Why is there so little geeky academic discussion of femslash?

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Title: Why is there so little geeky academic discussion of femslash?
Creator: carmarthen
Date(s): February 20, 2007
Medium: journal post
External Links: Why is there so little geeky academic discussion of femslash?, Archived version
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Why is there so little geeky academic discussion of femslash? is a 2007 post by carmarthen.

It has 114 replies.

Some Topics Discussed

  • femslash
  • can males write it well?
  • discussion of "faux-lesbian porn"
  • generalizations
  • queer writing vs lesbian or gay male writing

The Essay

Seriously, the "why do we write slash? what does it mean for feminism? blah blah ad nauseaum" discussion goes around fandom what, every week? Where is that for femslash? I don't think femslash is as simple as "lesbians like reading about women!"

What about straight women and gay men who like femslash? And I can't honestly think of any many straight men writing femslash like the female authors I read (faux-lesbian porn, yes), whereas the gay men who write m/m slash do conform to the genre conventions of female-dominated slash fandom more than to conventional gay porn (which is presumably why they're in slash fandom and not somewhere else).

I bet we could have TONS of geeky academic discussion about femslash! It's subverting the text like m/m slash, right? But the conventions are different; it's hardly ever mapped onto a traditional romance novel model (which while not universal in m/m slash, is still not uncommon).

Come on, fandom! Discuss!

Mmm, women.

Edit: Wow, I always get metafandomed over half-assed random posts. But welcome, all, and thanks for the awesome discussion! I always meet so many smart people through metafandom.

No need to apologize for tangents or rampant speculation! I fully support both.

Some Comments at the Post

[sweetvalleyslut]: For the record, I do know at least one, probably more, straight man who writes femslash. Oddly enough, he writes the way a lot of female slash writers do (and did more frequently back in the day)--he focuses on plot, which is often built around the strengthening of the relationships between the two characters.


I'm glad to hear that. It doesn't seem common, though which is why it bugs me when people suggest that the way to get more femslash is to get more straight men involved. I certainly didn't mean to suggest it never happens (certainly there are straight male pro authors who write queer female characters in a "femslashy" way).

I...am not sure I agree that female slash writers are less focused on plot and relationship now than then.... In terms of femslash, primarily Tortall (which being a series of books aimed largely at teenage girls has few adult fans, much less male ones), Firefly (I lurk and have yet to come across male femslashers), and Star Wars (where the men writing f/f frankly wig me out).

I'm not at all opposed to het male (geeky, feminist, and fannish) femslashers at all...but yeah, I have yet to run into them in my fandoms.


Well, I feel like there are fewer epic stories of h/c and angst nowadays, but maybe it's just that I read less of them. I guess I'm talking about "smarm" stories (see: Sentinel fandom), where the focus is the relationship, and how great it is, and how nothing will ever come between these two...but they're not having sex. I mean, this guy eventually does write sex between his heroines, but it's clear that he wants to establish them as friends, or at least a deeply connected pair (in canon they're mortal enemies) first, and the sex will grow out of that bond.

As for femslash, I think the main difference for me is that I identify more with the characters' relationship, as a queer woman. I mean, I tend to watch TV with the "everyone could and should be gay for each other" mentality, but it feels a lot more personal with the women. It's been such a long time since I had a non-canon f/f couple to ship, though...sigh


I'm flailing as to how to quantify "a lot," not to mention how to generalize about an entire fandom from just my flist (which hasn't been producing all that much Firefly stuff lately anyway). I don't think it's so much that there are a lot of us than that we are here in a sort of steady fashion. When one considers how common men are in fandom--and by fandom I mean fanfic-writing, traditionally female media fandom--there are I think about as many male femslashers as one would expect (possibly more). That is, I don't think there is anything intrinsic about the tropes of Firefly femslash that would make it less accessible than Firefly het to a male fanfic writer. (Less accessible than gen, maybe though--I think one of the stereotypes of fanboyism is that when a fanboy does write fanfic, it's a gen epic which focuses on plot rather than character.)

In general, I think the notability of male femslashers is that we are in fandom at all in the first place, and not so much what we're writing.

[carmarthen]: Hmm, could be. But there are fandoms that seem to be *overwhelmingly* dominate but m/m slashers (the Stargates come to mind) which seem to me like they might be less attractive to your average male fan. But it's hard to tell, and my perception of the Big Slash Fandoms is probably inaccurate since I'm not in them.


From the POV of someone who's in Stargate fandom, it's a lot less monolithically slash-oriented than it seems. It's just that the slash voices are the loudest, and, in some cases, they are the largest pairing.

