Musings in the Dark: Feminism & Fanfiction (1)


Feminism & Fanfiction (1)

Denny Upkins asked me to write an article for his LJ page, The Chronicle.  I struggled about possible content, especially since I'm in a creative slump.  But then I thought again about how all of this came to be.  I'm also thinking that I'll continue exploring these themes in future blog posts.  Thanks, Denny, for the opportunity to share my opinions with you and your readers.

The article is entitled "Feminism, Fanfiction & a Sexy Beast."  Due to its length, I have it broken up into two parts.  Here is Part One.

I’ve been writing fanfic since I was a teenage girl.  Anyone who has read my blog knows what writing means to me and how serious I am about my craft.  I’ve always used fanfic as a medium to play around with characterization, plot devices, and deviant sexual subjects.  Probably 75% of my writing contains strong overtones and a dark, consistent theme weaves its way through much of my work, be it fanfic or original fiction.  Fanfiction is a way for me to work things out; to tap into the innermost corners of my heart and mind and attempt to resolve the things that go bump in the darkest nights of my soul.  I have a lot of fans who have supported me in these efforts because they can relate to what I say.  I’ve made some real connections with some of these women, and I’m still associated with them today.

Obviously, I’m a woman and I write from a woman’s perspective, so I am intrigued to come across fanfiction that shows situations through the eyes of another.  When I first started reading m/m slashfic, I admit to being uncomfortable, but that changed as I matured and began to appreciate the writing and storytelling on its merits.  A lot of women—an awful lot—write slash, and I’ve always felt it to be inauthentic because, well…they’re not men or don’t identify as men.  I really don’t believe they fully understand what they’re writing, and it shows in the storytelling.  Reading commentary on m/m slashfic was an eye-opener.  I was stunned to see female slash fans vehemently berate male slash authors. 

I don’t understand why a woman feels like she can tell a man how to write about relationships—sex or otherwise—between men.  I don’t understand why some male authors are derided for exploring gay or bisexual characterizations in fanfic, when women do it all the time and manage to escape exceptionally harsh criticism.  If I use fanfiction to explore aspects of my own sexuality, then why can’t a man, be he gay, straight, or bisexual, use the same forum for the same reasons?  What right does anyone—especially so-called "authors"—have to censor or insult writers who use fanfic the same way I do?  Especially in the fanfiction realm, where nobody gets paid for their writing.  

I do understand that when you write a story and you post it for others to read, you’re inviting criticism and judgment because that’s just the nature of the beast.  That, however, does not give others the right to try and shame, embarrass or insult the author for expressing their viewpoint.  Readers may not understand or share the same views, but by no means does that give them carte blanche to force their opinions on the author.


On February 21, 2010, I started writing a Star Trek Mirrorverse fanfic entitled “Sexy Beast.”  Sexy Beast is a story about a woman’s (Nyota Uhura) sexual awakening and the realization of her true identity. Uhura is thrust into the Mirrorverse, a place of madness, murder and mayhem; where women are property and men are vicious, violent sexual predators.  Uhura is held captive by Commander Spock, who is multi-layered: selfish and flawed, passionate and fairly decent (by comparison) whose need for balance is found in the woman he kidnapped on a whim.

Uhura is not so accommodating.  Due to the raw, misogynistic nature of the Mirrorverse, she gets involved with Spock in a most unconventional manner, in spite of her frustration and rage at her situation.  Uhura realizes that she has submissive tendencies, and Spock, in dom mode, brought them to the surface.  Situations ensue and Uhura comes to understand that the woman she believed herself to be is not the woman she really is, and that her life in the Realverse, staid by comparison, was merely a sham perpetuated by myth.  She becomes more of a woman in the Mirrorverse than she could have ever been in the universe she was taken from and is conflicted about returning to.  Uhura’s presence on board the ISS-E is a catalyst for a great many things, including mutiny and a change in the Mirrorverse’s regime; something Captain Kirk encouraged of Spock at the conclusion of “Mirror, Mirror.”

There are very strong scenes of dubious consensual sex and situations.  In Chapter 7, “Push,” such a scene took place which led to a firestorm of debate on what women find sexually appealing.  Trolls took exception to my depiction of Spock’s chastisement of Uhura and called it rape.  Anyone with any familiarity of D/s culture recognized the subtle clues that led up to the scene and understood it for what it was.  Spock being a tactile telepath made the situation even more questionable for those who did not and could not comprehend the power balance between a dominant and a submissive.  Others were similarly dissatisfied with said chapter, but there was overwhelming support for what I was trying to convey.  I was lambasted for “Push,” which represented a very dark turning point, and chapter 10, “Come Together,” when Uhura begins to understand the power she has over Spock. 
“This story offends me as a woman. Uhura would never have accepted Spock's treatment of her, and the fact that he rapes her just makes it worse. Women are second class citizens in this story and I am deeply disturbed by your portrayals of said characters. I don't want to read a fic where women are treated as property... You are sending a terrible message about gender equality and the treatment of women.”

