This section presents and discusses the results of why slash is appealing. These reasons are presented in terms of the overall group and then again with the whole group divided into four age groups. Following this, commonly reported and less commonly reported reasons are presented and discussed. This section is titled the attractions of slash as the results clearly showed that there are many reasons. The final part of this section offers a suggestion of how Internet slash communities can help women explore sexuality.
5.1 Analysis of Results
The attractiveness of the slash genre is based on various elements. A list of reasons mentioned by respondents was drawn up and the number of people mentioning that particular reason was noted. This gives an overall idea of the ideas that most came to mind when responding to this question. A number of respondents mentioned that they liked slash for many reasons and yet only mentioned one or two. Thus, it is likely that there are other reasons they just did not report at this time. This may have been due to people either not being fully aware of all the reasons they like slash, or not wanting to take the time to write them all out. It is a limitation of open-ended questionnaires that respondents may not take the time to list all of their reasons. However, the use of a pre-determined check list of possible ideas would have imposed a bias by focusing respondents' attention to those reasons and was therefore not used at this stage.
Therefore, the following summary of reasons reflects only those that tended to be reported at this time. It is not likely to be a true reflection of the percentages of slashers who identify these reasons as why they like slash. It is possible that if all these reasons were presented in a list, many slashers would identify some of them as being some of their own reasons, too. In that case, the percentages would be higher than they are here. A future questionnaire could present such a list and gain a better idea of the percentages.
Table 6 shows the most commonly reported reasons for liking slash and the percentages of people mentioning that reason. Calculating such percentages, however, tends to mask the variety of slashers who enjoy slash for opposite reasons. For example, some slashers like the feminization of males whereas others dislike it. Some slashers like the fact that they do not put any of themselves in their fictions, whereas others mentioned that they do. Therefore, when reading Table 6 it should be kept in mind that this is not meant to offer a stereotypical description of why slashers enjoy the genre, rather it is intended to show common ground between many slashers of many different profiles.
Percentages will add up to more than 100 because more that one reason was often given by the same person. In order to see if there were any differences in responses between the ages, the overall findings were broken down into four age groups: under 16, 16-20, 21-25, and over 25. Since only about 20% of the respondents were over 25, all ages groups above this were combined into one so that the number of people in the group would make the percentages more meaningful. Eight percent of all respondents did not answer the question why they liked slash.
Table 6: Reported reasons for liking slash across four age groups
|Age group||All||Under 16||16-20||21-25||Over 25|
|Sex / hot / pornography||27||17||20||39||44|
|Emotion / love||26||17||24||31||34|
|Freedom - sexual, gender, norm||23||29||23||22||22|
|Character / relationship||20||17||19||19||22|
|Good writing / stories||17||19||16||19||15|
|Extend text / express self||11||5||12||15||15|
The reasons are listed in Table 6 in order of the percentages of respondents overall who mentioned it. However, the percentages are close enough together that it is possible that the order occurred by chance in this study. Therefore, the interpretation of this finding is that all of the top five can be considered as the main reasons the participants like slash. The reasons are presented and discussed in more detail below.
5.2 Commonly Reported Reasons
In this section, the reasons are divided in to common (more than 10% of the total) and uncommon reasons as reported in the results of this study. As mentioned earlier, it should be noted that at this stage this division may only represent the difference between reasons that easily came to mind versus those that did not. Therefore, even reasons in the division of 'Less Commonly Reported Reasons' may in future be identified by more people as being reasons they like slash.
5.2.1 Sex / hot / pornography
Leitenberg and Henning (1995:470) define sexual fantasy as "almost any mental imagery that is sexually arousing or erotic to the individual." This can include passing thoughts or elaborate stories. They state that:
"[...] one's brain is at least as important a sexual organ as one's genitals. What humans think about can either enhance or inhibit sexual responsivity to any form of sensory stimulation, and, in the absence of any physical stimulation, sexual fantasy alone is arousing." (469)
They conclude from their review of research literature on sexual fantasy that such fantasies are an essential part of human existence. Furthermore, that sexual problems may result from guilt about sexual fantasy or lack of sexual fantasy altogether. Lack of sexual fantasies is considered to be one of the defining characteristics of the sexual disorder described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd ed., rev.; DSM-III-R; American Psychiatric Association, 1987, cited in Leitenberg & Henning, 1995) as 'inhibited sexual desire'. Sexual fantasies have long been argued to be a normal form of sexual stimulation (Singer, 1966, cited in Leitenberg & Henning, 1995).
