Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking: Selections from The Terra Nostra Underground and Strange Bedfellows

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Title: Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking: Selections from The Terra Nostra Underground and Strange Bedfellows
Creator: Henry Jenkins, Shoshanna, Cynthia Jenkins
Date(s): 1998
Medium: online
Fandom:
Topic: slash and women
External Links: "Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking": Selections from The Terra Nostra Underground and Strange Bedfellows", Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking: Selections from The Terra Nostra Underground and Strange Bedfellows is an article in the 1998 book "Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture." It was edited and introduced by Shoshanna, Cynthia Jenkins and Henry Jenkins.

The article seeks to answer a number of questions about the appeal of slash, its many meanings, and the context in which it thrives. It utilizes many quotes from fans in The Terra Nostra Underground and Strange Bedfellows, two apazines active in the mid 1990s. The authors of Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking: Selections from The Terra Nostra Underground and Strange Bedfellows were members of these apas.

For additional context, see Timeline of Slash Meta and Slash Meta.

Topics Covered

  • WATCHING TELEVISION, CREATING SLASH: Where does slash come from? Does it originate in the series text or in the fan's reading of it?
  • REWRITING MASCULINITY: As both fans and academics agree, slash represents a way of rethinking and rewriting traditional masculinity. Sarah argued that slash's appeal lies in its placing "emotional responsibility" on men for sustaining relationships while men in reality frequently dodge such responsibility
  • MISOGYNY: The female slash writers have struggled, however, with the genre's primary, if not exclusive, focus on male characters. Should they be writing stories about women? Should slash deal with lesbianism as well as male homosexuality? Is slash's frequent exclusion of female characters misogynist?
  • HOMOPHOBIA AND GAY IDENTITY: Making the characters in a slash story lovers leads to the question of whether they are gay.
  • FACING THE REALITY OF AIDS: How far reality should intrude on our romantic and erotic fantasies and, indeed, when reality becomes intrusive, remains a long-debated issue.
  • INAPPROPRIATE FANTASIES: The push towards realism or explicitness in slash writing has provoked some uncomfortable responses within the fan community.
  • A UNIVERSE OF ONE'S OWN: Many fans feel freer in fandom than outside of it to express themselves, ask questions and discuss alternative viewpoints.

From the Introduction

Although a private, subcultural practice, slash has, over the past five years, increasingly become the focus of academic and journalistic scrutiny. The slash fan's peculiar relationship with American mass culture has become almost emblematic of recent work in Cultural Studies, referenced on the cover of The Village Voice Literary Supplement or ridiculed in Lingua Franca, cited in law review articles and discussed at the Modern Language Association conference. If the initial academic interest in slash came from people who were themselves tied to the fan community, attentive to its traditions and familiar with its own theoretical and critical categories, slash has quickly become a point of reference for writers who know of it only secondhand and who seem to have no clear grasp of the concept. (More than one writer refers to "slasher" fan fiction, for example, while literary critic Mark Dery uses the term "slash" to refer to all forms of "textual poaching," as if it encompassed the full range of fan production.) The differences in the ways academics and fans talk about slash are striking:
This article excerpts some of the discussions undertaken in these two apas over the last five years. We have chosen these particular apas as sources, rather than any of the many other apas, letterzines, and the like that we might have used, simply because we are members of them. This meant, first of all, that we had easy access to the five years' history of these discussions; but it also meant that we compiled this essay as fans as well as academics. We participated in many of the conversations we are reproducing. We are not claiming that the membership of these apas is statistically "typical" of slash fandom as a whole (although we don't think it is misrepresentative, either), nor do we mean to imply that the topics we have selected for presentation here are the most important ones to fans. As we circulated drafts of this essay among the fans we are quoting, some argued strongly that certain themes we were pursuing were secondary and misrepresentative of overall fannish concerns; often these same themes were ones which other members felt were central. What is central often depends on where you are standing. We drew on discussions which seemed important and which could be clearly and interestingly presented here. Some complex and important discussions could not be included, exactly because they were so involved; they were too long to be summarized, too complex to be excerpted, and so embedded in media fan culture that nonfans would require long explanatory prefaces. These included such things as: fine grained analysis of particular slash stories; meditations on subgenres within slash and the attitudes of fans and academics toward them; arguments about the mechanics and ethics of fan publishing; and much more. We want our readers to remember that we cannot do justice here to the full breadth, richness, and variety of fan discussion even in these two apas, let alone all of fandom. We are simply offering a sampling of a complex, rich and sophisticated conversation, allowing fans to speak in their own words, to other fans and to non-fan readers of this book, about what we do and how we think about it all.

