Open Thread for Slash Discussion

I am opening this post for any and all who are interested in continuing the slash discussion from LotR Genfic. This discussion has been moved offlist since the list is a gen group and the discussion was starting to touch on issues that don’t necessarily belong on a family-friendly group. So that we could keep to the expectations of that group but also speak freely on more “adult” topics, I’ve opened up a thread here for discussion for any who wish to participate.

All thoughts and opinions are welcome. The only rule I have for this place is that I ask that people remain civil to each other. It is one thing to disagree with a point or idea and quite another to attack a the person expressing it. The first is okay; the second is not.

Finally, although this is a continuation of the LotR Genfic discussion, and although I am the webmaster of the Many Paths to Tread archive, my website is affiliated with neither, and this discussion is occurring independently of the list on which it originated. So, if you find yourself annoyed or angered by the conversation here, please don’t take it out on either of those groups.

My door, however, is always open to questions or concerns at DawnFelagund@gmail.com.

For those of you on the LotR Genfic list, you can find the original discussion thread here.

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120 Responses to “Open Thread for Slash Discussion”

  1. Dawn says:

    Some thoughts that have been jangling around in my head for the past few days …

    On “canon” and compliance to canon as a way to connect to Tolkien’s world, this reminds me somewhat of the literary-versus-genre debate from when I was still in a university writing program. Then, the issue was framed as literary stories taking place in the real world and genre stories involving a degree of invention inconsistent with what we observe of “reality.” The argument was very similar to the canon/AU/shades-of-gray-between debate. To deploy an awkward metaphor, the reader was like a helium balloon on a string, floating just enough above the world to observe certain truths about that world. The introduction of fantasy elements, for some readers, were like an enormous pair of scissors that snicked the string and made the reader lose all connection between the story and the world. It made the story irrelevant.

    Fair enough, and I love a well-told literary story as much as my professors and classmates did (though I’ll be damned if I can write one), but breaking with what I knew of the real world never “broke the string” for me. In fact, if I can borrow Tolkien’s own theory, it was the introduction of invented or otherworldly elements in a good fantasy story that gave me the perspective to find the truths in that story. Confining a story too closely to the real world was like introducing lead into my helium balloon: Soon I was sunk back into the miserable mire where there wasn’t much to be seen or learned.

    Neither perspective, of course, is right or wrong or better than the other; I think that they are both valid ways of looking at literature and depend, to a large degree, on taste. To bring this back to stories set in Tolkien’s world, it seems similar mechanisms are often at work: To some readers, introducing too much invention on the part of the author (or too much deviation from what we know of JRRT’s real invented world, if that makes any sense) is the scissors that cut the string for those readers. But for other readers, those invented elements give the little bit of extra perspective needed to find meaning in Tolkien’s real invented world. To stick to closely to what we know of that world is the lead in the balloon that mires that reader to where they feel there is nothing to be gained from the story.

    Again, I think that both are valid perspectives, neither better than the other, and to a degree at least explained by each reader’s taste.

    What I observed in the literary/genre debate as a writing student, I too see in the canon/heresy debate in fandom: There are always a few crusaders who are intent on proving their personal preference as The Way, and they do so largely by attaching reasons for their preference that eclipse personal taste. As a writing student with “speculative leanings,” I was told that speculative fiction was cheap and formulaic; as a writer of Tolkien-based stories with heretical leanings, I am told that my stories are disrespectful or self-indulgent. At the same time, I have (regretably) sneered at literary authors for being unimaginative navel-gazers. And fanfic authors who stick closely to what Tolkien wrote are condemned, by some, as being unimaginative, straight-laced, dull, or unadventurous. So the mud-slinging comes from both sides and accomplishes nothing beyond creating divisiveness where none need exist. After all, 100 speculative stories and 100 heretical fanfics will not cancel or destroy 100 literary and 100 “canon-strict” stories. That is the beautiful thing about art: that our world will never run out of room for imagination.

    Nor will berating a particular taste in art make it go away. All of the nastiness that has been heaped on slash stories, and they are still alive and well. I once drank the Kool-Aid for a while and believed that my “speculative leanings” were indeed a sign of weakness in me as a writer. The result of that was that I stopped writing for almost two years. Incidentally, it was for the purpose of creating heretical fanfic that I started again.

    On fandom and the empowerment of women (I know, I’m like a ping-pong ball) …

    I think, for me to understand how fannish trends empower or don’t empower women, I have to consider fannish literature in the context of literature throughout history. If one can wound with the pen or sword, women have largely avoided the latter because the former–the pen–has been the weapon of choice against them. We have centuries worth of literature where, if women are present at all, the purpose for “allowing” them upon the page is to present them as unintelligent, untrustworthy, over-emotional disasters waiting to happen.

    But of course, this literature was mostly written by men, who certainly served to benefit by casting half of the competition as shoe-slobbering, lust-ridden traitors. Now, suddenly, we have a genre of fiction largely dominated by women writers. Have we fared any better in fanfic? Speaking as a reader of only Tolkien-based stories (and mostly Silmfic), I don’t think that we have.

    It is true that JRRT didn’t give us much to work with. I did a rough estimate once and found that only 20% of the characters in the Silm are female, and most of them are relinquished to the background. But when I look at how we as fan-writers–and largely female fan-writers–have depicted women in our stories, I see some disquieting trends.

