I have watched Turkish TV shows, or dizis as they’re called, for over 5 years. As I got deeper into the dizi life, following actors and hashtags on social media, I came across the phenomenon of ‘stan Twitter’ — a universe of Twitter accounts maintained primarily by women, solely to explore and create content about their favourite TV shows, actors, fictional characters and more. When I found myself considering opening one, I immediately dismissed it as a frivolous use of my limited time. I know now, what a silly judgment call that was — because the day my friend and I decided to open a stan account together, was the day my passion for dizis finally had an outlet. It was one of the best decisions I could have taken for myself — and until recently, I didn’t quite realize why I was reluctant to do it for so long.
Sometimes you don’t quite realize the extent of the stronghold that the patriarchy has on you. I recently learnt the name of a phenomenon which I had subconsciously observed and internalized for years — gender contamination. The term was used in 2013 by Jill J. Avery, a Senior Lecturer of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, in the context of marketing strategies aimed at separating product lines for men and women. The reason these strategies exist is, at a mild risk of oversimplification, that men associate certain brands with masculinity, and do not take it well when those brands come to be associated with female patrons.
It’s a simple enough concept that we see in action, even outside the sphere of marketing, every day. As Avery pointed out, describing a girl as a ‘tomboy’ is commonly perceived as an ‘upgrade’, whereas describing a boy as ‘effeminate’ or ‘sissy’ is certainly not. When Harry Styles graced the cover of Vogue in a fabulous Gucci ballgown, conservative commentators were quick to make a call to “bring back manly men” — meanwhile female celebrities have been sporting all manner of ‘manly’ clothing for years, without any such backlash.
The perception of gendered branding also extends to cultivating tastes. Pop music, which is largely patronized by younger female audiences, continues to be viewed as substandard and ‘not real music’ in comparison to genres which boast a more male-dominated fanbase. Coca-Cola came out with a whole new product called Coke Zero, which has the same nutritional value and nearly the same ingredients as Diet Coke, because their male customers dismissed Diet Coke as being a product “for women”.
The underlying message is rather apparent. Products used by women tend to be perceived as inferior, even tainted; thanks to the patriarchy, masculine tastes are the norm and the goal, to be preserved as such. And while it is easy to identify these patterns in the context of product branding and marketing, gender contamination finds its place in many everyday judgments and decisions not only by men, but also by women.
Which brings me back to my love for dizis, and why embracing it has made me a better feminist. I am an independent, educated woman — but I am also a product of years of conditioning that, until recently, taught me that “I’m not a girly girl” was a personality trait. So naturally, my subconscious mind accepted that watching, analyzing and appreciating dizis was a guilty pleasure that I must not encourage. For years, I stalked stan Twitter on the outside, constantly telling myself that I didn’t need this distraction in my life, that I had better things to do (spoiler — I didn’t). It wasn’t until I discovered the term “gender contamination” that I realized, that my hesitation was rooted in my perception of dizis as the embodiment of my feminine side, which had to be enjoyed in secret and not worn on my sleeve.
My entry into the stan Twitter universe was eye-opening. So many fans, primarily female, creating wonderful content by editing photographs and videos, making memes or just being witty — and their talents are fuelled by their interest in TV shows. Having this account turned out to be (surprise, surprise) no different than any of my other, more ‘gender-neutral’ hobbies — on the contrary, it pushed me to pick up writing again, gave me a creative outlet for all the thoughts I had about various shows I was watching, and introduced me to a diverse and interesting group of women brimming with ideas.
Most of all, the realization that it is okay for me as a woman to pursue any interests I want, even if they serve no tangible ‘purpose’, was a liberating one. Why is my hobby any different, or any less, than that of men joining fantasy sports leagues and spending their time and money playing imaginary teams for imaginary prizes?
My decision to join stan Twitter was certainly not a product of any intellectual discourse on gender politics. Nor is the content I post there. It is purely for myself and my happiness — and I’m coming to realize that those are perfectly good reasons.