Jenkins (1992) points out that although sex is often described in slash stories, the emphasis centers on the emotional quality of the union rather than the physical sensations. Sex becomes a way through which characters are expressed and the relationship is a meaningful one rather than a depersonalized act. Russ (1985, cited in Jenkins, 1992) argues that slash gives women the chance to write and read about emotionally satisfying sexual relationships without sacrificing freedom, adventure and humanity. Such an experience is typically unavailable in commercial pornography. This enjoyment of the mental aspect of sex expressed well by one of the respondents who wrote:
"I just want to say that I don't really read slash for the "hot M/M-sex" thing, I read it for the "mental" part of the sex, the attraction." (R176)
The current study showed that sex was one of the main reasons for enjoying slash reading and writing. It was interesting to note that only about 30% of respondents specifically mentioned that sex was one of the reasons they enjoyed slash. However, over 80% of respondents mentioned that their reading preferences included the R or NC-17 ratings (see Table 3). A possible explanation for this finding is that there are reasons that attract readers to the higher ratings other than sex. This was hinted at in the following quote:
"I like them all, but I am a sucker for the higher ratings, because that's where all the good stuff happened - and I don't just mean sex." (R230)
Further research would need to question readers and writers what aspects of the higher ratings stories interests them. Of those who did identify sex as a reason for enjoying slash, the following responses to the question demonstrate enjoyment of slash for sexual reasons:
"2 hot guys fucking each other... need I say more?" (R32)
"Occasionally, I read it for pornography purposes." (R78)
"It's hot, it's emotionally satisfying, it's very intense, and it's often well-written and explores favourite characters." (R33)
"Good/realistic sex (too many stories don't include lube)." (R37)
"Besides, it's hot." (R219)
"2 hot guys (or girls sometimes...prefer m/m) going at it...does that really need explaining? If it does..*shrug* I dunno...there's something highly sexy about the whole situation." (R55)
"Plus, I love smut mainly for fantasizing purposes." (R231)
"[...] not to mention the sheer hotness of it!" (R241)
"Also, getting very superficial here, what's better than one semi-naked man but two semi-naked men??" (R75)
"I enjoy slash because the m/m pairing turns me on[...]" (R81)
"[...] but mostly because the idea of two male naked hobbits having sex is a complete turn-on for me..." (R86)
"Anyway, I've thought about it sometimes and have found out that I like it because I don't have a sexual life so I need to read erotica to satisfy my needs. I enjoy sex very much, and it feels good to read about sex too. But whenever I'm with a man I don't feel the need to read slash (or het, anyway). Not so strongly, I mean. And I believe, also, that people who are a little (or much) shy or something like it, just like myself, have the need to break loose someway. I mean, I adore sex, but I'm way too shy when I do it, so I need to imagine hot scenes, and so on." (R88)
"Men are good. More men are better. If those men are naked, it's better still. If they are naked and having sex, well...that can't be beat. I also don't like women. O.o; I don't want to read about women having sex, it's not appealing to me, even if she is with a man." (R96)
"There's the sex. I like reading sex, because it can turn me on. And in that respect I enjoy both (fem)slash and het, or combinations of those. And since I like to imagine what I read (or occasionally write), I chose pairings that I find sexually attractive to see. I don't care how well you write Gandalf/Gimli, but that's just not an image I want in my head." (R182)
"I really get off on two handsome blokes fucking each other. It gives me lots of ideas for my own fantasy life." (R124)
The last quote shows that not only is slash a way to express sexual ideas, but it can also be used to get ideas. Thus, interaction with slash stories is not a one way expression of sexuality.
5.2.2. Emotion / love
The importance of emotion in fan fiction writing in general and in slash writing may reflect the way in which women read texts. Bleich (1986) conducted a study in which men and women were asked to retell a story. The sample was a random selection of written accounts of 50 men and 50 women from 120 college freshmen who were told to retell a story as fully and accurately as they could. The results revealed that men tended to retell the story in terms of the chronological sequence of events mentioning the actions of the main characters as they related to the events unfolding to the conclusion. In contrast, women retold the story in terms of an affective experience in which inferences could be drawn. For example, they retold not only what had happened but inferred what emotion the character must have been feeling. Thus, the men focused on the facts while the women included more regard for the human relationships. De Jong (2002) mentions that mass cultural products are often produced by men, for men and therefore focus on action based plots in which the emotional relation between the characters is secondary. Fan fiction becomes a way in which women can bring the emotional side of the story to the foreground.
Jenkins (1992) points out that one of the ways in which fan fiction writers rework a story is to intensify the emotion of the original story. He states writers enjoy this:
"Because fan reading practices place such importance on issues of character motivation and psychology, fans often emphasize moments of narrative crisis. Fans relish episodes where relationships are examined, especially those where characters respond in a caring fashion to the psychological problems, professional turning points, personality conflicts, and physical hurts of other characters:" (174).
This practice of emotional intensification is particularly evident in the hurt/comfort genre of writing. The element of angst in the stories allows writers to express their own compassion for the characters and to work through the personality conflicts that fans are intrigued by. Such reworking of the story also gives writers the opportunity to question the cultural norm of the in control, stoic, patriarchal heroes and show them as having limitations and being vulnerable. Such heroes are be reworked into more emotional characters (Jenkins, 1992).
The Lord of the Rings story provides slashers with ample opportunity for participation for two major reasons. Firstly, most of the cast are male. This provides a rich base for slash writers to explore the emotional relationship between many characters in the LOTR universe. Secondly, in terms of the Lord of the Rings fandom, an emotional side of the story is already strongly represented alongside of the action plot. For example, the portrayal and development of the emotional relationships between Frodo and Sam, and Legolas and Gimli are integral parts of the movie that could have been omitted if the focus were purely on the action of getting the ring to the final destination. The cast of the movies mention the emotional aspects of their characters on the official home page. (see http://www.lordoftherings.net/index_cast.html). This may explain why there are several sites devoted to LOTR fan fiction and a considerable number of slash sites and discussion groups in this fandom.
