Fangirls, they are everywhere. From boybands to TV shows and from comics to celebrities, one can find a fangirl. But, who are these super fans? A fangirl is defined as “a girl or woman who is an extremely or overly enthusiastic fan of someone or something,” according to the Webster Dictionary. That someone or something is not so clearly defined, meaning that fangirls can cover such a wide range of people. So, why is that they are so narrowly viewed by society? When analyzing how society sees a fangirl, one comes to see how these views are demeaning and sexist. A fangirl is just a fan trying to find a safe space to express their views and emotions, though she is not always portrayed as so.
The simplest definition of a fangirl is a female who is a fan of something or someone. This something or someone can be almost anything; typically, these objects and people include TV shows, boybands, celebrities, movies, comics, videogames, and sports. Fangirls usually express their passion though social media, blogs, conventions, and meet-ups. They are also known to keep memorabilia, create art, write fanfiction, upkeep on the latest news, etc. from their obsession. From an objective view, a fangirl just looks like typical super fan.
However, this simple definition is not how a fangirl is portrayed in the media. According to Urban dictionary, the online dictionary for words not always found in the traditional dictionary, fangirls are “A rabid breed of human female who is obsessed with either a fictional character or an actor” and “have been known to glomp, grope, and tackle when encountering said obsessions.” This trope is very evident in TV and movies. For example, in multiple episodes of Supernatural, a character names Becky is
very much a fangirl of a man/real life book character named Sam. She “loves” him so much, she writes fanfiction, uses magic love potions, and even kidnaps Sam. But, Becky is not the only one. In the popular Nickelodeon skit show, The Amanda Show, a 20 or so year old named Penelope is a recurring character. In almost every episode, Penelope can be seen desperately trying to invade the set and meet Amanda, the star of the show. Penelope has bribed security, tracked Amanda, and even made a clone of Amanda. The stereotype resonates socially too. Directioners, also known as One Direction fans, are often exemplified as typical fangirls. As described by Brianna VanCant, a Cultural Studies Student in Chicago, Directioners are seen as “wild obsessed pre-teen females, known to cry, scream and pass out at any event in which they make an appearance.” This definition is pretty representative of the typical fangirl stereotype. Fangirls, as seen in media, tend to be crazy, obsessive, and younger.
This perception is especially prevalent when the object of a fangirl’s obsession is male. In interviews conducted by Katherine Arnold, one respondent stated “[The fandom is] a group of teenage girls who are completely psychotic, and will do anything to reach the boys.” Again, crazy and obsessive are emphasized. VanCant continues the argument with “The term fangirl derives from common assumption that any female who is an adolescent is only in a fandom because of the hotness or other superficial and otherwise irrelevant reasons.” Often, fangirls in media are shown to only care about their obsessions because of their attractiveness, not for the plots or personality. They are thought of as shallow. Fangirls are also associated with loneliness, only to find solace in their obsession. Overall, key elements in a fangirl’s stereotype are young, female, desperate, and overly obsessive.
A fangirl’s stereotype is not positive. Desperate, insane, and obsessive have very negative connotations. Because this stereotype is so widely viewed in media and society, it has a great effect on those who identify as fangirls. In Arnold’s interviews, “all fans acknowledged that their media was stigmatized and not taken seriously by society.” Some even stated that they hid their fangirl identity because of its stigmatism. VanCant describes:
“Since most One Direction fangirls are assumed to be adolescent females, the level of maturity and acknowledgement of their actions are denounced in demeaning and sexist ways. These ways include belittling, patronizing, and outright bullying these fans and lumping them all together as this one particular type of person that behaves in a way that is unacceptable.”
This description of Directioners applies to many fangirls. Being bullied or belittled because of what you like is not okay. Though there are some people who are over the top and act insane, not everyone should be criticized for it. No one should feel scared to express themselves because of what others may think or say. Unfortunately, for fangirls, it is not just because they like a TV show or a boyband.
