alixtii: Drusilla holding a knife to Angel's throat. Text: "Got Freud?" (Freud)
alixtii ([personal profile] alixtii) wrote2010-01-29 09:55 am
Entry tags:

Femslash and the Lesbian Experience. Which Is Clearly Not My Experience.

So my reaction to the big m/m meta discussions going on has been basically, "Well, I'm glad I write alongside queer female writers about queer female characters for the benefit of a queer female audience." (Part of the reason for this is that I'm in the middle of a job search, so I don't have the time or the energy for a real opinion. If anyone knows of opportunities in the Philly/South Jersey region, do tell.) Not that the position I do occupy is unproblematic, but it's sort of problematic in fairly obvious ways we can all agree upon and don't require massive amounts of discussion.

But then my fellow femslashers have spoken up and the conversation has mutated in various ways and suddenly, I have thoughts. Because obviously m/m slash and femslash are different than and similar to each other in many complicated and different ways (many of which I've discussed repeatedly before), but my impression has always been that in more or less exactly the way that m/m slash isn't actually about real-world gay men (in a way that some interlocutors have found problematic, to say the least), femslash isn't about lesbians. (Obviously, the corollary to that is that femslash is about lesbians in all the ways m/m slash is about gay men. My purpose isn't to erase queerness.)

Obviously, I am not at all remotely qualified to speak to whether femslash accurately reflects The Lesbian Experience. So this is your invitation to tell me that I'm totally wrong. This post on femslash and the lesbian experience (eta: now locked, presumably in response to accusations of biphobia, although still much discussed throughout the LJ-meta-sphere) by [livejournal.com profile] freifraufischer, linked on [community profile] metafandom, clearly indicates* that there's at least one queer female femslasher who would presumably disagree with the hypothesis put forth above. And it's interesting the ways in which she frames femslash writing in ways which seem foreign to this particular het male femslasher, such as her assertion that most "unrealistic" femslash fics are evidenced by bad writing: just stop by any femslash porn battle and you'll find plenty of incredibly well-written but not-at-all-realistic ficlets. (Putting aside for the moment the question of just what realism would even look like when one is slashing a Vampire Slayer with a vampire or werewolf.)

[*ETA, now that the post in question is no longer accessible: "The higher percentage of femslash stories that reflect aspects of lesbian culture beyond the purely sexual make it an expression of the lesbian community. In so much that there are straight women, and men, who write femslash they appear more likely to make some effort towards expressing true aspects of LGBT culture, as opposed to writing pure fantasy that has little relation to gay culture." I'm deeply saddened that I can't find, floating around the internets anywhere, the quote about how any fic in which C.J. Cregg picked up Sam Carter in a bar would automatically have to be badly written.]

[ETA2: I've just come across this post, "Professional Lesbians . . . and Fanfic" which goes on at length about the sorts of unrealisticness she dislikes for not adequately living up to certain elements of the lesbian experience--the tacit assumption being, of course, that it should.]

It makes sense to me, in a more-or-less purely theoretical way (I don't think it actually is a purely theoretical way, because I have been a member of this community and one of you for many years, and at least to some degree have learned your ways, but het male privilege is all-pervasive) that may be totally wrong, that a predominately queer female body of writers writing for a predominately queer female audience about characters who are in some sense or another queer and female doesn't require them focusing on how they are representing themselves (because the people to whom they are representing themselves are themselves), or at least not how they are representing themselves in any way which requires realism. Rather that which is being represented is a set of hopes and dreams, fears and fantasies. It's not a mirror that's intended to exist without distortion; indeed, given the grim reality of so many queer female lives, it'd be the source of much pain and anguish if it were. Femslash, no less than m/m slash, is frequently a genre of escapist literature (although, of course, it doesn't have to be, and it can be in ways other than the immediately obvious).

