Fanfiction has come back into vogue. Well, not entirely; it is still a niche consumer (and creator) market. However, the fanfiction roots of hit book series, such as Shadowhunters and Fifty Shades of Gray, have taken fanfiction from the dark corners of the internet and subversive zine communities and forced it into the limelight. Not to mention that articles from luminary magazines such as The New Yorker, and even a full issue of essays by The New Inquiry, have brought about a renewed interest in the genre.
That’s right. Genre.
As determined by tone, content, and technique, fanfiction is a unique genre that stands independent of other literary definitions. That being said, and generally accepted as fact, (I regret to inform scholars that I am writing this blog based on generalizations and personal experiences, regardless of studies or polls, of which there are few) what many of these magazines and essays fail to identify, or even mention is a key fact of authorship. Fanfiction is, for the most part, the domain of women, with another high percentage of authors consisting of nonbinary people and queer men.
Imagine this. An entire genre of fiction handily dominated by women.
Now, there are very few studies to support this generalization, but as a woman who has been involved in fanfiction through various stages, I can guarantee you that straight, cisgender men are few and far between. They are the outliers and as obvious to spot as the token straight boy on “Project Runway”.
Another fact, this one not as often overlooked, is that fanfiction is always viewed as both derivative and transformative. It takes characters, worlds, situations, and familiar plots and reinvents them over, and over, and over. For the purpose of this short essay, let us say that women have taken characters and situations and rewritten them over and over.
All these being held as generally true, we must look at this from a greater distance. Women are viewing media, whether by page, or by screen, and rewriting it. They are taking the stories they are being told and reworking them to tell them a different way. Maybe this doesn’t seem revolutionary to you, but it is. This is a revolution.
Creators in Hollywood are still overwhelming male. From womenandhollywood.com, between 2016-2016, women only comprised 27-28% of all creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and directors of photography working on broadcast network, cable, streaming programs, and broadcast network programs. The statistics for best-selling novels are slightly better. Women make up about 30-40% of the bestseller’s lists, and if we look at major publishing companies, 11 out of 13 had catalogues that included only 30% women. This isn’t just a movie problem, it’s a media problem.
While many men are talented creators, directors, writers, etc., there is one thing that is always very, incredibly obvious to women who consume media. It’s made by men. It’s obvious in the way that media develops men, the way they bring women into the picture, the way that these pieces of media handle jokes, plots, and dialogue. When there’s not a woman making clear decisions behind the scenes, it’s like a siren going off in every scene. When you put a mother of two in heels at the end of her workday, at home with her husband, the siren goes off. When you put her hair down while she’s working out, the siren goes off. When she calls her friend and only one of them talks about their problems, the siren goes off.
Women are not made like this.
We live in a male-dominated, patriarchal, sexist society. You only need to look at the numbers above to see how little we value women’s creative work. Breaking into the industry is difficult for anyone, and nearly impossible for women. All this, again, being accepted as generally true, I offer the following conclusions.
When women consume media, we are constantly rationalizing our own experiences and feelings that have been dictated to us by other people, and usually, by men. We are forced to see the male gaze turned onto women and relationships over and over again and we find it lacking. We find it depressing. Women are forced to justify how we feel about the media that we view.
More than anything, women and queer people want to be represented in media. We want to see ourselves on screen, we want to be given a chance to relate to characters without an act of translation. Figuring out how to interpret what we see on screen requires a twisting of the male gaze into something women can recognize. We must redirect the camera and the point of view so that we can see ourselves represented on screen. This is all done subconsciously, but in fanfiction we remake all these situation through our own lens.
Women take this media we consume, are almost forced to consume, and we write it back. We write ourselves back into these stories that make up our lives. We find our ideals, our fantasies, our realities, and we turn them around into fanfiction. We just want to see ourselves in our favorite pieces of media, absent of the original creator’s intent, removed from the male gaze.
That’s why fanfic is female. Why it’s a creator’s space so dominated by women and the female gaze. We have written ourselves into our favorite stories. We have found a space where this is not only encouraged and admired, but expected. We demand that fanfiction be a safe space for reinterpretation and reinvention, and it’s beautiful. It works. Fanfiction is an amazing community of writers and creators who look at common media characters, regardless of gender, on screen and on the page, and say ‘this is not good enough’.
We are. And that’s where the heart of fanfiction comes from. The idea that our stories–women’s stories–are good enough, the conviction in our own gaze and point of view. We are not limited to what we consume, we are only limited by our own imagination.
Want to check out some fanfic for yourself? Try searching through archiveofourown.org! Interested in learning more about academic fandom and fan studies? Start with the Fan Studies Network. Want a fic rec? Tweet me @linfinn.