As with many stereotypes that involve females, sexism is present. Male super fans, or fanboys, are not viewed as negatively by society. Males are not ridiculed when they purchase a hefty amount of sports memorabilia or obsess over a sports celebrity. Males are not made fun of for saying they want to marry a female actress. Yet, females are, though they do many of the same things. Katherine Arnold explains, “Teen pop allows for girls to openly use their gaze upon men in a way they cannot do in public… They can stare at boys and learn their form, as boys can do openly on the street.” Arnold argues that because females are suppressed in society, especially in their sexuality, they use their obsession with boybands and celebrities to do so. This is not the case with males. In VanCant’s article, she states sexism is also apparent within fandoms. Male fans often do not see fangirls as true fans because of their gender. She uses Doctor Who as an example. In this fandom, male “Whovians” (Doctor Who fans) believe that females only like the show because of the attractiveness of the recent male actors; fangirls do not care about the plot. VanCant points out however, that although there was an influx of female fans when the young, attractive male actors were introduced, they stayed as those actors were replaced with older, less attractive ones. Male fans thought their female counterparts to be shallow, but it simply is not true. Male fans were biased because of the sexist fangirl stereotype.
Fangirls have a stereotype. Though it is mostly negative and definitely a little sexist, it something that many people are familiar with. Desperate, obsessive, crazy, shallow, young, naïve are just some of the words commonly used to describe a fangirl, but these words do not come close to describing everyone. Just like many stereotypes, not every fangirl fits this limited perception. As VanCant concluded in her paper, “Identifying as either a fan or a fangirl is different for every person and there is no real one way to call someone simply a fan or fangirl, because of his or her behavior.” On occasion, different types of fangirls can be seen in the media. Again, in Supernatural, there is a character named Charlie. Charlie is a fangirl of comics, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter computers, etc. Yet, she is never portrayed as crazy or desperate. She is just seen as a little bit of a nerd, but in a good way. In the show, she participates in LARPing (live action role play), knows trivia about her interests, “fangirls” over her favorite characters. But, no one on the show is demeaning towards her because of her interests. She breaks the fangirl stereotype, which shows that there is not just one mold.
One aspect of a fangirl that is relatively universal, however, is having a sense of belonging. Sometimes that involves other people. As with any fan, when you find something that you really enjoy, you usually meet others who do too. Whether it is in person or over the web, you find your “fandom.” There you have, “a safe space to come to understand one’s own feelings and relationships” (VanCant). Many fangirls turn to social media to connect with other fans. Tumblr, twitter, or specific fansites are common outlets for expression. On these sites, fangirls can share stories, theories, fanart, fanfiction, opinions, etc. with their fandom. Through these sites, fangirls can find friends and support. Even with Becky from Supernatural, she stated that the only people who understand her are those who are also fans. Other times, what a fangirl likes is what keeps them sane. When everything and everyone is telling a fangirl what is wrong with them, they need someone or something there for support. Sometimes that is their fandom, but often it is their obsession. Like comedian, Bo Burnham said in response to fangirls, “How could love be wrong?”
By Marley Luke
When creating this essay, I found that the assignment leading up to this one to be very helpful, especially the worksheets on first and secondary sources. Along with week 4’s blog post about analyzing media, the worksheets helped me actually identify a clear perception of fangirls as shown in the media. Also, the assignments helped me figure out the most prominent aspects of the fangirl stereotype in the media. The week 4 blog post also helped with analyzing the sources for what they really were. When using tactics from the week 4 post, I realized that some of my sources I analyzed in my worksheets were not actually helpful or not really trust worthy.
Arnold, Katharine. “The Fangirl Gaze: The Influence of Gendered Media Audience on Emerging
Sexuality.” Department of Social and Cultural Analysis. New York University, n.d. Web.
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Dabb, Andrew, and Daniel Loflin. “Season 7, Time for a Wedding!” Supernatural. The CW. 11 Nov. 2011.
“Fangirl Definition.” Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. Aug. 2015. <http://www.merriam-
“Fangirl Definition.” UrbanDictionary, n.d. Web. Aug. 2015.
“Penelope” The Amanda Show, Nickelodeon.
Thompson, Robbie. “The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo” Supernatural. The CW. 27 Apr.
VanCant, Brianna, “Whovians and Directioners: Challenging the Fangirl Identity” (2014). Cultural Studies
Capstone Papers. Paper 6.http://digitalcommons.colum.edu/cultural_studies/6