The flip side. ("Pickering, why can't a woman be more like a man?")

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Title: The flip side. ("Pickering, why can't a woman be more like a man?")
Creator: bookshop
Date(s): January 13, 2010
Medium: online
External Links: ("Pickering, why can't a woman be more like a man?") ; archive page 1; archive page 2; archive page 3; archive page 4
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The flip side. ("Pickering, why can't a woman be more like a man?") is a 2010 Livejournal post by bookshop.

It has 265 comments.

Some Topics Discussed


Because what 2 things do heteronormative tropes reinforce, again and again:

1) the idea that there's a gender binary and that men and women fall into strict gender patterns/roles within it; 2) the idea that this is the only realistic and "right" way in which healthy normal relationships can be formed and stay intact.

And then we look at slash, predominantly male/male pairings, and what do we see:

1) the idea that there's a gender divide and that men and women fall on strict sides of it, unless gender patterns are deliberately being subverted in ways that ultimately promote male/male hegemony; 2) the idea that the male/male pairings are the only "right" readings of the texts we are slashing, that women are not invited to this party, that if women happen to be canonically involved with one half of the m/m pairing of your choice, they are going to be shunted aside, dismissed, overlooked, badmouthed, maligned, ridiculed, and generally subjected to all the misogyny you and I have been subjected to all our lives, simply because we're women. Only we're, of course, doing it to other women. Fictional women, but still women.

I hate this. I hate that I feel like I can't legitimately talk about how much I love certain female characters, because (like Elizabeth from White Collar), it's seen as just trying to "politely include the women for the sake of political correctness." because of course everyone knows how much we want the men to fuck at the exclusion of all else. I can't talk about how much I love Whip It because no one cares. I hate that I can't talk about how much I love the Devil Wears Prada fandom without feeling like I only love it because Andy/Miranda is a substitute for a m/m pairing that isn't present, or legitimately ship Gwen/Morgana without worrying that i'm just doing it to get them out of the way for Merlin/Arthur.
And it's true. Slash fandom en masse has a terribly troubling attitude towards women in fandom. We dismiss all the women, nearly all of the time. OR, which bothers me even more (not least because I'm guilty of doing it), we'll go, oh, I LOVE Female character X, she's so awesome! - and then we'll all hasten to reassure ourselves that we LOVE her, we LOVE our female characters! And then we'll never do anything with them. We'll keep politely shunting them off to one side, because of course saying we love them makes it okay! Talking about how much we love Mary and how badass she is makes it okay for us to ship Holmes and Watson together at the exclusion of all else, right? Occasionally writing Elizabeth/Neal/Peter justifies us writing epic amounts of Neal/Peter over all, doesn't it? Everyone talks about how much we love Teyla in SGA fandom! Doesn't change the fact that John/Rodney is the rule of the day. Oh, and let us not leave out Gwen/Arthur, and Gwen/Morgana. Everyone loves Gwen/Morgana. I love Gwen/Morgana. But if we love Gwen so much, why aren't we happy to see her and Arthur so happy together in S2? Don't we love Gwen enough to enjoy her stepping into her role as main character? Or do we only love her enough to shunt her off to the side to be happy with Morgana, so we can all enjoy the lovely Merlin/Arthur slash. And how many post-canon Harry/Draco fics have you read where Ginny got to remain a "strong, proud woman" by coming out and moving in with Luna Lovegood, or conveniently dropping off the face of the earth to play for the Holyhead Harpies? Lovely, lovely Katy Allen, how many times have you been pushed to the side since last May so that Kris could have Adam and you could have... what? Certainly not the respect you deserve. And then there's lovely, lovely Uhura, and I'll just leave that pain to Star Trek Reboot fandom to tell. You guys, and I am telling this to myself as much as any of you: we need to hate ourselves less.
Our awareness that slash is a progressive act in terms of raising awareness of queer identity has to be balanced out by the knowledge of how problematic that is when most of our fictions are still telling boy's stories at the expense of our own. We have to figure out as a community how to inject some love for ourselves back into the act of slashing. Because right now, the way it is, I feel like I'm constantly being forced to choose between mainstream media that rarely gives me what I want, and slash fandom, that gives me *part* of what I want but that remains anti-female (and very often anti-chromatic characters). Please let's stop making ourselves choose. Let's write strong men *and* women, who love each other and love themselves, and fight and have sex or don't have sex, and who love other men, and other women, and who aren't stuck in gender roles that are as rigidly assigned in slash fandom as they are anywhere else.

