Want to know what’s not new in the world? People ragging on girls liking things and the methods by which they choose to like things.
This old song and dance has been going on for as long as one could probably imagine, and we’ve all been witness to it: from the small microaggressions of people condescendingly calling girls “cute” if they express an interest in something to the more blatant, angry shut downs of those who don’t value the opinions of those who don’t fit into the typical boy’s club or adhere to their mindset. I know in my life one of the most blaring examples have been from the (slowly dying, thank god) Gamergate controversy, in which the experiences of female game fans and developers were getting talked over because the patriarchy in the gaming community might not have been as solid as sexist dudebros had come to believe. But really, it doesn’t take a fiasco like that to see what’s going on: girls have been called out as “fake geeks” ever since men decided to pretend that women didn’t like nerdy things as hard as they did. (Never will I forget being called a fake geek because I had an opinion on something about DC Comics—and I don’t even claim to be a fan of Western comics.) While these things are unfortunately expected in any sort of of group (movies, sports—it’s not limited to stereotypical geeky things), I would have hoped that at least semi-respected news outlets and the people who write on them would at least have the good sense to take a step back and consider that this kind of thing might just be a little fucked up. Unfortunately, sometimes they don’t. And just as unfortunately, sometimes we get articles like Radhika Sanghani’s, as was published on The Telegraph on August 2nd.
You see, Sanghani has a problem, and that problem is that girls like expressing their excitement over things they enjoy. In 140 characters or less. She implores people to “[c]all [her] cynical”, but what she really is is out of touch. The crux of Sanghani’s argument is that girls specifically are ruining Twitter, networking, and compliments as a whole by gushing out their love and support for their favorite people through hashtags and hyperbolic “OMG I am not worthy” tweets. By perpetuating a culture that seemingly seeks to diminish explanations of why someone is worthy of fans and negating the opportunity to create long-lasting bonds or business relationships, truly this “fangirl culture” has reached the meaningless circlejerk level—so Sanghani says. I eloquently rebut: how the fuck are you gonna pour out your heart on Twitter?
What I think Sanghani truly is missing is the social application of Twitter itself. Twitter can be used as a networking device, sure, but it’s not its primary function. Twitter is a casual site/application where you can lay down some sick burns or hashtag Chipotle and tell them that your quesorito was awesome (even though they will hate you for this). However, for anything longer than 140 characters, you’re going to have to make more than one tweet. It’s not hard, but let’s face it: if you’re going to text someone your thoughts on them or express excitement over them, you’re going to keep it to one tweet with enough emoticons to adequately express your emotion over text. Mostly because unless you’re making some announcement or dropping some knowledge, no one cares. No one signs up for Twitter to read heartfelt confessions and deep arguments: that’s what Tumblr, WordPress, and other blogging sites are for. People join Twitter so they can see that their friends had a rad time at Disney World and tweet at their favorite stars because they have the opportunity to. Twitter is not always deep, but it does break down a wall of communication.
Meeting stars in real life is intimidating, and impossible in most situations, no matter how close you get to the stage or red carpet. However, on Twitter, all fans have an equal chance to get their tweet seen by their favorite star. They might not get a response, and given the 304 million active users on Twitter right now (and the fact that each Twitter account’s follower numbers aren’t hidden in any way, shape, or form), I’m sure that result is more than expected in most cases, but just the fact that their feelings are out there and might be read is more than many could hope for in the non-digital world. And on the reverse side, the interaction between stars and their fans is very limited, but on Twitter, stars can just, say, share a recipe for brownies with their fans, or alert them to issues that are important to them. It’s true that “‘OMG I’m a massive fan’ doesn’t always lead to the best conversation”, but it’s a start, and to turn your nose up at that is snobby as hell.
However, strangely enough, Sanghani isn’t calling out “fangirls” in the way we would think of it; as some hivemind of girls all really into one thing. She is, instead, annoyed that famous women on social media are openly supporting each other and being fans of each other, and that all this praise is somehow diminishing the effect of truly “meaningful” praise. First of all, I hate to be the one to say this, but faking compliments has been a thing since forever. Secondly, why? What’s the point of getting angry at women supporting women? Even within the article Sanghani outright states, “I have nothing against women supporting other women.” So… what’s the point of the article then? That they’re not supporting women in the “right” way? That somehow, once again, technology has ruined that which once was sacred and pure and turned it into something more easily accessible? Gushing your praise doesn’t make one a “brown-noser”; not to say that Twitter, or any fan collective, is ever free of people who praise for every little thing. It mostly makes one enthusiastic. If they’re a bit overzealous or annoying, that’s life. Surprise, surprise: those people exist in the physical world too.
Really, this whole article would have been easy to write off if not for one thing: the clear targeting of ladies. Why is it when ladies like something we apparently sound “so fake and childish that it’s hard to take [us] seriously”? Listen, if I met one of the people I was a fan of, or got re-tweeted by them, I’d flip out too. I actually have. (People I have written about before, if you’ve re-tweeted me, commented me, or reblogged me, I have definitely had a full fangirl moment.) People get excited or have strong feelings and want to express such things. That’s what the internet is for. That’s why articles like mine and Sanghani’s continue to be published online. Sanghani’s article sets arbitrary standards and claims that women who don’t live up to them are childish. If she truly supported women or equality, she wouldn’t endorse them. She doesn’t point out problematic behaviors in fan culture—which definitely exist in things like stalking, harassment, and refusing to admit and/or call out the problematic shit stars do themselves—rather, she attempts to take away something women have claimed as a support system.
Yet not all is lost. I actually managed to find Sanghani’s article through another article calling out her misguided way of thinking. This article is from Can’t Talk Media‘s Andrew Baker, and while I was really squinting at it at first (with a title like What’s Wrong With Being A Fangirl?, can you blame me for being a bit apprehensive), it really got to the heart of one of the issues: namely, the sexism. Baker’s article is both low-key snark as well as a quick and easy to understand introduction into what’s going on here and why it’s bullshit—both from a discriminatory angle and how getting in the way of ladies can actually be an impediment to the growth of culture as a whole. Baker doesn’t talk for women, but instead highlights what great things can come from fangirls being allowed to express themselves and truly enjoy their chosen media. I highly recommend taking a look at it!
However, an issue with both articles is that they both present the fangirl space as homogeneously white. Every tweet, every example of how fangirls contributed to success in their own way are all presented from the face of a white woman. And while I doubt that either author intended this, it continues the harmful narrative that geekiness, being a fan, supporting fellow women and artists, and achieving success is limited to a white experience. Where are the Nicki Minaj tweets? Who’s talking about the successes of Chaka Cumberbatch and Ashly Burch? If we’re truly going to support fangirls, we need to make the extra effort to support all fangirls, not just the ones who are lauded by the media.
The fangirl paradigm is changing: no longer are fangirls forced into the shadows by things like “expected politeness” and shame. With technology bringing fans of all walks of life together more easily than many probably ever dreamed, expressing your love to a source of content is now easier than ever. More than that, ladies are increasingly banding together to revel in communal enjoyment and to provide support to those around them. The internet is expanding, growing, changing. Sometimes, yes, those changes can be annoying—it can be like adults looking back on their teenage years. Yet no matter how cringy those years may be, they’re still important; they’re still formative, and to shame women for indulging in something that brings them joy or anger because you might not think it’s “genuine” enough is infuriatingly close-minded.