In the current study, emotion and love and characterization have a considerable amount of overlap. Some respondents mentioned both aspects in their responses. Emotions such as angst and humor were specifically mentioned in some cases. The following quotes show how several slash writers valued emotion in their reading and writing:
"Lots of reasons. Whilst there are certain pairings and fandoms I prefer a well written story can take you away like a good book can. I particularly like stories that are centred around the emotions of the characters." (R265)
"It can be anything; funny and raunchy or sweet or sexy and tender and some of the stories have just broken my heart." (R20)
"It's hot, it's emotionally satisfying, it's very intense, and it's often well-written and explores favourite characters." (R33)
"Anyone who can give me pleasant daydreams, or make me laugh, gets bonus points." (R93)
"The humour and the wit (let me clarify: I like slash where relationships are established and are secondary to the plot of the "actual" story. I like a lot of witty humour in slash, and I really don't care for sex scenes in the fics)."(R61)
"Now, however, it's more that I find author's get into deeper views (for lack of a better word) of emotions and society with slash than a shallow het romance. (nothing against het writers! And not all slash does that...) That's not to say that slash fluff isn't great... it's just... cute! And seeing a softer side of masculinity (I'm an m/m slash reader/writer almost 99% of the time...)." (R64)
"Usually slash is more emotional than het because men tend to bottle up their emotions longer than women do." (R70)
"It's emotional, in most cases, and very touching. The physical's good, too, but it's the emotional aspect that draws me since slash usually goes into feelings a bit more. Usually." (R71)
"That's a hard one really (absolutely no pun intended!) I like m/m slash more than f/f, and I think may be its because as men are seen as the un-emotional, kind of un-sensitive kind, I find it really nice or romantic when they show emotion towards each other, be it friendship or love or whatever you want. It kind of makes it more special if they do it towards another man, instead of women." (R75)
"In truth, it's just the thought of two guys I find attractive (either from movies -- with an image in my head) or from books (with a general idea of their character and personality) being in love, being close to each other." (R111)
"That's a very good question. What I die for it is the emotional connections between the characters in slash. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a nice PWP as much as the next person...but I simply melt over those 15-chapter-long angsty fics that end with only the pairing's first kiss. It's about denial and it's about acceptance, it's about not wanting to admit to part of yourself that you can't hide, even from yourself. It's about eroticism and pushing the barriers and breaking taboos...it's about submission and role playing and licking, about "yes"es and "no"s. It's lovely, really. It's about being in love and love making you go too far, and keep going, about what love does to people. It's about breaking and healing and forgiveness and pleasure...And it makes me go "guh!" :)" (R121)
"Now, this will be long. First, the fact that it's...easy. And second, that you can do whatever you want. Easy because, well, creating sexual tension between two fictional characters is hard. It takes hundreds and hundreds of pages of characterization; they have to feel real... I've always said, "A good writer is someone who can make the reader feel things for the characters, and a great writer is someone who can make the characters feel things for each other." So, take someone else's characters and they have already done that for you. They are already established, the reader will see the name "Aragorn" and know the person behind the name, and I, as a writer won't have to spend all those pages to make him/her believe in him. And when we have that, well then sexual tension comes very easily. And sexual tension is beautiful. Reading something and feeling it is a wonderful thing. Then, as for the "do whatever you want"... That is something that definitely draw me to this sub-culture. Because... when I first started reading slash... I discovered such a huge sense of freedom; you can do the sickest, most weird things, and you are allowed to do them, you can pour down your most bizarre fantasies and make them a story about... about LotR characters! However stupid this might sound, slash has become a way for me to express myself and my feelings in a way I feel I have been craving for a long, long time. I have finally found something that I've been looking for, it satisfies a strange kind of hunger that I have inside me. I cannot express myself much more clearly than that. ...And there is also, well, I just want to say that I don't really read slash for the "hot M/M-sex" thing, I read it for the "mental" part of the sex, the attraction. A well written story makes me feel, I feel it deep down in my stomach and in my heart, and I just... so desperately need to feel. And to write, then - it's everything I've just said, just a hundred times more intense, you become these people, you feel what they feel... And yes, while that could be said about any kind of writing, slash fanfic just makes it... so much more easy. *breathes out* Do you need more?" (R176)
"Now beside sex (and more particular to slash) I have a fascination with male vulnerability. Either emotional (hurt/comfort fic) or physical (dark/kink fic). And this why (I think) more "feminine" characters get slashed a lot (Legolas, Frodo), because they "invite" that vulnerability. This is then even enhanced by making it sexual, because male/male sex is such a taboo for most males (because it implies submissiveness and therefore feminization (which is one of the greatest taboos in society today, I believe) it takes an emotional step (or leap in some cases) to get there. And this where the plot comes in. For example, I've read Frodo get assaulted, beat up, raped, injured, sick, survive amateur surgery or be in any other kind of peril more times than I can count (and that is even on top of the inherent vulnerability of hobbits (because of their size) when slashed with "big folk"). But in the end his intended slash partner will be there to make it all right." (R182)
5.2.3 Character / Relationship
The category of character/relationship is similar to emotion/love in the sense that emotions between the characters in the relationship are important. However, in this category, it is a particular a pairing that respondents mentioned. Thus, it is not just emotion between any characters, but specific ones the slasher is attracted to.