    Firstly, major canon women are all but ignored: Galadriel, Aredhel, Morwen, Luthien, and Nienor, to stick only to the First Age and earlier. Nerdanel is perhaps the exception to that, but much of the interest in her derives from her role as the wife and mother of very popular male canon characters.

    Then there is the paucity of OFCs. And where they do exist, again, they are thrust into the traditional role of a woman in literature: being used to illustrate the worthlessness of the gender compared to men. I come back to the example of a story recently read where the only female character existed, by the author’s own admission, to act stupid and slutty and be humiliated. I wonder if how many readers would stand to see a sole character of color or a GLBT character relegated to buffoonery and wonder why we stand by when the character is a woman.

    My uninvestigated pet theory about “Sue-bashing” is related to this notion, as is the outrage against Luthien’s character for being “too perfect” or “too Sueish” from the same fans who will swoon and squee over characters like Finrod Felagund and Aragorn, who might also be justifiably criticized for being “too perfect” and, therefore, “too Sueish” as well.

    Then there is the tendency of fans to shift the blame onto canon female characters for the misdeeds of the men. “But if Indis hadn’t married Finwe!” (Yes, but what if Finwe hadn’t pursued marriage with her in the first place?) “But if Miriel Serinde had sucked it up and had the strength to go on!” (Well, I’m sure that if any of the characters who died sucked it up and went on, the book would be very different, wouldn’t it?) “If Nerdanel had followed Feanor to Middle-earth?” (But what if Feanor hadn’t gone under such regretable circumstances?) “If Aredhel had been content to stay in Gondolin!” (If Turgon had understood that that wasn’t possible, given her nature.) And on and on we go.

    I’ve even seen Varda blamed for marring Melkor because it’s said in Ainulindale that she never liked him much to start with.

    So is there misogynism in the Tolkien fandom? In my experience, yes. That does not mean that there is not excellent work being done by some authors–many of the commenters here are among them–but I’d still say that the prevailing attitude in many corners of fandom promotes derogatory and, yes, even hateful attitudes toward women.

    As far as MPREG and slash, I do not think that these genres are in and of themselves demeaning much less misogynist, though I think that they can be and, as Pink Siamese and Pandemonium point out, some of the mechanisms of eliminating women from the story are troubling. But are they empowering to women? I don’t see how they can be since the group in question (women) are not present in these stories by default. Of course, women can play roles in such stories, but this certainly isn’t a default or, in my experience, even typical. And empowerment, to me, doesn’t derive from pitting one gender against the other and making men look bad. My husband does 99% of the cooking in our family; that doesn’t empower me because it gets revenge for centuries of our foremothers’ unappreciated labor in the kitchen; it empowers me because it recognizes that, in our family, my intellectual and creative pursuits are equal to his. So we share household responsibilities more or less equally in recognition of that.

    Another disturbing attitude in fandom, to me, is that women are just not interesting enough to write about. Does this account for the popularity of slash and MPREG? I honestly don’t know. I’ve seen lots of people try to “explain” slash and MPREG with the result that many of the writers/readers who enjoy these genres feel misrepresented. I know that I feel misrepresented by the characterization of “slash as means to get in touch with female sexuality” or its ruder cousin “slashers are pervs.” So I hesitate to likewise characterize other writers’ motivations, but I think it’s certainly something we could all be more aware of in terms of our personal motivations for writing and reading what we do.

  2. Niki says:

    Dawn, I’ve been recently bounding from random LJ to random LJ and first came across a typical argument about how people “should” react to racism–you know, white people throwing terms like “Oppression Olympics” around and scoffing about “overreactions” (because people felt offended that a doll made to look like a black baby was called “Lil’ Monkey” or something like that) and telling everyone that the way to beat racism is to act “colorblind,” not to keep reacting to things and discussing them and all that, and then later came across a post noting that there’s been yet another incident of a white actor being cast to play a character of Asian descent.

    The person who wrote the latter post argues that this is why we can’t have “colorblind” casting–because the white male (especially the straight, Christian-oriented white male) is so default that people barely even realize he’s default. When all groups are given an “equal” chance, something in the minds of people (conscious or subconscious) still feels that a white male is the most convincing for a role.

    I’ve also read another post in the past (possibly by the same person) that noted that society is so biased in favor of men that if something between men and women is equal, people will see it as biased in favor of women, I think because to make women “equal,” it seems to mean taking something away from men (like to change the percentage of women in a group to 50% from 20% means you have to change the percentage of men in the group for 80% to 50%–assuming we’re only talking about men and women and not covering any other group here). Even if it’s not just about “taking away from men” specifically, it is about changing what expect to see.

    Anyway, I found myself thinking last week (either in response to a post by Pandemonium_213, or her LJ is simply the first place I got to write it out) that some (if not a lot) of the dislike of OFC’s seemed to be related to that. White males are so ingrained in society as being the default/important characters that anyone else stands out and strikes us on some level as being “wrong” or as someone trying to push an agenda (even if that “agenda” is just “sharing a personal fantasy”).

    (Not that I don’t think some frustration with seeing original characters in fanfic has nothing to do with, “I want to read about the characters I already ‘know,’ not have to deal with new ones!” or stuff like that, mind you.)

