Where exactly do people get this idea that fandom is dominated by straight women from?

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Title: the post/ask is untitled: "Where exactly do people get this idea that fandom is dominated by straight women from?" is the first line of the question
Creator: responses and discussion to an ask at ormondhsacker's Tumblr
Date(s): September 25, 2015
Medium: Tumblr post
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Where exactly do people get this idea that fandom is dominated by straight women from? is an ask, and discussion, posted and reblogged from ormondhsacker's Tumblr.

The Original Ask

Where exactly do people get this idea that fandom is dominated by straight women from?

No really, source please. Otherwise it’s just a baseless assumption probably heavily influenced by society’s heteronormativity.

The Topics Discussed

Some Posts in Response

Comments

[meeedeee]:

[numbering has been edited for typos]

As usual, the topic threads are so complex that it is hard to track what is being said. I often feel like we are talking past one another (which, when you read the diverging threads you will understand that we often are talking past one another)

Several questions have been posted and they don’t always intersect

1. Where did the myth start that fandom was comprised of straight women? (history question and answer)

2. Why does the myth still persist? Why are people relying on outdated research? (history and current research question)

3. Is there new research going on that will give us better data about the makeup of fans (current research question)

4. Are there methodological limits on what kinds of data we can obtain? (current research question)

5. Does the discussion of why women write slash run the risk of over emphasizing some aspects of our culture (gender politics) and de-emphasizing other aspects (female sexuality) (sociological /gender politics question)

6. Even assuming fandom is mainly queer/bi why does femmeslash constantly get sidelined in favor of male/male slash ?(sociological /gender politics question)

7. Does the continued discussion of fandom’s gender makeup or motivations for writing slash marginalize those who want to discuss why femmeslash is being ignored? (sociological)

I am certain there are some that I missed or that I oversimplified or linked to the wrong posts. But it may help further the discussion if we indicate what aspect that we’re focusing on. [1]

[ormondhsacker]:

Thank you for the summary. There are distinct disadvantages to having, or trying to have, a discussion on tumblr. The way it’s nearly impossible to track conversation is one of them.

Maybe I should ask if everyone has an lj or dreamwidth account, it certainly would be easier to keep track of things over there. [2]

[morgan dawn/meeedeee]:

[To answer #6 (so sorry about the numbering): Even if fandom was predominantly heterosexual, I don’t see how fans can rationally use this fact to shut down discussions about why there is a lack of femmeslash*

Just because one is heterosexual does not mean one would not be interested in femmeslash. Just as not all heterosexual women are interested in m/m slash. So to use the presence of heterosexuality to shut down discussions of femmeslash makes about as much sense (to me) as using Chinese grammar rules to shut down discussions of English grammar rules.

Keep in mind that I come from a slash (M/M) perspective and from a time where enjoyment of male/male slash placed you - whether you were heterosexual or gay - outside any norm. We might as well have been speaking Martian back then. (”So…you’re straight but you like to read about men bonking? Wait, you’re gay and you like to read about men boking? No, wait, you’re bi and you like to read about men bonking? Stop it! Just. Stop it!! What’s wrong with the lot of you!!!?”)

Back in 2013, when the AO3 census survey results were posted, there were similar discussions. And I found this one quote that pretty much summed it up for me:

“There are so many things that set us on our course of sexuality, and only a few of them are the things people mean when they talk in labels.”

*This is not to say fans are not shutting down discussions. [3]

Where did the myth start that fandom was comprised of straight women? (history question and answer)

[meeedeee]:

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, that was how media fandom presented our sexuality to both ourselves and the outside world - it was a mirror or reflection of the fact that many gay and bi fans were closeted. It was not until the 1990s that more and more fans felt comfortable enough to start disclosing that they were not - in fact - heterosexual. This too was a reflection of social trends. Today, some studies show media fandom to self-identify around 35% heterosexual and the rest is a combination of gay, bi and asexual: https://www.academia.edu/8805593/A_Notational_Erotics_Locating_Queer_Female_Desire_in_Supernatural_Slash_Fanfiction I am certain the numbers vary from fandom to fandom and from country to country. Now why we still cling to the “facts” of 30+ years ago is, as you pointed out, a whole different set of problems. [4]

[ormondhsacker]:

But the assumption of the 70s and 80s are just that, assumptions. As far as I know there weren’t done any sort of research on this, heteronormativity - which as you point out was aided and abetted by people being in the closet - just made people assume that fandom was dominated by straight women. The only research I know of about this is from that era is Camille Bacon-Smith’s book and that is 1) she does everything in her power to erase lesbian and gay fans as it is and 2) biphobic if only in the complete erasure of bisexuality. (So is the book itself, but that’s a critique for a different post)

And I don’t really see this as a different set of problems. Fandom in the end reflects society and society is both heteronormative and difemphobic. Both of these things have and still have a great impact on whether or not people decide to be in the closet or not and when a person or group challenges these things violence, verbal or physical, often occur. The same thing is true for fandom. While not being straight might be more accepted than it was, it is only accepted inside very narrow norms - i.e. as long as you still put men first, not being attracted exclusively to them is acceptable because your “obsession” with m/m relationships is a “guarantee” that you won’t upset any norms. (Btw, these a generalised yous, no you yous) While physical violence obviously face challenges on the internet, verbal violence can and will ensue the moment someone doesn’t put men front and centre in her fandom. This ranges from micro aggressive dismissals of femslash ships over silencing and erasure of said ships, to verbal assault on reblogs or in asks.

So no, I don’t really see this clinging to something that was never true, but assume because of society’s showing LGBTQUIA people in the closet, as something separate from the original assumption. Both a reflections of society’s, and by extension fandoms, male-centred heteronormativity, and difemphobia. [5]

[ormondhsacker]:

Actually it’s funny you bring Jenkins up since in “Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking” he brings up, albeit briefly, how women who were interested in women were made to feel very unwelcome in fandom. That essay covers discussions made in the late 80s and early 90s.