"Good characterisation--they have to act like themselves. I doubt Merry is going to get into a spanking fit with Pippin, sorry." (R37)
"[...] the characters, if I think they really go together then I enjoy reading about them." (R196)
"[...] and the fantasy of my favorite characters in relationships." (R234)
"I like fic more for the specific pairing than only for the fact that it includes homosexuality. If a pairing I see intrigues me, then I read it. Or I write it." (R91)
"I like seeing my favorite characters (mostly male) get together." (R113)
"I also really like imagining all the dynamics of the relationships between characters that I fancy!" (R124)
"I only like m/m pairings and have never been able to read a f/f pairing regardless of whether I like the characters or not. What attracts me to slash are the dynamics and interaction between two hot men. But I have to be in love with the characters to enjoy it. I only read slash with my favourite pairings depending on my current obsession." (R139)
The last quote shows an interesting point that even if the characters are attractive, many women do not want to read f/f pairings. Others also pointed out that they preferred to read m/m pairings. This preference for male pairings is also reflected in the fact that the majority of stories archived in the Library of Moria are based on male pairings.
Lamb and Veith (1986, cited in Jenkins, 1992) suggested that the media does not provide enough examples of autonomous female characters for women writers to borrow, therefore, they chose the more readily available male characters. Heilbrun (1979, cited in Jenkins, 1992) analysis of women's homoerotic fiction showed that female writers usually declined to work with the few strong female characters that were available, but rather projected themselves onto male protagonists. However, Jenkins (1992) argues that within the media there are some strong female characters and that these have been included in fan fiction about heterosexual relationships. Furthermore, he points to a growing number of lesbian stories in which the traditional masculine / feminine traits are spread across the characters rather than having one being purely masculine and the other feminine.
5.2.4 Freedom - sexual freedom, social freedom and gender freedom
Many writers mentioned the freedom in slash was attractive. This freedom could be in terms of sexual freedom with any relationship and any activities within it. Some writers mentioned that the social freedom from established norms was appealing. Other writers mentioned gender freedom from stereotypical heterosexual character trait expectations and gender power relations was a reason they enjoyed slash.
"It has no boundaries." (R150)
"I like slash because it's different and enjoyable." (R46)
"Possibly also because society views it as a taboo and everyone seems to secretly love taboos." (R220)
"I like romance when you don't expect to see it, considering the still somewhat backward views of this supposedly modern society. I like novelty, seeing someone else's interesting twist on things." (R10)
"The open-mindedness of the writers; the fact that just about anything can happen in a slash story (there are no social or physical restraints); the idea of people falling in love with personalities and not bodies." (R58)
"It's something a little taboo, a little different, and when written properly has amazing erotic possibilities..." (R73)
"I like the fact that between two men there aren't the normal stereotypes that you get in het couples." (R94)
"Complete and total freedom with a person's sexuality. I don't feel that love and attraction are a set thing, as in a sexual orientation." (R97)
"The way it can portray men as being less afraid of their emotions and feelings for others. Most people I've met lately all seem to be very restrictive to what they show to others of themselves, especially men. The idea of 'image' swamps any personal feelings that could be explored, and so there is little acknowledgement of possible feelings for the same sex - and a lot of homophobia, (which doesn't help in producing a social environment where you can be open about these things, and so the cycle goes on...) It's very refreshing to get away from all that, or at least to read a story where the issue is actually explored rather than pushed to the sidelines and ignored." (R226)
"I feel very sexually open and think that slash embodies that feeling. I am attracted to a wide variety of people, and these stories create such a sexually free environment in which all of these relationships are possible." (R212)
"This will require some explaining... Among my friends I am known as being one to openly support homosexual relationships...I'm always the first to give someone a hard time for using the word gay inappropriately...that having been said...I find it odd that I think that one of the main reasons I am drawn to slash is the social "wrongness", the feeling that the characters are doing something bad. Beyond that, I think it goes without saying that I would rather read about two people that I am sexually attracted to than about a man and a woman." (R181)
"I don't like it better than certain het pairings necessarily; it's just that in slash, the two people concerned tend to be on equal ground and can be frankly and wantonly sexual with each other without it seeming like one is slutty, or forceful, or weak-willed, or anything like that. It's rare to find that in het pairings." (R5)
"It's got a whole different tone than het. Men interact with other men in a far different way than with women; same goes for women with women." (R35)
"The way that people are infinitely more comfortable with the same sex than they could ever be with a different sex, because of the nature of understanding." (R21)
"I was given the message that men just use women for sex, so reading and writing about men having sex lets me enjoy the sexuality without feeling like one is using the other. There is no power abuse." (R40)
"It also plays with structures of power. Power is a male quality and when two (or more) males come together it can create wonderful exciting friction to read, which can readily be sexualised. This to me gives slash the added advantage over het fic." (R182)
"What I love about slash is the sense that the story is about two people, rather than about two walking gender stereotypes. (I am aware that a lot of slash is actually more stereotyped than gen romance, but I don't tend to read that stuff: my favourite stories and pairings are completely unclear as to who the dominant partner is.) And I like how a transgressive pairing can be used to justify both random PWP smut, and fairly complex psychological studies in which the characters must confront their own expectations and prejudices." (R184)
"The fact of there are no (or less) roles defined by sex of the people, I think... I read heterosexual fics too, but less." (R3)
"I like the idea of men together, not necessarily just sexually (though, definitely that too), but the idea of exploring what men do in relationships without the "filter" of a female perspective." (R195)
"I enjoy seeing two beautiful men together, with no complications of women between them. Even though I like women, they tend to have many more emotional hang ups than me do, being more complex, more two-faced. This is what makes women interesting. But men tend to have more streamlined minds, more focused on one thing at a time. This is also why I prefer male pairings more than female pairings, though I do like threesomes on occasion." (R248)
5.2.5 Good writing
Many of the respondents reported that the quality of the writing was a reason they enjoyed slash. This could be in terms of the plot or just the quality of descriptions. The following quotes illustrate the readers' appreciation for good writing:
"Emotions are better described." (R47).
