Your Biggest Fangirl Podcast hosts challenge geek stereotypes

Fangirls find themselves faced with many stereotypes. Women who are passionate about fandoms are often perceived or labeled as hysterical, “extra,” ignorant, “fake,” frivolous, or attention seeking.

Victoria Male and Kristen Chavez use their podcast to deepen the conversation surrounding women in geek culture. By portraying fangirls as the complex, enthusiastic, brilliant, creative, diverse women they are, they’re challenging stereotypes and encouraging insightful dialogue about what it means to be a female fan.

After meeting as Communications Studies majors writing for a soap opera at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Victoria and Kristen discovered they shared a love of musicals and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

They later reconnected in Los Angeles and eventually spun their personal discussions and adventures in celebrity, the entertainment industry, and fandom-related events into Your Biggest Fangirl. The podcast, and its accompanying blog, recently celebrated its two-year anniversary and 50th episode.

Victoria works as a creative professional in L.A.’s entertainment scene  (she once interned for Tobey Maguire, a dream come true for a hardcore Spider-Man fan). Kristen spent time interning in L.A. and is now a multimedia specialist for the University of North Carolina’s College of Arts and Sciences. Their backgrounds give them a unique perspective from both sides of the worlds of fandom, media, and franchises.

Your Biggest Fangirl makes for an entertaining listen, but it’s also helpful and informative with topics ranging from fun to serious, including cyberbullying, geek fashion, theater, cosplay, fitness, inclusion, representation, fan culture, convention tips, and books.  Podcast guests have included psychologists, journalists, film directors, authors, and illustrators.

Victoria and Kristen also offer insider tips into meeting celebrities, attending plays and conventions, embracing your fandoms, and smoothly navigating geek culture. You can benefit from their knowledge at yourbiggestfangirl.com  or subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

Victoria Male, left, and Kristen Chavez conduct an interview at San Diego Comic-Con for Your Biggest Fangirl Podcast.

You are the hosts of Your Biggest Fangirl Podcast, in which you take a deep dive into geek culture, bringing your unique perspective as fans who have been on both sides of the entertainment industry. I love that you challenge stereotypes about fans, especially fans who are women. Your podcast recently celebrated its 50th episode and two-year anniversary. Congratulations! What did that feel like?

Exhilarating! It’s a true labor of love. Though it’s evolved a bit since our first ideas of it three and a half years ago, we are so proud of its growth and the ways we’ve been able to spur fascinating discussions with our guests. We’ve learned from each of them and enjoy fangirling and dissecting media and the industry equally — and it’s exciting to see that others think so too!

The two of you met while attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and discovered you shared many of the same fandoms. Tell me a little about that.

We met through our student television group on campus, we both wrote for a comedic soap opera called “General College” and were both Communications Studies majors. A shared passion for media and examining it was already there, and then we both discovered we loved Harry Potter, musicals, and the Harry Potter parody musical “A Very Potter Musical.” Having those fandoms in common not only helped us to bond quickly, but helped us keep in touch when we both graduated and moved to different cities.

What prompted you to start your podcast and its accompanying blog?

In 2016, Kristen traveled to Los Angeles for work and reconnected with Victoria. While we quickly picked up our gushing about our shared fandoms again, we also had long discussions about topics of representation in media and the perception of celebrity. After that, we would send each other blogs or articles from Vox or The Atlantic, and continue those conversations — eventually, one of us said, “We should do a podcast,” and there you have it!

Early on, we decided that the podcast would release a new episode every two weeks, but we wanted to keep the engagement and resources going. When we launched the podcast, we did the same with the blog, debuting the 10 Rules for Fangirling Like a Pro. Our blog is designed to delve into topics we may not have time for on the podcast and to provide tips to help fans make the most of their experiences.

Why did you decide to focus largely on women in fandom?

It was the aspect of fandom we knew best and felt that we could speak the most passionately and intellectually about. Furthermore, we felt that there was a discrepancy between what society perceives a fangirl to be and what we know through our own experiences. Generally, fangirls are seen as unappealing, hysterical women whose passion for media inhibits their life. We found that so far from the truth of what most fangirls were like and wanted to create a space where we could explore and celebrate fangirls, with the hope that it would contribute to an overall shift away from that stigma.

