What Fandom Racism Looks Like: (Not-So) Sexy Slavefic

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Title: What Fandom Racism Looks Like: (Not-So) Sexy Slavefic
Creator: Zina (aka Stitch)
Date(s): July 12, 2018
Medium: Posted to Stitch's Media Mix
Fandom: Pan-Fandom
Topic: Slavefic, Racism in Fandom
External Links: stichmediamix, archive.is capture
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What Fandom Racism Looks Like: (Not-So) Sexy Slavefic is a meta essay by Zina posted to their website, Stitch's Media Mix. The essay critically examines the prevalence of slavefic as a trope in media fandom and professional romance novels. The work has been quoted or linked to by various other fans and bloggers.

The essay came with this content warning:

"Content Warning: This piece will talk in depth about slavery in romance work, fanfic, and in history in a way that highlights the violence of slavery. Many of the website links embedded in this piece will link to pages that contain images and/or descriptions of brutality related to slavery including lynching, rape, and whipping."

Excerpts

"Right now, on the Archive of Our Own, there are currently 12,236 stories tagged with “Slavery”.

Almost half of the stories with that tag are rated “Explicit” – most likely for sexual content and/or violence – with “Rape/Non-Con” making up a third of the stories’ warnings. While the stories are too varied to stand out with one or more particular pairing having the lion’s share of stories, in the relationship tab for that tag, the top pairings (with under 400 stories each) are primarily M/M stories focusing on white characters.

This is just a small snapshot of what slavefic in fandom and how slavery is portrayed in fandom looks like."
"I’ve seen many people argue against what they call “purity culture” and censorship in fandom whenever people bring up the fact that having an interest in a fiction-based kink isn’t a “Get Out of Criticism Free” space on a fandom monopoly board. [snipped] But what about Black readers and members of fandom who are deeply uncomfortable with the way these two spaces misrepresent something that is actually present in our histories? What about the sexuality of Black fans and how prevalent a major potential trigger for us is in fandom?"
"Personally, I think that even if you write a sexy slavery story without even bothering to think or talk about the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, you’re coming from a place still influenced by that brutal history."
"I don’t have the power to ban all sexy slavery stories from the internet.

I don’t know that I’d even want that ability.

But you know what I do want?

I want people to do their homework on what slavery has always been like across countries and time periods. I want people to internalize the fact that slavery – the act of enslaving people and being enslaved – is not and will never actually be sexy in history and it shouldn’t be sexy in fiction."
"I want them to think long and hard about why slavefic is so integral to their fannish or romance-reader/writer experience that they must defend its continued creation – especially to Black people who’ve talked about how stressful it makes them feel to see sexualized slavery being treated as a total non-issue by the people around them.

I want people to think about what they’re putting into the world with slavefic and decide, without being called out or snarked at, that maybe they don’t want to keep doing that anymore."

Responses and Impact

Comments on the Essay

[Meral]
"So I know you wrote this years ago, but on the off chance you’ll read this I figured I should comment. As a straight white woman who does like to read the type of fanfic you’re criticizing, this was uncomfortably eye opening. I hadn’t really thought about most of this, and now I feel guilty I didn’t. I won’t say I agree with you one hundred percent. But I’m definitely going to read the books you’ve recommended and do some serious soul searching.

Thank you for taking the time to write this, and deal with all of the awful comments that I’m sure you got as a result."[1]
[Zeenah (OP)]
"Thank you so much for your comment and for coming to this with an open mind and an interest in kind of… broadening your horizons. I’ve been in fandom for what feels like my entire life and even though I’m pretty clearly Black, I’ve been someone that’s read and written that kind of content. Even I had to unlearn my own kneejerk responses to other people being uncomfortable with slavefic.

I’m happy that you’re looking forward and checking out those books I mentioned in the article. I don’t ask for 100% agreement at all, just… understanding and a desire to unpack what we get burdened with."
[Anonymous]
"I’m really glad I made it through this whole article because you touched on a lot of complicated fandom dynamics from the past couple years that I’ve been struggling with. I stopped seeking out slavefic around the same time I started to become more aware of racism in fandom. Once I started to recognize what it meant to trivialize slavery, in how it also trivializes the trauma and continued suffering of the black community, it lost its appeal. But it’s so frustrating that I can’t force other white fans to make that same connection because I know exactly how long it took to unpack my own racism and even just bringing it up would potentially alienate me from other authors and fans.

A couple months ago, I did read a slavefic by an author I trust because they always do exactly what you asked for: meticulous, meaningful research. I wanted to see what a slavefic by a fandom veteran, who’s also aware of fandom’s history of racism, would look like. They managed to avoid some of the worst tropes (did not try to romanticize the master/slave relationship) while also being aware of the history (it was a modern AU, but it took place on a plantation that had a lot of slaves who were “day laborers”). Overall, I think they did a very good job of subverting the genre, although this is obviously still my biased opinion as white fan.

What truly angered me was the comments from other fans who DID want the gross “consenual” version of the master/slave relationship. I watched the author ever so gently explain explain the basics of power dynamics and why a slave can NEVER be able to consent to a person who literally OWNS them."[1]
[M.R.R.]
"Well said."[1]
[AmyCat]
"Thanks for expressing so clearly something that’s just been a generalized “squick” of mine for years. I questioned a story on LiveJournal years ago (along the lines of “er, this isn’t really sexy, and if [character A] treats [character B] this way, I think you’re turning A into a Bad Guy”), and was BLASTED for “kink shaming” the writer. (The story was an AU-slavery-is-still-around fanfic using two white male characters from a TV crime drama.) It’s not just Black fans who see slave-romances as problematic, because anyone with any realistic awareness of slavery and its effects and implications in human history is likely to view Slave Owners as Bad Guys. I don’t want to see a character I like turned into a slaver any more than I’d want to read about them being loyal Nazi officers or torturers for the Inquisition. If “Our Hero’s” response to slavery is anything other than joining the local Anti-Slavery League or working on the Underground Railroad, he’s no longer a “hero” and I don’t want to see him having some happy-ever-after romance."[1]

Impact

  • Discussed in Drunk Book Club: Exit To Eden[2]
  • Linked on animefeminist.com[3]

References

  1. ^ a b c d What Fandom Racism Looks Like: (Not-So) Sexy Slavefic (on stitchmediamix.com), Archived version (Accessed August 3, 2020)
  2. ^ Drunk Book Club: Exit To Eden
  3. ^ 11-17 July 2018: Repeating the Atrocities of 1940s Internment Camps, Fandom’s Slavefic Problem, and Kase-san