"Most of it is well written because less 10 year olds who suck aren't trying to write it than in the het genre and so there is less chance for a terrible fanfic. Also, I usually can see the subtext better than most people try to proclaim over the heterosexual relationships." (R48)
"[...] it's generally of a higher quality than het [...]" (R57)
"Some slash I like because it's sweet and well written." (R78)
"Also, most of the really good writers in the LotR fanfiction fandom write mostly, if not all, slash, so the good writing definitely helps!" (R126)
"I think part of its appeal is the lack of equally good het fic. The slash is better; not just the sex, or relationships. Even the non-smut stuff tends to be more interesting and better written." (R235)
"Another thing about writing slash that is appealing to me is that it really broadens the horizons of a story. With slash, it isn't all "boy and girl fall in love". It makes plots so much more out of the ordinary, which is something I value in all writing." (R155)
"I need decent writing skills. I spend all day long showing students how to construct a complete sentence and how to have internal number agreement. I lose the flow of a story if I am constantly cringing at poorly written work. It drives me completely up the wall when a story has been beta read and still has mistakes." (R10)
5.2.6 Extend text / Express self
The reason of extending the text and/or expressing oneself includes the use of a number of ways in which Jenkins (1992) describes fan fiction writers rework texts (These are briefly outlined here, see p. 162-177 of Jenkins for full descriptions). These include:
The following quotes illustrate the desire to see texts reworked in a number of ways mentioned above. Obviously for slash writing, the element of eroticization features prominently.
"Mostly the sex (I enjoy picturing two gorgeous men doing the nasty!) but I also enjoy seeing other peoples answers to all the unanswered questions of what happens that we don't see on screen." (R262)
"The freedom to explore but with a framework (characters and setting) that's already set. Makes it easier to explore when I have some guidelines, rather than writing a new story. Also, reading is fun because I know and love the characters and slash helps to keep reading about them in new settings and in different contexts. It fulfills a certain fantasy or opens up the possibility of new fantasies that you can't have in the original work, or in real life, for that matter." (R246)
"There are endless reasons. The beauty of love overcoming all obstacles, getting to know our favorite characters on a deeper level than they are portrayed in canon, the joy of the freedom of speech that slash allows, not to mention the sheer hotness of it!" (R241)
"I like being able to make my favorite characters do all the things they can't on prime time TV." (R98)
"The total freedom of the genre. Who cares if those two male characters will *never* sleep together in the real movie/book/TV show? When you read slash, they can and will. Anything is possible. And of course, there's nothing lovelier than a meaningful relationship based on total subtext. :-)" (R131)
"The craziness of the positions the characters are in, and how well it fits into certain parts of the movies. It's unbelievable!:)" (R114)
"I enjoy slash because the m/m pairing turns me on, and also because it's wonderful to be able to read and write about certain characters whom you wish had gotten together, or in whom you saw slashy overtones." (R81)
"Sometimes it's just getting involved in a story the way you would with published fiction, but slash draws you in a little more than regular het stuff because it's still something a little taboo. It's like looking behind the façade of what the authors tactfully left out and, with slash based on Tolkien, it's like filling in the blanks of character development. There's no sex in Tolkien but it would be unrealistic to say the characters don't have sex lives at all, so giving them that extra dimension, the facet of romance or lust or whatever, makes them seem more like real people that I can relate to." (R107)
"For me, slash is a way to see romance as it should be, with things turning out the way they're supposed to. Except, of course, if they're angsty and they don't. I'm not in a relationship, so it's an outlet for the little romantic in me." (R219)
"Admittedly it's that I'm a romantic and I write and read couples that make sense out of the cannon, I enjoy giving them what the published author can't because of social restraints. (In other words I want them together so bad I'll write it myself.)" (R9)
Textual poachers or extenders?
The term textual poachers, used by Jenkins, implies that something is stolen, that it is taken away and claimed as one's own. However, slash writers and general fanfiction writers are careful to credit the original characters and setting to their appropriate authors. Jenkins (1992) himself comments that:
"[...] fan writers do not so much reproduce the primary text, as they rework and rewrite it, repairing or dismissing unsatisfying aspects, developing interests not sufficiently explored." (162)
Perhaps a more positive description of slash writers and perhaps fan fiction writers in general would be 'textual extenders'. In many cases, much of the story is not from the original work. In this sense the original work is being extended and something new is being created rather than poached.
