Femslash Can Save the World If We Let It
|Title:||Femslash Can Save the World If We Let It|
|Date(s):||July 29, 2014|
|External Links:||Femslash Can Save the World If We Let It; archive link|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
Femslash Can Save the World If We Let It is a 2014 essay by Kate.
It has a 153 comments.
Some Section Titles
- "A Brief History of Playing in Someone Else's Sandbox (or Transporting The Sand To Another Reality, Questioning Importance of Sand, What Is Sand Exactly, Why Doesn’t Your Sand Look Like My Sand, Etc.)"
- "“Write Like A Girl”… Just Don’t Write About Girls"
- "Excuses, Excuses"
Some Topics Discussed in the Essay, and Comments
- fandom and visibility
- includes a pie chart created by destinationtoast that illustrates the then-percentages of pairing fiction on AO3
- criticism of My Little Pony fandom, and a brony discussion
- fanfic as a way of exploring sexuality
- Harry Potter, Velvet Goldmine, Once Upon a Time, Rizzoli & Isles, Hockey RPF
- is writing fanfic activism?
- fandom demographics and AO3
- the practice of pitting fans against each other, shaming and scolding
You think that sounds crazy, and maybe that’s because you had healthy normal emotions and a well-adjusted social life around the same time adults were telling you that you were “becoming a woman.” But if you had a Livejournal and an obsession with elvish languages or monster movies or some other weird uncool thing that made your classmates wary of you, then you know exactly what I mean. The Internet came around and all of us dweebs found each other. A worldwide network of utter dweebage was formed, a community of lonely weirdo hearts, and it was goddamned beautiful.
I didn’t find femslash until I was 17. I can’t remember the exactly when but I do remember the exactly what: Ginny Weasley and Pansy Parkinson. I noticed that Ginny seemed a lot happier and more alive with Pansy than she ever did with Harry, kind of like how teenage me was noticing that I hated being around boys but was positively radiant in a girl’s presence. You can actually track the evolution of my sexuality with the fanfiction I read and wrote: the more comfortable I became with my hugely gay life, the more hugely gay my bookshelf was, fanfiction included.Looking back, it’s perfectly natural that I was processing my own experiences and identity crises through fictional characters, especially when I was the one in control of their fates. I couldn’t find enough lesbians in the media who actually got the girl and came out on top and didn’t kill themselves, but on the Internet, femslash was giving me more than just a queer character who made it to the end of the story. Femslash characters got to thrive and survive and have messy beautiful love. I finally saw the happy endings I didn’t know I was allowed to have.
These days, a lot more people know about fanfiction, probably to the slight horror of those of us who used to hide our stories in covertly titled files on our parents’ computers so no one, no one, would ever find out about them. As of 2008, fanfiction made up one third of all Internet content related to books. Fifty Shades of Grey was famously adapted from a famously bad Twilight fanfiction, just like the City of Bones series was famously adapted from a famously bad Harry Potter fanfiction. George R. R. Martin has said that he strongly opposes fanfiction and considers it to be copyright infringement (but go ahead and finish that Sansa/Margaery Roller Derby AU as soon as possible, fuck the man). Other authors tolerate it and seem vaguely into it, if not at times enthusiastic about its creation.Television producers and filmmakers are often asked about the strangest or most poorly written fanfiction inspired by their work, a question that most conscientious members of fandom dread. Badly informed journalists keep writing badly informed articles about fanfiction and talking about how it’s “cool” now. No, it’s definitely not cool now, because if it was cool then you wouldn’t be dredging up all the terribly written stories that some poor 12 year old girl in Ohio is writing to get through the horrific reality of 7th grade and making her favorite actress read it out loud during an interview on Access Hollywood. Fuck you, seriously.
Fandom, like everything else in our sad messed up world, is very much tainted by misogyny. It’s not just that we don’t have enough femslash — because we don’t — it’s that we as a society of fans still hate women as much as the rest of society. We talk quite openly about how much we hate female characters. We even write into television shows and tell them that if they introduce a female love interest for one of the male leads, we’ll stop watching and we’ll hope that character dies! Because nothing sends fandom into a tizzy quite as much as upsetting the possibility of two apparently hot men banging each other. Nothing gets us on our feet quite as fast as upholding, consciously or not, patriarchal bullshit.Patriarchy teaches us to care the most about male characters, most often white male characters. Patriarchy says that male characters are the most relatable, the most interesting, the most likeable. Unlikeable female characters are a reason I hear cited for the lack of femslash out there, but it makes me wonder: Are these characters unlikeable because they’ve been crafted this way, or are they unlikeable because we have been trained to automatically find female characters less appealing? We let their male counterparts get away with murder and adultery and bad behavior only to condemn the ladies for being wet blankets or cheaters or “crazy bitches.” It’s called the Skyler White Effect, after Anna Gunn’s character on Breaking Bad.