Well it’s not an entirely baseless assumption that the assumption persist. The OP was born of frustration from my hand at the number of posts I and other have started about the dearth of femslash only to see the whole point dismissed either in responses or in tags with ‘well, fandom is dominated by straight women so what do you expect?’ and words to that extent.

And this “defence” pops up across multiple fandoms. So maybe not all fandoms, but enough fandoms that the notion still seems very pervasive and insidious. And the fact that this sometimes came from fandom who’s source material was dominated by female characters such as Mad Max: Fury Road only made the whole thing more discouraging.

Furthermore I find it very interesting that I and others have made a number of posts about this - fandoms hyper focus on men and the supposed dominance of straight women - most of which has got absolutely zero attention from fandoms by and large, but the moment someone slaps on a possible explanation that allows fandom to avoid any real examination of itself, people suddenly can’t reblog it enough. Curious, don’t you think? [6]

[meeedeee]:

“Actually it’s funny you bring Jenkins up since in “Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking” he brings up, albeit briefly, how women who were interested in women were made to feel very unwelcome in fandom. That essay covers discussions made in the late 80s and early 90s.” Yes that tracks with my observations. And considering that we now know that over half of slash fans are/were LGBT, it also tracks how the LGBT community struggled with both internal and external acceptance overall in the 80s and 90s. So many of my friends and family are now out (or if not out, they are much more accepting of those who are). [7]

[doomhamster]:

I imagine the tendency of many fans/fandoms to prioritize male characters and m/m fic over everything else might also keep some queer fans in the closet - and biphobia definitely does, or used to. Tumblr at least has a little less of the “female fans saying they’re bi are just doing it for attention/trying to legitimize the objectification of Real Queer People” crap than LJ used to. [8]

[meeedeee/morgandawn]:

"other commentators have pointed out that historical data about the sexual preferences of slash readers has been incomplete. Not only were there no surveys, even if there had been, many of the participants who might have identified as gay or bi would not have answered truthfully. This has everything to do with the lack of acceptance and self awareness of being bi or gay in the US in the 1960s-1990s.

Anecdotally, some of the “formerly heterosexual fan pairs” that I met in slash fandom in the 1990s have now gone on to marry or become partners. So the outward expression of their sexual preferences has changed over time as our society has grown more accepting of the expression. This would skew any survey and statistical results - if there had been any. So the "slash readers are primarily heterosexual" statement is neither 100% correct nor 100% false - from a historical point of view. We can try to extrapolate backwards from today's data [see note below], but we cannot know for sure.

[note below]: those who gathered the more recent data would also be the first to point out how limited their surveys were - both in terms of scope and methodology."[9]

Why does the myth still persist? Why are people relying on outdated research? (history and current research question)

[ormondhsacker]:

Another thing that bothers me by fandom, not academics - well academics too, but in this specific context definitely fans more - is that they’re willing to rely on things that much out-of-date rather than their own lived experience. I started questioning the straightness of fandom more or less from the word go - which for me was the latish 90s - as I seemed to run into lesbians and bi women no matter where I turned. It was also at a time where non-straight fans was getting more and more vocal about the homophobia perpetuated by straight people in fandom such as the whole “they’re not gay they just love each other” crap that was very much the staple in slash fics written by straights at the time. And let’s not even talk about the harassment of actual LGBTQIA fans at the hands of straight fans.

So while I had no evidence that straight women weren’t a majority, I just have never been able to see fandom as a space that was straight dominated as it went completely counter to everything I experienced when interacting with other fans. So I’m also puzzled. Are other people’s experience of fandom really that dominated by straights? (Poor them) Or are they that willing to ignore what the themselves experience in favour of an “official” truth that’s more than 30 years out of date? [10]

Is there new research going on that will give us better data about the makeup of fans (current research question)

[schwarmerei1]:

I wish OTW would do regular demographic surveys… [11]

[bert-and-ernie-are-gay]:

Since the paper I gave at SWPCA—fortified heavily with the outstanding and so far utterly unduplicated quantitative work of centrumlumina and toastystats — is cited above, I feel I get to weigh in, even though I am way younger in fandom terms (though not in chronological age, and believe me I wrote my share of bad imitation Marshak & Culbreath K/S as a teenager). Also, I should preface all this by saying I went to sleep at midnight and it’s 6 am and I’m still working on an enormous bowl of coffee, but here goes.

The ongoing prevalence of this myth absolutely enrages me, especially when I hear it just thrown around as a tacit assumption in rooms full of people who should know better; and afterward we newer scholars hit the hotel bar because our eyes hurt from how hard they rolled back in our heads. [Here I wrote and deleted a bunch of stuff because, irrelevant and also not enough coffee.] But actually, I sort of get it—not just rampant ongoing cultural heteronormativity lockdown, but the facts just aren’t out there yet, and in a way I don’t actually blame the people who perpetuate this stereotype (except, come on, I totally do; looking directly at you, Samuel L. Delany), mostly because, journal articles/fan meta/conference papers aside, there are literally three books, each only sort of nominally centred on slashPenley, Bacon-Smith, and Textual Poachers —and some of the many difficulties with those studies having already been mentioned, I’ll state what I think is the worst: they’re over thirty years old.

In terms of fan studies scholarship that’s basically the equivalent of being written in Sanskrit and it’s why I’m pounding out a ms as fast as I can — frankly, even if you’re researching Milton, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, any of those prolific dead white guys, if you’re using thirty-year-old scholarship you’re, um, you’re missing a lot (puts me in mind of a Blake seminar a couple years back, when I wanted to use GASP queer theory and my professor who still relied on MICROFILM just could not handle this level of terrifying innovation, e.g. Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet from… 1990) (I brought my iThing to class and whenever he’d laboriously scroll through his reel to get to the engraving he wanted — the library had actually given him the machine when they retired it, along with all the faded red film — I’d surreptitiously pull it up in full color for the rest of the class, because I’m a fucking brat).