    And as someone who has to admit to going through Tolkien’s list of female characters and finding very few of them interesting without the aid of other peoples’ fanfics, I’ve been around other fandoms where female characters aren’t equal to the main male character, but they’re a lot more present, visible, and “important” than the females in the Tolkien universe are seen as being. And there are female characters I like and female characters who drive me up the wall in those fandoms, but even concerning very popular female characters who bug the heck out of me personally, I get really uncomfortable with the way a lot of people judge the female’s actions while giving the male’s a free pass. (Both of them act like brats, but she’s the one who should know better, she should have stopped him from doing that horrible thing, even though he’s hundreds of years older than her and much more experienced at handling situations like that! And that’s not even getting into peoples’ standards for “sluttiness.”)

    Fun, huh? 😛 Even if it’s not conscious sexism or misogyny, there’s so much baggage associated with attitudes toward women that even seemingly “innocent” things people do with or say about female characters can make me raise my eyebrows. Like, I don’t see marriage or parenthood as something to be taken lightly at all, but I’ve gotten really upset in the past about people taking maybe one or two lines from the text and bashing a female character for her decision not to stick around (especially fun when her children are adults anyway)–it’s probably an extension of my wariness at the way people in the real world often seem more ready to blame the mother for a child’s problems than the father.

    Erm, I hope that made some sense. I think I rambled quite a bit there.

  3. Raksha The Demon says:

    I am not, and never have been, a feminist. I think that all people should be (and sadly, are not always) treated fairly. I personally will write female characters in Tolkien fanfiction when I feel like it; which depends on what I want to write and what inspiration the Muse sends me, and what I think of the character. Some Tolkien characters intimidate me too much to write, or at least write often; such as Galadriel, Luthien, Gandalf, the Valar, Cirdan, the Ents – they’re just not as accessible unless I’m lucky and the Muse gives me a sudden inspiration.

    Female Tolkien characters I have written: Aredhel, Nienor, Galadriel, Arwen, Luthien (just once, and the piece wasn’t too good), Nerdanel, Eowyn, Ioreth, Varda, Yavanna, Vaire…

    I personally think that Luthien, amazing powers and beauty and all, absolutely rocks. I love it that Tolkien had the two Big Bads of the Third Age – Morgoth and Sauron – made utter fools by Luthien, albeit with the help of her shaggy mortal boyfriend and the adorable talking dog (well, I found Huan adorable). Luthien let nothing stop her; and defied death itself to reclaim what she loved the most. While it’s true that she had special powers, she still undertook some damned scary quests and trials, and came out victorious, though she had to willingly relinquish her immortality. I don’t see how Luthien can be called too perfect either; when there are many other Tolkien characters who are heavy in the virtues department – I don’t see anyone saying that Gorgeous Glorfindel, who died slaying the Balrog then came back to be Mr. Blond Elf Hunkitude Wraith-Chaser of Imladris. There is a lot of fanfic potential in Luthien’s life, too; and most of it is untouched.

    And I do swoon over Finrod; whose courage was absolutely amazing; as well as his insistence on repaying the debt of honor he owned Barahir’s son.

    I don’t blame Indis for the Oath or kin-slaying; because she didn’t do them! She married the Elf she loved, when he was free to marry her. If anyone is to be blamed, let it be Finwe, who seems to have doted on Feanor a bit much, and Feanor himself (yes, great genius, tortured soul and all that, also in my opinion a spoiled brat). I don’t really understand enough about Miriel to say whether she should have stuck it out as Feanor’s mother, or how old exactly Feanor was when she abandoned life – The Fading Mothers’ Syndrome is a huge problem in the Ardaverse, isn’t it?! But I thought Tolkien left it a bit vague in the SILM as to whether it was the birth of Feanor that wore Miriel out, or having nurtured (physically and spiritually) the formation of his fiery spirit.

    As for Aredhel, she can’t be blamed for the Fall of Gondolin – she never told her son to betray the city; she was long dead by then. I think she was a restless and independant spirit, and found Gondolin too small for her; and maybe she had chafed under her brother’s authority and was enjoying riding around the forests as her own mistress for awhile.

    I personally wouldn’t want to write Morwen not because I don’t like writing female characters; but because her life was just too depressing! (as was her son’s) I could only manage a short ficlet about Nienor. Sheesh; that whole plotline is a bummer.

    I personally tend to cyber-hackle when advised to withhold certain words, unless it has already been spelled out in the rules of a given website. (in my opinion, the owner of a site has every moral right to be its dictator; as long as he/she posts those rules, if I don’t want to obey those rules, I don’t have to participate on the forum) I am usually a fairly polite person, I would never call anyone a “perv” regardless of what they’re writing, because I don’t know the person in RL; and I believe in keeping things as civil as possible when online. (also, I don’t think writing slash is ‘perverted’) But if someone said about something not that I had personally written, but in a genre I write, that this genre made her feel like a certain character was slandered; I might be surprised or disappointed, depending on the specifics of the comment, but I don’t think I would feel ‘misrepresented’ or ‘hurt’ by the use of the verb ‘slander’. I’m thinking of some of my semi-erotic ficlets in my ‘Fire & Flowering’ series – if someone said that seeing descriptions of erotic activity between Faramir and Eowyn slandered or sullied the characters; I’d probably scratch my head and laugh. I just can’t get too worked up about non-specific comments dealing with opinions of types of fanfiction genres. Unless someone is saying You Cannot Write This, or You (personally) Slandered My Favorite Character, I don’t see a huge potential for pain by certain words. Aren’t we mature and thick-skinned enough to take honest and fairly neutral comments about various genres?