One Famous Quote

When I try to explain slash to non-fans, I often reference that moment in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan where Spock is dying and Kirk stands there, a wall of glass separating the two longtime buddies. Both of them are reaching out towards each other, their hands pressed hard against the glass, trying to establish physical contact. They both have so much they want to say and so little time to say it. Spock calls Kirk his friend, the fullest expression of their feelings anywhere in the series. Almost everyone who watches the scene feels the passion the two men share, the hunger for something more than what they are allowed. And, I tell my nonfan listeners, slash is what happens when you take away the glass. The glass, for me, is often more social than physical; the glass represents those aspects of traditional masculinity which prevent emotional expressiveness or physical intimacy between men, which block the possibility of true male friendship. Slash is what happens when you take away those barriers and imagine what a new kind of male friendship might look like. One of the most exciting things about slash is that it teaches us how to recognize the signs of emotional caring beneath all the masks by which traditional male culture seeks to repress or hide those feelings. [1]

This is a variation of much earlier comments by Jenkins. In 1992, shortly after Textual Poachers was published. See Excerpts from "Confessions of a Male Slash Fan".

Excerpts from the Discussion: Excerpted in Turn from the APAs

Cat Anestopoulo, "Darkling Zine," Terra Nostra Underground #3, August 1990]: To enjoy television that way, empathy with the fictional characters will have to be strong and rewarding. The woman (me, you, whoever) views the fictional piece from the character's point of view, and her emotions parallel his: anguish when he is hurt, triumph when he wins, etc.... (One identifies with more than one character, usually, and can easily switch from one to the other according to need, but let us say that the 'hero' is the main reference.) So in this society, someone enriching/feeding their fantasy life with TV fare will come across variations of the traditional pattern: the hero (dashing); the buddy (his confidant and accomplice); the screaming ninny (his romantic interest). In this threesome, there are reasons to identify with the hero:

[much snipped]

So you don't want to be her, you don't want to enjoy the emotions she feels. The male hero is easier to 'feel' the adventure with: what he is made to feel you enjoy. And if you are of the daydreaming kind, you will 'borrow' him, to make him feel some more interesting things.

If you do not want sex or romance to be absent from your daydreamings and you are identifying with the male hero, seeing the adventure from his viewpoint, who the heck are you going to use as a romantic interest? Not him, because since you are living the adventure through him, the point is to make him feel the feelings of sex and romance, and then identify with it. So he has to have a relationship with someone other than himself, with someone who produces emotional reactions in him that you find interesting. And that person is unlikely to be the screaming ninny (because, if you liked her, you would have identified with her and 'tinkered' with her to start with). Of course, you can daydream a female character you'd enjoy identifying with or fancying, but to create from scratch an original, interesting character is hard work, and she might not feel as real as the faces on the screen. Also, by that time, you could have internalized enough of our society's values to make the prospect unexciting. Or you can daydream yourself into the script. (Hi there, Mary Sue.) [...]

