Against the Norms

fangirl_by_nicoride-d5szxyaIt seems that when one becomes a Fan, and an active fan at that, they give up something in their life that constitutes society’s understanding of normalcy. In describing their personal relationship with ‘fandom’ and identifying themselves as ‘fangirls,’ Katherine Larsen and Lynn Zubernis describe the sexual repression of woman as part of society’s normalcy.

For women, the accepted norms hold that women want to be the objects of desire– that we want others to desire us. We’re almost never encouraged to be the subjects of our own desire, which makes it hard to connect with our own bodies and our own sexuality (42)

Women are usually the objects of desire, of the heterosexual male’s gaze and this is often how we are represented in culture (42). This is why Fandom is something outside normalcy and why the authors and their fangirl friends struggled with representing themselves as ‘fangirls’ and separating it from their “normal lives” in which they were, “serious minded, middle-, women with kids, partners, careers and responsibilities” (xi). Being a fan is separate and something revealed only within the fandom community. However, this Supernatural fandom community provides them with a ‘safe space,’ where they can let their true colors and sexuality flourish (41).

Fandom provides some of that missing conversation, changing the norms to allow women to get in touch with their own desires and openly express their genuine selves, including their sexual selves. Online communities tend to encourage more free and disinhibited, more direct expression. Women can begin to embrace their own sexuality and include room for activities or fantasies that they might otherwise have disowned, denied, or suppressed (42).

These online communities provide women with a space in which they feel comfortable to express their sexual desires, and to sexualize men, making them objects of sexuality– while also building a fandom culture surrounding it. It is also why, historically, they have been and are painted as ‘others’ in society. People are too uncomfortable with women’s sexuality, and women are even uncomfortable themselves, especially when it is expressed publicly. This article discusses the “Beatlemania,” a time when teenage girls were publicly expressing sexuality that the media had to tone down this fandom or disregard it  as a “psychological symptom of a presumed social dysfunction”. Women’s sexuality is to be kept private, it was in the 60’s and it remains a fact today as represented by Larsen’s and Zubernis’s testimony about being a fangirl. However, what these Beatles fans did not have at the time was the safe space, online through which they could actively participate with one another, creating a fandom community in which they define themselves and their relationship with popular culture.

Fandom is also about participating in this community and being an active consumer, as well as a producer of content related to the cultural product, often redefining the product into something less in the center, and more on the margins. Women are thus able to take a cultural product, and redefine it in their own terms, giving them authorship over a popular cultural item, that women do not usually have power over. It is an active “rebellion against constricting social norms” (45). The Internet has provided a space to do this, to become and author and foster these communities, and create a space in which authorship is celebrated. These communities exist online but often translate to physical communities at conventions, or events surrounding the topic of fandom. Fandom is about those seeking to learn more and discover more about culture through exploring what is a possibility beyond what is produced in a top-down production system and creating a safe community in which to explore these ideas, feelings and criticisms.



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