I see a lot of posts going around talking about the need to be critical of fanfic, and how we gotta watch out for the messages we’re sending
Well, here’s one thing I’m gonna need us to be critical about:
Every statistic I’ve ever seen says fanfic authors are heavily female (or nb)
And Tumblr, which is a fairly US-centric cross-section of fandom, is filled with this discourse about fanfic writers who create pornography
I need us to stop and think about why we’ve decided that fictional sex is the most damaging thing anyone could ever find on the internet
I need us to think about the culture we live in, which encourages us to be sexually available (to straight men) but punishes us if we (sluts) enjoy it
Because here’s the thing: fanfic is not coming from a position of power and prestige in our society
It is a niche genre primarily written by women, for women, for free
And it is a place where many of us do find power in exploring our own sexuality (or asexuality)
Even when that exploration takes us to gritty, horrifying (or cathartic) places
I’m going to need us to think long and hard about why we’re prioritizing fictional characters over the needs of real women
And I’m going to need it to stop
Fandom purity wank is absolutely about control over women and women’s sexuality. There’s nothing ambiguous about it.
Just think about the hot-button issues in the fannish community, the topics that consistently and reliably get people worked up into a lather, the themes that provoke the nastiest conflicts and inspire the most dedicated resistance movements. Think about the fights that are most likely to spill out over their cyber boundaries and start affecting people in the real world - in public harassment at cons, in doxxing and ‘outing’ to family and employers, in malicious legal allegations.
It’s about sex. It’s always about sex.
From the constant tantrums over ‘problematic’ shipping to the righteous doxxing of ‘pedophiles’ (which in current tumblr parlance means anyone who draws or writes canonically underage characters in romantic or erotic scenarios), fandom’s big efforts at moral reform always seem to revolve around restricting and controlling the sexual expression of the majority-women community. You won’t meet many people who stay up past their bedtime to scream at strangers on the internet about unethical portrayals of non-sexual violence - unless, of course, they suspect the women involved in its creation are getting off on it. You’ll struggle to find an anti blog dedicated to the insidious social ills of torture whump fic, or goopy hurt-comfort where all manner of human suffering is put on display for the viewer’s enjoyment. The purity crew dress up their agenda as a desire for collective self-improvement and raised moral standards, but they don’t seem too worried about aspects of public morality that don’t somehow tie back into sex. What they’re upset about is the same thing conservative minds have been upset about since basically the dawn of time - there are women out there in the world doing icky sex things without the permission of their communities.
And these people, these moral guardians, they’ve gotten really good at couching their fundamentalist views in progressive language. They don’t say ‘you’re to blame if you provoke men to rape’ - they say ‘your fic normalises sexual violence and contributes to rape culture’. They don’t say ‘women ought to be chaste’ - they say ‘your fantasies are socially harmful and you owe it to the world to be more self-critical’. The messages are the same and the desired outcomes are literally identical.
The core assumption underlying all of it - an assumption that I’m sure our puritan forebears would find deeply comforting - is that women’s sexual expression is a matter of public concern, and that women are directly responsible for upholding the moral standards of their communities by restricting themselves to a narrow repertoire of publicly controlled, socially condoned sexual outlets. Anything beyond that repertoire is a grave moral breach.
To anyone who’s reading this - and there’s always a few - thinking, “this is just deflection! [X hot-button topic] is really bad and harmful!’, I’d like to encourage you to sit back for just a moment and think about why it is, exactly, that you feel the best and most important place to wage your war against moral corruption is in one of the only pockets of popular media that women unequivocally control. Of all the spaces in the world where you could be fighting for your view of a better society, you’ve chosen a place where women come together to share the fantasies that mainstream culture refuses to let them indulge. Why?
It’s bible banging bullshit in a progressive mask.
This tea is lovely.
Huh. Well, as a woman, i find it interesting that OP seems to think any critique of women BY women must in some way be…anti women? I’m not certain what’s trying to be said here. If you’re talking about the men, both inside and outside the community who DO INDEED critique women for all sorts of things, i’m right behind you in saying that those men need to shut the fuck up about women’s sexuality and it’s expression. That’s not their lane and they need to stay the fuck out of it. But by you’re own admission, majority of fan writers are women or NB, and since most of the critique of fan works seems to come from within the community itself, it stands to reason that we are in fact, talking about women and NB’s critiquing themselves yes? right?
Bible banging? repressing women’s sexuality? uhh, no. i don’t think that’s the case here. i really really don’t. Does that sort of thing happen in fandom? Of course. Does it happen WAY too often? Shit yes. And if all you were saying is exactly that, i’d be slapping that reblog button no issue. But that’s not all your saying, is it? Seems to me that the heart of the message here is all about your desire to ship as you please, and nary a quibble allowed to be made. After all, that would be repressing your sexuality right? Normally i’d agree with you, even on this, buuut for that tiny tiny issue of rape and CSA kinks. You know, the ones that are so obviously written by abusers for abusers it should practically come with a sign.