Then too, I well remember my own cautious initial use of the Internet pre-Netscape Navigator and it was basically limited to emailing in freaking PINE, and command-line stuff to see whether my friends were online (with the delightful command, “finger”). Since then we’ve had what I call a Cambrian explosion of fanworks, and while the Society for Understandably Aggrieved Fans against Crappy Acafen (meets irregularly) has some idea that all fan studies scholars ever research is slash, I know [counts on fingers]…only four people who work on it specifically? And none of us — wait, five, I’m going to count that person with the master’s degree who left academia to become a librarian — none of us have finished our doctorates or have anything like a book yet. Most fan studies, in my not-so humble etc., is still somewhat dominated by White Fanboys Collecting Facts and Asserting Things — very interesting things, to be sure, but like any discipline in its naissance, fan studies has only just stopped focused on legitimizing itself and is only starting to innovate and pull out the truly weird and disquieting and transgressive and let’s be real queer subjects and more importantly methodologies that are going to make it a more distinct discipline at some point. (Which will be sad in many ways for those of us who kind of adore its current unfixed ramshackle campy permissiveness.)

tl;dr what I call “the Chippendales theory” (1 hot dude good, 2+ even gooder) still predominates as an explanation for whyslash even though it’s boring, tired, flabby, did I mention boring, and also HELLO STATISTICALLY* UNTRUE, being maybe perpetuated online in part by the same logic which holds Abraham Lincoln responsible for a seemingly infinite number quotations he never said?

*NB I have had people assert to me, in correspondence/publicly online/during conferences that because slash participants may be younger people, we can’t take their self-declared sexual orientations??? seriously??? because they might change???¿¿¿??? and also maybe they’re “only theoretically not heterosexual, they’re still straight women partnered with men” at which point my brain sort of melts because a) OH MY GOD STOP TALKING b) can you hear yourself c) why yes certainly no one’s orientation has ever changed once it’s set in concrete upon college graduation, d) haha of course people partnered with someone not of their sex are definitely all straight I know I was, and finally, my calmer public answer: e) you know, it’s not really in my purview (or for that matter possible, practically speaking) to interrogate how people sexually self-identify, either one-by-one or on the basis of their age or marital status. Not to mention it’s offensive and exactly the kind of thing that would earn the researchers a surveyfail-esque page on fanlore. This seems to me to be some off-shoot of a Luddite the-Internet-isn’t-real paranoia—as though 10,000 people responding to a questionnaire are somehow all catfishing, using their most flattering selfies and lying about their weight. [12]

[meeedeee]:

I am going to take this on a slight digression to your main points. The TL;DR version: I think you may be right, but I think we still lack data to understand what fans are thinking and why.

I don’t believe anyone was seriously studying media fandom in 1970s, and certainly not with any statistical approach or surveys. Joanna Russ did write about women in media fandom in 1984 (her assessment was that the way that women wrote slash that they were describing heterosexual sex). Henry Jenkins came along and took a more literary approach in 1992. One of the (many) reasons that CBS was so reviled in the fandom community was because she used ethnography to delve into the sociological aspects without any scientific approach (”media fans are fatter than normal”; “”media fans are exorcising their pain demons with hurt/comfort fiction’). But no one asked about our sexuality (it would have been considered taboo) and we didn’t talk about our sexual orientation. In gen fandom it was assumed we were all heterosexual (because that was the norm). In slash fandom - when we talked about our sexuality - we stressed over and over again to each other and anyone who would listen - “we’re all heterosexual over here” possibly because some people felt that if you write about gay men, you *must* also be gay. And being gay was not a good thing in the 1970s-1990s. So the community worked to create the assumption that there were few, if any, gays.

I remember in the 1990s slash fan Sandy Hereld hosted a panel at the Escapade convention and announced: “OK, let’s get real. Stats show at least 10% of the US population is gay. Here, we may have even more. So let’s stop assuming we’re all straight.” And there were these subtle (and not so subtle) sideways glances going around and nods. And over time people stopped nodding and started talking.

But as to why the assumptions persists…well that too may be an assumption. Some corners of slash fandom don’t assume the majority is straight. But media and slash fandom is huge and global and complex so there are fandom communities where you are straight until proven not. And the reasons for assuming all is “straight” may vary as well - in some communities and countries people cannot come out for legal or religious reasons, so that would continue to color people’s perceptions.

What would be interesting is to see multiple surveys that were fandom community and country specific. They would ask: what do you believe is the sexual orientation makeup of your fandom?. And then give the fans taking the survey a list of the various options: heterosexual, gay, bi and asexual and see what people are actually assuming. Before I peeked at one of the more recent surveys in the Supernatural fan community, I would have listed our fan community as 50% straight and 50% gay or bi (the concept of asexuality never came up on my radar until recently). But it turns out that in this one community at this one point of times the numbers actually were 35% straight and 65% gay/bi/asexual. So…my assumptions blown.

Then I’d followup with other questions:

“how did you come up with your numbers? in person experience? online interactions? fans self-identifying or declaring?

and

“do you think X, Y,or Z may skew the perception of the numbers of straight gay, bi, asexual fans in your community? [13]

[centrumlumina]:

Above discussion is good, but I wanted to add: while researching a paper I was writing about the AO3 census (which has since stalled.......) I came across a book by Rhiannon Bury about fandom from 2005 (Cyberspaces of Their Own), which literally said “I didn’t bother to ask the fans in this male-character-centric mailing list their sexuality, because obviously any woman with an interest in a male character is heterosexual.” *facepalm [14]

[zellieh]:

I love acafen and meta, yessss. We need more of them. ANd more books, more surveys, more datasets. [15]

Are there methodological limits on what kinds of data we can obtain? (current research question)

[mycommonreader]:

Re: numbers. Mostly I’m compiling them (a) because they’re interesting and (b) because I feel like it’s a way *I* can easily add some value to fan communities. But I would NEVER argue that numbers are a self-sufficient hermeneutics (or even a big part of one? a question). [16]

Does the discussion of why women write slash run the risk of over emphasizing some aspects of our culture (gender politics) and de-emphasizing other aspects (female sexuality) (sociological /gender politics question)

