Kristina Busse

Abstract for Slash Fandom/Sex Wars: Feminist Conflict and the Politics of Fantasy

FSNNA (October 2018)

Authors: Alexis Lothian and Kristina Busse

When Joanna Russ wrote her influential essay on K/S fan fiction, "Pornography By Women for Women, With Love," in 1985, the vicious scholarly and activist debates known as the feminist sex wars were ongoing. On one side, members of organizations like Women Against Pornography argued that for women to take pleasure in sexually explicit media, BDSM, or eroticized gender roles was to welcome patriarchal power into their minds and hearts. On the other, Gayle Rubin, Carole Vance, and many other allies insisted that the politics of pleasure were complex and that power relationships could be eroticized in representation and play without necessarily being perpetuated elsewhere in life (Rubin, 2010). For Russ, slash fan fiction operates as an argument for the second camp: as a form of "sexual fantasy" created and shared among women, it creates representations that are often unrealistic and stereotypical, but the circulation of those representations offers a way to think through and untangle the restrictions that gendered power places on sexual expression for men and women alike (Russ, 1985: 79). Her understanding of the political operations of fantasy is a powerful one that remains a convincing analysis of fan fiction's fantasy today—but it is not a universally accepted one. While within feminist and queer theory, the sex wars are widely understood to be over, with the antiporn side having suffered a resounding defeat, ideas promoted by antiporn feminism continue to have resonance in popular culture. And slash fan fiction continues to inspire debate about the politics of fantasy in relation to consent, violence, identity, and representation.

What can we learn from the sex wars that continue to be waged in and around fan fiction? This paper will draw upon Gayle Rubin's analyses of feminist sex wars and their relationship to the broader political context of sex panics in order to develop a short history of slash fandom's internal and external sex wars. Fan fiction communities have developed a conceptual vocabulary to articulate the complexity and flexibility of sexual fantasy and its indirect relationship to the power structures that make it erotically intelligible: examples include the practice of warning for "non-con" and the propagation of nonjudgmental attitudes to "kink" regardless of its specific content. Yet fan creators whose work touches the live wires of sexual assault, underage sexuality, or eroticized violence are nevertheless likely to experience consequences that have ranged from intra-community critique to ejection from for-profit platforms. Drawing upon examples that provoked extensive conversation within and beyond the communities in which they originated, I will explore the circumstances in which feminist arguments have been used to critique fannish sexual fantasy. Can the sex wars teach us to better understand erotic fan fiction's relationship to rape culture, homophobia, and gendered violence? Or do the discourses surrounding fan fiction require us to revisit and rethink (if not to re-fight) the sex wars?

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