As a female music lover, few things are worse than being called a “fan girl.” I know, because I once had my boobs signed by Buckcherry and stole a water bottle from Motley Crue’s dressing room, so, naturally, the label stuck pretty early in my teens. Although I have since swapped most of that behavior for writing about and sometimes making music, one can only sublimate their devotion so much, and the spectre of the fan girl still haunts me.
Titty signing or no, ladies true ’til death to their favorite bands are labeled with this declaration of dilettantism because they fail to consume music “correctly”. Just as the ways women look, talk and act are up for collective debate, the very way we like something can be called into question, too. And just like slut-shaming, accusations of fangirling can come from any gender, and a female-driven pronouncement can be even more insidious.
Admittedly, the most extreme fans have historically been female. They chased bands down the street like rabid dogs, blew security guards just to get a glimpse of the lead singer, or, today, more likely dedicate their days to composing slash fiction. I’m not suggesting being a fan girl requires self-harm or the need for a restraining order, but the fact is you don’t even have to verge on approximating the aforementioned behaviors to be deemed a fan girl — which is where the problem lies.
So what, exactly, makes a fan girl? On one end of the spectrum, you can be considered a fan girl for merely being a dedicated female fan, and on the other, you can be considered a fan girl if any hint of below-the-belt stirrings seem to drive your musical interests. Fan girls are not necessarily heterosexual (or female), nor do they interact solely with heterosexual male artists, but the fan girl phenomenon is heightened when it plays out in the interactions between straight male artists and their straight female fans. The damning discourse is as follows: male aka REAL fans access their aesthetic appreciation through the rational center of the brain, while female fans devolve into vaginal hysterics — the “amygdala hijack” if you will — and go screaming, crying, and hair-tearing ala Elvis-on-Ed-Sullivan without truly understanding the music, man. Their interest is about lust, not detached, judicious enjoyment, and therefore invalid.
Although being called a fan girl for being a female fan is lazy sexism at its most basic and doesn’t require much inquiry, being called a fangirl because you exhibit the “wrong” emotional response to an artist/artist’s work is a bit more complex. It’s sexism, too, but it’s also a fear of emotionality and the libidinal impulse. The unspoken rules of fandom dictate that a “proper” fan may be dedicated to his (or her) favorite bands, but does not let emotion defame their affections too much. Their likes and dislikes are boxed in with ordered precision. They cheer when appropriate or throws horns at acceptable moments. They know the line between reality and fantasy.
Conversely, the fan girl is bubbling over with lust and sadness and joy and (some might say) delusion. She is messy, and her emotions spill out into the crowd like a contagion, making us at best uncomfortable, and at worst, infected. The untamed fan girl represents Dionysus in an archetypal struggle with Apollo, where emotionality is pitted against rationality, order against chaos, and the head against the groin. It’s partly our collective fear of disorder, of devolving (evolving?) into some pagan bacchanal free-for-all that makes us cringe at the fan girls fainting, crying and pining away over their beloved artist deities. Although we all we want our music emotionally wrought, we somehow think that fans should keep it together while the artist before them can submit to his or her feelings unequivocally.
While I’m not suggesting you fall to your knees weeping and tearing your hair out at the next concert you see to prove your devotion, I am suggesting that these fan girls we mock aren’t doing music a disservice. Those who keep open the fragile pathways between art, eros and emotion should be applauded, not mocked. Defaming the fan girl (or boy) is an attempt to neuter the erotic in art. All erogenous zones should be signed, sealed and delivered through the capable hands of artists. Reclaiming the fan girl moniker is refusing to bend to a suffocating hierarchy that dictates how we all should experience pleasure. So when you see her at a show, push down your derision and transgress the stoic and stifling boundaries of Apollonian aesthetic appreciation by refusing to partake in the sex negative shaming of fan girls.