A fangirl, as I have chosen to define her, is a teenage woman who is enthusiastically dedicated to a particular cultural product, frequently to the extent that her behavior becomes socially unacceptable. Imagine the shrieking, nameless and faceless teeny-boppers who are depicted chasing The Beatles into phone booths at the beginning of “A Hard Day’s Night.”
Fangirls are a product of media and the modern age, and are frequently dismissed as brainless sheep, gulled into liking whichever pop starlet or television show that mass media demands. However, I argue that choosing a fandom is not necessarily an action motivated solely by outside consumerist forces. Teenage girls are capable of making critical cultural choices, and their decision to obsess over a particular cultural product serves their own purposes. Choosing a fandom can serve a purpose of self-definition, defining who you are by what you like.
There is also a social function to being a fangirl. Trading memorabilia, attending concerts and conventions, and joining fanclubs are all ways that teenage girls can form real friendships through their fandom. Also, in many cases there is a sexual element to teenage fangirl obsessions. Idolizing and sexualizing a celebrity or character is a way for teenagers to explore their own sexual identity, in a culture that denies teenage girls much agency in their own sexual lives.
One’s teenage years are a key period in self-definition. Fangirls should be viewed less as a regrettable product of mass marketing, and more as human beings negotiating their own identity in a pop-culture obsessed world.
Katy Gehred is a pop-culture obsessed feminist who is too enthusiastic about too many things. Hobbies include co-editing this blog, knitting, smashing the patriarchy with a hammer, and nerdfighting. She is currently working on her Master’s degree in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College, and if you have any questions at all about Thomas Jefferson, she is the person to contact.