You've got two shows for Stargate, and while the fandoms overlap, they aren't all the same. SG1 fans aren't always SGA fans, and vice/versa. So in SG1, you have the Jack/Daniel fans and the Sam/Jack fans, and for a long time, those were the two main pairings of the series. (And the ship wars got INSANE for a while there. There's still some bad blood.) For a very long time, Sam/Janet was virtually the only femslash pairing possible. Things are mixed up a bit now with the cast changes. There's now no Janet, and no Jack, but they've added in Cameron and Vala, so you've got the Sam/Vala, the Cameron/Sam, the Cameron/Teal'c, and the Daniel/Vala people.

Plus now you have SGA, which has the juggernaut monolith slash pairing of Sheppard/McKay, with the lesser, but still prevalent het pairing of Sheppard/Weir. Plus the fans have pretty much decided they want to pair anyone with anyone else. It's nice and mostly tensionless, and the Sheppard/McKay fans that I know, at least, aren't rabid about their OTP. For femslash, you've got various permutations with Elizabeth Weir, Teyla Emmagan, Kate Heightmeyer, Katie Brown, Miko Kusanagi (she's practically a fanon creation, but we love her so), Laura Cadman, and now Dr. Keller (played by Jewel Staite), plus the women whom you can cross over from SG1 (Vala, Sam, Janet, and some of the more secondary women, like Dr. Lam, Sarah Gardner, Sha're, Jennifer Hailey, and others).

So, basically, we femslashers have our little corner of SG fandom, and we sit around and play to our heart's content, and try to lure all our friends into writing femslash with us.


I haven't seen a lot on femslash_today, but I've only been watching it for a couple months. It makes me happy, though.

What I've seen at girlwank is more...I'm not sure. Specific meta? Not like the big "why do we, as women, like reading and writing about men getting it on?" question. I am very interested in why people write femslash (probably because I haven't seen it beaten into the dust repeatedly), and also in how those reasons intersect and differ from why people write m/m slash.

[havocthecat]: As to why I write femslash, I would have to say that the simplest answer is that I like the way women interact with each other, and since I write primarily femslash and het, I like writing both because I can contrast how a man and a woman behave in a relationship with how two women behave in a relationship.


There are a lot of possible relationship dynamics for all gender combos, but I think I enjoy femslash (and gen about women) because women in general are marginalized in a lot of genres. The Dykes to Watch Out For rule applies too often--we only see women in the media talking to other women about men far too much of the time. So I like to explore how women feel about other women, and how women feel about the vast areas of life that aren't sexual/romantic.

I think I write slash for queer reasons and femslash and (often) het for feminist reasons.

[ emily shore ]:

This is a seriously, seriously good topic. I wish that I had more cogent comments to make on it.

In my own fannish life, slash and femslash play roughly similar roles. I consider myself primarily a reader and writer of het and gen, but will happily read both slash and femslash if they seem to promise a good story, are recommended to me, or are notable for other reasons. I've also written a bit of both when the characters took me that way. But I don't have any particular preference for the genre.

It seems to me you could argue that writing femslash is even more of a feminist act than writing slash, since it places women at the very center of the frame and emphasises their important in the text. Probably fewer people are interested in justifying its importance just because fewer people are interested in writing it. Like you, I think this is a shame (the lack of discussion, that is).


Probably fewer people are interested in justifying its importance just because fewer people are interested in writing it.

I think also there is less of a need to justify it, whereas a lot of slashers (especially the ones who write lots of meta essays) are trying to reconcile writing about guys all the time with being a feminist.

[carmarthen]: So there's a question: do people get as upset about slashers "changing" the sexual orientations of female characters as they do about "changing" the orientations of male characters?


Yes, there are certainly men out there who can write about women in what I consider to be a femslashy way (I have no problem with Neil Gaiman's portrayal of lesbian couples, for example, or Terry Pratchetts), but they seem to be even rarer in fandom than gay men who write m/m slash. I find faux-lesbian porn even more offputting than conventional het porn, and I don't think adding more of that to fandom will strengthen femslash fandom.

(Certainly there is an overlap between (fem)slash and porn, but I'm personally interested in the fannish stuff that doesn't overlap with porn conventions.)


I tend to think that most het males who read and write f/f about fannish characters, from within the fannish community, would tend (and do tend) to be the sort of guys who could write femslash women would find (and do find) interesting. (Disclosure: I am a het male femslasher.) After all, geeks aren't exactly the bastion of heteronormativity, and an argument can be made that we're queered to some degree just by being here.

And it's not like the parts of fandom I hang out in have much patience for male privilege--does anyone remember the writercon debacle?

Maybe some guy who just writes some f/f in isolation, about fairly mainstream characters, from outside the fannish community, without having queer female femslashers on his flist, and just randomly posts it to FF.net, maybe not so much in his case. (But he at least knows that FF.net exists and has an urge to write fanfic, which is a point in his favor.) But I think the situation is different for the sort of het males whose femslash femslash_today is likely to find. Of course, most readers who find that femslash through the newsletter might never know the author was male at all! I'm sure this happens in my case.