Comments at the Post

I have this secret dream that in the next Sherlock Holmes movie Mary gets to surprise everyone by being actively involved in a case or... SOMETHING, idk.

But I get everything you're saying. It's a significant part of why I've fallen out of slash fandom as a whole (not that I wasn't generally on the sidelines the whole time anyway, not that that matters a whole lot).

I've seen this with all unpopular characters. In particular I think of the Bleach fandom. I made a secret for fandomsecrets about how I felt like Sado Yasutora deserved more love and I got tons of comments saying "OMG I LOVE CHAD!!1" and I'm like... if all of you people love him so much then where the fuck is all the fic?

This happens far far more systematically with female characters, though, to be sure. Relatedly, Bleach fandom's treatment of probably love interest Orihime is deplorable. At best she gets to hook up with her girl best friend but hardly anyone ever writes full on fic of that, now do they? Maybe it's improved, I've been out of that fandom for ages, but I doubt it.

I am starving for a female character I can really latch on to. All of the literary heroes I have, the ones I want to somehow be, at least a little bit, are male. Ford Prefect, Sherlock Holmes (and Watson), Dirk Gently, The Doctor. All of them spectacular, brilliant, and total weirdos and I look up to all of them.

The only female I've got is Luna Lovegood, and I do absolutely adore her but her role is so small, there's precious little to hold on to with her. I wish I had plots in my head to write for her, but it's just not my talent. If she had her own spinoff series about her being some kind of paranormal magical private investigator though, I tell you I would read the fuck out of it. Over and over.
I just wish all the media I consume would do me a favor and write me some women I GENUINELY ADORE

it happens sometimes. Kara Thrace & pretty much all the women on BSG before the show went insane. the women on Friday Night Lights. all the girls in this video game I am playing right now called Persona 4 ahhhh all the amazing girls and women in P4....

but it happens way too rarely. I mean, to tell the truth? I don't really give a crap about Mary in the new Holmes movie. I don't really give a crap about Irene Adler either. sorry!!!!!! I don't dislike them... I just find them wholly uninteresting. and maybe that's because of my own internalized misogyny but maybe a part of it is also because the narratives we are presented with are always ABOUT men. men who are more interesting because they are the ones the stories are about. :( maybe Mary would be interesting if the story actually gave a crap about her and her life and her desires etc etc, but honestly every time she shows up in the movie it's to fuel conflict between Holmes and Watson and/or highlight Holmes' deep relationship w/ Watson, so basically my experience of her is not of her as a person but of her as a prop.

Morgana/Gwen is cute to me but I just can't really get behind it because honestly... Gwen is adorable... but somehow so bland?????? I haven't watched past s1, of course, so granted the show may change, but I never got a sense from her that like. she has goals. or like. that there is ever any internal conflict in her. that she struggles over things. that she has serious problems in her life that she needs to overcome. or whatever! I mean, she is just Nice. that is pretty much all I get from her, and while that's pleasant enough, it's not very interesting to me.

ugh I feel like this is derailing into me trying to justify to you why I don't like the female chars I don't like, which sucks, that's not really where I want to go.

