Can I Enjoy Anything? The GEndered Criticism of Being A Fan

Growing up as a girl and facing criticism for having interests

There is a long, tortured history with the concept of women being fans and a steep criticism with gendered and sexist roots. There is no aspect of entertainment and interests that women and girls are not criticized for.

The “fangirl” is characterized as a boy-crazed, hysterical, obsessed child. Any and all interests a person might have are now disregarded because of gender. As an impressionable 3rd grader, I will not pretend that Justin Bieber did not catch my attention and loop me into the craze. I can still feel the tone and attitude that engulfed me as if I was a mindless stereotype. I wasn’t obsessed but I was young, he was cute, and I loved pop music. I should be allowed to like things without feeling I have to hide my interests.

It became an issue that anytime a new male celebrity or band would come out, boys around me would adamantly oppose and gripe about their music while saying we girls are only fans because they are cute. 

Many girls I grew up with, including myself, grew exhausted with the criticism and shifted our interests. The new thing was to adamantly deny any claim in the likes of Justin Bieber, One Direction, and even Taylor Swift. It was easier to lose that interest and condemn those who “never grew out of the phase”. 

Okay, so boy bands and pop stars are a no-go. Where does that leave me? Well, my brother loves football and I don’t notice anyone criticizing that. I am also used to watching what he wanted such as popular movie franchises and TV series that need to become my safe haven for interests. For references, this is the early 2010s and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is beginning to take off. 

I decided to sink myself into my new interests. I became a Washington Nationals fan and went to every new Marvel movie and kept up to date on shows like Game of Thrones. Don’t even get me started on the surprise and confusion I experienced because why would a girl ever like these? But nevertheless, I am an all-or-none person with competitive tendencies. If I am going to be interested in something, I might as well know pretty much everything about it. I want to be able to prove myself and show that I don’t just like these things for superficial reasons. Does that make me obsessed? No. I need to know the minor details so that my liking of these things isn’t equated to the presence of  “attractive” men or romance or drama. My dad tells “you only like watching this show because of the guys” and I just stared back knowing fully that I am a lesbian so that math wasn’t equating to that assumption. 

I couldn’t stand being told what I liked and why I liked it. I kept changing my interests to avoid criticism and judgment. As I got older and my frustration didn’t change, I gave up entirely on sharing that part of me. There was a split in me where the only people who knew the things that I liked were people who were close to me and I know wouldn’t make fun of me. 

For too long, society has associated women and girls with  “hysteria”. This doesn’t just apply to being a fan but the label of hysterical is thrown around for simply emoting. This phenomenon is not uniquely experienced by me and unfortunately, I have heard this situation happening to so many of my friends. It boils down to the understanding that girls can’t have anything without facing backlash. It is an exhaustive cycle of finding something and subsequently losing interest because you were, for lack of a better word, bullied away from it. There is no solution but the world would be a better place if we let people live their lives how they wanted.

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