Fandom As a Female Space

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Title: Fandom As a Female Space
Creator: Telesilla
Date(s): August 1, 2006
Medium: LiveJournal post
External Links: Fandom As a Female Space; archive link
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Fandom As a Female Space is a 2006 post by Telesilla.

It was written, partly, in response to the Writercon Kerfuffle.

Some Topics Discussed

  • feminism and fandom
  • fandom as a female space
  • sexual freedom
  • some fans' tendency to write other female fans a free pass simply because of their shared gender
  • RPS and RPF
  • Hockey RPF
  • ability to give and take criticism

The Original Post

First of all let's look at the fact: fan fiction fandom is a predominantly women's space and it has been since it really took off in the '70s. That isn't to say that there haven't been men and even influential men in fanfic fandom, but there is no doubt that men are in the very clear minority. Even in the mid 90s when I first came online and the number of men online in general far outweighed the women, there were still more women than men on the fanfic news groups.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's look at what we're doing here in this space. When we write fanfic in general and smutty fanfic in particular, we are doing several things, some of which society isn't too wild about.

  • As copyright laws get tighter and tighter, it's increasingly obvious that the Western World today is very much about the ownership of ideas and thoughts. We thumb our noses and other bits at this idea, blatantly committing what is, under the law of several countries, theft. This post isn't about whether an idea can be owned or not, so I won't go into whether this is a good thing or not. The fact remains that we do it even when we've been asked/told not to, even when it is illegal.
  • We play with the default switch on cultural icons, turning stalwart straight heroes gay and/or bisexual with a few taps of our keyboard. If you're heavily involved in fandom this doesn't seem like the big deal it was in 1975, but even in the day and age of Will and Grace, Queer as Folk and The L Word it's still a massively subversive act. As the political climate here in the US shows, people still both fear and disapprove of The Ghey, and it is a rare month when we don't see someone sent up on FW for giving us their thoughts--negative of course--on yaoi.
  • We are women expressing our sexuality. There wouldn't be the cult of the chaste Christian virgin if men weren't afraid of what happens when women get frank about sex. In an age when PBS can fire a kid's show hostess because she made adult humor videos seven years ago, the idea of all these mothers and wives and daughters and sisters writing about sex not to titillate or arouse men but because they get off on it is terrifying to a lot of men out there. A lot of extremely hardcore feminists hate it too, which is annoying and the subject of a rant yet to come. The irony that we are doing to men what they have done to women throughout all of history isn't lost on us, but the fact is that most of us don't do it for the irony. We do it for many reasons, and one of the biggies is that writing about men fucking other men gets us wet.

So here we are in our fringy, edgy, primarily female space doing things that scare a lot of men and some women for that matter. And maybe this is an age thing, or maybe it's that I came into my political awareness in a Moslem country, but this is huge to me. And from the way a lot of other women in fandom talk about it, it's huge to them too. Before this goes any further, let me say that I really don't hate men in general. There are a lot of them I loathe in particular and groups of them that I can't stand, but if a guy comes into my space and is respectful of me as a person, he's as welcome as any woman who does the same thing.

And here's the point where--provided you're still with me--you go back to the top, scratch your head and say "but I don't see the double edge here. At least not for women."

The flip side? The bad thing about this being women's space? It's that we've fallen into some of the same traps certain parts of the women's movement have fallen into. I refer, of course, to the idea that we must all love one another because we are all sisters.

No. Don't get me wrong; we need to respect each other and we need to be aware that for many women, coming into fandom and saying "I get off on writing and reading and watching guys fucking," is a hugely courageous thing. Now it may not be huge for some people, but for a lot of people it is, and I do, in fact, respect the hell out of that. It wasn't easy for me, and I had a very sex and women positive circle of friends when I started reading porn and sharing it with them. I know women who write smut that I would kill to be able to write--hot, witty, moving, fantastically written stuff--who either don't tell their husbands, or put up with teasing from them about their hobby.

