The State of Femslash: January 2009

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Title: The State of Femslash: January 2009
Creator: twtd
Date(s): Jan. 25th, 2009
Medium: online
Topic: Femslash
External Links: The State of Femslash: January 2009,
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The State of Femslash: January 2009 is a 2009 Livejournal post by twtd on some of the highs and lows of the femslash fandom at the time.

Some Topics Discussed


So, the state of femslash today (YMMV, this is my opinion, grains of salt, and Cherokee Medicine Wheels):

Let's start with the good stuff because as much as I complain, there is good stuff. femslash_today is one of the best things about femslash fandom and I hope that the people compiling links know that. It's great because it does exactly what it says it does. It compiles links. There's no politics. It's just a well organized list. It visually represents why the smallness of femslash fandom can be great. Can you imagine doing a list of links for every slash story posted in one day? Maybe you can, I haven't looked to see if this exists, but I doubt it. And generally, if it lists a fandom that you've never heard of before or never thought of and there's only one story posted in that fandom, chances are it's a pretty good story. And if it isn't perfect, at least it's generally both thoughtful and thought provoking.

And those stories are another, perhaps the best, part of femslash fandom. Let's face it, we're all really here for the stories. And the stories can be wonderful. They can be well written and well characterized and thoughtful. They can be AMAZING. That's why I started writing recs because in femslash, as in every fandom, there's a lot of bad writing out there, and I wanted to call attention to the good stuff, the stuff that I thought everyone should read without regard to specific fandom. Every one of the fics I reced, I reced because it did something and I thought the author was trying to something beyond merely having bodies move on a page.

This brings me to femslash06, femslash07, femslash08, and presumably femslash09. This fest consistently inspires great fic every year. It's also, as far as I know, the biggest femslash fest out there. There are all sorts of other challenges, but they're either very new or they're just not as successful. I think that part of the reason that this fest, as opposed to a lot of the challenges out there, does so well is that it has rules and consequences. I think this keeps most people who aren't serious about it from signing up. It's the closest thing that femslash has to Yuletide. Yuletide, btw, also produces some great femslash every year. I know that there's a difference between a challenge and a fest. I just think that we tend to get overloaded on the no commitment/no consequences/OMG YAY!!!11! any fic is great fic challenges. They have their place but they don't always inspire quality.

girlslash and femme_fic are also on my list of things that make me happy. I'm tempted to hug them to my chest and keep them there and never let them see the light of day because in comparison to something like passion_perfect, they're tiny and kinda hidden (not really) and the fic on them is either going to be terribly bad or incredibly good and telling the difference is quick and easy. The fics on them tend not to get cross-posted beyond femslash_today and fic from other places tends not to get cross-posted to them. I selfishly don't want that to change. I like my little communities the way they are. *sigh* Thus is life and I can hardly complain about the problems of our insularity if I'm actively working to propagate it. I don't have a problem with everyone going off into their own little corners, but I'd really like it if the corners could maybe talk to each other once and a while.

So, now for the problems, as I see them (numbered to keep me from rambling off onto completely divergent non-points):

1. I will not complain abut bad fic. There is bad fic everywhere. If you can't deal with that and find your way around it, you're in the wrong place. But, well, it is a problem, which I'll touch on in point 2.

2. The general thin skinned-ness of femslash authors. I swear that most of femslash fandom has not heard of constructive criticism. You can be effusive in your praise of a fic but if you mention one tiny thing that just did not work for you everyone gets all defensive and suddenly, YOU ARE THE DEVIL. This is a bit hyperbolic but you get the idea. And it doesn't just apply to the fic. It applies to how the fandom handles itself in general. For the most part, growth is painful and yes, hearing criticism sucks but we are pussies. We may write about uber tough, super butch women, but we are not them and we cannot take it. I'm totally in the same boat; I don't like it any more than anyone else. But I try to handle it like an adult. I'm very sorry to break it to you, femslash, but every story ever posted is not great. We are not so small as to be grateful for the burnt gruel scrapped off of the bottom of the pot and we need to realize that.

3. I think that most people like the fact that femslash fandom is so small. I generally like it too. The problem is, we tend to live in our own little world, our own little bubble. For the most part, we don't go out and interact with larger fandom. We don't cross-post our fic or our graphics. We don't engage. We simply sit in our bubble and talk amongst ourselves until we get to the point where we're all saying the same thing. We're sitting in an echo chamber and it's group think to the extreme.

An example: I used to think (naively) that femslash was immune to the gender issues that show up in slash, the cyclical discussions of "where are the female characters?" Clearly, we're writing about the female characters and if the guy don't show up very often, that's okay, because we're not bashing them and they're around all the time anyway. Then Will had the misfortune of wandering into JJ's story arc. Poor Will, who's generally portrayed as a pretty good guy on Criminal Minds, has turned into a (sometimes) emotionally abusive, (sometimes) drunk, often absent, generally unsupportive SOB who also has the misfortune of being Southern. Poor Will. All he did wrong was fall in love with JJ, who is canonically very straight (I'm sorry, Emily codes as gay, JJ does not. /personal issues), and now all of femslash fandom loathes him. Hello gender issues and character bashing. But do we talk about them? No. We just go on making Will worse and worse in our own private echo chamber. And that brings us to point 4.

