Fangirl is a term sometimes used to mock women and girls when they show excitement toward something they like. As much as we’ve tried to reclaim the word, calling someone a “fangirl” can still have negative connotations. It can infantilize and belittle our interests and can make people feel embarrassed to talk about the things they love. That’s why the inclusion of characters like Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) and Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) in the MCU is so important. In Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel, these young women are both superfans of The Avengers, and dream of meeting their favorite heroes. Even as they become heroes themselves, Kate and Kamala are never ashamed to be fangirls. In fact, their genuine excitement is what motivates their training and keeps them from giving up when things get hard. By wholeheartedly embracing the things they love, Kate and Kamala remind us that being a fangirl isn’t a bad thing.
Like many young MCU fans, Kate and Kamala have grown up with the influence of the Avengers and what their brand of heroism represents. Kate was inspired to take up archery and martial arts as a child after watching Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) take on aliens with his bow and arrow in the Battle of New York. But this was not just some passing hobby for Kate. She has won numerous awards for her skills and is able to hold her own in her first real fight against the Tracksuit Mafia. Before she discovers her cosmic abilities, Kamala spends her time making fan videos about her favorite hero and dreams of meeting Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) at AvengerCon. As she learns to control her powers, Kamala uses her Captain Marvel cosplay as her superhero disguise. Because they’ve grown up with these heroes as pop-culture icons and role models, the prospect of becoming heroes themselves is genuinely exciting. Sometimes their overeagerness does put them in tough situations, but it also keeps them from backing down when things get hard.
From the moment that Kate meets Clint, she is excited to learn from him and prove that she’s more than just an eager fan playing pretend. However, she does not try to hide her excitement to make him take her seriously – she literally asks him to autograph her bow right after they meet – instead she lets her skills speak for themselves. When Clint tries to shut her out to protect her, she does not hesitate to fill his inbox with awkward voicemails after she learns information vital to their investigation. Kate is able to connect with the LARPers who help her and Clint reclaim their arrows from Police evidence, give them new costumes, and provide backup at the Bishop holiday party. It’s because of Kate’s fangirl energy and ability to relate to nerds of another fandom that they receive the help they need. Instead of Clint’s lone-wolf mentality influencing Kate’s behavior as the mentee, it’s really the other way around. Kate and her enthusiasm push Clint to open up and trust again after losing his family for five years and Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) after that.
Even though Kamala hasn’t met Carol yet, she still finds ways to embody her bravery and confidence. Outside of wearing Captain Marvel cosplay, Kamala feels empowered to stand up for herself at school and her mosque and to ask her parents’ permission to go to a party. She shows courage when she dives headfirst into trying to help others with her powers, despite not knowing how to control them yet. Even after she barely catches Zoe (Laurel Marsden) at AvengerCon, Kamala does not hesitate to try and rescue a little boy who falls out of a window at her mosque. It’s not that she’s being overconfident or reckless with her powers, she just can not stand by and let people get hurt if she can do something to stop it. She does her best to be careful while also testing the limits of what she, and her powers, can do. Kamala is eager to prove that a young Pakistani-American girl can be a Captain Marvel-level superhero, and it’s this excitement that makes her want to keep training and master her new powers.
Not only is Kamala Khan a superfan of The Avengers, but outside the world of the MCU, Ms. Marvel actress Iman Vellani is also a self-proclaimed Marvel fangirl. Between the red carpet interview where she gushes over Robert Downey Jr. and Kevin Feige teasing her for watching WandaVision on her phone on set between takes because she just couldn’t wait, it’s clear that Vellani is just as enthralled by this universe as the character she plays. As both a professional and a fan, the real-life love of the MCU and Marvel that Vellani brings to Ms. Marvel and will likely carry over to the upcoming film The Marvels is pure, authentic, and not easily fabricated.This meta-fandom shows how important it is to encourage women and girls to get involved with their interests rather than mock them for the things they enjoy. Vellani doesn’t downplay her knowledge of the MCU or how much she loves these characters – she is ready to playfully school any and everyone who is brave enough to challenge why she’s in this space.
These young women show us that embracing fandom is not just some juvenile fantasy, but rather a source of community, belonging, and empowerment. Like Kate, Kamala, and Iman, I’ve grown up watching these heroes. I saw Iron Man in theaters when I was ten years old, and still feel giddy whenever the Marvel Studios theme and logo flash across the screen. Even though gendered toy aisles kept telling me these characters weren’t “for me”, and I sometimes felt like I had to hide my excitement and interests, now that I’m older I can see that I’m not alone. Not only can I meet and talk with others who have felt left out by certain fandoms, but now we get to see characters on screen who, like us, are unapologetically super-nerds. Kate and Kamala remind us that “fangirl” really isn’t a bad word. Through their strength, joy, and enthusiasm they show us just how empowering the word can be.