Historically, female sexuality, specifically queer female sexuality, flies invisible within our culture. You’ve probably experienced this when you’ve held hands with your girlfriend and she is still referred to as your friend, your roommate, or even your sister. Two girls being affectionate to each other, physically and emotionally, is seen as relatively acceptable and not indicative of homosexuality, so long as neither girl looks like one of those queer deviants. Let’s call it “Gal Pal Syndrome,” since celebrity queer ladies can be making out with their current smooch in public, but they’re still just gal pals out on the town, right? Maybe the same thing is happening in the media we consume: physical, emotional, and even sexual tension between women is something that is supposedly very hard to read, so it’s possible we’re just not seeing it.
“There aren’t enough three dimensional female characters.”
Y’all managed to write 1047 AO3 fics about the torrid romance between Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. They are, respectively, right wing/center and centerman for the Chicago Blackhawks. Once again, just to confirm, these are hockey players. They do not have a motion picture dedicated to their complex relationship. There are not multiple seasons of television that capture their stories and explore their characters. They play hockey for the NHL. So, what you’re telling me is that you folks have the imaginative power to generate entire novels worth of dramatic love involving two heterosexual hockey players but Rizzoli and goddamned Isles are only worth 652 stories? I’m serious, guys. These are real stats.
“Bechdel test, yo! We rarely see two women interact with each other, and definitely not for long enough.”In the film Inception, Arthur and Eames interacted, what? Twice? With that gun thing and then the chair kick? A grand total of 6.47 seconds of direct interaction. And there are 4180 Arthur/Eames fics on AO3 alone. You can do the math.
Why is femslash the smallest genre in the world of fanfiction? Why is femslash the most underrepresented relationship type by a sizeable margin? More importantly, why is it that almost all femslash writers are queer women? Male slash pairings are written by straight women, queer women, and even some men (I say “even” because men are rarer than a two dollar bill in the world of fanfiction) and they’re read by a mostly female audience. Femslash has a completely different ideology, because it’s almost exclusively written and consumed by the community it portrays. Unlike a straight girl writing about two boys having sex (and I guarantee that they’re two conventionally attractive white boys whose female love interests have been deemed either worthy of death or asexual by the fandom), femslash is written by those whose identities and personal narratives are reflected in the stories themselves. Maybe the writer of that erotic scene hasn’t had sex with a girl yet, but damn, she has thought about it a lot. That queer author has two girls fall in love with each other in her story even if they’re straight in the original work because two girls falling in love means something to her and to so many people like her, and it’s important that she sees herself in a work of media whose canon forgets she exists. One of the great frustrations of LGBTQ media is the fact that so little of our representations end up coming from LGBTQ-identified creators, and thus we see inaccurate portrayals with limited diversity. Femslash exists because we were sick of being told we didn’t exist, so we wrote ourselves into their stories.
Let’s think about why the male pairing so blatantly outshines the female pairing. Let’s think about lesbian invisibility, and female sexuality, and the goddamned patriarchy. And more importantly, let’s write! In fact, let’s write femslash whenever the heck we can. Let’s stage a femslash takeover. Let’s stop letting certain stories dominate the blogosphere. Femslash is overdue for a revolution, y’all.Culture doesn’t need exploring so much as it needs exploding. We need to destroy things and reconstruct them in our own image, because the people who make our media aren’t going to do it for us. That’s why I want femslash to save the world, and I will not take no for an answer.
[Zara]: Yes, yes, yes!!! Femslash was so important as a way of my self discovery and identification as a queer lady. It made me feel like I wasn’t crazy for liking girls and that it was ok to to indulge in those feelings rather than push them away, which I had been doing for so long. It was sure as hell more relatable than the first ‘lesbian’ porn that I was exposed to which basically just creeped me out. Thank you so much for writing this. It really means a lot to have someone who is such an incredible writer put all of my femslash feelings into coherent words, seriously.
[aks]: Yes yes yes yes yes this is an article about my life and I need to read it 3 more times right now. Also this is coinciding perfectly with some serious hp fandom nostalgia I’ve been experiencing. The AO3 analysis is really interesting, I’d love to see those kind of statistics with historical data incorporated for some sort of statistical rise/fall of geek subcultures.
[hello]: God bless this post. That’s all I’ve got.
[wordy]: Eh, I agree with this a lot in theory, but I strongly feel like holding femslash to the same fandom cultural standards and expectations is a path at the end of which lies nothing successful.
Fandom is not inherently porn, but a lot of people are in fandom because they want to read dirty, hot fucking. Since, presumably, most people want to read porn about people they personally find sexually attractive, a lot of straight and otherwise attracted to dude people are going to be hot and heavy for M/M fic. And maybe won’t get the same frisky shivers from F/F or M/F fic.
Because of that, I always get a little irked when fic is turned into a numbers game. Like if fandom can just produce exactly 1,343,232 femslash stories than misogyny and homophobia in fandom and larger pop culture will then be magically absolved. If a smaller number of people are writing fic that’s awesome, hot, deep, etc etc it can’t possibly be considered a loss because a more sizable chunk of people are writing more fic about the things that get them going.
WHICH OKAY I reread that and it comes across as way more negative on femslash than I am, which no! I love femslash and I write it as often as I can in the fandoms that interest me. I even do believe that fandom can open people’s eye radically to aspects of identity — see me and kink, me and gender ish, me and any number of things.
