Fangirl: taking it back
Article: Jessica Bickford – Contributor
I was recently pointed to an article in Apex magazine by Deborah Stanish called “Fangirl Isn’t a Dirty Word,” and it really resonated with me. I’m a self-professed fangirl; I obsess, indulge, and sometimes even wallow in my chosen fandoms. I cosplay, buy art, and generally surround myself with the fandoms that make me happy. I’ll talk for hours about Sherlock, or Deadpool, or the Bat family, or speak to you only in Futurama quotes if you’ll let me. I devour all the media with enthusiasm – the gifs, the fanart, the minute dissections of every facial feature of Benedict Cumberbatch, and all the fanfics from the angstiest tear-jerkers, to the filthiest smut you’ve ever seen. Heck, I write some of those fanfics.
My question is what exactly separates the fangirl from the fan? The obvious answer is that ‘fangirl’ is not only a gendered term, but one that comes prepackaged with negative connotations about screaming teenagers, unhealthy obsession and a certain shallowness of interest. It irks me that ‘fanboy,’ the other gendered term for an obsessed fan, has only the unhealthy obsession element and neither the age assumption, nor shallowness associated with it. To me, this is just another example of the rampant gatekeeping that is currently plaguing geekdom, and Stanish agrees. In other words, the only right way to be a fan is the male way to be a fan.
Obsession is the common element between a fangirl and fanboy, which gets reduced to enthusiasm if you take gender out of the equation. I don’t have a problem with a term a step above geek for someone who is just that little bit more preoccupied with their fandom of choice than the average. We have words like that for other things – take ‘foodie’ for example. There’s a difference between enjoying your food and being a foodie. The problem is with the gendering and the fact that the male and female terms are unequal in their connotations. Being a fanboy makes you a little weird, but being a fangirl makes you a screaming, teenaged lunatic.
Simon Pegg says, “being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something.”
That is exactly what being a fangirl is about too. Yes, it may take affection into unheard of levels sometimes, but what exactly is wrong with loving something intensely, whether that something is StarCraft, or Johnlock fanfics?
Stanish concludes her piece with a call to strip the negative connotations from the word ‘fangirl,’ and I’d like very much to repeat it. We’ve reclaimed the terms ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ that were once so derisive, and personally I think it’s time to be proud of being an enthusiastic, obsessed, and entirely unstoppable fangirl. I will love what I love with however much intensity I want, and define myself however I see fit.