Differing interests, whether it be a passion for sports or having an incredible interest in a band, is what creates an incredibly diverse society that allows us to share the interests we have and expose others to mediums they may not be familiar with. However, there is almost a “danger” in sharing what you are interested in as you can be exposed to like-shaming or ridicule from others unprompted, simply for the fandom you are in, according to an article from The Reflector in 2018. Unfortunately, this has evolved into a sexist form of bullying, mainly aimed at women or anyone who isn’t a cisgender male for showing passion in an interest. The glaring misogyny that has always been in fandom has continued to make itself known and some are choosing to take pride in it.
New York University’s Applied Psychology Opus explains that fan-based communities are built on people trying to connect with one another, but there seems to be a divide between genders. According to the article, women are typically in marginalized groups, while men are in groups deemed “socially acceptable.” Socially acceptable, i.e. knowing everything there is to know about an athlete and/or sports team, but knowing the same information about an actor or singer is seen as obsessive. It’s confusing that knowing the background of an athlete, such as their high school, college, average statistics in their sport and their journey to where they are today is normal and makes you a better fan, but knowing a personal story about my favorite musician seems a little too intrusive.
As I have gotten older, I have decided to care less about how people view my interests and have at least tried to allow myself to talk openly and passionately about the music I like, the hobbies I have, things of that nature. Unfortunately, there have been instances where I have felt incredibly judged for doing so. Sharing the music I like has been something I have always liked to do, but there have been times where I have gotten worried about admitting liking a certain genre of music or group because I may be seen as an obsessive fangirl. I vaguely remember the looks and some of the comments my male classmates in middle school made to me and other female classmates because we were celebrating a member of One Direction’s birthday. I remember getting asked why a lot of us were wearing blue and wrote “Nialler” on our wrists for Niall Horan’s birthday, but they never got asked why they were wearing a jersey and talking about Peyton Manning every time the Colts had a game. At the time, I didn’t really understand why my interests were odd or questionable, but theirs were normal.
Even now, I get nervous about getting those same comments because I have had the K-pop group ATEEZ or one of their members as my lock screen on my phone. So I will either change it to a default background or lower the brightness because I don’t want to experience that type of judgment again. It’s not because I am ashamed to be an Atiny (ATEEZ’s fan name)—I am incredibly proud of it. It’s being considered a weird, obsessive fangirl for having a group that I enjoy as my wallpaper when most people have their phone’s wallpaper as something that brings them joy.
In several TikToks I have seen recently, there has been a discussion about how women are seen as obsessive and made fun of for when they openly talk about boy bands for example, but men can paint their entire bodies and scream at the top of their lungs at a football game and no one thinks twice about it. Another video pointed out the irony of getting made fun of as a girl in school for liking One Direction and then saying those same boys have grown up and are now making a huge dedication post to Tom Brady because he retired. This is not to say every man who enjoys sports does this or liking sports is the issue. The issue is the sexism-laced comments made to people in fandoms, with a lot of that stemming from that community. I, for one, enjoy sports, but I also run into the problem of usually men gatekeeping their team from me because I don’t know everything that Devin Booker has done or his field goal average since leaving the University of Kentucky, which is a whole other issue.
Gatekeeping and misogyny go hand-in-hand with fandoms and it can and will drive people out of them. I become nervous when I get asked about the stickers on my laptop for two reasons: one, I am terrified of being judged because some of them are anime or music related and two, being quizzed on how much I know about the anime, manga and/or character of those series or the artists. With portrayals of it in the media, seeing comments about it online and even seeing female friends of mine being quizzed on how much they know about a show or game, makes me fear when people, unfortunately most of the time those people being men, approach me about them. While I do enjoy the franchises I choose to display on my laptop, it does not mean I need to prove to a stranger, or even someone I know, my knowledge of that series. It’s like videos that circulate of women saying they have been harassed about the knowledge of a band T-shirt they wore just because they named a popular song instead of a B-side (songs that aren’t singles on albums). In high school, I would second guess wearing the Green Day hoodie I owned for fear that I would be tested on if I knew their discography or not. In a video posted in 2017 from Sarah Hawkinson, she said what comments she has received as a female wearing a band T-shirt, like being called a “poser” or being asked if she “really listens to these bands.” She shares a story of being stopped in a parking lot by a man asking, “Your favorite Slipknot song is … ?” which seems harmless, but it is the intent of which a question like this is asked. Typically, it’s being done as a test to see if you really know the band or not, or know anything about the team’s jersey you’re wearing and frankly, that is not anyone’s business, if that is their intent. More often than not, these types of quizzes are aimed towards women, while if a man sees another man wear a band T-shirt or a jersey, it is a genuine question. However, I have experienced incredibly pleasant interaction regarding the stickers on my laptop and several male classmates who have genuinely asked me about the anime those stickers are from and what I thought of the most recent season or even if they should watch it if they haven’t. The intent of the question is what matters and what the person behind the question’s motives are and if they are trying to get a rise out of the other person.
Still within the realm of fandoms, but also a hobby I have, is the role-playing game (RPG) of Dungeons & Dragons (D & D) and the experiences I have had with playing a character seen as, for lack of a better word, useless. Questions I have been asked as a woman who plays D & D are usually genuine, but I have had an experience where I was almost being put down for the character I built and not choosing a different class. In D & D, you will build a character either on your own, with the help of your Dungeon Master (DM) or as I did, a bit of both because I entered the campaign later on, so I asked the party what type of character they needed to balance the party. I was asked to make a character better suited to roleplay/character interactions instead of a combat-heavy character, like most of my party already was. I had been playing for a few months at that point when I got asked by a male classmate about the campaign and my character. I explained that I was a rogue (which are not really used combatively at lower levels) and I got interrupted by him telling me that he had heard how my party probably sees me as a less than useful character, at least when it comes to combat, which is not what our campaign is centered around. I told my party this later and I contemplated quitting so I wouldn’t hinder their experience. I found out from them that they saw me as very useful and that I should not be driven away from something I enjoy because of one person’s comment. I am playing a strong female character who’s intelligence and quick thinking, accompanied by her physical strength, is necessary.
Fandoms are imperfect because the people in and outside of them are. Allowing snide comments, especially those with sexist undertones, is unacceptable regardless of their gender identity. If a man knows every team Michael Jordan played for, his game statistics for his entire career as a Chicago Bull and his birthday, that is the equivalent to a woman knowing every word to Harry Styles’ solo work and his work with One Direction, the awards he’s won and his birthday. Different fandoms have different aspects to them because basketball and music are not the same thing, but having the same knowledge of people is the same. A male fan screaming at the top of his lungs and decking himself out in all blue and white body paint to watch the Duke University Blue Devils play a game is the equivalent to a female Atiny dressing as Halateez for an ATEEZ concert. The passion a person expresses for a fandom is not mutually exclusive to what fandom they are in. Obsessive fan culture is not a feminine-exclusive thing. Just being a fan of something does not make an obsessed fan and basing that on their gender identity is incredibly problematic and misogynistic and should never be tolerated, ever.