But, on the other hand, I started writing fic in 2000 at the age of eleven and didn’t started regularly writing femslash until 2011. In that time I knew I was gay, but I was also dealing with a whole lot of hard ish about gender that reading femslash didn’t fix. Reading femslash required me to imagine myself as something desirable, worth reading about, and sexy. And that didn’t come as easily.SO, yes. I agree with a lot of this, but I think there’s some super simplifying stuff in here about why people read what they do.
[Rose]: I would agree with you, because the general impression I’ve always had from fanfic-writing culture is that it’s mostly straight women and I agree, you can’t really blame them for being more interested in something that involves dudes. But in fact, when people have crunched the numbers about this, they’ve found that most fanfic writers and readers are queer-identified:
And this was survey was pre-Tumblr, so it’s probably even more the case now than when those numbers were crunched.
And that’s why I think this is worth discussing, because even queer women I see who write this stuff tend to gravitate primarily toward either slash or het fanfic, and write very little in the way of stuff about two ladies. EVEN WHEN they are dealing with a show that has a lot of lady-lady interaction like the kind that fuels slash fanfic when it’s between two dudes. The only time femslash truly seems to outnumber the other two kinds is when there are hardly any dudes of note at all in the show, as I explained below.Why is that? I don’t know, but whatever it is, I think it’s a little more complicated than “people want what makes them horny”. After all, us queer ladies do “get off”, to put it rather crudely, to our fellow ladies. And yet, a lot of us don’t seem to write about that very much compared to writing about two dudes instead.
[Wordy]: That’s totally legit! I also definitely didn’t mean to suggest that these questions aren’t legitimate, but rather that I think this article is showing a seriously superficial level of examination into why people read the fic they do. I think it’s pretty specious to suggest that a reflection of one’s own sexuality is the primary draw to fic for any one person.
But, again. My issue with those polls is that I remember when they went around and they went around circles of fandom that were already queer to begin with. To me, that would tend to say that queer fandom is, unsurprisingly, queer.This starts running into a huge conflation of terms, identities, and what ~fandom~ means. There are plenty of people writing and reading fic that wouldn’t identify themselves as members of fandom, and who don’t see shipping as anything close to a fandom contextualized thing. Tumblr is doing a ton to break down the boundaries that used to be very strongly enforced across LJ (and still are, I think, across DW and what is left of the old fandom platforms.)
I looked at the polls that Rose linked in her comment and what I found interesting was that the numbers trying to break down the demographics of fandom in terms of sexuality are so wildly, ridiculously different from survey to survey. Some came up with a strong majority of fandom being queer, others came up with a strong majority of fandom identifying as straight. Personally, I take the numbers listed in the bottom comment with a survey pool of 7000 with more weight than the survey with a sample size of 150.
These are, of course, demographic problems, yo.
The point being, I don’t personally think it’s unreasonable or queer lady-phobic for there to be more M/M and Gen than F/F in fandom — considering those demographic markers and the reality that fandom might not explicitly be for porn, but porn is a strong thread in it.
Two) What I meant, and didn’t really succeed in saying, is that what you’ve discounted in this article is any notion that gay ladies can do a lot of really hard identity work that is contextualized by fic that isn’t femslash. That queer women are being badly served or misrepresented or denied by a perceived lack of fic that superficially represents them “better” than what they already have.You identify a totally true and completely depressing fact that female fan writers have been taught to hate women just as much as anyone else. But your conclusion — that writing about femslash is the obvious solution to that — rings false to me. I don’t believe that the simple act of getting two characters together has the power to unpack a lifetime of misogynist crap in the way that this article suggests.
[Nike]: This is a really interesting comment! The first part made me think about my own reaction to fanfic. I’m a femslasher through and through, but I often skim or skip sex scenes, while when I’m reading for ‘pr0n’ purposes, I seek out very different things. (Mainly, I’ve gotta avoid vanilla.) What I find romantically interesting and what I find erotically interesting are different. And one thing I’ve worked on was to try and write more edgy femslash smut. I like problematic sexuality and negative sexual encounters, and I don’t want femslash to be all good and sweet sex as self-discovery. I think a lot of people are like, omg, gay guys have anal all the time. That’s kinda gross and it turns me on, so lets write M/M. And lesbian sex, well, what do girls even do together, right? They don’t fuck. That’s not sexy at all. So yeah, I think your point about people seeking out what they find sexy is important. But I also think that our preconceptions about what is sexy are determined by external factors, like the discourse about lesbian sexuality. So, we should write more dirty, kinky lesbian sex, right?
[Rose]: I’m a queer lady who writes a lot of (man) slash, and I think that for me, it’s that in a lot of the shows where I do that, the relationships between female characters pale in comparison to the ones between male characters, or between a male and a female character. So I don’t have as much motivation to write about them, because I’m not as invested in those characters and their relationships in general.
