Women in packs

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Title: Women in packs
Creator: Alara Rogers
Date(s): January 10, 2003
Medium: journal post
External Links: page one; archive link page one; archive link page two; archive link page three
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Women in packs is a 2003 essay by Alara Rogers.

The subject is female fan interaction, success, Big Name Fans, Fandom Wank, feedback, elitism, and more.


You know, for the most part I like women. (I had *better*-- I'm a female bisexual feminist, not liking women would be a big problem.) I like how women relate to each other, for the most part. I like social groups (aka, fandom) that consist mostly of women.

But every so often, female pack behavior unnerves me. Not because of its savagery-- humans are savage animals and male pack behavior is far worse than female. It's because of its fundamental, deep-rooted misogyny.

Do I mean misogyny? Maybe not. It's not a hatred of women that drives females to bay in packs and leap upon the prey, metaphorically tearing her throat out. It's a hatred of women who excel, women who are well-known and well-liked and actually admit to knowing this about themselves, women who seek to improve themselves.

I am, of course, talking about fandom_wank's relentless "pointing and mocking" of any fan, by which I mean any female fan, who says anything that can remotely be translated as the following:

1. I have a lot of fans, and people enjoy my writing.

2. I get a lot of feedback.

3. I try to hone my craft.

4. I'm not just doing this for fun and giggles; to me fanfic is an art form.

Because, see, if you say any of these things then you are FULL OF YOURSELF. Never mind that any of it might be true; you've just declared yourself fair game to mock because you TOOK YOURSELF SERIOUSLY.

And sadly you then get people who earned the status of Big Name Fan with scads and scads of hard work backpedaling and going, "OH, gee, well, I'm not a Big Name Fan. Well, maybe I am but it doesn't make me arrogant. I didn't mean to be! I just did some work that made people respect me! Don't hurt me!"

I'm not going to say that I'm against a mission to point and laugh at other people. Pointing and laughing is a great way to enforce social norms. Such as the social norm that it is bad to write about someone raping a Vulcan statesman on his deathbed as if this were funny. (See Godawful Fanfiction for what I'm talking about.) I am, in fact, an unrepentant elitist.

Which is why the hyena-like behavior of women (and they are mostly women) leaping on and attacking other women (and they are mostly women) for the great transgressions of Being Good And Knowing It, or Trying To Write Well, or Not Answering Feedbacks On A Timely Basis Thus Proving She Thinks She's Better Than Us, really saddens me. Why do women, in particular, feel the need to taunt and mock other women *for admitting that they know they're good?* Why do people who really are Big Name Fans need to backpedal from that status because otherwise people might mock them for, you know, having had the temerity to put a lot of hard work into a community or writing a lot of good fic?

And I think it is just women. I have *never* seen a community of men go all, "Oh, he thinks he's better than us!" Men who are arrogant and act like they know everything are *not* shot down by mostly male communities; other men may attempt to prove them wrong or sneer at them because they *are* wrong but they don't mock them for nothing more than being arrogant. Especially if they have grounds for their arrogance. This is a woman-on-woman thing. Also a woman-on-men thing, on occasion. Among men, the response to "I'm a Big Name Fan and this is how you should act" is "Yeah? Well, I'm a Big Name Fan too and I think you're full of shit, here's why." Among women, the response seems to be "Hahahahaha! You think you're a Big Name Fan and you can tell people what to do! We're so offended by you trying to tell us what to do we'll make fun of you for it!" But it's worse than that, because this is the same response women give to "I'm a Big Name Fan and here's what I try to do in my fic." "Hahahhaha! You dared to call yourself a Big Name Fan! You're so arrogant, we must mock you!"

Because god forbid any of us should be better respected than any others *just* because of little things like talent, hard work, or length of time doing things in a fandom.

As a feminist, it really saddens me to see this kind of behavior from women, because this is exactly the sort of behavior we see all the time from oppressed people. "Don't be successful; being successful will make you be like Them!" Them being the oppressors, of course. And with women it goes even deeper than that. Don't rock the boat, don't be too excellent, because that would make you better than us and then our precious solidarity would be all gone and life would be a MEANINGLESS WASTELAND if we were not all absolutely identical in ability. So if you're trying to be better than average, we must mock you for that in an attempt to exert social control and bring you down (only, because we're chickenshit about direct confrontation, we won't do it to your face. It's only *fun* if we're surrounded by a mob of our supporters who all agree with us.)

Anyone think this sounds just like high school? That's not surprising. High school is when human behavior appears at its most raw; adults paper over it with a veneer of civilization, but the tendencies are always in there.

So, since I'm not in High School:

I am a Big Name Fan in two fandoms, a Rather Well Known Fan in one other. I got that way by writing, archiving, translating (in the case of the fandom where the source is in Japanese), feedbacking, being friendly to newbies who paid attention to the rules, being a hardass on the newbies who paid no attention to the FAQ before posting in HTML or posting binaries to a non-binary group or whatever, organizing data, writing FAQs, and generally busting my ass. It is hard, hard work, but anyone with talent can do it, and *most* fan writers I've seen have talent, in my experience (well, except on fanfiction.net). I get a good bit of feedback on my stories but not as much as I'd like. I get around to replying to that feedback when I get around to it and if the feedback consisted of "That was great! More more more!" I will probably never respond, as I write slowly and I dislike people demanding that I write faster.

Am I elitist? Hell yeah! Do as much work as I've done, write as well as I write, and then talk to me about elitism. I'm not the best there is and there are *lots* of kickass writers out there who work very hard at fannish activities, writing, archiving, feedbacking, whatever. I'm not the only one. But if you're not one of the ones, in any fandom, don't talk to me about elitism, because if you didn't put in the work you're not in the elite.

There. Simply by admitting that yes, I'm good, I belong to the class of Big Name Fans, and I'm not ashamed to say so, I bet you anything that I'm going to have at least *someone* attempting to exert social control by mocking me. They may think they're mocking me because it's funny, but it wouldn't *be* funny to them if they didn't see it as transgressing social norms. And, of course, maintaining the social norm that Everyone Must Behave As If We Are All Average is *vitally* important to them.

