Why Is There So Much Slash Fic?: Some Analysis of the AO3 Census

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Title: Why Is There So Much Slash Fic?: Some Analysis of the AO3 Census
Creator: porluciernagas
Date(s): November 12, 2013
Medium: online
External Links: online here
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Why Is There So Much Slash Fic?: Some Analysis of the AO3 Census is an 2013 essay by porluciernagas.

It was written, in part, as a response to AO3 Ship Stats Masterpost and AO3 Census: Masterpost.


Slash’s reign as king of the internet was pretty much verified after The Daily Dot challenged [1] someone to actually count the number of fanfics for every pairing on AO3, an extremely popular fanfiction archive. Tumblr user destinationtoast did all that and more, proving that the top ten AO3 ships were all slash and that Sherlock Holmes/John Watson far outpaced both Supernatural’s Destiel and Teen Wolf’s Sterek. They then went on to prove [2] that M/M was the largest category on AO3, double the size of its closest competing category, Gen (fics which do not center around relationships).

Putting aside the problems of the various source materials, some women read slash simply because they feel uncomfortable identifying with women — especially the women presented in popular television shows, who are overwhelmingly white, skinny, and conventionally attractive. This can mean any number of things, as some actively dislike the gender norms that are associated with being female (worrying about one’s figure, what one eats and how one dresses), and some dislike sex (or have traumas that have led them to be wary of sex). In any case, the characters’ maleness is a buffer between reality and fiction. Many fans read fanfiction as a form of escapism, and male characters don’t have to worry about female gender norms or female participation in sex. As one Tumblr user [put it]:
Reading M/M is safe for me. I don’t want to identify as the sexual person involved […] Fictional men having sex lets me relax and enjoy because I have no part in it. [3]

...fans don’t seem to show as much empathy to female characters, especially when that female character poses a “threat” to a fanon ship. Sherlock’s Molly is “useless”; Supernatural’s Lisa “has no personality”; and like Saathi1013 said, when Teen Wolf introduced Cora Hale, the fans reared up with the almighty battlecry STOP GIVING US THE STRAIGHT VERSION OF STEREK! (The capslock, was, I suppose, necessary to gauge the exact depth of their outrage.) Though there’s no concrete evidence for it, it’s not hard to draw a line connecting this subconscious attitude to the glut of white male slash. Many fans defend their slash ships by saying, “Well, there are no good female characters in canon,” which seems to mean that there’s some elusive quality lacking from the few female characters who exist; if so, I would ask why Arthur/Eames, an overwhelmingly popular ship from Inception, has so much fic devoted to it when Eames, at least, is a very, very minor character. One might as well ship Arthur and Ariadne, for all the Inception Arthur Eamesscreentime that Eames gets, but empathy for and identification with Ariadne seems to be, for the most part, missing among the fanbase. (A quick search on AO3 turns up almost twice as many Arthur/Eames fics as there are Arthur/Ariadne fics.)

While some fans do read slash because they find it erotically compelling, there’s enough evidence here to suggest that there’s a lot more to this issue than just “hey, horny straight girls like gay guys!”. For one, they’re not all straight, and for another, they’re not all girls. Authors of every stripe might write slash because they’re emotionally, not erotically, invested in the relationship. They might write it because there actually are no female characters in the source material, they might write it because they don’t want to identify physically with the characters in the story, they might have internalized society’s underlying misogynistic messages, or they might be queer and want what queer representation they can obtain from fanfic. If there’s something we can take from these AO3 surveys, it’s that more questions need to be asked about why fanfic authors write what they write, and why fanfic consumers read what they read. The answer isn’t as simple as we commonly assume.

Some Comments at the Post


This is all cool stuff and provides some interesting insight, but explaining why there is so many MM-slash is simple, especially to a guy: Look dude, there is porn, which is mainly watched by guys. And one of the main pairings in porn is F/F, i.e. Lesbians, right, you love those cause there are not one but two awesome chicks?! Now, in fanfics the main recipients, maybe even more than guys in porn, are girls, sooo one of the main pairings is M/M. Makes it crystal clear to most people I talked to so far ;) Yes yes, there is more to it, but this brings it down to the main point in my opinion. (Please note there is some irony in how I phrased, i.e. not meant deragatory towards men, woman or other human beings… or thinking beings…)


think you are right in some ways. As I was reading this, I thought; ok, I’m a woman, I like guys. And why would I want to read a guy with a woman? I have that in rl and love it, but don’t really need to read about it “g” Of course, yes, there’s way more to it than that, but this is certianly part of it.

[Caroline Uchiha Shiroyama Cassiopeia]:

I believe that, without seeing, writers are doing like in greece: male “friendship” being epic, you know? Most, even, being like a couple(change the gender of one and many against slash would agree too).

I don’t know if, maybe, slash is the new romeo and Juliet thing(a new hardship that not just money or whatever more). Is hard to tell, but i think that slash (and femslash) can be the chance for homo couples(and bisexual couples) to exist on tv series and movies. And not just like a porn thing, but as true relationships.

Plus i believe that slow burn helps a lot, because most hetero couples are always obvious (and kinda easy) to be together and most slash fics have the relationship going step by step.


Ok. I’m gonna say it. The way femslash goes about things is hardly different from the way male slash does. As long as both fandoms have females in them, then there are similar reasons to why they like either. The numbers are obviously [due] to cultural influences, where traditionally the female has a submissive role, and putting a man in there is obviously more intriguing, in multiple senses, for women. That’s why it appeals so much, no matter how much femslash militants rant otherwise.