I basically agree with your post entirely & I think we've talked about this before, but I also refuse personally to pretend interest in someone who is not interesting to me, and it feels like 98+% of female characters in popular media today... are not very interesting to me. (which is why of course it's always so refreshing and amazing when I meet one who is interesting to me!)
As far as why we don't slash women as much as men? Maybe it's the lure of the forbidden. I pointed out in the last discussion on this topic to someone that it's almost considered normal, practically half-expected, that women will engage in Sapphic experimentation with their friends. The whole "I experimented in college" thing is damn near cliche. Women sleeping together or boy-girl-girl threesomes are almost more common in soft-core porn that airs on premium channels than het sex these days. Whereas with male/male, there is such a glaring deficit because of the pervasiveness of the belief that enjoying homosexual sex weakens men that all we ever get is subtext. So we fixate on what we can't have: a response that's also almost cliche. Doesn't make it right, but it's definitely human in its completely screwed-up-ness.
There was a post on metafandom not long ago (to be honest, it was the post that got me to finally stop watching that comm) about heteronormativity in mainstream stories and how the author of the post avoids mainstream media because of its heteronormativity, and talked about how some essay in 1974 said that "we" write slash to escape the heteronormativity, but oh my, why was it that so many slashers still wrote one half of their pair as male and one half as female? And after a lot of blah blah blah, someone said, "we live in a gender binary culture where all personality traits are divided into male and female; if you have two characters playing off each other, one is always going to be more stereotypically female in any given situation."

I've always been a bit wary of the large claims of slash—that it's feminist, that it avoids gender roles, that it's pro-female because it's about a female gaze or whatever—in a way that cannot happen in het. And (a) that's not true, never mind (b) name another progressive movement that's still taking its cues from what it was doing in the early 1970s.

Seriously, folks. You wouldn't know third-wave feminism had even happened by looking at a lot of slash meta. I understand that liking what boys like is part of why some people have fled to fandom, but we've seen time and time again what a white boys club entertainment media, and SF/F in particular, can be. Is proving the assumption that girls will watch boys so why make anything starring girls really helping us at all?

Obviously I don't think there's anything wrong with writing piles of slash. I just never really got that it was this amazing feminist statement, and I'm even a little unsure why it's that much of a statement against homophobia. (And I could go on about how slash freed me from Slash, but that's a long story and I'm not sure how to tell it without getting wanky.)

And I haven't even begun to talk about how slash is the sound of white men fucking. I merely have to point to Iron Man movie fandom. Most comic movie fandoms stick to the movie canon because the comics canon is a mess, but rather than slashing Iron Man with the (black) friend in the movie, they slashed him with the (white) fellow superhero that doesn't appear in the movie.

And then we come back to what you are saying, which is that fandom attention spans are short and narrow. I don't think it's just that Whip It is about women, though that's part of it. I think it's also that it's not an adventure or procedural story, which tends to tip male. It's not one of the approved genres, it has no misanthropic genius, no tortured anti-hero who changes his stripes, etc, etc, etc. But that's another conversation for another time.
The people who make these sweeping claims about the subversive nature of slash as a genre towards gender and heteronormativity have always kind of baffled me. Most slash stories do nothing to queer gender roles or even obliquely address the sexuality of the people in the story.

This is perhaps a crass analogy, but it sometimes reminds me of threesomes from heterosexual porn. If the threesome is two men and one woman, the men never stop at the beginning and feel the need to avow their heterosexuality. Even if the men interact with each other (as sometimes happens with DP), there is no queering of their sexuality or implication of bisexuality. A lot of slash stories strike me the same way. Which is to say, while they are not heterosexual, they are not overtly homosexual either. The politics of the closet rarely exist in slashland.

I do think at one time slash was transgressive, but not necessarily because of the content of the stories. When those first zines for Star Trek were published, women's sexuality was a highly contested space. It was the fact that women were the agents, not that it was homosexual, that was transgressive. Eroticized narratives about love between men is nothing new, the Greeks did it long before we ever did. Women writing slash was transgressive.
Well, a lot of fanfic isn't porn, so let's just say that right now. You might only read porn, and you might only think that the porn counts, but there's a lot of fanfic that isn't porn. Unless of course you're saying that all romance=porn, which is such a dilution of that word that it becomes meaningless. And even if straight women are most of fandom, and want porn/erotica/romance about men, that still doesn't explain the dearth of het. Clearly there are many straight women who want het erotica, because there are a LOT of romance novels sold in this country, and almost all of them are about a man and a woman.

