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May 24, 2012


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It's interesting to hear about different methods of fandom, but sometimes I wonder if we end up erasing the existence of women there by positing this as a continually new development rather than an ongoing thing.

Yes, that is exactly what "we" are doing, and it is part of a rich pattern of erasure of women's pasts, often under the guise of a compliment ("you go, girl; women can do anything these days!"). Well said, Tubalcain.

It's also kind of funny that non-creative (in the literal "creating things" sense) fandom is stereotypically feminine, while fans who consume or memorize culture are stereotyped as masculine, especially because that's the exact opposite of how those things tend to be gendered in other places.

Agreed, and it's especially strange given that this is not at all my experience of women's fandom. It is the complete opposite of my experience of women's fandom.

Of course, I think that's also because we've sort of moved some fanwork into "creative crossover" Pride and Prejudice and Zombiescategories, where it's seen as art in its own right rather than a derivative, while focusing on the worst of stereotypically feminine fanfiction.

We sure as hell have, to the point where a novel like "Fifty Shades of Grey" is dismissed as "fanfic" -- just as "fanfic," no adjective needed. I haven't read this novel, have no interest in it, and am sure it is fanfic, but it's rich to read this kind of thing when published writers like Jasper Fforde, for example, are writing what we in fandom would call a massive crossover AU with an OC lead -- and then having the nerve to criticize "fan fiction."

Like a lot of authors (GRRM, for example), Fforde seems to believe that fanfic writers "copy" others' work, which must surely be "less fun" or else "bad for them." It doesn't seem to occur to these people that fan writers might be presenting a knowingly subversive spin on a famous character as a critical commentary, or embroidering underdeveloped characters (sometimes as a collaborative group, as when rival "fanon" conceptions of minor Harry Potter characters developed and were fleshed out by different writers), or making jokes to bond with other fan writers, or charting how a certain implausible pairing could plausibly happen, or testing the line between an archetypal character and an archetype by putting that character in a different universe and seeing if they're still recognizable, or using an existing universe as an incubator for an original character we're starting to work out for future use, or the million other things fans are doing. Fanfic is very rarely a pure exercise in imitation, and when it is, I disagree that this is not a rigorous or useful exercise for the writer of originals. By imitating a master, a writer can learn their tricks and learn to recognize previously unconscious imitation. If they're still imitating the master thirty years later, then yes, it does seem that fanfic was bad for that person, but that's also that person's problem.

All of the above was a bit of a tangent, although to my mind it's very closely tied to the gender conversation -- because, once again, I think of the fanfic community as largely female, which may or may not be literally true. I think it is true, though, that fanfic writing is gendered female in the larger culture. If it's written by a man and published conventionally, it's more likely to be called something other than "fanfic"; same thing if it's good (all of which is true of Aaron Sorkin's fantastic RPF, The Social Network). But if it's written by anonymous women, it's going to get the "you can't be enjoying this, you can't have agency in this, this can't be good for you" treatment.

I'm not saying that this kind of stereotypically lady-fan activity usually plays all that well outside of a community that knows the references and riffs at work. By and large, it absolutely does not -- but then neither do superhero comics, whose modern writers also do most of what I listed above. I think fanfic and superhero comics writing are, if not similar, at least surprisingly comparable forms when we take the social baggage away.

And yes, I agree with Tubalcain that fan work with romance in it is generally (and inexplicably) held to be incompatible with humor and irony and wit and even self-awareness; it's held to be basically an unconscious excretion of some kind. Which is creepy, because it's not.

An anecdote: TV Tropes has, for the past year or so, been working hard to make itself less insular, more "family-friendly," and more accessible. A mass renaming has taken place, with many of the more poetic or allusive tropes being worked over: "Gordian Knot" becomes "Cutting the Knot"; "Twenty Minutes With Jerks" becomes "Developing Doomed Characters." No one, however, has touched "Most Writers Are Male" and "Most Fanfic Writers Are Girls." I think that says it all.


...That "we" at the beginning came out a lot harsher than I meant it to; sorry. Quote marks are always a hazard on the Internet. I wanted to exclude myself from the "we" in question, since I was identifying with the erased group and not the erasing. But, of course, everybody participates in this kind of erasing activity; there is no line between the groups. Shame, dislike of outside attention, a fear of not being taken seriously should we publish our original work: they all contribute to female fandom's culture of quiet and anonymity, a culture which I am not going to personally buck anytime soon. Perhaps it's not fair of me to complain about being invisible under these conditions, or to complain that a new women's fandom that's aggressively non-invisible is now being seen as the very first one.

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