    I have seen far more hurtful comments, in various boards, than Linda’s. Lots of words can hurt; but I am not sure one can have free and honest discourse about slash if one is afraid of being criticized for explaining in a neutral way why she doesn’t love or like slash.

    I guess it all comes down to how one interprets the strictures of civil discourse…

  4. Larner says:

    I have put up a fair number of stories at HASA for review. In the first few years I was there I found that I was being approved by most readers, but those who voted to decline the stories tended to have a few “standard” complaints:

    “Too derivative” – If I added in anything any other author had ever concluded I was accused of being too derivative. Well, as we write fanfiction we are automatically derivative by definition, are we not? And if I find an element in someone else’s story and include it in mine, usually with ample acknowledgement of the source material, then how is that necessarily being too derivative?

    “Tolkien didn’t say that!’ – Oh, I hated this one. There were a few people who consistently argued, “You can’t write that because Tolkien didn’t say it happened.”

    Hey, I’m a fanfic writer doing gapfillers. I’m doing gapfillers primarily because Tolkien didn’t say what happened IN that gap. I’m filling the gap! So, what do YOU think happened in that gap? If you can write what YOU think happened in that gap, why am I wrong because I write something else equally plausible? Or, if I can ONLY write on things Tolkien described, what’s the point? Are we only to write the same thing over and over from different points of view? What is particularly creative about that?

    “I wouldn’t have written it that way!” – Another one I hated to see, but that I saw in response to every story I put up for review before they went to the canned responses and “You have to identify yourself to get beyond that.” I’m writing it the way I write it partly because I thought of the premise and ought to be able to write it that way if I wish; but also because I can in the end only write in my own voice, not yours. If you want to see it written in your voice, do it! There’s nothing wrong with doing that!

    “You blew canon!” when I hadn’t – I’ve gotten that a few times. One person told me that Pippin, as son of the Thain, never lived on a farm. Apparently that person is primarily a Silm writer and reader, and never paid attention to the statement Pippin makes in ROTK when he tells Beregond his father farms the lands around Whitwell. It’s only when they’re back in the Shire that Paladin becomes the Thain, and it’s Pippin and a group of likely lads who head off across the fields to the Great Smial to bring back the Shire archers with his father’s blessings!

    You read much Hobbit fic, and you see all kinds of treatments of the Whitwell years!

    Similar with stories based on information in the appendices or other source materials. Tolkien wrote that consuming lembas causes the Sea Longing and other Elvish appetites to grow in mortals, longings they can’t usually assuage. So I wrote my story “Longings,” and was told that no way could Pippin be feeling Sea Longing, even though I’d just quoted the notes from either Letters or PoME indicating this was true. I was also accused of making Pippin behave out of character because he was no longer impetuous and careless in what he did, even though he’s now sixty-something years OLDER than when he went on the quest. Sorry, but in my experience as folk age they DO become more thoughtful and introspective! Neither he nor Merry is supposed to have learned anything about Elven cosmology or the Undying Lands, although we are told BOTH were intimate friends with Aragorn and his queen, that Merry made visits to Rivendell under the keeping of the twins and Celeborn to study the libraries there, and that all of them could question the Queen, her brothers, Celeborn (who had been married to Galadriel and before that was familiar with many of the Noldor refugees), and Glorfindel about what they knew of where Frodo and Bilbo had gone and what might have motivated them! Do I believe that Pippin and Merry remained ever innocent of any knowledge of Tol Eressea and Aman once their beloved cousin and friend went there? Certainly not!

    And there was the period when I got dinged on every story because I tend to write Frodo as one who was secretly less than whole physically as well as emotionally after his ordeal. I feel toward that the way slash writers feel about other folk not liking slash–if you don’t want to read that kind of story, just ignore my stories and read stories by authors whose premise you do like. I rarely will vote one way or another on stories I feel personally are gratuitously slashy when they come up for review on HASA because I don’t want my personal bias to overrule my ability to read a story objectively and see it on its other merits; I ask for similar courtesy in return.

    At the time I began to write it was not widely known that Tolkien said that the reason Frodo left was NOT due to physical infermity; I only came across that in the last few weeks, in fact. So, as far as I was concerned my premise has some rational background consdering what I know of Holocaust literature and the like. The number of concentration camp survivors who appeared physically normal who proved to have developed serious conditions during their incarcerations they were able to successfully hide from most family and friends for decades afterwards is phenomenal. That’s how I started writing my stuff, and I suppose that’s how I’ll continue on.

    Anyway, as the discussion has become more general on how we tend to react to genres or approaches to writing, I thought I’d add a few more pence to the discussion.

    As to what I DO vote against on HASA–stories that are so illogical they defy understanding that are NOT clearly identified as “crackfic” and those with just plain terrible writing. One writer who wrote a fic in which Gimli and Legolas are fighting an infinite number of orcs who’ve managed to make it up to the level of the Citadel and who’ve attacked them under the White Tree while Aragorn and Arwen watch from the Citadel steps and keep up a running commentary and do NOTHING to help–that I voted against; or the story in which Aragorn and Arwen are in absolute tears because their darling little Eldarion is demonstrating a bit of sympathy toward someone else–this is something to get blubbery about? Oh, come one now!

    Or someone who has an eight-year-old Merry successfully forging a letter from Bilbo that has twenty-one-year-old Frodo convinced Bilbo has changed his mind about adopting him. Oh, really–the rough equivalent of a kindergarten student is able to write so well as to do such a thing? Even a third grader couldn’t pull such a thing off!

