Femslash

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Synonyms: Femmeslash, Alt, Altfic, Yuri, Saffic, f/f slash, girlslash, ladyslash
See also: Slash, Yaoi
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Femslash is derived from 'female slash', and refers to a genre of fan fiction featuring female characters involved in a romantic or sexual relationship. In English, it is the most common media fandom term for homosexual relationships between female characters.[1]

Terminology

Alt

Alt or Altfic, short for 'alternative fiction', originated in the 1990s in the the Xenaverse where it is the preferred term for Xena/Gabrielle fiction. The term (and the fandom) developed independently of slash fandom and its history. When some XWP bards started writing Janeway/Seven, Willow/Tara and other f/f fiction, the term followed these authors to Star Trek: Voyager and BtVS fandom where it coexisted with other terminology such as femslash and femmeslash. In 2000 one of the oldest multifandom f/f sites, The Pink Rabbit Consortium, moved its archive to altfic.com. For a variety of reasons alt didn't catch on and femslash became the dominant term for f/f fiction.

F/F Slash

F/F Slash is used by some fans to indicate the continuity between f/f and m/m slash and probably is the oldest of the media fannish terms for this type of fiction. It was the dominant term for female/female fanfic in the slash lands of media fandom before femslash and femmeslash appeared in common usage in the late 1990s. (see Ladyslash)

Femmeslash

Femmeslash is an alternate spelling that some people prefer for its visual appeal. Others dislike it because it brings up Butch/Femme connotations; they perceive the term as reinforcing those stereotypes.

Girlslash

Girlslash is used by some fans, as in the name of the Harry Potter community hp_girlslash. Usually it is accompanied by the m/m equivalent boyslash in an attempt to denormalize the assumption that all slash is m/m. Sometimes fans will request 'womanslash' as a specific contrast to 'girlslash', especially in fandoms in which the majority of the female characters are teenagers or young girls, as in the Harry Potter fandom.

Ladyslash

Ladyslash was used for a while in the late 90s. The dominant term for female/female fanfic in TV based fandoms was f/f slash in media fandom and alt or altfic in the Xenaverse. ScullySlash was the term used in X-Files fandom and the stories were usually either Scully/OFC or Scully/f crossovers that paired Scully with female characters from other shows, like for example Scully/Miss Parker in Hth's Pretender crossover Thank You For Not Smoking.[2] There were other character specific terms (the rare Highlander f/f story was usually AmandaSlash) but these depended on the fandom. The term femslash probably existed[3] but was first mentioned on the Ladyslash mailing list half a year after it was created on April 4, 1999, and the first mention of femmeslash was more than a year after creation. Whether intentional or not, "ladyslash" wasn't so much a new term as it was an umbrella for all those FemaleCharacterNameSlash f/f stories in all those different fandoms. Despite a Lady Slash WebRing that was created in 1999, a Lady Slash Site, and a LadySlash zine, the word "ladyslash" didn't impact the f/f slash terminology. The mailing list simply offered femslash fans a place where they could connect, share their f/f fanfiction, and discuss the f/f subtext of their favorite shows.

Sapphic Fiction

Some fans use words or phrases associated with the mainstream lesbian community. For instance, the Harry Potter fansite Sapphic_HP, like the term "saffic," references the association of the Greek poet Sappho with contemporary lesbian relationships and culture.
Saffic, a portmanteauish pun on sapphic fiction, is used by a few fans. According to the userinfo of the LiveJournal community Saffic, saffic includes:
Femmeslash (or yuri and shoujo-ai) and erotica[...], as [well as] gen stories that focus on other strong female bonds such as friendship, sister, rival and mother-daughter relationships.[4]

Yuri

Queer women content related to anime and manga. A term originating in the anime/manga community. There is shockingly little crossover between western femslash fandom and yuri fandom.

History

This article or section needs expansion.

1970s

The history of femslash most likely dates to early Star Trek fandom.

Kismet, a Chapel/Uhura fic by Dani Morin (1977), may have been the first femslash fic published in a zine.[5] That zine was Obsc'zine.

