Some Thoughts on Femslash
Why in the heck isn't there more f/f fanfic out there?
And why isn't there some discussion of it here at the Symposium?
I'm not casting stones here. My own fanfic stats go roughly: 18 m/m fics, 6 m/f fics, and a mere 4 f/f fics. And I'm a Lesbian. But my very first slash story was m/m. So was my second, third, fourth, etc. For the first few years that I was writing fanfic, in fact, I wrote only m/f and m/m.
People asked me occasionally, "Why don't you write f/f? I mean… that's your area, after all." And I was in fact pretty frustrated with my own dearth of f/f, but still it took me a few years to produce any.
I had my reasons. Some are purely personal and subjective, such as that most of the fictional characters with whom I strongly identify have been male. This says more about the quality of female characters in professional fiction than it does about me. Another is that identifying with a character who is different from me in an important way, such as that of gender, gives me a certain detachment. I tend to prefer movies and novels set somewhere otherworldly, whether it's outer space or a fantasy universe or some historical period. I prefer for fiction to be a good metaphor for my own experience, not a faithful mirror of my own experience. Writing and reading about men helps keep that distance between me and the characters.
My biggest excuse for not writing more femslash is that my two main fandoms, Sleepy Hollow and From Eroica With Love, have few female characters and very little femslash potential. The only SH f/f fic I know of cheated by having a canon character fall in love with an original character. Similarly, some Eroicafics will have Lesbians in them, but they're original characters; no female character ever lasted more than one issue in the Eroica series, and most issues only have women in the background, "extras".
I've heard a lot of other fanwriters voice one of my own leading reasons for not writing more femslash: there's not as many interesting, slashable female characters as there are male ones. (Buffy and Xena are the big exceptions to this. They're great and very femslashy, but you can love a show and not be inspired to write for it, so if neither of those generates plotbunnies for you, that's all there is to it.)
I don't watch TV at home, but when I visited a friend last year, I consented to sit through The X-Files with him. I hadn't seen it in a few years, so I was blown away by Scully: beautiful, smart, capable, assertive. I immediately thought, "I gotta slash her!"
But with whom? She doesn't have an attractive sidekick or an archvillainess in canon. An original character would be suspected of being a Mary Sue, and probably with some justice, because I do want Scully for myself. (No, Spooky can't have her. She's mine.) I stewed for a long time, and finally ended up writing crossovers, slashing her with Emma J. Russell from the movie The Saint and with Detective Diana Bennett from Beauty and the Beast, the latter despite the attendant difficulties of pairing a redhead named Dana with a redhead named Diana.
So that's the big problem: finding a fandom that has not only one, but two interesting, complex female characters. In most fandoms, we're lucky to get just one.
But then, even the fandoms that do give us a good f/f pair usually inspire mostly m/m. Again, Buffy and Xena are the significant exceptions here, and I'm very glad we have them. But let me point out a trend I've noticed: in many fandoms with a great deal of femslash potential, there is almost no femslash but a great deal of m/m. Why?
One example is Queen of Swords. Elsewhere at the Symposium, I've written a rant about it. It offers us a female protagonist, an obvious femslashy relationship, and some unsympathetic male characters. And there's about 50 m/m fics to every f/f. (There are only two QoS f/f stories, to the best of my knowledge: Noche Dulce and Ransom. Before 2003 is out, I plan to boost the number to a whopping three.) Another example is the Japanese anime Revolutionary Girl Utena or Shoujo Kakuemi Utena. Once more: female protagonist, Utena. Canonical femslashy relationship between Utena and a girl named Anthy. The movie takes it quite far; they get naked together and kiss on the lips. The TV series is more ambiguous; they could be interpreted as either a romantic or a platonic couple, but either way, it's a very beautiful love story. The anime also offers several more interesting and beautiful female characters, including Juri, who is canonically a Lesbian; several episodes deal with her struggles with her orientation and her hopeless infatuation with a heterosexual git named Shiori.
The male characters of Utena, however, are a sorry lot by comparison. The series' three hunks, Touga, Saionji, and Akio, do very little in canon besides lounge around looking edible. (Which I'll grant they do very well.) What little personality they have beyond their overdeveloped sexuality is frankly repulsive; they're immature, self-centered, use their sexuality to manipulate others, their motivations are infantile, etc. In short, they're male bimbos. (Bimbas?) Yet there is a huge volume of Touga/Saionji, as well as an awful lot of fics derived from the Touga/Akio hints in canon. Utena/Anthy exists, and one or two stories try to set Juri up, but the f/f is dwarfed by the m/m, despite the rampant femslash potential.
In a way this makes sense. The majority of slashers are straight women. (I've been scolded more than once for saying this, but I stand by my statement. There are a tiny handful of gay men in slash. There seems to be a sizeable minority of Lesbians and women who identify as bisexual; there's no telling how many are in slash, but I personally know several of both. The fact remains: straight girls outnumber us, and I get the impression that they do so by a hefty margin. This has an impact on the genre.)
There are many different things slashers look for in fic. For many, sexual titillation is at least one of those things, and a
straight woman is more likely to be interested in hearing about guys having sex than about girls having sex. For me, the primary thing I look for is a reflection of the gay experience that I can identify with, and those issues are pretty much the same for gay men as they are for Lesbians, especially boiled down to their essentials. (For example, most homosexuals of either sex question their own gender identity. Whether characters decide that their natural inclination is to follow tradition – i.e., be a feminine woman or a masculine man – or that the opposite sex's traditional identity works best for them or that they're somewhere in between, doesn't matter to me. What matters is, I asked these questions of myself and learned what worked for me as an individual, and I sympathize with this journey regardless of where it leads for the individual in question.) So either kind of slash works for me. But for many, "watching" gorgeous guys have sex is a high priority, though not the only one. This is one reason that femslash is in the minority.
