Today I want to talk a little bit about fandom because it is often held up as being gross in some fashion and I think, at its base, there is one simple phrase that this disgust is built upon. At some point in a criticism of fandom there will be a phrase like this one, either explicitly stated or heavily implied:
‘Fandom’s full of straight, white girls.’
The first part of the sentence is fine. Fandom is full. Fandom is full of passion. Of art. Of writing. Of discussion. Most importantly, fandom is full of people all bursting to be heard.
What about the second part of that sentence? Well, that’s where things get messy. The phrase conjures up images of women screaming and fainting at the mere mention of The Beatles, NKotB, or Justin Bieber. In these cases, every use of the word ‘fan’ in media really does mean ‘fanatic,’ because there is something fanatical in the way these images are presented. Normal people, of course, would never cry over music. Would never stomp their feet and shake their heads in excitement. Would never gasp or cheer when they saw someone they greatly admired. Would never faint when moved by something. It’s inappropriate, right? “Fervor, shrieking, bizarre,” the journalist says with a grin, and we are all supposed to laugh at the joke. The problem is that this image is completely inaccurate. Go to a con. Look around. Actually listen. Spend two seconds on the internet without blinders on. Fandom crosses borders and lives in borders. Fandom does not stop at white, middle class America (no matter how hard media tries to convince us otherwise). Fandom is its fans and, because of that, fandom is fluid. If you are lucky enough, go to a con that is built by fans, and you’ll see organized panels talking about sexuality, identity, and representation. If you can’t go to a con, spend some time poking around on tumblr and you will see post after post of people talking about gender fluidity, race, sexuality, or identity and how they are all facets of being a fan. How many of us could actually tick off all three of these descriptors: straight, white, girl? Not as many as people assume. This one little sentence attempts to erase a large portion of fandom, even when all evidence points to it being wrong.
But the image persists. Fandom is full of straight, white girls. They shake it at us. “Look at them. Look at how foolish they are,” they insist. And this is where we get to the heart of the matter, because their sentence is missing something and has been missing something all along. Can you hear it? Say it out loud. Did you get it? Because this is what they actually mean:
Fandom is full of straight, white ew, girls.
And they really do mean to place the ‘ew’ before girls, even when the people who are writing the sentence identify as women. Straight and white are the (incorrect) assumption being made. Girl is the insult. There has been an arbitrary map drawn that shows us where it is okay to be a fan of something and where it is not, and the borders of this map usually follow stereotypical masculine/feminine roles. Being a screaming, stomping fan of sports is okay. Being a screaming, stomping fan of a boy band is not.
Fandom is supposed to be childish and we are to equate childishness with femininity. “Girls are flighty, ditzy, and lovesick. They just want to talk about boys.” We are supposed to be insulted. As if girls have never had an intelligent conversation. Have never looked at themselves in the mirror and questioned who they are. Have never thought about kissing girls and not boys. Have never wondered if maybe there is something wrong with them because they aren’t interested in kissing anyone. Have never thought about what pronoun actually best fits them. Have never used fandom as a space to explore their own thoughts on relationships. This insult is thrown again and again as if it is impossible to be a girl and be complex.
Are you insulted yet? Are you ashamed? Because that is exactly what it is attempting to do. It’s trying to shame us, all of us, regardless of how we identify, by saying that if you are a part of fandom, if you have ever written a fanfic, drawn a piece of fan art, or enjoyed anything produced by another fan (particularly if these works fall under the slash heading), then you are an ew, girl. You are weak, childish, and foolish. It is the ongoing effort to erase identities and make people feel bad for being passionate. Every piece of artwork with a gender fluid Sherlock, fanfic with Dean and Castiel falling in love, or fancast that places emphasis on PoC as superheroes is a form of protest against this pervasive belief that fandom is only one identity. These works are a call to arms, a demand for the media we consume to stand up and take notice. To be a part of fandom is to be actively critiquing and protesting.
It is no coincidence articles describe fan gatherings as a bunch of shrieking girls, because it is easier to silence than to explore, and there is no easier way to silence than to attribute foolishness to an entire group of people. They can come up with no greater insult than to call us a bunch of girls. Every article that takes the time to let us know that most of the fans gathered to see Benedict Cumberbatch were girls is another jab, another attempt to insult, however subtle it may be.
“Look at how ridiculous they are.” They parade out another explicit fan art and pull a face. They expect everyone to nod along. “Fandom is full of straight, white (ew) girls.”
“No,” I say. “Fandom is full.”
“Fandom and Ew, Girls,” ©Jessica Sowards, posted in 15 December 2015