Fan Comments at the Post Itself


have to admit I haven't heard of you, but that means nothing as I'm really only in the one fandom and it definitely does not require Japanese. Good for you, you make an insightful point about being better (or percieved that way) or taking oneself and one's craft seriously as being the main threat and offense, judging by the responses.

It's particularly frustrating because they're sending feedback, the ostensible message of which is "you are good at this and entitled to take pride in it". Except apparently no. I don't just see this in fandom, either. There's often a nasty backlash where women are told to assert themselves and have more confidence by their friends and loved ones... who then resent when they actually do it, esp. without asking permission first.

OTOH, I'm not a fan of male pack behavior that can cede greater worth as a person and/or rights to those with the higher status/achievement. I don't completely oppose the idea that "we are all of equal value and should be treated as such" which I think underlies the "you think you're better than we are" objection.

I just think it's a shame when the two meanings of better get that conflated with "we are all of equal ability, dedication, and success, or at least should modestly pretend to be in public."

The other weird thing is that they're actually widening and reifying the gap, by harping on the BNF distinction, the BNF stereotypes, the BNF attitude, etc., etc. I think that most media fandoms are so large and fragmented these days that the consensus of who is and is not a Big Name is not so monolithic as all that.

And I have also found that if you talk to putative BNFs on the assumption that you are an equal (putting yourself up, arguably, rather than pulling them down) most of them respond like normal humans. So even if you accept the objective of keep everyone on a single social level, this tactic seems self-defeating. In order to expose the gods' feet of clay, they're giving them far more press as gods.

I think that most media fandoms are so large and fragmented these days that the consensus of who is and is not a Big Name is not so monolithic as all that.

I was just thinking that last night, as I mused on the whole feedback flap. The more fandoms I've burned through, the clearer it's become that one's fannish Q-rating--or fandom status--is relative. And I think that people who are multifannish--or as I like to call them, sluts--know that better than anyone. {g} Which doses like penicillin any tendency to hubris that one might have. Especially true with writers who are slash-leaning, since there's a whole non-slash fanworld out there for whom our brightest stars are but a dim and distant glow, or more likely utterly invisible.

Any BNFness is nothing but a big-fish, little-pond phenomenon. Granted, I've heard lots of second-hand stories about authors who act like petty tyrants within the bounds of their tiny kingdoms. I've rarely seen that firsthand, though. I've seen a lot of dipshits come and go, but most of the "BNFs" I've known, I've loved, because they're generally cool people. And I'm putting that concept in quotes, because I don't seriously think of people like that, even when I recognize they have a status that's gained from robust participation and fannish contributions. And I've never met anyone who'd claim that title for herself, even those peeps who are calm, cool, and competent at keeping a dozen eggs and chainsaws in the air, as they juggle fannish responsibilities and pastimes. Confidence always looks like confidence from the outside; usually it's just a thin chocolate veneer over a deeply neurotic filling.


Good point about the slash. And vice versa, though I don't know how aware strictly het writers are of the slash fans' existence. Heck, sometimes in Buffydom it seems like every *pairing* has BNFs of its own.

But your point about people not claiming the BNF label for themselves goes straight back to the original posters point about it not being okay, in this culture, to stick your head up and claim your achievements. Who would want to claim something they're going to be slapped down for?

Although I think there's an element of genuine huh to it also. How do you *know* if you're a BNF? thebratqueen's point the last time this came up is that lot of people who are thought of that way honestly don't know it, or don't agree. There's no "here's your key to the BNF washroom" memo, and people tend not to realize how they look to others. There's always a bigger fish to compare yourself to.


This is a really interesting viewpoint in light of the recent Feedback Kerfluffle, I think. I found it incredibly amusing that so much emphasis was being placed on a social gesture of politeness such as The Thank-You Note-- which has taken on connotations of archaic social convention in real-life situations; I keep thinking of the comic strip "Zits," where the mother constantly hassles her teenage son to send thank-you notes-- when many people involved in the argument were failing to remain civil and polite. Growing up in the rural South, I was always surrounded by these kinds of conventions, and someone trying to tell me how quickly I should answer my feedback annoys me on the same gut level as my mother telling me not to wear white shoes before Easter or after Labor Day. ;o) Since I personally feel the response to the feedback is more valuable when I don't rush myself into an instant reply, I have a hard time understanding why so many place so much importance on a social gesture. But since women are thought of as the guardians of society's rituals of politeness-- and often stereotypically thought to prioritize superficial polite behavior over actual politeness or kindness-- I guess it stands to reason that it would be more of an issue in a female environment, because a woman who doesn't display the proper politeness is not upholding female codes of behavior. In any case, I can't see a fandom full of men arguing over thank-you notes. *g*

Thank you very much for your post. Very thought-provoking.

If you track back to the first posts of fandom_wank, you'll see that it was never intended to teach or guide fandom ettiquette or any standards. It was intended purely to mock.

Since then, it has become a place where fandom "differences" are examined in detail, occasionally seriously. But it's usually just mocking, and that was what it was intended for.

There was a thread a while back suggestion someone start a discussion community that tackled the same thing seriously as metablog seems to mostly point people towards threads, but I don't think anyone picked it up.

I'm not going to mock, but since you're being so frank here I am going to reply in kind. Although I agree the current fandom wankage is ridiculous and I think you make many true points, some of the things you say in this post and the way you express them also leave me feeling much, much colder than that community's recent excesses.

I feel odd speaking up when I can't quite pin down why I have such a strong reaction, and will freely admit I find it hard to process everything you've said here. I'm not good at analysis of this kind. But it seems to me you characterised the masses as a brainless rabble, BNFs as indisputably worthy and rightfully untouchable, singled out various specific groups like boyband slashers and ff.net authors as inherently lower beings, and concluded by denying the vast majority of fandom of having a relevant right of reply on the issue.

I'm not mocking. I am in fact deeply unnerved, perhaps especially in that you choose to single out this as female pack behavior. And maybe it's because the points you make that disturb me aren't without some truth, but I don't think that's all. I don't mean this as a flame - but I sincerely don't see this kind of tit-for-tat backlash as an appropriate response to the recent BNF hounding.
[raietta]: Found this post/thread through a friend's blog. Was as unnerved as you were. I'm glad to see I wasn't the only one who found something unsettling about this post. You hit the problem right on the head, I think. My words, exactly. =0)
[alara r, original poster)]:

I am sometimes unclear in my writing, so it's entirely possible that this is my fault.