I’m not big on the pitting slash and femslash fans against each other (not saying this article does this, but I’ve seen convos go this way), especially since a lot of the people on Tumblr I’ve seen shame slash fans for “not caring about ladies enough, you need to write more femslash!” only ever seem to write HETERO fanfic themselves. YAWN. YAWN YAWN YAWN. But there is something weird going on here in why even a lot of queer women seem more interested in writing about two dudes together than two ladies, even when we get the rare show that DOES seem to develop the female-female relationships. Pretty much the only fandoms I’ve seen where femslash dominates over slash and het is where ALMOST ALL of the major and well-developed characters and relationships are between women, and there are hardly any notable male characters whatsoever. Shows like Orange is the New Black, Sailor Moon and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Even when we have canon lesbians, people would rather write about non-canon slash and het pairings.Anyway, I really like this article and I’m so ready for the femslash revolution. I’d be a much happier writer and reader of fanfic if I could find more actual good stuff involving two women, and not just lip service paid by people who only seem to care about heterosexual couples in what they actually write.
[Samantha]: Yeah it’s weird but EVERY DeanCas writer I follow on tumblr is a queer woman, and I never realise that until after I’m already a devoted follower of theirs. So we seem to get a lot out of it. I personally don’t need a queer pairing to be women to feel affinity with that pairing, but it’s def still important to have good femslash out there, and while you CAN find that in SPN fics, the show is not kind to women, to say the least. Also I would argue with Kate’s claim that DeanCas are not a “canon romantic pairing”. We’ve had every sign that it IS canon, but are never going to get the satisfaction of seeing it played out on screen because the writers are cowards. At any rate, many of the queer women authors I read DO believe DeanCas is canon, and are writing fic about them so we don’t DIE OF FRUSTRATION AND ANGER. So there’s that. Even though it has nothing to do with this larger conversation.
[Rie]: Oh mylanta, this is taking me back. My entire queer awakening can be traced back to Velvet Goldmine, Harry Potter slashfic, and the interactions thereof. (See: “Fairy Boys are Pale and Nervous”) All that, and ladies were SO few and far between and I might have figured out things sooner if I had seen any representation… Anyway, so glad to see this article, and have the numbers out there. If fanfic is supposed to be about limitless possiblity, why can’t we see ourselves in it?
Velvet Goldmine + Harry Potter. Holy shit why did I not think of this before?!It was a HP femslash fic that gave me the first inkling that I may not have been so straight after all.
[Gwendolyn]: This article was really great to read, especially since it was slash fanfiction that made me start to accept my own sexuality back in the day. But I do think there is a move toward more and better femslash now than there was when I started consuming fanfic about ten years ago. The older fandoms are still very, VERY heavily dominated by m/m pairings with a healthy dose of gross misogyny, but I’ve noticed an interesting trend in newer fandoms… that of genderbending. I’m running across more and more stories where the canonically male characters are changed to female versions of themselves and then shipped together.
Take the 1D fandom for instance (yes, I’m a twenty-something lesbian who enjoys boybands). The OVERWHELMING majority of stories are Harry/Louis, but there are also quite a few stories where Harry and Louis are written as girls. As having always been girls and falling in love with each other as girls.I find it quite interesting both that this trend seems to be picking up steam recently, and that people are taking male characters (whether real people or not) and turning them into girls for the purpose of writing femslash rather than write about women that already exist.
[Rose]: As someone who wrote an article for this very site about brony femslash (and regrets it)… yeah, it’s not the kind of representation we want. Funny that straight boys tend not to really care about what actual queer women want when they write about our sexualities in their horse porn! Or, actually, not funny at all, but completely unsurprising.
I find this article/discussion interesting, because I didn’t really get into fanfiction until I was older and already out. The first fic I ever read was in Buffy fandom, but I was in college by the time I got into BtVS. And I didn’t read much of it. I don’t know if I just didn’t find the good fics or what, but it didn’t hold my attention at the time.
I didn’t really get into fanfic until I joined tumblr in 2011 (at the age of 30) and found Glee fandom on there. Somehow I stumbled into this amazing group of women who knew each other because they all wrote Glee femslash. They’re all older (by tumblr standards) and smart and funny and really great writers. Some have come and gone, or mostly moved onto other fandoms, but there’s still a core group of us that stay in touch. They’ve also inspired/encouraged me to try writing myself, both fanfic and personal things, and while I haven’t written much I feel like even just thinking creatively in that way is a good outlet. So for me, fanfic didn’t really have anything to do with me discovering my sexuality, but it has helped me to “come out” as a person who sometimes writes things.Anyway, this has gotten long and rambly, but perhaps a reason why there isn’t as much femslash posted on a large fic archive like AO3 or FFN is situations like mine – there is writing happening, but it never makes it past tumblr ficlets or gchats. There’s also still a lot of writing posted on Livejournal. I’m sure M/M and M/F is still more common in general, but I feel like you need to look at more than just one fic site to get a full picture.
[Dae]: Wonderful piece, and definitely coherent with my experience and ENORMOUS frustrations in the world of fandom and fanfic.
I write a lot of fanfic, and I read a lot more of it. A problem/dilemma I’ve found myself running into lately with my own writing and roleplaying is that I’ve historically always focused on and played female characters, which places writing and playing male characters as more “out of my comfort-zone” and thus a reasonable thing to do to Grow as a Writer.
