The Depreciating Effect of a Teenage Girl's Love: Why Society Doesn't Let Girls be Girls
BY MILENA ZHU '22
When boy bands like the Beatles and One Direction are compared today, they could not seem more different. One Direction is perceived as a passing—or passed—fad while the Beatles are known as one of the most legendary musical acts. However, at the height of their popularity, the Beatles were in fact quite similar to One Direction, largely due to their teenage girl fanbase. Despite the modern praise they receive, when the Beatles were popular with teenage girls, they were held in much lower regard. In Paul Johnson’s scathing essay, "New Statesman", he writes, “Those who flock round the Beatles, who scream themselves into hysteria, whose vacant faces flicker over the TV screen, are the least fortunate of their generation, the dull, the idle, the failures.” While this statement is not wholly representative of the general consensus at the time, it still brings up the question: why did the love of teenage girls depreciate the value of the Beatles’ music in society’s eyes? More generally, why are the things they love so widely criticized?
To unpack society’s distaste for teenage girls’ infatuations, there is no better place to start than the communities in which they celebrate them—fandoms. When one thinks of fandoms, the first thing that comes to mind might be a hysterical teenager screaming at a BTS concert. While this image describes some, it grossly misrepresents many other supporters. Fandoms are communities built around common interests in any form of media. The term is typically reserved for teenage girls rather than fans of more stereotypically “masculine” media. Despite the widespread criticism, fandoms provide a haven for people away from society’s harsh words. Indeed, the derision shown toward any fangirl only strengthens these fandoms as they bond over shared experiences. That is to say, society is at fault for the formation and persistence of the fandoms they so dislike. While people tend to form groups based on common interests, fandoms would not be as tight-knit and niche without societal pressure pushing members together through ridicule.
For many girls, online fandoms are the only way they can be passionate about their interests while surrounded by a supportive group. Although these communities are created due to outside negativity, they are kept together because they promote mental health and provide a safe space for the exploration of the “embarrassing” part of maturation: sex and sexuality. In regards to mental health, fandoms provide social support which is significant in maintaining longer lives, lowering rates of anxiety and depression, and boosting self-esteem. Additionally, the more intimate subjects of sex and romance aid girls in finding their identity. It’s an important part of growing up, as the understanding of sexuality and relationships is a clear distinction between childhood and adulthood.
Of course, fan culture is not all happiness and rainbows. Due to communities existing largely online, it’s easy to withdraw from reality and remain in a dream world where everyone shares the same interests and passions. The discovery of intimacy and romance can also be a double-edged sword with the romanticization of toxic and abusive relationships. Clearly, some of society’s concerns are valid and bring into question the safety of these communities.
Yet, a large part of these issues stems from societal hypocrisy. One of the most reviled parts of fandom is the romanticism of romance itself, which is seen as hyper-feminine: an evil in the vestigial patriarchy. While it is true that harlequin romances and cheesy dramas have a mainly female audience, it is only because that was what mainstream media focused on in our upbringing. The targeted media for young girls all contain the trope of the male savior sweeping the beautiful princess off her feet and giving her eternal happiness. This view, after being instilled in girls at a young age, causes many teenage girls to believe that only love can bring them joy and leads to the consumption of romances in wait of their own.
The storylines and tropes of this targeted media connect back to the role of traditional womanhood. Women are still expected to fit, to some extent, traditional gender roles: they are expected to be nurturing, patient, polite, and weak for the benefit of men. The uncertainty of where teenage girls stand upsets the patriarchal society of our past. They are too entrenched in romance and sexuality to be children yet too excitable to be mature adults. They are both too feminine yet not feminine enough. Thus, needing to define teenage girls, society creates the stereotypical image of a gossip-driven, make-up and social media-obsessed, airheaded person. Still, society despises fandoms and teenage girls' interests, even though they perpetuate it in the first place. Despite widespread disapproval of fandoms and fangirls, society’s own implementation of these ideas through both targeted media and societal expectations is ultimately at fault for this lasting behavior.
The ubiquitous hatred of fangirls has a profound influence on the modern girl, manifesting itself in phenomena such as “I’m not like other girls.” The “not like other girls” trend is defined by Lauren Luna, a writer for The Bottom Line, as “a reaction against typically feminine stereotypes—that is, makeup, fashion, fitness, and the like.” Along with this attempt to separate oneself from the negative connotations that come with being a teenage girl, there has been a rising obsession with being “quirky” in order to differentiate oneself from “most girls,” who are apparently vapid and brainless. The hatred of fangirls has clearly infiltrated the teenage mind: they steer away from the stereotype, and through declaring themselves different, they add to the criticism of fandoms. Ultimately, society’s resentment overshadows the welcoming fandoms that can greatly aid in the difficult transition to adulthood.
All in all, the rigid expectations of what the modern woman should be pits teenage girls against each other. This internalized misogyny is indicative of how deeply rooted this issue is. Everyone needs to muddle through the swamp of society and media to form their identity; there is no need for any extra hardship. Let girls be girls, and ignore the idiosyncrasies of adolescence like one does when boys are being boys.