I was not trying to say that fanfiction.net writers all suck-- I'm *on* fanfiction.net-- just that the majority of fan writers I encounter do *not* suck, except on fanfiction.net, where the majority do. Fanfiction.net caters to a lot of people who don't know how to write yet and are working on it. That doesn't mean there aren't excellent, experienced writers on ff.net. But, unlike in other places I frequent, they're not the majority.

I won't get into the boyband thing in detail. *I* have a fairly serious moral issue with RPS, but I don't go hunting people down to point and laugh about it. The thing I find ridiculous is that a group which sets out to enforce social norms through mockery has such a large group of people who themselves practice something that's not socially normative. Pot, it's the kettle; you're black too.

As for the BNF thing: the truth is I agree with a lot of the posters in the comments here. It really is not a big deal to be a BNF. It means you've put in enough hard work that your name is recognized. That's *it.* It doesn't mean you're not an asshole, it doesn't mean you *are* an asshole. It doesn't mean you hang out in your own little clique of only BNFs. It doesn't mean you think you're God. If a BNF is being an ass, by all means, take them to task for it. God knows there's shit people could, and have, ridden me about. But getting interviewed and saying things like "I try to focus on the allegorical level in my fan fiction" and using big words and being analytical is *not* being an asshole, and attacking someone for doing this on the grounds that they obviously think they're God's gift to fanfiction is basically an attempt to enforce the social norm that we should all go, "Gosh, shucks, I just write a little in my spare time and it probably isn't very good..." *That's* what I oppose. Writers who aren't BNFs are simply people who have not yet done the work to get that status, given how small most fandoms are and how fractionated fandom is; as other posters point out, BNFs won't be BNFs when they move into a new fandom. There's no "unwashed masses of fandom." That's why the whole thing is so frickin' stupid.

And when people who have never done the hard work whine about how the "elite" excludes them or no one ever puts them on an archive or the "elite" won't give them feedback or are snotty to newbies or whine whine blah blah, I just don't buy it. I've been part of several fandoms and I've *never* seen this behavior... and in each fandom I started from the ground, as a newbie, just like everyone else, because there was relatively little crossover between my fandoms. So if people whine about how the elite control everything... they are jealous, that's all there is to it, and if they got off their ass and posted more and made archives and feedbacked more, they'd get to join "the elite" too and then they'd realize how stupid they sound. (Or, it is just possible that their writing sucks. In which case they can *still* join "the elite." Stephen Ratliff is widely known as one of the worst Trek fanfiction writers ever, but because of his friendliness to his detractors and his tireless work for the fanfic archive, he's part of "the elite" on alt.startrek.creative.) This is kind of what I was conflating with the attacks on BNF's, because I tend to see "Oh, *she* thinks she's god's gift to fanfic" as going hand in hand with "Oh, that fandom is so exclusionary and nasty to newbies and if you're not a BNF you'll never get feedback." I probably shouldn't even have brought it up, as it's not quite the same issue.

Hope this helps. I'm not going, "Oh, those ordinary peon fans have no right to have an opinion," although they *don't* have the right to have the opinion that Jane Archivist (or Xing) has to do everything they say and if she (or he) doesn't then it's because she (or he) is an elitist bastard and should be mocked or brought down. I'm saying that attacking people because they're seen as part of the elite is moronic, given that *anyone* can generally become part of the elite and the way you get there is by being friendly, talented and/or hardworking.

Writers who aren't BNFs are simply people who have not yet done the work to get that status

I agree more-or-less with mostly everything of your translation up to this point, but very little of what comes after. There were a lot of aspects of the initial post re. the feminism/oppressed minority issue that I didn't understand until reading some of the responses to it that came after mine, as I wasn't previously familiar with the theory and it caused some misunderstanding of what you were saying.

I can see now what it is that you are saying re. elitism and the BNF issue, and I think the rest of the explanation as to why I misunderstood this is that it is based on an assumption that I would definitely question - that everyone if they put the work in would become a BNF and achieve that status, and that the fact they haven't is merely attributed to not putting the work or the time in. If that was the truth, then what you say would be reasonable. But I don't think it is.

As in life, I don't think 'success' online (using this as a catch-all term to describe BNF-dom) is the necessarily equated with hard work. It's the norm that the successful work hard, but I don't think that it's necessarily the norm that everyone that works hard is automatically successful. It's the norm that the successful are good in some sense - charisma, ability, luck, name it - but not everyone who is good will be successful. Also, those who aren't good? Success for them will be an anomaly. One example, as you give, is an anomaly (although actually it sounds to me like this individual fits under 'charisma'). There will always be people who get nowhere no matter how hard they try. This is just a fact of life. Not everyone has the confidence to socialize and gain profile and popularity - that's down to personality types. Not everyone has the technical understanding or ability to run domains, websites and lists. Not everyone has the money or the time to put in the time.

I would also say that BNFs largely tend to be all-rounders who have all 3 of the above, not just either/or, and so from the beginning come from the limited pool of individuals in fandom that will or can attain those three criteria.

Something else I would contest is the assumption you seem to work on that everyone wants that status and envies that status, and anyone who airs complaint must be jealous. I think it's entirely possible that there genuinely are people who'd never seriously want BNF-dom who simply want to feel that they will be listened to and treated as human beings by the higher-profile fans when they try to communicate with them as people to people. Which, honestly, does not always happen. It makes people feel bad when it does, and often to nobody's real fault and with no malice involved, but all the same people have been made to feel slighted and there is venom there because of it. And while I can after a fashion sympathise with anyone who has a backlog of a hundred feedback mails to answer, I think this is genuinely a two-way problem. I would argue there is a (unspoken) responsibility which comes with this kind of visibility, and it can sometimes seem like people are happy to take the 'fame' but ignore the rest. Again, it comes down to etiquette - it's unspoken, it's not an obligation, but I still think it's there and not everybody is going to understand the personal circumstances and choice involved in how different BNFs choose to approach this. I would also, in anticipation, argue that the hard work is not the downside of BNF-dom and doesn't come into that catch of 'responsibility' - because at the end of the day, that hard work they've put in was down to the fact that they at whatever level wanted to and it gave them satisfaction to do so, but people may be aiming sharp sticks in my direction for saying that.

