(Disclaimer: “young women” applies to cis women, trans women, non-binary/gender-nonconforming people who use female pronouns and everyone else in between, just to be clear)
We are all passionate about something.
Whether it’s sports, art, music — everyone has something that excites them, whether they openly show it or not.
There are lots of people who are very vocal about the things they love and why shouldn’t they be, right? It feels great to proclaim your passion out loud.
For example: I am very passionate about the South Korean band BTS.
Just in case you haven’t heard of them at all (or have chosen to ignore them for dubious reasons): BTS are 7 incredibly talented musicians (leader & rapper RM, Mr. Worldwide Handsome — vocalist Jin, rapper Suga, dancing prodigy, rapper & sub-vocalist J-Hope and vocalists/dancers Jimin, V & Jungkook) hailing from South Korea and they are taking over the world right now.
All of them are brilliant, hard-working and aspirational performers & role models. TIME magazine recently dubbed them “Next Generation Leaders” and there couldn’t be a more appropriate title for them.
They manage to combine extremely catchy tunes with highly relevant lyrics, ranging from sociopolitical issues (“No More Dream”, “Baepsae/Silver Spoon”, “DOPE”) to toxic relationships (“FAKE LOVE”, “Trivia: Seesaw”) to personal growth (“I’m Fine”, “Answer: Love Myself”), and their main focus over the past year: self-love (see the Love Yourself albums: ‘Her’, ‘Tear’ & the recent ‘Answer’). Furthermore, the storytelling woven into their intricate music videos, teasers and additional footage is just as compelling as it is wrapped in mystery. (Fun fact: the majority of their lyrics are written to be gender-neutral!)
Their fans, called ARMY, are fiercely passionate, protective and they do their utmost to not only support BTS, but also the things they endorse. They help raise money for charitable causes, they raise awareness for important matters on social media — they are well-connected, loyal philanthropists. As are the band members themselves, who collaborated with UNICEF last year to launch the campaign “Love Myself” against violence. Objectively, seeing the great positive impact these boys have on people all over the world, there’s nothing wrong with proclaiming your love for them proudly, right?
So why do so many media outlets and non-fans feel the need to demonize BTS’ fanbase and buy into the “crazy fangirl” narrative?
BTS’ ARMY is just one very recent example. There is a rich history of young women being infantilized and ridiculed for openly displaying passion for boybands and the like.(This also expands other fandom areas — including these usually associated with men, like video games or sports events.) They are put into tight boxes, painted as “boy-crazy, hormone-driven teenage girls” by outsiders who don’t even bother to take a closer look at what makes these fans so passionate.
It almost seems like no matter what young women do or say, they can’t escape the judgement of others.
There are multiple reasons why we need to discard these stereotypes once and for all. For example:
They are reductive
To return to the example of BTS’ ARMYs — we are a fandom that’s known to be very diverse and inclusive — you can find people of all races, sexualities, gender identities & age groups here. To try and fit all of these people into some kind of simplified mold and label us “crazy fangirls” is wrong, narrow-minded and judgemental.
Especially since the majority of fans attending BTS concerts are 20+ years old. (This twitter post shows a translation of a brilliant article about BTS. In the original article, you will find a demographic statistic regarding ARMYs age range.)
BTS’ leader Kim Namjoon (RM) reminds us all that:
“Music and performance transcends language and countries and races.. I don’t care if you’re red, don’t care if you’re blue, green, orange, purple whatever, thank you.”
They are harmful to young people
Imagine being a young kid who’s excited about their favorite band, only to be told you’re ridiculous, crazy and should “calm down”. How would you feel?
These stereotypes about fangirls enforce outdated gender roles, including the idea that people who like boybands are exclusively cis-female, white teenagers who are mainly attracted by the visuals of said band.
By now, we should know better. We don’t wanna raise young children/teens with the mindset that they can only enjoy certain things if they fit into some superficial mold.
They keep people from truly expressing themselves
For many fans, BTS concerts are safe spaces, where they can let go of all fears and inhibitions and just unapologetically be themselves. Do you really wanna be the person to take this away from them?
I can only speak for myself, but I am a non-binary, asexual, 22-year-old ARMY and I’ve been scoffed at multiple times for merely mentioning BTS. Did that stop me from appreciating them? Hell no.
But for the sake of other people, who very much fear to be called out and ridiculed for supporting whatever cause makes their heart beat — don’t be that person. Don’t discourage us. Be curious. Be open-minded and look beyond the surface. Listen to us when we talk about our passions. You might discover something amazing along the way.
We can’t change people’s minds overnight. But we can rise above their disdain, by not being afraid to just be ourselves and be open about what we love.
Again, I wanna quote Kim Namjoon and his brilliant, memorable speech he held at the UN conference celebrating the inception of their “Youth 2030” initiative a few weeks ago.
“No matter who you are, where you’re from, your skin color, your gender identity, just speak yourself. Find your name and find your voice by speaking yourself.”