Another notable 1970s femslash story with a possible claim to that title is And Then..., a story set on a Klingon ship featuring original characters, published sometime between 1975 and 1977. It was in the zine Obsczine.

These two publications (Obsc'zine and Obsczine), despite their nearly identical names, were not connected in any way. One was published in the United States by a very well known BNF and was part of a series, and the other zine was an obscure one-shot published in the UK. It is likely that neither publisher had any idea the other fan's zine existed.

1980s

In the 1980s, fandom's interaction with the properties they love wass still mostly focused around fanzines. As most fandom activity was still centered on "genre" properties, this leaves femslashers and queer women with few opportunities. There were still femslash stories being written within the Star Trek, Doctor Who and Blake's 7 fandoms.

Cagney & Lacey, premiered in 1982 after a 1981 pilot, quickly gained a large and dedicated lesbian following, and is cited in Francesca Coppa's A Brief History of Media Fandom as the first lesbian slash fandom. Shows like The Facts of Life also inspired queer readings.

Some firsts:

1990s

The rise of the internet, and particularly Usenet saw an explosion of creative output in mainstream fandoms. A lack of female characters in genre shows still left femslash fans with few opportunities, but writers working in existing fandoms were still producing and sharing femslash.

Enter Xena

Xena: Warrior Princess premieresd in 1995. It was the first popular SFF show that featured two female leads that regularly interacted with one another. An active altfic community quickly developed around the show, particularly after the lead characters shared a (confusing) kiss in Season 2.

In the Season 2 episode "The Xena Scrolls" alternate universe versions of the principle characters appeared. This led to a whole subgenre of Xena fanfiction known as uber. It was one of the first incidents of a fandom embracing the AU and is especially notable as many of these AUs/uber fics were later converted into original works that were then published as lesbian romance novels.

Some of the earliest alt fanvids were in Xena fandom, and it is possibly the first f/f fandom to inspire vidding on a large scale.

The Nanettes

The vampire cop series Forever Knight (1992-6) had two strong female co-stars, Natalie Lambert and Janette DuCharme. Although they only occasionally meet in canon (and, indeed, are both canonically romantically involved with the male protagonist), the term "Nanette" was coined by Patrick Kortner Aiex explicitly to refer to an f/f relationship between the two. The Nanettes faction was formalized in 1996.

The Nanettes had a discussion group on One List, Le Cercle des Nanettes, and later a Yahoo Group. There was also a website, Le Chateau des Nanettes, which archived members' fan fiction. Some of this was gen, but much was implicitly or explicitly f/f.

The X-Files

The X-Files fandom gave rise to femslash, mostly featuring Scully paired with original characters and crossovers.

Some examples are at Scully Slash Archive.

Sailor Moon

Femslash is very popular in Sailor Moon, with the main cast being practically all females. The Inner (Moon, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, & Venus) and Outer (Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, & Saturn) Senshi are often shipped together, Chibiusa (Sailor Chibi-Moon/Mini-Moon) is often shipped with Sailor Saturn. However the most popular canon femslash pairing is Haruka/Michiru (Uranus/Neptune) - although the English dub of Sailor Moon garnered negative comments for destroying their established relationship - first leaving it unsaid before eventually getting the two to refer to each other as cousins.

Buffy and Faith vs Willow and Tara

The premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1997 soon led to a large fannish following, including many femslash shippers who saw chemistry between Buffy and fellow slayer Faith.

Willow began a canon relationship with Tara in late 1999/early 2000, giving rise to alarge and enthusiastic fandom. See Willow/Tara.

Janeway/Seven

The arrival of Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager in 1997 quickly led to an active femslash fandom, pairing her with Captain Janeway and producing large numbers of stories and vids.

2000s

The early 2000s were a difficult time, with the deaths of Xena and Tara Maclay leaving many lesbians and femslash fans despondent. However, both fandoms were still producing large quantities of femslash throughout this decade.

Bad Girls, a British prison drama that ran from 1999-2006, inspired a large femslash following, partly due to the mostly-female ensemble, and partly because of the numerous canon relationships between women, in particular Helen Stewart and Nikki Wade.

