When the word “fandom” is mentioned, the immediate thing that comes to mind is a group of screaming teenage girls, sobbing at the sight of a superstar.
It’s not uncommon for a lot of girls, especially in their teenage years to get mocked and ridiculed solely because of what they enjoy. Female fans are seen as less legitimate, so their adoration is an instant credibility-killer.
From The Beatles to One Direction and Justin Bieber, and Twilight to Riverdale, the saga continues. It has been proven over and over that anything with a heavily female audience loses its credibility automatically. The derision towards teen fangirls is intense. Pop artists earn respect only when they stop appealing to a teen demographic. If they like something, you can be rest assured it’s not worth a serious listener’s ear. Justin Timberlake and Beyoncé are prancing proof of the idea that legitimacy and validity only come when they trade their Teen Choice Awards for Grammys.
Teenage boys idolizing athletes or rappers are considered “cool,” but the minute someone sees a poster of a girl’s celebrity crush, that same thing turns to an “unhealthy obsession.”
That famous “14-year-old fangirls,” which is used as a drag to shame teenage girls, is also not unheard of.
Teenage girls discover a lot of underrated artists that become huge later on. When they grow and start to appeal to a broader male community, we see how the hate also cools down. All of this has deep roots in misogyny and sexism and how females are perceived as shallow and superficial. A trivial topic like this can open one’s eyes to how women are demeaned in general and how unconsciously we’re lowering their self-esteem and trying to perpetuate a false prejudice against them. It is normalized for male fans to scream, fight and send death threats over a football game, but the line is drawn when girls cry over a boyband.
Teenage girls have always been a punching bag for grown-up men and unfortunately, in some cases, women.
Of course, harassing someone for what they’re fond of is not going to have the same effect for someone who’s in their 20s or 30s, but it will probably demolish a teenager’s mental health. The fact that a lot of boys also get scorned and called homophobic slurs for liking things that have a larger female fanbase is also distressing. It’s unfortunate that women still subconsciously need men’s validation for even enjoying the things they do.
It doesn’t matter what fandom you belong in, the one thing that all of them have in common is that those fandoms are an escape from reality. It’s a peaceful place they find joy in. A place that helps them to find their identity and people to connect with over their shared interests, so it’s not surprising how they feel when someone tries to destroy that haven for them.
Psychologists say that fandoms can actually be good for mental health. It’s a sense of belonging, finding people that care for you and care about what you are passionate about.
Dr. Laurel Steinberg, a psychotherapist and professor of psychology at Columbia University told Teen Vogue: “Belonging to a fandom group helps adolescents connect to other like-minded youths on social media throughout the year, as well as at concert events. Feeling like you are part of a group can help one define his/her identity and give a sense of purpose to what might be an otherwise routine lifestyle.”
She went on to say, “Connecting with people over shared passions and interests is good for mental and emotional health because it helps to create a fraternity-like or family-like sense of security. It’s also generally fun to scheme and get excited about something with others, and gives them a subject to talk about that they know will always be well received.”
For an artist, it only takes two things to be taken seriously: a male and an adult fanbase.
This mob mentality results in bandwagon hate for both artists and fans. It takes one viral hate tweet, and suddenly everyone jumps on the bandwagon. Common interests bring people together, but that common interest can also be a shared hatred. Normalizing death threats, hate speech and downgrading young girls will have a direct effect not only on girls but on everyone’s mindset. If we get told that our opinions and feelings are worthless and invalid every day, eventually we start to believe it.
“By brushing these girls aside and laughing at how stupid whatever they like is, we tell these young women that their interests are less important than what men like,” Sandra Song wrote on The Pitch earlier this year, “That their feelings somehow become discredited and are not ‘real’ by virtue of who is having them.”
There’s a fine line between enjoyment and obsession, but even for the latter, harassment and cyberbullying is not the answer. If someone crosses that fan-artist relationship line, it means there’s a vacancy in their life, and they are trying to fill that void with an alternative.
What they need is help, not disdain.