Why do young women’s interests get so much unwarranted hate?

Why do young women’s interests get so much unwarranted hate?

Here’s the truth: being a fangirl is a dignified thing.

Art by Maine Manalansan

 

It’s 2019, I’m in my twenties, and I’m about to write something related to the Jonas Brothers for the second week in a row.

It’s a strange but welcome feeling, especially since they’ve just earned their first number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with their comeback track Sucker, making history as only the second group ever to have a single debut at the top. And as someone who has followed their career(s) for the better part of 12 years — religiously at first, and less so as I got older — I think I know what I’m talking about when I say that it’s well deserved and way overdue. They’ve had to overcome a breakup, of course, but there’s also the fact that for the longest time, they were relegated to Tiger Beat status, never given a chance just because most of their fans were teenage girls.

“I don’t understand why the (interests) of teenage girls, or girls in general, are always looked down upon by a lot of people,” says Jasmine Shewakramani, whom I met through Jonas Brothers Philippines (JBPH). “It’s why the Jonas Brothers were dismissed by a lot of people as just another pretty-boy band when they actually are talented. And it extends to other fandoms.” JBPH co-founder Kitkat Lastimosa adds, “Like movies and books. And how (Tavi Gevinson’s publication) Rookie probably couldn’t get investors because nobody wants to put money into content for young women.”

Jasmine continues: “As proud as I am for stanning (the Jonas Brothers), I know that there are times when you would rather not advertise it because you would be jeered or shamed for your choice.”

In September 2004, the word “fangirl” was added as both a noun and a verb to the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s defined as “a female fan, especially one who is obsessive about comics, film, music or science fiction,” and the sample sentence that follows is: “Your average fangirl, despite the implication of the name, is a grown-up.” The verb, meanwhile, refers to female fan behavior that is “obsessive or overexcited.”

 

It’s a label, a distinction, that we’ve worn with fervor, because for us, it’s more than just what we’re into — it’s a creative outlet, a community, a way to feel less alone. Something to get us out of bed in the morning.

 

It’s a label, a distinction, that we’ve worn with fervor, because for us, it’s more than just what we’re into — it’s a creative outlet, a community, a way to feel less alone. Something to get us out of bed in the morning.

But it’s also a word used by people older than we were, especially males, to mock us and put us down. Fangirls are crazy, fangirls overreact, fangirls are cringe-worthy and superficial. You always feel like you have to defend the things you love, and you have to work twice as hard to convince people that they’re worth loving. And when a girl has the audacity to call herself a fan of something with a predominantly male following, like comics or sports… well, the words “gamer” and “gate” come to mind.

“Young women make up an incredible demographic and their choices in what they like are considered to be at the bottom of the barrel,” Jasmine observes. “Bands that are not inherently directed towards girls don’t nearly get as much backlash.”

Last year, Lady Bird was a major player during the film awards season but perhaps failed to get the recognition it deserved. Recently, Eighth Grade received strong word-of-mouth, with critics and fans praising writer and director Bo Burnham’s sensitive and deeply resonant exploration of a modern teen’s inner world (not to mention breakout star Elsie Fisher’s raw performance). Still, it didn’t seem to impress the more prominent award-giving bodies. How can it have artistic value, much less be a cultural touchstone, when it’s about a girl?

When something is aimed at young women, whether it’s a boy band, young adult fiction, or chick lit and romance novels, other people really go out of their way to describe it as shallow and formulaic, often without first-hand exposure. They’re described as “not real music” and “not real literature,” and fangirls have to say they’re “legitimately good” instead of just good, period, when trying to defend their interests. They’re seen as pandering — manufactured, dumbed-down, ephemeral — because girls apparently don’t know the first thing about appreciating the real thing.

It’s yet another thing the industry gets wrong, another fact of the system that’s out of our hands. Earnest efforts to progress creatively (think Nick Jonas and the Administration or Harry Styles’ self-titled debut album) fall through the cracks and remain undervalued instead of being recognized for their quality. Attempts at representation and diversity for girls are seen as “having an agenda” and “too political,” becoming way more controversial than they really should be.

 

When you deal with this kind of negativity and casual sexism, particularly at a young age, sometimes you begin to believe it. You begin to think that this thing you love might not be worth it, and it could be ruined for you forever.

 

When you deal with this kind of negativity and casual sexism, particularly at a young age, sometimes you begin to believe it. You begin to think that this thing you love might not be worth it, and it could be ruined for you forever. When I started growing out of my Jonas Brothers phase (or maybe when I thought I did), there was admittedly mild internalized misogyny there: “I listen to cool bands now, not this embarrassing stuff for 12-year-old girls.” It took me a bit more time, I think, to grow out of that.

Eventually I did move past this line of thinking and realized that it didn’t have to be a big deal, and I could choose not to let it get to me. We turn our backs on silly, harmless things that genuinely make us happy because we’ve bought into the idea that we ought to be too cool for them, and everybody wants to be cool. But in doing that, we just end up boxing ourselves in and suppressing parts of who we are that we shouldn’t be ashamed of.

In an essay for Longreads following the above-mentioned closure of Rookie, Soraya Roberts writes that publications geared towards and created by young women, despite strong voices, good work and eminent value to their readers, are “something capitalism, dominated by men, feels no obligation to understand.” The teenage girl is important to the industry only because she’s seen as impressionable and has purchasing power. Her market profile is that she consumes “mindlessly.” Capitalism doesn’t care that these objects build identities and carry worlds and worlds of meaning and emotion. Or that fangirls are more discerning than they’re ever given credit for.

Because the truth is, the world severely underestimates how much young women crave authenticity and something that speaks to them — and how much of an impact they really make as arbiters of taste and coolness. At the end of the day, we all just want something to believe in. And you won’t find a more devoted and true believer than a teenage girl.

Tags:
#music #self

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