CSI had a sizeable femslash fandom in this decade, particularly after Sofia Curtis joined the cast.

The Devil Wears Prada, released in 2006, inspired a large femslash following.

Following the revival of Doctor Who in 2005, the existing femslash community for that fandom grew. The dw_femslash LiveJournal community was founded in 2006 and featured many stories of companions paired in various combinations, with Ace, Romana, Leela, Rose Tyler and Sarah Jane Smith all being popular.

ER had a femslash following during this decade. Kerry Weaver featured significantly, and Abby/Susan was a popular pairing.

The large number of female characters in Farscape led to a healthy femslash community, with popular pairings including Chiana/Jool and Chiana/Aeryn, as well as the three-way ship Chiana/Jool/Sikozu.

Harry Potter fandom was inspiring a great deal of femslash for a variety of pairings. Ginny/Hermione, Fleur/Hermione, Ginny/Luna, Hermione/Pansy and Ginny/Pansy were all popular, with many fans congregating on the hp_girlslash LiveJournal community. The Harry Potter Old Lady Smut Brigade, founded in 2004, focused on the adult women of the series, and frequently featured femslash pairing the teachers with each other in various combinations, with Professor McGonagall being perhaps the most popular participant.

The OC also had a considerable femslash following.

2010s

Vocal Fandoms, Possible Queerbaiting

Swan Queen

Emma Swan and Regina Mills in Once Upon a Time have a prolific and enthusiastic femslash following who have a somewhat tense relationship with the show's production team.

Bering and Wells

See also Myka Bering/H.G. Wells

The pairing of Myka Bering and the canonically bisexual Helena "HG" Wells in Warehouse 13 gained popularity following Jaime Murray's first appearance as Helena in 2010, with stories beginning to appear on Archive of Our Own in the days immediately following her first episode. The pairing gained traction as Helena's further appearances often paired her with Myka, and the friendship they shared became important to both of them. Actresses Joanne Kelly and Jaime Murray increasingly played their scenes together with deliberate romantic undertones, making it clear in interviews that they believed a relationship between the two was plausible. Promos put out by Syfy and tweets from the production team also acknowledged the attraction, making fans hopeful for a canon romance.

However, fans were frustrated by the pair's last on-screen meeting in the Season 4 episode Instinct, which left Helena living with a new boyfriend and his young daughter, having begun a new life as a forensic scientist for the police. The episode's jokey throwaway line suggesting a tryst between Myka and Helena in a police station did little to soften the blow of their parting on those terms.

Similarly, in the series finale the next season, one-line confirmation that Helena had left her boyfriend and started to date a woman wasn't of much comfort to Bering and Wells fans who had hoped for a final meeting between the two, although it did at least confirm that they were still in contact. When Myka began a relationship with her colleague and friend Pete Lattimer in that episode, Bering and Wells fans were disappointed, as were fans who had previously enjoyed the show because of the brother-sister chemistry between Pete and Myka and the refreshing lack of forced romantic tension between them as male/female leads.

Following the final episode, members of the cast appeared at a convention Q&A and improvised a short post-series scene in which Myka left Pete and began a relationship with Helena, which was widely shared and realised in the form of fics and constructed reality Tumblr gifsets.

Although disappointment with the finale left some Bering and Wells fans needing space away from the fandom, as of early 2016 the pairing continues to be by far the most popular Warehouse 13 ship, with new fics and vids appearing regularly.

Canon Lesbian and Bisexual Women

This decade has seen an increase in canonical WLW couples in a variety of media.

In 2011 on Grey's Anatomy, Arizona Robbins and Callie Torres get married in the Season 7 episode "White Wedding." It's the first serious lesbian wedding on mainstream television that occurs between two regular cast members of a show.

The series finale of The Legend of Korra confirmed as canon the romantic relationship between Avatar Korra and businesswoman and engineer Asami Sato, as they walked away hand in hand in the final shot of the episode.

Brittana

Brittana becomes the first slash couple ever willed into canon by the activism of fans. It would go on to create the Brittana Effect where slash fans presume they can simply demand creators put their preferred couple together because it is in the name of "diversity."

