The Double STANdard

Toxic fan culture is a part of many different communities. Despite this, there is a sexist double standard in the way they are scrutinized.


Shefali Bharadwaj

Fandom culture took over the internet when stan Twitter was popularized by One Direction in 2010. Since then, Tumblr, Youtube, and more have created their own versions of fandoms. However, digital age sensations such as SuperWhoLock and One Direction are far from the first fandoms to grace humanity. Sports fanatics, for example, have existed since the beginning of organized athletics. Yet, they are not grouped under the umbrella of crazy fandoms because of one key factor: gender.

Sports fanaticism is at an all-time high, yet it continues to not be critiqued for its toxicity due to the gender of those who dominate its realm. A Statista survey found that 42% of men in the U.S. would describe themselves as avid sports fans, but this number dropped to 15% within women (Statista). Toxic masculinity riddles every aspect of sports culture and perpetuates harmful stereotypes and biases. Dr. Shane Graber describes sports as perpetuating “hegemonic masculinity” by reinforcing concepts of violence and dominance (OColly). Sports culture offers an avenue for the “boys will be boys” mentality to prevail by creating a situation in which men are essentially required to be aggressive and violent. Players are ridiculed when they choose not to play due to an injury and are applauded when they do the opposite. It’s not truly about watching games of skill and strategy, but about creating hostility between teams for entertainment.

This hegemonic masculinity has had real-world consequences. Documentation of destruction resulting from sports games dates all the way back to 532 AD with the Nika Riots. Even more recently, sports riots have caused devastation in Philly and Boston, among others, and even multiple deaths in Egypt. Fanaticism within sports has a storied history of hegemonic masculinity and physical chaos. Meanwhile, stan culture is somehow touted as more detrimental to society. 

… stan culture quite literally feeds the growth and development of pop culture in the current age.”

Anyone can participate in any type of fanaticism they wish to, and divisions between demographics are often based on antiquated gender roles. Nevertheless, online fandoms, alternatively referred to as stan culture, are primarily frequented by teen girls or queer individuals. The word “stan” elicits a mental image of a teenage girl foaming at the mouth as she tries to push through barricades to stroke the arm of the biggest pop star. Stans are considered immature and silly; their interests are useless and non-impactful. However, stan culture quite literally feeds the growth and development of pop culture in the current age. Stan culture within music drives music sales through the increase of chart wars. Chart wars are essentially arguments over an artist’s talent or worthiness based on their streams. Toxic? Maybe, but arguments like these have proliferated with the creation of stan Twitter and online forums, increasing streams and revenue (i-D).

Stan culture has also been used to silence insensitive hashtags on Twitter like #WhiteLivesMatter by flooding it with their own media (Yonder). This is not to say that stan culture is entirely positive: bullying, harassment, and invasion of privacy permeate online forums as concepts like “doxxing” become more normalized. Death threats are casually thrown out over simple disagreements regarding music taste, airport security cameras are hacked to catch a glimpse of artists, and camps are set up outside venues days before shows. However, even those affected by stan culture can acknowledge the sexism behind the constant denouncement of stans. When questioned about his fans and their investment in his music, Harry Styles answered, “How can you say young girls don’t get it? They’re our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going” (Billboard).

The villainization of online fandoms reeks of misogyny, even more so when the demons of sports culture are ignored. It’s time to abandon the double standard and recognize that all forms of fanaticism are inherently destructive.