Is it just "where the women are"?

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Title: Is it just "where the women are"?
Creator: tellitslant
Date(s): August 9, 2006
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External Links: Is it just "where the women are"?; archive link
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Is it just "where the women are"? is a 2006 essay by tellitslant.

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpts from the Essay

So interestingly enough, someone who hadn't run across any of the recent femslash discussion asked me yesterday why Doctor Who femslash was so much better - bigger, easier to find, etc - than Stargate. I don't necessarily agree with the statement, but I understand where the perception comes from, and that is really making me think about femslash in general.

To an extent, I had the same experience - Who femslash was much more 'out there' than Stargate when I first went looking - and that was entirely contrary to my expectations. After all, the Stargates have and have had a fair handful of women, living in the same area, interacting with each other, in a military or semi-military organisation, who are decently interesting characters and very pretty. Who... has Rose, and my own thoughts on her aside, there's just not as much opportunity there, plus femslash has never been quite as big on the Cult of the One-Episode Guest Star as has boyslash or het. Even in oldschool Who, there's rarely more than one female regular - Nyssa and Tegan overlapped, and Susan and Barbara, but I think that's it - and most Who femslash seems to be newschool anyways.

For the record, I do think there's more SG femslash out there. My brief research reveals SG way over Who in both femslash06 and the FemGen Ficathon (not femslash, yes, but a decent crossover of fans, I think). But then, the Stargates have been around for ten seasons, while the newschool, freely shippy Who only has two under its belt, and I'm still gonna say that outside of these examples, I found Who much more easily than SG.

Both SG and Who are completely dominated by non-femslash pairings - the Stargates mainly have boyslash, while Who is overrun by Doctor/Rose. Does that say something about the fandom? Does the fact that the women aren't as crazy-popular in fandom-at-large translate into the amount of femslash? Why aren't the women as crazy-popular?

I have a feeling that I'm not getting out of this without being mean to the SG fandom, and I'm kind of sorry for that, but I keep trying to write this in a way that isn't and it's not working. But what I keep coming out with is that in the fandoms listed above, women are in power and empowered in a way that I just don't associate with SG fandom's view of their women. Everything that I saw as an observer of SG fandom was always "Teyla is boring" and "Weir is weak" and that sort of thing, which is part of the reason I never sought out SG canon. And now that I've seen SG, I am kind of bowled over wondering where people get that reaction from. So I think something in SG as a text is depowering women, and the fandom is letting it happen. I'm not entirely sure what, but I think that's the problem. I think part of it might be that SG is very much a military show where the men are the main military strength, but whatever it is, it pushes women out of the centre of fannish interest.

Who doesn't quite follow the same rules as above, but in a way it does. The central figure is certainly the male Doctor, but especially in newschool, the female companion is just as important. Rose particularly dictates a lot of what they do or try to do, and while I'll argue that she lost a lot of her autonomy through the end of the second season, she started out as a very powerful figure. And by default, by sheer lack of others, the companion is always the central female figure.

So sure, shows with powerful women draw the femslashers. This is no surprise. But if, if, we take my hypothesis up there, about letting the women be less in SG, then what does that say about the community? Do we need those powerful women before we start anything? Can't we make them better on our own, or pull out the interesting bits when there might not be as many? Boyslashers have always lived on that old phrase about "being subversive." If femslash is subversive, can't we be subversive in the way of empowering women where the show doesn't have or take the time?

Is this where femslash is falling down?

Some Fan Comments

[sakuracorr]:

I found it funny that's how you interpretted what I said, because while I think Doctor Who femmeslash is a bigger part of fandom, I don't think Stargate femmeslash is hard to find.

My main point was the quality in Doctor Who femmeslash tends to overshadow the quality in Stargate femmeslash.
[nostalgia lj]:

The SGs have male characters as the fandom focus, for sure. Either half of whichever show's geek/grunt pairing. Which pushes the women out a bit. Which... actually fits my thought earlier this week about male DW fandom not noticing the women. I think female SG fandom doesn't notice the women unless they're getting in the way. Weir and Teyla do leadership stuff in the background and generally don't get noticed unless that puts them into conflict with the boys. So they seem weak, or boring, or whatever.

The central figure is certainly the male Doctor, but especially in newschool, the female companion is just as important. Rose particularly dictates a lot of what they do or try to do

LJ girlfandom seems to be much more into the women than I've met before in DW fandom more generally. I feel like we're very close to the fandom defining eras by companion, whereas the tradition's always been to divide by production team. Even the rubbish ones tend to get powered-up in fandom, which is the reverse of what's sometimes true in a lot of fandoms.

But the girlslash? I dunno. We do have less than I think we do, if that makes any sense. Lack of interaction might be an issue, and like you say it's hard to do much with a single-episode pairing. (Though Ten/Reinette's quite healthy for the lack of source material.) But there's some. I think the slash-goggles in the fandom are a bit better than some at seeing the girlslash potential, which I'd probably put down to migration from BtVS and determination to see any pairing other than the obvious central het one. (Cos, really, there's only so long any single pairing can hold interest for those filthy multifandom bitextuals.)