[impostoradult]:

..... I have 2 sort of overriding ambivalence about the pursuit of this academic question – are the majority of women in fandom hetero or queer – one of them methodological, and one of them what you might call motive-based.... First, I agree with the critique that particularly old sociological data on fandom probably isn’t particularly reflective of modern fandom and surrendering the notion that history is representative of the present is probably wise. Also, I agree with the critique that historical sociological data about this stuff can’t necessarily be taken at face-value as 100% accurate, given the inherent methodological problem of getting demographic fandom data. BUT here’s where my critique of modern fandom scholarship comes into play. I don’t necessarily think that problem can be rectified in present day scholarship either, because it hangs on the irresolvable problem of defining who counts as a fan or “active fan” and on trying to get a representative sample of fans, when infrastructurally, I don’t know that that’s even possible. Most of these types of surveys are done through internet communities LIKE Tumblr or ]]LiveJournal]]. But getting recruited to them often requires that one be embedded in particular fandom communities, which I fear biases the sampling tremendously.........

Finally, there is the question of motives....... One of my anxieties that always crops up whenever I see this issue being discussed is that I always get the overriding sense that there is a motive to (ironically) de-sexualize women’s engagement with slash by asserting the issue of sexuality demographics. Ever since slash was “discovered,” academics have been trying to pin down the REASON women like it. There’s all these theories running around about how its actually just a textual ersatz heterosexuality, or how its indicative of internalized misogyny because it excludes women, or how its indicative of feminist consciousness because it circumvents the problem of female sexual objectification, etc. Most of those theories were proffered under the assumption that most of the women reading and writing slash were straight.

And now, when there is starting to be more evidence that queer women might in fact be the majority, or at the very least a much bigger minority than originally imagined in fandom, there seems to be this move to explain away slash by saying for queer women, its about rectifying queer invisibility in media, and the issue of representation. Which I am sure it partly is. But here’s where my anxiety really resides in all of this - regardless of whether we take queer women to be the majority or the minority, there is ALWAYS this move to try to assert that slash is “about” something other than women’s sexual gratification for its own sake. And that’s the intellectual move I want to resist, or at least call into question.

I don’t think slash is about one thing, or is produced or consumed by women for one reason. I think straight and queer women’s engagement with slash is the result of a huge variety of different motives, affective dispositions, and garners them a huge variety of different rewards. Slash doesn’t HAVE a singular simple explanation. I think it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons that are constantly shifting. However, I do feel like whether women in slash communities identify as queer or not, there is an overriding desire both in academia and in popular narratives about slash to desexualize female engagement with it and say its always about something other than women getting off. And the question of the demographic breakdown of women in slash communities is often – in my assessment – asked in the service of this motive.

Intellectually and even from an emotional standpoint, I am invested in more queer representation. And I strongly advocate for the canonization of SOME slash pairing as a way to partially rectify that cultural erasure. But when I first started reading slash, and even today much of my engagement with it IS still primarily for my own sexual gratification. And I really resent and frankly balk at the idea that someone might use my bisexuality as a way to say my consumption of slash is just about my own representation (thus absorbing it into a totally de-sexualized narrative about identity politics). I’m just gonna flat out say, I radically reject that narrative, at least regarding my own experience. My engagement with slash is mostly about me getting off because two men bonking is by far and away the thing that does that best for me.

Why slash is more sexually gratifying to me than ‘conventional’ porn is also a complex question, that gets into even more nuance that can’t be explored in depth here. But my overriding point is this – I worry about the use of queer female statistics in fandom as a means to assert women’s affinity for slash isn’t REALLY pornographic, or isn’t about sexual gratification. And once again, I’ll concede I don’t think it’s solely about that, for me or for most other slash fans. But the use of slash as a primary source of porn for many women, both heterosexual and queer, is one I want to intellectually defend as ‘real’ and I don’t want it erased by what I perceive to be the encroaching discourse that slash is TOTALLY about absent queer representation in mainstream media, and that queer women who read and write it are all working primarily from that motive. Slash isn’t remotely reducible to fights over identity politics, and I feel like this pursuit of fandom female demographic numbers is about trying to re-frame the narrative of slash to say that it is. Which makes me exceedingly nervous.

Maybe I’m being overly paranoid, but I really have this gut feeling that the desire to assert queer female presence in fandom, and queer female affinity for slash is tacitly about trying to desexualized women’s engagement with it, and make it a practice that can be seen as respectable and virtuous, and politically laudable, rather than, you know sexual for its own sake. Queer identity politics are, indubitably a part of slash culture, but women’s sexual gratification is also a major aspect of slash culture, and I fear the erasure of the latter to a narrative that says slash is totally about the former when it comes to queer women. [17]

[flourish]:

I’m COMPLETELY reblogging this for impostoradult’s addition....... ....there's a lot of things going on with my refusal to write sex scenes under my own name in the past, and it has to do with fear of being tagged somehow as in it for the smut, and also that’s why I’ve avoided writing explicit femslash I think - because that doubles the possibility of having to get close to my own sexuality / gratification, and also the possibility of being accused of it being simple pornography. ....... Because sexuality is on some deep level frightening, especially when it is about women and women only.

What I’m saying is, this resonates a lot with my own experience of writing and thinking about my sexuality and sexual interests, and I think it’s SO insightful to tie that into the “this is about identity politics!” issue. [18]

[ormondhsacker]:

If [impostoradult’s] comment is so insightful then thank you for ignoring all those women who feels so uncomfortable and alienated by fandoms hyperfocus on white, cis boys, and who - when we dare to speak about this - get told to sit down and shut up because we’re rocking the boat and may bring uncomfortable light on fans and their desires. It gets really, really tiresome. You know what, sometimes I find it hard to believe that fandom has moved at all since its rampant homophobia in the late 90s. At times it just feels like its phobia just take a slightly different form. Because god forbid anyone dares to bring up these questions. I’ll reiterate what I have written countless of times before yet for some obscure reason it keeps getting erased in responses. This is not from me about fem smut, or any kind of smut, IT NEVER BLOODY WAS. It was about fandoms complete negligence of F/F pairings in any context even - especially - fluffy or action oriented fics. That fics that if they had an M/M paring would get tons of reads despite (because?) they had no sex in them, but when they’re F/F they get ignored. Relationship fics that have nothing to do with sex, porn and getting off. But apparently fandom is so obsessed with smut itself that it is incapable of looking beyond two people fucking. And that it’s all it obsess about. No really, I think that the slash obsession isn’t really in academia at all. The reason that that is what academics research is because it’s the only thing that fandom can be bothered to talk about at any length.