Femslash, I thought, is primarily about female pleasure, both as medium and as message. Of course, female pleasure is no less political a goal than representation is--cue the Hélène Cixous Laugh of the Medusa song-and-dance:
We've been turned away from our bodies, shamefully taught to ignore them, to strike them with that stupid sexual modesty; we've been made victims of the old fool's game: each one will love the other sex. I'll give you your body and you'll give me mine. But who are the men who give women the body that women blindly yield to them? Why so few texts? Because so few women have as yet won back their body. Women must write through their bodies, they must invent the impregnable language that will wreck partitions, classes and rhetorics, regulations and codes, they must submerge, cut through, get beyond the ultimate reverse-discourse, including the one that laughs at the very idea of pronouncing the word 'silence', the one that, aiming for the impossible, stops short before the word 'impossible' and writes it as 'the end.'
(In one sense, it seems self-evident that femslash lives up to this ideal in a way that m/m slash does not; on the other hand, that acknowledgment seems to have something of the "we should all become lesbians" sentiment to it which characterized second-wave feminism** at its worst.)

[**ObDisclaimer: Wave-terminology erases feminist history; feminism never stops happening.]

I keep thinking back to my meta post of two years ago, Gazes in/and/of Criticism, in which I attempt to compare the desiring elements of both the het male and queer female gazes (assuming for the moment that we're breaking with Freud and Lacan enough to even posit that a female gaze is a possible subject position to begin with, as [livejournal.com profile] ithiliana notes in her post on fetishization). Of course, femslash is about much more than just a desiring gaze; it's also about agency (and the fantasy of agency) and about female characters (albeit characters who, although female, were probably written and created by het white men) being themselves (which in itself can be a radical act): women are desiring, women are desired, and women also get to do things which have little to nothing to do with desire before and after all the desiring. But I do think there is something "fetishistic," insofar as I understand that concept (linked gacked from [livejournal.com profile] ithiliana), with what queer women (and people who are not queer women, like me) are doing with fictional(ized) female characters in femslash. They're (and we're) playing with them like dolls. I just don't think that's especially problematic in and of itself.

(And may I say that all the google hits for "queer female gaze" which aren't me--and I'm glad to see that I'm not at the top--all look incredibly interesting?)

Now what the implications for the m/m debate are, in which the representations of--I hesitate to say "an other," because men are the default, unmarked gender and many (if not most) of the writers of m/m slash are queer, so they clearly aren't Other in the Lacanian psychoanalytic sense--but the representations of a group of people who are not the same people as the writers or the readers, and who likewise hold an oppressed position in relation to the patriarchy--are used to replace the fantastic (meaning not realistic, but also fantastic in a psychoanalytic sense) representations of the writers/readers that we get with femslash, I don't claim to know. But I did want to write down my thoughts on the femslash discussion, say a bit about how I frame femslash as a genre, and give a chance for queer women in the femslash community/ies to tell me I'm totally wrong.

(And while we're on the subject of female characters: less than eight hours until "Epitaph Two"!)
copracat: dreamwidth vera (Default)

[personal profile] copracat 2010-01-29 09:54 pm (UTC)(link)
When I read freifraufisher's first post, on the queer male experience, I thought zie was a queer male from the way the post was written and the definitive statements about knowing the queer male experience that it made. Now zie has written the same post and copypasted lesbian for queer man. So, anyway, if zie is anything but a lesbian zie doesn't get to speak for me and if zie is a lesbian, zie is most certainly NOT speaking about my experience.

I want to take up the male/female gaze conversation. My (female because I am female) gaze was trained since I was a wee chick by the male gaze of the movies and TV. In summary, as humans we are closer in intent and desire than our different domestic arrangements might suggest. It's the real world consequences that differ.

Now, I want to respond to what you have written but my breakfast date's going to be here in 30 so I have to book.
karmageddon: (Default)

[personal profile] karmageddon 2010-01-30 12:27 am (UTC)(link)
Interesting thinky-thoughts. Not jumping in at this time b/c I'm still processing.

But I did want to say that you wrote m/m slash for me and it was well done.
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[personal profile] scrollgirl 2010-02-01 01:27 am (UTC)(link)
I'm not on the femslash side of fandom at all, so this is very interesting to read. Thanks for all the links--they'll be good background.

Femslash, no less than m/m slash, is frequently a genre of escapist literature (although, of course, it doesn't have to be, and it can be in ways other than the immediately obvious).

