Fiedler again, or, it's not just the slasher's gaze

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Title: Fiedler again, or, it's not just the slasher's gaze
Creator: princessofgeeks
Date(s): Feb. 2nd, 2008
Fandom: pan-fandom
Topic: Slash, Misogyny in Fandom
External Links:
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Fiedler again, or, it's not just the slasher's gaze is a post written by princessofgeeks in 2008.

For more on this essay's context, see Timeline of Slash Meta.

Some Topics Discussed

  • why do women write slash?
  • homo eroticism and male bonding
  • no one writes in a vacuum, and women write with the archetypes and cultural assumptions they are provided with, just like everyone else
  • misogyny in slash
  • Stargate Atlantis, Stargate SG-1
  • "Fiedler's work in this area was focused on how white male writers looked at these themes of violence and the wilderness and male bonding, he really didn't say much about women in the Huck material. He talked about how the male writers made the nonwhite peoples into this scary OTHER."

Excerpts from the Post

So I'm looking for a notebook on my shelves, and at random I pull down "What Was Literature? Class, Culture and Mass Society" by Leslie Fiedler and here's what he's talking about:

In 1948 he wrote a very influential essay on homoeroticism in fiction, called "Come Back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey" about this theme in Twain's "Huckleberry Finn".

So here's a quote from the intro to this 1982 collection:

"What I actually contended [in the Huck essay], referring not just to Huckleberry Finn but other American classics like The Leatherstocking Tales and Moby Dick was that, in a society characterized on the conscious level by fear and distrust of what I called then "homoerotic love" ("male bonding" has since become a fashionable euphemism) and by mutual violence between white and nonwhite Americans, there has appeared over and over in books written by white American authors the same myth of an idyllic anti-marriage: a lifelong love, passionate though chaste, and consummated in the wilderness, on a whaling ship or a raft, anywhere but "home," between a white refugee from "civilization" and a dark-skinned "savage", both of them male."

He goes on to list some movies and books that repeated this theme since 1948.

Lifelong love? Passionate though chaste? Does this sound like smarm fanfic? It does to me. (I am a fan of smarm, actually.)

Then this quote from Fiedler:

"We are taking with us [into the space age] that old American myth, embodied in the relationship of the very white Captain Kirk and his green-blooded Vulcan buddy, Mr. Spock, as portrayed in the cult TV series Star Trek--one early review of which was quite properly headed Come Back to the Space Ship Ag'in, Spock Honey."

So there you have this cultural/literary critic, seeing the same things that the slashers see.

Some of this same stuff comes up in slash, see? The discussion we have about hating female characters as part of focusing on m/m porn and romance. The over-reaction to Mary Sues.

Slash fanfiction was created by women for reasons that we are still flailing around trying to hash out (except when we stop flailing and go back to enjoying the porn, or when we decide it's one of those questions that have no answers so why make yourself crazy, as a Buddhist would say), and this stuff with Fiedler gave me some insight here.

My idea: that when women write slash, we are steeped in our literary culture, and thus we have to some degree absorbed and recycled the myths and plots and themes that are part of the heritage of the novel, including the homoerotic and racist themes that Fiedler talks about. No writing, no creative work, is done in a vacuum. We all have influences; we all swim in a cultural ocean.

So I think that as women, when we write men in slash, we are using this homoerotic bonding thing that the culture has given us, from Ishmael and Queequeg through Kirk and Spock, and of course we are doing our own thing with it as well. But also, we chicks, when we write fanfic, often put the race thing in the background, because Men are Other enough. Women often focus, consciously or unconsciously, on the gender split, not on the race split, in humanity. Also, it's clear that most women writing slash are white, and of course just because women were/are oppressed doesn't give white women some magical insight into other kinds of oppression. We all have to work at empathy.



Looking at these aspects of fandom, I have often asked myself from which view point or what have you, am I looking at these characters, Where does the aesthetic lie for a woman of mixed race? And come to think of it, I've never really given a thought on how to write Teal'c, he is black, he is an alien, he is a person. Sometimes I feel as if it is just that simple.