I'm not saying that the impulse you're talking about doesn't exist - I'm sure it does. But the way you say it makes it seem all-encompassing as an explanation for what's been happening recently, and I don't think it is.

As in life, I don't think 'success' online (using this as a catch-all term to describe BNF-dom) is the necessarily equated with hard work.

I think this is a good point. I like Alara's original rant, although there are issues I could quibble with.

Every fandom has its share of BNFs who are not talented at web-design (although they run archives), not politic or articulate (although they run mailing lists), or not particularly good writers (although they win awards and receive much feedback).

Fandom is, in many ways, as close to a meritocracy as I know of, in that often the best websites, writers, and lists get the most interest and acclaim (*momentary pause while I mourn the defunct-but-not-forgotten YMMV*). But there are so many variables that go into why people like something that inevitably you end up with some of what I'd say were "lesser talents" near the top of the list.

Often they're well known because they got there first, and put the infrastructure in place, so even if the fandom gets more sophisticated everyone builds around them rather than replacing them. Or they strike a chord with people, by writing happy!fic or baby!fic, or running a list dedicated only to het romance. But inevitably it comes down to audience appeal, and the more critical members of a community don't necessarily share the opinions of everyone. Why do we expect Fandom to operate differently than the publishing industry or television or movies? There are reasons Danielle Steele is on the NY Times best-seller list, after all.

On another issue, just because someone is a BNF in one place doesn't necessarily mean anything. Fandom is made up of so many different forums and contexts, being well-known on LJ may mean squat once you move outside those circles. It's always informative to me to find out that the rest of the world doesn't really give a rat's ass about ficwriters.

There are so many very variables at play when it comes to whether someone is well known, why she or he is known, whether it's considered to be "deserved", and how other people in or out of the "community" responds to that perceived status. Frankly, I've just about stopped trying to suss it out.

But I'm totally with Alara on the High School analogy: Fandom isn't high school but it sure as hell feels like it half the time

As for me, I try to be polite, to not get hung up on status, and feedback people I like. ::shrugs::

The thing I find ridiculous is that a group which sets out to enforce social norms through mockery has such a large group of people who themselves practice something that's not socially normative.

Ooookay...I don't think you're getting the point of f_w No one's trying to enforce anything - at least, if they are, they haven't told me, and I'm fairly active in the wankage. It's a place for communal pointing and laughing, that's it. Not saying that you should suddenly say, "Oh, well, that's all right, then." I'm sure that "a place for pointing and laughing" is just as disgusting to a lot of people as "organized clique out to tear people down to sobbing wrecks of humanity for daring to have self-esteem." But if you're gonna be disgusted, make sure it's for the correct reason. ;)

(Not to say that individuals who happen to belong to f_w might not have some sort of agenda like the one you've posited; I certainly can't speak for everyone in the community. Just saying that the purpose of the community overall is something much less organized and infinitely more adolescent.)

And for the "adding on" bit, I really need to take issue with this:

So if people whine about how the elite control everything... they are jealous, that's all there is to it, and if they got off their ass and posted more and made archives and feedbacked more, they'd get to join "the elite" too and then they'd realize how stupid they sound.

Sorry, but it ain't always so. You're making an assumption, based, I gather, on what you have observed in your own fandom. Not saying it's not true in your fandom, but to assume that everyone is just jealous is, well, wrong. I've gotten into quite a few of the goings-on at f_w, and jealousy has nothing to do with it. I'm not even in the same fandoms as most of the people who've been posted about, and most of the wankage has nothing to do with whether an elite group of people controls anything.

In my own primary fandom, I've run one mailing list, co-run two more, co-modded a message board, helped archive stuff, helped new writers, and yadda yadda yadda you get the picture. Not everyone who posts at f_w is some lazy-ass fandom equivalent of a welfare cheat.

No one's trying to enforce anything - at least, if they are, they haven't told me, and I'm fairly active in the wankage. It's a place for communal pointing and laughing, that's it.

The purpose its creators or participants intend for the community isn't necessarily the function it actually serves. Whatever the intent, the existence of a large community that will mock fans for "getting too serious" has an effect on fan discourse. To say it's not *meant* to be bullying seems to me like throwing rocks at someone and saying you didn't mean to hit them.
[alara r, original poster]:

That may not be the *purpose*...

...but it serves the function.

The thing about human behavior is that when you study anthropology and sociology you find out that people very often do things for reasons other than what they think they do.


Does the community have an agenda? Well, aside from "let's mock what we think deserves to be made fun of," no. Their goal isn't to control fannish behavior, it's to mock fannish behavior they think deserves mocking. Well, what fannish behavior deserves mocking? *That's* the part where the role of fandom_wank as social control comes in. As a whole, the community of fandom_wank ends up getting filled by people who a. agree that it is appropriate to mock "wankery" b. roughly share a definition of what "wankery" consists of (if, for instance, they think writing boyband slash is wankery, they won't survive long in the community.) Since the majority of posters are women, and they're pretty much all fanfic writers, and they come from a wide cross section of fandoms, what they choose to describe as "wankery" is a good description of what the female members of the fanfic community *as a whole* would probably consider "wankery" if they bother to apply that description at all.

So, if members of fandom_wank attack a man for having strongly felt opinions and ranting about them in his LJ, it's because they think this is wankish. Why do they think it's wankish? Because women aren't supposed to have strongly felt opinions and rant about them, and if he's playing in the girls' world he's gotta play by the girls' rules. Ranting about your opinion is "wankery." If members of fandom_wank attack a woman for having used a lot of big words and said "I try to think about my work in allegorical terms" and generally described herself as putting a lot of intellectual effort into her fanfic, it's because women aren't supposed to put themselves above other women by talking about their intellectual abilities. If members of fandom_wank attack a woman for saying "I have thousands of pieces of fan mail I haven't answered yet and I try to get around to it but it can take me an awfully long time", this is because saying you have thousands of pieces of fan mail positions you as a BNF and not answering all your fan mail immediately implies you think you're better than other people.