Good grief, I’m just about done with you all. [19]

Even assuming fandom is mainly queer/bi why does femmeslash constantly get sidelined in favor of male/male slash ?(sociological /gender politics question)

[ormondhsacker]:

It seems to be taking the path of the Pacific Rim fandom, which started out very happy about Mako Mori and centred on her, then slowly but surely showed her aside for foscus on the white boys in the background. And the MM:FR a similar thing is happening, that Furiosa and the Wives are being pushed aside for focus on the Warboys. It’s not a done deal yet and there are definitely still focus on both Furiosa and the Wives - and the Vuvalini - but I fear it’ll end up the same.

I haven’t been following it all that focused really as I’m not really part of the fandom, I stumbled over it by chance and have been looking into it since. It is as you say discouraging that even with a source material rife with central, active, well developed female characters the men will still get a lot of the focus. Which was part of the frustration that spawned the OP and other posts like it from me. Wanting not to read fem smut I understand - there a sexual things I don’t particularly want to read either, because just no - but refusing by default to read fics centred on women or F/F pairings is puzzling to me.

Well, I could harp on about this for a while - and likely will keep doing so - but I’ll cut off here before this turns unto yet another rant. [20]

[stranger]:

"This is all very illuminating in some ways, and these are questions I have wondered about in various (less articulate) ways for many years. However, nobody seems to be citing the enormous Xena/Gabrielle fandom, an interesting phenomenon in its own right which was a bit of an offshoot of mediafandom, but hardly unfindable. (I am reminded, though, that at least one fan I knew at the time automatically considered Xena slsash to consist of Ares/Joxer, until the obvious X/G examples were pointed out to her.) More generally, f/f as I've seen it has generally been fostered by fans seeing two credible female characters together, and is still minor in comparison to m/m overall. Due to Progress (TM), this has happened mostly in the 1990s and later."[21]

Does the continued discussion of fandom’s gender makeup or motivations for writing slash marginalize those who want to discuss why femmeslash is being ignored? (sociological)

[spacemohawks]:

Purely anecdotal evidence on my part, but pretty much EVERYONE I know in fandom is some variety of genderfluid, trans, gay/lesbian, bi, pan, demi, ace, or SOMETHING aside from hetero. So. Yeah. [22]

[ormondhsacker]:

I’m sure there’s a lot of straight women in fandom and yes wlw can fan over men too, that’s not what I’m grumbling about.

What I was griping about is the whole ‘well, fandom is dominated by straight women so of course it focuses on two men bonking’ mentality, because it’s being very effectively used to shut down any discussion about why fandom has this hyper focus on men. Even, especially, the wlw in fandom. The way I see it employed most often is in posts that brings up how fandom will keep its focus on men even when there are plenty of well developed characters and a dearth of men in the source material. Here fandom runs into problems with its usual argument that there are more men (patently untrue) and that they - the men - are better written (also untrue). So fandom has to do something to avoid confronting its own misogyny and rampant difemphobia and it resorts to the defence that straight women dominate. But there are no indication that this is even remotely true. So honestly, from now on whenever I see a post with that argument I’m going to ask the claimant for a source. And when it pops up in tags I’m going to send them an ask because I am truly tired of seeing this bs argument.

Sorry, didn’t mean to take my snarkiness about this out on you. I am just so incredibly fed up with this unsubstantiated argument and how it’s used to stop any debate or protest cold in its tracks. [23]

[ormondhsacker]:

I’m almost impressed. It took less than a week before someone told me to sit down and shut up because I’m rocking the boat. Fandom you do not look particularly sterling to me just now.

ormond's rants really this is so incredibly annoying you're fine with the white boys fucking obsession fandom has fine but stop telling others that they're problematic because they do you just make yourself look like a missve homophobe [24]

[macpye]:

The “you’re rocking the boat” style comments are a form of tone policing, and have no business being in a discussion or debate, and the “you’re making me uncomfortable” is the silliest, most selfish non-argument ever. Either way, you’re right to be pissed off by them. As for people feeling uncomfortable when the heteronormativity of fandom is being called in question: So damn what if you’re uncomfortable! Actually: GOOD. You should be! You should be asking yourself why, and not blaming someone for asking a legitimate question and voicing a legitimate grievance. I’ll give a little hint; you’re uncomfortable because you feel, deep down, that what’s being said is true, and that this means having to face your own preconceived notions, which are most likely untrue. Learning new things about yourself and your faves isn’t always a comfortable thing. Does that mean it should be avoided the way these people are avoiding it? No, cause it means they’ll never grow.

It’s mind-boggling how immensely mired in conservativism some pockets of fandom are, despite their claims of inclusivity. [25]

[ormondhsacker]:

It was obviously done by people who don’t know me at all, telling me to sit down and shut up is a very good way of making me even louder and more obnoxious on a topic than I was before. so no chance of me being quiet any time soon. What I found interesting was that one started with “I identify as bisexual so this isn’t said in heterosexual self-servingness” and that is to miss the point by light years. Heteronormativity is not something you’re magically exempt from just by being [insert sexuality that isn’t straight here]. I mean, I’m lesbian and I’m not exempt from it. (There’s a reason that the term ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ was coined by a lesbian). Plus the debate was immediately turned to smut and the reading of smut as a female way of getting porn. Iøm going to ignore that bit of hypersexualisation of same gender pairings for now because the post was never about that, which I had tried to make clear repeatedly. It was about all the rest of the fics, the romantic ones, the fluff, the angst the action and how even attempting to discuss why the F/F ones get ignored in ways that the M/F and especially the M/M ones doesn’t gets shut down with ‘Well, fandom is dominated by straight women so what do you expect’ argument when there’s absolutely no proof that fandom is indeed dominated by straight women and a lot of circumstantial evidence suggesting the opposite. But no, women obviously only read fanfic for sexual reasons and lets ignore the ton of General Audience and Teen rated fics with high read, kudos and comment count that gainsay that theory. Because obviously same gender parings is all about the sex.