Which is not to say that het males will always write exactly the same type of femslash as the queer females, because of course our subject-positions are different.

Me, I started out as a gen writer, so I learned how to write femslash at fandom's knee.


I tend to think that most het males who read and write f/f about fannish characters, from within the fannish community, would tend (and do tend) to be the sort of guys who could write femslash women would find (and do find) interesting.

I'd like to believe that, but in the 80 gazillion fandoms I've read or written in, I haven't come across it often (and back when I was on one of the big femslash lists, there was at one strange, creepy troll-guy who'd email members randomly and instruct us to write cliched porn about random characters). I'm inclined to think the fandoms you run in are pleasantly anomalous in that regard, but I think any generalization on that matter will be pretty subjective. I can definitely see that Buffy and perhaps the Jossverse in general is more likely to have male femslashers than a lot of other fandoms, though.

Which is not to say that het males will always write exactly the same type of femslash as the queer females, because of course our subject-positions are different.

Or the straight women. :)


Or the straight women.

The line between the straight and queer women writing femslash is so blurry as no, I don't think one could make any generalizations as to how one group writes as opposed to the other, if that makes any sense. Whereas sex, while technically still also a continuum, tends to be more stark a dichotomy at the moment.


I wonder how I and other het male femslashers might write differently than the female femslashers, but it's difficult to make generalizations because the female femslashers cover such a wide range. Some of my stuff, especially the darker stuff, seems to have my het male gaze all over it (which of course I don't consider an inherently bad thing, if it's still being read with enjoyment by queer females, just different), but then there are plenty of queer female femslashers who have written just as dark or darker and the queer female gaze suddenly doesn't seem to be all that different.

I pretty much became a femslasher through the advent of femslash_minis--an LJ community which would conduct a new Jossverse femslash ficathon every two weeks. So when I wasn't writing any femslash at all before, suddenly I was writing a lot of it, and as I became a member of the community and friended and was friended by more and more of the members of the community I began to identify as a femslasher.

It just makes sense to me that femaleness and queerness and geekiness all share a certain element of marginalization, and that it would be natural for a male fanfic writer who is attracted to women to look to a queer woman as a point of identification. But I suppose I might just be overgeneralizing from my own experience, as I've always identified more strongly with female characters, as my het and gen output also shows.


in some ways I symptahize with the intellectual bias. there's a gender dissonance to mslash fandom that has to do with women thinking and writing about queer(ed) men which has rightly interested a lot of people. in femslash fandom there's the assumption of a much closer alignment between the sexuality of the fans and the (projected) sexuality of the characters. personally I think this supposed alignment raises an equally fascinating set of issues (which have to do with blurred boundaries between the registers of production, reception, and imagination and ensuing invocations of a politics of representation). but it is at base a more conservative landscape, I think.

for example -- I have been and remain very disturbed by the generalized bias against and dismissal of men in femslash fandom.


I've been thinking this myself, ever since I noted how different the tropes are between femslash and m/m. Genderswap, wingfic, mpreg, Mary Sues, all of the things we look for in m/m seem to be irrelevant to what's going on in femslash-writing communities on the internet. I don't think femslash is simple, either, but the women and men writing it are definitely working out a different set of issues, in a different set of ways, than those writing m/m!

On top of the fact that when we talk about slash as an umbrella term femslash always seems forgotten, the fact that the conventions of the two genres are so wildly different seems to make the lumping of the two together silly.

Unfortunately, all of the great academic analyses of fic seem to focus on the gen, het, and/or m/m slash communities.

I'm a het male femslash writer who has been mistaken female even by those who online know me best, and in my neck of the woods (Buffy femslash fandom) het male femslashers are certainly not unknown. Whether they are responding to the texts in the same ways is open to debate, naturally, but I'm not sure how meaningful the difference is if the readership can't tell the difference between a het male or queer female writing.

The femslash community is very much a community to me, and I'm not sure how that relates to the above but I feel it needs to be said. I know other femslash writers by name; they know me; we've friended each other, etc. Which is how it works in m/m, too, I'm sure, but what the groupthink consists of will be different even if the process is the same.

I wish we could work out--or even try to work out--the tropes of f/f, the way such wonderful work has been done with m/m, so thank you for maybe putting us another step in that direction.

But the f/f community is still smaller, and I suppose that's why its not the subject of much meta. Which isn't to say that femslashers don't write meta--they do, or at least those on my flist do--but that when they do, in the long thinky metafandom-ed way, the subject isn't usually femslash per se.