I'm not going to dwell on the next reason, because it's not pleasant. I think it applies only to a significant minority. I hope it's not the majority. I do know that some other slashers are concerned about this, because I've seen rants about it before.
To Scarlett O'Hara, "all women, including her two sisters, were natural enemies in pursuit of the same prey – man." Another classic bodice-ripper, Forever Amber, has one male character remarking, "If women could learn to tolerate each other, they might get an advantage over us we'd never put down."
I've seen some very nasty remarks from female fen about interesting, complex female characters. These fen are willing to forgive male characters for all sorts of things, including murder, but female characters are another matter. I've seen so many stories that turned the female characters into travesties of their canonical selves that I was moved to send some very extravagant praise to a Mulder/Krycek slasher who allowed Scully to be the competent, intelligent, assertive, unique woman she is in canon.
A somewhat more uplifting perspective is that the male characters tend to have more serious flaws in canon to balance their good points. Female characters, on the other hand, tend to be a little too perfect. Scully's beautiful, well dressed, highly intelligent, and working in a male-dominated profession. How many of us can really identify with a paragon like that? Maybe these powerful female characters are TPTB's attempts to give us the positive role models we've been demanding, and they've made them a little too perfect in their eagerness to fill this demand.
All I can do is hope that it will all fade in time and become more balanced.
But I think I've figured out the main reason that femslash is in the minority. One of the leading theories in the never-ending debate about Why Women Like Slash is that it's a chance to vicariously claim traditional male prerogatives; we can dream about having adventures and vanquishing bad guys and having the independence men have always taken for granted but that we've had to fight for very hard. But a few people have asked, couldn't we do that just as well, perhaps even better, by writing about powerful female characters? Cagney and Lacey? Scully? Captain Janeway? Why not more taking power by doing so via female characters? I understand wanting to do it through male characters, since I do it too, but why not more of the other way?
Well, when I finally wrote some femslash, as well as a genfic (The Ancient Ones Endure) with a strong, independent heroine, I started to see the answer. I didn't plan to bring feminist issues into any of these stories, and yet they cropped up every time. Diana Bennett is a homicide detective. I only did a small amount of research for my stories about her, but I did find out that female homicide detectives are very, very rare. Agent Scully is in two male-dominated fields, medicine and the FBI. Without planning it, I found myself mentioning in passing the ways in which they had had to surpass their male colleagues to get anywhere in their careers, and how the struggle had toughened them, and the coping strategies they developed. In my two Scullyslash stories, I found myself, again without planning it, poking some playful fun at the clueless men who made advances to Scully, Diana and Emma, who were far more interested in each other.
Utena is inescapably feminist. She's a schoolgirl who insists on wearing a boy's uniform to her school (she defends herself from the teachers' protests by pointing out that while the school rules do require a uniform, the exact words of the rules do not require a girl to wear a girl's uniform) and who wants to be "a prince who rescues princesses". A great deal of the series deals with her struggles to reconcile her femininity with her traditionally male identity. She has to wrestle with both other people and herself to be a "prince" (hero) even though she's a girl. It's almost impossible to write about her without dealing with feminist questions. It's hard to avoid in femslash.
But I don't really want to write about feminist issues. And I don't think many other contemporary women do either. I think we're ready for the equality of the sexes to be taken for granted. We're tired of having to argue about it. We want to bypass the whole issue. Writing m/m – identifying with male characters and depicting relationships between only men – allows us to do just that. Once the head of a feminist organization said that the greatest honor they could have was to become obsolete. M/M slash announces that we're ready for that day.
Questions About Femslash Which I Hope Will Generate Columns From Others
I'd like to see more discussion of femslash around here. I have questions about it.
One thing that really baffles me: why don't more Lesbian slashers write f/f? I know several Lesbian slashers who've written large volumes of m/m, in numerous fandoms, and not one f/f. Why?
Are most femslash writers Lesbians? And if you're not, then I'd really like to know what motivates you to write femslash!
At a slash con, one discussion was devoted to femslash, and several attendees put forward the view that f/f "isn't slash". Well, technically it is slash, of course, but they explained that they meant that f/f fic has a completely different dynamic. It's a different impulse that drives people to write it. As I've explained, for me it's the same, so I'd like to see essays from other femslashers: what is the difference in dynamic?
Why does it seem there isn't as much high-quality f/f as there is m/m? Is it because there are just more writers of all levels of ability in m/m, or have I just not read the right stuff? I haven't read more femslash than I have because when I've explored f/f sites or lists, most of what I've encountered has been truly awful. I've found a few good fics, and I'm sure there's more out there, but I've had a lot more trouble finding good f/f than m/m!
Since I don't really have one serious f/f fandom, I mostly read femslash via recommendation. I just don't have the patience to go through the slush pile and read it all myself, in either f/f or m/m; I venture outside my own fandoms primarily on recommendations. So: would someone who's more knowledgeable about femslash than I please write about it? Its trends, its motivations? There's a lot about m/m, but I don't know of any discussion about f/f. I'm curious!
Star Trek: The Next Generation; Deanna Troi/Tasha Yar
Revolutionary Girl Utena. Mostly Utena/Anthy.
An Ideal Husband
Sherlock Holmes. Irene Adler/Violet Hunter, both canon characters.
My own Femslash.
Just for the sake of completeness.