Ist Fanliebe wirklich „Besessenheit“ – oder spricht da der Frauenhass? Ist Fanliebe wirklich „Besessenheit“ – oder spricht da der Frauenhass?

Is fan love really obsession - or is there misogyny speaking?

In the late 1990s, my mother received a call from a talk show that wanted to talk about female teenage fans. The topic of the show? Obsession. My then 13-year-old sister, who had recently been crowned Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan by a magazine (there was a real competition), was devastated when my mother declined the talk show and refused to let them report on my sister. “I knew exactly how they would have portrayed my daughter,” my mother explains to me today. “I told them she wasn’t obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio. She was a normal teenager, and her interest in him was the same as that of people who are fans of any athletes.”

The fear that a young girl would be portrayed as “crazy” – at the height of Leo’s Titanic fame – was certainly justified. Even a brief Google search leads me to articles from 1998 that describe a crowd outside the London premiere of The Man in the Iron Mask as “hormonally charged,” while journalists in other videos tell stories of girls “throwing themselves” at the actor. This kind of language is anything but unusual in the history of fan love. Even during the “Beatlemania” era, admiration for the Beatles was compared to mental illness, and describing Elvis Presley’s fan crowds as “hysterical” suggested an emotional women’s disease (the word “hysterical” comes from the Greek “hystera” for “uterus”).

This pattern of being condemned for being a girl or woman with emotions feels uncomfortably familiar to me. In the mid-2010s, my fan love for Justin Bieber (one of the most successful artists in music history) was repeatedly the basis for jokes at school. My enthusiasm as a “Belieber” was labeled uncool at best and disturbed at worst. Even the media made fun of “Bieber Fever,” and at that time the internet was full of articles about studies that showed this made-up “disease” was “more contagious than the measles.” The symptoms, it was said, included “bad life choices, uncontrollable sobbing, and screaming.”

When girls know a lot about something they love or admire, they are “crazy”; boys, on the other hand, are “passionate” or “enthusiastic.”

Like many others, I let such criticism bounce off me and called it “funny.” In truth, it was hard not to take the impression to heart of being seen as ridiculous by the whole world. While I was laughed at for knowing Justin Bieber’s birthday and knowing every one of his songs by heart, my male friends were allowed to discuss even the smallest injury their favorite football players had ever had and were considered “well-informed” for it. When I tore posters of Justin out of magazines, I often read words like “crazy,” “stalker,” and “creepy” in the articles around them. The message was clear: when girls know a lot about something they love or admire, they are “crazy”; boys, on the other hand, are “passionate” or “enthusiastic.”

This portrayal of young female fans as abnormal is thoroughly explored in the book Fangirls: Scenes From Modern Music. The non-fiction book by former Rolling Stone editor Hannah Ewens discusses how the young women who have shaped the music industry are repeatedly mocked. In the context of the loud fan criticism of the 2013 documentary Crazy About One Direction, Ewens examines how the film not only portrayed One Direction fans as obsessed but also potentially dangerous for the band.

„From the beginning of the documentary, the emotions of the fans are pathologized, staged as pathological. Every little feeling that viewers of a film titled Crazy About One Direction are presented with is presented as ‘disturbed’, even if it is quite understandable that a girl screams for tickets or tries to get the attention of her idol in this way”, explains Ewens. She also interviewed fans who were not included in the final version of the documentary, who explained to her that they did not appear “crazy enough” to make it into the film. According to them, the producers were explicitly looking for stories about “extreme things” that the fans had done for the guys from One Direction.

The focus of the documentary on the more extreme behaviors of fans (such as sending death threats via Twitter to the singers’ partners) angered many Directioners. They felt that the documentary had generalized the actions of a few fans to the entire fan community. In an essay, the creator of the documentary, Daisy Asquith, wrote afterwards: “It was perhaps not surprising that Channel 4 [the British TV channel responsible for the documentary] put pressure on us to show the angriest and most hysterical fans, the crazy fans. I resisted this stereotype from the beginning. However, I am also forced to adhere to the business demands that ultimately finance my productions.”

According to Prof. Sarah Banet-Weiser, co-author of Believability: Sexual Violence, Media, and the Politics of Doubt, this portrayal of fangirls as potentially fanatical is unfairly linked to the critical gaze that women in general have to live with. “As far as I know, most cases of fans stalking celebrities or even becoming violent towards them are men,” she tells HotQueen (and indeed, stalkers are more often cis men than women). “The notion that female fans are ‘unstable’ or unpredictable is a real problem because it is related to the fact that women are generally often considered irrational,” she explains.

Art is only considered admirable when a male-dominated audience and male-led media see it that way.

This notion of the irrationality of young female fans also leads to their interests being considered less valuable. Women’s groups who admire boy bands are stigmatized as hysterical because the art they adore doesn’t “deserve” such a reaction, according to many. Even an article from 1964 in the New Statesman about the Beatles, titled “The Menace of Beatlism,” describes the young women who “scream in hysteria” as “the stupid, the lazy, the failures.” 60 years later, the band has sold over 600 million albums worldwide, and the Beatles are considered some of the greatest musicians of all time. One thing becomes clear: art is only considered admirable when a male-dominated audience and male-led media see it that way.

Let’s take the example of British actor and host James Corden, who made jokes during the visit of the K-pop band BTS to the UN, saying “15-year-old girls around the world now wish they were UN Secretary-General António Guterres”. This infantilization of the community rightfully angered the fans, who have managed to make the talented band the only Korean musicians to top the US charts with six different albums. Corden never apologized for his jokes – and such mocking comments about fangirls are unfortunately still not uncommon today. In 2017, Harry Styles was asked in an article in Rolling Stone if he was also interested in building his fan community outside the teenage girl bubble (precisely the bubble that made his Love On Tour the tenth most successful tour of all time).