[aris tdg]:

*wave* Hi from metafandom. I don't have too much here to add on the answering-questions big-picture front, but as a heterosexual female I have to say I write femslash for the same reason I write slash, because I think the characters have an interesting vibe (or would have an interesting vibe) and would play off each other well in a relationship. The fact that my one foray into femslash that I've put down in pixels is pure porn really has not much to do with it. ;)

But yeah, the impetus for writing the story mostly comes from "Those people would be GREAT together!" or "Those people would be an interesting trainwreck together!" I tend to write less femslash than slash or het or (especially) gen because there are fewer female characters in general to focus on in my fandoms.

rachel martin 64: I like reading m/m slash but not f/f slash, because for me, f/f slash seems to feed into the misogyny of the fundies in my life. They believe that women are incapable of friendship or teamwork, so if two women are actually managing to get along, why, they must be lesbian! That attitude depresses me. So I prefer to read stories about women who are friends or co-workers rather than women who are romantically or sexually involved.


I read m/m, f/f, gen, and some het, and although my tastes in m/m tend to follow a pattern, I've found myself drawn to femslash for different reasons in different fandoms.

I read femslash for "Firefly" because I discovered the show during a period of being heavily into Age of Sail stuff, and these canons (especially Hornblower, which was my primary interest) tend to be very male-focused. The phenomenon of multiple female characters, on-screen at the same time, who actually liked each other was such a marvelous and refreshing novelty to me at that time that I felt it deserved celebration in fanfiction. The fact that I'm very fond of Kaylee and find it easy to mentally pair her up with both men and women helps.

I read femslash (most of it Francesca Vecchio-centric) for due South because I think that Frannie's a great character in her own right, and I like explorations of who she is and what she can be when she isn't stuck as "that girl with the hopeless crush on Benton Fraser." It also makes me happy to see the women from a canon focused on male bonding get a little love sometimes.

I ship Nicky/Pammie (Nicky Muratta and Pamela Pearl, the main characters in a 1980 "punk tomboy runaways" movie called "Times Square") because their canonical relationship is both affecting (in a way not that dissimilar to my favorite m/m pairings) and mindblowingly homoerotic. If their dynamic was the same but they were both boys, I'd still want them to be together.

I don't know if my experiences are at all representative, but if they are, that might go some way towards explaining why people don't go around proposing Grand Unified Theories of Femslash. Lots of internal variety on an individual level can complicate efforts to investigate and explain fannish motivation in an organized way.

[dropsofviolet]: I'd love to see a discussion of that somewhere, since I'm a straight woman and I can't stand hard yaoi (slash), but I enjoy well-written yuri (femslash). But as others have mentioned, it's a bit difficult to find femslash and less people write it. Perhaps because (in my fandoms, anyway), most of the writers are straight females uninterested in other women? It's a crying shame, really. You can do a lot more with emotions and make it believable with femslash.

[rushin doll]:

I'm not so sure about m/m being perceived as less threatening. I do think it's probably perceived as more deviant. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that m/m relationships are considered significantly more deviant than f/f ones. There are all sorts of reasons for this, but really not the point here.

I think that's what makes it so "weird" to most people. And I think that's what makes people so curious about m/m slash: why is this deviant thing so compelling to so many people?

I know that's how I tend to look at things as someone who's in fandom but not really into slash of any sort. F/f slash seems much more... I don't know, "normal" in some way I guess, than m/m slash.


Here via metafandom.

My reason for reading (and trying to write) femslash is similar to "lesbians like reading about women!" but it's more than I want to read stories that reflect my personal experiences. I like to feel represented. There are lots of things I identify as other than a queer woman; I'm a teenage girl, I'm an Irish Republican, I'm from Toronto, etc. and I like stories about other Irish people and other Canadians too, but they're easier to find than stories about girls who discover they might be in love with a female friend. So I end up reading fanfiction when there's no other medium that represents me.


See, the whole reason I like femslash is because a) I'm a girl who identifies better with women anyway, and b) there isn't a lot of geeky academic meta. I mean, with m/m, after the 1274620th "Feminism feminism reclaimation woman!space exploration of fantasies pretty boys bumping uglies" post, you would think that they'd run out of things to say. It's great that they're writing about something that they're passionate about, but... it just doesn't interest me.

And that's why I like femslash. There's genuinely crappy stuff, and there's genuinely excellent stuff, and there's stuff in between, and people let it be. *shrug* Maybe I'm no fun.

[carmarthen]: Yeah, some of the meta in m/m slash fandom gets pretty repetitive (although I still like meta about topics that have not been beaten into the ground, like...specific fandom dynamics and how to make writing work and stuff like that). I don't think I'd want the femslash discussion to be beating a dead horse, but I think having it once or twice is interesting.