    That is the type of stuff I’ll vote against. I’ll suspend my logic for a lot of stuff, but NOT for that.

  5. Niki says:

    I think that all people should be (and sadly, are not always) treated fairly.

    I’m not trying to pick a fight or insist you call yourself a feminist or anything, but that’s pretty much the idea behind feminism. Men and women aren’t treated fairly, but we think they should be. (I get that there are some idiot feminists out there and there can be plenty of argument about what “treated fairly” means and how to go about achieving those goals, but still.)

    I’m not sure it’s always clear when it needs to be (and I’m saying it because I can have a hard time not taking things personally and suppose others might have the same difficulty): a lot of the things that are disturbing about sexism or homophobia or racism are about larger patterns, not about what happens with one individual.

    Like, I wouldn’t want to bother any individual to write about a female character if they don’t want to, or attack an individual story for not including women. But I do have to raise an eyebrow and wonder what’s up when I notice certain kinds of trends regarding the treatment of female characters (or any other stereotyped group) throughout a population, especially if those trends at all reflect problems I notice outside the fandom. Like, if enough people don’t want to write about female characters (even if they’re allowed to create their own for lack of interest in Tolkien’s), I figure it’s worth asking, “Why might that be?”

  6. Raksha The Demon says:

    I just don’t want to have my own writing preferences dictated by anything other than my imagination – if I want to write male characters or female, or both, or a female character one day, and a male character another day, or even mostly male characters as protagonists; I would want to be able to do so without being asked ‘Why aren’t you writing more female characters?’.

    I started writing Tolkien fanfiction, and mostly still do, because I wanted to know and read and explore MORE about Tolkien’s characters and places; either flesh out the moments he described or explore the moments he missed. And because I’m fond of Faramir, as fond as one can be of a fictional character. I enjoy writing other characters too.

    If people who prefer female OFCs or more female character-centric stories don’t want to read my stories, or don’t enjoy them that much; that’s the risk I take; everyone is entitled to individual tastes. But I will doubt that I will ever write fanfiction to cater to any political or cultural trend, at least consciously, however worthwhile it may be. That’s not how my Muse works. It’s completely understandable and reasonable that other fanfic writers do write stories to advance various socio-political-cultural (sorry, I’m probably throwing labels around without much accuracy) agendas. If a such a story hooks me and keeps me engaged in its narrative, I will enjoy it, and often have. If I find myself thinking that the agenda is obvious, be it to promote the author’s commitment to feminism or Christianity or dislike of various modern political regime/activities, then I don’t love the story quite as much as I might have. I know that other readers would disagree, reach different conclusions, and that’s fine. It would be boring if everyone agreed about everything.

  7. Larner says:

    Am not a feminist per se, but I suppose at the same time I am one. I know I have always hated that men and women, or even boys and girls, are treated differently by the same people. Have seen too many times when girls or women are treated as inferior or paid substantially less for the same work, and a few cases where especially teaching colleagues have given better grades to girls than the boys who were doing the same level of work. Neither is fair, and both I’ve stood up for.

    But if I feel like writing mostly Frodo stories and folk want to read Eowyn ones–well, there are plenty of the latter about, and Lothiriel ones, and Arwen ones. However, as we have more background given us for the male characters than for female ones it only seems likely that there will be more stories written about the characters that we know the most about and whose exploits we’ve actively followed.

  8. Niki says:

    I understand what you’re saying Raksha and think I agree, actually. I don’t want to see all stories in fandom written as if the writers are all scared of the so-called “PC Police” or anything. We’d probably get less fanfiction if people felt they were being forced to write somebody else’s stories instead of their own.

    I also understand that it’s easier for a lot of people to get attached to the characters that get somewhat more “screen time” than others (though even characters who are nothing more than a name can have entire fan clubs, I’m sure)–it’s easier for me to read about Elrond than about, say, Celebrian for reasons like that.

    Actually, I should probably apologize for possibly giving the impression that I’m angry about Tolkien fanfic writers not showing more interest in the women (I don’t know if I actually did or didn’t give that impression, but anyway)–that wasn’t really the point I wanted to go for. I was thinking more of the “individual case vs. general trend” point and not really focusing anything specifically related to Tolkien fanfiction–how it’s not concerning to see just a few TV shows where the lead and most of the main characters are straight white males, but it is a bit concerning to see that most shows and movies and things are biased in favor of straight white men, and that it seems completely normal to have a male to female cast ratio of 4:1 despite women actually making up at least half the human species.

    Getting back more to Tolkien fanfiction–I’m all for serving the story and not just trying to push an agenda, but sometimes I see a need to stop and think about why something seems to serve a story. Most of the stories I’ve seen women as whining, shrieking stereotypes in would have functioned just fine without those stereotypes if the author had been willing to put in a bit more work, so when I see a whole lot of stories using those negative stereotypes, it’s hard not to wonder if there’s something more subtle and possibly problematic than “individual preferences” or “doing what’s best for the story” going on. It doesn’t mean I go around accusing individuals of being sexist or forming any personal opinions about any authors or anything, just mainly that I’m reflecting on how prevalent some issues still are in our world, even in the spaces that we find and create for ourselves.

    I hope that was coherent…

  9. Raksha The Demon says:

    I appreciate the clarifications, Niki.