[princessofgeeks]: exactly! because it's all about the filters, and sometimes we don't realize what filters we have. we have to notice.
and yes: he's black, he's alien, and he is a person. it is that simple, but doing all that without blind recourse to stereotypes is the challenge, both as a writer and as a thoughtful person.
wild interesting stuff happens when people from the fringes take on the dominant culture. some of the most interesting stuff of all. i've had sociology teachers who really felt that all new art comes from the fringes -- jazz, fashion trends, rock and roll, everything.


Are some slash writers misognistic? Quite probably, which is sad since most of us are women. However, I think the issue of poor treatment of women in slash has much more to say about cultural attitudes toward homosexuality and the "default" setting of heterosexuality than it does about hatred of women. Also slipping into that is the poor treatment of women characters *by* their creators. I think it's much more likely that there's 'hatred' of badly drawn women in fiction (especially science fiction and action/adventure) and boredom/disgust with the heterosexual default. Face it, the cultural default settings we deal with are NOT woman-positive. Some of us have been fighting them for our entire lives - bucking the default *is* our default setting. :-)

[princessofgeeks]: i totally agree with what you're saying about misogyny in the canon, in the culture and the fanfic. that was my point exactly.
i have found several fanfic authors, through my short time of five years in fandom and my short list of five fandoms that i've been deeply involved with, whom i would characterize as actively misogynistic and finding slash a great way to display their hatred of their own sex; fanfic as a cover for self esteem issues. (of course i would never TELL a writer to her face that that's what I thought of their work; that would be just wrong and weird and mean.)
most of the poor treatment of female characters has to do with other issues, and you've spelled them out nicely. i agree with you there.

[tejas]: I think you're right *there* with the rise of the Geek archetype. Though, even there, at least in Stargate, Daniel is Other in that he's a civilian in a military environment. Much more an outsider in that way than Teal'c and an outsider the wider audience identifies with as most of *us* are also civilians. Jack is even more of an Everyman, though. For all his military background, his love of pop culture and generally easy-going nature (and willingness to speak plainly) makes him easy to identify with, as well.


There's another factor, imo - the female characters in many shows are poorly realised and usually set up as antagonists or are just annoying - my first fandom was Due South and the female characters - even the ones the guys were supposed to be hot for - needed extensive reworking to make them palatable. same thing applied in my next (and still current) big fandom - The Sentinel. het fans obviously had the necessary incentive to do so. if they wanted fanfic they needed a likeable female character to pair the guys with, but the slash writers had no need to bother.

plenty of slash fans didn't look beyond the surface to the fact that these female characters were written by men for a male audience. coming from a feminist perspective, i refused to demonise these female characters, so i tended not to write about them much. since i'm a slasher, that didn't present too much of a challenge :P

even in recent shows, like SGA, there are still few female characters which are fully realised. Sam Carter is one, and i wonder if that's not mainly due to the fact that AT has been with the show(s) so long that she has enough pull to make sure Carter is real. Teyla's an awesome character, but horribly under-utilised most of the time. Weir, i thought, was likeable but not particularly well written. and then who have we got? Cadman? Katie Brown? the numerous Alien Babes?

there's all these pre-made misogynistic tools and tropes laying around our culture which the author can pick up and use without any extra thought...

or simply take the character at face value - because, let's be honest here, on the surface, Rodney is a self-absorbed, egotistical, hypocondriacal coward. if he had a bit role, he'd be about as popular as Kavanaugh or Cadman. but since he's one of the lead roles, the writers show us that there is so much more to him than appears on the surface. if you look at Rodney's first appearance on SG-1, he was exactly that kind of character - there only for the purpose of annoying the shit out of everyone.

but the writers don't bother to flesh out most of the female roles, and thus make them easy targets. there are plenty of fans out there who genuinely dislike or even hate Weir and Cadman, so i don't think it's just a matter of getting an inconvenient barrier to slashy goodness out of the way.

but if you'd like to hazard an opinion as to why the female bit characters seem so much more annoying than the male ones...