This is not a topic I am done with, not by a long shot so on a side note to followers. If this debate is something you’d rather avoid feel free to either unfollow me or blacklist heteronormativity, all posts about this will be tagged with that from now on. I know it’s escalating and that it’ not what most of you signed up for so don’t feel obligated to stay with it just because I do. [26]

[bert-and-ernie-are-gay]:

So I thought I was responding in a fun playful engaging way to this post but apparently I started a Thing, or I made there be a Thing, which was, oh god, so not my intention (although, irrelevant); and thus many apologies (so many) to all involved, and to all whom I offended,—for any reason, and throughout all space and time, as the sutra says. I’m pretty sure I misunderstood the OP’s OP, which was about femslash, even though I thought I was agreeing and supporting said OP; and then I think some other respondents maybe misunderstood my response, very likely bc l wasn’t making sense (thanks for letting my brain down, coffee); and so I’m just gonna add these clarifying, um, clarifiers. Disagreements like this, especially ones where I’m not even exactly sure who’s disagreeing with whom or about what, always make my heart pound and my stomach churn, and I should probably know better by now - I just get so excited about fandom, but engaging informally can be unwise because it’s so easy to misunderstand.....

.......I would not make and am definitely not making as facile an argument as “whyslash = because queer [or straight] reader/writers!” Neither would I make one like “whynotfemslash = because homophobia!” In fact if you ever catch me trying to make a book-length “argument” of any sort, or reducing an overdetermined complex sociocultural phenomenon down to a single tautological and therefore highly suspect reading, you have my permission nay my urgent request to take away all my writing implements and books and toys, sit me down facing the corner, and tell me to think about what I’ve done. [27]

[centrumlumina]

I have asked myself these questions so so so many times. (Links are my sources for most of the following.) Here’s what I know: people in fandom are mostly women, and nearly everyone else is non-binary. They’re also mostly not exclusively attracted to men. Explaining the preponderance of M/M and the dearth of F/F through attraction is a provably false derailment - no really, it’s proven - even if it is one the mainstream media loves to emphasize. (I do think it’s worth nothing given your points above though, that even non-explicit M/M is regularly ‘explained’ as being attributable to romantic attraction to men, because society tends to view women’s desires from a relationship as primarily romantic over sexual.) Having had this conversation before, the next argument you get is that fandom isn’t biased, it is simply that all media is so biased towards male characters that there are no well-developed female characters to write about. This is also probably bullshit, but I haven’t conclusively proven that yet. However, it’s worth bearing in mind the relative smallness of most female-centric show fandoms compared to their male-centric show counterparts, the existence of M/M ships such as Clint/Coulson of the MCU or Moran/Moriarty of BBC Sherlock between male characters with negligible on-screen interaction, and the stunning absence of fanworks for many F/F ships with much more grounding in canon such as Pepper/Natasha of the MCU and Terezi/Vriska of Homestuck.

Basically, very few people are willing to face up to the fact that fandom has a sexism problem. You get a very similar response when discussing the problem of racism in fandom. Fandom a diverse group and much of it suffers from the same prejudices as the rest of society - generally internalized, but still clearly there. Although there’s always the chance to find your happy oasis in the middle of it all - or do what I did, and make one. [28]

[ormondhsacker]:

Since some people apparently misunderstood what I was trying to discuss - well it started as a rant, but turned into a discussion somewhere along the way - in this post, I shall try to make my point clearer and tag everyone who participated. ...... My rant was born of a frustration that every time anyone tries to discuss why F/F fics and female centred fic in general are ignored to the extent that they are, a common argument to shut it down is ‘well, fandom is dominated by straight women so what do you expect?’.

But there’s no evidence to support this claim and a good deal of circumstantial evidence that indicates the opposite might be true. Hence my rant about a reference for the straightness claim.

My interest is not and never was about women who read fanfic as a source of porn, there are problems in this kind of borderline fetishisation but it is not for this post nor did I intend the other post to go in the direction of discussing porn preferences. (Kindly don’t go there with this post. I know it’ll be difficult but please make another post and tag me in it. I’m sick of this discussion getting derailed into smut land). My focus was on all the rest of the fics, the relationship ones, the romantics, the angsty, the plot based action fics and so on, they too get ignored in a way they never would if it was an M/M or even just M/F fic, even when they’re not about people’s OTP.

But for some reason fandom is so obsessed with two white boys bonking that they’re incapable of seeing beyond the porn in fanfic, which raises the question why a space that is supposedly welcome to LGBTQIA people perpetuates the homophobic hypersexualisation of same gender pairing that the rest of society is so eager to do.

