Thinking About Slash/Thinking About Women

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Title: Thinking About Slash/Thinking About Women
Creator: Edi Bjorklund
Date(s): 1988
Medium: print
External Links:
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Thinking About Slash/Thinking About Women is a meta article by Edi Bjorklund in Nome #11 (pages 30-38).

In the article, Bjorklund writes of the history of slash, why it appeals to mainly a female audience, slash's political and social implications, and the genre's pros and cons, as well as its subversive qualities. She touches on Mary Sues, on the zine Nightvisions, on incest in Simon and Simon fanfiction, on Harry & Johnny, and ends with a limerick she wrote for the 1986 ZebraCon.

Bjorklund explained in the introduction that a progress report for IsisCon had sparked her interest in writing this meta article:

I first had the idea to write about slash in general when I discovered the phrase "indiscriminate slash fandoms" listed as a potential panel topic on a progress report sent out last year before Isiscon (a Trek con held in Washington, D. C). I was struck by the adjective chosen, and it got me to thinking. It seemed to me then (and now) that the phenomenon of proliferating slash fandoms deserves more discussion. This paper is one result; I hope it will encourage a continuing conversation.

The article has this in the header: "This essay appears under my mundane name because a slightly different version was presented mundanely at a large scholarly conference in Spring 1988. When I talk with fellow academics, I make it clear that I am also a fan; just as it's no secret in fandom that I'm also an academic."


On fringe fandoms:

Fringe fandoms have learned a lot from contacts with SF fandom. Over the years, we have appropriated many institutions that originated in that community ("cons" or conferences, for instance), and we have adapted these institutions to meet our needs. There are several important ways in which fringe fandoms differ from traditional SF fandom, however. One difference is that most fringe fandoms are media-related rather than print-related; that is to say, they are based on the appreciation of films or TV shows or rock music and so on. Fringe fandoms may develop around SF products—Star Trek, Blake's Seven, Star Wars—or they may lack obvious SF content; as in Starsky and Hutch or Professionals fandom, which are based on television cop shows.

What really sets fringe fandoms apart from the mainstream SF community, though, is not the print/media distinction or the SF/non-SF distinction. It is simply the fact that most fringe fandoms are women's communities. They are populated primarily by adult women (typically they are 80 to 100 percent female), and they are run by women. A final very large difference between the fringe fandoms and the traditional SF community is that a major activity in fringe fandom is the production and distribution of original literary and artistic works that are based (often rather loosely) on the products that have inspired fan followings.

On slash's origins in hurt/comfort:

Hurt-comfort stories and get-em stories, of course, have an ancestry which can be traced all the way from traditional folklore and folk myths through the development of modern genre fiction. One of their more obvious antecedents is the sentimental novel, in which themes of pain and pathos are invoked to enlist sympathetic responses from readers.

By the mid-nineteen-seventies, hurt-comfort and get-em stories set in the Star Trek universe had developed so much intensity of feeling (on the parts of both the characters and readers in the fan community) that they seem to have evolved by natural progression in a novel and even more emotionally intense direction, one that subsequently became known as slash.

Why men?:

Let me make the point again, for the record, that virtually all of these stories are written by women and for women. Just what is going on here, anyhow? We may well ask. Why are we writing and reading thousands upon thousands of stories about male/male relationships? Now, I was a feminist for a long while before I discovered fandom. This is one of the most serious questions I had to ask myself when I began reading Trek writing—and K/S writing, of course, in particular. Why two men? Why not a man with a woman, or two women together?

"Not really men":

But men are also written about symbolically in this fiction, and that is why I described the ostensible theme of slash writing as being the celebration of homoerotic relationships between heroic male protagonists. These characters in another sense are not really men, or not only men. They are, symbolically, women as well, they are symbolically any intelligent beings—humans or aliens—seen in relation to each other. Viewed in one way, these stories acknowledge positively the existence of male bonding. They identify women's longing for similar relationships. Viewed in another way, they bravely affirm that true love and lasting commitment are possible, whoever or whatever the partners may be. Only where equality is present, as it can be between two similarly noble and similarly valued men, true love and the truly erotic can also exist; as Joanna Russ (in Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans and Perverts) and others have pointed out.

Regarding some of the darker elements of slash, including the topics of rape, bondage and domination, and slavery:

Transferring that pain and fear and oppression over to male characters also symbolically allows men to experience what women have experienced at the hands of men, and allows the female reader to enjoy seeing them suffer for a change. Hence the revealing name of "get-em" by which these stories are commonly known. Slash gives us new ways of articulating our discontent and our anger. A Trek writer who is also a zine editor observed in a recent letter to me (commenting on an earlier draft of this essay) that for her slash is "a strange mixture of sexual attraction to men and rage at men." This dichotomy is a major part of slash's significance.

Why not about women?:

It has been suggested that the cognitive leap involved in writing directly about women may simply be too great: that we cannot in fact depict heroic, ideal relationships involving men and women, quite simply because they do not exist—or at least because they do not exist in our personal experience as writers, or (presumably) in the experience of many readers. As Syn Ferguson once put it, we can't see ourselves saving the universe once a week — nor, evidently, can we realistically see ourselves being loved wonderfully and heroically by someone else who is equally wonderful and heroic.

Exploring the dark:

... such stories approach interpersonal relationships from another direction entirely. Instead of being intended to titillate at all, these stories are tools. They are lenses, if you will, through which writers and readers may examine and attempt to reconcile the contradictions we experience between the real world that women encounter daily—with its inequalities and oppressions that touch our lives directly—and the ideal world that exists only in fiction, the world of happily- ever-after endings.

Sweeter when secret:

Slash is not just a new kind of women's literature. It is a means whereby we may defy a wide variety of social conventions and taboos, a communal body of work with which we can epater la bourgeoisie. Slash is an underground sisterhood with several thousand members, whose adherents share a semi-secret clandestine pleasure. (Pleasures are always sweeter, of course, when they are clandestine.)

Slash as fun:

Slash fandom has its serious aspects, as we have seen. It also has a definitely exuberant and non-serious side. This side is especially visible at cons. (How could one possibly forget the slash con whose attractions included male strippers, a masseur on call, and sculptures of pink and green entwined penises?) Cons, and the personal networking which takes place during the time between them, facilitate the friendships which are such an important part of being a fan. (I'll be at Idicon. See you there?)