I haven't watched TV fiction for a long time, and the two series that I remember the most before I stopped, The X-Files and Babylon 5, which didn't have poorly realized female characters, so I can't really comment on that. Aside from novels, I get my fiction now from anime and manga, and for the most part I find the male and female characters to be about equally realized. Although I'm sure that a lot of that is due to my reading/viewing choices, and that there's probably a lot of anime/manga out there with poorly realized female characters, a lot of the manga and anime is created by women for girls (shoujo manga and anime), whereas in the U.S. most of the creative staff is men and the TV execs are constantly lusting after the 18-35 male demographic.

One thing that many people in anime/manga fandoms have noticed is that if a male character is attractive then many fangirls will forgive him for pretty much anything, up to and including being a sociopathic murderer (the same might happen to some extent in American TV fandoms (though note that I'm not accusing you in particular of this)). These fangirls will, for example, squee over and woobify an angsting male character while considering an angsting female character to be an annoying whiner. I've heard some HP fans make similar observations about the woobification of Draco and Snape from Harry Potter, that they wouldn't be woobified if they had been female instead of male.


I'm all in favor of Meta By People Who Aren't Ph.Ds in Literary Theory -- we have to stick together!


So much to chew on! I'll admit that long before I began reading Jack/Daniel, Jack/Teal'c is the pairing that screamed to me from the screen and that was before I read slash or knew what it was. After tretonin I couldn't see anything keeping them apart. I like Jack/Daniel because the actors are hot and later episodes gave lots of moments but on a spiritual level, Jack/Teal'c always fit better to my mind. Once Junior was out of the picture and before Jack became a joke character, they were totally doing it. :)

I wish I had a more profound comment here. I'm interested in the thought that men are Other enough and so we've replaced race with gender. I think that is only part of the explanation because it gives no role to our discomfort issues with race. I don't have deep enough insights to make more of a comment than that.

I could never decide if Teal'c and Cam were "doing it" but it sure as hell wasn't because Cam's tail failed to wag anytime he was near Teal'c. And almost no fanfic EVER picked up on it. I'm still mystified.


I DO think most of us slash writers have discomfort issues with race. No question. But the canons we are choosing characters from are already so sparsely populated by characters of color that that is part of it, I think.

I'm just saying that if you start where Fiedler starts, with the idea that the male writers were obsessed with violence and with subjugating native peoples, that led to this race thing being central to the male writers.

when female slashers take this undercurrent, maybe we are more interested in Men as Other (a la de Beauvoire) than Person of Color as Other. Just a theory.

but imho it's not an either or proposition.... I know for a fact that "our discomfort with race" as you say, does have a role in what gets written in slash. no question.

i think the male/female thing is there and also the white/nonwhite thing is there, too.


One thing I love about Teal'c fic is that because most people who write about him consciously choose to write about him, it tends to be better and more experienced writers. The quality is more uniformly excellent. There's less of it, but what's there is concentrated goodness.

I'm a huge J/D lover myself so I totally understand getting distracted. There's a scholar/warrior tension there but they're both big picture guys and I do think they're a great pairing in a completely different way than Jack/Teal'c are.

I absolutely agree that our canons are race-poor and that can't help but limit our options. What fic allows us to do, though, is to take the parts of the story that the writers screwed up, to take the hints of things that interest us and turn them into stories. I don't see a whole lot of taking the cool parts of Teal'c and developing them or of taking the hints of interracial slash and expanding it. I'm not here to lay blame -- I'm as much a part of it as anyone -- it's just something that I've recently become aware of and have been pondering.

I agree that it isn't either/or. The situation is far more complex. I do think it's interesting that, as a group, we aren't very good with dealing with the racism and misogyny issues. I want to talk more about this but I have to rush off to my yoga class right now. I'll try to get back to this when I get home. :)


the way this myth of male bonding and violence relegates women is the subject of Love and Death in the American novel, and it's a whole nother meta. To be brief and oversimplified, we scary women scared the men away from the terrible oppression of domesticity and into the arms of the Noble Savage. Peter Pan, Lost Boys stuff. with a twist. But you probably know all that already.