My interest in the sexuality of fandom is actually marginal. It could be an interesting thing to examine, but it is in no way high on my list. My one and only interest in it is insofar at this enforced heteronormativity of fandom is used as an argument to shut down discussion. And being of a particularly non-straight sexuality does not exempt a person from perpetuating this mindset - most whom I have seen use it have been identifying as bi or pan, but this is anecdotal evidence -

The reasons for reading and writing slash (and no, I don’t fucking mean smut I mean fics with same gender pairings that’s what the term slash means, it does in no way exclusively cover smut fics no matter how much homophobes would claim that jeeze) are multiple and varied and no single study could ever remotely cover everything and anyone who claims otherwise is either ignorant of how academic research works or lying. But saying that there should be no protest, no questioning, no examination of why F/F fics are ignored, of why the supposed heteronormativity of fandom is used as an argument to shut a mere attempt at debate down, is further alienating and shoving under the bus those (female) fans who are uncomfortable with these mechanisms, because in doing so they’re being told, once again, that they’re unwelcome in fandom. [29]

Comment by ST in [morgan dawn/meeedeee]'s Dreamwidth post:

Man, I'm sorry, but the quoted posts are some of the most millennial things I have ever seen. The assumption of entitlement to one's attention! The idea that disagreement is equivalent to "shutting down!" The equation of lack of love with aggression! I just can't. [30]

Comemnt by klia in [morgan dawn/meeedeee]'s Dreamwdith post:

I've been following the discussion, but I'm really confused. I'm not into f/f at all, but still see lots of f/f squee and picspams every day from friends. And I'm not seeing women who are into f/f being "violently shoved out of fandom and having our preferences constantly attacked and our presence in a space obsessed with M/M sex questioned is being selfish," either.

To me, the whole thing seems to boil down to the OP being angry about a lack of f/f in her fannish spaces? Maybe it's time to find some new fannish friends, or a new fannish hangout? [31]

Is media fandom being hypersexualized? (sociological /gender politics question)

[impostoradult]:

Now, this statement -

“But for some reason fandom is so obsessed with two white boys bonking that they’re incapable of seeing beyond the porn in fanfic, which raises the question why a space that is supposedly welcome to LGBTQIA people perpetuates the homophobic hypersexualisation of same gender pairing that the rest of society is so eager to do.”

There are a number of interconnecting responses I have to this statement. First, I think it very troublingly concedes to the idea that queer respectability ought to be garnered by disassociation with the sexual, which is an idea that I would strongly contest. I don’t think we ought to challenge the stigma of queerness by conceding to the stigma of sex. Part of the reason homophobic people have been able to use that idea to degrade queer people is precisely because we all treat the overtly sexual as INHERENTLY degrading when it is not. Now, I understand LGBTQ+ people should not be reduced to their sex lives, and that the notion that our lives totally revolve around sex is wrong-headed. But I would also strongly assert that even if that were true, LGBTQ+ people would still be totally 1000% deserving of respect, dignity and their sexualities would still be valid under those circumstances. I really have a problem with perpetuating the idea that queer folks need to downplay any association with the overtly sexual in order to get straight people’s respect or be “worthy” of respect. We’re worthy, WHETHER OUR LIVES REVOLVE ENTIRELY AROUND SEX OR NOT. We should not fight the stigma of queerness by conceding to the stigma of sex. I will defend that position to my grave. .....

....... while I can at least intellectually understand a resistance toward “over sexualizing” queer people, I would also retain my previous argument that the desire to get away from the sexual in fandom also has an element of trying to erase female eroticism and women’s pursuit of sexual gratification for its own sake. I honestly don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say fandom is quite literally the ONLY mass social environment I’ve ever occupied where women pursuing sexual gratification for its own sake has been treated as overwhelmingly valid, important and has been structurally, institutionally supported. The only one. Ever. And yes, this creates problems of its own, and yes, women in fandom can still be interrogated for the racial biases in their fandom erotics, how mPreg perhaps sustains heteronormative narratives of romance NEEDING to end in biological reproduction, or how it sometimes enables them to usurp queer male representation (*cough*KLAINERS*cough*). What women do sexually and otherwise in fandom can be critiqued on a number of bases. ....

......he assertion or implication that “fangirls need to stop being all about teh sex all the time!!1!” when fandom for many women is the only place where the expression of their sexual fantasies and desires are regularly given community support, validation and encouragement is deeply suspect to me. This doesn’t mean it should be immune from ALL criticism. But to simply criticize fandom for being too sex-obsessed constitutes an enforcement of regressive patriarchal gender norms like female virginity, purity, disinterest in sex, or at the very least, keeping our interest confined, minimized, respectable, and expressing it with restraint. Mustn’t let it get~~too excessive~~ because wouldn’t that just be TERRIBLE.

I think there are plenty of sexual discourses and norms within fandom that can be rightfully critiqued. But that fandom IS so sexual I don’t think is a criticism you can level without enforcing patriarchal virginal femininity at that same time........ [32]

[flourish]:

You know, I didn’t actually disagree with anything you [ormondhsacker] said in your initial post.

I agree that queer people are hypersexualized. My point (in my addition to the post) was that part of why I’ve hesitated to write smut of any sort and in particular femslash, is that queer people are hypersexualized. As a bi woman I am particularly vulnerable to that in the eyes of straight men, in my opinion.

I was honestly surprised to see that people are still saying that straight women are the ones who write slash because in my circles that’s been disproved long ago. In any case, I wasn’t responding to that segment of the discussion, and I’m sorry if you interpreted what I said as agreeing that “there should be no protest, no questioning, no examination of why F/F fics are ignored.” I’m totally boggled that anyone would impute that opinion to me.

My response was related to the later conversation, not to your original point, which I basically agree with.

In short - what just landed on my dash? O_O [33]

[ormondhsacker]:

Okay apparently I still don’t get through to you. At all. (Under cut because it’s long) My statement that I wanted to exclude people (women?) who read fanfic only for the smut in this was because I’m interested in why F/F pairings get ignored when they’re not engaged in smuttiness when an M/M or M/F fic would not, because I am fully aware that people read smut for other reasons than the, usually, read the fluff, romance, ect fic, not because I wanted it to be completely ignored. What you’re basically positing is that a study of fandom’s preferences in fluff, ect fic would be inherently based in sexual preferences and arousal too. Which is something I personally find very puzzling, not to mention slightly offensive. My question was not so much about ignoring food preferences in the choice of restaurant, but asking why people who love to eat Italian keeps choosing lasagne and pasta (they’re willing to read non-smut fluff, romance ect fics with M/M and M/F pairings) whilst utterly ignoring the ravioli (but they’re not willing to do so when there’s an F/F pairing at its centre). I think that is a legitimate question to ask not to mention way to ask it.