The members of fandom_wank are probably not aware of the sociological underpinnings of their belief system as to what is "wankery" and what is not. In fact I fully expect them to mock me for using the word "sociological" in a sentence. They think they're picking on things because those things are wankish and deserve to be picked on. But *how* are they picking what's "wankish?" And *why* do they think it's amusing to do this? *That's* where female pack behavior comes in.

Okay, right now, I'm taking a deep breath and remaining calm, because being told that I'm not aware of my own reasons for doing things is, quite frankly, pretty annoying and comes across as arrogance on your part. I'm not saying that's how you meant it, just that it's how it's perceived.

As far as I know or can tell, the reason women get mocked on f_w more is that most of fandom, particularly the fanfic sector, is primarily made up of women. It's a statistical thing. We have mocked men for the exact same reasons that we've mocked women, and I'm sure we'll do so again. It has nothing to do with thinking women should be kept down, and I rather resent having assumptions being made a: about my motives and b: my own self-awareness as to those motives. The simple fact is that there are many, many more women in fanfic than there are men - unless there's a hidden cadre of men just lurking about.

It's not like we get together in some big secret group meeting and decide what's wankish. As I said elsewhere, I think that would be like trying to herd kittens. Someone posts something they find wankish. Other people who feel the same way reply. If people don't think it's wankish they ignore it and move on.

I have no problem with someone who's a good writer saying so. I've spent a lot of time with some good writers I know, trying to convince them that they are, in fact, good. I certainly don't feel the need to tear other women down because I think they're better writers than I am. If I did that, I'd have no time to do anything else.

Some people take fandom and fanfic seriously enough to intellectualize it and wax philosophical. That's their prerogative. Others find that to be pretentious. Whether it is or not, it's their prerogative to feel that way. I'm really disliking the analogy of f_w to bullying. Having been bullied quite a lot growing up, I honestly feel that that is WAY overstating the case. No one is forced to read anything that's posted on f_w. It's not like being in school, in a closed environment where you have to put up with it, with no way out. We're pretty easy to ignore - in fact, you have to be actively looking for us to find us.

Again, I can only speak for myself and my motivations, and maybe make good guesses as to those of people I know pretty well. But really, I think f_w is being taken far too seriously - certainly a lot more seriously than we take ourselves.

There are few things that annoy me more than someone telling me that I'm really a Pawn of the Patriarchy and I just don't realize it, because obviously, if I were sufficiently feminist, I'd agree with you.

I didn't find the original feedback post to be amusing because it was written by a woman, or even because it was written by a self-proclaimed BNF. I found it worthy of mockery because the author had recently posted complaining about the lack of feedback, and specifically, pointing out that it only takes a couple of minutes to send feedback to an author, yet she herself can't spare those two minutes to reply to her own feedback. As it happens, I suck at replying to email, feedback, personal, or just about anything else--but because I know that about myself, I don't go around demanding that people shower me with feedback. Hypocrisy is wank-worthy, and that has absolutely nothing to do with the gender of the person in question.

And you know what? I have strong opinions, and I rant about them constantly in my LJ...and I'm a happy member of f_w. Make what you will of that.

If a BNF is being an ass, by all means, take them to task for it.

For me, one of the most frustrating things about bad BFNs is that they get away with so much. List admins will often let them get away with flaming, whereas non-BFNs will be taken to taks for it. People who run archives and fannish webhosts can be abusive to other fans, and people won't take them to task for it because they're afraid their fannish lives will be made miserable. Good and prolific writers will get away with all kinds of shit because their fans want to read more good stories.

It's quite difficult to take a bad BNF to task for doing something, even if you'd like to, because she usually has so many supporters (for the above reasons), and the non-BNF will get pummelled.

Now, of course most BNFs I know are egaltarian, friendly, and don't take advantage of their fame/popularity. But the bad BNFs are playing by an entirely different set of social rules.
[bard mercutio]:

Well. Frankly, I think the BNF issue has complicated matters. I read the rant of Te's that was linked to in LJ and shrugged. If that's the way she feels, then fine. Perfectly all right for her to feel that way, and I've never felt that the act of sending feedback obligated me to a response from the author. If I send something to them, it's 'cause I want them to know I think they rock, not 'cause I need acknowledgment of that.

So really it almost kinda seems that what people are saying is that Te isn't allowed to have opinions because she's a BNF and is thus obligated to be higher-minded than the rest of us. Which is just completely silly, since our heroes are just people, too. And, by extension, I'm just as happy not to have that status, thank you, 'cause it seems like a lot of work, and if I somehow ended up with it without wanting it, please take it away, pretty pretty please?

You do so well, I've always thought, because you know how to express your opinions in a way people can understand without crossing the line into personal insult without intending to do so. Well-reasoned responses to stuff, that always say what you want them to say.

And, boyband fic? ;> Mock it if you like. If you can't laugh at what you do, then you've got a lot bigger problems than I know how to deal with. But. My personal opinion is that 70-80% of the non-het stuff is well-written. Which is a lot higher percentage than most of the fandoms I've been involved in. And, yes, I know that doesn't make it right. But I've always rather liked what Oscar Wilde had to say: "There is no such thing as a moral book or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all."

Hmm...I'm a part of f_w, and I'm a bit confused: I'm not aware that there's any specific targeting of female fanfic authors, or Big Name ones. Or I could be oblivious....

I skimmed the kerfluffle, but I didn't really see where it targeted female fans. There was the focus on Te, sure, but I didn't see it as different from the focus on, say, a male LJ user called Skeleturgo in a previous wank.

I dunno, maybe it devolved into an anti-female thing after a while; I admit I lost interest in the thread before I got halfway.
[alara r, original poster]:

The kerfluffle with skeletorgo was that he randomly flamed a friend of a member of f_w. This led everyone to mock him-- and he *was* eminently mockable given that he kept confusing slash with knife play and that he was going out of his way to offend people.

The kerfluffle with Te? Had nothing to do with her flaming anyone. It had to do with her saying "I take forever to get around to answering my feedbacks, although I do try to get it done, because I want to say something more meaningful than "Thanks!"" Some of the posters, perhaps including the first one, focused on the hypocrisy in that Te had earlier said "Everyone should send feedback, even if it's only a quick "Hey, I liked it," how hard is that?" However, *most* of the posters were not focused on this contradiction so much as they were mocking Te's apparent arrogance in that she admitted to getting so much fan mail she couldn't easily answer it all.

