Girl Almighty: The Importance and Validity of “Fangirling”

A justification and defense of younger and older women alike, from a 23 year-old (proudly) self-proclaimed fangirl

A “fangirl” is typically a younger female who is a committed and passionate fan to whatever or whomever is the object of their affection. Common assumptions that come along with the label include, but are not limited to, the misogynistic oversimplifications of being incredibly emotional, hysterical, and foolish. These lazy stereotypes fail to acknowledge the complexity of young girls and women as human beings, dismiss their intelligence, and boil them down to two-dimensional parodies of themselves. Western culture labels young girls and women alike with this stigma unfairly; it is a blatant example of how deeply sexism is rooted and emphasizes our patriarchal society. Female fans deserve far more respect than they currently receive, and in no way should “fangirl” be associated with qualities that belittle and only perpetuate sexist ideals and stereotypes. There is life-altering significance for those who experience a “fangirl” stage; it assists in the development of sexualities within theoretical safe spaces where the girl is in full control, as well as aids in developing fundamental life-long friendships.

Females of all ages are given little to no agency over their own bodies and decisions, which is catastrophic to their growth as individuals emotionally, physically and psychologically. Doctor Alan Ravitz, a psychiatrist at New York City’s Child Minds Institute, explains that the “seemingly irrational” idolization of boy bands and other pop culture figures is “part of the work necessary for healthy development.” The adoration also “provides a basis for self-expression, the construction of self-identity, and the achievement of independence.” Within writer Meghan Harper’s essay, “Why I Fucking Love Teenage Girls (A Personal Essay From An Almost Adult)”, she discusses her individual experience through the ages of twelve and seventeen: “When you’re a girl, by twelve you’ve probably already been in a situation that made you feel threatened sexually.” In the short moment Harper was composing that very essay, she had already counted four separate moments which, before the age of twelve, someone had “crossed a line” with her. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon experience, with 15% of sexual assault and rape victims being under the age of twelve. The universe of boy bands is not simply a space female fans inhabit, rather it is a galaxy that solely exists in the palm of those girls’ hands; they are the captains of the ship, they control the gears, have complete command, and are empowered. Without feeling helpless, girls “can listen to One Direction and hear all these songs about how great [they are]” within their realm of consent (Harper). She continues, “these fantasy boys are not convincing a girl to send naked pictures, only to show all their friends and call her a slut.” Far from the preachings of society, these girls and women discover they are rightfully entitled to govern their own decisions, space, and experiences.

The creation of relationships based on common interest is also critical to development as a human being. Friendships between fellow fans, geographically both near and far, are just as critical for female music listeners as the development of their sexuality. Online communities such as Tumblr create a virtual form of safe space, connecting fans across the world where “girls can share in their obsession, participating in discussions and forging new friendships”. In cultures where, condescendingly, boy bands are seen to turn teenage girls into “rabid, knicker-wetting [banshees] who will tear off [their] own ears in hysterical fervor,” there is great meaning in finding others who share interests which society disregards as petty and childish. These friendships validate girls’ emotions and their decisions of who or what they choose to love in a world where there is constant disapproval of femininity, both conceptually and in practice.

Because this subject is discussed in academic and non-academic (namely through social media or casual, peer-to-peer conversation) settings, the majority of “fangirls” acknowledge and understand the implications of why they’re looked down upon, and constantly speak out against the obvious sexism. In 2015, Tumblr blogger indysk8rjj, a self-proclaimed “tattooed and pierced 27 year old straight male [metal head] with a bushy beard”, attended a One Direction concert in Indianapolis, Indiana. The blogger claimed it was “honestly one of the best shows musically” he has ever seen, excitedly stating how “the voices were perfect” and “the instruments were flawless.” While this validation from someone who would not consider themselves a “Directioner”, or a dedicated fan of the band, gained impressive reception of 1D fans globally and can be seen as incredibly positive, it sheds light on something else: the core of sexism. Tweets and statements from female fans were starting to pour in, like Twitter user reallietyy’s, boldly stating:

Teenage girls and women are frankly exhausted by constantly being put down simply for their interests. As a society, we constantly devalue and diminish the significance of female interests in relation to those of men. This begins to generate self-hatred within young girls and women, as well as the elimination of confidence.