I don't think I have to be a femslash reader to agree with this. Femslash is fanfic, and while it can be political, it certainly doesn't have to be. We do this because it's fun and we love it, and not because we're (necessarily) set out to write a manifesto.
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[personal profile] erinptah 2010-02-01 02:06 am (UTC)(link)
And it's interesting the ways in which she frames femslash writing in ways which seem foreign to this particular het male femslasher, such as her assertion that most "unrealistic" femslash fics are evidenced by bad writing: just stop by any femslash porn battle and you'll find plenty of incredibly well-written but not-at-all-realistic ficlets. (Putting aside for the moment the question of just what realism would even look like when one is slashing a Vampire Slayer with a vampire or werewolf.)

*waves* Hi, gay woman here, and the framing was kinda foreign to me too. Like, "wait, we were supposed to be being realistic?"
elf: Petalwing, singing (Petalwing Singing)

[personal profile] elf 2010-02-01 04:52 am (UTC)(link)
How can I use femslash to learn to hit on Real Live Wimminz if it's not realistic?

I mean, for all those witches and vampire-slayers and elves and starship pilots and medieval princesses who abound in my life, that I might like to hit on and just need to learn the secret techniques that work in femslash.

Or, wait, is "improve RL f/f relationships" maybe not the purpose of femslash?
elf: Strongbow from EQ Hidden Years (Facepalm)

[personal profile] elf 2010-02-01 05:08 am (UTC)(link)
It occurs that the previous may have been too choppy, or too smug, or otherwise troublesome, in which case, I apologize.

I acknowledge that lack-of-realism in fic can cause problems, especially lack-of-realism about a marginalized group. But, umm. I don't read femslash to learn about f/f relationships. I don't read slash to learn about the gay male experience. I don't read Harlequin Romances to get tips on how to improve my marriage. Escapist literature, and commentary fic ("Here, let me point out how STUPID the ending of season 2 was by showing what SHOULD have happened"), have their own tropes, of which "realism" is only a tangential concern.
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[identity profile] auronlu.livejournal.com 2010-02-01 07:16 am (UTC)(link)
Except when you're writing femslash because you've gotten tired of reading fics that aren't like any lesbian lives you've ever known... the lives that include arguing over whose turn it is to clean out the catbox (I would warrant that this discussion takes place in 75% of all lesbian households, the majority of which are supplied with cats, and therefore it really ought to be a writing prompt in any femslash comm whose canon is remotely rooted in the real world).

I don't know. I've been in the periphery of this whole slah and gender discussion because (a) my tiny fandom seems to have, write about, and include more women than most and (b) I'm not thinky thoughts enough; I'll say stupid ignorant things because I haven't spent years having my consciousness raised to the point that zie and zir are as natural as breathing and I know all the Required Reading List books for Gender Enlightenment.

I don't. I'm just this bi woman writing fanfic.

But I'd just like to highlight this quote from the above post and put little stars and gender-stereotypical hearts and gender-not-stereotypical lightning bolts all over it:

"it's also about agency (and the fantasy of agency) and about female characters (albeit characters who, although female, were probably written and created by het white men) being themselves (which in itself can be a radical act)."

That is the part which sounds to me like the f/f and f/whatever stories I know. Stories written by, about, and for women -- some lesbian writers, some bi writers, some straight.

1) It's not all about gaze. I understand that term is talking about perspective and viewpoint, and we can never get away from who's looking because it shapes what we see, but all this talk of gaze seems to emphasize looking too much: active (subject) looker, passive (object) recipient. That's a power dynamic right thar. All this gaze stuff is wigging me out. Please pass the salt. (No, that isn't actually a non sequitur.)

2) It's about agency. I was recently amused/mortified to find this idiot (www.asylum.com/2009/12/.../steamy-erotic-final-fantasy-fan-fiction/) quoting several of my fanfics and claiming that the writer (whom he obviously assumed was male) was turning character A into a "promiscuous" slut on account of her "well-exposed cleavage". This totally ignored the fact that the fics focused on her hands and did not mention cleavage, and that every one of the fics, whether het or yuri, focused on characters doing things. Sexually or otherwise. In the het no less than the yuri or gen, the interest is in what each character is doing. Each. In yuri written by and for lesbians, you'll run into a lot of emphasis on the doings, not appearances. Whereas men writing f/f stuff seem to spend more time on appearances and receiving.

