Women and Slash

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Related terms: Slash, Slash Controversies
See also: Gender and Fandom, Misogyny and Fandom
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Slash fanworks originated with homosexual relationships between two men. In general, male/male pairings have been more prolific and popular than female/female femslash pairings. Women have been the main participants in slash fandom - slash has been described as "by women for women." The reasons why women are attracted to male slash has been discussed widely, as well as whether or not it is a problem.

History

By Women, For Women

Slash is often described as created by women for an audience of women. This is a historically accurate with regard to slash's origin in Star Trek: TOS fandom.

See:

Slash and Female Sexuality

My first ever slash manifesto. (Also titled: A Comment Gone Horribly Awry) - The Good, The Bad, and The Conclusion:

So, is slash empowering? I think it can be. As I said above, I think it has the power to dismantle a lot of assumptions westerners hold about sexuality and gender and love. But it doesn't always live up to its potential. And that's to be expected, I suppose. We can't all be subversive all of the time. And given that many female m/m slash writers don't write with any sort of sociopolitical agenda in mind, we're not always going to be. But I do think that it's worth it for readers and writers of slash to examine their motives in doing so, and to use slash as a tool to better understand themselves. Self-knowledge is empowerment. Period.

Straight Women and Slash

Straight women may be explained as enjoying slash because they are attracted to men – thus they may be averse to femslash.

Escapism of the Slash Fantasy

Some say that the fantasy of sex between two men allows one to be liberated from the social issues that women face, and that taking on the male perspective is empowering.

In response to Why I Write Everything - ANGST! RECRIMINATION! BUTTSEX! by acadine in 2003, which was a response to Why I Write Slash by Ivy Blossom:

[justacat]:

Or that just maybe the reason thesestraight women like the idea of slash so much is that, really, they'd kind of like to have a dick and be able to fuck people with it and get blowjobs.

I'm a straight woman, and I'm willing to cop to this one, no problem. I'd love to have a dick - and a prostate for that matter - at least for one night, and I'd love to know what it's like to be able to get off like a man - stick it in a hole, move it around, boom (is that a stereotype?).

Sex between men seems to have elements that traditionally have been more "forbidden" for women. Sex for men seems has always seemed to me to be ... well, *easier*, from a purely physical perspective, than it is for women – less complicated, quicker, more raw physicality, more strength. Most women I know feel that for them to get pleasure and enjoyment out of sex takes more work than it does for men – more concentration, more time, the right "mood" (i.e., mental state). A quote from one of my favorite dS fics (female author): "That night, we make love like the first time--animalistically, so hard it almost hurts. I find myself glorying in the strength of Ray's body, the tight grip of his hands. This attraction to strength is, I think, the constitutive part of my sexuality--the harder body, the higher proportion of muscle mass, the potential for equal physical fierceness." Men seem to be able to get off with much less fuss, and I think the physicality, the rawness, the idea of losing oneself in sex the way men seem to (again another stereotype?), is incredibly appealing.

As is the idea of having a dick, and being able to fuck people with it. And of being able to be the fucker or the fuckee or the sucker or the suckee (some gay porn star - I think he might even have identified himself as straight! - once said this about why he preferred sex with men - more options). I don't think I really want to *be* a man - but yeah, part of why I read slash is because there's part of me that really really really wants to have sex like a man, to have a dick and all that comes along with it in this society.

acadine asserted: "If you can't write het that's non-sexist or not based in sex roles, it is because you are a shitty writer, which usually boils down to the fact that you haven't been looking at life hard enough and haven't been listening to what it tells you."