    Interesting points about what we see in TV and movies; i.e. the preponderance of white male leads and minority of women. It doesn’t surprise me. Many scriptwriters want to write successful shows, and consider the demographics; and may believe, correctly or not, that males make more money than female in the U.S. The power structure in the U.S. is still more white than totally multi-cultural, at least Hollywood and corporate America are…

    But I have seen tremendous change in the types of prominent characters in television shows in the past 40 years. I can remember when STAR TREK was considered daring for having a black woman say ‘hailing frequencies open, Sir’ and actually appear to be a valuable member of the crew. Not to mention I don’t remember seeing black people in TV commercials back in the sixties or seventies; and now I see them everyday. If there are many black actors in secondary roles on TV shows; at least there are more than there were before, and thankfully they’re not all ‘streetwise’. Forty years ago, there wouldn’t have been TV shows with an all-black regular cast like The Cosby Show or other comedies; and you wouldn’t have had a Star Trek captain who was black. The TV hit show GRAY’S ANATOMY would have had the character of the black doctor Miranda Bailey be a nurse back in the 60’s or 70’s, and Asian-American Doctor Christina Yang would probably have been a male doctor who enjoyed martial arts in his spare time…

    So I believe that at while TV representation of ethnic/gender diversity is not perfect, it has improved in a major way since I started watching it…

  10. Dreamflower says:

    It’s interesting to see the responses to Linda’s use of the word “slander” in regards to a canon character, but what’s more interesting is the use of it in regards to a fictional character.

    Somewhere up there, in one of those posts, I mentioned that I avoided showing explicit scenes in my stories partially because (silly as it may seem) I worry about the characters’ right to privacy. And I seem to recall someone found it odd that I worried about what certain slash pairings did by eliminating canonical offspring of canonical characters.

    I wonder how much of the divide between those of us who are more concerned with a canonical characterization comes from our own emotional approaches to the story?

    For some, it seems, the more important thing seems to be the world and the possibilities of the setting and situations, and less on the interpretations of the characters.

    But some of us seem to have very personal attachments to certain characters. We tend to approach our stories as though we are writing about personal friends, rather than the characters that were created by someone else well over half a century ago.

    If we feel that Frodo or Faramir or Denethor or Thranduil or Maglor or (insert your own favorite character here) is being portrayed poorly, our reaction is more visceral than “that’s a crummy story, hit the back button”. We may say and do that, but inside we seethe a bit at the injustice done to someone we think of as a friend. I even know of a few OCs in some people’s fanfic that I feel that way about! (When a writer I have followed for several years killed off a wonderful and popular hobbit OC, I felt utterly betrayed, and unable to read her stories anymore. Yet she undeniably had the right to kill him off; he was hers to do with as she wished. It did not lessen my grief or anger to acknowledge that.)

    Perhaps this is nerdery of the highest order. I don’t know, but I suspect I am not the only one who feels that way, and it is likely that this approach by some of us is what causes us to cry out at what we call OOC.

    As for the lack of female characters, I have to say that many of those who have been responding to this thread have gone a long way towards creating strong and memorable OFCs, or to endow minor CCs with personalities that they never had a chance to show in canon.

    The poor or stereotypical female characters I tend to see more often in poorly written stories. While there has been a lot of discussion on why Mary Sue gets such a bad rap, one undeniable fact is that while well-written ones do exist (I can think of four right off the top of my head), the vast majority of them are simply bad stories. Sometimes it’s due solely to the youth and inexperience of the authors, and time and practice will eventually solve the problem for them, even as new young and inexperienced writers spring up to follow in their footsteps.

    I honestly don’t think most fanfic writers are motivated by misogyny; I think most of them are simply as used to the status quo as the rest of the world, and haven’t given enough thought to what their lack of female characters demonstrates.

    To paraphrase the old saying: “Don’t attribute to malice that which is probably caused by thoughtlessness.”

  11. Dawn says:

    On feminism: Like Niki, I’m not trying to tell anyone how to define themselves, but I must admit that the phrase, “I believe in equal rights for women but I’m not a feminist” has always perplexed me. Isn’t that the definition of feminism: believing that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men? I certainly understand that “feminism” has been colored by more radical subsets but, at its heart, isn’t it about equal rights?

    On CFCs and OFCs: I think that people should write what they want. But, like Niki (I think we share a brain sometimes! :P), I do think that the trends in literature–including fannish literature–are fair game for discussion and contemplation; in fact, I think they should be discussed because it’s easy to uphold the status quo in one’s writing without meaning to simply because it’s hard to pick up on. It’s simply what we’ve become used to seeing/reading.

    @Larner: I had to laugh–albeit bitterly–at your rant on HASA reviews. I’ve had similar experiences (not on HASA, where I’ve only put up three stories for review, two of which for the express purpose of being curious if they’d pass!) with canatics calling me out on mistakes that aren’t.

    The funny thing to me–and I’ve been saying this for years and never had a canatic answer me on this point–is how many people will ding a “canon mistake” without providing a quote from the book to prove what they’re saying. I have never had a canatic say to me, “This is wrong canonically,” and back up her/his words with a quote or even a rough cite from the book. Even after I’ve asked for clarification, I am answered with silence. I’ve had discussions with people on canonical interpretation in my stories where they bring their quotes and I bring mine, but never have I been told flat out, “This is wrong,” and shown proof that it actually is.

