This week’s lessons on Geek Anthropology is about stereotypes on teen fangirls. Have you ever wondered why people hate teen fangirls? Or why people hate the things that teen girls love? The reaction that we have towards teen fangirls, or young fangirls while fangirling on something they love is diminishing at best. We judge them, make fun of them, and if we happen to like the same things they do, we hide all about it. But why? Blame cultural misogyny and outdated stereotypes on teen fangirls, young fangirls, and grown up fangirls. But let’s start from the beginning, shall we?
Do you remember when you were a teenager, and you were passionate about something? Have you let your feelings flourish just for fun? If so, why we keep on diminishing teen fangirls?
It has something to do with hysteria. Let’s go back in time 2000 years, when the Greeks thought about the illness. It used to affect women because it caused disturbances in the uterus after a child was born. In fact, the word hysteria comes from the Greek word [no surprise there] ‘hystera,’ meaning, uterus! Let’s push time till the 19th century now. Freud and Jean-Martin Charcot decided that the physical dysfunction is, in fact, a psychological illness that plagues females. [This was far better than demonic possession, really.] Let’s push it again to the time of the beginning of fandom within Hollywood when fans started to show up, and when descriptions of fangirls started to create the stereotype of hysterical fangirls. Let’s push it again with the Beatles, and the cultural construction reinforced the idea on fangirls being hysterical and pursuing non-important fanish objects.
Double standards on women make cool or uncool fannish objects. For example, fangirling about Twilight is uncool because the fandom base of Twilight is mostly teen fangirls. Fangirling about baseball is cool because the fandom base is mostly males. It’s also uncool and seen as disgraceful mother fangirls who like teen targetted fannish objects, like Twilight. How do we call them? Twi-moms and it’s not really respectful towards them. While teen males are assured that their chosen fandoms are cool, those fandoms that have a female teen fanbase are automatically seen as uncool.
But what happens when teen fangirls invade a male-dominated fandom arena? That they’re called fake fangirls or fake geek girls. While their actions are seen as those made towards acceptance within the group or to please a male, it’s hard for society, specially male teens, to see them as simple fans, just like them.
For starters, we assume that teen girls are overly excited for meaningless things or interests. They have no control whatsoever over themselves. They are thought to be as hysterical as women in the 19th century! While teen fanboys are cool and in control, teen fangirls are hysterical and out of control. However, teen fangirls are well aware of what they do, what influences the media products they choose to follow and act in a way that feels liberating to them creating community and friendship. They use their own language online and offline to share their feelings and opinions on the fannish objects of their choosing with friends.
They use gifs like these to communicate their emotions or they use focal vocabulary, like ship, OTP, het fic, Thorki, etc. They might meet with friends and line up during hours for a premiere of their favorite movie, to scream together while waiting, to get a picture with their favorite star or to cry together at a concert. These activities are done together as a community letting them explore their identities and their tastes.
But, instead of thinking of these activities as opportunities for teen fangirls to explore themselves and create community like teen fanboys might do when attending soccer events, we choose to mock their interests and think of them as worthless.
Let’s think about Twilight. We not only belittle teen fans, but we also do so with the moms or grownups who loved the movies and books. And we do so with the authors who wrote the books in the first place too.
Sarah Dessen writes romances.
John Green writes love stories.
Romances are a little bit like cheap literature. Love stories are blockbusters, stories with depth and emotion. Romances are written by women. Love stories, by men.
But hang on! What about Divergent or the Hunger Games? Both have female protagonists and are written by female authors. But if you take a closer look into Katniss and Tris you’ll find out that they do have many male characteristics. They are not typical girls, and so, they can appeal to a wider audience. They are special girls that do not act like the typical girls we see fangirling over… Katniss!!!
And what’s the traditional idea of a typical teen girl? A hysterical one!
There is a double standard in fantasy movies: silly movies that target teen fanboys are okay and fun, but silly movies that target teen fangirls are idiotic, meaningless and a failure. This double standard lives on the pillars of traditional stereotypes that are still creating a lot of damage to our culture. These stereotypes are still alive and kicking because we have internalized misogyny within our culture.
When we belittle the interests of teen fangirls, we’re diminishing a future member of society. We’re putting on them more barriers and making things more difficult. Teen girls already struggle with issues of body image and self-esteem. They don’t need the rest of society to make them feel worthless. These are going to be doctors, writers, politicians in the future!
So, what can we do? For starters, as women, we could remember when we were teens and when we were fangirling about something.
We need to own it! Do you like Twilight? Say it out loud! Do you like Lord of the Rings? Don’t hide it! Do you like to read comics? Share the ones you love! No matter your age! First we need to love ourselves, to acknowledge that we are as valid as women, strong and active members of society as men are. And just because we like something, that something is not automatically uncool, nor we are less of a human being for liking something that teen girls love.
Then, we need to encourage teen fangirls. How? The next time you are going to comment something about a fandom that teen fangirls like, ask yourself if you hate that fandom because of you hating it, or just because it’s liked by teen fangirls.
Encouraging people is always a good thing to smash old stereotypes like these. Luckily, not all teen fangirls need external validation from adults or other teens that strongly. These teen fangirls are badass girls who are going to smash those stereotypes one way or the other. That these girls exist, does not mean that we keep on going with cultural misogyny. It’s time to fangirl hard and own it as women, regardless of our age.
- Wy must we hate things that teen girls love? This article is really good! This is the source that made me think mine.
- Why must teenage girls love the things we hate? On the same exact topic as the previous article.
- Female hysteria. The old black & white picture here is self-explanatory on how we still see teen fangirls nowadays.