What Stan Culture Has Taught Me About Gender Contamination

It’s high time we stop mocking women for being passionate about things.

I was talking to friends about my newfound interest in Formula One a few months back. “Can you believe it? So unserious of me,” I told them. Sports are not my thing, and they know this, too. I have always been a few qualities short of being the “girly girl” type. So it felt outrageous to admit that I was entering my sports fan era; This wasn’t something ingrained into me as a young kid. I was raised, to a great extent, in the presence of women. So sports culture wasn’t exactly popular in the household, as normative as that may sound.

I would learn about the “gender contamination” phenomenon not too long after. Ah, that’s why the thought of not fitting in with sports culture made me nervous. The term was coined in 2013 by Jill J. Avery, a Senior Lecturer of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, in the context of marketing strategies that target specific gender groups. It centers around the idea that product lines for men and women should be separate. Otherwise, businesses risk triggering cultural disapproval for promoting certain products to the wrong group. 

The message being implied is simple: commodities used by women tend to be perceived as inferior, therefore men don’t take it well when traditionally masculine brands are associated with female consumers. We taint their virility. It’s why some car models are advertised specifically for mothers, or why cosmetics companies develop makeup for men. Heck, it’s probably why Brad Pitt decided to explicitly label his new skincare line, Le Domaine, as “gender-less.” He wouldn’t want to discourage his manly men fans from buying feminine-coded products, would he? The irony of using the masculine French article “Le” in the name is not lost on me, by the way.


While it is easy to spot this approach in the field of marketing and advertising, gender contamination actually permeates in many of our daily behavior and judgements. For women, especially, it is often hard to realize how much impression the patriarchy has left on our subconscious. It hasn’t been easy to unlearn thought patterns corrupted by internalized misogyny, I can tell you that much. 

I remember finding it rather shameful to admit that I was once a One Direction fan. My early adolescent years were spent doting on their every move—the antithesis of coolness and maturity, or so I’m told. These days, fandoms are commonly called “stans”—a word stereotypically attributed to fan bases composed mostly of teenage girls who bear no self-control when it comes to their idols. Although, there is nothing new about this vilification of young girls who are passionate about music (or anything, really). 


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Consider “Beatlemania,” for instance. Reporters coined the term to describe the level of adulation that the Beatles received at the peak of their career. Throughout history, it was teenage girls who have shown musicians unrelenting support, sold out their stadium tours, and blown up indie artists in the age of the internet. From The Beatles to One Direction to The 1975, you name it. Yet they are ridiculed—instead of celebrated—by the very industry whose success they more or less control. 

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This is the same principle that puts pressure on musicians to “be taken seriously” by older men. Because their acknowledgment is apparently the pinnacle of legitimacy and success. It’s rooted in sexism. Very 1950s. It comes as no surprise then that male celebrities like Harry Styles, who regard their predominantly female fanbase with utmost respect, are widely adored.

“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. Teenage-girl fans—they don't lie. If they like you, they're there. They don't act 'too cool.' They like you, and they tell you. Which is sick.” 

– Harry Styles acknowledging his young fanbase in a Rolling Stones interview, 2017.

Don’t get me wrong, there are negative aspects to stan culture, too; Directioners did set up a fundraiser as an attempt to buy out One Direction from their million-dollar management contract back in 2015. This, I can admit, is way aspirational, if not borderline delusional. Nevertheless, persistently telling girls that their passions are vapid, shallow, and fueled purely by an untamed sexual fantasy only cultivates the culture of misogyny. It makes them hesitate on jumping into things that could bring them satisfaction, as if it’s not already hard enough to assert your space in a male-dominated society. 

We get mocked for liking feminine-coded things but we also get the third-degree when expressing interest in masculine-coded hobbies. “Oh you’re a basketball fan? Prove it.” There is no winning. Which is why it was liberating to realize that it’s okay for me, as a woman, to pursue interests even if they present no tangible value. It does not mean we have let go of our abilities to think critically. Because we do not exist for the sole reason of serving the purpose men have carved out for us in their system.


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Kimberly John Bautista
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