[Gry Ranfelt]:

I really think the theory about there being more interesting male characters is more likely. Look at ATLA and ATLOK in which there are an INCREDIBLE amount of strong female characters. The femslash in that fandom is insane. I believe there’s more femslash than slash.

[Sam DW]:

Femslash actually has a rather large following, which is dwarfed by huge slash following. Many may be surprised to note that not all femslash is porn. Much of it is very thoughtful, in terms of how it portrays the sexuality of it’s characters.

Unlike slash, which is written by predominately straight women, a large portion of femslash is written by lesbians. It reflects the actual experiences of the lesbian community. As a general rule there isn’t a whole lot of visibility for lesbian characters in books or on TV. Fan fiction is a safe space for people to write and read about lesbian characters. If you look at the Quinn and Rachel pairing in the glee fandom, many of the most poplar stories look at themes such as, discovering sexuality, exploring first loves and coming out to family and friends.

Since Slash is mostly written by straight females, it doesn’t speaks to me in the way that femslash does. Most of the slash I have read just feels stilted and disingenuous.


I have never read femslash, so I can’t say much about it. I just don’t enjoy reading two women. I also don’t really love female-only leads in TV shows. The only exception was Sanctuary w AT, but there were guys involved, too, plus I really loved her in SG-1 and SGA before. I need a guy to be there I can place my heart on, at least enough to keep me watching.

I love slash in my fandom and am a true OTP (one true pairing) girl, with exception of OT3 here and there (which involves a woman). I have never really analyzed why, it just happened. This is the second fandom I slash in, and I am not a fan who slashes in every TV Show she likes. It has to feel genuine for me and it has to be sparks and a deep deep emotonal connection between the characters – and from me to both characters. If that is not there I won’t write it or read it. I love het pairings on TV such as in Castle, Lois&Clark, X-files – but I wouldn’t read or write about them, I am just enjoying them on TV the way they are given to me.

For me it’s all a quesiton of loving the guys and loving them being together and a hint of canon that there could be more. The porn is sometimes important, but not the sole reason for slashing. There can be g-rated slash fics that are wonderful with only as much as a kiss or a touch or a thought that gives away the relationship. I love those as much as I love porn. It just has to be about the characters for me and not about some guys wearing my characters’ names. It has to feel real for me, that’s most important.


So I’m interested in the aspect of how women seem to have trouble identifying with or emphasizing with female characters.

The assumed reasoning would be that they are female characters written by male writer who therefore must be failing to write the female character well. And there is truth in that I’m sure.

But I’m a male fan who has just as much trouble identifying with and empathizing with male characters. Certain male character can intrigue me when they are very archetypical, and entertain me when they are well acted or really eccentric.

But it’s female character I truly identify with, often the same ones it seems female character can’t. Not every female character, but the character I do the most are always women. Padme Amidalla, Anna on TVD, Mikasa on AoT, numerous women written by Paul Feval. It’s not limited to characters written by male authors either I assure you, PLL I see myself in Spencer, and Mona and sometimes Paige or Aria. Also the lead characters of Annie on my Mind and Good Moon Rising by Nancey Garden.

The issue of how hated female character often become is sadly I feel the result of to many women fans just accepting what the misgonist male fans keep shouting out.

[Gry Ranfelt]:

G.R.R. Martin was asked how he wrote such great female characters. he answered he didn’t write them as female characters, he just wrote them as persons, as he would write any male character.


There is probably less het fic in general because TV is filled with hetero relationships. Every show with a male lead and a female lead will go the same way, even if they have no chemistry. There is nothing even remotely similar as far as gay characters go. No slow-burn, no great friendship to love. We don’t get that. We get to write our fic about it, and everyone else gets to see it play out on screen. As far as straight women go, maybe they’re just bored with hetero romances? They have one in their lives, and they’ve seen it play out millions of times the same way on TV. Unless there’s great, undeniable chemistry between the male/female characters in question, why be interested in it? There could also be the issue of female characters existing to solely be love interests. When the relationship happens, that character ends up being all about the male character. Suits is the perfect example of this. Donna showed enormous potential as a character in series one. Then they created a back story that has reduced Donna to nothing more than someone who pines and obsesses over Harvey. Everything she talks about is Harvey related, and every decision she makes is Harvey related. It’s a sad state of affairs.


Interresting statistics and thoughts….

The “why slash?” question has – in some corners of the net – been discussed to exhaustion for… decades now, nothing new … :P I haven’t been looking for years, though. Has it been so long there’s a whole new generation? Are you the young fangirls I hoped would not chance upon any meta until they had the chance to have the benefit of this world, untainted by …. selfawareness as little slash fans? ;)

I think most discussions pretty much end up along the lines of one guy, brilliant, two guys, much better! and the relief of the absence of traditional “male gaze”.

Gender identity of the reader may be interesting as statistics, I don’t see anything surprising here… though preference is more relevant.

One way of seeing it is that the less interrested you are in one gender (your own or not), the less interrested you are in focusing on their genitals. (And the other way around.) By this logic, the reader and her preferred fanfic probably move in opposite directions up and down the Kinsey scale ;)

The “internalized misogyny” argument that you touch upon, has always been a particular non-starter with me. Just no.

The “no females in my show” argument is not so relevant. People wander from fandom to fandom, searching out similar ships. If you are a slash fan, you are not in it for lack of “strong female characters”, though that lack is obviously a problem.

Let’s face it, unless they are newbies oblivious to slash and fandom, they don’t start watching a show without the slash goggles, then get a sudden urge to ship the main characters… :)

Males watching lesbian porn is seldom problematised, it’s not more relevant to ask why women prefer slash :)

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