5.2.7 Don't know
Many respondents had no idea why they liked slash. They did not offer any suggestions for possible reasons. The following quotes are typical of this response:
"I have no idea... honestly. I don't know. It's very odd to me that I like it." (R7)
"Umm... That's a good question. Actually, I have no idea." (R106)
"I really can't put my finger on it, but it sure was love at first site... slash and I LOL." (R206)
"I really don't know." (R151)
"I honestly don't know why I enjoy slash." (R168).
Other respondents reported that they were not sure or did not know why they liked slash, but offered possible reasons. This suggests that some slashers understand some of the reasons they like slash, and acknowledge that there are other reasons they have not fully become aware of as yet. The following quotes illustrate these answers:
"I can't say what, I think m/m, f/f sexual situations and the way that they are written." (R152)
"I honestly do not know the answer for that. I think maybe it is because I find it erotic and unusual. I only read fandoms where it seems a natural extension of the character." (R169)
"Ah, the $64,000 question. I suppose a bit of all the theories. It's sexy, it's unorthodox, it's generally of a higher quality than het, there are more possible pairings, and it's angstier. Then there's the fact that I'm just a homophile in general. I'm not sure exactly why, but is anybody, really?" (R57)
"There's something adorable about two male's cuddling. Sometimes it provides a neat writing challenge to believably get past the male ego and make them admits their feelings and get together. Other than that, I'm not exactly sure. Possibly also because society views it as a taboo and everyone seems to secretly love taboos." (R220)
It is possible that since slash reading and writing is not a common topic in everyday life, many slashers have not had much opportunity to discuss the reasons for enjoying slash with others. In the cases where individuals are not in contact with anyone, there would be no chance for such discussions. Furthermore, if based on judgmental views from heterosexist elements of society, some individuals fear that there is something wrong with what they are doing, they may not want to examine the reasons for enjoying slash in case it lead to some feared negative personal characteristics. It is hoped that studies such as this will offer slashers a list of healthy reasons why others find slash appealing, and in doing so, facilitate greater awareness of their own reasons. In addition, through greater awareness and discussion between slashers, other reasons for enjoying the genre may emerge and further insights may be obtained and shared.
5.3 Less Commonly Reported Reasons
The following reasons were only mentioned by a few people. As noted earlier, this may not actually reflect that such reasons are not common, only that at this stage they not reported frequently. It is possible that if presented with these reasons on a check list, more people would indicate these reasons as part of the appeal of slash. The reasons are presented in the order of greatest frequency.
5.3.1 Like to see men together
Seven percent of respondents specifically mentioned that they liked slash because they could see men together. It is possible that many people might have thought this reason to be so obvious that they did not bother to write it down. A couple of women made the comparison to the similarity of men's desire to see two women together.
"It's difficult to explain just what is enjoyable about slash. When speaking of male slash, I believe it is easily compared to the lesbian interest that most straight men seem to have. I once heard the male obsession with lesbianism explained by a male friend: "Women are great. It's easy for men to understand why a woman would want to be with a woman." I think part of the allure of male slash is much the same for women. However, that likely only applies to heterosexual slash fans and even I have to admit that that only explains part of it." (R123)
"Well first of all if men openly have the right to like to see two women together why women can't like to see(read) about two men?" (R224)
"There's something adorable about two male's cuddling. Sometimes it provides a neat writing challenge to believably get past the male ego and make them admits their feelings and get together." (R220)
5.3.2 No difference between het and slash
A few respondents (3%) mentioned that they did not really see a difference between heterosexual and homosexual pairs.
"The same thing that makes me enjoy Het/Adult. I believe certain couples belong together, and frankly gender (or species!) does not even enter into the equation. If it's two males, two females, or a male and a female -- doesn't matter. I enjoy seeing the pairs I love put together." (R165)
"I enjoy well-written fanfic in general, and slash is no different; it just happens to be same-sex pairings instead." (R214)
"It's not really the fact that it's slash, so much as who the pairing is. I like the couple, I like the fiction...mostly..." (R255)
5.3.3. The slash community
A few people (2%) mentioned that the community itself was part of the reason they enjoyed slash. The communities offer members benefits such as acceptance, validation, discussions and support. The area of communities and the Internet is discussed in further detail in 5.4. at the end of this section. The following quotes are from those who saw the slash community as part of their enjoyment:
"It's different from anything else you would write, and the other people who write slash don't accuse you of being gay or perverted." (R51)
"It's also nice knowing that others think the same way as me." (R234)
"Good writing and having interesting discussions about various things relating to slash such as whether there's canonical evidence etc." (R193)
"[...] and the tightly-knit communities the writers and readers have formed." (R24)
"I think the community around slash is also what draws me to it." (R185)
5.3.4 Educational / Curious
A few respondents (2%) mentioned that the stories provided an education about homosexual male sexual experiences. The following quotes illustrate this:
"It's probably, because I am still very young and haven't really been in contact with such things much, I'm probably curious about it all." (R132)
"I simply am intrigued by homosexuals and their way of living, and it's entertainment, so it helps me to get away from my sometimes dull life." (R119)
"Another reason why I like slash is that it's very educative about the human body, really! ;o) Some authors just describe so well love scenes!" (R133)
"I also find it helps me to understand different types of people. I know how many hetero relationships work, but gay or bi was new." (R141)
5.3.5 Empowering / validating
A few writers (1%), such as R10 above, mentioned that they gained a sense of empowerment and/or validation through slash. It may be of interest to note that all the writers who mentioned this aspect were over 25.
