What is the image that comes into your head when you hear the word ‘fangirl’?
In all likelihood, you immediately think of a young teenage girl, screaming and flailing about an attractive boy, or a reclusive internet teen, hidden behind a computer screen, worming her way into a celebrity’s personal life. In any case, the word ‘fangirl’ probably doesn’t draw a very positive image. The word is often used synonymously with ‘silly’, ‘immature’, ‘obsessive’, ‘intrusive’, even ‘pathetic’. Even in 2018, it is not a word much used as a compliment.
In reality, fangirls and the world of fandom are vast, diverse, and complex. From what I’ve experienced, fandom spaces contain everything from places to make friends to beautiful artwork to academic essays, while also mostly being safe, open places for the marginalised communities such as the LGBT+ community. ‘Fangirls’ – or simply ‘fans’, as they should be called, because not all fans are girls – usually range from young teenagers to adults in their thirties and beyond. All are joined not by obsession, but by passion and joy.
Undoubtedly the negative attitude towards fandom is rooted in misogyny. Because such a great proportion of fandom are girls and women, they’re much more likely to be seen as pathetic, instead of passionate. Fangirls are not particularly different from sports fans or gamers – all of these groups display a passion for a particular thing and create communities to discuss and share their passions. But while enthusiastic football fans cheering and screaming for their team is seen as perfectly understandable, teenage girls screaming about their favourite boyband is seen as sad and immature. A frustrating double standard.
I wrote my third YA novel, I Was Born for This, after for a long time feeling angered by most people’s complete lack of understanding of this world and the way it is dismissed as being silly and annoying. IWBFT’s fangirl protagonist, Angel, is a fan of a boyband called The Ark, not because she wants to stalk and marry them, but because she enjoys their music, thinks them good people, and finds comfort and enjoyment in The Ark fandom spaces. Fandom brings joy to Angel’s life in a way that not much else does, and she even makes her best friend through the fandom. Angel slams people’s negative views of fandom at multiple points in the book, my favourite being this one:
‘They only see the tiny percentage of fans who take it too far – the stalkers – and they think we’re all like that. They think we only love the band because of their looks; they think we only like their music because it’s relatable. They think all of us are girls. They think all of us are straight. They think we’re dumb little girls who spend all our time screaming because we want to marry a musician.’
‘Fangirls’ are in the odd situation of being looked down upon by most, while also holding tremendous power. After doing some research about The Beatles and Beatlemania for my book, I learned that The Beatles reduced the number of concerts they used to do after becoming famous because the screaming of the girls and women in the audience used to drown them out entirely. Fandom has that same power today, albeit in different ways. Fandom has the power to destroy a career entirely if they choose to, to save a TV show, to finance a project, to make a creator famous. Odd, then, that fandom is seen as such a geeky, sad pastime.
I Was Born for This explores good and bad sides of fandom but undoubtedly focuses on the good. Fangirl characters in books, films and TV are at best portrayed as awkward nerds and at worst portrayed as sociopaths, so I wanted to write a character that showed what fangirls are really like. The answer, of course, is they are as diverse and multi-faceted as everybody else. Fandom is just one thing that brings joy to their lives. Of course, there are bad eggs, as there are in every community. But these are greatly in the minority. Most fangirls, like Angel, are making friends and finding joy in talking about something they like.
Fortunately, things are improving! Fandom has been becoming more mainstream for many years, and hobbies like fanfiction and fan art are much less taboo. Celebrities and creators are beginning to understand the power fandom has and are respecting it. Something in particular that gave me hope was this quote from Harry Styles in an article with Rolling Stone in 2017: ‘How can you say young girls don’t get it? They’re our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going. Teenage-girl fans — they don’t lie. If they like you, they’re there. They don’t act ‘too cool.’ They like you, and they tell you. Which is sick.’
It’s encouraging to see someone so famous understanding and respecting the power of fangirls. They will grow up and rule the world one day, after all.