"One index finger on the mouse scroll bar and the other on my clit": slash writers' views on pornography, censorship, feminism and risk

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Academic Commentary
Title: "One index finger on the mouse scroll bar and the other on my clit": slash writers' views on pornography, censorship, feminism and risk
Commentator: Kelly Simca Boyd
Date(s): 2001
Medium: online
Fandom:
External Links: paper availability
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"One index finger on the mouse scroll bar and the other on my clit": slash writers' views on pornography, censorship, feminism and risk is the name of a thesis by Kelly Simca Boyd.

It includes the results of a survey. To find participants for this survey, Boyd searched 364 web pages and 129 mailing lists [1]

This paper was used to give a presentation called "Slashing Across the Universe: Slash, Science Fiction, and Textual Poaching," at Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association annual meeting, 21 April 2000, New Orleans, LA.

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

Some Topics Discussed

From a 2001 Website

It is unknown how much of the content from the author's site below is the finished product.

Excerpts

To some degree this profile fits with what I was expecting, with one notable exception. It is commonly thought that heterosexual women for other heterosexual women write slash fiction. I found this definition did not hold for this sample. 52% of respondents identified as bisexual, lesbian or gay. While that is far from a large majority (in fact barely squeaking by), it is certainly a far cry from the expected dominance of heterosexuality.

I would attribute this change to a number of factors. First and foremost, my survey was done over the Internet. While on the Internet I can access a great number of fans, a number of these fans are relatively new to the community. When fanfiction got onto the net there was, and is, an explosion of interest. While fandom was once a small, intimate group, on the Internet, it took off like wildfire. Hundreds of fan communities flourish online, drawing in unprecedented numbers of new members. Long-time fans are often on the Internet, but as their community was around long before the advent of the Internet, the drive to get online just is not as strong for them.

With the ongoing push for gay rights and general acceptance of lesbian/bisexual/gay rights in the younger community, it is not surprising that a larger number of younger individuals would identify as lesbian/bisexual/gay. I believe to a certain extent, my survey reflects the fairly young age of my respondents. [2]

Conclusions

Key Findings

There are a few key findings that should be discussed in more depth. They are broken down into theme for ease of discussion.

Feminism

While 58% of respondents identified as feminists, there was still some confusion over the term "feminist." I believe that this confusion towards the term "Feminist" reflects the fact that as with many "loaded" words (pornography, racism, censorship), there is more at work than a simple definition. Feminism had been around for over 30 years, and has gone through many changes in the common understanding of the word. In the time of its existence, it has come to mean many different things to many different people. At its conception, feminism was introduced as a positive, affirming movement for women. After decades of media caricatures of feminists as harpies interested only in denigrating men and male institutions, many people are confused as to what feminism really is. Is it a positive movement or a negative one? Are feminists pro-women or anti-men? Or both?

To further the confusion, feminism is an ever-changing, complex movement. Over the years, many different forms of feminism have developed and branched off. While all have the main focus of women and women’s issues, many groups take radically different approaches and do not necessarily work together. There are liberal feminists, radical feminists, socialist feminists, anti-censorship feminists and dozens more. Which form of feminism am I asking about? It’s not surprising that some of the participants responded with confusion when asked about feminism and feminist principles.

Pornography

While there was a strong commitment to sexually explicit writings, there was debate on the term respondents wanted to use. Some respondents liked the term "pornography," others preferred "erotica." This diversity in opinions is not surprising considering that the issue of pornography and erotica is still being widely debated in society. "Pornography" is a loaded term that has different meanings to each respondent. Some people embrace the term "pornography" so that their writings can subvert the common understanding of the word, much as the epithet "queer" has been subverted by its usage in the lesbian/gay /bisexual/transgender community. Others embrace the term "erotica" to express difference between their writing and that of pornographic texts.

As a sex-radical feminist I have argued that the term "erotica" serves to enforce a classist distinction that only benefits the dominant system set up to "protect" women and lower-class men from "harmful" works, while still allowing upper-class men access. Obviously not all respondents have the same beliefs as my own. What is important to take from this discussion is that at the heart of it, a majority of respondents believe that women should have the right to write and enjoy sexually explicit texts. I might wish that more respondents had engaged in a deeper political analysis of the terms, but I certainly can not argue with the basic outcome of more women writing and enjoying sexually explicit texts.

