Close your eyes. Picture a "fangirl." Now, let me guess. You've conjured up a flighty young woman in her teens or twenties, whose every possession is adorned with imagery from her favorite pop culture property and whose every thought, conversation, and action is based around her obsession. She travels in a pack of like-minded individuals and has trouble functioning in society. So-called normal people tend to avoid her and often mock her. At school, at work, or with friends and family, she is uncomfortable and can't wait to get back to reading her book/watching her show/playing her game. Have I guessed right?
If not, it's probably because you are a fangirl. Or you love one. I know, because I am one. I gobble up popular YA fiction like candy. I could spend hours in front of a video game. I am SuperWhoLocked. I'm also a responsible 35 year-old wife, mother, publishing professional, and otherwise functioning member of society. And I am so tired of this stigma, as are the rest of us.
I'm certain there is a portion of the fangirl population that comes close to the stereotype I've described; stereotypes come from truth, after all. But every group has its extremists and stereotypes do not mirror truth so much as they distort it. And the rest of us? Are just regular women who like a thing. We like that thing a lot and we get excited when we find other people who like that thing as much as we do. That excitement gets misconstrued from an outside perspective as obsession. The internet is an excellent place for people to discuss the things they like a lot, but it is also an excellent place for people who want to be anonymously mean about things they don't understand and thus the fangirl stereotype was born.
Fangirls obsess, become attached to, and otherwise identify with fictional characters and worlds and often the real people who create and/or portray those characters and worlds. They admire the qualities of a strong heroine or a brave hero. They value selflessness, honesty, kindness, intelligence. They see traits in the characters they want to be or want to be with that they hope to find within themselves and within their lives. Put that way, how can being a fangirl be a bad thing?
Some will say being a fangirl is just about physical attraction. I'm not going to stand here and say that it's not at least partly about that. But it isn't *just* about that. I can appreciate the giant brain of a Sherlock Holmes, but I can also appreciate the body of a Steve Rodgers. Guess what. He's a super soldier, he's supposed to be in peak physical condition, it makes sense for the story. I'm supposed to admire his morals and ignore his abs? There's nothing wrong with appreciating physical traits along with character traits; being in good shape is as an admirable a quality as being respectful or generous.
Let's not forget the fanboys in all of this, either. The perceived image of a fanboy is different, but no less derogatory than that of a fangirl. Let's give these guys a break. It's not their fault girls in comics and video games are frequently drawn to impossible standards of beauty. If you talk to them, most of them admire Wonder Woman as much for her ability to hold her own in a fight as for her ability to fill out a unitard.
I'm not proposing we end the use of the term, just the stigma. Let's stop using "fangirl" the way we use "bitch" or "slut." Instead of making assumptions, let's treat them like anyone else. Let's recognize that we all have a little fangirl (or fanboy) somewhere inside of us and just let each other be what we are. Let’s eliminate all the negative Urban Dictionary definitions and replace it with this one: fangirl (n): woman who likes a thing.