This is where the male buddy comes in, since he is the only one (with the screaming ninny and the enemy) who shows a sustained interest in the hero. The woman who has empathy for the hero will enjoy the emotions produced in the hero by the Buddy. (She does not have to find the buddy breathtakingly attractive herself [some are willing to overlook Napoleon's chin for Illya's sake, for instance], but it helps.) And what type of relationship do buddy and hero have? One version could be that on the screen, there is a caring relationship. It is not tainted with sexism, with expectations of a given role, because the one is female and the other male. It is equality. Not in practical terms: the buddy can be less or more strong or skillful than the hero. But his weakness is not perceived as something that makes him in essence inferior or different. It has a different cultural meaning. They are attracted to each other's personalities, not because they're made blind by their gonads or 'devalued' prettiness. [...]
Sandy Hereld, "T-shirt Slogans Are Intellectual Discourse," Terra Nostra Underground #12, November 1992]: As an experiment last week, I gathered all of the female slash I had into one pile (largely Blake's 7, since it has more strong females than the rest of slash fandom's favorite shows put together...) and read it all one after another. I realized that my distance from the material is different in female slash. I have all of that equipment, I have sex with women -- I wasn't able to go with the flow so much. There was an intermediate level doing the rather stupid job of checking each piece of action and thinking, 'would I like this,' 'have I done this,' 'would I do this with (Jenna (Y), Beverly (Maybe), Gina (Y), Trudy (Y), Cally (Y), Dayna (YES, YES, YES), Servalan (not unless I had someone holding a gun on her at the same time). I don't know what this means, but I'd love to hear from other women about it--queer and straight.
Sarah Katherine, "Writing From the Margins," Terra Nostra Underground #12, November 1992 and Terra Nostra Underground #13, February 1993]: In a letter I just wrote to Jane Carnall, I talked about it in terms of seeing men take on emotional responsibility for, and interest in, relationships. If the story is between two men, and if it depicts a somewhat satisfying relationship, you're guaranteed at least one man who's actively involved in the emotional realm. I know for me that's extremely sexy[...]. It explains why we already see, or read, sex into TV shows whose male characters have a supposedly platonic, yet intimate relationship on screen. We see that intimacy and experience sexuality. [...][1] I think part of what slash is about is reading intimacy between peers as itself erotic. They don't just happen to have sex, their sexuality is a natural product of their mutual feelings of closeness.[...] We need our pornography to be about people we know and we are interested in exploring as many different scenarios as we can imagine. [...] In a way, just as the characters' sexual relationship is an expression of their intimacy, we as slash readers also need that intimacy with the characters we write about. That's where the sexual excitement for us comes from; or at least that's one source of it.

Nina Boal, "Lavender Lilies, addendum" Terra Nostra Underground #6, May 1991]: I still think that misogyny plays a significant part in some segments of slash writing and reading. Some stories leave women characters completely out. For instance, even though The Professionals routinely depicts women as full members of CI5, many Doyle|B/D slash stories posit CI5 as an all-male force. Other stories will 'feminize' a male character (Doyle, Vila, Illya, sometimes Avon) and then pile explicit sexual humiliations on him with the overt or covert implication that he 'really wants it'; this shows a certain amount of homophobia as well, i.e. bash the 'pansy.' Some stories portray strong women characters in a show as jealously shrewish, completely evil bitches; some of the depictions of Ann Holly or Dr. Kate Ross (both from Pros) or T'Pring (Trek) immediately come to mind. A few slash readers, writers and/or editors have expressed overt distaste or disgust at the idea of Lesbian sexuality, all while extolling the glories of male/male relationships.

But I'm now sure that misogyny is not the only reason for the vast overabundance of men.[...] As women, reading and writing about men in a mostly women's 'space' may be a way for women to deal with their feelings about men in our male supremacist society. Even Lesbians have to learn about how to deal with men (most of us can't go off into a 'womyn's paradise'). Lesbians don't usually engage in sexual relationships with men, but we see men in their positions of power. Straight and bisexual women usually have to deal with men in a more intimate way.

References

  1. quoted here by Jenkins in May 2008