It’s Going to Mess with You

The following blog is one that I wrote awhile ago and just let it sit.  The reason for this was simple.  I wasn’t and still am not sure how people were going to interpret this blog post.  Would the reaction be less than favorable towards me?  I have to admit that I was enjoying the peace and quiet, on that front.  Yet, I think it still worthy of being said.  I know it led me to think about fandom and animosity that can and does crop up in fandom and my role/reaction in those situations as well as how I could do things differently.  I hope it does the same for you.

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This summer, my book club read the book, Odd Girl Out, by Rachel Simmons.  The topic was aggression in girls.  Obviously, the focus was young girls, usually in the eight to sixteen range.  My book club is made up of a bunch of teachers; thus, I assumed that we all thought about how this relates to our experiences in the classroom and how to handle girl aggression.  While it did directly relate to teaching and even had sections addressing teachers and schools, I found myself also thinking about fandom.  Most specifically, I thought about our fandom, especially since our fandom is made up of mostly females, usually females who became fans during adolescence.

Without giving away too much of the book, the basic premise of the book is that girls are taught that relationships are THE most important thing in the world and that the worst thing that could happen is to be alone or isolated.  On top of that, girls are also taught that they need to be “nice” and “sweet” in order to get friendships and relationships.  Now, when I say taught, I don’t mean explicitly.  In fact, what we know, is that there has been a push to change societal expectations of women, and girls growing up know this, too, in a unconscious way.  Yet, there is still an overwhelming, yet subtle message about the importance of relationships that overrides any other message out there.  How does this manifest itself?  Simple.  Girls get angry as anyone does.  Yet, in order to keep relationships, they don’t directly respond to their anger.  Instead, they push their aggression to indirect methods like talking about others, giving the silent treatment, spreading rumors, using people, creating alliances, creating a social hierarchy, etc.  This way, they don’t alienate the friend or person they are angry at but they don’t alienate others either.

Now, how does this relate to fandom and to our fandom?  Assuming the premise of the book is true, do women still repress direct anger and direct confrontation?  I would say that we do.  (Now, I am sure that there are people out there reading this who are saying, “I don’t.  My friends don’t.”  Maybe.  Obviously, there are always exceptions to the general rule.  Also, I’m not talking about this in any sort of accusatory way.  I’m speaking in a social scientist way–looking at and analyzing overall patterns of behavior. )  Do we (the female Duranies) then sometimes use indirect methods, like talking about someone, spreading rumors, using others, etc.,  to express our anger or to shield ourselves from anger?  I have seen examples of this.  (Again, I’m sure that some of you want to point fingers at someone or even at me.  That isn’t what I’m trying to do here.  I’m looking at the behavior for a reason—to identify it and make it better.)    Have there been fans who have stop talking to each other without telling the other person why?  Have people spread information about others that might be deemed, “rumors”?  Have fans tried to develop alliances with other fans in order to pick sides in a “silent” fight?  I know that we have talked about these types of behaviors many times here on the blog.

The author of the book points out that these indirect or alternative aggressions of one person or one group against another is done not only to express one’s anger but also to “damage self-esteem or social status within a group.” (page 21)  This really hit home for me.  I thought about those people who have commented here or elsewhere about Rhonda and myself or about what we have wrote in such a way that is obviously not to continue the discussion or to make a point, but to do just what the author described.  People have commented in ways solely to hurt us.  (Before you ask how I know this…simple.  Being called every name in the book seems pretty clear to me.)  How were these comments given to us or about us?  They were done “anonymously” or in secret.  According to the author, this means that these commenters could still appear to be “sweet” on the outside so that they could keep their other relationships.  It also means that these commenters are never called out on their behavior.  When Rhonda and I mentioned something, people would, at times, do exactly what kids at school do to other kids.  They might tell us that we shouldn’t let this bother us, that it doesn’t matter.  While we know that those people were trying to be helpful, those kind of comments didn’t help much, as the author points out.  Those kind of comments don’t validate our hurt feelings, in the way that they should be, according to Simmons.

The author also discusses how girls often participate in these indirect aggressions in a group.  Why?  Simple.  No one person is to blame for leading the aggression.  If 10 people feel a certain way, it seems more likely to be true or more likely to be reasonable, especially if it against 1 or 2 people who did something that might violate a big rule.  Putting this in the fandom world.  What if one fan approached a band member’s child in order to get close to the band member?  For many fans, this is not what should be done.  This type of activity would then allow the rest of the fandom to go after this one fan, for this behavior and any other behavior that was “overlooked” but not forgotten from before.  Basically, that females take in each and every little action and behavior from other females and when some sin is committed, all behaviors are addressed because they were never addressed before.  Women seemed to ignore what bothered them.  In reality, though, many really wait for a chance to express frustration, at a time that the other person seems to “deserve it”.  Women let frustrations build up rather than addressing them when they happen, according to the book.  Do we see this in fandom?

The last part of the book that really spoke to me was the idea that a big sin that is committed is when one person has appeared “all that”, the person appeared to be higher in the social hierarchy than everyone else.  This is, particularly a problem, according to the book, when that person became “all that” for not following typical female behaviors.  For example, a person may appear “all that” for voicing one’s opinion too much or in a way that directly confronted an issue. Hmm…So, obviously, the reaction of the other females is to pull that person down and to get that person to be quieter, more reserved, more feminine.  Again, the author isn’t saying that these behavior are conscious and spoken, but this is how she interprets the behavior and the cause.

So, what is the solution?  Obviously, females need to be able to directly confront whatever is angering or frustrating them right away, instead of allowing those things to be buried and fester.  Then, the question is, can women do that?  Can we do that in this fandom?  Would that help?  I know that one of the things I appreciated about the book was how the author showed how all the girls interviewed could be both victims and bullies–meaning that all females could be guilty of this.  Perhaps, acknowledgement of this in fandom would be a good first step.

-A

2 thoughts on “It’s Going to Mess with You”

  1. I’ve been around long enough to see this the nasty side of fandom, even experience just a small sliver of it too. I’ve seen shitty things thrown your way too. What is the best way to validate that hurt? I guess my first reaction would be to say “just ignore the haters” — as we both know they are full of crap.
    I’d like to address the pain without dismissing it.

    The other thing I’ve noticed is that the fandom maintains 2 relationships, that at times can (seem) at odds. 1 is with the band. The other is with each other. Don’t you think that tensions rise because there is a perception that 1 threatens the other? (A fan gets attention from the band, makes others jealous… )

    I’m not sure why this discussion is controversial. Of course there is a dark side. And the more we are aware of it, the better some of us can negotiate it when confronted with it.

    1. I absolutely agree that tensions can and do rise because of perceived attention from the band. The book addresses a similar situation with both popularity (not everyone can be popular) and having or getting specific boyfriends. I think the point is that these aggressive behaviors frequently occur when there is a limited amount of whatever is desired (band, boyfriend, status).

      I think it is controversial because people assume that I’m accusing them of being bullies. That isn’t the point here. It is to point out that we are all bullies and victims and then to acknowledge it and its cause, in order to make it better. -A

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