Female and queer fans challenge pop culture by taking control of their own stories

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News Media Commentary
Title: Female and queer fans challenge pop culture by taking control of their own stories
Commentator: Alissa Smith
Date(s): August 8, 2018
Venue: online
Fandom: Star Trek: TOS
External Links: online here
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Female and queer fans challenge pop culture by taking control of their own stories is a 2018 article by Alissa Smith for the newspaper "Colorado Springs Independent."

This article includes two zine covers (Still the One and The Warrior and the Bard). The source nor artists are credited.

A related article by the same journalist is A 50-year Trekkie bestows Star Trek history upon the next generation: How fandom and fanfiction sparked the galaxy’s most controversial romance.

Some Topics Discussed

  • transformative fandom being denigrated due to the fact that it has very high female participation
  • fanworks as a way of taking back one's culture and having a voice
  • Bechdel Test
  • an article published in the online journal Transformative Works and Cultures, issue 27, titled “Bricolage and the culture of the margins in the romantic era and the digital age”
  • being the "wrong kind of fan"
  • why slash
  • media culture and misogyny
  • Centrumlumina and Toastystats and their blogs
  • erotic fanfic is not nearly as prevalent as people claim


Most people who don’t participate in fandom, the communities that spring up around a piece of pop culture, tend to view transformative fan work — fanfiction, fan art, fan comics, fan-made video games and the like — as a waste of time at best, and juvenile at worst. Fanfictions that have made it into the wider cultural consciousness such as My Immortal (an infamous piece of Harry Potter fanfiction, riddled with grammar errors and awkward sex scenes) and 50 Shades of Grey (the popular BDSM romance novel that originated as a piece of Twilight fanfiction) have not helped the genre’s reputation.

Yet millions of people worldwide continue to write fanfiction, share fan art, and use their own particular talents to express love for their favorite media, in spite of societal pressure to detach from it.

Why? In part, because of that societal pressure. The people writing fanfiction often belong to the very demographics sidelined by popular culture.
Given the amount of abuse and stigma society heaps on LGBTQ people, many gravitate toward escapism as a coping mechanism and are likely to hyper-fixate on a TV show or a book series. Plus, traditional media often do a poor job representing LGBTQ identities. It’s only natural that so many queer folks seek out fanfiction, wherein they can take something created with a straight audience in mind and queer it, or at least personalize it.

It may seem self-serving for a fanfiction writer to say that misogyny lies at the root of the societal devaluation of fanworks. But consider this: Fantasy football, wherein football fans create a dream team out of existing players and pit them against each other in fake tournaments, is a socially acceptable hobby. Creating a fantasy crew of a Star Trek starship and writing that crew’s story is not. How is one of these pursuits less geeky than the other?

And even when it comes to stereotypically nerdy interests — Star Wars, for example — men will post fan-theories on message boards about why they think Rey is Luke Skywalker’s daughter, drawing from the extended universe and citing previous films, but will mock the first woman to write a fanfiction in which that theory comes true.

Gledhill writes: “female fans’ emotional responses are consistently delegitimized, not only as appropriate responses to media, but as fannish responses ... because she is a fan for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way.”

For decades, fans have discussed the seemingly endless reasons why women may gravitate toward M/M pairings and stories, outside of the fact that many women who write such stories are queer themselves.

For one: the lack of well-developed female characters in most movies and TV shows. When men are the only characters who interact meaningfully with each other, it’s easier to imagine relationships forming between them.

Take Supernatural for instance, a CW show that will (inexplicably) enter its 14th season this fall. As of Feb. 26, 2017, according to statistics blogger Toastystats, Supernatural was the third most popular category on AO3 after Marvel comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But Supernatural has violently killed nearly every recurring female character, few of whom stick around for more than a few scattered episodes or spend very long with the main characters of the show (all men). Fans looking for romantic content are more likely to find potential for a relationship within the core cast, rather than buying the network’s failed attempts to pair these men with short-lived female characters.
Then, there’s the most controversial reason: Heterosexual and bi/pansexual women, the majority of fanfiction writers, find men attractive. Fan communities often discuss the fetishization of M/M relationships, and some assert that male characters are often paired simply to fulfill the sexual fantasies of their female writers. But this analysis taken alone sidelines the experiences of queer writers, no matter their gender.

All and none of the reasons above, including internalized misogyny, could account for the disproportionate representation of M/M pairings, and male characters in general. But fanfiction as we know it today is still young — having only become a social phenomenon around the time of Star Trek about 50 years ago — and the culture of it consistently (and quickly) evolves. As most fandom interaction now takes place online, it’s the evolution of these online spaces that now shapes fan interaction and transformative fandom.

Thanks to the many views and perspectives at play in online spaces, issues such as racism within fan works and the underrepresentation of female characters are beginning to change for the better, as fandom becomes more socially conscious. On the flip side, in an effort to be “socially conscious,” fans often bare their teeth at each other, challenging their fellows to create the most ideologically pure stories, or “ship” the most ideologically pure couples.

This public (and often vitriolic) discussion is both a drawback and a benefit of modern fandom. A drawback, because it can create hostile environments for the “wrong” kind of fan works, but a benefit because discussion is, and always has been, the purpose of engaging with media in this way — discussion about characters we like and relate to; discussion about difficult-to-address themes, about sexuality; and most importantly about the lives traditional media fail to recognize.