Victoria, you live in Los Angeles and work as a creative professional in the entertainment industry. How has that experience influenced your perspective of fandom?

I think the biggest revelation for me has been that fans have more power than I originally thought, and that franchises, at least the one I work for, care about them. There’s a fine line here — I’m not condoning tweeting showrunners criticism for not executing a storyline exactly how you wanted it to play out, but what you watch and when you choose to watch it (i.e. opening weekend vs. a month after release) says a lot to creators and those who fund them.

I also believe that in the age of social media where the boundary between creator and consumer is less opaque, that fans and their passion for a property can shine through more immediately and allow for more access between the two. Finally, that everyone is a fan of something!

Kristen, you interned for a film production company in L.A. and now work as a multimedia specialist for the University of North Carolina’s College of Arts and Sciences. How have these experiences shaped your perspective of fandom?

Looking back at my undergraduate experience, I think it was my particular interest in media studies that has helped shape me the most (even if I didn’t appreciate all the readings at the time!). In some ways, I feel like I straddle both worlds: I’m a fangirl who has dabbled in production and work in higher ed — and it really makes me appreciate the ways people balance their fandoms and professions, or integrate the two.

Being able to talk with academics, like Dr. CarrieLynn Reinhard or Dr. Inger Brodey and Jenny Abella of UNC’s Jane Austen Summer Program, perfectly demonstrates how scholarship and fandom intersect. As a fangirl, I enjoy having these really intellectual discussions about the things I love; and as a UNC employee, I appreciate the ways we can use the humanities or social sciences to talk about popular culture and make them accessible to more people.

Your Biggest Fangirl is entertaining, but also informative and practical, covering a broad array of topics, ranging from fun to serious, including cyberbullying, geek fashion, theater, cosplay, fitness, inclusion, representation, fan culture, convention tips, and books. Where do you get ideas for your episodes?

Many times, the topics are fueled by the expertise of our guests. We don’t necessarily intend our episodes to “react” to current fan news or discourse, but they can shape them, like our episode with Force Against Cyberbullying with Erin Lefler. These issues are fairly evergreen, and things that we talk about regularly anyway. We’re here to highlight what’s on the mind of fans.

What about your guests? You’ve interviewed psychologists, journalists, film directors, authors, illustrators, and many others. How do you decide who you’d like to interview?

Just like our guests, it varies. Most importantly, we look for people who we fangirl over and can build a 30-minute conversation with about an area of fandom. Whether it’s a fandom near and dear to us or something completely new, we strive to get as many perspectives as possible that we can examine and enjoy.

When you live anywhere near Los Angeles, you tend to get questions from people who want to know how they can meet or see celebrities. Beginning with your very first episode, “10 Rules of Fangirling Like a Pro,” you’ve offered really useful advice, tips, and dos and don’ts on this subject. How have you gleaned all this coveted knowledge?  

Between the two of us, we’ve been to conventions, premieres, live performances and more — from big to small and on various budgets. We’ve also been able to look back on those experiences and we talk about what we might try to do next time — like creating convention packing lists. While we’re certainly not experts, we’ve learned from them and we hope others can too.

You also do many episodes in which you chat with women (or, as you call them, “ladies we fangirled over”) at various events, including LeakyCon, GalaxyCon, WonderCon, LA Comic Con, and San Diego Comic-Con. It’s great that you provide this platform for women who can be overlooked at these types of events. Was that part of your rationale for doing these episodes?

Definitely! More so, we want to show the variety of women who attend conventions. Even in the episodes where we primarily interview artists, they all have distinct styles and approaches to their craft.

Perhaps it also came from a subconscious desire to find camaraderie and familiar faces in an environment that can be overwhelming and overstimulating as well. Knowing that there are always cool female creators at conventions has empowered us to attend more conventions and we hope it’s done the same for our listeners.

What kind of work does it take behind the scenes to produce one of your podcasts? I’m sure it’s not as easy as it sounds when we’re listening to it. 

After doing this for over two years, we’ve really developed our podcasting skills. Now, we’ve settled on the types of equipment we need and are better prepared for each episode. After we book a guest, we outline our episode with planned interview questions, which helps shape the topic. We conduct interviews over Skype (and with our guest if they’re remote), and record our audio separately, and alternate our editing duties, which helps break up the work.