[genufa]: ... 2) One reason the slash fantasy is attractive to a lot of women is because it allows for exploration of sexuality without having to deal with the variously fraught experience of their own sexuality (anything from social expectations to power dynamics to triggers to in-reality-does-this-feel-good-for-me). In this sense, should it be considered an intermediary step toward the full understanding and acceptance of one’s own sexuality? Perhaps, when you consider how many fandom ppl are queer or alternatively sexual. I wouldn’t call it a rule (and it’s not “intermediate” in the sense that ppl then give it up, as far as I can tell). But it’s worth noting that f/f (not to mention m/m/f, poly ships in general, various kinks) has actually become way more prevalent, in tandem with third wave feminism. As society liberalizes so does fandom; there used to be a lot of things that ppl would judge you loudly for writing.[1]

Male vs Female Characters

Fandom at large's focus on male characters over female characters is highly controversial. This may be explained as there simply being more male characters in media, but there is evidence that fandoms focused on men and slash even if there are prominent women.

destinationtoast's April 2018 fandom stats on Gender representation in movies vs. movie fanworks shows that the average AO3 movie fandom has 32% female characters, compared to the average of 31% in all movies. However, analysis also showed that movie characters who became popular (having over a certain number of works) in fandom were 26% female. Testing of the hypothesis, "Does fandom pay less attention to female characters than movies do?," concluded that "M/M (which is relatively common on AO3) has fewer female characters than average." and "F/F (which is relatively rare on AO3) has more female characters than average."

destinationtoast also noted:

Elaboration on why not to blame dudeslash or its creators:
  1. Other factors may fully or mostly explain lack of female representation in fanworks. We’ve seen strong evidence for some other factors and will see more.
  2. AO3 is not all of fandom! Just because a lot of M/M creators choose AO3 as a place to to post their works doesn’t mean that these shipping ratios hold everywhere (as we will see).
  3. There are lots of reasons that AO3 may have this shipping ratio, some related to canon, some historical, and some other ones (more on that later).
  4. And importantly, it’s a personal value judgment as to whether fan creators should strive to write more of particular relationship categories than others (and there are lots of arguments out there from multiple sides of that debate). The data doesn’t make a claim either way, and certainly doesn’t assign blame.[2]

Identifying With Masculinity

A number of women explain that their focus on male characters is a reaction to misogyny in media. They argue that the more complex male characters are more fulfilling subjects than female characters, who are sidelined, underdeveloped, or mistreated in canon. Identifying with masculine privilege and strength through slash is appealing to many.

Projecting Femininity Onto Men

Women may want stories about men who are less traditionally masculine. Media created by and for women can free of the male gaze, and gay stories can remove the limits of heteronormativity. Men can be depicted as more in touch with their feelings and sensuality than in popular media.

Early Kirk/Spock stories were described as being written with female sensibilities. Joanna Russ's Pornography by Women, For Women, With Love, suggests that a women's perspective and be projected on Spock in particular:

In short, the stories, over and over, set up situations in which the two are not responsible. Other (R and G-rated) stories present various beatings, blindings, and mutilations which necessitate not only intense emotional intimacy, but also one character’s touching and holding the other with an eroticism only lightly veiled in the story (arid probably not veiled at all in the readers). So far the material sounds like the irreverent description by two of my friends; “Barbara Cartland in drag.” But if that’s all K/S stories arc, why don’t the women who read them simply read romances and be done with it? Why the “drag"'? Why project the whole process on two male science fiction characters? First of all, K/S is not about two men. Kirk is a man, to be sure, but Spock isn't, he's half human alien. Susan Gubar has speculated in a recent essay that when women s.f. writers write aliens they are very often writing about women. Patricia Frazer Lamb and Diana Veith also suggest (brilliantly, I think) that although Spock is not literally female, his alienness is a way of “coding” into the K/S fantasies that their subject is not a homosexual love affair between two men, but love and sex as women want them, whether with a man or with another woman. Lamb and Veith cite many more details which support this view: briefly, that Spock‘s reproductive biology is cyclical and uncontrollable, that although “a prince among his own people," Spock is just another Fleet officer in a Federation led by Human men, that he is isolated both from Vulcans and from Humans (as nontraditional women are alienated from both traditional women and from men), that he has no command ambitions, that he often gets Kirk out of difficulties caused by Kirk’s impulsiveness and rashness (qualities Spock does not and cannot afford to display), that his Vulcan and human sides are at war, that Vulcan is matrilineal, that he must be self-controlled and guarded, and so on. [...][3]

Removing Women From Narratives

Deliberately removing (and the self) from stories in favor of focusing on slash may be an extension of the escapism of the slash fantasy.

