Why Femslash Is Different, Part 1,001

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Title: Why Femslash Is Different, Part 1,001
Creator: alixtii
Date(s): April 5th, 2007
Medium: online
Topic: Femslash, slash
External Links: Why Femslash Is Different, Part 1,001, Archived version
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Why Femslash Is Different, Part 1,001 is an response by alixtii to some remarks made in Henry Jenkins' Textual Poachers.


[T]he fan community has also begun to generate a smaller (but growing) number of lesbian stories envision this type of reciprocal relationship between two female characters. [. . .] In lesbian slash, as with male-centered slash, sexuality involves a dispersal of traditionally masculine and feminine traits [. . .]. That the conventions of lesbian slash follow so closely those of the older and more fully developed male slash is not surprising, but it does point to the degree to which these same models are and have been available for narratives that more directly represent female experience.

That's from Henry Jenkins' Textual Poachers, which I recently ILL-ed. (pp. 197-8)

It took me a while to decide why this comparison didn't seem to ring true for me. Was it merely the 15-year time difference between when the book came out and the present? Obviously much of the difference in terminology is due to the evolution of the genre in that time period; we'd never think to call femslash "lesbian slash" today, seeing how it is neither necessarily produced by lesbians (he says) nor about lesbians per se (the "slash is not gay" phenomenon)--in some ways the field has changed from its narrower existence in the late 80's and early 90's.

What I finally decided, though, was the difference is that the "adrogenizing" of male characters was being painted as a resistant measure on the part of fans in order to explore identity outside of strict gender roles. Kirk and Spock each have some characteristics which could be considered to be traditionally coded feminine, but neither figure is particularly androgenous--it is the fan writer who chooses to emphasize the feminine characteristic in order to produce this androgeny.

This seems to link in to present-day concerns about "feminizing" male characters, a concern I admit to finding silly or at least misguided--shouldn't the concern be whether the character is acting in character for himself as opposed to his gender. If there's canonical evidence for his breaking gender type, then he should; if not, the problem is not being in character, not being "feminized."

There does seem, however, to be a sense that these "feminized" versions of the (male) characters are somehow OOC. But nobody ever complains about "masculinizing" female characters, do they? Ever wonder why not?

In particular, in the example of "lesbian slash" that Jenkins offers (from a fandom with which I'm familiar; the other is Jenna/Cally from Blake's 7) Tasha Yar/Deanna Troi from ST:TNG, the androgeny to which he points is very much contained within the canonical characterizations (from my perspective, admittedly, which is already influenced by being a femslasher; there's no way to make this argument from a strictly textual/formal standpoint). I think it's more likely for female characters appearing in these sorts of patriarchal-value-derived works to be more complex in terms of gender construction than the male characters, because it was assumed that for both men and women it is the traditionally male characteristics which manage to make the character "interesting." (Of course, the masculinity ascribed to the female characters rarely if ever is allowed to threaten male dominance or interfere with the character's ability to act as eye candy for heterosexual males).

My point isn't, of course, that femslash is more IC than m/m slash, because I don't believe that (conceptions of what is in character will always-already depend upon the hermeneutic conditions under which we are interrogating the text), and newer canons tend to have more complicated gender constructions for both male and female characters as well as an understanding that characters can be interesting (and thus marketable) for their traditionally female traits. (Progress!)

But I do take the differences in the way femslash and boyslash are produced to be further indicative of the distinctiveness of the two genres. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: a community of women writing women in homosexual relationships isn't going to end up working through the issues as a community (the same community, in many cases) of women writing men in homosexual relationships.