3) "being themselves". Amen and amen and amen. This is what I think a lot of writers-comfortable-writing-women write about: trying to get at who these characters are. "Female" is one part of that. But more importantly, "cranky intellectual who can turn those who annoy her to a pile of ash" or "gentle healer type who tends to let people push her around" or "mad scientist trickster thief who acts like she's on a permanent sugar high but is actually the one with the most sense in the party."

And, oh yeah, they have tits. Given. Seldom mentioned save in descriptions that include many other body parts.

So there's my incoherent off-the-cuff representation of at least one batch of women fanfic writers and how they write femmslash, or however that's spelled. (Yuri. F/F. Lesbians. Those make more sense to me.)
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[personal profile] copracat 2010-02-01 12:30 pm (UTC)(link)
the majority of which are supplied with cats

LOL! I hate that 'lesbians have cats' or 'lesbians have dogs' stereotype, too! As if no-one else in the world has pets.
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ramble ramble ramble oh god this shoots off in a random direction

[personal profile] miss_prince 2010-02-01 03:13 pm (UTC)(link)
"It's about agency."

I think... that's the crux of it, for me (although not necessarily the way you meant it). Femslash frequently involves taking women who had little to no agency in canon (did little to influence the plot, did little to direct the course of their lives) and gives them hold of the reins -- from "Why didn't she get to help fight the Big Bad? That's stupid! I'll write a fic where she does something awesome!" to "Why did she end up with him? He just kind of expected her to fall into his lap and she did! I'll write a fic where she not only says No Way, but also hooks up with this other woman who I like better than Main Guy anyway!"

It's not true of everyone's femslash experience; there are large fandoms for f/f between characters who had agency to begin with (see Xena). But for me, personally, seeing a female character given the nuanced and active portrayal she was never allowed in canon is intensely satisfying.

And I guess that's why I'm a little baffled by the "Why I Don't Write Women" arguments. Instead of saying "I can't stand this character because she embodies stereotype X," I tend to say "Wow, she was written pretty poorly. Let's see what backstory/behind-the-scenes stuff/inner thoughts I can come up with that make the stereotypical aspects of her make sense." But I suppose that takes a lot of focus that people are directing onto other characters.

I have to say, though, the best way to get more femslash and more fic about female characters is to write it. And I don't mean that in a "write it yourself!" way; I mean it in a... "if you build it, they will come" way. I could definitely stand to improve in that department. The easiest way to get people to see the potential I see in a character is to show them myself. And then maybe they'll be interested enough to write some, too.
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[personal profile] elf 2010-02-01 04:35 pm (UTC)(link)
I suppose the claim could be made that femslash fiction which somehow slips outside of the subcultural enclave could harm people who aren't its intended audience, by disseminating unrealistic depictions of queer female life outside the circle of those able to recognize it for what it is (auronlu seems to describe a case which could be described that way above). But then I'd invoke the "Christian defense of incest fic" argument

That's about how I think about it. I think that some harm is *possible*, and that should be kept in mind, but mitigating that harm is not best done by banning the stories; it's done by acknowledging their purpose. (Whatever that is. In the case of incest fic, it's not "to encourage incest;" in the case of unrealistic PWP femslash, it's not "to show how lesbians really are/want to be.")

whose premises of course you wouldn't find persuasive

Not so much "not persuasive" as "not relevant." What Christians do and don't find ethical and uplifting within their religious understandings of the world, is not my concern. Unless there's a hidden premise of "everyone should be Christian," I've got no disagreements with it.
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[personal profile] dharma_slut 2010-02-01 05:18 pm (UTC)(link)
"But I'm not sure I see how the lack of realism could cause harm to the majority of femslashers who are queer and female. Confuse them about their own experiences? "

It might insult their own experiences. Which, I think, is really the objection that most of the gay men have, who are objecting to slash right now. When one's identity is involved, it's difficult to tell the difference between an insult and an injury...

Now that someone has mentioned it, I realise that I have never written a cat into any of my dyke fics. Hmm!
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