This from a woman who only read the chapter in question.  I am of the suspicion that she is a NuTrekkie, a fan of the 2009 reboot; meaning she has absolutely no concept of the Mirrorverse and how women are treated over there.  Anyone who has seen and studied “Mirror, Mirror” as extensively as I have knew the world Roddenberry was describing within the limits he was allowed to do so.  It was the 1960s and Gene slipped enough past network censors that those of us sensitive to such things understood the tone of the world he created, and I merely filled in the blanks as I saw them.  I might add that there was no gun or potassium chloride-filled syringe to said troll’s head forcing her to read this story; in fact, I believe she read chapter 7--and only chapter 7--on the encouragement of another troll.

“Okay, I just read the story. And I have to say that as a woman, I am deeply disturb by this fic. Spock rapes Uhura, yet he comes out as being the good guy and the leader of a female movement? I'm sorry, but if I was Uhura, I would of kicked Spock's ass a long time ago. That or kill myself, kill the baby, ANYTHING to let Spock know that him and no other man does not control me.”
Another troll felt that I needed to be educated on what rape is; even though I am very familiar with the term.  She also felt that I was sending the wrong message to young girls, except she never made clear what that message was.  This in spite of the fact that my story came with multiple warnings from jump, and my LJ blog is covered by an adult content page.  I cannot control who’s reading my work, I’ve never censored myself, and I’m certainly not about to start.  When said troll (who created a LJ account the day “Push” was uploaded; again on the suggestion of a troll who got blocked) was challenged by me and my readers about this very thing, she backpedaled and painted herself into a corner she could not get out of.  I made it clear that I was going to finish Sexy Beast, and if her intent was to censor me or shame me into stopping, she was not going to be successful.  My readers were not nearly as calm about it as I was:

“Ain't nobody forcing them to read this or any other fanfic story...Folks need to actually HEED warnings and ratings and take responsibility for THEIR actions for a damn change.”

“Who are we to tell another writer how to write their story? If you don't like something then don't bother with it.”

If you feel like this story is inappropriate, that’s fine.  But for you to sit and tell the other audience members that they are wrong for liking it, then stop reading.”

“Why does this author need to be educated on her story?  If you don’t like it, don’t read it.”

“There’s a tiny little X-box in the upper right-hand corner of one’s computer that, when you click it, everything goes away.  Feel free to use it at any time.”

“I don’t understand the controversy.  With all of the fanfiction out there, with all kinds of dark or disturbing themes, I don’t understand why some people feel the need to “educate” this writer and the rest of us on an alternate viewpoint.  I am an adult and I can think and choose what to read.  If someone does not like where this story is going, DO NOT READ IT and let the rest of us enjoy this FICTION without all of the condescending critical pronouncements.  Freedom of speech is a real right that everyone should respect.  Give it a try.” 

The following trolls attacked my fanbase by saying that any woman who thought that what Uhura went through or what Spock did was sexy and appealing was stupid and wrong for liking it.  

“You give off this illusionment of female power, when there is none what so ever. And what is even more disturbing is that your female readers see no problem with this at all.”

"Will SOMEONE PLEASE explain to me why all you readers seem to think that a rapist is somehow the Susan B. Anthony of this fic? Are all of you REALLY that stupid?"

And some of my very vocal, very loyal readers blasted right back:

“I mean, one chick even called us STUPID on FF for daring not to agree with her and liking the story and this was after she'd read a few chapters including the one you issued a SPECIFIC warning about.

“Within the parameters of this, ahem, FICTIONAL UNIVERSE, which may or may not reflect *our* reality, I can see Nyota's POV. Some of us *would* choose to go back, for various reasons, and some would choose to stay (if, indeed, there were even a choice).  Either way, if the previous reviewer has an opinion as to the opinions of other readers, perhaps implying that the other readers are stupid is not a good way to sell his/her point.  Carry on, Pinkie.”

“I am really getting tired of people that don't like this fic calling or implying that the rest of us who do like it, stupid or whatever. There are thousands of stories out there to read, if you don't like this one, find another one and leave this writer and the rest of us ALONE.”

The questions that arose from this are what do women find sexy and appealing, and who has the right to decide what any woman should find erotic and sexy.  Trolls claiming to be feminists were criticizing my readers and me because our viewpoints on what’s sexy and desirable did not line up with their own.  One in particular tried to insinuate that we should all find the same things sexy, even though we’re all different women.  Last I checked, one of the cornerstones of feminism is for a woman to have the freedom to make her own choices.

Quite a few of my readers agreed:

“I love how folks are trying to school us dumb wimminz on what we SHOULD find hawt. I thought part of feminism was about each woman defining that for OURSELVES! And guess what? What tickles one's fancy may not do ish for another. What sets off the skyrockets for one another may be horrified at.”

“I find it highly ironic that feminists are questioning how other women dare to define for ourselves (and that is what we're doing. No one is making us like this story. We're actually deciding that for our very own selves) what we find sexy.”

“Wow!  I believe Nyota is saying what a lot of women think but are afraid to say.  You are truly a gifted writer.”