But damnit, if I write male characters as part of a group or partnered roleplay, suddenly I blink and realize I’m in a group of predominantly queer women and almost all we’re writing about is dudes. And that’s even with other members of said group being aware of the representation issue. So in anything that’s not a solo project, it frequently comes down to “well, I could stretch myself and try on a character who’s not necessarily comfortable to me… or we could have women doing things. Not both.”
This isn’t me being tired of playing women and wanting to play men instead; it’s a general desire to round out my experience/headspace. And if I’m being honest, the occasional bit of pressure from others do something “different.”
The fact that that pressure is coming from people who then never write female characters is all the more frustrating. Why is my being comfortable with and wanting to write women a limitation, while their preference for writing men is somehow less of one?… I’m getting ranty-pants here, and that wasn’t my intent. TLDR, brava to this essay, and I shall go on with my intermittent personal crusades to remedy the lack of femslash.
[B]: I remember when I first came across fanfic, and I had a few friends who would send me m/m fic. I used to secretly read so many because I was SO hungry for anything queer. (Obviously not a conscious thought I had at the time, but something I realised later)
Even if I didn’t find two guys together as sexy or as heart-wrenching as my friends did, I was still getting to read stories about characters that weren’t Boy Meets Girl.
When I came across my first femslash it felt like an epiphany. (Faith/Willow if anyone wants to know)
This is clearly what my friends had been feeling reading those other fics.
I agree that femslash is so important and I disagree with the idea that we should just shut up and let people write what they find sexy.
You finding something hot does not mean you get a free pass for any sort of critical thinking; sexual preferences aren’t formed in a vaccuum.femlock wwii fic actually exists and is beautiful, fyi)
FF.net has a much larger femslash presence than AO3, especially when it comes to some f/f-heavy fandoms like Rizzoli & Isles or Warehouse 13. I also think that femslash tends to be spread out between other sites like LJ, Dreamwidth, and Tumblr, as well as separate archives like P&P. I don’t think femslash is as rare as it may seem sometimes, but it can be incredibly hard to find. That said, there’s still not enough of it.I think your points about patriarchy are spot-on. I’ve noticed a lot of female fans saying that they were more comfortable reading and writing m/m because they felt it gave them a way to explore queer sexuality without having to deal with female sexuality specifically. I think the idea that female sexuality is presented as such a scary and taboo thing in wider society definitely plays a role in the popularity of m/m slash.
[Hund]: It’s still not as prevalent on tumblr as m/m and m/f, though, which is objectively true save for a few select fandoms where the leads are ladies (in which case, there’s a lot more fic going on in general).
Honestly, looking for femslash pairings of my favorite characters on tumblr, A03, FFnet, or anywhere, usually nets me 1/6th of what M/M pairings do. M/F pairings are typically more successful, but I’m usually reading it for the lady’s point of view because it’s the lady I’m more interested in.
The points are still completely valid, and honestly your own use of the term ‘tight-knit group’ that ‘knew each other’ just spells it out entirely. The fact that we (I am a femslash writer in a couple different fandoms) practically know each others’ personal backstories is not a thing that happens nearly as often in other circles. There’s cliques, sure, but in a couple fandoms – when I was more active – I had *every single* femslash writer on my AIM list.You’re right that it is getting more coverage in general, but it’s still not widespread, or a Big Thing, except in some very select fandoms.
[Imp]: well…I agree with parts of this article, but not other, major parts. background: I’ve written some of the older Kane/Toews on AO3. I was writing it back when my audience was 99% people I knew personally. About 60% of those people were queer women, myself included. Also in my profile is a lot of het, and some femslash. I don’t personally write Rizzoli & Isles fic because as I was watching the first season, Angie Harmon said some INCREDIBLY homophobic, unfortunate things, that kind of ruined my enjoyment of the show.
I don’t disagree with the central thesis that fandom expresses its affection for characters in a sexist manner, nor that it would be nice if there was more femslash. But I think – as I always think, every time this argument comes up, which happens on the regular in fandom – that the answer is not shaming people who ship dudes. The answer is SUPER not being like “bad puppy, ship women instead!” The answer is encouraging people who write about women, and drumming up support and enthusiasm for women within fandom.
while representation in fandom is nice and all, “write femslash and all your problems will be over” is really not an accurate framing of things. It also kind of bothers me, as a fan, as a writer, and as someone who likes to write/read femslash, this idea that femslash should be written for Great Justice. I don’t think it should be about justice at all – it should come from a place of enthusiasm and wanting more stories about your favorite characters. The fact that misogyny, racism, etc., influence what’s in fandom is without a doubt true, but the way out of the woods isn’t by implying that people are holding back their own salvation because they’re not writing enough fic about ladies doing each other on it. Much though I like said fic, that’s only a small piece of the overall puzzle.And, cynically – when someone is writing femslash because they feel they should, it shows. Quite a bit.
[Imp]: I don’t think the right way to go about this is to frame it as an ethical concern. Not because it’s totally disconnected from ethics, but because fic isn’t activism. Femslash is a great way to get representation and can be very affirming and wonderful, but that is a SINGLE piece of a much larger puzzle. I have repeatedly and with great frustration yelled “there’s always a reason” re: why fandom never ships women/POC as a juggernaut pairing. It’s frustrating! It sucks. But “ur doin it rong” has persuaded exactly 0 people, in my experience.
