Trashing Teenage (Fan)Girls

1 Jul

This article was originally published in the international affairs, politics and culture webzine Unite Society.

At a recent conversation over tea, an acquaintance of mine declared that he had lost all manner of respect for me. And for what reason? Because I vouched for the addictive nature of the popular TV show ‘The Vampire Diaries’.

I find this trend of trashing popular media commodities – TV shows, movies, books, celebrities, franchises – consumed mainly by teenage girls extremely worrying. More worrying is the fact that many self-identified feminists seem to be taking this stance. As a feminist blogger, therefore, I am almost expected to share this point of view.

Why is trashing teen telly a problem?

First of all, this discourse is conducted using an elitist good/bad media choice rhetoric and deals a rather scathing blow at a wide group of teenage girls. Anyone who declares their love for any of these ‘bad’ shows, books or actors/singers is instantly categorized as someone with unrefined cultural or intellectual aptitudes. Young women who like books like Twilight, shows like TVD, or singers like Justin Bieber are easily dismissed as ‘girlish’, based on this judgmental view of their taste.

“Of course you like Twilight, you’re a GIRL.” As if having ‘bad’ and superficial cultural tastes is a default setting for girls. If you want to rise above the masses of average and uninteresting girls you need to start making more ‘man-like’, ‘intellectual’ choices in selecting reading material. You just desperately need to ‘grow out’ of your girlishness. (You need to grow out of playing with your Barbie, but you can still love your action heroes.)

Secondly, what I find appalling is the vehemence of this ‘hatred’ of cultural products consumed by teenage girls. Where is this hatred coming from? Who is this hatred aimed at? From the surface it seems as if the commentators are criticizing the producers of these shows and books, and the ‘sexist’ consumer culture that promotes them. But a deeper reading into the majority of the articles trashing these pop trends and products makes me think that young women themselves are targets of this bile.

Is the criticism constructive or destructive?

So you are against Twilight because it’s not good literature or is sexist? Or you hate Justin Bieber because he is famous despite his apparent lack of phenomenal talent, and is a teenage sweetheart despite his non-conformity to the classic hot guy good looks? Well, I just don’t buy your arguments! Here’s why:

1.   Critiques produced by Twilight or Bieber haters are mostly immensely sexist.

Whoa! If you hate Twilight because you feel it is a poor choice for a budding self-actualized and self-reliant young woman, why not critique the sexism many Twilight haters propagate? You know the ones – they claim to be haters of ‘gay vampires’ and ‘whiney teenage girls’.

I personally would think quite a few times before I aligned myself with the ‘Twilight hating’ group because of the blatantly sexist language used in many (but by no means all) of their writing.

For example, this male blogger (hyperlink: http://www.jeanshortsandbaggedmilk.com/2009/11/twilight-fans-are-stupid.html) and Twilight hater, in addition to calling Twilight fangirls ‘stupid’, also categorizes the typical fangirl as ‘fat,ugly 17 year old girls and gay dudes’. Don’t blame me if I find this sexist line of attack offensive as well as stupid.

There I said it!

 This sexist trend is of course more in your face in ‘campaigns against Bieber’. We constantly want teenage girls to ‘grow up’ and look beyond what is traditionally considered ‘good-looking’.  And they finally choose to like a pop star that does not sport classic masculine features. Instead of being proud of them for looking beyond superficialities, and appreciating a man for his talents, we make crude assumptions about his sexual orientation. Really, who is the ‘grown up’ here? It almost seems like teen girls can do no right!

 But why aren’t more people talking about the kind of sexism that singles out Bieber’s or Edward’s gender non-conformity instead of pointing fingers at young women who might enjoy some ‘low-brow’ entertainment (if that’s what you insist they are) once in a while? In short, why is the spotlight on the choices the young women are making and not on how grown men (and women) are dissecting these choices?

2. It is assumed that young girls need to be ‘protected’ from their choice of poor cultural heroes (and heroines) although mass culture is teeming with women portrayed as sex objects.

Many feminist critiques of books like Twilight, shows like TVD, Secret Circle, etc. add to the image of young women as naive and gullible ‘victims’ of sexist mass culture. I completely believe that people should have a critical opinion about media products. But critique that is based on the assumption that young women blindly consume the messages in the media without question or criticism is downplaying their intelligence.

That brings me to my last point here-

3. By categorizing something as ‘bad literature’, ‘bad TV’ etc., critics can just ignore the points of view of the people who choose to watch or read these materials.

Although I am a supporter of well-balanced critique of ALL media products, I am against these trends in critical commentaries that make a judgmental statement about the people who choose to watch or read them. This judgment is political. It makes it easier to silence these people and to ignore their points of view by classifying them as ‘stupid’. And it makes it easier to trash our teen women’s self image, this time by trashing their choice of telly.

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