Statistically, females are consuming music more in comparison to teenage males. According to Kaiser’s 2005 study, “Generation M”, girls ages eight to eighteen are listening to the radio, CDs, mp3s, and cassettes half an hour longer in one day than boys of the same age range (32). Thirty minutes may not seem like much of a difference, but that is 180 hours more in one year. A 2004 study, mentioned in the dissertation thesis of Caryn E. Murphy, also concluded that females spend 15% more money on music than males, “making the demographic group responsible for the largest percentage of online music purchasers” (84). Despite consuming music in the highest quantities — and thus being the key to the industry’s perpetuation as well as singular musical acts, artists and performers — their opinions about music are completely ignored, and they are far from being considered serious fans. Not only are the opinions of young girls invalidated, but their levels of intelligence are also seen as sub-par, especially when somehow even slightly attached to the stigma of “fangirl”.

In August of 2014, the “fangirl” stereotype of flighty and unintelligent came out in full force from the fingertips of Matt Healy to his twitter feed. Healy, lead singer of popular band The 1975, made several comments about terrorist group ISIS, implying they follow the ideals of Islam, which is far from the truth. A fan named Farida (username @17blacked) confidently called him out, stating how dangerous and untrue his statements were, and that because of his large platform, he was contributing to the spread of Islamophobia. Without directly addressing Farida, Healy stated he “resents being ‘educated’ on religion by a Harry Styles [of One Direction] account, […] it’s hard to take seriously,” implying that Farida, and fans of boy bands altogether, are clearly not capable of the same level of intelligence he holds. Here, we see yet another example of the serious interest in boy bands and other forms of pop music immediately equated to brainlessness, but there is nothing brainless about the commitment and devout love that these young girls have for their favorite acts. (Shortly after the confrontation, Matty Healy deleted his Twitter account.)

There is an intentional and impressive amount of love that some teenage girls have for pop music; these young females connect with this music and its’ creators on a level they cannot find elsewhere within our patriarchal cultures. There is an obvious capitalistic moneymaking aspect when these music artists and performers sell merchandise and sky-high ticket prices, but there is far more to gain than there is to lose for these female fans. Pop acts and boy bands, which are usually seen as throwaway spectacles that will fade away with the years, are genuine symbols of identity and devotion for young women.

Late last year, One Direction’s fourth album, Four, was released just months before one of the members, Zayn Malik, parted ways with the band. This meant there was not as much publicity around the actual music as fans had wanted, so they decided to create Project No Control. Furthermore, the song was written and vocally led by Louis Tomlinson. In years past, there have been snarky comments made about Tomlinson’s singing voice, so the fans wanted to showcase his skill within the song, and Project no Control would be the perfect opportunity for that. “No Control” is a fan favorite from the album that released in November of 2014. Knowing that there would not be any more single releases from the album because of Malik’s departure, it was the goal of the project to get the song to number one on the charts. In order to make this happen, endless amounts of creative artwork for the single was made by fans across the world. A Thunderclap (a generated Twitter and Facebook status) was utilized by fans, which resulted in reaching over 55 million people. The original post calling to make this fan-made publicity venture happen was on May 11th. By the end of the following day, it was already number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

Although Project No Control shows that many fans were focused on supporting the music, they were also highly invested in Malik’s departure from the band on a personal level. There were outpours of despair from fans all across the world, but many looking from the outside made a mockery of those sentiments. Actor and activist Russell Brand posted a video on YouTube that addressed the ridicule of some fans’ concern with the future of the band, rather than giving all their attention to the General Election in the UK:

With Zayn Malik, at least they have someone who represented them, who represented their feelings. In a way, when [Princess] Diana died, what were we grieving? Was it just the loss of that woman, or was it the loss of something far greater… true national identity, and true togetherness?

(quote above starts at 5:02 in video. trigger warning: self harm within the video, 3:10–3:18)

Young and older women alike find significance in these pop acts and bands principally because it is something they can deeply identify with collectively. Within a culture that puts an incredible amount of attention onto pop culture, it only makes sense that individuals tend to become active participants within that phenomenon. Society strives for a sense of community, and that is one thing these boy bands create for girls and women alike; it is a sense of understanding of one another and creating interpersonal bonds. It is thoroughly disgusting to condemn women for latching onto a group of boys who allow them the space, which cannot be found anywhere else, to explore themselves, as well as create bonds with others along the way.

Female music fans’ interests are valid, important, and healthy to their development. These girls gain a tremendous amount both personally and collectively within this possible stage of their lives. Being a “fangirl” is not some sort of crime that should be looked at condescendingly, but should be embraced as part of the growth of females in every facet of life. “Fangirling” allows for young females and women alike sacred and safe spaces in which they can create, exist, and own themselves: a feat in a world where they rarely are allowed that agency.

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