the freedom to be a fan of whatever they feel passionate about. Although my way of dealing with this shame has been a mix of choosing not to engage with fandom and no longer feeling as passionate about my interests, this shouldn’t be the case for everyone else.
You are allowed to be a fan without feeling ashamed.
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