In Yaoi communities, getting women out of the way in order to focus on boys is discussed openly.

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

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. [4]

Criticism

Slash & LGBT Culture

Slash vs. Gay is the conversation about how slash relates to LGBT literature, culture, and the experiences of LGBT people. A good deal of the "slash vs. gay" question rests on female fans' perception of who a gay man is and what constitutes a gay identity, but also on how they depict the characters' perceptions of these things. Male characters who have same-sex relationships are usually straight in canon. Are they men who have sex with men without thinking of themselves as gay or bisexual? Or is the writer deviating from the canon source to depict a "what-if" where the characters are and perceive themselves to be gay? How does the writer handle these issues in fan fiction taking place in former times, e.g., Sherlock Holmes, when these cultural identities and perceptions were very different? How does the writer's own experience as a straight, bisexual or Lesbian woman affect her portrayals of gay male characters? How do male slash authors -- gay, straight and bi -- perceive these things?

Appropriation of Gay Mens' Stories

Some hold the belief that stories about marginalized people should be written by authors of the same identity group – this is known as OwnVoices fiction. Following this view, gay men should be the ones whose works should be most celebrated within the genre of M/M fiction.

Marginalization of Gay Men

Women, and particularly straight women, make hold homophobic beliefs or prejudices, which may be evident in their writing. Thus, slash created by women make reenforce such views, and thus exploit gay men while further marginalizing them.

The We're Not Gay; We Just Love Each Other trope, which involves straight, same-sex characters having a relationship, but not seeing their sexual relationship with each other as having implications for their sexual orientation, is considered by many to be homophobic. Critics argue that trope is used so that gay sex and be objectified and enjoyed, but shuns the actual label and the stigma of being gay.

Inaccuracy

Many people, gay men and otherwise, point out that slash and fandom are often inaccurate in their portrayal of gay male lives and sex. There are many conversations about lubrication and safe sex. This leads to questions about whether or not being inaccurate makes a slash story bad – exactly how much of slash is fantasy?

Erotica written by straight women can likely be expected to be based on a heteronormative understanding of sex.

In the 2012 meta How Can Gay Buttsex Be Heterosexist? Bendingsignpost said, "The fandom arc of slash sexual progression goes: kiss, hand/oral, anal. Meaning that if you don’t get to the anal bit, you don’t complete the arc, and there’s a sense of the narrative being incomplete. [...]I agree that to make anal penetration the culminating act in a fic can overvalue it, echoing the stereotypical arc of heterosexual experience: to fuck=to fuck like a man and a woman. In this light it’s heterosexist."

Realism

From Slash and the Ethics of Voice, discussing the misappropriation of gay mens' culture and whether or realism in fiction required (or intended):

Seems a gay man or two has objected to the representation of his brethren in slash, complaining about the lack of realism. [...] See, I don't really have any intention of fully representing the gay male community. First of all, I don't believe that this is possible: too much divergence there. Not all gay men share the same views on safe sex, AIDS, relationships, violence, advocacy, just like not all women share the same views on the same subjects. There are arguably positions on each that some groups feel are more moral or appropriate for the group, but no indisputable evidence exists to say which, definitely, is the position that best represents said group.

In fact, I'm not even sure what role realism plays in slash in any form. Is even the emotion represented there meant to be real, or an improved, honed, purified version of it? That is, when slashers depict love or jealousy, is that feeling absolutely mimetic, or is it imbued with a nobility or a catharsis or an intensity that it lacks in real life? [...] I think the objection to slash's misrepresentation of gay men is a misleading one, since I'm not entirely sure your average slasher has any intention of "adequately" representing this community, however one would define it. I'm not sure, in other words, how this community could be adequately defined, not least because as a writer I'm not attempting to define it. Should I be concerned about this, about my own lack of interest in representing the community whose voice I've apparently co-opted for my stories? This question seems to hearken back to the issue of voice appropriation that was so trendy in the 80s, when scholars wondered whether the appropriation of a minority voice was an act of discrimination.