Als willkommenes Zeichen der Solidarität verteidigte Styles daraufhin den Musikgeschmack seines Publikums: „Wer sagt eigentlich, dass junge Mädchen, die Fans von Popmusik sind – und das steht doch immerhin für ‚populär‘? –, einen schlechteren Musikgeschmack haben als ein 30-jähriger Hipster? […] Jungen Frauen gefielen auch die Beatles. Willst du mir sagen, dass man sie nicht ernst nehmen sollte? Wie kann man sagen, junge Mädchen ‚verstehen‘ keine Musik? Die sind unsere Zukunft.“

Wer sagt eigentlich, dass junge Mädchen, die Fans von Popmusik sind – und das steht doch immerhin für ‚populär‘? –, einen schlechteren Musikgeschmack haben als ein 30-jähriger Hipster?

Harry Styles

Die Vorstellung, dass sich junge Frauen für die Kunst, die sie lieben, schämen sollten, ist vielleicht auch der Grund für die „bedroom culture“, die „Schlafzimmerkultur“, in der sich viele Fans ihre Interessen hinter verschlossenen Türen hingeben. Von Wänden voller Poster bis hin zu detailverliebten Tumblr-Posts: Private Fan-Räume, im echten Leben und online, gehören zu den wenigen Orten, an denen junge, weibliche Fans ihre Fan-Liebe ausleben können, ohne sich dafür schämen zu müssen.

Jenseits der vier Wände ihrer Schlafzimmer sieht das nämlich leider oft anders aus – insbesondere, wenn sexuelle Aspekte mit im Spiel sind. Obwohl es nicht in allen Bereichen der Fan-Liebe auch um sexuelle Anziehung geht, werden junge Frauen, die ihre sexuelle Lust auf diese Weise offen ausdrücken, oft als Anfechtung der Hierarchie des Patriarchats betrachtet. So schreibt zum Beispiel die Akademikerin Tonya Anderson in ihrer Doktorarbeit von 2012 mit dem Titel „Still Kissing Their Posters Goodnight: Lifelong Pop Music Fandom“, die schamlosen Schreie und öffentlichen Lustgeständnisse gegenüber der Beatles seien „entscheidend für die Feminismusbewegung“ gewesen.

„Diese Veränderung der Verhaltensweisen [weiblicher Fans] wurde in einer Gesellschaft, deren dominante Philosophie stark auf patriarchalischen Ideologien fußte und immer noch fußt, als bedrohlich empfunden. Seitdem hat es die Community weiblicher Musik-Fans nie geschafft, ihren wegen ihres Verhaltens aufgestempelten ersten Ruf als ‚unladylike‘ abzuschütteln“, erklärt Anderson. Bis heute wird die Sexualität junger Frauen und deren Entscheidung, die damit verbundenen Interessen auch öffentlich kundzutun, immer noch lächerlich gemacht und als „übertrieben“ verurteilt.

In anderen Bereichen der Fan-Welt spielt romantische Anziehung gar keine so große Rolle, und doch begegnet man dort überall demselben Frauenhass. Fans von Taylor Swift sind zwar so einflussreich, dass ihre Nachfrage nach Tour-Tickets vor Kurzem sogar die Plattform Ticketmaster in die Knie zwang, doch wird diese Macht weiterhin oft heruntergespielt. Laut Banet-Weiser liegt diese Kleinrederei vermutlich daran, dass sich Menschen außerhalb der Fan-Community von so großen, frauengeführten Gruppen eingeschüchtert fühlen. „Wenn es eine Fan-Community gibt, die größtenteils aus Frauen besteht und in der sich Männer ihren Platz erstmal verdienen müssten, anstatt ihn automatisch zugesprochen zu bekommen, wird so etwas als sehr bedrohlich empfunden. Was machst du also dagegen? Du behauptest, diese Community sei wertlos und hysterisch, machst abfällige Kommentare, um diese Gruppe zu delegitimieren – weil du nicht dazu eingeladen bist“, erklärt sie.

Der Spott, den junge, weibliche Fans abbekommen, ist unfair. Das Gefühl, in der Begeisterung für jemandes Kunst nicht allein zu sein, ist aber ein Teil dessen, was das Ganze erträglich macht.

Der Umgang mit Frauen in Fan-Communitys wirft nochmal ein grelles Licht auf die Misogynie, den Frauenhass, der uns auch im Rest der Welt begegnet. Vielleicht sind frauengeführte Fandoms gerade deswegen so außergewöhnlich, weil sich die Fans zusammen gegen Hass und Feindseligkeit einsetzen, um sich gemeinsam ihren Interessen hingeben zu können.

„Feeling close to a celebrity with like-minded people means that your emotions are not only recognized in a culture that often does not take young women seriously, but also that you can abstract any hatred, any misogyny: It is not about you, but about men who feel threatened and believe they are entitled to this space in the community. The feeling of solidarity in a fan community is therefore incredibly strong,“ explains Banet-Weiser.

The mockery that young female fans receive is unfair. However, the feeling of not being alone in the enthusiasm for someone’s art is part of what makes it bearable. Knowing that there are so many other young women out there who feel the same way as you do eases the burden of shame and allows you to consider your emotions as completely legitimate. Every time I camped in front of a concert hall, I was never alone. Every time I clicked into an online waiting room for ticket sales, thousands of others were waiting with me at the same time. And each of these experiences was a much-needed reminder that shared, collective joy is at the core of the human experience. And fan love proves that young women understand this best.

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