The Sexism Behind the Demonisation of Female Fans
Following the recent resurgence of boy band culture in the Western music sphere, it is unsurprising that its accompanying fandom culture has resurfaced.
Many thought that this culture had died with One Direction, however, boy bands like Pretty Much, CNCO, and of course BTS (though, I would argue the nature of their musical act differs from the typical connotations of a ‘boy band’ as we commonly understand it) the music scene has seen a revival of a specific level of fan engagement it collectively forgot about, which is partly the reason for the American fascination with Korean group BTS’ powerhouse fan base, the ARMY, and all its achieved in the name of its idols. First, we had Beatlemania, then came the good old days of NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys. One Direction fever then infected the world, and now the dominant layers are the structurally organised force of the BTS ARMY - which singlehandedly broke a relatively niche, subcultural Korean group from the confines of the country’s borders and catapulted them into a global mainstream in a way no fan base has ever done before. Fandom culture has always been a foundational element of popular music culture. What has also always been just as foundational, unfortunately, is its sexist demonisation.
The characterisation of a fandom as a rabid amorphous mob of obsessive screaming girls is a transparent, lazy and very overtly sexist trope that, quite frankly, has no place in today’s social and cultural lexicon. It seems to me it is unquestioningly clear that this cliché is predicated upon an axiomatically sexist foundation that diminishes from majority female-driven aspects of culture. It is merely another patriarchal manifestation of misogyny that seeks to permeate society and invalidate the female space. This is why when you say the word ‘cook’, most people picture a woman but when you say the word ‘chef’, they picture a man. Why a nursery teacher is almost always depicted as a woman in contrast to the male university professor. The ‘elevated’ form of any occupation is always conceived of as male. At the risk of being too anecdotal, it is also why when I went to purchase a book just the other day; the blurb specified the protagonist is a female detective. She couldn’t have just been a detective, oh no. You had to know she was a woman because patriarchal infrastructures operate in such a way that they particularise the female gender, while the male gender remains the normative standard. The default. In the same way, that male sports fans are a social default, but female boy band fans are a social abnormality.
If this admittedly polemical (yet no less valid) stance on the subject is unpersuasive to you, I ask that you attempt to question why the discourse surrounding male sports fans is never as inherently reductive as that of female boy band fans. This is not to say that there is not a socially cognisant acknowledgement of cases of violent male fan behaviour. ‘Football hooliganism, for instance, is an established term that describes the disorderly and destructive behaviour that occurs at matches and has been documented since the 19th century. However, I only know this because I googled a few questions that led me to this completely new phrase with which I was previously unfamiliar. Conversely, the ‘obsessive screaming fan girl’ image is a cemented trope in our cultural consciousness that exists solely to demonise women and majority female-driven industries and occupations.
If you remain unconvinced, I implore that you at least ask yourself this question: do you genuinely believe that a male artist, a rapper for instance, with a primarily female fan base would be taken as seriously and be as well respected as one with a primarily male fanbase? The history of cultural, societal pursuits has been too shaped by imbalanced patriarchal divisions for the answer to be yes. What is typically characterised as male is socially elevated, and what is female is rendered largely insignificant or unserious. While it is an unfortunate social truth, it is an undeniable truth nonetheless.