Hysteria and Fan Culture: Destigmatizing the Female Fad

Anna Friedman //

Where an artist or piece of media finds itself with a majority female fan base, there is inevitably a number of people out there waiting to call it a craze.  When the fans are primarily teenage girls, they’re almost guaranteed to become known as full on hysterical.  In any space where women make up the majority, it’s clear to see a blatant refusal on society’s part to take them seriously- and historical views of women and hysteria play a big role in this.

Even as mental health care in the US has improved, women still find themselves labeled “crazy” and “unstable” for simply having emotions. This translates to less charged language like “emotional” being used to refer to women in power today, a stereotype that still flies in even the most professional spaces to discredit a woman’s concerns.  But while this issue gets recognition in feminist spaces, its effects reach far beyond the professional world. At some point in time, every woman will find herself plagued by the stigma of the “female fad,” an insidious world where hysteria is made to seem prevalent and femininity once again becomes a matter not worth taking seriously.

The female fad is the popular condemnation of any fandom which attracts a largely female audience- from boy bands to romance books, when women like something, it suddenly becomes “feminine” regardless of origin, and anyone associated with it becomes trivial and superficial.  Anyone who found themselves in primary or secondary school at the height of One Direction’s popularity understands this phenomenon, where girls who liked them became known as crazy fangirls, and girls who wanted to be taken seriously were encouraged to openly dislike them— whatever their music preferences were.  Current popular groups like BTS face similar criticism, being hailed as ‘too feminine’ for the demographics of their audience and their own styles as well,  with their lyrics and artistry being largely disregarded in such commentary.  This is not a new trend either. The more feminine someone is, the less they are taken seriously by society, and this label extends to anything they like that isn’t enjoyed by an equal or greater number of men. 

The internalized misogyny fueling this ideology has become increasingly commonplace as social media creates more widespread sources of media.  The more we feed into the narratives surrounding “female fads,” the more we contribute to the idea that femininity should not be treated seriously.  This is a dangerous idea that creates a negative view of  femininity in people of every gender, and is especially damaging to young girls growing up believing they have to prove themselves serious enough by contributing to this stigma themselves.  This cycle is one that will remain in place so long as we continue diminishing the value of artists and media based on the audience they appeal to, rather than looking at the content of their work.  

Whether as fans of popular media or professionals in the working world, women have always been held to a different standard regarding their expression and treatment of femininity— but it doesn’t have to stay this way.  If we hold ourselves accountable and recognize our own roles in continuing this belief, each individual can play a part in destigmatizing female fandoms and femininity itself.  Overcoming misogyny built into every aspect of our society will not happen overnight, but the very platforms used to perpetuate can be used to do the opposite and defend girls’ right to simply enjoy things.  

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