However, and this is where my own brand of feminism comes in, I will treat your fiction the same way I treat anyone else's, be they female or male. I will treat you the way I treat anyone else, male or female. I will respect you for being here, and I will have all the sympathy in the world for your personal situation. I will welcome you to fandom with open arms and I will happily agree with you that the idea of Sean Bean, Viggo Mortensen and Orlando Bloom in a three way is hot, and my but isn't Lucius Malfoy the sexiest cardboard villain ever?!

But if you say something stupid or wanky and then don't back down or say "wow that was wanky", I will mock you. If your fic is complete and utter crap with no redeeming virtues that I can see, I won't pretend it's the best thing"The Amateur Naturalist."* If you disagree with me, I will argue with you. I'll do my best to do it respectfully and to be aware that I am arguing with your position and not with your personality. In short, I will treat you equally and not hold your hand because you're another woman or another fan.

Saying "this is women's space and we should only ever say positive things" goes against any notion of feminism I have. It perpetuates the idea that women are frail, over-emotional beings who fall to pieces at the very sight of anything the least bit negative. How is that good for anyone? How does that help women, either here in fandom or out there in the big bad world of real life?

So yes, women's space=good and maybe even necessary.

Coddling one another=condescension and assumption that women are too frail to handle honest disagreement.


Excerpts from Comments at the Post


Oh, the not-tolerating crap part is definitely another great thing about fandom :)

I think, though, that fandom is great because not only can we actually get our stories across, but we can call people out on things that actually matter, as opposed to simply mocking people on the basis of appearance or sexuality; we're not going to flame the shit out of some teenager for coming out of the closet, but we are going to laugh our asses off at some idiot claiming that there's no porn for him and it's so unfair.

It perpetuates the idea that women are frail, over-emotional beings who fall to pieces at the very sight of anything the least bit negative.

Urg, yeah. That is pretty much my number one peeve with fandom. Like, I'm not like that and while I don't know a whole lot of women outside of fandom, they're not like that, so I assumed that stuff was all just stupid stereotypes, but it really seems like a good deal of fandom is just like that, and they want everyone else to be like that, too.
Also, I agree. Saying that because we're women we must all be sweet and nice to each other makes us less than full human beings. We've finally broken away from letting men make us delicate little flowers, why are we still doing it to each other?

Good point with the double-edged sword. Twenty-five years ago I began to resent the hell out of the fact that I was expected to adore any punk band that was all-women just becuase they were all women, even if they sucked. I refused to do it then, and I refuse to do the fanfic equivalent.

That said, there is a lot more to liking a fic than quality. I respect people's rights to be into whatever they are into, and to post whatever they want, and as long as no one forces me to read fic in which men act like girls, or in which people are raped or gratuitously tortured etc then I'm cool. There are places I don't go, becuase I know I won't be into what goes on there. But if anyone comes to my space and wants to do things that bother me, I'll respond. That's why I like LJ so much. On Yahoo groups, "your" space is really the space of a hundred or five hundred or a thousand people, and a lot of them might post crap you don't want to have to sift through.

What was the topic? - oh, yeah. Women being empowered. Yay!!! I remember being interviewed by a guy from a gay magazine about twenty years ago about a gay disco song/safe sex project I was involved in, and I left the room and the guy turned to my cohort and said "Wow, I've never heard a woman talk about anal sex so enthusiastically before!"

Some things never change...

It's a real difference in what people are looking for in fandom, I think -- squishy happy bonding and comfy support or intellectual discussion and a merging of interests.

Thinking it over, I wonder if it's more basic than that. For some people "bonding" involves discussing stuff they don't necessarily agree on as well as a mutual love of guys having buttsex, while others can't imagine bonding over anything but 100% support regardless of any mitigating factors.

The thing that gets me most riled up about the so-called Cult of Nice crowd is that fandom is a big place with room for everyone and yet they insist on attempting to impose their values on all of fandom instead of their own corner. That's bad enough, but when they play the "we're all women" card, I see red.

