By now, there are few people who haven’t heard of Zayn Malik’s departure from One Direction. News of his departure has been greeted with a variety of reactions, from the slight mocking of the band, to jokes that Jeremy Clarkson was taking his place, and from the fans of the band, genuine upset. It’s something that has become a point of mocking, and –in a more worrying aspect – a point of genuine derision.
Upset at band members leaving successful groups is by no means a new phenomenon. I was in junior school when Robbie Williams left Take That, and remember genuine upset between my friends. In a way, many of my friends entered a sense of mourning for the band they had been invested in since the band had first become famous. Even before the days of social media, the days of Tumblr and Twitter, there was that united grief for a day or two, before the class discussions moved on to other matters. Had the internet been as widely accessible in 1995, I suspect the Take That fans would have received much of the same treatment that has been afforded the predominantly young and predominantly female fans of One Direction over the past few days.
Since Zayn left the band on Wednesday, Buzzfeed has published 40 articles regarding his departure. These articles have ranged in tone, from the remorseful to the mocking – in some cases, posting the reactions of their fans in articles that hold a slightly mocking tone. But this isn’t to say Buzzfeed is alone in doing so; in fact, searching for ‘Fan reactions to Zayn leaving One Direction’ brings up 11,200 results (from 25th – 26th March 2015).
The problem we hold is this culture of holding the reactions of teenage girls as entertainment. We already mock teenage girls at every turn for their interests, be it from peers to family members, from the media to sites which are supposed to hold somewhat feminist ideals. Yes, Jezebel, we’re looking at you, and we’re noting the irony in you throwing teenage girls to the dogs.
The problem we’re posed with is that so many people have reached a point where they consider it acceptable to mock young girls. The over-emotional insult comes out, in a more subtle way, but we blame these girls for ‘making fools of themselves’. We blame them for not yet knowing that society prefers not to have to deal with the emotions of girls and women, and we humiliate them for it. Websites screenshot their thoughts, their photos, their comments – without their consent – and take it from what these girls think to be a safe space of sorts. They expect their thoughts in the ‘One Direction’ tags on Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram to be shared amongst other people who empathise. Friends, if you will. They expect it to go no further than their followers. But the Buzzfeeds and Jezebels of the internet see their emotional outpouring, and they use it to teach these girls a lesson. One that exposing your sentiments will see you opened up to mockery.
But this goes beyond harassment. This has become a policing of how teenage girls handle their emotions, and a policing of their interests. This tells them that the punishment for being too emotionally invested in the wrong thing will earn you insults in the comments of Buzzfeed, sarcasm in the words that precede the screenshot of your Tumblr post, and snide comments about those ‘One Direction fans’. It’s a painful reminder that your interests had better be pre-approved, and your reactions deemed appropriate. It’s a reminder that you will be contrasted with the general public whom have reacted ‘normally’. And it is a treatment that we so rarely see extended to boys of the same demographic. And in doing so, we teach these girls to fall into silence about subjects that matter to them. We tell them to stop expressing their upset about a band splitting, or a band member leaving. We tell them to shut up about a TV show they’ve become interested in, and we teach them that their thoughts and opinions don’t matter. And it stops them from talking out when things really matter to them, whether it is something we consider trivial, or whether it is something much deeper and far more important.
Perhaps, there are lessons to be taken from this. One that, at the heart of it, teenage girls are having to handle emotions which can often be heightened by the effects of puberty. But this doesn’t make their emotions any less valid. But furthermore, we need to learn to respect the boundaries of the next generation of women. We need to learn not to criticise their interests whilst applauding the interests of boys. We need to learn to ensure that we discuss emotions with them in a clear and thoughtful manner – one that encourages them to be emotionally aware, emotionally open, and to work through their feelings in a manner which is healthy. And we need to teach those who should know better to respect the boundaries of teenage girls when they react, whether it is done in person, or through social media.
It’s simple. The reactions of teenage girls are not for entertainment.