[...]

But what if my intention as a slasher isn't to reproduce a gay male voice with any accuracy? What if my interest in writing slash is all about privileging my interests and desires, and thus marginalizing the group whose voice(s) I'm using to tell my story? Because, truth be told, that's what I'm doing. My stories skirt many key issues in queer representation; hell, even my sex is prettied up. But is this immoral? Unethical? Skeezy?

Fetishization

In Welcome to Night Vale fans have observed that the hordes of delighted fans who emit deafening screams during live performances at any reference to the relationship between Cecil and Carlos amounts to objectifying gay men.[5]

In a 2015 article for The Mary Sue, Kiri Von Stanten observed that the deafening screams emitted by fans of Welcome To Night Vale during live performances at any reference to the relationship between Cecil and Carlos, or whenever Carlos appears or is mentioned, and the fandom's heavy focus on his relationship with Cecil, while their romance is a relatively minor plot point in the canon, amounts to fetishizing gay men.

To many people, it often seems that women in the slash community have decided that "gay sex" is always sexy, that queer is always cute, and that we can take ownership of the gay male experience by writing about it and reading each other's writing.

I briefly mentioned this issue in something that got passed around Tumblr a couple times, and I received a number of private and public messages from people claiming (it’s the Internet, so who knows) to be gay men who had wanted to share unpleasant experiences from their participation in the slash community. Some personal friends echoed these complaints. Specifically, these men indicated that straight or bisexual women had repeatedly asked overly personal questions about their sex lives, treated them like adorable puppies instead of humans, and attempted to co-opt the gay male experience or even elevate allies over actual gay men.

"The worst thing," one gay friend said, "is that [women in the slash community] aren’t listening to me. You’re not listening when I tell you that you’re being hurtful."[6]

A response from Night Vale fan Vio on Reddit:

Why is it that slash fans are constantly having to answer for and made to feel shame for enjoying something that doesn't conform to the mainstream, male-dominated pop culture motifs and cliches.

Slash and fanfiction are one of the few creative outlets where it is decidedly women dominated- both in the creative side and in the audience side. We're constantly having to answer for our own stories, and defend our preferences and likes.

The fact is that we're not fetishizing gay men, we are working in a genre about fictional characters- sometimes they're gay or bi, mostly they're not within the canon. But we are enjoying a genre of fictional characters on our own terms. Sometimes it's graphic, sometimes it's mild, sometimes it's ludicrous, but it's a valid writing style and concept that is becoming ever more and more mainstreamed.

Few other genres out there receive the same level of mocking, dismissiveness, and outright contempt. It makes some people feel icky, and yet they rarely ever have to confront their own biases or attitudes on the subject. For as many gay men out there hating slash (and I do feel for them and have known a few), there are far, far, far, far more people out there who denigrate slash and fanfiction that has nothing to do with defending the perceptions and cultural agendas of gay men. And the writers/readers of it are constantly harangued online, even by people in the same genre, to defend and "Be Careful" about not feeling guilty or negative or constantly having to self reflect on why this genre exists, why it's successful, and why we're somehow "bad" for taking part in it.[7]

Meta & Further Reading

-

Notes


References

  1. Queer Advocacy and Slash Fandom: Then and Now, 2012
  2. Chapter 5: How does shipping relate to gender representation? from [Fandom stats] Gender representation in movies vs. movie fanworks toastystats (destinationtoast)
  3. from Evalangui's Entrancing Eccentricities/WebCite
  4. jomk.tumblr
  5. Kiri Von Stanten, On the Fetishization of Gay Men by Women in the Slash Community. The Mary Sue, January 17, 2015.
  6. On the Fetishization of Gay Men by Women in the Slash Community. The Mary Sue, January 17, 2015.
  7. Vio, comment in Reddit discussion of Von Stanten's article, January 18, 2015.