Clexa

Fans of the popular Clexa pairing were distressed in early 2016 when Lexa was killed off - the latest in a long line of lesbian and bisexual women characters to die in mainstream TV. Fan outrage at yet another canon femslash couple torn apart in what seemed an unnecessary and brutal turn of events led to increased awareness of the prevalence of the trope, and as part of their protest fans raised money for LGBT charities.

ToastyStats from January 2015

In January 2015, Destination: Toast! compiled some statistics on the state of femslash fandom on Archive of Our Own. The most written-about femslash pairings at the time were Swan Queen (Once Upon a Time) (by some considerable distance), Brittana (Glee), Rachel/Quinn (Glee), Rose Lalonde/Kanaya Maryam (Homestuck), Laura Hollis/Carmilla Karstein (Carmilla), Myka Bering/Helena Wells (Warehouse 13), Korrasami (The Legend of Korra), Rizzoli/Isles (Rizzoli and Isles), Alison/Lydia (Teen Wolf) and Jemma/Skye (Agents of Shield).

The fandoms with the most femslash overall were Once Upon a Time, Glee, Homestuck, Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Teen Wolf, Carmilla, Supernatural, Warehouse 13 and Orphan Black.[6]

ToastyStats from February 2016

To celebrate Femslash February in 2016, Destination: Toast! compiled some more femslash statistics from Archive of Our Own. These indicated that both the number of femslash fanworks created and the percentage of the archive that they took up were on the rise. The most active femslash ships in the previous year were Swan Queen (Once Upon a Time), Laura Hollis/Carmilla Karstein (Carmilla), Clexa (The 100), Korrasami (The Legend of Korra), Peggy Carter/Angie Martinelli (Agent Carter), Root/Shaw (Person of Interest), Historia Reiss/Ymir (Shingeki no Kyojin), Rose Lalonde/Kanaya Maryam (Homestuck), Chloe Beale/Beca Mitchell (Pitch Perfect) and Maxine Caulfield/Chloe Price (Life is Strange). Of those top ten femslash pairings, six of them were the most popular pairing in their fandom overall.

Other fandoms inspired lots of femslash for a variety of pairings, with no one pairing dominating. The Teen Wolf, Dragon Age, Steven Universe, Supernatural and Harry Potter fandoms all created large amounts of femslash material in that year.[7]

The Femslash Herd

The general femslash community is small enough that much of it tends to move in a herd, migrating from fandom to fandom as it seeks the promise of sweet sweet canon lady kisses.[8]

That said, many large and small fandoms that are less femslash-focused overall have established f/f communities of their own, which often overlap with the communities for the popular femslash fandoms of the moment.

Controversy

Some fans object to the way the term "femslash" seems to suggest that m/m slash is the norm and slash involving women is the exception.

"Yes I am perfectly aware that it is common to separate femslash from “common” slash. But you know what? I absolutely loathe this.

I haven’t until recently been able to articulate why it got my hackles up so much but it quite frankly always has and recently it dawned on me why. It’s because making this kind of separation make it seem that slash is normal while femslash is some weird subset of slash, like Mpreg or A/B/O that only a minority is interested in. By making the distinction in this way it posits that a sexual and/or romantic relationship between two (or more) women is abnormal and something not everyone is interested in while two guys screwing is perfectly normal and something that all “real women” have an interest in.

Furthermore I find the statements that het is the only female centered type of fic to be repulsive. It in one swoop it erases all women who has no interest in putting men at the centre of their lives, be it because they’re lesbians; bi or pan with a preference for women (or just people who aren’t men), aromantic, or something entirely fifth.