Let’s talk about your geek origin stories. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was a huge influence on both of you. Could you each speak a little about how you discovered the Wizarding World, why you fell in love with it, and how it continues to impact you?

Victoria: I feel Kristen and I could both write dissertations on this! The succinct version is that I discovered the book series when I was 7 years old and fell in love with the world. It was so richly imaginative and I also felt a very real connection to Hermione Granger — a precocious, frizzy-haired girl who loved learning like me.

That connection deepened and became a lifeline for me when I endured bullying later in grade school and middle school. The Wizarding World was an escape, but also an assurance that people who felt different and misunderstood in the “muggle world” could still succeed.

In adolescence and adulthood, it’s become a way to bond with people and create relationships. As you mentioned, I went to LeakyCon last year, and it truly exemplified the power the fandom has had on my life. I attended the con with a friend of mine from college. We bonded on our study abroad semester through doing every Harry Potter-related activity we could. Throughout the con, the shared passion for the Wizarding World led me to meet so many new, awesome women for the podcast, as well as one of our fangirl role models, Melissa Anelli.

Kristen: I can’t pinpoint when I started reading them, but it was certainly by 2000. Two of my earliest memories related to Harry Potter were seeing the announcement of the Harry Potter casting, and later receiving both Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire in a very heavy box for Christmas. While I can’t remember my exact feelings when reading them for the first time, I knew I was instantly hooked.

Like Victoria, I gravitated towards Hermione and saw similarities with her, but I also love the deep bond and friendship that Harry, Ron and Hermione built. It was also something that you were able to grow up with: by the time Deathly Hallows came out, I was also a few months away from 17. I feel those middle and high school years are when you start building your own sense of self (which can still develop and shift later on), so seeing fictional characters age alongside you has its own magic to it.

Now, years older and with more experiences, I may go back and react differently to characters or moments in those books that I’ve cherished, but I think that further highlights the growth I’ve gone through and I think Harry Potter has, in some ways, helped shape that.

Kristen, I understand Sailor Moon was your first fandom. Tell me more about that. 

I don’t quite remember when or how I first got into Sailor Moon, but at least by second grade, I was OBSESSED. I played with (and later, “collected”) the dolls for each Sailor Scout as the rest of the team got released. As it continued to air on Cartoon Network and Toonami, I remember itching to get home from school on time to catch the new episodes. It was my first introduction to anime and manga, spreading to others like Digimon, Cardcaptors/Cardcaptor Sakura, Naruto.

As a kid, I wrote fanfiction before I even knew what it was called, starring myself and my friends, of course. Yet, even through high school, I kept my interest in anime quiet — it wasn’t as “cool” as others; fandoms like Harry Potter or Twilight were much more mainstream.

Nonetheless, growing up, I’d search for fan sites for news (knowing that they aired in Japan well ahead of American channels), fanfiction, or music videos (pre-YouTube!). Overall, I think it was the depth of the stories in anime and manga that helped to flourish my interest in fandom.

Victoria, you’ve talked a lot about your enduring love of Spider-Man. You even wrote your college essay about the webslinger. How did you first discover him and what is it about him that (terrible pun alert!) stuck with you? 

The first thing I saw Tobey in wasn’t Spider-Man, it was actually the film Seabiscuit. I was dragged to theaters by my parents on a rainy day on vacation in Massachusetts and walked out of the showing completely wowed by Tobey’s performance. My sister mentioned that he had also been in Spider-Man, and once I got past my erroneous presupposition that superheroes were “for boys,” I rented the movie and it changed my life.

Tobey was the first actor whose body of work I was inspired to study, and Spider-Man was the first film that ignited a fascination with the craft of filmmaking. I watched every DVD behind-the-scenes featurette, read every interview with Tobey I could get my hands on. I grew up outside of New York City, so to see an underdog like Peter Parker take on the challenges in his life, both ordinary and extraordinary, in a setting close to my home is a major part of why his story resonated so deeply with me.

You later interned for Tobey Maguire. Was that a dream come true?

Very much so! It’s funny, I did an interview for a campus blog my senior year at Chapel Hill, where I very articulately stated: “If I got to work with Tobey Maguire, I don’t think I’d survive it; I’d cry and die.” Six months later, I was interning at his production company, and neither cried (in the office at least) nor died!

