Bieber Fever is Not a Symptom of Fear

For as long as I can remember, girls going crazy over a teen idol has been explained as evidence of fear of sex, and a way to have a crush from a safe distance. Like this from a recent Wall Street Journal article:

“Boys also develop musical tastes in this phase of life, but adolescent girls are far more likely to become infatuated with pop stars, experts say, because they are awakening to romantic and sexual feelings that are both intoxicating and scary. Having a crush on a celebrity they are unlikely to meet is a way to try out such feelings at a safe distance. “A lot of girls I know practiced their first kiss on a poster. I don’t think that’s changed at all,” says Mark Rubinfeld, professor and chair of sociology at Westminster College in Salt Lake City.

“Boys are more likely to follow athletes intensely—partly out of a desire to emulate them and partly because rooting for a team conveys a sense of identity, psychologists say. Some of that carries into adulthood, as men paint themselves with team colors or skip work on game day.”

That has never rung true for me. Have any psychologists ever challenged this interpretation? As a former teenage girl I think it’s bullshit and I would explain it this way:

Yes, the girls are young and don’t know what to do, but they’re not scared. Or, maybe they are, but they are also eager to try and experiment. The teen idols are usually good looking, and talented, and living exciting lives, so they become this romantic fantasy of what we think it all could be. But it’s a fantasy born of desire, not fear. It’s sexuality and the hope for love bursting at the seams, not a toe in the distant waters of romantic-life. There wasn’t a girl in my circle (at the time) who wasn’t ready and looking forward to trying out those fantasies on someone real, and as soon as humanly possible. However nervous we might have been we were ready to begin. But boys that age are a mixed bag of availability and readiness, aren’t they? Plus, parents and society encourage girls to slow down, be careful, wait to have sex, etc. Teen idols are a stop-gap measure, not a means to provide safety.

Boys may not develop these kinds of crushes because it is not socially acceptable for them to scream and cry over whoever they might idolize. Perhaps it is still more acceptable after all this time for girls to be open about expressing their feelings (actually, girls are actively encouraged to act out in this way, come to think of it).

Anyway, I took it as an insult to teenage girls everywhere then, and it still feels condescending to me now. I wasn’t some timid, shrinking-from-boys, have-to-love-from-afar delicate flower then, and I’m guessing this doesn’t fairly describe the girls of today.

Update: I was just mulling it over. In many ways there is nothing more terrifying than a teenage girl (and a bold, risk-taking teenage girl). People are both scared of them and for them. Perhaps this interpretation is popular because it’s a safe and comforting way of looking at girls and what their actions mean? Perhaps we’re the ones who crave safety, not them.

The aftermath from the parade on Sunday, which was completely cleaned up by the time I woke up on Monday.

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

4 thoughts on “Bieber Fever is Not a Symptom of Fear

  1. In hindsight, seems to me that the reaction of female fans to say, the Beatles back in 1964 was the outward manifestation of a feeling that could not be articulated, i.e., desire.

    This wasn’t new-(mostly female) fans of Frank Sinatra behaved exactly the same way in the 1940’s.

    As an eight-year old in 1964, it sure was obvious that something was up with the Beatles and the like…based upon the reaction of all these ‘girls.’ The nature of this reaction was so far beyond our scope of understanding…so we just went back to eight year old boy stuff.

    A few years later, the reason behind the display of those feelings became all too obvious.


  2. Grew up about 15 miles SW of you on the South Shore. Who was your favorite Beatle ?

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