4. We don't think about what we're writing. How much femslash meta is out there? Beyond those links at the top of my post, not a lot. You have to go searching. Meta isn't written by the meta gods in the sky who search the interwebs looking for things to write about, who just never seem to see that femslash is out there. It's written by authors asking questions about themselves and what they do and how and why they do it. And we, we just don't do that. I'll admit to complicity in this. I could be writing a lot more meta than I am.

Beyond Character A + Character B equals Angst or more generally Character A + Character B equals Sex!, we're just not interested. For the most part, we don't ask big questions, either through our fic, or about it. No one's written the SVU fic where Olivia talks about how hard it was to be a gay cop in the NYPD in the 1980s. No one's written the Stargate Atlantis fic where Telya looks around and thinks, "gee, there aren't a lot of women around here." No one's writing the post about how maybe Women's Murder Club sucked so badly because it was a show about women conceived by a man and that's significant. And we could be because we're supposed to be focusing on the women. Slash writers look around and there are pretty boys everywhere and they still manage to get into discussions about the lack of female characters on tv shows or in movies. And yet, when we're looking for women, we don't seem to notice that they're not there. Clearly, this is a piece of meta for another day.

Now, I'm all for teh sex! and teh pretty! but I like it when my sex comes with a side of something more. I should say this lack of self-consciousness is not universal. There are some authors out there who are thinking about how and why they write and they're giving their stories more layers and meanings. I heart them all very much.

eta: Not to imply that meta is the be all and end all in fandom. I know it isn't. Mostly, we're all here for the stories.

5. Something that I think follows from the last point, we're all very conservative about what we write and what we read. In reference to the genderswap post, there's just not a whole lot of genderswap going on in femslash fandom and as one of the commenters pointed out, there probably wouldn't be much of an audience for it. If we're happy with A + B equals Sex!, then there isn't much call for any sort of experimentation. So, no genderswap, no rare pairings, the death of what was uber (which Xena fandom raised to an artform) but is now more and more being called au by people writing slash and het and gen, no altered mental or physical states in general. There's no need to think beyond, to ask what if. Some of it's the fandoms. The mainstream shows that garner the biggest femslash followings tend to be very rooted in reality. As I've said, it's hard to say, "aliens made us do it" if you're writing CSI fic. And the shows with aliens (both literal and metaphorical) just don't have as many women on them. But beyond canonical restraints, we're just not trying to push boundaries and if we did, there just doesn't seem to be the audience.

And I think I'm going to stop there. But I have questions. My biggest one being why? Why have we evolved in this way? Why have we, in a sense, devolved since Star Trek and Xena, become less sophisticated? Why don't we go out and engage in the discussions in general fandom (I know I will get answers to this from the few people who do. I heart all of you too)? What are we so afraid of?

Comments at the Post

I've been active in femslash communities for quite a while now (oh, the halcyon days of ER fandom circa 2002!) and a lot of the problems you've mentioned have existed since the Xena days - but are getting worse, in many cases. Femslash fandom is cliquey. It eats its own. It discourages new writers who don't follow established fic patterns. It ostracizes writers who aren't working in "pre-approved" fandoms and writers who also sometimes (gasp!) write about men. All of fandom is like that, of course, but it seems like there are particularly ugly consequences in the femslash community.

I don't know what to do with that, and I'm certainly not volunteering to fix it. But you're not the only one troubled.

In my opinion, pretty much all the problems within the femslash fandom in general can be explained by its fairly small size when compared to, say, the slash fadom. Because of the fairly small number of writers & fics, there is no hierarchy or a pecking order of sorts which the slash fandoms most certainly have. I think it's exactly this hierarchy which a) makes criticism (constructive & otherwise) more common in the slash fadom, and b) decreases the amount of badfic as authors considered "bad" are quickly banished from fandom (whether that's a good thing, though, deserves a meta post of its own).

Also, my two cents re: the JJ/Will storyline on Criminal Minds. For me the problem with that storyline wasn't Will's XY chromosomes, but the way they wrote him in. It was so incredibly OOC for JJ, and the "Oh, by the way, we've been doing it like bunnies for the last year" explanation was simply lame. I don't dislike Will because he's a man, but because his storyline was/is poorly written and forced to say the least.

I'm a passive participant in most media fandoms; my mainstay has always been in the rps part, so I'm not very familiar with many of the more intricate details of media-based fandoms, although I do read in many of them. However, almost all of the issues I think are just mostly related to the *size* of femslash fandom. Even just judging from the replies here (and in the other meta-y post, which was the reason I wandered here as well from f_t) there are plenty of people who agree with you, myself included. But if it's not as much as het or slash fandom, well, it's just that Sturgeon's Law applies: 90% of everything, you know? It's like the chances of the USA having an Olympic gold medalist as compared to the chances of, say, Switzerland. And when you get used to non-gold-medal standards, when you're ready to read stuff that you don't even think is remotely good just because it's all that's *there*, well. (Believe me, my current main fandom is sports rpfs, I know that feeling so very well.)

Of course, that doesn't go to say small fandoms can't be awesome. I got into fandom through popslash, and popslashers used to say that in popslash, it wasn't 90% of everything, it was 85%. ;) Popslash was indeed a huge fandom, so it's not exactly a good example, but somehow the standards in that fandom were higher than in any other I've had the pleasure of getting to know. I think it is possible that the quality of fandom doesn't always have to correlate to its size. Unfortunately, I don't know HOW it becomes so, just that it sometimes does. I'm probably not very helpful, just throwing in my two cents.