See, if f_w attacks someone for drive-by flaming people, well, that's a social norm I find it hard to see how people could disagree with. Trolls should not drop into people's lj's and flame things they don't understand. Mocking this makes good sense to me. However, mocking people because they are a BNF and they said something that touches on their status? Not even in a "I can do what I want because I'm so great" way but "It's hard for me to answer people's emails because I get hundreds of them", which may well be factual given how many stories and how many fandoms Te has written? That's rather different.

Hmm. I'm not sure if you saw it, but a while back there was a loud mocking party in f_w of the idea of BNFs being a different breed, above the rabble. I liked it, because personally I think that the idea of there being special, important people and then the rest of us is a crock. Sure some people are better known or better writers or have been around longer, but that doesn't elevate them to godhood. We can respect their skill and appreciate what they've done for the fandom and enjoy their company, but they're still just people.

And quite a few of the people who wach/participate in f_w are BNFs in their own fandoms, but they still thought the idea was silly. There was an icon-making party where everyone came up with other things that BNF might stand for. I think 'bare naked fireman' was my favourite.

(As an aside: Te has some other issues than the BNF one associated with her which are probably influencing things. I don't know exactly what happened, not having been in the fandom long enough, but a while back she had a huge blowup with the RPSers over their disgusting immorality. Then a few months later she started writing it, apparently without apologizing or recanting her previous statements in any way and assuming she'd be welcomed with open arms. Again, dunno what happened, but I've seen quite a lot of bitterness over that in the popslash fandom. Which is where the current blowup started, so at least some of them aren't jumping on her because she's a BNF or a woman who managed to make it, they're jumping on her because they think she's an arrogant hypocritical bitch.)

So, basically what you're saying is that people have used this new issue (feedback) as a way to express their anger about an old issue (they don't like Te)... Is it just me, or does that not make much sense? I mean, if people have problems with Te's attitude towards RPS, they should comment on that issue, right?

But according to you, this feedback kerfuffle was never about feedback at all; it was just a bunch of people with grudges against Te, hiding behind the feedback issue, and using that as an excuse to say mean things about her.

Is that right?

Maybe I'm just a little confused because I don't really understand why you'd even repeat this story if you (as you repeatedly stated) "dunno what happened."

I was around for the RPS discussion on LJ that you're talking about. I was part of it. And I was around when Te started writing it. And frankly, your account doesn't bear any resemblance to what I remember.

I know that Te has friends who write RPS and popslash. But apparently you've only heard about this issue from people who think she's an "arrogant hypocritical bitch." Did it ever occur to you that the accounts you've heard might not have been exactly balanced?

The distortion factor on fandom_wank can be significant; things are often much more mockable when they're taken out of context or exaggerated for humorous effect. Just something to think about.

That said, I basically agree with everything you said. I'm not particularly fond of f_w primarily because I think they wank more than the people they mock, and it gets boring after a while.

You only think we do? Dude, I know we wank more than the people we mock. Unless, of course, someone's not meeting their wanking quota. *makes a note to look into this*

The thing about f_w is this: No one forces anyone to read it, so if it angers, upsets, annoys, or otherwise discombobulates you, why read it? That's what I don't get. Then again, that's just me...I tend to avoid websites, journals, etc. that tick me off, but some people enjoy getting their dander up.

Yeah, we point and laugh. People are free to point and laugh right back. Or to ignore us. Or to tell us we're wrong. Or to rant about us. You're free to disagree with us, and to say so. We're free to disagree with you, and to say so. That's what comes of using an interactive medium like LJ.

I find the idea of us being bullies, as someone else mentioned, somewhat puzzling. Snide little gits, yes. Wankers, certainly. Bullies, no. We're not knocking people down and taking their computers away, or breaking their fingers. We're not some big organized clique, and we don't always agree with each other, either. We don't sit around plotting and planning against people. Someone posts something they think is wankery, other people comment as they see fit. Trying to organize us into something more cohesive than that would be rather along the lines of trying to herd kittens, I think.

But, that's just my opinion, and I am a self-admitted wanker, so take it for what it's worth. ;)
miriam heddy:

Your post, in part due to your own status in fandom, has been widely linked on various ljs. I've been thinking about the issue of status in fandom for quite a while now, and your post reminded me of how wide is the term "feminism"--describing, as it does, such a diverse spectrum of philosophies.

For myself, I find feminism to be incompatible with elitism, as either you or as much of the vast kerfuffle posters have seemingly defined it.

But to address your post more specifically, I see you conflating (perhaps intentionally, for rhetorical effect), elitism with healthy self-esteem, and status with merit.

As for the question of merit, it seems disingenuious to attribute all fannish status to either talent or hard work, when we live in a supposed "meritocracy" in which we (and I speak specifically of Americans here, but as Bourdieu made the point of France as well, I feel somewhat confident generalizing beyond even North America) are heavily invested in justifying our own status whenever possible, and denying it when we find ourselves discomfited with justifying it.

In other words, I'm not as convinced as you are that the "BNF" phenomena is the result of female socialization, or a "pack" mentality. Rather, I'd say that, whether in supporting or cutting down the "BNF," individual egos seem paramount, and thus the question of status in fandom never really is questioned, except to say that status is "deserved" or not, and that people with status (or without it) should behave in this or that manner.

I wonder if we can even imagine ourselves as part of a community in which all fans are deeply indebted to each other, could not survive without one another, and live in constant tension with the exterior (non-fannish) cult of celebrity that demands, as part of its functioning, that we raise some members of our community above us (for reasons so diverse as to be, for all intents and purposes, largely random--and certainly not deserved in any objective or measurable way in terms of either "talent" or "hard work") while resenting those same "idols" because we are (and must be, to continue writing and otherwise engaging in a mutually constructed fannish community) convinced (just as they are) that it is just as possible for us to achieve their elevated status--a status that depends on our own worship of the goddesses that we know to have clay feet.