There's PC and awareness, and there's the increasing pressure to write things because "we" SHOULD... that's how it starts to come across over time, and it slowly sucks the fun out for me (despite my currently clean writer slate, FWIW).

Fandom still basically is escapism for me, and there's a certain clash going on with the folks for whom it's not. What about the old rule "ignore what you don't like"?

If someone wrote super-sucky serial killers who of course do S&M (oh, wait, that's a TV trope), I'd still never say "delete it". I understand how the fiction that started this is super-terrible regarding many points but I don't want to see group-pressure censorship either. It's still the author's decision how to handle criticism and asking her to delete it because many people hate it... I don't feel comfortable with that. It's the wrong way to deal with it, IMVHO, and only a step away from censorship LJ-style, which everyone hated. Because when we all decide what we don't like for the wrong messages and clichees, there'd be a whole lot of deletion going on.
i think the point that Racefail made for everyone, those involved in speaking out and those listening, is that some of us have the privilege of treating fandom as escapism. We have the privilege of going 'oh look how progressive and shiny and gay-friendly fandom is!' because we don't have marginalized experiences.

Speaking just from my own experience, the moment I started to experience more sexual harassment and gender discrimination in my real life, I became a hell of a lot more aware of it in fandom. And I have lots of privilege. Someone who experiences racism every day? When they come to fandom and realize that fans are eagerly turning SGA POCs into cats, or using Haitians as pidgin-English-speaking props for sexy J2 times, how is that escapist? It isn't. It can't be. And no matter how much we *want* it to be, it can't change the reality of how social conditions manifest themselves in our fic.

As someone who has gleefully written super-sucky serial killers who of course do S&M, I would never try to tell you what you can and can't write. But I don't ever think that wanting to write *more* characters of *more* diversity, with respect and well-researched attention to accurate representation, is ever going to go amiss.
I dunno... is it that rare for slashers to write/ship het? Of course I haven't been around for awhile, but it seems there's lots of slashers who ship-- and write-- het (though who knows how feminist it is, but then non-slashers don't really write super-feminist het either, necessarily). I know there was this 'slashers write het' challenge eons ago that I joined, and I felt all righteous, but in retrospect that seems lame (ie, people were quietly writing het all the time). I do think there's A Problem, of course, but I don't think it's big enough to really expect people will throw you out of the Slashers Club if you go on and write/talk about plenty of women/het/femmeslash. I feel like slash has entered the less-isolated stage awhile ago. Femmeslash is pretty rare (as far as I can tell) compared to het, though, but that's probably a different issue (ie, 'people write for their kinks, that isn't one' seems like a good reason).
[ joker smoker]:
...there is a part of me that thinks that the angst about a lot of this is kind of fulfilling wank about these issues when the reality is that to a large degree, fandom simply takes existing chemistry and runs with it. at least the more interesting parts of fandom. Look at things like farscape, BSG, Buffy etc. X-files. While there are, granted, huge slash pairings in those fandoms, het pairings are pretty darn prevalent and/or common. I agree with you that in lots of slash stuff the women are denigrated, but frankly, in the slash I prefer to read, the well written stuff, they aren't. And I'm just as interested in reading a good John/Aeryn as I am a good Harry/Draco. Is this really a political/awareness/choosing issue or is this really in some part as much of a not so stellar (and or immature) writer issue? There are clearly fundamental issues in the portrayal (or lack thereof) of real good queer relationships in current entertainment/media. And I've been increasingly bothered by the House-like "winking" at sub-text vs text canon issues, but I'm not so sure that raising awareness in fandom is going to get you anywhere. Arg. i should probably go back to lurking because I'm not so sure I really can communicate the point I'm trying to make, but how do you differentiate a lack of awareness/ choosing issue from lazy/bad writing issue? because I'm pretty convinced that a significant part of it isn't authorial intent so much as authorial *inability*.
Oh Aja, agree agree, achingly, painfully, sadly agree!!!