    To me, this would be the first and least that a person could do, especially if that “ding” carries with it a degree of power, as with a HASA review. It’s one thing to remark in someone’s LJ, “I don’t have time to look it up, but I don’t recall it being mentioned that Pippin lived on a farm.” It’s quite another to leave a scathing public review on a story for that “error” or, worse, to use that “error” as reason to deny a story reviewed status.

    On the occasions where I find a “canon mistake” in a peer’s story, the first thing I do is look it up. And know what? I’m usually wrong.

    @Dreamflower: I totally agree with you on “nerdery of the highest order”! 😀 Back when I still insisted that I liked reading Silmfic but would never write it, I read a piece motivated by the writer’s desire to show that “Maedhros is the true villain in The Silmarillion.” That felt like slander to me. It was like hearing a friend’s tribulations minimized by someone who didn’t know better. I was so angry that I wrote my own story in answer, and 350,000 words later, I had my novel AMC.

    So talk about irrationality and nerdery of the highest order! 😉 That writer had every right to her opinion and interpretation, just as I have every right to mine … I was just unable to see past my regard for that particular character to accept it as just a difference in opinion and not an insult.

    I think many of us–if not all–have at least to a degree that character, scene, or concept that it is difficult to be rational about. I don’t think that we should suppress that; I think that we should be conscious, though, of how we react to the fictional “slanders” against our favorites. I wrote a novel in answer to the anger that I felt. Plenty of people write stories defending a character or interpretation, inspired by those with opposing viewpoints. Then there are those who flame and insult and attempt to suppress what they don’t like. (And I am absolutely not lumping into that group those who express their personal opinions about a particular subgenre or interpretation as part of a discussion like this where … well, preferences for particular subgenres or interpretations are the whole point of the discussion! :) ) It comes back, for me, to constructive and destructive ways to respond to stories and interpretations with which one does not agree.

    On Mary Sue: Yes, most of them are awful. :) I don’t think that I would have done better at that age. I remember writing stories when I was in middle school and seeing characters less as people and more as archetypes: the bad girl, the nerd, the innocent default narrator.

    The problem I have with how Mary Sue is perceived/treated in fandom has less to do with vindicating them as good fiction and more to do with being troubled with 1) the level of vitriol against these stories and 2) the underlying reasons behind it. To borrow from Juno’s past rants on the subject, it’s usually pretty obvious from a story’s summary that a story is a Mary Sue. If the story happens to have a brilliant and deceptive summary, it’s usually perfectly clear without having to read much of the story, at which point one is welcome to make use of Ye Olde Back Button. 😉 Yet adult readers will click on these stories and read them anyway just so they can … put a teenage writer in her place? I’m not sure I understand what that is supposed to accomplish. I doubt I wouldn’t have written much better than a Mary Sue at that age, yet now my stories are often praised most for their characterizations. Since I started writing fanfic when I was 23, it only took me ten years to evolve to that point.

    What troubles me is not the attitude that Mary Sues are bad writing (because to most grown-up eyes and minds, I’ve no doubt that they are) than the attitude that Mary Sues are bad because they allow the author to “invade” the fictional world too deeply. OSA’s guidelines on Mary Sues illustrate pretty much every example that I could give. Now, again, I respect the right of one who pays the bills on an archive to post only what s/he wants, but some of the language here troubles me.

    At the heart of Mary Sue, I think, there is the writer’s desire to enter a world she loves. That really isn’t any different from the motivations of many fanfic writers. A young woman creates a fictionalized version of herself and sends herself to Middle-earth. JRRT’s vision of Middle-earth makes it a man’s world; it is the Fellowship, after all, for a reason. 😉 The writer endows herself with magical powers in order to keep up with the rest of the Fellowship. Who also, largely, have, if not magical, at least supernatural abilities. Of course, she is beautiful. But then, so are most of Tolkien’s good guys.

    A young woman places herself in a man’s world as an equal to those men. What is the response to that? To insist that she doesn’t belong; she shouldn’t do that. The underlying theme of those guidelines I linked to is that “A young girl can’t contribute anything to the story or the characters’ mission!” That misses the point that it’s a fantasy and, I think, a pretty cool one for a girl to have, that she has the ability to be an equal to Aragorn or Legolas or anyone she likes.

    An interesting case study might be to see what the fandom’s reaction would be to similar fantasy stories written by boys. The guidelines I linked try to stay gender-neutral but, I think, reveal their aim to be at Mary Sues more so than Gary Stus at the end when they talk about the “Girl Falls into Middle-earth” subgenre and begin identifying the “culprits” as OFCs, not OMCs. What if a bunch of 13-year-old boys started invading Middle-earth, going off to Helm’s Deep (to maybe appear in lieu of Haldir’s Elves! :P) and joining the battle with their magical swords and keen fighting abilities? Would the response to those stories be the same as to Mary Sues? It’s impossible to know, and it could be that those stories would receive equal vitriol in response. In which case, fandom proves its disdain not for girls imagining themselves as powerful equals to male canon characters but for young people in general. In either case, it’s not a glowing indictment, I don’t think.

    And the need for some adult members of fandom to seek out these stories and put the writer in her place remains troubling.

  12. Rhapsody says:

    Oh you had to mention Maglor Dreamflower and I think a deep attachment to our beloved characters is at play here. Some will probably react emotional because probably a character has gone through the same as a writer and they can relate to that character and so on. I think its a good trademark of a writer when he or she manages to make a reader feel for a character so deeply. When I read your comment and those of Larners and others, it feels to me that poor writing is more the cause of disliking a story than for example pairings or a genre (like AU). When Larner said she fould so many stories just borings, I thought… well since you read slash of others, then it can’t be that. I do think that for example when a het pairing was in there, the story still would be boring for the reader. So instead of accusing ‘genre’ writings for bringing harm to the fandom, as you also said, we could help such writers (if the want to of course), by improving their craftmanship.