I agree with a great deal of what you say here, except for the assertion that's "it's just women". 'Cause like, you say it's a specifically female thing and then follow that by pointing out how this is exactly the sort of behavior we see all the time from oppressed people.... with which I don't disgree in the slightest, but I think making it about gender actually kind of confuses the issue. And I'm wondering how much the gender generalization is really even necessary here--because yeah, of course women, like any group which has historically been oppressed, can and will become self-policing and go about attempting to exert social control in the way you decribe, but women aren't the only group who do this by a long shot (and men do it to other men too, even if women may do it more than men and/or in different ways, due to the relative power positions of the overall genders).

So while I'm also probably most interested in this phenomenon as it affects women, and I'm not here to jump on your ass for not being politically correct or anything (because that would just be funny), but after reading your whole post I would question how accurate it is to say that this behavior is limited to females--and even if you're not saying that, while I can get behind saying, this is stereotypical of females (which is kind of more what I read from what you wrote, although of course I could be wrong), I don't see why it matters if the behavior in question is that of an oppressed man, woman, or monkey, you know? Unless you were gonna get into why it is more stereotypical of women than other oppressed groups and/or what specific forms it can take, eg. fandom_wank or Jessica's observations about the South, which is about as stereotypical as you can get when it comes to that shit in so many ways... And which would be a really cool and interesting post, but as far as I can tell is not so much this post. (And maybe I should stop looking for it here and go write it in my own blog *g*, but I feel like the "just women" assertion comes across as at the very least a bit contradictory--at least to me--with the other parts of what you're saying, and I think it weakens the argument, you know?)

Well, I wasn't going to comment on this, but I have to.

I saw a bit of what's going on over in fandom_wank, and as llew points out, it's a feeding frenzy.

However, and I am going to state up front that what I'm about to say is obviously somewhat simplistic, I think only part of it is about the tendency that women have to compete viciously and unattractively.

Part of it isn't about someone saying they're good and well known and by god they want feedback. Part of it is about other issues completely unrelated to feedback, which therefore becomes the focus of the feeding frenzy because it's visible and therefore okay.

I'm not sure I'm making a great deal of sense with that necessarily elliptical statement.

The fact is, as several people have pointed out to me, I am allegedly a BNF in at least two fandoms. I'm not comfortable with that. Yes, I'm a better writer than some, not as good as others. Yes, I am elitist in the sense that 90 percent of the fic out there makes me want to put needles in my eyeballs to keep from reading it. Yes, I am elitist in the fact that while typos and occasional clumsiness are forgiven (in my book) if the power of the writing is there, I will delete anything if I run into loose rather than lose, taunt rather than taut, supine rather than prone, and so on. I'm a snob that way.

Demanding feedback isn't about women viciously competing necessarily, unless you're comparing your scores to someone else. Being the ancient crone that I am, I agree wholeheartedly that men and women behave differently after literally centuries of bad socialization. But don't kid yourself that there's no backbiting and backstabbing in the male population; trust me. The lunatic I used to work for was a prime example; however, as a woman, and therefore the result of centuries of bad socialization, all I had to do was take the high road and let himself ultimately reveal himself as a lunatic in public to win that one.

What you're seeing here is only partially envy and insane jealousy and bitterness caused by those unattractive monsters. Some of what you're seeing here is karma. An unpopular view, I'm sure, but having been the listening post, the crying shoulder and what have you for some of the 'victims' of BNF-ery, I am here to tell you that while I am sickened to watch what happens with chum in the water, I am unsurprised.

I'm saying this to you as someone who, in most BNF circles, is about as popular as poison ivy despite my alleged BNF status. (Frankly, I always figured if you were a BNF, you got worshipped, and the only thing I got was burnt at the stake.) I wholeheartedly agree with you that the frenzy is distasteful, unfair on many counts, and has a distinct flavor of the high school mentality; however, I must disagree that this is an issue that has only to do with women or only to do with envy.

Of course, none of that makes it any prettier or any easier to watch without wincing or wanting to throw a hand grenade.

I'm a computer science phd student, so I've spent a lot of the last decade in groups that were almost entirely male. Slashdom and LJ are pretty much the only exposure I get to women in groups, in fact. I do think that some of what's going on in fandom_wank is a gendered thing, because I've never seen the equivalent in any male group. To me, though, the distinctively female nastiness isn't the attack on someone because of their high status, it's the sudden decision that some individual will be socially disapproved of, and the smarmy "it's for her own good" twist that so many posters were putting into their very personal attacks.

In (geeky) male groups, I see a lot of stupid dominance posturing of the "John, you ignorant slut" variety, in which guys attack someone else's opinions so as to appear more tough minded or more informed, but I pretty much never see the "we will all now disapprove of this person" thing

You made a very interesting point about oppressed peoples. Reading your post makes me think, "It's about Power." Can you guess which fandom I'm in?

Anyways, I agree with you that gossip is an important and essential tool in our society. I would argue that it is even more vigorous in democratic societies where one can fight and win more power. I'm reminded of C.S. Lewis and the essay he wrote on the English education system. It was all about democracy and the rule of the mediocre.

In the case of women, I think that since women are accorded less power than men in our culture, we act as if power was a limited good. There are only so many slices of the pie, if so and so takes three, someone else won't get any. And so the backbiting, the social constraints step in, making sure everything is "fair" and no one gets more pie than anyone else. Which is silly since it wasn't a great pie to begin with.

Do men have this compulsion with pies? Dunno. I for one do not have a problem with you lumping women and the oppressed together in one post. Any anti-imperialst will tell ya that the oppressed are often gendered as feminine by their oppressors and are treated as such. It's a big pie eating circle.

I also dislike the habit that some women have of detesting successful and accomplished women. (Though I admit, I'd noticed it mainly as a writer - women declaring that they just hated Segnbora or whoever because she has "too much".)

I have no idea if I'm a BNF or not. I don't see how anyone could be certain that they are, and in any case, it's essentially a fleeting and parochial status. (From the perspective of 20 years in multiple fandoms, anyway.) What it effectively means is that people whom you don't know recognise your name - a kind of mini-celebrity status. You become a fit subject for gossip by people who have never met you, with the advantage that, fandom being a small world, the number of steps between one fan and another fan is much, much smaller than six.