[Ana]: Yeah, I’m gonna piggyback my comment on yours here, Imp– “Fic isn’t activism” is basically what most of my issues boil down to.
Also, by framing femslash as something only queer women with a highly personal connection can write, including their own very personal experiences, not only does it limit the kind of femslash that gets written, it gives straight women, and men in general a pass on ever writing femslash. It also makes writing femslash a gatekeeping tool for queer women– you’re not queer enough, you don’t write enough femslash. It leads to writers being accused of “only doing it for the social justice points” when they *do* write femslash.
Representation is great, but do you know what is *also* othering? When the only representations you see of yourself and your relationships in fic is regarded as “social justice points”.Also, and this is slightly tangential– good grief, sometimes I want a cute meet cute about ladies, not An Authentic Queer Experience. It’s like all the Sad Gay Movies– sometimes you want the fantasy rom com where everyone’s parents are totally cool with the gay, not the one where one person got kicked out at age 16 for being gay and the other doesn’t bring home their partners to their family to keep the peace.
[traintocitylights]: There are absolutely, absolutely areas of fandom, I’m sure, where there are privileged straight white cis girls writing problematic things related to slash ships for the same reasons straight men watch lesbian porn. I haven’t encountered them nearly as much as is the stereotype, but I’m sure they exist, and you know why? Because fandom, LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD – like every other social discourse arena, like every other setting where a large number of people with a large number of opinions converge – isn’t a unified entity, it’s a spectrum of good and bad and complex and diverse and unique experience. And in the areas that are more populated by straight girls writing out their sexual fantasies, I have trouble criticizing them for exploring their own sexuality in a healthy, safe, supportive community.
But in my experience, fandom is just not a straight white cis girl paradise. I’ve made many close friends over the years who fall everywhere on the spectrum of sexual orientation to others, of sexual attraction level, and of gender identity and gender presentation, and the common unifying thing I hear over and over again is that without fandom – without a safe place to interact and question media, to question the society it’s created in and is reflecting, without the normalization of queerness within fandom (fandom might not be perfect in all respects to representation, but queerness IS indisputably more normalized in fandom than in broader society, even today), they NEVER would’ve come to the self-realization that they were bisexual, genderqueer, ace/aro, trans, gay, what have you. That it’s made them more aware of the media they consume, more aware of WHY things are presented in the way they are in the media (and why they have to be – it’s hard not to question mainstream media choices when fifty fic writers on your LJ friends list or Tumblr dashboard or in your AO3 section are coming up with better ideas than the canon’s own creative minds are), and as a result, more self-aware about their own identities.
Why can’t men or straight women feel the same way about femslash? If they’re not comfortable with writing porn, because they’re not attracted to women or because they don’t want to be seen as co-opting a safe queer space for personal sexual gratification reasons, there’s a WORLD to do in fandom beyond writing explicit NC-17 “this body part goes there” porn. I haven’t written anything remotely resembling a lot of the porn-without-plot stuff that fandom gets a reputation for being full of in almost half a decade of being fandom productive now. That isn’t to shame anyone who does in any way, just to illustrate that you don’t HAVE to be writing about Insert Body Part A Into Body Part B to be a part of fandom.So why isn’t femslash resonant to non-female-identified queer folks the same way that male slash can be resonant to queer ladies because of the shared queer experience? Why can’t straight folk support queer ladies the same way they support queer men – as fellow people looking for healthy romantic and/or sexual partners, with other relationship and personal traits and experiences that can still resonate regardless of sexuality or gender? That’s the big question we need to be asking here, I think, rather than only telling people who are already writing femslash to write more femslash off in their pre-approved femslash corners.
[Gilbert]: So glad this article exists! I’ve got a couple of friends who are just babystepping into reading fanfic atm, but it’s not femslash and I don’t think I could chat about it to them.
I pretty much learnt about sex from femslash. I don’t know if that’s better or worse than porn, but as a gay lady I can’t think where else I’d pick up any context beyond the basics for how two women could sleep together.
I don’t think it’s a travesty that more F/F doesn’t exist. It might show us things about society that are awful, but I don’t think that the number of fics are an injustice in itself. I also have a hard time blaming other people for not writing or reading femslash because tbh, I have no interested whatsoever in F/M. Like at all. Occasionally, I’ll read some M/M, but on the whole I stick to the super gay, super female fandoms.And the way this talks about how women are almost invisible on tv, I think that that’s how I see men on tv. And I’m not happy about it. Like I tend to switch off immediately if a straight bloke is the main character. Does that mean I’m like a mysogynist? I don’t know. Maybe I just live up to my own expectations of what gay women should be interested in.
[silvers]: I like this post a lot, and I agree with a ton of it. I guess what I would have liked to see is more of a recommendation of what fandoms have strong femslash communities, so that I could seek them out and read their fic and maybe write some myself. You mentioned, for example, Rizzoli & Isles, but I don’t know anyone who even watches Rizzoli & Isles, let alone writes fic for it, because it’s just a plain boring show. On the other hand, Once Upon A Time has a big enough femslash contingent that they have their own tinhats who harass the actors about making the ship canon, just like Teen Wolf & Supernatural–not a thing we should be happy about, maybe, but proof that dedicated femslash shippers definitely do exist.