I think for me, one of the main lures of slash (especially when I was younger) was a distancing from my own sexuality, and therefore female sexuality. I didn't know how my body worked and after looking at overly sexed rolemodels on TV, seeing big breasted and sexualized women in ad campaigns, and hearing so much about how SEX was supposed to be such a HUGE and life changing event for women, I didn't want anything to do with my own body. I didn't (and geez, still dont) know how to appreciate and develop my own sexuality without falling into a pit of Women Are Sexualized that we see all around us. So it was so much easier to just think about gay men! No hang ups there!

But recently, it's exactly as everyone has said, that looking back I'm seeing so many holes in my appreciation and love of characters and fandoms, and those holes are where the women should be. Not just women expressing their sexuality, but women expressing their strengths, their weaknesses, their humanity-- everything I should be relating to and loving.
I wanted to say I thought this was an amazing comment. Thank you so much for making it! <3
This thread running persistently through fandom, along with the similar thread that accompanies the treatment of characters of color, has become so unrelenting and so disheartening that over the last few years I've pretty much disengaged with the slash branch of fandom entirely, and to some extent with the rest of fanworks fandom as well. Now, I am the lurkeriest lurker that ever lurked, so I'm not pretending anyone is missing me, but at some point slash fandom became so frustrating that I just couldn't take it anymore.

The worst part, just like you said, is all the justifying that goes on. People LOVE characters of color, they just won't write stories about them unless there's some outside impetus (wanks tend to cause short-lived bursts). People would TOTALLY LOVE female characters if only the canon creators would think up an INTERESTING one, even though fandom has no problem inventing backstories and fanon and personal characteristics and sexual histories for the most minor of minor characters, so long as that character is a white dude. Fandom waxes long and vocally about the need for more female and non-white characters in media, and then every time fandom stampedes off towards a Next Big Thing, it turns about to be a usually mediocre TV show/movie/whatever with two cute white male leads.

It's just so hypocritical. Fandom spends so much time discussing representation issues, discussing the problems of race and gender (among other things) in mass media, agitating for greater diversity in all things and making a big (and necessary!) stink when TPTB do something particularly stupid. And their efforts have not been entirely in vain! In my corner of fandom (which is generally modern American TV) it is at this point fairly rare to have a new show debut that doesn't have at least some ladies or non-white dudes or even non-white ladies (double points, those are.) Those characters are usually not perfect, and are usually not leads, and don't always get the best stories or the most fascinating background, and the fact that they exist does not absolve TPTB of the need to do better. But the fact remains that they do exist. If somehow your only exposure to fandom was to Metafilter, which gives the impression that fandom is extraordinarily dedicated to being transgressive and transformative and fighting the good fight against various kinds of privilege and discrimination, you might think that fandom would be full of stories about these characters - filling in the blanks and telling all the stories that TPTB failed to tell.

You'd be wrong, though. Fandom's motto appears to be "White Dudes: Worth the Effort."
Fandom waxes long and vocally about the need for more female and non-white characters in media, and then every time fandom stampedes off towards a Next Big Thing, it turns about to be a usually mediocre TV show/movie/whatever with two cute white male leads.


Yes. But then, to be fair, fandom is rarely about objective quality of the source text. Sometimes the button-pushing in the source text intersects with quality, but quality is far from the primary driver of fannish interest.
To be completely honest here: I don't read het. It's not that I don't like it, because there are many canon couples I like. I just don't need to read about it on the Internet.

My life and the world around me is full of het, it's there everywhere I look around. I participate in fandom to read and write about people like me, be it original m/m, f/f works or fanfiction. Because I don't get enough of it outside of the Internet. I realize that the perception of how a gay person acts might be slightly off at times but for me it's better than nothing. Those works give me the hope that I am not alone in this and that one day people might see same-sex relationships as something normal. I don't care how pathetic that sounds, that's the story of my life.

As a lesbian, I'll rather read about same-sex male couples than about het couples because it simply feels closer to what I look for. (Should need be, I'll be equally glad for any f/f fics.) I don't think I am dismissing all women characters simply because I don't ship Jane with John but rather with Kate.