It is also important that the respondents’ perception of slash be explored. While many respondents felt that slash was "pornography" or "erotica," others felt that neither of these terms worked. For these participants, pornography and erotica was strictly focused on sex and sexual acts. There is little plot, characterization, love or romance. For slash, while it might be sexually explicit, there is much more than just that going on. In slash, there is plot, characterization, love, respect, sex (sometimes) and relationships. Slash is pornography taken one step forward to include more than just sex. While sex is often an important part of slash, the relationship between the characters is just as important.

Censorship

Slash writers are concerned with censorship, but don’t let it stop them from writing what they want. One would think that the greatest threat to fandom in general and slash writing in particular is external censorship. Contrary to this seemingly obvious observation, many slash writers seem to disagree that external censorship is the greater threat. By far the most precautions taken to prevent censorship were to prevent community censorship, with a secondary focus on preventing external censorship.

I think this relates to the everyday experiences of slash writers. While most slash writers know of the few writers in the past who have been singled out for external censorship, in the present day, slash is flourishing with external forces doing nothing to stop it. In today’s society, The Powers That Be are conspicuously silent in regards to fanfiction and slash. Lately the worst that has happened externally to slash writers is that they have been removed from servers due to adult content.

Community censorship, on the other hand, is and always will be a problem. Fans are vocal, and often quite vicious when given something that they dislike. Warnings, ratings and summaries of the stories have all become common place in order to inform the reader as much as possible before they are confronted with something they do not like. It is through using this extensive warning system that slash writers can protect themselves from community censorship.

Risk

It is important that the risk that many respondents are taking to write slash fiction not get downplayed. Most writers feel that they have something to risk when they write slash fiction, but despite this perceived risk, they still write.

The fact that all slash writers do not advertise their hobby to everyone shows a certain cautiousness and understanding of their environment. Slash writers understand that some will denigrate their writing, and even take reprisals, so many writers regulate carefully who knows of their hobby. That slash writers continue writing shows that the respondents will not let fear run their lives. They understand the risks, but their desire to express themselves overrides this. Slash writers are careful who knows of their writing and where they put their fiction, as well as warning off unsympathetic or age-inappropriate readers.

Media and Technology Savvy

Participants showed a great deal of media, culture and technological savvy in their answers. They have thought about their actions and how they affect the world around them. They understand the immutability of the Internet, the free advertising and support fans give to a show, the undeniably negative media attention that would result from an attempt to shut down slash fiction, and point out that contrary to popular belief, some Powers That Be actually support slash as a valid reading of the texts they are producing.

Slash, Resistance and Its Importance for Feminism

It is important that feminists look at slash fiction. Writers of slash are women on the frontlines of the pornography debates. Every day they look at what popular culture gives them and twists it around until they create something that they like better. While slash writers do not set out with a "feminist agenda," their writing works to resist, and reconceptualize popular notions of sex, sexuality, pornography and romance.

Slash fiction embraces some aspects of pornography, twisting others into more acceptable forms. These writers force what society would perceive to be pornography, to reflect what they want to see. Allowing their pornographic works to show what they find to be erotic, what they receive pleasure from. Resistance to traditional pornography is obtained by including declarations of love and commitment between the characters. In a genre that is marked by its lack of emotional feelings and commitment between its characters, to include love and even marriage is a radical change. As well, unlike in traditional pornography, the authors of slash fiction include viable and interesting stories around the pornographic writing. Deep issues are discussed and debated within the context of the story. Rape, homophobia, fear, grief and loss are all typical issues brought into the stories to both flesh out the characters and expand the scope of the work. In forcing the pornographic genre to expand to include something other than anonymous sex, the writers of slash fiction are resisting the nature of conventional pornography. The characters are real people with real emotions and the sex they have is meaningful and emotionally important. Finally, the women are resisting the traditional heterosexual nature of pornography that so often does not work for all women. In writing about only men together they remove the woman who is the focus of the gaze in traditional pornography, forcing the audience to reconceptualize what is erotic.

