Shocker: apparently young women can’t enjoy male artists without being branded as mindless, sexually-ravenous “fangirls”. While this stereotype – and the inherent misogyny behind it – certainly isn’t new, it is getting especially stale in our current political climate. I’m not sure when it became “uncool” to be a woman who gets excited about art (the 1800s, maybe?), but in 2017, getting excited about art makes you a fangirl (and being a fangirl means your opinion isn’t valid).
The word “fangirl” conjures a specific image. The fangirl is obsessive and overexcited; she is rabid and manic. Her passion for music is undermined by her sexuality and she only likes the band because the lead singer is hot, or something. Her taste is clouded by her emotions and hormones; she is undoubtedly crazy. She is easy to infantilize and wholly annoying. She has allowed the consciousness of my heroes to devour her own personality and individuality, and now she is a crazed shell of a human being.
The fangirl archetype is used by other men (and women) with a superiority complex to belittle girls and delegitimize their interests. Quite frankly, it’s insulting. It’s thinly-veiled misogyny that cannot be tolerated.
Within the past few years, there has been a fair amount of online discourse in defense of fangirls. One of my personal favorites has been this short piece by Sandra Song for Pitchfork, in which the author argues that the concept of fangirls is merely a continuation of the classic Victorian idea of the hysterical woman. Sure, at an event like a One Direction concert, you’ll certainly find some behavior that mimics hysteria (and that’s not the fans’ fault – the industry specifically sells One Direction for hysteric consumption. One Direction fans are masters of their trade; they’re the coolest people you will ever meet). But the girls at the indie show? Don’t patronize them; don’t dismiss them as fans. All passion for all art is legitimate. Not only men can be tastemakers.
I started going to rock ‘n roll club shows as soon as my parents would let me, in my freshman year of high school. Standing outside at show after show, oftentimes for the same (guy-fronted) bands, I began to see a pattern in demographics. Namely, I noticed that most of the people who waited after shows were young women like myself (which starkly contrasted the unfairly dude-dominated world of the music industry). From experience, I know that having a musical outlet is essential for surviving the loneliness, confusion, and exhaustion of being a modern (teenage) girl. When you don’t have the skills to make your own music, this outlet becomes the work of other artists. Through all the harrowing changes of teenagedom, music is a comforting constant. It’s centering. Even though your relationship with an album may change over the years, the melodies always stay the same. It would make sense, then, that so many young women would want to stay after the show and meet the minds behind that very music that had kept them company for so long. It would make sense that so many young women would go to the show in the first place. Music is escapism; the show is that very escapism turned into a physical plane. Sure, maybe some of the young women waiting after the show just want sex – but that’s just rock ‘n roll, man.
Then, of course, there’s the superfans that go above and beyond for their favorite bands (I speak on behalf of the indie sphere because that is the sphere of music that I am most familiar with). I’m not going to sugarcoat it: some superfans (regardless of gender) do fit many of the aspects of the aforementioned fangirl archetype, and some of them are just plain creepy. The majority, however, are just really passionate about live music and the escapism it brings. The majority (myself included) just want to have fun and like the way music makes them feel. It’s insulting to marginalize these superfans based on their age, gender, or personal expression of interest in a band’s music. Let people live. Regardless, passion is badass.
I have gone on many crazy escapades because I love the adventure of live music. Travelling for bands is a hobby that brings me excitement and disrupts the comfortable sameness of everyday life. Siouxsie Sioux followed around the Sex Pistols, right? For a few hours, I can break the routine of classes and work with good ‘ol fashioned rock ‘n roll. Sure, getting in line early for my favorite bigger bands’ shows and racing for center barrier might be considered “weird” or whatever, but it’s just another way an interest in music can manifest during the weirdness of the teen years. It’s just a niche that needs to be filled. And, yeah, I’ll say hi to the band after the show (even if it’s for the tenth time), because they’re familiar faces and (usually) pretty cool people to talk to. Maybe I’ll do embarrassing things in exchange for good music (I literally went to Good Morning America to see CRX, which I’m still owning up to), but I’m young enough to embarrass myself and have stupid fun without consequences. Now that I’m entering my 20s and abandoning the sweet, silly thrill of teenhood, these “superfan” tendencies are a habit I’m trying to kick – I need to sleep and I need to save money – but that doesn’t make me fit your skewed, hysterical fangirl trope. I just get bored. Is that a crime?
The moral of the story is that there’s no-frickin’-thing wrong with getting excited about musical art you love, especially if you’re a young woman. It’s badass to be young, a girl, and a fan, especially when so many people want to tell you what you’re supposed to do and supposed to like. Let your excitement manifest in a way that makes you happy. Even though you might feel embarrassed, it’s not your fault – fault is solely in the misogyny and ageism of the music world that we need to call out and address. If you find yourself looking down upon girl fans, catch yourself. Recognize that you are falling into the very trap that our patriarchal culture wants you to fall into; hold yourself and others accountable for this narrow mindset. Recognize that people engage in their passions in different ways, and that there’s nothing wrong with girls getting excited about something that’s beautiful, fun, and just plain good. Young women’s interests are just as important as young men’s interests, and they’re certainly just as important as old white dudes’ interests.
Sandra Song said it best in her Pitchfork article: “…let’s stop using the word “fangirl” to marginalize women, let’s not use “fangirl” to force them into enjoying what has been vetted as a suitable interest. Let’s free “fangirl” from the relegation of silly and see it for what it is: a serious music fan in the making.”
I’ll see you in the pit.
Words by Megan