Btw, if caring that the women who are predominantly attracted to women/not attracted to men are being violently shoved out of fandom and having our preferences constantly attacked and our presence in a space obsessed with M/M sex questioned is being selfish, then I am in fact not only extremely selfish I’m very proud of being so. And to be honest I’m not wholly certain that I care if doing this makes the women who’s predominant interest are in M/M and M/F parings uncomfortable. For you this may be a space where women’s desires are allowed to roam free without constant scrutiny and questioning, but to me it’s just one more space where I and my desires are distinctly unwelcome and will constantly be called into question or silenced with the same viciousness that the rest of society do. So our experiences of fandoms acceptance of our seeking sexual gratification is obviously in direct opposition to each other. To me, fandom only allows this pursuit inside a certain frame - namely the socially acceptable one of putting men in the centre once more - and vehemently delegitimises any other way. [34]

[ormondhsacker]:

If women wants to use this as their version of porn, that’s their prerogative, though it doesn’t necessarily exclude them from committing similar fetishisation of M/M sex as straight, bi and pan men do of F/F sex, but that’s a discussion for a different day and a different post. What I am objecting to and what everyone seems all too eager to ignore is the complete ignoring of F/F pairings in non-sexual settings and fics. A fic that, if written about any M/M couple would get oodles of attention and not for getting women off, but when written about an F/F pairing it’ll be ignored. But apparently fandom is itself so obsessed with fetishising M/M sex that it’s mentally incapable of dealing with something that doesn’t involve two men fucking or at least two people having sex, because obviously every single fic out there with a same gender pairing is about sex on some level. It also allows it to safely ignore all those LBPQ women who finds themselves alienated and rendered unwelcome by this mindset by making mental Cirque du Solei acts to justify and explain away, either through myth, misused statistics, anecdotal evidence (while disregarding these women’s own anecdotal evidence - nice hipocracy there) or personal account, why this subject is the way it is. Or why it should be studied or examined in any way. To you, and everyone else who are happy with the status quo. Congratulations, good for you. But I spend every day feeling less and less welcome and more and more under siege, in this space which loves to advertise itself as welcome to LGBTQIA people, but does so under false pretexts.

If you don’t think that these things should be examined or questioned because you’re afraid what patriarchal academia might do with the results, then you are fully entitled to do so but please stop telling others that they’re not allowed to do this. Because frankly I am so beyond tired being told to shut up and sit down every time I raise my voice about it. Yes I am quite aware that women like me are less than welcome in fandom as we upset the status qou, too bad for you and yours we’re not going away any time soon. [35]

Comments at FFA

Oh man, people are still fighting over why women like slash?

Ok, I'll take a stab at it. Ormondhsacker is upset that (female, fic-writing fandom) fandom is not paying enough attention to f/f. (Some of these other people are the ones who do those studies of AO3 which reveal the shocking fact that the most popular pairings there are m/m) Other people say "well it's cause most of the fans are straight so they like m/m cause there are two hot guyz or they like het."

At the same time, as some of the other people in the thread are saying, there has been a movement in fandom to recognize through surveys that m/m slash fandom is not mostly straight women. Some of the people in the thread are talking about the history of that idea, and how accurate the surveys are.

At this point bertanderniearegay jumps in and starts talking about how wonderful it is that finally scholarship is evolving and now she and the new gen of slash scholars are able to show this in their work. Then imposteradult talks about how she is wary of the rhetoric around the discovery that a majority (possibly) of slash fans are not straight, because she feels it desexualizes fans of slash by suggesting they like mainly because representation.

This pisses off Ormundhsacker because she sees it as yet again the tired old argument that fans don't like f/f as much because they don't like f/f porn. The studies that a majority or substantial portion of slash fans lesbian/bi was useful to her point because she could say "well, look, a majority of slash fans are not straight, so your argument that it's because straight women like 2 guys boinking is bullshit (and anyway, fans are reading non-porn m/m, so the argument it's about porn is also invalid), and in fact the real reason is because they are obsessed with (cis, white) men." Whether you agree or disagree with this argument (and we sure have done so on this meme, extensively), it's pretty clear, and bertanderniearegay comes off kind of dense for seeming as though she doesn't understand it, even though she's an academic. [36]
"Acafen on Tumblr continue to be hilarious. The latest entry I've seen..... ..... goes on and on like that ("I’m trying to study and write about slash and slash fandom, not porn per se, which as a subset of slash I find an interesting and important one; so while it would be foolish to confuse it with the entirety of slash, neither can I dismiss it") and I can't even tell what all these people are angry about (straight women? the erasure of queer women? queer people writing het? straight people writing slash?) but it's all so self-involved it's just funny to me. [37]
I must admit that even though AO3 is supposedly our Archive Overlord now, I don't get what surveys based on it alone do....other than show stats about stuff on AO3. Maybe if they took AO3, Wattpad, ffnet and some other sites into account, that would be better, but a lot of the Tumblr acafen seem to use AO3 and nothing else (some of them don't seem to know about Wattpad at all). In terms of archiving, AO3 is really new, only since 2008, and since most everything there is self-uploaded, it's self-selected data, which makes it fun to play with for some people but pretty useless for actual statistics. [38]

I feel like I'm missing everyone's point here, but where the fuck does she gets this from: there are still only three books on slash and they’re all horrifically dated and problematic not to say outright biased, with or without referring specifically to the way they treat pornography. First of all, Textual Poachers and Enterprising Women only have a chapter each, so if that's her measuring stick, there've been tons of books on the topic. Plus hundreds of essays at this point. One dissertation? A few articles by the OTW?

So when I read her experience of conference presentations as Then someone raises their hand and informs you someone else already made that observation a decade ago. Your smile lasts until the hotel bathroom when you can freely panic-attack in private; etc., I can't help but think that maybe if she did some actual research and read the published academic material that is available on slash, femslash, porn in slash, queer readers and writers in slash, BDSM in slash,.... that wouldn't happen to her?"[39]

References

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