Working in tandem with the resistance to traditional forms of pornography, slash writers are also resisting the traditional forms of conventional romance aimed at women, through twisting the romance genre into something different from what it is currently. This type of mainstream romantic fiction is seeped in flowers, romance and declarations of love and commitment. Taking these accoutrements, slash writers expand conventional romance to reflect what they want to see. Their stories, along with the flowers, romance and commitment, include graphic and detailed descriptions of all forms of sex and sexual acts. Oral sex, rimming and anal penetration are both common and described in explicit detail. Bringing the pornographic to the romantic, slash fiction is full of explicit representations of practices traditionally forbidden in romantic fiction: oral and anal sex, sexual fetishes and s/m all commonly make an appearance in slash fiction. The romance genre is also expanded from the heterosexual, two-person role to allow for male/male pairings and pairings made up of multiple partners of both sexes.

Slash fiction is also often highly political, taking on complex issues of importance to the feminist movement; discrimination, homophobia, sexism, ageism, anti-Semitism, rape, torture, and the real life fact of losing friends and family because of one’s beliefs and actions. None of these issues are generally found in either pornography or romance novels - politics are not generally seen as having a place beside romance or sexual desire. But in slash fiction numerous political issues are dealt with alongside the graphic sexual depictions and touching romantic scenes found in slash fiction.

Slash writers, in writing complex male characters capable of feeling and expressing emotions deeper than anger or pleasure are resisting strategies of subjugation. They are attempting to rewrite the male body into an image that is more sensitive and caring than men are allowed to be in this present day. Not only do these men have feelings, but they have sexual feelings for other men. This reworking of the definitions of maleness expands the nature of masculinity - it includes the ability to love and care for other men in a sexual way. In doing this, slashers are writing more than just their version of the perfect man, they are also critiquing and reworking society’s narrow definitions of masculinity.

The boundaries of the body and male sexual desire are also explored in slash fiction. Traditionally male sexual desire is seen as being limited to the immediate sexual organs. Slash writers expand the male sexual territory to encompass more than just the cock and balls - the usual area of focus in pornography and romance novels. Instead, the potential of the entire male body as a sexual organ is investigated. Lips, eye, ears, back, chest, nipples, feet and the ass are all included in the vast panacopia of erotic terrain to be explored. Particular attention is paid to the erotic potential of a man’s ass and prostate. There are very few slash stories written where one or both men are not penetrated at some point during the erotic play, always to great delight and sexual pleasure for both participants. Expanding the area that men can feel sexual desire resists the notion that men’s bodies are sacrosanct, that men must remain in control at all times and that men must not allow their bodies to become sexual terrain - as women’s are.

In writing these homosexual pornographic stories, little pockets of resistance are opened and explored. Many slash writers are not trying to preach feminist philosophies to their audiences. Some of them are not even sure what that term means, but it can not be denied that in their writings, slash writers and publishers take on many of the issues of importance to feminists. [3]

Fan Reaction

[2009]:
It really is amazing what you’ll stumble across while researching things on the internet…I was looking for information on sexuality in Star Trek and found a link to a Master’s Thesis entitled “One index finger on the mouse scroll bar and the other on my clit” : slash writers’ views on pornography, censorship, feminism and risk. Wow, that is gutsy…I had trouble getting the document to pull up but Kelly Simca Boyd, my hat’s off to you! [4]

Related Works

  • a 2011 questionnaire for slash fans, a base for an academic paper, uses ""One index finger on the mouse scroll bar and the other on my clit" : slash writers' views on pornography, censorship, feminism and risk" as a jumping off place, see Slash Fandom Questionnaire: Project J.E.N.I.; archive link

References

  1. from "Cyberspaces of Our Own: Female Fandoms Online" by Rhiannon Bury, see Google Books, page 74
  2. Background Information/Profile, Archived version
  3. Conclusions, Archived version
  4. "Sexy Thesis".