And yes, there is a strong community feeling that a writer should not say "I am a good writer". At least not in public, and not without multiple self-deprecatory clauses. Does it need to be said? Frankly, I don't think it does. A writer talking about how she writes, that can be fascinating - or not, depending on the writer. A writer talking about well she writes, that's, well, not so fascinating.

I know you: you co-authored His Beloved Pet (which I really enjoyed, btw - that's the story that got me hooked on Picard/Q). I had no idea you did any of the other activities, and go you for doing them. But frankly, I don't care whether you're a BNF or a newbie - when I read HBP I had never heard of either you or your co-author.

I find the spectacle of women hounding other women for being competant and successful nauseating and repugnant. I admit, however, that outside the context of a job interview or a job application letter, I find anyone saying "I am a good writer" or "I have done the following things and have achieved the following status" a little mockable. Not that I invariably mock it. Not that I think people who say it, in the right context (and please note I am not mocking you, I appreciate the context in which you are saying it) always deserve to be mocked. But... mockable.

There is the added factor that, if someone is a BNF, has achieved that mini-celebrity status, to a certain extent they have to expect the treatment that real celebrities get from their public: loved or hated, but paid attention to. This current kafuffle over feedback, while resembling every other kafuffle over feedback I've ever seen, had its particular seed in one writer complaining about people who don't send feedback. I've read it: it's a standard feedback rant, and frankly I just don't see why she cared enough to rant it. But the reason why people picked up on it is, presumably, because in some other area of fandom she has developed into that fleeting and faintly mockable thing, a BNF.

Maybe I'm just being British about this. :-)

Do we really do that?

I thought we just made fun of people who amuse us by getting on a high horse a bit too high, toot their horn and it comes out flat, and in short, are too stupid to realize how stupid they are. And flame wars. We make fun of flame wars.


Oh my god! It's a powerful, talented woman who asserts herself! We must mock her! Everyone join the lynch mob to wank this threat to our... um... something.

Not me, anyway.

Fan Comments Elsewhere

The Gift

Quote of the day: [T]he story is the gift. My feedback is the thank-you note. End of transaction. --Te

Te inspired an immensely long thread at fandom_wank, which brought out an interesting response from Alara Rogers about women in packs. I don't intend to say anything new or deep about it, but I figure that some of my readers might have wisely overlooked the latest LiveJournal shennanigans.

First of all, I agree with Te. My fic is the gift. Your feedback is the thank-you note. In 99% of cases, the transaction ends after the gift, not after the thank-you note. You may think you're coming under the radar by not sending feedback, but I track all my hits. I know how few of you send thank-you notes. You're not fooling anyone.

However, my fic is a free gift. I do not do it for the feedback. (I wrote a logic lesson a while back for those of you who think that's impossible. Here are two of my other posts on feedback: feedback and feedback and contests.) If you don't want to send feedback, don't. If you can't think of something to say, don't worry about it. I may set up a feedback form to alleviate the reader's feedback guilt someday, but it won't be soon. I have XML to convert first.

If you happen to be, as we say in Portuguese, bem-educado enough to email feedback, I will answer it - not because I'm under any obligation to do so, but because I, too, am bem-educada. If you post feedback in a public forum, such as ASC, the J/C Index, or a mailing list that I'm on, I may or may not reply, depending on whether I see the post in the first place, and whether I think replying will waste more bandwidth than my reply is worth. If you post feedback to a mailing list that I'm not on, of course I won't reply, because I won't see it. I may hear rumors of your feedback, but an email in the inbox is worth two in the ether.

If I ever became so popular that I had a backlog of feedback, I might not be as industrious as Te is, making the effort to reply to every email. There is a point at which that sort of thing becomes a burden, and there is no moral or social obligation in RL to reply to every thank-you note or piece of fanmail you receive. Fortunately, I'm in no danger of such fame. My fifteen minutes are up.

One thing no one has been able to explain to me is the objection to the term gift. I don't know what else to call something made entirely by me, and given away to you (with or without hope of payment in feedback or in kind). Three or four times, I've given fanfic to individuals as a gift, on the occasion of birthdays or particularly painful Voyager episodes. Why, when I write a story and give it away to everyone, is it no longer a gift? If I embroidered a doily and gave it away, it would be a gift. Even if it's a bit tatty and misstitched, even if it winds up a mathom, it's still a gift. If I buy a book and give it away, it's a gift. If I self-publish a book and give copies to my friends, they're gifts. So why is my fanfic not a gift? Have I given it to too many people, simultaneously instead of serially?

There have been occasions where people thought they were responsible for my stories in some way, large or small - so that they might not think of them as mine to give away as gifts. In the case of writing in a group effort, copyright law clearly identifies the writer as the owner of the work, unless someone else has employed (not merely cajoled) the writer to write it on their behalf. There is no copyright in ideas or arcs, only in works that are instantiated in some medium. I also get the sense that certain fandom communities consider themselves responsible, as a group, for the achievements of individual members - specifically, they expect a certain kind of gratitude or loyalty, and will accuse those who move on to other fandoms of forgetting where they came from.

Of course I haven't forgotten where I came from - I came from my mother and my father, the latter of whom, whether genetically or environmentally, is responsible for all this Trek. My lovely sister Veronica is responsible for my having taken a detour into Buffy. But the harsh truth is, I wrote the fic, every kilobyte of it. Maybe that ties this entry in to Alara's women in packs:

Do I mean misogyny? Maybe not. It's not a hatred of women that drives females to bay in packs and leap upon the prey, metaphorically tearing her throat out. It's a hatred of women who excel, women who are well-known and well-liked and actually admit to knowing this about themselves, women who seek to improve themselves.

So maybe wank is the opposite of snark. Snark is more likely to mock the underachievers than the overachievers, not, perhaps, in principle but because sarcasm is a linguistic skill that is often accompanied by other writing skills - so the snarkers are the overachievers. Snark can also be inside the fic, while fandom_wank is always meta. I don't see anyone mocking Te with fic, but I live to mock TPTB with fic. TPTB are the true oppressors here, the ones who own the show and do terrible things to the characters - so lay off the poor BNF's already. [1]


  1. ^ The Gift at "Speak Stiltedly and Wear a Yellow Shirt" (January 13, 2003)