Have fan girls created the social internet as we know it?
All hail fan girls.
“A fangirl still exists in contradiction to the dominant culture. She’s not considered normal or sane; her refusal to accept things the way they are is one of her defining characteristics.” — Kaitlyn Tiffany
I am a fan of fandoms. Since forever, I’ve been fascinated by the psychology of fans, paying particular attention to the best type of fan—the fangirl. My interest in fangirls may come from my general affinity for learning about communities and how humans come together. But it might also come from the unique qualities that all fangirls possess: long-term commitment, inspired creativity and, most of all, the underrated power they wield on the internet.
When I saw that one of my favourite writers, Kaitlyn Tiffany from The Atlantic, had written a whole book exploring this topic, I immediately pre-ordered it with the fervour of an excited fangirl. The book, Everything I Need I Get From You: How Fangirls Created The Internet As We Know It, explores the entirety of fandom culture with an empathetic lens. It digs into the history of fandom (i.e. Beatlemania) and the early adoption of new platforms as the internet propelled fandoms into their current version. Tiffany weaves her own experience as a One Direction “stan” into the heart of the book and aims to “reclaim internet history for young women establishing fandom not as the territory of hysterical girls but an incubator of digital innovation, art and community.”
I’m here for it. So in a nod to “transformational” fandoms, this essay was inspired by thoughts provoked by the book.
Women arrived on the social internet
“There are no girls on the internet.” This is the 30th rule laid out in The Rules of the Internet, a set of protocols and conventions created by an early gaming community in the 1990s (read more on p.77 in Kaitlyn’s book). In the earliest days of internet fandoms, where pseudonymity was king, there really weren’t many women. If rule 30 wasn’t off-putting enough it was codified by rule 31: “Tits or GTFO.” Men on the old internet were obsessed with knowing which sex they were communicating with—so “Tits or GTFO” meant you should literally take a photo of your body to prove you’re female (!). Women were, clearly, very unwelcome online.
But while men first notably dominated online fan communities (like Deadhead forums), women disproportionally added to the boom of fandom websites in the late nineties (when boy bands like The Backstreet Boys and NSYNC were on the rise). This was the beginning of women becoming the predominant drivers of the social internet. By 2012, 75% of American women utilized social platforms, whereas only 63% of American men did. This statistic didn’t even out until three years later.
“Supposing the internet was a woman—what then?”
In the book, Tiffany touches on writer Moira Weigel’s 2018 essay “The Internet of Women,” which explored how the structure of the internet enables things like ‘whisper networks, reflexive personal sharing and complex storytelling’ and how these tools have been ‘more useful to women and marginalized groups than to men, given men’s ease of access to more streamlined communication’ and well, everything else (p. 7-8). We talk a lot about the concept of whisper networks at Diem, and a lot of our work is thinking through the transfer of knowledge among friends and down through generations. In a previous edition of this newsletter, we explored why women are the OG community builders. Are fangirls the OG internet community builders?
They must have “free time and little freedom,” said Theodor Adorno, the infamous cultural theorist, when he sympathetically observed “fans” of pop music in the 1930s (p.55). Yes, teen girls do have a lot of time but the concept of little freedom is particularly interesting to me. Tiffany touches on this via a review of The Beatles’ Carnegie Hall performance in the 1960s, in which the journalist at the time describes fan girls: “Later they can all go home and grow up like their mommies, but this was their chance to attempt a very safe and very private kind of rapture.” Instead of palming them off as silly teen girls destined for a life at home, I think we should seek to understand fangirls. Why do they want to escape their reality? And act in rebellion against the dominant (patriarchal) culture, all while being deeply introspective on their evolving emotions?
Have you ever seen a Harry Styles Tumblr? Or a Taylor Swift fan account on Twitter? Have you ever read fan fiction? Created fan art? The creativity sparked by the overspill of fangirls’ “outsized emotions” is actually pretty incredible. Talk about having a muse! But much like all activities that are predominantly associated with women, fangirls have been viewed frivolously and have yet to be taken seriously for their outsized impact. Tiffany concludes her book by noting that fans initially connect based on a shared affinity for something, but they are ultimately “participating in hyperconnected networks they built for one purpose but can use for many others.”
Pretty powerful, right? As teenage fan girls really have shaped the internet as we know it, isn’t it about time we started building the internet for them?
Have you been part of a fandom? Are you still? What are your thoughts on fan girl culture? Join the conversation in Diem, here.
What we’re reading (and talking about)…
👀 The open secret of Google Search. One of the most used tools on the internet is not what it used to be. This week in Diem we’re going to be talking about “the things we can’t Google” and we’ll break down all our findings in this newsletter next week. So let us know—where does Google (or Reddit) fall short for you when you’re searching for answers?
🤖 The world’s smartest AI just made its first magazine cover. Yikes! Or cool…? (Cosmo)
💪 Without my abortion, I would not be New York’s Health Commissioner. Dr. Mary T. Bassett wants to make New York a beacon of abortion access. The fight is personal. (Elle)
PSA: We’re hiring at Diem! We’re so excited to hire our founding technical, design & product team. Are you or someone you know interested in joining the founding team at Diem? Check out our open roles, here.
Conversations in the Diem universe feel like you’re dialing in to a call with your most knowledgeable friends or frantically typing in your fave group chat. Here’s a few new conversations you can contribute your knowledge to this week…
“Who’s watched Keep Sweet: Pray & Obey?” Share your takeaways, here.
“Does anyone have resources to understand what stocks to invest in?” Share your recommendations, here.
“Pole Dancing 101” Learn from @JulianaLuna and share your pole dancing experiences, here.
“Parents: How do you make time for yourself?” Share your life hacks, here.
“Has anyone heard of or tried flower remedies?” Join the conversation, here.
“What are the best ways to integrate yourself into professional communities?” Share your advice, here.
See you in Diem,