Football belongs to us all
This is a post about fangirls and football. Just so we’re on the same page, let’s begin by taking a definition of “fangirl”:
1. (derogatory) a female fan, obsessed with something (or someone) to a frightening or sickening degree. Often considered ditzy, annoying and shallow.
2. (playful, good-natured) less extreme, a female fan who can laugh at their own passion for their particular interest (or even obsession).
Grammatical errors side, I think we can more or less agree that this is what we mean when we say “fangirl.” Most people, however, only ever mean definition number one. And this is the attitude toward fangirls which prevails among some football fans.
For example: “Fangirls are stupid.” “Fangirls only watch football because they lust after the players.” “Fangirls don’t know anything about the game.” “Fangirls don’t understand the offside rule.” “Fangirls make serious female fans look bad.”
That fangirls draw so much ire points to underlying conditions: football is a male-dominated culture, and our culture is exceptionally gender-stereotyped. It’s assumed that women are not interested in sport, and therefore we only watch for the hot guys. Women can never appreciate football purely, not in the way that men do. So how dare these fangirls intrude upon something that they do not understand? How dare these pretenders call themselves “football fans”?
Curiously enough, some of the most vehement backlash towards fangirls has come from (serious) female fans — which only points to their own uncertain footing in the football world. Women’s status as football fans has never been easy, because of stereotypes outlined above. Female fans tend to have to work harder to prove they’re dedicated to the sport they love. And fangirls are a serious threat to their hard-won credibility.
Women turning on other women for being “inferior” fans is nothing but a cry for self-validation. Look, they say to masculine football culture, I’m not like those bimbo-headed boobies swooning over Fernando Torres’ arse. Look how long I have followed my club. Look how much I know. Look how distinctly unlike those fangirls I am. Look how willingly I put them down. Because I am one of the boys. I am not like them. I am like you.
A classic example of creating an Other to establish one’s own identity. Fangirls are threatening to female fans, the same way female fans are threatening to male footballing culture. Belittling, discrediting, and thereby neutralizing a perceived threat is instinctive. If only we can make it go away, we think; then it’ll be all right.
But fangirl culture exists. Fangirls exist. Some may become diehard fans of the sport, too, given time, but some never will. And that’s fine. The fact is that different kinds of people exist and their existence is just as valid as yours.
Many female fans are concerned with how fangirls reflect badly on them. But an equally large number are concerned with how discriminating against fangirls — and, indeed, the term “fangirl” itself — perpetuates sexism in an already unjust world. The term “fangirl” is gendered and spreads the stereotype that women are incapable of understanding the sport, while ignorant male fans are given a free pass simply because they possess a Y chromosome.
This is true enough. The term “fanboy” doesn’t have the same derogatory ring as “fangirl”, for most people. But they both exist. Casual fans exist. It’s unfair that fangirls are the most visible and most maligned, and we should recognize that there is a wider community of pseudo-fans beyond fangirls. They are part of the greater footballing community. They might not be serious fans of football as a sport, but they are here.
And here’s my point: football belongs to them, too.
Fangirls. Fanboys. Pundits, journalists, satirists. The loonies, the hysterics. The pessimists, the optimists. Those who watch their club religiously every week, and those who only watch the World Cup final. Football — this beautiful, maddening game — belongs to every single one of these.
Not equally, necessarily. And certainly not all in the same way. Football does not mean the same thing for everyone — but isn’t that part of what makes football beautiful?
Why do you watch football? Because of a club? A player? A family tradition? Because you appreciate the visceral satisfaction of a well-timed tackle? Because you love the unexpected genius of a goal? Because you enjoy the raw sexuality of human beings in the prime of their youth? Because you know what it is to stand in the midst of a roaring crowd and hear tens of thousands of voices sweep yours along?
Is it because of all of the above? Or is it none?
Every option is valid. Football is all of this and more. Fellow fans discriminate, but football welcomes all. However much we give of our love and ourselves to this game, the game gives duly back. We each have our own relationship to football, and so football belongs equitably to everyone.
So hardcore season ticket holders — no need to get your knickers in a twist about the fangirl and the casual ignorant. The distinctions between categories aren’t even so clear cut. We all have a bit of the loony in us. Some hide it better than others; some don’t even bother to try. Many of us are fans(/fangirls/fanboys) of certain players, in addition to being fans of the sport. Fangirls just happen to be one subset of the larger community. Fanboys are a subset, too. As are those who don’t know anything about the game yet love to talk and watch and partake of this worldwide communion.
In such a divided world, it is rare and marvelous to find a unifying experience so common and accessible as this. It is something to be celebrated, something to be cherished.
Because football belongs to us all.