I think fanfic fandom being a women's space has more to do with the kind of stuff we write than anything else. We write stories for other women, the kinds of stories with the tones and feelings and characterizations that women enjoy. Sexy fanfic, even the stories where the guys aren't acting like girls, is written much more like women's porn -- romance books -- than it is like men's porn. I've read both, and I'll tell you, I'm glad we came down on the side of the fence we did. [wry smile] I mean, sure, we can all laugh at "his thrusting member" if we want to, but I'll take it over "his spurting meatpole" any day of the week. You've got to have to have a Y-chromosome to appreciate that latter and think that it's sexy rather than hysterically funny, seriously. :P

A few guys here and there like our mode of writing but most guys looking for sex aren't into that. I've known a few women who liked the hot raunch with spurting body fluids, and I've known a few men who liked that deeper characterization and relationship exploration, but for the most part men and women seem to be wired to like and want different things in their gratuitous sex entertainment. So there's just not a lot here that a guy would be into.

And in all seriousness, if straight guys avoid same-gender porn out of fear, my gut instinct is that it has a lot more to do with their fear of their own reactions than it does with any fear of us and our reactions. It's not always about us and I don't think it is this time. But I admit I might be wrong. :)

My point is that your average man goes looking for different things in his written entertainment than your average woman looks for in hers. Most fanfic, whatever else is going on in the story, fits pretty well in to the "romance" genre. Most guys aren't into romances. Therefore, most guys aren't going to enjoy the kinds of fanfic that the overwhelming majority of female fanfic writers write. Therefore, most of fanfic fandom is female.

It's not about being inclusive or making the space "friendly" to men. Because while there are individual stories that a guy might like, especially if one looks through the het or femslash stories, even there the general tone and treatment, the weight of the story, where the bulk of its verbage is spent, is on stuff that your average guy just isn't into.

I don't see this as a problem, myself. Fanfic fandom is a self-selected group of people who've gathered in a loose association to do something we all enjoy. If guys want to join, they can. Some have and they're perfectly welcome. But it's not as though anyone's trying to deliberately exclude men, and I don't see any reason why we should change how we do things to make the majority of men more comfortable with our group and its activities. It'd be like the people who organize ice dancing shows getting together and saying, "OK, how can we make our events more friendly and attractive toward people who are fans of NASCAR and pro wrestling?" It's a null question because it's based on the idea that some random group should be a place where members of some other random group would feel comfortable hanging out, and I don't see that as being true. Groups which form around a shared activity or interest shouldn't have to cater to anyone else's interest, nor should they be made to feel bad because people who don't share their interest don't feel "welcome." So long as they're open to anyone sho shares their interest, that's good enough for me. Saying, "You're not welcome because you're a girl!" or "You're not welcome because you're a fag!" is uncool and deserves a kick in the ass IMO. But saying, "You're not welcome because you're not into cars," is IMO perfectly legitimate. A car club shouldn't have to spend half its meeting time talking about flower arranging because someone who's into flowers and doesn't care for cars wants to join.

We're fanfic fandom because we like writing fanfic. Most of us write erotica to one degree or another, and most of the people who write erotica write slash erotica. That's not a political statement, it's just a statistical truth. And the fact that there's a gender bias to the membership numbers is very much a secondary factor. No one set out to say, "Hey, what can we do to keep the boyz out?" We're just doing what we like to do and anyone else who likes it as well is welcome. If a straight guy wants to join fanfic fandom and prefers to write het sex, that's cool. If he wants to write gen fic, that's cool too. We don't need to change anything about who we are or what we do; we're already welcoming to anyone who shares an interest in fanfic. In my opinion, that means we're just fine as we are.

I think a lot of it depends on why people are in fandoms.