I guess I kind of feel like this article is yelling at me for not writing femslash when there are a lot of reasons I might not be writing femslash. It feels too personal. I overidentify with the ladies in the fic. I’m getting what I need fic-wise from other femslash writers in the canon. I have trouble reconciling my queerness with my ladyness and find it easier to explore through male avenues of sexuality. etc, etc, etc. I’d like to find more femslashers–maybe a pimping post for us to throw out there the fandoms, writers and ships that we like?Anyway, I guess all of this sounds pretty harsh. I do agree with the things you’re saying, and I do think that the problems in our media are problems that fandoms tend to recreate in their image. I just think there are maybe more positive ways to encourage queer-lady-friendly fic and fandoms.
[Hannah]: Is it really guilt tripping us all that much? The point isn’t to change the community for straight people, or to change straight people. It’s to rethink what is happening in our own heads and our own community, to make sure the community takes better care of its own. Personally, this article made me realize I always fantasize about men even though I am not into men, and start thinking about internalized oppression. It won’t make me stop liking what I like, but if I’m influenced by my culture and experience, then this article and the Autostraddle community is also part of my culture and experience. I can fantasize about guys all I want, but I can also be aware why if I’m into being topped, I can only imagine guys topping me even though I’m only into women – is it because our culture says only men are powerful and dominant, or have desires? I read a ton of fanfic when I was younger, and it shaped me. I never even thought to ask these questions of it. I don’t feel guilted. Does pointing things out and wanting to change them always mean ‘guilting’? Why? Come on.
[xenoglassy]: I love femslash. I read a lot of it. I write almost exclusively femslash and gen. I complain all the time about how there isn’t enough f/f for my tastes. But if your aim is to get more people interested in femslash, articles like this one are deeply, deeply unhelpful, IMO. Telling people “That thing you like is problematic! Please meditate on the way your tastes are shaped by internalized sexism and then consider liking this morally superior alternative instead!” is only going to make people feel angry, insulted, and defensive. It’s not going to encourage them to check out femslash; in fact, it’s going to put them off.
Why not just put aside the slamming of dudeslash and people who like it and talk about why femslash is fun and awesome, like you did at the beginning? Maybe recommend a few fandoms that lend themselves particularly well to it? That might entice a few people who aren’t already femslash fans to check it out.
Also: Like I said, my fandom activity these days revolves primarily around femslash, but when I was a baby lesbian in the throes of your standard teenage sexual identity crisis and just discovering the wonderful world of fanworks, I was pretty much solely into m/m. It gave me the happy-ending, non-Teen-Problem-Novel same-sex romances I desperately craved at the time, but also let me maintain a little distance from my own experience. Femslash was too close to home; there was no plausible deniability there. So there are reasons besides The Patriarchy that women might be more interested in m/m than f/f. (And if there women who are attracted to men and who just like m/m because they enjoy hot guys making out, well, my own fandom preferences are no less shallow in the end.)Also also: AO3 is not the entire universe of fic-writing fandom. There are other spaces with different gender balances and different proportions of content.
[deepa]: It’s interesting to see this on Autostraddle since, as some other commenters have mentioned, the “why isn’t there more femslash?” issue is a debate that comes up frequently and cyclically in fandom, or at least in the parts of fandom that I inhabit. My first experience with it was on LJ in the mid-2000s (I say, as a 25 year old – holy shit was I young when I got into fandom) when a lot of Buffy fans were frustrated by the lack of femslash in newer fandoms popping up, but I’m sure the debate is even older, really.
I agree with some points of the article (I want femslash to save the world too!), but also many points made by other commenters, re: shaming and demonizing slash. I just want to add one thing that we need to be clear on when we talk about this: despite the overwhelming prevalence of dude slash in fandom, we need to remember that slash is still revolutionary. Few of us are able to live in worlds that are entirely populated by fannish folks, which means that no matter how much of a community we are able to find on the Internet, we’re still spending a large portion of our lives in heteronormative environments where people either don’t know slash exists or marginalize it.
That’s why this debate has always been hard for me to reconcile, because m/m slash was absolutely crucial for me in understanding my sexuality when I was growing up – and to be honest, while I’m a lot more secure in identifying as queer than I used to be, slash is still part of my identity. Femslash is part of my identity too, but it inhabits a different space for me. I want to have both, and in a world that is still telling me that the slashiness I see is in my imagination, I’m not willing to give either of them up.I want more femslash, I want to write more myself and I want others to write more, but I want us to write it because we want to, not out of guilt. So maybe we should just start at trying to have less bashing of lady characters, because that is something I think we should all be able to agree on, at least at some level. But pitting this as a slash vs. femslash fight (which is sort of hilarious to me, given the history of het vs. slash in fandom) hardly seems useful.
[Cricket]: It’s funny, reading this article immediately puts me on the defensive. As a lesbian who writes dudeslash far more often then I write femslash, I read the last part of the article like an accusation. You’re basically saying the reason I do this is because I am brainwashed by the patriarchy and not just that, that I am too blind to find the light of femslash, or too weak to break free of the cock prison.