So, as a woman, and as a childhood sexual abuse survivor, i gotta ask you, can you seriously look me, and all the other rape and CSA survivors in the eyes, and say you truly think it’s ok for someone to create a fan work that romanticizes these issues, or apologizes for abusers in some way? You really think that’s ok? You think it’s okay because it’s a woman doing it? or because that’s her kink? Really?
I mean…i’m going over and over in my head how i can possibly show you how this idea makes me feel, but i’m failing. Utterly. So, please, explain to me why it’s so much more important for someone to post their daddy kink than it is for me or so many others not to relive their own trauma.
yes, i can look you in the eyes and say fucked up things happening in fanfiction are 100% aok even if you, a total stranger with full control over your media experience, aren’t into reading it.
not thrilled by you calling me a “fucking pedophile” in your tags as if disagreeing with you is somehow sexual violence against children, or the way you’ve just called a person an “abuser” if they write about fucked up stuff and deemed the audience abusive for reading it.
you don’t know these people, you’re projecting your idea of immorality onto complete strangers and declaring them unclean, as if those of us who are survivors are polluted by our experience and must not talk about it where decent people might see.
maybe don’t dip your toes in the discourse if you’re planning to engage in victim shaming while you tell people to lay off victims. it’s pretty shitty being rando-splained that sexual violence is somehow my fault because of my unclean behavior, and you have crossed that line tonight. i have had a lifetime of that nonsense, and you’re not welcome to perpetuate it here even if you’re 99.9% certain you know who the bad guy is, and 110% sure it’s not you.
edited for rarr.
“Huh. Well, as a woman, i find it interesting that OP seems to think any critique of women BY women must in some way be…anti women?”
It’s called internalized misogyny. Being a woman does not make you automatically exempt from being wrong about your perceptions of other women. In fact, this internal policing is one of the shittiest, trickiest, and most effective tools of oppression the patriarchy has got.
I will also note my observation that many antis are victims of older, male abusers, often family members or care givers with authority over them, but they go after the often young queer, female and non binary producers of fan works as if it was the source, and that they (the producers) specifically caused this particular event, and that’s fucked up. That is absolutely playing into and reinforcing the oppressive power dynamics that let’s actual abusers get away with shit, by not holding them accountable for their specific, direct actions.
I get being scared, and powerless, and not having much if any recourse against the people that hurt you, especially if you’re still under their influence. But flailing at strangers on the internet because you want to pass the hurt on to someone else and make yourself feel more in control again is absolutely a no-no. You are punching down, and left, and right and pretty much every direction but up, and someday most of you anti’s are going to have enough time and distance to process that, and you are going to feel really god damn awful about it.
ALL OF THIS.
too tired to write a proper coherent essay about this so here are some things i’ve been thinking about in relation to this:
1) this is not the first time we’ve been having this conversation in this particular form and i can trace the discourse about public morality and responsibility and the poor impressionable hysterical wimmens whose sensibilities are now excited and senses inflamed by consuming this lurid, pornographic literature all the way back to the discourse surrounding the advent of the novel as a form of writing. yes, those dry books by walter scott once inspired the same pearl clutching as an adult writing teens in romantic & sexual relationships (for some reason, always the fic writers, never the pro adult published authors who get targeted by this ire) do today. people are being neither revolutionary or thought-provoking when they revive this strain of discourse again. cis straight white men have been doing this to us for centuries.
2) this same discourse was repeated with the rise of the gothic romance which, okay, walpole may have kickstarted it, but eventually it became a genre for women and by women. i’ll say a lot of the themes and concerns of the gothic romance are repeated in darkfic today, so its worth looking back at what was said to those women - what is still being said about this genre, without ever interrogating why someone might choose to write the stories in this form without reflecting on their personal morality and inherent unfeminist inferiority - and how, ultimately, it did nothing to actually change the social structure but did plenty to remind us that women are inherently silly and stupid and full of unruly and awful desires.
3) the ‘all depictions must be pure and edifying’ is a peculiarly Victorian strain of thought and is one of the reasons why, for the longest time, children’s lit was this bizarre genre in which children were saintly and suffered beautifully without complaint and were in the end rewarded for their adherence to christian virtues - while the naughty children obviously were frowned upon and went on to be inherently defective and awful till they became the criminals they were destined to be. thank god there were writers who decided to write a form of children’s stories that were ‘realistic’ in that they were not moralistic handbooks designed to browbeat children into submission to the perfect Victorian ideal OR ELSE, but instead for children to read, relax and have fun and probably develop some ability to think critically for themselves and recognize when children in the stories were acting like asses without necessarily having it punished on-screen.
the idea that depiction = endorsement, which is so inherent to the negative discussions of darkfic, noncon, dubcon and even fucking unhealthy relationships (why would i want to write about it, you say? you don’t understand? for that, see #4) is frankly ridiculous and i have no qualms calling it neo-victorian because it is, quite literally, about the aesthetics of morality - performative morality, instructional morality, predicated entirely on individual action and personal responsibility - rather than an actual discussion of ethics, of what it means to live in an inherently ‘sick’ society (a patriarchal society, a society in which we are hurt one way or the other either by people, by our social milieu, by our culture and by our media) and what actual structural social change would look like. it ain’t healing or helping people, it’s just concerned with making sure we present ourselves properly OR ELSE (or else you are literal trash, you are the worst, you are not only an apologist, but you feed rape culture, you are a pedophile, you are the very thing that hurt you in the first place.)
