Sports fan-fangirl dichotomy reeks of sexism


Sports fan screaming. Photo credit: The Denver Post.

Viva Wertz, Editor in Chief, Creative

The typical fangirl is often depicted as a female-identifying person hysterically screaming and crying, praying to be noticed by the generic boy band. A sports fan in their element, however, is thought of quite differently: typically a male-identifying person supportively cheering, wearing a team’s colors and tailgating before and after a game, laid-back with a hot dog and beer in hand. Why are the two perceived so differently when both are groups of fans appreciating a game or show? Generally, female-identifying people are taken less seriously than male-identifying people.

A fangirl is someone who typically likes a band, artist or actor/actress. At times, the media chooses to depict fangirls as helpless to the glamour and sex appeal of celebrities instead of being enamored by the artists’ talent. 

This representation of fangirls is damaging, and gendered depictions of femininity often start at an early age. Research also shows a difference in the effects of stereotypes in children’s TV on female-identifying people versus male-identifying people.

According to an analysis done by University of California Santa Cruz, “children are likely to interpret media messages about gender as being representative of the real world…Children form stereotyped expectations about the activities, personal attributes, stylistic appearances, and roles associated with each gender.”

When I was six years old, I watched “Barbie Life in the Dreamhouse.” There was an episode where a mob of discombobulated teenage girls held up fake celebrity Corey Liamzayne signs, screaming his name in an attempt to coax him out of a building. Based on shows like this, my understanding growing up of how female-identifying people express their support for their passions was always a derivative of this heart-eyed, Corey Liamzayne scene: weak to the power of stardom.

At the Clemson University vs. Syracuse University football game on October 22, 2022, the massive crowd shrieked “offense,” chanting cheers at the top of their lungs, their legs and faces dripping with the paint of their team’s colors. While the crowd embodied a lot of what fangirls are said to be — hysterical and obsessive — their behavior was viewed as apropos and appropriate. In an interview with The Urban Legend, while looking out over the 80,000 people moshing, Clemson fan Bob Brady said, “Look at this turnout! I do love game day.”

There are countless incidents in which sports fans have broken out into fights mid-game, either with each other or with the players themselves. To name a few, there was the infamous fight in the National Basketball Association (NBA) named “Malice at the Palace,” which started with fan John Green throwing a drink at Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest. There was also the 2018 San Francisco 49ers versus Oakland Raiders fan-on-fan brawl, and the 2001 Toronto Maple Leafs incident where a fan broke the plexiglass on the penalty box when telling off enforcer Ty Domi. This violence is normalized. 

While some sports fans feel comfortable committing public acts of violence in defense of their favorite teams, people are too scared to admit loving a “girly” musician. In an interview with “Vogue” Magazine, Content Writer Arunima Joshua said, “While interning at an indie music establishment in 2015, I had been looping ‘Blank Space’ the whole day on my earphones. But when a colleague asked me what I was listening to, I was embarrassed to admit that it was a Taylor Swift song — knowing the lighthearted, but judgmental ribbing that it would inspire.”

This is reflective of a broader trait of our society: feminine things are often considered frivolous. But even if female-identifying people show interest in subjects perceived as more masculine, such as artists like Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses and really any male-identifying rapper, they are forced to prove their interest is genuine. Think of how female-identifying people are asked to recite a number of songs when they wear the merchandise of an artist with a predominately-male fanbase to try and “catch” that person wearing a shirt for style rather than support (can anyone really name five songs in under ten seconds?). This highlights how female-identifying people are taken less seriously and are scrutinized differently than their male-identifying counterparts. 

In author Sophia Benoit’s book of essays, “Well, This is Exhausting,” she wrote, “For years, I didn’t tell people—especially men—about watching ‘The Bachelor.’… Meanwhile, when my boyfriend says that he watches it, and that the show is actually pretty good, no one…ever treats him like a vapid airhead.”