The gist of it is the same it was back on LJ when this came up years ago. And back then some parts of femslash fandom were toxic as fuck, for me personally. My slash writing friends were a support group I needed and then there were these ladies telling me if I didn’t write a certain quota of fics about two women who aren’t even in the same show, I was a failure as a queer woman and as a feminist.
I actively work every day to rid myself of old thought processes, of judging women and female characters with a different standard then I judge men. It’s a process, but I like to think I got a lot better at it over the years, even when I sometimes appreciate the male gaze and patriarchy for providing me hot women in tight clothing kicking butt.
It’s a bit of a sport to blame slash fandom for everything up to and including global warming. It’s easy because we’re a pretty diverse bunch of people with a pretty diverse bunch of reasons for doing what we do and you can pretty much just fire in a random direction and hit someone where it hurts.
But the idea that femslash is this tiny inactive thing personally offends me, because it’s never been true. Yes, slash is bigger, because aside from queer women, straight women also write it. There’s a whole scholarly body of works about straight women exploring their sexuality through it. Henry Jenkins and his ilk did all sorts of studies about it.
That said, AO3 literally developed out of LJ slash fandom. How can it be any surprise that the people who wrote those slash stories and then built the thing are also the ones to be most represented on it? But if you look on ff.net, tumblr and wattpad you will find a slightly different story.
You can’t take the metric of absolute stories in a given fandom on AO3 and apply it to fandom as a whole. Because when you look at fandoms like Once Upon A Time or The 100 or Glee, the femslash ships are the juggernaut, even if their overall presence on AO3 is lower then the incredibly huge slash ships.
But if you were around for some of the ship polls of the last few years, the biggest femslash ships were easily as well represented as the slash ones. SwanQueen murdered smaller ships and ate them for breakfast.
Let’s get back though to my very personal excuses. Yes, I do believe that backstory and interaction matters. I do believe it matters how women are written in the source. And here’s the rub – I’m not the same person who will just write about two hot guys who never met, who barely interacted. And I assume that’s the truth for a lot of people. You’re taking one group of slashers and using their personal experience to discredit another group of slashers. So thanks for that.And this argument is nothing new. This article is nothing new. Instead of taking the sources to task, you’re blaming other women for simply writing what they like, for writing what will get them the biggest, most supportive audience, for doing what they can to work through whatever it is they want to work through.
[flux]: i’ve been thinking long and hard about why i have femslash pairings, but i haven’t written fic of them. (i don’t publicly write fic of my few male slash otps either, because i’m /embarrassed/ to ship them, so clearly these issues are kinda related for me…) my prolific fic writing friends don’t write femslash either, even though they’re into it. WHY?? there’s a million things i could say, this article hit on most of them, but a big one for me as a queer woman is my internalized homophobia kept me away from femslash places for years, or kept me standing on the fringes, too afraid to go inside. (i lived on a steady diet of voracious consumption of brittana meta a long time ago, the year i decided to lock myself in the closet; trying to read fic of them reduced me to TEARS. like the post above me, it was too close to home.)
i finally came to look at it this way. i was always a late bloomer, and society had to convince me that heteroexuality and attraction to men (as a woman) is normal. het relationship are decent and good and acceptable and ideal. the way mass media presented heterosexual sex totally did nothing for me, and so i sought out fandom, but that…didn’t quite /fix/ anything.
i got resocialized again by a huge m/m fan presence in fandom that slash is also acceptable, even badass in its notions/attempts/goals to subvert and equalize blah blah blah, i like PORN, that’s why i started reading tons of slash, it was so EASY to find, and i got used to it being the only “normal” form of porn to me. unfortunately, there is that discrepancy with so many talented writers being focused on writing m/m exclusively – it’s hard to find decent het, it’s next to impossible to find good femslash (i am positive i’m looking in all the wrong places – please, shove me in the right direction, i’m clearly not at the right party, haha)
in both cases, the majority swayed me and made me feel ok about things i would normally find uncomfortable. and unfotuntately, i just didn’t get into a femslash place in time, or in the right frame of mind, or SOMETHING, i clearly missed the right train. i want to write and read these relationships and i feel like it’s some final last stop on the Self Acceptance Train i haven’t gotten to yet. to see myself reflected in fiction, how personal that will be, will be terrifying. BRING IT.
the only person who is gonna convince me that femslash is ok, at this rate, is myself. i’m standing in my own way, and i’ve said this to other queer women and they’ve confirmed it’s the same for them, too.
we NEED a femslash revolution. fandom has always been a sorts of grassroots movement; this one is important, and that gives me a motivation to keep scribbling my stories down, keep pushing my boundaries, which is how it’s always been for me, personally, YMMV to anyone reading this of course. maybe someday i can help a young person, especially a young queer girl, feel normal, without having to jump over a million psychological hurdles like myself, maybe it’ll help her the way femslash fandoms helped you. (or i’ll just have fun writing porn which will be /great/)thanks for the brilliant article. i never leave comments on stuff but i really wanted to say something here – i need to read this, thank you.