4) PERSONAL TIME. when i was twelve i wrote my first short story and it was about a girl who was angry, lonely and hurting - so she destroyed everything. quite literally burnt it down. this was not good, did not glorify god and also worried my mother, so instead of sitting me down and asking me why i wrote this story this way, what was i trying to say, my mother rewrote that story for me. quite literally. in fact that whole story was jossed and what we wrote was a thinly plagiarized version of the story fly away home. why? because it was uplifting and hopeful.
this is what i mean by performative morality. antis don’t seem to care about the actual whys and wherefores of any given fic so much as its existence, so much as the fact that it stridently exists on its own terms and is there, is glaringly messy and awful and not at all part of any of the ‘good’ narratives we tell ourselves about marginalized folk. this is the soul exposed (kind of) and presented for all to read. amazing! some people like thinking about the questions these awful things present. some people don’t. that’s, i think a far position to maintain.
what is awful is this demand that only ideologically pure and innocent stories get written and yet again, we’re forced to remember that these horrible bits of ourselves, the demons we’ve been struggling to exorcise and the parts of us we’ve been trying to excise, need to be hidden. this is not revolutionary or helpful. we can’t talk about being vulnerable and open and radical love as healing process, healing as a social process, if we’re going to insist we only do this the stiff upper lip way and keep all those horrid horrid things out of sight, smile and wave boys everything’s all right. the story you find personally offensive might be the story which clarifies something for someone else - and might even give them someone to reach out to.
5) to resume the problem of depiction = endorsement - i resent the idea that somehow teens are going to be so naive that they can’t be critical of what they read and therefore, that things can’t be written that aren’t 100% pure. its actually really fucking patronizing to assume that their mental faculties are so underdeveloped that they can’t draw the line between a fantasy, or the exploration of a taboo subject in an artistic medium & what can be endorsed and explored irl. chances are the average teen is going to be exposed to far more worse stuff by just studying lit in their schools - shakespeare, for example, really doesn’t demur or shy away from serious adult themes, and i think at some point everyone learns yeats’ poem about leda and the swan which is well, a rape story in essence - and anyone who has the remotest interest in mythology will have had to grapple with the complex morality of the greeks. give the average fourteen year old credit; most of ‘em come into work of fiction with the implicit assumption ‘do not try this in real life’. most of ‘em will also walk away with a great deal more awareness of what a socially ill world looks like than if they hadn’t read it (i know i understood what the patriarchy looks like much more by reading plays like Ion and Medea when i was 14 than if i’d gone ‘oh ion is a problematic story best not read it’. it is problematic. that’s how i learnt to be leery of male characters and male writers and patriarchal societies.)
6) i’m much more worried about books that present themselves as good and non-problematic romances than i am darkfic or fic in general, which i’ve generally observed is usually rigorously tagged for and covered with the appropriate disclaimers (and somehow, like one of the commenters mentions, its always these labelled fics that attract attention rather than the ones which are labelled as something else and have their own problems - which again, performative morality; its easier to go after a visible target than a non-obvious and insidious one).
in fact i’d much rather have critical discussions about what is ‘romanticization’ and what constitutes rape culture in fiction so that we can think critically about its tropes and forms and presentations, than these ongoing blanket statements that ‘x person is romanticizing abuse because they wrote a particular pairing/trope/whatever’. did you read the fic? did you understand what they were doing with it? did you actually engage with the work at all? do people really park their brains so much while reading they can’t delineate the difference between fiction and reality? teenagers read a lot more heavy stuff in school as part of their literary curriculum, i promise you - and incidentally, its this same argument that’s led to the banning of books like Brave New World in some curricula, because of their ‘negative’ themes. ironic, because i can’t think of a book that teaches criticality and awareness than Brave New World.
7) i mention it earlier but its worth reiterating again: darkfic is almost always tagged. this means there are trigger warnings all over this shit. there’s something going spectacularly wrong if even the sight of a trigger warning is enough to set people off, or is supposedly creating an atmosphere of hurt or an unsafe space. there are tools and technology to keep this shit out of your sight. if someone ain’t tagging, ask them to tag - if they refuse, unfollow, walk away from them (in fact give them a wide wide berth in general imho). but like, what is the point of a fucking witch hunt because of the existence of these tags? unless, of course, what we’re aiming for is to purge this heresy so we can only do rightthink and rightthought all the time, even in a society that is more or less hell-bent on fucking us up right from birth?