In a world where media plays a significant role in the forms of entertainment that we are exposed to, fandoms are a recently developed form of engagement that allow people to be part of a community that shares their interests. However, fan culture is plagued by a centuries-old issue: misogyny.
It may be astounding that such a problem exists in a very modern space, yet a simple glance at the portrayal of those in fandoms shows that it is very present. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the “screaming teenage fangirl” narrative that seems to be present when a fandom is mostly comprised of young women. The notion seems to be that teenage girls are too emotional for anything they appreciate to actually have value. In fact there is little difference between a female fan who knows the birthdays of all the members in her favourite band, and a male fan who knows the scoring record of every member on his favourite sports team, yet only one is shamed for it.
The reason for this is that the crazy fangirl narrative is often grossly exaggerated. Young women in these spaces are portrayed to be aimless and unintelligent, chalking up their love for something to unruly, hormonal lust. In reality, these fandoms often serve as a space for self-expression, inspiration, comfort, and connection. Female fan bases are often made up of intelligent, talented, and dedicated people from many different backgrounds, which is seen in the content that is created, such as fanart and fanfiction. Furthermore, the cooperation of people who are able to connect through fandoms holds greater influence than many would like to admit. Take, for example, the BTS ARMY, who raised $1 million in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and continuously supports charity projects and social causes . Many would call this fandom another band of screaming teenage girls, yet their impact is undeniable.
What’s even more interesting is that fandoms that were once mocked while having mostly female members are suddenly given much more recognition when their male population increases. The Star Trek fandom, which is actually considered to be the spearhead of modern fan culture, was led by a largely female fan base who created fanzines- the 20th-century version of online fan spaces today . However, the stereotypical image of a modern Star Trek fan is often thought to be “the male geek”. Similarly, some of the greatest musical acts, such as The Beatles and Frank Sinatra, actually rose to popularity due to female interest, and yet were dismissed as an attraction for screaming teenage girls. As Sarah Wilson writes for Varsity, “In spite of the band rocketing to fame in the 1960s precisely because of their female fans, the Beatles’ music seemed to fall into the hands of men as their style developed and moved away from the innocent riffs of ‘Love Me Do’ towards the trailblazing experiments of Sgt Pepper’s, and has remained this way since” . It was only when they engaged a larger male audience that they were deemed “respectable” and are now considered to be “classic” musicians. In terms of a more recent phenomenon where the same response can be seen, K-pop as a form of music is often stigmatized due to the majority of listeners being young women.
A contrast can also be drawn between the different reactions based on fandom demographics. For instance, football fans, the majority of whom are males, are hardly mocked and discredited for their interest, despite their display of hysterical behaviours such as rioting, or even their emotional displays when their favorite team loses. Yet, a woman who declares herself a football fan draws skepticism as to what draws her interest to it. As one female fan describes, “There were countless occasions where I had to “prove” I’m actually interested in the sport and not in the jersey exchange after the game; countless occasions where I had to explain what offside is, to be taken seriously” . Male fans are never held to the same standards, and there is a clear imbalance in how much females are invalidated as fans.
Much of the misogyny that exists in fan culture is a byproduct of toxic masculinity. Men are often expected to maintain stoicism and emotional displays are considered “unmanly”. Not only is this expectation harmful to men as it prevents them from expressing themselves, but it also portrays the idea that women are overly hysterical and are not capable of thinking rationally, making anything they are passionate about irrelevant. From a young age, girls who are subjected to these stereotypes are made to feel like their interests are invalid, and that they should be ashamed of them, which can have negative effects on their confidence and self-esteem .
No matter the causes of it, misogyny is a very real problem that affects women while they simply try to enjoy themselves. Modern problems call for modern solutions, and if we truly strive for equality, female fans need to stop being shamed for their interests and be treated with just as much respect as male fans so they can also enjoy the fandom experience. After all, that’s what fandoms are supposed to be: a space to enjoy, connect, and express.