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Fannish spaces, girls, and the culture of silence.

I've been thinking about this post for months, and there's no easy way to say it. It's born out of a lot of thinky thoughts on women, fandom, rape culture, and basically all the things I've been posting about lately.

In January, I made this post about gay subtext, and I was overwhelmed at the response it had. Then I made another post about women in fandom, and how we can't demand equality in mainstream media when we write out fully half of the population--when we write out ourselves--in our own stories. "You guys, we need to hate ourselves less," it said. Not too reactionary, but true.

That second post got half the response of the first one. And where the first post was full of resounding agreement, the reactions to the second post were 50%, "sorry, but I don't write women because (X)."

Fandom, as I have been a part of it, is a beautiful monster. Let's face it. We have issues. We want gay characters, but not girls. We don't want icky girls getting in the way of our boy slash. This is not news.

But here is a little honesty. I did not write that post on gay subtext so its audience could feel good about leaving out or marginalizing the girls or conveniently pairing them up with people who aren't your main boy/boy OTP. I did not write that post so I could give myself a free pass to only keep writing boys shagging.

eta: This is not to shame anyone for loving slash. *I* love m/m slash. I intend to keep on loving it and writing it often. But I feel like it's time to do so much more than just focus on the guys all the time. And that's what I want. /end eta

Sometimes fandom is a needy, entitled little creature. It wants what it wants and it prioritizes harmful things in order to get it. It is no secret that fandom likes its guy slash. Whether we like to dwell on it or not, fandom quite often likes to prioritize said boyslash at the expense of the women who provide it. I am reading the report at Unfunnybusiness about the banning of a Wincon attendee for disturbing behavior at WinCon 2008, and it's reminding me of how all this ties in to the way we treat girls in fandom-- how the way we erase girls in fiction is so closely connected to the way we erase and silence ourselves.

I was kindly invited to go to WinCon this year, and, you know, I would really like to know that I can go to this con and no one is going to invite me up to their room and then do creepy things to me or in front of me without my consent! Fortunately, I am well-satisfied that WinCon organizers are prioritizing attendee safety and comfort, so that makes me very likely to say yes to the con-going. But the very, very unfunny part is how many people are lining up to support the person who created/encouraged/sanctioned the unsafe behavior under discussion at the 2008 WinCon, and how the people who were trying to openly discuss what happened were initially (and to some extent still are) being silenced. And I just keep thinking about how much that reflects the reality of life both outside and inside fandom--where we prioritize everything else but ourselves. We are a largely progressive community of women, and we engage in *just* as much female-shaming, slut-shaming, and actual real-life victim-blaming as the less progressive spaces that we have formed partially as a reaction too.

Saying "sorry, I can write whatever I want, and I only want to write boys snogging" is a valid individual response when it only applies to your fictional life. But when it starts to be a symptom of a cultural problem, then we need to talk. And fandom, as a culture, has a problem with women--we have a problem with ourselves. To the extent that, as appalling as what happened at WinCon was, when [personal profile] balefully so eloquently and importantly says, "It worries us and saddens us so much that in a space we thought was as safe and enlightened and woman-positive as fandom, that sort of thing still happens," my reaction is: of course this is happening in fandom.

Fandom is not woman-positive. Fandom needs all the urging it can get just to talk about female characters, let alone talk about them nicely. Fandom prioritizes men above everything. Fandom prioritizes male-based fantasies, and fandom prioritizes the status of the people who write those fantasies.

Fandom perpetuates rape culture by silencing women, and we silence women when we remove women from our own narratives, when we refuse to write or read about women, when we talk about how female characters are stupid, slutty, saucy, too strong or too weak to enjoy, not written well enough, not worthy of as much attention as the boys are. We perpetuate victim-shaming when we degrade "women's issues" as inferior, icky, and gross. We perpetuate misogyny when we venerate canons that have high numbers of male characters and only one or two girls. We perpetuate the idea that boys' stories are better than our own, the idea that boys are better than us.

We bash characters like Uhura or Rose or Teyla for non-specific, vague, "I just don't like her" reasons. We, as part of fannish culture, teach girls that Mary Sue is awful, embarrassing, should never be written. We, as part of fannish culture, teach girls to stop writing about themselves and start writing guys doing things with guys. We dress it up so it feels empowering, and on the level of sexual and personal exploration, yes, it is and can be very empowering; but we're still silencing ourselves, and we are doing it constantly and systematically.

When that happens often enough it ceases to be individual, and it becomes a systemic silence that can and does seep over into our real lives; it becomes polite silence; it becomes "shut up unless you have proof" and "you should have known what you were getting into" and "you're just being sensitive/uptight/wouldn't have survived the 70's" and "I'm just here for the porn, I don't care what happened," and all those awful responses that make it harder for women to feel safe, for women to speak out when something like this happens to them.

I know that there are people out there who'll tell me that I'm trivializing or conflating two different issues, that what happens on the fictional side of fandom has very little to do with what happens in real life. But can any of us take an honest look at the vast culture of silencing women that we have instilled throughout fandom as a whole, and then look at the victim-blaming and silencing and shaming that can happen when women are victimized in real life fannish spaces, and say definitively that these two things aren't related?

For better or worse, what happened at WinCon happened in fandom. Fandom is not, nor has it ever been, fully safe space for women. (And it is even less a safe space for Fen of Color, or for the disabled, or for genderqueer fen.) We have a lot more work to do before we can say that it is.

The good thing is that fandom is our space; we can make it safer. We can do more to empower ourselves. And, as always, i am lecturing myself first, because I just need to do more, write more, love myself and my fellow girls more, do my part to make my own community a place where it's okay to speak about issues of consent and victimization, to speak and be heard and be visible. Because I never want to see fandom be blind to this side of itself, when we could be changing things, and working to make our community a legitimately safe space for women.



P.S. I don't want to host a debate regarding the nature of what actually did or did not happen at WinCon 2008. There are a dozen other more appropriate places for that, and in the meantime you could be rereading this post until you get it.

________

Also on el jay.

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Tags: fandom, je veux ton monkey wrench, us
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