And so I’m back to the root of my original rant, that fandom considers slash about women some weird (and slightly squicky) subcategory of slash, that only a small subset of fans with weird preferences can be interested in. Is that really what fandom wants to tell women of all ages?"[9]

Other fans feel that since femslash is still common usage, we may need to continue to use the phrase while also challenging the usage:

In some cases, I have attempted to differentiate between m/m slash and f/f slash via the terms ‘dudeslash’ and ‘femslash’ because sometimes the distinction is valuable, in part because fannish spaces that are dominated by one type of slash can exhibit different mores than those dominated by other type(s) - and sometimes they don’t, naturally, but where they do, it’s sometimes valuable to distinguish using the term ‘femslash.’ Or the term ‘dudeslash,’ which I don’t really expect to catch on, but what I’m saying is, I’m not wholly unaware of the issue and I do try to make efforts to mitigate it. HOWEVER. It’s also useful to acknowledge that the common vernacular is not theideal vernacular, both in this case and in others. When people - especially a certain subset of academics/acafen, some of whom are not actually very hip to the lingo, as it were - talk about ‘slash,’ they do usually refer to m/m pairings, and f/f ones are curiosities and afterthoughts at best, or belong to a ‘weird (and slightly squicky) subcategory of slash,’ as you put it. Which is bullshit, and I agree that it’s bullshit and I absolutely do think that it should be challenged."[10]

Dead Lesbian Trope

In April 2016 the website io9 ran a post that summed up both the development of femslash fandom and its new visibility in the wake of a series of character deaths across several TV shows since the beginning of the year. The canonical appearance of numerous lesbian pairings had helped to develop popular fandoms. The enthusiasm of these femslash fandoms led to enormous attention focused on shows both old (The Vampire Diaries) and new (The 100, Empire) as these ships lost one or both partners.

"The furor has not let up since. Media outlets, including Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair and Variety have all commented on The 100 hullabaloo, with Mo Ryan of Variety being particularly outspoken. The hashtag #LGBTFansDeserveBetter even continues to trend sporadically on Twitter and fans have even succeeded in getting sponsors to drop the show."[11]

In June 2016, NPR's All Things Considered interviewed a writer at Vox about a study they did on the prevalence of lesbian deaths in U.S. television during the 2015-2016 season.

"About 10 percent of the deaths that I counted were gay, bisexual or otherwise queer women, which, when you think about it proportionally, is kind of nuts because not many television shows, unless it's "Orange Is The New Black" or something, have more than one or two maybe gay, bisexual or otherwise women. And the fact that most of them - a lot of them end up dead is troubling." [12]

The outcry from fandom about lesbian deaths was included in widespread coverage about the "entitlement" of fans when it came to the way stories were being told, as well as to how entertainment projects were developed.

"As the barriers between fans and creators get knocked down with hashtags and Tumblr questions, some creators are straight-up terrified by the new wave of interactive fandom that wants so much more from them than, say, a written fan letter might once have asked." [13]

Original Fic

See Uber

A shockingly large percentage of femslash authors go on to be published. Often their first published works are fanfic works that have been edited to become original fiction.

Until Fifty Shades of Grey many of the most successful instances of filing off the serial numbers were found in the femslash community.

Prevalence

How common is it?

Statistically speaking, femslash is generally uncommon. destinationtoast did an analysis of AO3 relationship tags, and found that 3.53% of fics were tagged as F/F; however fics with multiple relationship tags were seperated into different categories.[14] centrumlumina also did an analysis of AO3 relationship tags, and concluded that 5.0% of all fics were tagged as F/F, including those with multiple relationship tags.[15] The analysis also showed that of the most common pairings in fandom, only 4 were F/F, [16], and that in the most popular fics tagged with each of those F/F pairings, 43% of the time the F/F pairing met the definition of a side pairing. [17]

Some fandoms have more femslash than others, and destinationtoast also did an analysis of AO3 to examine which these were.[18] The analysis includes both which fandoms have the highest proportions of femslash, and which had the most F/F works altogether. Genderswap was also factored in to account for inconsistencies in tagging.

Why?