That internship not only uncovered my love for bringing stories to life from a producing standpoint, but it set an auspicious tone for my career in Hollywood that working with the artists I admire was actually possible.

Victoria, what are some of your other fandoms?

Well, we’ve already touched on Harry Potter and Marvel. I’m also a big fan of Broadway musicals — Kristen turned me on to Hamilton. I love Star Wars (particularly Padme Amidala) and Disney (Hercules is my favorite Disney animated movie and it is very apparent on our social media).

What about you, Kristen?

Currently, Star Wars and Harry Potter are probably my top ones! I’m also a dedicated fan of the Arrowverse universe, though with the current Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, I may have to expand that to even more DC shows! Like Victoria, also a big Marvel, musicals, and Disney fan. And while I don’t consume as much anime as I used to, Fullmetal Alchemist and certainly Sailor Moon are still big favorites.

As women who spend a lot of time thinking, talking, and writing about women in fandom, what would you like to see change in geek culture?

The media we watch and read, and those who produce it, are slowly becoming more inclusive — so I think that fandom needs to continue to demand and support those works. We all have problematic faves, so being able to accept and recognize what they do wrong may help us discuss these better.

Victoria, you are featured in an upcoming episode of the Temple of Geek video series Portrait of a Fangirl. What was that experience like?  

It was an honor and a privilege! Monica, one half of the creative force behind the project, is one of the first friends Kristen and I made through the podcast. She’s a gifted photographer that I’ve been fortunate enough to shoot with in the past and I remember when she texted me pitching the idea for this project, I was instantly on board.

I put a lot of thought into my “looks” for the photography component of the project that would capture the elevated and empowering tone of Portrait of a Fangirl’s mission and also be an authentic expression of who I am as a fangirl.  It was an advantage to collaborate with someone like Monica with whom I had that familiarity and friendship.

That prior relationship also was helpful for the video interview aspect of the project. I felt so comfortable with Monica, and while I hope there were some useable quotes from my interview, I valued being able to have an in-depth reflection on fandom with another creator and fangirl I admire and trust so much. Kristen and I recently had Monica and her partner Emily on our show and it was an awesome expansion of that discussion too!

Victoria walks the runway at the Her Universe Fashion Show.

You’ve both had some epic fangirl moments. I challenge each of you to name your Top 3. 

Victoria: 

Pitching and sending a feature script to one of my favorite actors.

Walking the runway at the Her Universe Fashion Show, where I attended as press.

Interviewing an awesome female artist at the top of the DC Comics booth at San Diego Comic-Con.

Kristen:

Attending the Her Universe Fashion Show with Victoria, where I also got to meet Ashley Eckstein for the first time!

Going to Star Wars Celebration 2019 with good friends, where we got to experience the first Rise of Skywalker trailer together and explore a new city.

It’s more solitary, but getting the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows book at midnight and reading it through the night. I had a blast standing on line at Books a Million with some of my closest friends and being able to share that moment with them before being completely absorbed by the book. While I later attended midnight movie premieres and those premieres are thankfully now earlier in the evening, I don’t think I’ve experienced a fan moment like that since.

Kristen, what’s left on your fangirl bucket list? Is there a celebrity you’re still dying to meet?

I’d love to see a show on Broadway — especially if I’m lucky enough to see an original cast! I think it’d be really neat to go to a film’s world premiere, and feel that energy with the creators as well. As far as celebrities, I’d love to meet J.K. Rowling herself or the Golden Trio. Let’s also add Jodie Whittaker, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Mark Hamill before this list gets too long.

What about you, Victoria?

I’ve been incredibly fortunate that I’ve been able to meet a lot of my favorite celebrities, but I’d love to be able to meet Jo Rowling and the cast of Harry Potter. I got a chance to meet Matthew Lewis who played Neville Longbottom in the movies back in 2012 when I studied abroad in England, and to be able to meet the creator of this world that served as my refuge during a tough time growing up and the actors that brought the characters I treasured to life would be amazing.

If readers would like to support Your Biggest Fangirl, what’s the best way they can do that?    

Thanks for asking! All of our episodes and blog posts can be found at our website, yourbiggestfangirl.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast on most major podcatchers, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify. We’re on social media as well, @ybfgpodcast on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and on Tumblr, @yourbiggestfangirl.

Photos by Monica Duarte.