“Not only is this a good story, but some of us are SICK of other mofos daring to define and try to SHAME us into accepting THEIR version of sexy and not allowing us to define that for ourselves. And it's ironic that those who are doing so are doing it under the rubrik of feminist thinking.”

“Isn't one of the tenets of the feminist movement is the freedom for a woman to make her own choices and to define herself by her own terms? It amazes me how so many folks were up in arms over this story. The subject matter is dark to be sure but I welcome it.”

“And for those of you for whom this fic offends your feminist sensibilities, remember you ain't gotta read any of it. I don't understand folks reading through the whole thing, hanging around to read updates only to slam it AND its readership. Feel free to peruse more "uplifting" fare here at... But don't insult those of us who are enjoying this.”

No woman has the right to tell another woman that she is wrong for what she finds sexy.  Plenty of women found Spock and Uhura’s D/s dynamic extraordinarily sexy.  Plenty of women didn’t.  Lots of women enjoyed the intense encounters.  Lots of women didn’t.  Some of the women liked the rough stuff, and some lied about liking it (IMHO).  The point is that they can decide for themselves which way they swing.  No woman has the right to force her sexuality on another woman.  No woman should think she has the power to try and control the sexuality of another woman.  And most certainly, no woman has the right to insult and belittle the intelligence and desires of other women who are of a different mindset.  We can decide for ourselves what turns us on and what gets us off.  And for a lot of us, dubious consent does exactly that.  

In spite of my single-mindedness and laser-like focus on finishing my fic, I took a few moments to privately inbox an interloper who thought it acceptable to call me an “ignorant fucking bitch” after I called them out.  I let them know that while they could call me any name they liked and anything they wanted, they had absolutely no right at all to affront my readers, and that I would not put up it.  I then not-so-politely encouraged them to stop reading and get the fuck off my LJ page; and just to be sure, I banned them to keep them from coming back.  The women reading Sexy Beast encouraged and applauded me for telling the story of a woman’s realization of her sexual self, in spite of the backlash I received.

“Pink, keep writing, keep telling your story.  There’s a lot of truth and wisdom in it.”

“I'm sick of folks who think that because we don't think like they do we are some idjit wimminz (and a lot of us are DARKIES too?! Lawd, we MUST be morons!) who must be schooled. Some ol' White Feminist Burden shit! And they're employing the same methods as the eevul patriarchy they rail against so much, trying to shame women into what they think of as an acceptable sexuality conforming to THEIR views of acceptable desire and acceptable expression of desire. It's simply instead of trying to force us into being the proverbial "good girls" like Uhura read about in her romance novels and what she'd been fed growing up, they're trying to make us believe that there is a politically correct sexuality and desire that we should adhere to as if sexuality is completely cut and dried. As if human beings are.”

“I can't believe I am going to write this, just goes to show how excellent you are at manipulating reader's emotions lol (I don't mean that as an insult). But this Uhura needs to stay, she is no longer the Uhura that arrived, she is mirror Uhura without the evil that comes with it. This Mirror universe is more grey than is normally portrayed, and so everyone is not all out and out evil, what Spock did is utterly wrong but under the parameters of the world he lives in it was mild...He is in a world where if you want something you just take it, however he recognises the immorality of what he did which does not make him evil. So even tho if it was me I would flee the first chance I get back to 'normality' this Uhura seems happy where she is, if she had been stuck there accidentally and the same things occurred I suspect she would stay.”

I like how Uhura's experiences have led to her discovering a part of herself that would have been unknown to the sort of academic and then professional overachiever that she'd have to be to be assigned to the Enterprise. She is an intelligent and sophisticated woman but the way you write her we can imagine her on the "good girl" track from the time she was a child so her naiveté is believable. (Spock is in some ways the same, parental pressure, his sense of duty and career track are odds with him discovering his true nature.) Glad she decided that she wasn't bad or dirty. You added the psychological exposition to the story deftly. Her musings on submission and domination show us her changing attitudes, her motivation and educates the reader while avoiding the unintentional hilarity of badfic (an all too common problem with this genre).”

“Very intriguing. I love how you've allowed Nyota to maintain her soul while still recognizing she has to any means available...
The 'girl's club' was a fascinating aspect. They couldn't let Nyota in until she really became one of them. And that Nyota was able to delve into her own psyche and see that she does have a ‘deviant’ side that really isn't all that deviant and having her set aside her 'romance' novels and accepting real life was a brilliant move.”

“I want to say that I think you’re doing a FANTASTIC job with this fic.  It raises a lot of interesting points and I seriously think there should be a book club-type discussion at the conclusion.”

“I love the character of Uhura.  I think she’s a strong woman and I’d hate to see her make a foolish decision just because she thinks she’ll never find another man that can ring her chimes like Mirror Spock.  At the same time, I know there are no easy answers here.  Plus, this is YOUR fic, and I will definitely respect (and most likely love) whatever direction you choose to go with it.  Keep up the good work!!!”

...continued in Part Two

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