The roles allowed heroines in US novels was all through Love and Death in the American Novel and it had me all NO WONDER I LOVED SF SO MUCH! AIEE. You know -- the whole Only Good Girls allowed, no bad girls, and your only choices were Smothering Mother and Tragically Dying Virgin.

but I ran across the Kirk and Spock quote and zing! Here I was, back to fangirling Fiedler!

[melannen]: See, the first thing that got me interested in SG1 is the way in which one of the dominant themes of the show is "We have met the Noble Savage, and He Is Us" - I mean, you don't get much more explicit with that than Thor's insistence that his crush on Jack is OK, since Jack's so "genetically advanced" for a primitive, and anyway it's the Asgard burden to care for the lesser races; and it's present with the Goa'uld, the Tok'ra, the Tollan, the Nox, the Jaffa, the Orii, abd then the Ancients re-invert it by being even Nobler and Savager than anyone else and being utterly insufferable about it. The problem, of course, it that the show itself never really fully explores the issues that it birngs up, and maybe more importantly, it *utterly* refuses to confront the way those themes interact (or at least should interact) with Earth's racism. Getting to where I'd felt like I'd dealt with all of that fairly would be, god, so much work, when all I really want is to write Jack and Thor having hot Nordic sex. Which, you know - issues. But there is so much to explore there in Stargate canon, and I wish I had the attention span for it.


I'm not sure of Mark Twain's response to Fiedler would have been, to have his characters "male bonding" being described as homoerotic. The fact that we see it as such is more a product of our own culture.

In Victorian times the fact that two men shared a flat was not regarded as unusual. Through our "modern eyes" the assumption is "they are gay". Hence Holmes' expressions of affection for Watson take on a whole new meaning. So the Victorian "best friends" are transformed into "gay lovers".

I've read Kirk/Spock slash (the main themes seem to be alien vs human and emotion vs logic, when it's not just about the Porn) but not much in the way of Teal'c/Jack/Daniel to comment on them.

As to why us females like slash, that's like asking why do most men find watching two women engaged in sex such a turn on. Maybe it has to do with the fact its a superstimulus. In m/m porn we are getting turned on by what both characters are doing to each other. In m/f the female character may be seen as either a rival or is mentally substituted for us. Either way we are only getting half the fun.


And I am the only one living who will repeat the unbelieved fact - that neither Teyla Emmagan nor Ronon Dex are 'people of color'. (Although, for some reason, the minds of ficcers seem to cast them that way. )

The ACTORS may have ethnic backgrounds of various degrees of complexity and/or interest - but that is a different topic. (Save for the few strange minds that can't separate people from characters... but I will assume those are reading 'Teen Beat' and not here). However, when I put my personal goggles aside and read the screen? There is no indication on the part of any Athosian that Teyla Emmagan is not genetically 'conventional' to the Athosian world view (other than the Wraith bit... but that is not generally known on Athos I believe) and if Ronon Dex was part of any 'minority' on Sateda? Neither he no[r] the writers have chosen to reference that fact.

I could speculate why we watchers must have the aliens divided into terrestrial cultural catagories of white/other-than-white rather than accepting that 1) there are ALIENS in alien space and 2) there are places where the 2008 cultural angsts may be even MORE alien than the aliens themselves. But for now - I won't.


well, see, that's part of what I'm saying in that last bit about Teal'c.

If you consider canon only -- the story inside the plot, then it's just face value that there are aliens of all colors and all shapes and all sizes, and they are who they are. Their experience has zip to do with the experience of people of color or racial minorities on Earth.

Inside the story, that is a given.

But all the racism stuff becomes very important, imho, when you look at the story as a story. When you look at the fact that the writers of the gateverse, as I said, case the Designated Tough Male Alien, twice in a row, now, as a black man.

And when you look at the historical underrepresentation of nonwhite characters in SF shows, and how for example you can have a Buffy series pretty much without Asians and how impossible that is if your are trying to do a real life snapshot of California.... all this stuff only becomes problematic when you step back and look at both the story itself AND the frame of how the writers made the choices they did about casting, symbolism, etc.

That's where I'm looking now. Not inside the story. So yeah, I agree with you. But I think I'm looking through a wider aperture at the moment.

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