It’s the summer time of 2009. The solar is providing the naked minimal for June, however I’ve my again to the window, methodically typing out a letter to Lady Gaga. The 2-page-long doc is filled with private particulars and intimate ideas, comparable to the fear I’ll by no means really feel adequate or slot in in school. I pour my coronary heart out to her and swim within the subsequent dopamine hits of an ideal one-way relationship.
I by no means advised anybody about my love for Woman Gaga because of the disgrace of wanting like an over-obsessive fangirl. Whereas there’s now a cultural roadmap for teen women idolising their favorite boybands, again then I had no thought methods to showcase my obsession with out wanting unhinged.
However, fortunately, I’ve discovered to enjoy what it means to be really consumed by popular culture, because of a wave of literature exploring precisely that dynamic. A handful of books, documentaries, movies and memoirs are celebrating the fizzy, dizzying heights of feminine obsession and what it presents teen women and girls. Writers and lecturers are pushing again in opposition to the lazy stereotype of the frivolous, gullible, hysterical teenage woman and giving her a extra nuanced backstory.
A part of this wave of insights comes from former obsessive women writing about their very own lived experiences. Journalist Kaitlyn Tiffany was as soon as a screaming One Direction fan, and her e-book (Everything I Need I Get From You: How Fangirls Created the Internet as We Know It) investigates how fangirls not solely catapulted the boyband from X-Issue failure to worldwide stars, however concurrently formed the web. There’s additionally journalist Maria Sherman’s celebration of feminine fandom, Larger Than Life: A Historical past of Boy Bands from NKOTB to BTS, the premise for a documentary directed by Gia Coppola, Superfans: Screaming. Crying. Throwing up. In the meantime, the Pixar movie, Turning Red, follows 13-year-old Mei Lee’s adoration of 4*City, a cartoonishly beautiful boyband. Feminine obsession is being reclaimed, exhibiting it may be joyous, providing emotional help to numerous ladies rising up – and I’m one among them.
“Teen women are seen as an excessive amount of – as too emotional, too passionate, too invested, too expressive,” says Dr Briony Hannell, a sociologist at Sheffield College and an knowledgeable on fan tradition. “By advantage of their age and their gender, [obsessive girls] are routinely topic to lots of the most destructive and damaging stereotypes about followers – that they’re hysterical, extreme and hypersexual.” It’s not that teen women are devoid of sexuality – my very own, regrettable, infatuation with Justin Timberlake on the age of 15 would by no means have occurred if this had been the case – however society has constructed an absurd caricature of teenage women who idolise musicians as irrational and unruly. In actuality, a minimum of for me, this alleged transgression noticed me taking part in Timberlake’s music movies on repeat earlier than classes. In hindsight this was probably essentially the most earnest solution to concurrently fancy and admire somebody – by merely having fun with the work they put out.
The idea that screaming women at a One Path live performance had been mentally undressing the band is a one-dimensional notion. It erases the LGBTQ+ voices inside the group who benefit from the welcoming neighborhood that exists once you love the identical factor. For many individuals, there’s a camaraderie and belief constructed from obsessing over the identical individual or factor and these communities generally is a key solution to discover gender identification or sexuality, as they discover individuals going by means of the identical experiences.
There was little effort to look past these slender tropes, as a result of “girlhood and teenage life has not traditionally been seen as having any sort of a worth or route”, says Dr Ysabel Gerrard, a lecturer in digital media and society at Sheffield College.
As a substitute, younger women’ obsessions are diminished to: “Harry Kinds/Robert Pattinson is so sizzling; I’ll purchase no matter he sells.” The idea is that sexual attraction to those figures robs youngsters of objectivity and style. Unsurprisingly, many younger women internalise “these derogatory, sexist stereotypes” and really feel a way of disgrace round their obsessions, regardless of the significance of them to their each day life and their sense of self, says Hannell.
In contrast, boys and males could also be afforded extra nuance of their obsessions – however there are nonetheless massive boundaries to how they will expertise them. “The distinction comes from a lot longer-standing norms round what persons are allowed to do,” says Gerrard. “There’s a comparability between soccer and boybands,” which have an analogous degree of “emotional funding”, however the response males have in direction of sports activities is extra socially acceptable.
“Being a teen is a wealthy setting for obsession, which I feel is misplaced typically within the flat description of obsessive fangirls,” says Tiffany. Bed room tradition is a very pleasing instance of this. “It was a girl-focused type of subculture throughout the 90s, which included sitting in your bed room, clipping issues out of magazines, or doodling, writing in a diary, lip-syncing, listening to your CD participant.” Ladies are sometimes diminished to easily being hormonal and operating after “cute” boys, although inside the 4 partitions of their bed room they could be creating installations and regurgitating inspiration in numerous codecs, from glitter-adorned pictures to handmade cushions.
The truth is that many obsessive teenage women possess a degree of creativity and self-expression akin to Gaga. They harbour large artistic potential, says Hannell. This could be expressed by means of the creation of art work, writing and distributing fan fiction, or creating technically refined fan movies or web sites devoted to what they love. Fangirls routinely ship large fanfiction narratives inside weeks.
Throughout my very own obsession, I rigorously papier-mâchéd a watch masks, sticking on mirrored items of card, to duplicate one among Gaga’s Pokerface equipment within the run-up to her Birmingham live performance. I’ve little question it was extra Poundland than Picasso however, greater than a decade on, I look again with awe on the easy, joyful method I assembled it.
Tiffany argues that obsessive women have knowledgeable an enormous portion of on-line tradition, comparable to “the totality of Twitter discourse. The emotional steadiness of Twitter is like, somebody is both a hero or a villain,” she says. Any second, political, humorous or critical, can change into a meme with everybody declaring they’re both a fan or in opposition to the characters concerned. It’s now regular for individuals to answer a viral TikTok or interview throughout an election with “I’m a fan”.
Even the gif – the quick animation or shifting picture routinely re-shared on social media – originated on the Tumblr blogs of numerous teenage fangirls, who developed it alongside new languages to declare their fandom. “That is one thing that’s now so abnormal and routine in each day digital life, but it owes a lot to the creativity and keenness of ‘obsessed’ teen women and their fannish pursuits,” says Hannell.
Obsessive women are political, too. They “can lend their weight to causes they imagine in and in flip make them tremendous seen,” says Tiffany, pointing to the 2015 rise of Milifandom. The viral hashtag began by 17-year-old scholar Abby Tomlinson created a fanbase for the then Labour chief Ed Miliband in rapid-time and engaged a technology of younger voters. These communities realised what was wanted to make a message pattern and for tweets to go viral – passing a message round densely related networks and amplifying each other inside it. Immediately, companies and political events try to duplicate this format, one that almost all teen women might do in seconds.
“That’s now how everybody, together with political activists, understands methods to obtain web virality, and followers had been actually the primary group of people that had been trying to try this, who even thought to make use of Twitter in that method,” says Tiffany.
As a former obsessive teenage woman, seeing this electrical cultural shift is redemptive. I’m below no illusions that the stereotypes that existed a decade in the past have instantly disappeared, but it surely’s additionally heartwarming to see obsessive ladies sporting this standing like a big neon signal. It’s additionally joyous to see youthful women surrounded by media that depicts the bubbling pleasure of obsession. Perhaps they’ll wish to scream about their passions, too.