"No one needs to know you're getting off on this stuff. No one's judging you except other people who get off on slash. It's very affirming." (R4)
"Through writing different romantic scenes I got to practice what I would do and say in real life if I ever get the chance. Then getting positive feedback gave me even more validation. I found my voice through writing and one day when I meet someone I'll know what I want and how to describe it!" (R40)
"Women taking control over a male-centered text." (R41)
5.3.6 No Mary Sue's
Not only did some respondents point out that they liked slash because there was no part of themselves in it, a few also mentioned that they liked slash because other writers did not put themselves in the stories either.
"[...] I guess I am more fascinated on reading those things rather than some mushy Mary-Sue [...]." (R199)
"Another plus point is that with slash you're most often avoiding Mary Sues." (R111)
5.3.7 No self in it
A few respondents mentioned that they liked slash because they did not put themselves into it. This usually referred to not having a female part in the story.
"As a female I might like not being giving a real part of the story as if it had been a hetero-story, even though you often identify yourself with one of the characters." (R222)
"And if it's male/male slash, I can have part in their feelings/actions for each other, without having to imagine to be the woman involved. It's a calming thought that I don't have to be there, they can still have their pleasure with each other. I simply have to take the role of onlooker, watch and enjoy..." (R203)
"The fantasy of good-looking guys without having to involve oneself." (R200)
5.3.8 Self in it
In contrast to those who said they enjoyed slash because they did not put anything of themselves in it, a few respondents mentioned that they liked the aspect of putting themselves into, or in some way in with, the characters when they write.
"It's reading I can get interested in. It just makes me feel good. It's hard to explain, I like the images it puts in my head. I have an infatuation with gay males and putting that and elves together, it's just wonderful. I guess that it's the closest thing to being in bed with the character of your desire." (R92)
"At the moment I have a girlfriend and so I can read m/m story when I want to have a boy." (R128)
"Now I feel it is therapeutic for me because it allows me to express emotions that I have felt unable to until now. Some of the unarchived stuff that I have gets a bit more personal, but someday I'm hoping to feel ready to share it. I get to be in control of the lives in my writing in ways I wasn't for so long in my own life. Through the development of the characters and the ways they learn, I get to learn vicariously. The whole process of writing has been very empowering for me; it has made me a much stronger person. I can deal with situations I didn't have anyone to talk to about, start the grieving process for things I never had, and get to have them again in the innocence of the characters.
A lot of this all comes across in that online writing process I mentioned above. I am playing two very different characters, one older and mature, very confident in who he is and what he feels is right (Celeborn) and one more young, naïve character who is still exploring the world and seeing things for the first time (Elrohir). The combination has allowed me to explore the stronger person I am becoming while letting me have the youthful outlook I never had because of early experiences that took away my ability to see the world through innocent eyes." (R10)
Although it may appear that the choice of putting oneself in the story or not may seem to be an alternative choice only, it is possible that these two categories of response actually represent something more unified. It is possible that women tend to not put themselves into the story in terms of writing about female sexuality as it would be related to biology, instead, writers may be more willing to put some of themselves into the stories in terms of their emotions which are unrelated to body parts.
5.3.9 Submissive, feminine men
A few respondents mentioned that part of the attraction of slash was seeing submissive and feminized men. The following quotes show this:
"Submissive men, I'm kind of one of those lesbian male haters." (R101)
"I also prefer the look of more delicate, feminine men, and it is generally those characters who are slashed." (R94)
"Now beside sex (and more particular to slash) I have a fascination with male vulnerability. Either emotional (hurt/comfort fic) or physical (dark/kink fic). And this why (I think) more "feminine" characters get slashed a lot (Legolas, Frodo), because they "invite" that vulnerability." (R182)
However, there were also a few respondents who pointed out that feminine men was something that they disliked about slash. The following quotes show this:
"What really irritates me is when they make the character too feminine. I sooo hate that!" (R268)
"There's the obvious one: I love the thought of two males together. But more than that, I like it when they're both masculine - there's nothing that irks me more than reading a fic where one of the characters has been reduced to a very OOC feminine-type." (R230)
The contrast between these responses highlights how not all slashers enjoy the genre for the same reasons.
5.3.10 No women, no jealousy
Related to the idea of not having one's self in the stories through the absence of women, a couple of writers mentioned that the absence of females meant that they were not jealous of another woman being with a character the reader/writer was attracted to. The following two quotes show this:
"Maybe I'd be too jealous to see either one of them with a woman. But each other is ok." (R74)
"Some of it is purely an attraction/jealousy thing. I'd rather see/read two guys going at it then a guy and a girl. Jealousy is a part of it because I get so attached to the characters that I'd rather not have them involved with ant other girl, for some reasons jealousy just isn't a factor when it's slash." (R70)
5.3.11 Reducing homophobia
Two women mentioned that slash had helped them appreciate homosexuality to a greater extent.
