Internet Culture, Social Meia

on boybands, fangirls, feminism & how society treats teenage girls

Along with lockdown and this unprecedented time we’re living in, there are to be found a few unexpected silver linings. Like how for once in a lifetime, the whole world slowed down.  For many of us, we’ve have had time on our hands that we maybe haven’t had for years. For others, we’ve had time at home with family we might usually have missed, normally passing each other in the doorway as we rush from one place to the next day after day.  For some, this has led to picking up new hobbies or re-visiting old ones to fill the hours as we stayed inside.  In the process, weeks have passed and turned into months, as we all incredulously cry out that we can’t believe it’s August. Was it not March five minutes ago?

Indeed, living in lockdown has sometimes felt to me like I’ve fallen into a time machine. Having moved back home in that time hasn’t helped, and spending seemingly endless hours in my childhood bedroom trying to banish boredom has left me feeling like I’m a teenager again.  In which case, what better way to spend my extra time than reliving those blunder years?

I’m certainly not the only one feeling this way, I discovered online – mostly via TikTok.  A social media app that I had disregarded somewhat as superficial, and only suitable for “weeins” in my review in a past column, I suddenly found myself wasting hours on as I discovered thousands of others my own age flocking to the app, looking for some new source of entertainment during the lockdown.  And there, reliving our shared youth seemed to become the latest hot trend, as video after video I took a trip down memory lane.

Now, as cringe-inducing as it might still be to admit, I look back and smile now at the interests I had at the time, and in particular, how intensely I loved those things as a teen.  Name any typical teenage-girl trend of the time, and I was a fan.  From Glee to Twilight, to One Direction – and now, online, I saw that, I was exactly like everyone else.  It was almost a bit surreal to find my feed on the app full of people from across the world discussing their love for the same TV shows, movies, books and music that I’d loved my entire life, to hear a hot take or a joke and remember how my thirteen or fourteen year old self had thought that exact thing ten years ago – but hadn’t had a world-spanning platform to express it, like the social media of today.  Across the world, it seems, while there might be slight geographical variations in trends, popular culture brings us all together.

My favourite silly heart-throb boyband.

In between reminiscing about being fourteen without a care in the world, and flinching at the thought of my teenage self’s embarrassing moments, I got to thinking about the way society treats teenagers.  I’d done it myself when I prejudged TikTok, deeming it the new fad ‘Gen Z’ app where the kids of today video themselves doing some silly dances.  In general, young people’s interests are treated as silly, juvenile, and unimportant.  In particular, those things enjoyed by young women, or teenage girls, are especially ridiculed.  Boybands, romantic comedies, pop music and high school dramas are immediately filed under ‘stupid’ in society’s eyes.  So much so that to this day, as a grown adult, I still loathe to admit that I ever even dared to like Justin Bieber, Harry Styles or Taylor Swift, for fear of being taken less seriously as a result. 

It’s true, we often teach girls at a tender, impressionable age that their interests are trivial.  You might argue it’s not a gender issue, but to be honest, I’ve never seen a boy being criticised for enjoying typical male interests, like football, or called crazy for roaring ferociously at a group of people kicking a sack of air around a field.  But a teenage girl screaming the lyrics at a concert?  Harebrained, obviously.  But then, what about when a girl enjoys football, or rock music, or cars? Is she taken seriously then?  Well, no.  In all likelihood, she’ll be accused of ‘trying too hard’.  It’s a no-win situation.

In short, girls are used to being belittled by society early on, and then we wonder why woman are less likely to speak up in the workplace, to make their voices heard – when they’ve been told their entire adolescence that being the way they are is wrong. 

In the words of a wise man named Harry Styles, arguably the King of teenage girls, when speaking to Rolling Stone on the topic of his young fans; “They’re our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents. They kind of keep the world going.”  He added, “Young girls like the Beatles.  Are you gonna tell me they’re not serious?”

The original silly heart-throb boyband.

As we come out of lockdown, Taylor Swift releases her eighth critically acclaimed record, and One Direction celebrate the tenth anniversary of the band being put together, and as a twenty something, I keep celebrating the things my teenage self loved, even though the world told her not to.  To all the teenage girls, the future doctors, teachers, and leaders of the world, I apologise for falling prey to what society says I should think.  Keep doing your TikTok dances in your bedroom, or whatever so-called ‘stupid’ thing it is you enjoy.  You can do it all and more.

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