Some fans have wondered why f/f slash is less common than m/m slash for twenty years or more; others think it is no great mystery and focusing on the question enforces a hierarchy where f/f is seen as less. Theories about the perceived lack of femslash include:

  • There aren't a lot of shows with two interesting female characters, demonstrated by results on the Bechdel Test, and they were even rarer in the '80s and '90s.
  • Where there are two female characters, they don't often have a relationship, especially a buddy or enemy dynamic which is regarded as shippable.
  • Straight women aren't as turned on by the mechanics of f/f, so there is a smaller audience.
  • F/f is more common than m/m slashers think, but as there is not much overlap between the m/m and f/f communities, the only parts of f/f fandom that m/m fandom sees are those where the female pairings are minor compared to the main m/m pairing. M/m slashers rarely participate in fandoms that are primarily f/f.
  • Femslash is usually written by and for queer female authors, which means there are different identity politics involved; f/f slashers are more likely to already have a like-minded community outside the fannish context (and therefore less likely to seek out m/m-dominated slash fandom?)
  • Writing femslash can force female writers to deal with gendered issues that hit close to home, whereas slash can be a form of escape from them. [19]
  • Less pre-existing audience, fewer examples, and fewer resources mean writers have less community and are more likely to be discouraged by more critical feedback or less feedback overall. [19]
  • Misogyny in Fandom

Conventions, Fests and Events

Femslash communities have a variety of events and gatherings to celebrate their interest. Femslash February, an annual month-long celebration of femslash, launched in 2013 and generates large quantities of fic and other fanworks in a variety of fandoms each year. The International Day of Femslash, which began in 2008, is a similar celebration which, since 2012, has also included virtual conventions where femslash fans can gather online for panels and chats.

TGIF/F - a Gal Pals Convention took place in Los Angeles in February 2016, and featured a wide variety of femslash-focused programming, including discussion panels, film screenings, games and other entertainment.

There are also a number of femslash-focused fanwork exchanges and fests. The Femslash Exchange is a multifandom exchange which has run since 2013, taking over from the Femslash Multifandom Ficathon, which ran from 2004-2012.

Many fandoms have their own individual femslash exchanges. For example, the Femme Fuh-Q Fest was a popular Star Trek femslash fest which ran from 2000-2009.

Notable Femslash Personalities

  • Melissa Good is a very well known Xena/Gabrielle writer who was eventually hired by the show as a writer. She went on to write three episodes of the show, two produced and one, a romantic queer musical, that is unproduced.
  • Ralst has maintained the largest exclusively femslash archive for more than ten years. The site, Passion & Perfection is particularly notable as it includes many femslash works not found on more mainstream archives like Ao3.

Archives

Directories

Recommendation Communities

Multifandom Communities

Ficathons and Exchanges

Other communities

Further Reading/Meta

Some Relevant Fanlore Pages

References

  1. In August 2008, there were about 223,000 hits for femslash and about 100,000 hits for femmeslash in Google.
  2. Hth. Thank You For Not Smoking, originally published 25 June 1998.
  3. The original ScullySlash list was founded June 25, 1998 and the title read: ScullySlash • dedicated to FemSlash in The X-Files.
  4. saffic - community profile, accessed 2008-09-30. Written by KannaOphelia.
  5. robin_anne_reid: "'A Room of Our Own:' Women Writing Women in Fan and Slash Fiction", Archived version
  6. F/F Stats January 2015
  7. F/F Stats Femslash February 2016
  8. officialcommanderlexa, Tumblr, February 2015 (Accessed March 24, 2015).
  9. [1], Archived version
  10. SEVEN FOXES, saathi1013: ormondhsacker: In regards to the..., Archived version
  11. The History of Femslash, the Tiny Fandom That's Taking Over the Universe,
  12. TV Characters' Rising Death Toll Reveals Troubling Pattern,
  13. Creators of popular media are becoming increasingly wary of their fans. That’s a problem for everyone,
  14. a closer look at fanfic relationships, numbers found in the second image.
  15. Stage 7: Panfandom Overview.
  16. Stage Four: Summary, see also the original data here, and how the pairings were selected here.
  17. Stage 9: Side Pairings. A side pairing was defined "as those which a) are not the sole relationship tag present... and b) do not have any of the characters in the relationship mentioned by name in the summary."
  18. Which fandoms have the most femslash on AO3?.
  19. 19.0 19.1 A chart illustrating all of the possible explanations people have suggested for the lack of femslash in my AO3 ship stats survey.