"The fact that I become more tolerant of gays. It makes me feel like a better person coz I was once a homophobe." (R43)
"It has made me realize the beauty of the love my gay friends share, that they have the same desires." (R164)
5.3.12 Tolkien world
Two people specifically mentioned that the world and characters created by Tolkien were part of the reason they enjoyed slash.
"I only read and write Tolkien slash, so that world and those characters are also part of the appeal." (R227)
"It's evidence that there are people out there who (are) as obsessed with Tolkien's world and characters as I am." (R34)
5.4 Slash communities and the Internet
The results of this study showed that although it was not commonly mentioned, some women enjoyed the sense of community that members formed. The title of this section mentions slash 'communities' because it is not assumed that one fandom is equivalent to the next. There may be differences between fandoms that this study does not show. Thus, the results of this study are applicable only to the 'community' that responded to this questionnaire. Indeed, this community of respondents may not even be representative of the Lord of the Rings fandom (see 1.4 Limitations of this Study). Some of these people only write in the Tolkien world while others write additionally in other fandoms. This issue is of particular importance because of what the slash community, or slash communities, can offer participants, especially women.
Cooper and Griffin-Shelley (2002) point out that the Internet provides a useful medium to enhance physical, mental and sexual health. They point out that:
The Internet has become a very common pathway to explore and engage in sexual activity, particularly for persons and cultures for whom sex and sexuality is a source of shame and embarrassment. (Cooper, McLoughlin, & Campbell, 2000, cited in Cooper and Griffin-Shelley, 2002:8)
For women, sex and sexuality can be particularly troubling considering the context of how women are labeled deviant. Schur (1983) explains the process of labeling groups of people as deviant. Stigma-laden labels are applied which in turn alters the perceptions by others of those to whom they are given. Such labels may be given to people based on who they are rather than on any particular behavior they have exhibited. This process becomes a key element in the method of devaluation. Schur mentions that feminist writers have claimed that the male has been considered the norm and the female to be deviant or 'other'. He lists numerous ways in which women are devalued. In general terms, women are seen as: female before all other traits, all alike, objects in relation to men, easily dismissed, and having lower social status in relation to men. Furthermore, women are devalued sexually as they are seen as: sexual objects for the attention of men; depersonalized body parts that can be used culturally and commercially in areas such as fashion and pornography; decorative, status-conferring objects to be sought or collected by men; something to be evaluated based on narrow standards of beauty; sexual property that is owned by men; being sexually passive with the function of pleasing a man while disregarding her own satisfaction. Schur concludes that such objectification offers women little personal freedom. He points out further that, women are devalued in terms of the images portrayed in the mass media (e.g. pornography) and by common language that dismisses, derogates, or sexualizes women unnecessarily.
Schur (1983) states that being labeled deviant has negative social and psychological effects. For example, if devalued individuals are repeatedly exposed to the identities constructed for them, and are not given the opportunity to see more positive roles, then those who are labeled deviant tend to see themselves according the inferior status they have been given.
In response to being labeled deviant, there have been ways in which women have resisted. Schur (1983) points out the contributions made by the women's liberation movement to raise economic and social aspirations and standings. Despite gains being made in such areas, he points out that some areas are slower in changing. For example, the visual objectification of women for the male gaze. Although Schur was writing this claim 20 years ago, it could be argued based one commonly available images in the mass media, that such a claim still holds. Therefore, changing the way women and female sexuality is perceived is a difficult task.
The development of the Internet has provided women with forum in which they can gain positive examples of identity and sexuality that defy the restrictions inherent in conventional constructions of womanhood. Leiblum and Döring (2002:41) point out that:
Women have an opportunity to adopt a 'new identity' which can liberate them from both heterosexual expectations and social conventions: They do not need to behave passively or modestly online, and if they are witty or wise or provocative or interesting, they will not be ignored.
A positive effect of the Internet on sexuality is the formation of virtual communities. Such communities offer members several benefits. For example, feeling a sense of belonging to a group who share similar interests. This can be particularly important when the groups are based on interests that are not supported by the mainstream. Such groups can even influence political and social attitudes towards these groups (Cooper & Griffin-Shelley (2002). Slash communities are fall into this category as the homosexual nature of the creations is not greatly accepted within societies that are dominated by heterosexual norms.
Leiblum and Döring (2002) mention that women can use the Internet individually and collectively to explore sex and sexuality either with or without men. They caution that there is no such concept as the typical female user as women who use the Internet are as diverse as women anywhere. In addition, the way in which the Internet is used determines whether its effects are positive or negative. They cite several studies showing a link between Internet use with sexual liberation and empowerment. On the Internet, women are able to define and express their sexuality through showing themselves or their creations.
It could be argued that slash communities offer these benefits to members. Although slash writers tend to write about male relationships, a great deal of this writing focuses on the emotional aspects of the pairs. If the sexual relation is defined as including more than just the physical act (which is not described in lower ratings), then even writing about men becomes a way in which women can experiment with sexual expression and have it validated by others through feedback.
Further research is recommended in order to understand the role that Internet use plays in women's lives and that many assumptions about women's sexuality are likely to be changed by this research (Leiblum & Döring, 2002). This study offers one such exploration into the slash community that is largely comprised of women.
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