The day I sat down to write this story, something amazing was happening on Twitter.
Jessica Hopper, a music critic, editor and my friend/hero/mentor, tweeted a call-out to her followers: Gals/other marginalized folks: what was your 1st brush (in music industry, journalism, scene) w/ idea that you didn’t “count”?
Within a day she had over 400 responses from women of all ages, but one in particular really stood out to me. Emma Garland, a fellow music writer, replied to Jessica, “high school, aged 12, having to reel off a detailed list of album/song titles before any boy would accept that i liked green day”
Like a lot of girls, I could really relate to this idea, of being made to feel as if I need to prove my expertise on any band outside the pop music realm when boys question me on it. In fact, my own response to Jessica’s tweet told a similar story. Let me recount it for you here, in more than just 140 characters.
When I was 15, the only things that mattered to me were MySpace, The OC, cute boys, and the Ramones, a beloved punk band from New York City that officially disbanded in 1996—almost a decade before I’d discover and become obsessed with them. One of the first purchases I ever made on eBay was a faux-vintage Ramones t-shirt (one that still has pride of place in my drawer of band t-shirts to this day) that became my symbol to the world—or, more accurately, to the other residents of the very small town I grew up in—that I loved this band and genre and ideology enough to emblazon the words “Beat on the Brat” on my chest. Unfortunately, that offered some people—some men—an invitation to question me on the legitimacy of my fandom. One of these encounters sticks out even to this day: after an event for my school, a man came up to me, pointed to my shirt and said, “I bet you don’t even know who that band is.” I told him I did, that I loved the Ramones, and he said, “If you love them, tell me how many chords they played.” I didn’t know the answer then and even to this day, as a music writer and critic myself, I could care less how many chords a guitarist plays if they’re making music that connects with me. I told this stranger I didn’t know and he scoffed and walked away, probably very satisfied that he’d exposed a teenage girl as being a fake fan.
Sadly this wasn’t the first or only time this happened to me—I’ve had cinephiles question me about every detail of a movie director’s filmography, and I’ve heard stories from my friends of very similar things happening to them. My friend Sinead even wrote about how the constant interrogations made her give up her displays of fandom altogether in an essay called ‘Douchebag Music Dudes Made Band T-Shirts Too Much Work’. “The lesson: to Music Dudes, it doesn’t matter how much you love a band or record or track,” she wrote, “you’re a poser if you’re not a guy.”
It seems, from all this anecdotal evidence, that men can have a passing interest in anything without it being questioned, whereas a woman isn’t allowed to so much as Like a page on Facebook without her motives or integrity being called into question.
This is an especially pervasive trend in the comic book world, where women can’t seem to step foot into a convention without hearing things like:
“You sure know a lot about Batman, for a girl.”
“You don’t look like a geek.”
“That’s nice of you to come to Star Wars celebration for your boyfriend.”
“Did your older brother get you into comics?
Those quotes were part of an essay called ‘The Psychology of the Fake Geek Girl’ by Dr. Andrea Letamendi, a clinical psychologist, consultant to comic writers and expert panelist at comic conventions—in short, someone who knows a thing or two about this! Dr. Letamendi writes that she really wishes she could ignore this trend, but can’t because it reflects on a much larger one that is pretty insulting and dangerous to women: “These experiences–the seemingly harmless comments, the sarcastic jokes, the subtle non-physical exchanges” make women feel invalidated, like outsiders, like they don’t belong in spaces that are supposed to be all about expressing and sharing a love of something.
And that’s what it really boils down to, doesn’t it? The love of something. But it really sucks that we’re made to feel like we can’t express love for a movie or an album or a comic book without researching the hell out of it until we become a walking encyclopaedias, ready to pull out facts the second our devotion is called into question. By turning our enjoyment into work, these doubtful and needlessly protective men make declaring our fandom a chore, something we just can’t be bothered to fight for anymore. And you know what happens then? We get too exhausted to defend ourselves and we retreat; we don’t go to conventions or wear our t-shirts outside the house. Our love of these things becomes hidden and insular, and the men who felt so hellbent on declaring us as fakers feel like they’ve won all over again.
In a recent interview about her new book of criticism, Jessica Hopper said, “Generally, I don’t think music writing is that different from any realm where women assert their expertise and opinions —you run into dudes who want to see your credentials and run you out of the clubhouse.”
Let’s not let them run us out. Rather than playing by their rules or backing down entirely, I have learned the power of saying, “I don’t know,” “I don’t care,” or, possibly my favourite of all, “What does it matter to you?” I know what I know and I like what I like. Some things I’m an expert in—ask me about Kanye West or Adrian Tomine or Nicole Holofcener or Del Close and I might never shut up—and some things give me a spark of enjoyment I don’t feel compelled to chase. Both of these are valid, and anyone who suggests otherwise is only looking to satisfy some preconceived notion of their own. Let’s not give them the satisfaction.