Which... reads as horribly defensive, yes. All I know is we seem to have more girlslash now and it doesn't seem particularly hostile to it. We don't have much boyslash either, from what I can tell, because the one pairing that seems to really appeal didn't bring as much boyslash as it might have. Size of the fandom? Dominance of a single pairing? I shall have a think.
[tellitslant]: I understand that previous to newschool Who fandom was very heavily male? That's really not the circles I tend to run in fannishly, though not deliberately, so I'm not very good at following the trends that way. But I find it interesting that you see the men ignorning the women in Who and the women ignoring the women in SG, for the same reasons more or less. Hrm.
[viviouswishes]:

I think it's interesting that a lot of people claim to write fic to enhance canon, to fill in the gaps left by canon, or subvert canon, but can't see the same thing for femslash and/or women characters who aren't pre-packaged feminist/strong characters. In my own experience, I grew up watching Trek and I always thought it was better to be Beverly Crusher, a woman, than to be Data or Picard because they were boys.

I mentioned the thing about SGA 3x01 in my post because I watched it at writercon with a room full of mostly m/m slasher and got to see their facial reactions and "oh" moments face-to-face. It was a very interesting experience.

(And part of the problem with SG canon is that the writers are a boys' club.)

[snipped]

With BSG, I find it interesting that I didn't see a lot of femslash until Michelle Forbes brought the gay. It's almost like we had to be spoon fed it.

I wonder how much a fandom adapts itself to authorial perceptions, regardless of how unintentional the intentions are (wow, we'll just pretend I said that in a way that makes sense) or how unconscious the fandom movements are.

The two fandoms I'm most familiar with are the Buffyverse and SGA.

I'd say that with SGA, most people know it's a boys club. They also know from SG-1 that there's never going to be any sort of sex or hooking up of the main characters. (Ships? What ships?) And then there's the DeLuise that comments on things like Weir's boobs in commentary. To fans, it makes sense that the female characters are subpar and a lot of them are okay with that since no one is shipped together and can stop the fandom boyslash OTP.

With Buffyverse, it's overwhelmingly apparent that a) a lot of people worship Joss and b) believe wholeheartedly that he was writing a feminist show with Buffy. This is definitely why there is more het here. I think Buffy/Willow would be a lot bigger if Willow hadn't went evil and if they were friends at the end of the show like they were in S1. Or there would've been more femslash in general if the women (the non-related ones) had more screen time. Really, only Faith/Buffy and early Willow/Buffy was given that development. But then you get into those that don't want to write teenagers...
[furriku]: Reading your post, I started to wonder whether it's a "chicken or egg" thing; is it that fewer people write f/f in a certain canon because it's got "weaker" female characters, or is it that the kind of people who write f/f are more interested in a show with [[Strong Female Characters}stronger female characters]]? Of course, I'm pretty sure both cases are true. Certainly a thought-provoking essay, though.
[sally maria]:

I think that you are maybe missing something by focusing on LJ and also on Atlantis.

On Area 51, the Stargate slash archive, Sam/Janet is the second most popular pairing (after Jack/Daniel) and appears to be much bigger than any of the other possible m/m pairings. I suspect there has been less written in the last couple of years, for canonical reasons, but it is a pairing that was very popular and was also seen to have a fairly strong basis in the show, even by fans who weren't into reading/writing femslash.

I suspect you are right about the way Atlantis fandom views the female characters, but it is certainly true that Teyla and Elizabeth have nothing like the on-screen interaction and the perceived closeness that Sam and Janet had. For fans who take their ship/slash preferences from what they see on-screen, that may also make a difference.
[lyssie]:

I get the impression that a lot of the SG women are depowered, because the women writing them want to have sex with the men. And strong, intelligent women just get in the way. (yes, this is the very bitchy, cranky assessment). If it weren't true, there wouldn't be so much painfully bad Sam/Jack fic that includes her injured/raped/emotionally-messed up so Jack Has to fix her. And the amount of truly awful Elizabeth gets the same treatment and John's magickal penis fixes it all fic is probably proportionately equal. I can't say much about the other het pairings, sadly.

With the slash, I just get that it's a general "we're focusing on the guys" trend. Although there's also some of the "women are boring" feeling mixed in.

Is it a bit because they don't get a lot of screentime? Sure. But the characters themselves certainly aren't pushovers. None of them runs around, twists an ankle, screams and has to be rescued.

As a sidenote, iirc, it wasn't until just recently that Rose, on her own, had her own LJ community. She was just merely an extension of the 'ship. So I'm not sure that's saying much about the newskool 'shippers, really.

I also agree with one of the other commenters--if canon doesn't give us more chicks on screen, we should bloody well write it.

As a sidenote to my (it's very late, I'm rambly) original point, the femslashers could be just as bad with the depowering to get saved kind of fic (I suppose it's a variation of hurt/comfort, but it's kind of taken to an extreme). Er, but I've only dabbled a bit and only look for/write porn, generally.
[aabbey]:

I've recently tried to get into SG fandom, and I'm kind of puzzled by the amount of boyslash. But I *have* found a good deal of femslash out there, though most of it is of the stable Sam/Janet variety, not the crazy random female character hate!sex that makes being a Janeway whore so wonderful.

But to the point...I'm a military woman (a cadet), and I think there's something about women in the military that it's hard for the public imagination to get. Even supposedly enlightened liberals often have a perception that a warrior by nature is a brute, a guy with immense physical strength. They may not care for the military because of their views of a warrior being a brute and an asshole, but they can't adjust to the idea of a woman being a soldier or a warrior. It challenges years and years of cultural baggage and war movies.

In some ways the military as an institution is way ahead of American culture on gender roles...not to say that there aren't gender issues (I've had my share), and grumblings from lower ranks. But I'd say the upper echelons are completely committed to women being true warriors, and would do away with pesky combat restrictions if the damned Congress would let them.

So, if this makes any sense, viewers may have trouble understanding women SG characters--may consider them "weaker males", or may not understand that their decision to join up was motivated by the same reasons that motivated men--be those reasons good ones or not.

References