Fangirl Culture Made Me The Badass Woman I Am Today
When you're constantly told your interests are trash or wrong, you eventually stop caring.
The first iteration of my Facebook page when I was fourteen included an expansive list of the fandoms I belonged to: Whovian, Potterhead. Directioner. Sheerio. The list went on and on. I listed my fandoms as my good qualities on a resume.
However, these identifiers were more than just a way to place me in a community. They were a part of who I was. I wore "Doctor Who" and "Harry Potter" T-shirts, I spent my money on concert tickets, and I clung onto any friends who let me ramble on about how "River Song" was really and Amy and Rory's daughter. Or about how I woke up an hour early so that I could watch the "Little Things" video before I left for school.
I liked Facebook pages dedicated to memes and I made aptly named Pinterest boards. I wrote fan fiction and shared fan art. I made fan theories and participated in others. I stayed up for midnight premieres and forced my family to remain quiet when the "Doctor Who" Christmas special came on.
These experiences all sound quite normal for a 21st-century teenage girl. Yet, fandom culture is still often viewed as toxic, negative, and immature. While I'm not going to argue that fandom culture can be toxic (I experienced toxic fandom culture first hand), I wouldn't be the woman I am today without these vital experiences and people.
As an English and Creative Writing major, analyzing my favorite books and shows prepared me well for university life. Writing up my theories every week on Facebook after the new "Doctor Who" episode prepped me for writing research papers on centuries-old literature. Years before school did, writing and reading fan fiction taught me what tropes I liked, how to show not tell, and what passive voice is and when to use it.
My peers thought I was smart, but really, I was just a fangirl. I taught myself these skills with help from other fangirls.
Fandoms taught me how to belong to a community and that everyone of any skill set has a place in fandom communities. Whether you can write, draw, read, sing, dance, or you're simply a nice person who likes to consume media, fandoms have a place for you.
Learning this helped my lost, teenage self find a place in the world. An identity I could hang onto.
Fangirls often get a bad reputation. They are stupid teenage girls who simply think whatever guy(s) in the band, show, book, etc. is cute. Yeah, they usually are cute. But, in my experience, fangirls are often some of the smartest people you will meet.
Through fandom, I was introduced to social issues, politics (both of the world and more specifically in writing/ fan fiction), copyright law, and how to do research.
Just because fangirls are just that (unabashedly excited and enthusiastic teenage girls) they get painted as air-headed and boy crazy.
As a woman, I have continued to be unabashedly excited and enthusiastic about things I love. I still love to theorize about "Sherlock" and "Doctor Who." I still write and read fanfiction. But most importantly, I've learned that you shouldn't judge someone because they love something.
Let people love things. Whether they love football or snowboarding or One Direction, let them.
Don't tear down other people's interests just because they don't align with your own.
And ladies, let's take a note from our teenage selves. It's still OK to jump up and down in excitement when your favorite artist's new music video comes out or to cry while watching the Doctor regenerate or stand outside in the cold for two days before your idol's concert.
I am now 24 and looking back over this article. While I still feel the same way, something I have realized with time is just how much these experiences shaped me and my anxious tendancies.
Despite unabashedly loving my interests, even they're popular or deemed "trashy". Besides being comfortable with what I like now and not having to have other people validate my tastes, I still find myself suffering from that shame thrust upon myself as long as a decade ago.
I still feel awkward bringing up that I like BTS when I meet new people, even though I spam my Facebook feed whenever they have a comeback. I don't discuss the romance books I read. I don't admit that I've written hundreds of thousands of words of fan fiction. Only my college roommates know that I still had an Ed Sheeran poster until 2018. I worry about bringing people into my apartment when I have BTS strung with string on my wall.
This shame was is trauma. I am a 24 year old woman who still worries about expressing my interests to my coworkers, dates, and potential friends. It's easy for the men in the workplace to bet on who will win the Super Bowl. They aren't forced to hide when they read hypersexual action novels or watch wrestling. As their friends, daughters, girlfriends, partners, coworkers, and mothers, we are expected to accept these interests.
Yet, when women or non-male identifying people want to read a romance novel or show interest in popular music, we are suddenly "less than" "uncultured" and the butt of jokes.
This leads to grown women who continue to hide their interests, even from those they are closest to. Even from other women! This is trauma.
Instead of calling on women and girls to own their interests (which I still think is great if you can do), I think it's more important now to examine why young girls are subjected to this unfair judgment from adults and other kids. Let's start accepting young women's interests as legitimate.