If we take hockey for example, most of the people in the fandom (I think ALL, but there could be one or two) are hockey fans. And hockey fans are all from different teams, so we have to manouver around each other's likes and dislikes. eg, I'm a leafs fan so I post all kinds of things about the Senators that should makes Sens fans hate me (if I posted the stuff about the Senators about say Buffy my ass would have been bounced out of the fandom years ago). But vice versa, the lies people say about the leafs! It's shocking :).

Also as hockey is on-going and always changing we don't have an ending and we don't have time to get bogged in entrenched positions, so we don't have to defend them to the death.

Also it's a small group, so we just sort of have to get along with each other. Also hockey is a small community at the best of times, I have gotten more than one disgusted (always anon) email or comment from a hockey fan who has stumbled over my journal. Writing slash fic about some white guys macho hero? yeah nasty things can be said.

But to expand my argument, if depends what you are there for.

People who are just there for the porn i think have it easy, you know they read what they like, they skip the meta.

it's people who want something more than just to read (or write) that I think have the most trouble fitting into fandoms, maybe because they want the fandom to fit to them? Like they want everything to be het, they want everything to be their OTP.

I think that a correlation between slash and RPS can also be drawn in that it is something that we are often made to feel like we should apologise for. Like "I read/write rps, and that is because..." do all communities want to have a lower caste? Even our communities that are often marginal want to have a whipping boy (or girl and not in a fun bdsm way).

I think this comes across most in the 'How Women Write Men' debate. Like the characters are to feminine, or act to girly, or to young. And the "I like my men to be men" debate (like no man in the world has even been schmoopy or cried in real life). Like you can't just like something (something can't just get your knickers wet) you have to justify you enjoyment of something at every turn.
My closest guy-friend actually thinks it's way cool that I write man-smut. Or smut of any kind, really, but man-smut's even better in his eyes, because of exactly what we're discussing here; it's considered weird, shocking, and subversive by the mainstream, and he's all for that. He freely admits that he's not sure he could handle actually *reading* the stuff, for reasons you've mentioned. I think his backside sort of flinches, just thinking about it. But as literature and a way of thumbing one's nose at the establishment, he's all for it.
Whenever I come across an article about slash fanfiction in the mainstream media, the straight men are as shocked by it as if we ladies had grown a third eye. They label it as weird or cute or silly; they are desperate to belittle and demean it. Women enjoying and talking and writing about sex scares the crap out of them.

I do not for a minute believe that all women are my sisters; there are women who would stab you in the back for a smile, just as there are men who would.

What I don't understand is why some women who remember when fandom seemed to be nothing but 12-16 year old boys of all ages think that anything other than acting like immature boys, including "discipline by public mockery", trading insults right and left, and generally being jerktastic, is the equivalent of requesting that everyone sit in a circle and sing "Kum Ba Yah" while admiring each other's unshaven pits, looking up each other's parts with speculums, and talking about what beautiful unique snowflakes we all are...

The people who are insistent that you have only two choices--to be a complete bitch whose way of disagreeing with people is to make fun of them and throw poo around, OR to smile and sweet and be princess sparklypoo brightsmile to everyone all the time--generally in fact come from FW and other such places. I have never had anyone tell me that not being allowed to be rude is the same as not being allowed to be honest, or that to be civil is necessarily to be fake, except for FWankers.

You're the ones who are making this into a dichotomy, not those of us who have grown out of FW-type behaviour and recognise that there are all sorts of ways to express disagreement without resorting to public humiliation, name calling and the facilitation of trolling.

Yes, I did say trolling.

I know FW bans its actual members if they troll, if they do it under their own names and it's brought to their attention often enough, but don't even try to tell me they're unaware of their army of lurkers and mice. FW, Portal of Evil, GAFF and all the Sueslayers out there are simply being disingenuous when they say "we don't encourage trolling," because the fact remains that when they do what they do, trolling always follows, and they know that, and they still choose to do it, only now they throw up their hands and say "we can't control the mice!" Well, of course you can't, but you could try, I don't know, not stirring them up?