As a long-time fan of Harry Styles— all the way back to his One Direction days— I feel pretty secure in my judgments of his fandom. In my devoted years, I’ve unfortunately seen a lot of unchecked misogyny from fans who viciously worship their idols.
With the physical assault and verbal harassment allegations surrounding his former bandmate, Zayn Malik, I think it’s more important than ever to realize that we don’t actually know the people we idolize. That phrase is easy enough for anyone to repeat, but when accusations against our idols are called into play, we often forget.
Defending your idols
I won’t speculate on the Zayn Malik/Yolanda Hadid situation past my current understanding. I do, however, want to make a critique of how Zayn’s fans have responded to said allegations. Comments like ‘he would never do that, he grew up surrounded by women’ or ‘Yolanda’s a liar, she’s said x, y, and z before’ are flooding social media. Why are those the defenses and prerequisites for Zayn’s supposed “goodness?”
It’s ridiculous to imply that growing up surrounded by sisters or in a matriarchal household makes you incapable of abuse. Of course, that’s not what these fans mean to say, but it’s what they are saying.
These fans, mostly young women, are steadfast in the belief that they know Zayn. They want the man they have put their trust in to be good. Whether they realize it or not, they are willing to throw other women— women who were abused by men who meet the same criteria they’re applying to Zayn— under the bus to justify their obsessive defense of him.
I am not thrilled to come to Yolanda’s defense, given her history of bigotry. But the things she has said, regardless of how ridiculous and uninformed they are, do not preclude her from being assaulted. Is a woman less assaulted because she is a “bad” woman? And what makes a bad woman? We’re leaving entirely too much room in the conversation for people— particularly men— to justify assault based on subjective “badness.”
These excuses are on par with the typical ‘how much did you have to drink?’ and ‘what were you wearing?’ This is a unique kind of misogyny, one mostly perpetrated by other women.
Regardless of whether the accusations are true, Zayn’s fans have spit some hurtful rhetoric that they can’t take back.
Dating your idols
This toxic fandom culture goes further than the allegations currently surrounding Zayn Malik. This desperate desire to know the men of One Direction, and famous people in general, often evolves into unjustified amounts of hate towards their partners.
I know very little about Harry’s current partner, Olivia Wilde. However, when it comes to defending her from Harry Styles fans, I’ve found the hill I would die on. For a fandom that preaches ‘treat people with kindness,’ that kindness sure doesn’t seem to extend to Harry’s partners, previous or current.
I’m not claiming Olivia is a perfect person, or even a good person. I know very little about her past. But what I do know is, if she weren’t dating Harry Styles, she wouldn’t be under the scrutiny that allows a bunch of young women to pull her life apart. I’ve seen people commenting on her age, as if another woman in Harry’s band, Sarah Jones, isn’t “up in years” with Olivia— and Jesus Christ she’s not even forty, her life isn’t over. I’ve seen fans speculate on the whereabouts of her children, implying she’s a bad mother for following her partner across the U.S. on tour.
Sarah has a child with another one of Harry’s band members, Mitch Rowland. Where’s their critique for dragging their kid across the country and/or leaving them at home? None of these things make Olivia inherently a bad person or a bad parent. It’s evident that Harry’s fans don’t think either of these attributes are bad qualities, because Sarah and Mitch could be critiqued for similar things, but aren’t.
Because they’re not dating Harry Styles.
In fact, Harry’s old bandmates could be criticized for their supposed lack of involvement in their children’s lives. But alas, silence in regards to their other idols.
I’ve heard fans make accusations of Olivia’s bigotry, but a lot of it seems to be more rumor than fact. I’m not denying any potentially bigoted thing Olivia has said, or the harm it may have caused, but I won’t pretend Harry isn’t just as likely to have said similar things in his private life. We’re talking about a media-trained mega-star who came into his fame at 16-years-old in 2010. If Harry’s fans were to dig into his past the way they have Olivia’s, I’m sure they’d find just as much dirt.
Regardless, Harry is a 27-year-old man. He’s an adult who is more than capable of making his own decisions. If he’s dating someone who’s as awful as his fans claim, then he’s just as complicit. Under their own assumptions, Harry’s fans should hate him, as well.
Harry’s fans hated Olivia from the second there were whispers of their relationship. All they needed was something to justify that hatred. It seems as though they’ve found it.
Lauren is a 19-year-old Politics and Creative Writing major at NYU. She currently lives in Hamilton Heights, but is from a small town in Ohio near Lake Erie. She's previously been published in online zines such as Unpublished, Lithium, and Luna Collective.