    I do read so many variations of Maglor and what he’d gone through. Since his fate is pretty much open ended, I cannot help but to love to read what others come up with. When I read hobbity fic with Frodo for example, I just as much love to read what became of Frodo once he returned home for example: the more variation the merrier. Or Bilbo or Merry or… you get the picture. I really find it hard to disqualify a story on intepretation, a story has to be really poorly written before I turn away.

    To paraphrase the old saying: “Don’t attribute to malice that which is probably caused by thoughtlessness.”

    Yups! :)

  13. Dreamflower says:

    Rhapsody said: So instead of accusing ‘genre’ writings for bringing harm to the fandom, as you also said, we could help such writers (if the want to of course), by improving their craftmanship.

    I absolutely agree. When I first began to write fanfic, from the very first story I wrote, I received advice and encouragement from those who were already writing and posting, whose stories I read and admired. That generous response made me determined to do the same for others.

    I always cut a brand new writer a *lot* of slack, in terms of writing, storyline, style and canon. I try to leave encouraging and welcoming comments, and if there are some points in the story I think could be improved, and I have the time for it, I will PM the author and offer my services as a beta. And unless I know an author extremely well, I also put concrit in a PM. I don’t feel right telling someone they are wrong in a public post, unless it’s a discussion or a debate.

    If I can’t say *something* postitive about a story, I don’t say anything about it.

    Dawn said: The funny thing to me–and I’ve been saying this for years and never had a canatic answer me on this point–is how many people will ding a “canon mistake” without providing a quote from the book to prove what they’re saying. I have never had a canatic say to me, “This is wrong canonically,” and back up her/his words with a quote or even a rough cite from the book. Even after I’ve asked for clarification, I am answered with silence. I’ve had discussions with people on canonical interpretation in my stories where they bring their quotes and I bring mine, but never have I been told flat out, “This is wrong,” and shown proof that it actually is.

    I do. I’ve been known to email someone and tell her “There seems to be a timeline problem with the story–according to the Family Tree, so and so was not yet born/ was dead/ was too young, and could not have done what you showed in your story.” I wouldn’t dream of being so rude as to call someone out on an error without something to back it up. If the author shows interest, I try to help her figure out a way to handle the correction, or simply advise her to label her own mistake. (If you put an Author’s note at the front of your story saying “Yes, I know that Gorbadoc was still Master of Buckland, but for the purposes of the story I needed to have Rorimac already in that position.” then you avoid having someone else point it out to you. *grin*)

    But I’ve also been on the receiving end of that sort of thing, so I do know people do it– I have had more than one canonical “error” pointed out to me, and I usually just quote my source in my reply. I also once recieved *unsolicited* “beta advice” that a certain word I used was wrong–it was “too modern” and “too American”! I was able to show the person a citatation that the word was in use in England as early as the 17th c. I was huffily informed that perhaps it was, but it wasn’t common and it didn’t “look” right.

    I didn’t change the word.

    An interesting case study might be to see what the fandom’s reaction would be to similar fantasy stories written by boys.

    I do not know if the *author* is male or female, but I do know that there is at least one “BOY falls into Middle-earth and joins the Fellowship” story nominated for a MEFA this year. The story falls about midway in the spectrum of such stories– it’s not brilliant, but it’s not all that bad, either. Yet if it had a female protagonist, I doubt if it would have been nominated at all.

    So perhaps that does demonstrate something to do with the bias against a female protagonist.

    I’m not exactly certain what.

  14. Larner says:

    Some years ago my husband and I went to a Star Trek meet at the Seattle Center, and the star attraction was Gene Roddenbury himself. He was describing the pilot for the series, which starred Jeffrey Hunter (my earliest Hollywood hearthtrob!) as Christopher Pike in the episode they eventually worked into the series as “The Cage.” The original plan for the series was that the crew for the Enterprise would be fifty-fifty, half female and half male. The network was absolutely aghast–that would NEVER do, they told him. They bargained with him, and he finally accepted one fourth of the crew being female. As he put it, “One healthy young woman per every three males–yeah, I’d think she could handle that!” They didn’t like that Majel was cast as Pike’s Number One, and wanted him to get rid of that weird guy with the pointed ears and the hysterican personality. He kept Spock but gave him the original Number One’s more controlled personality, put Majel into the hospital wing as the nurse (he said, “I kept her in the show if in a lesser role, but then I married her!”), and had to change around the bridge staff a bit as Hunter had other commitments–I can’t remember when he died, but I remember I was heartbroken when I heard of it, and Shatner became quite a different captain than Pike.

    There’s no question that there are a lot of books and stories and movies and such that focus on male characters, and certainly the vast majority of the major characters in LOTR, the Sil, Children of Hurin, and the rest of Tolkien’s Arda-based works are male. And at the moment I’m working on a short story that has five male characters and two female ones, four of the males canonical and the two females OC. That the two females are ponies is perhaps lamentable.

    But the plot of the latter part of the story looks at the females we know as names in family trees, and how they might have related to Frodo Baggins. I hope that although they don’t appear in person in this particular story, still they have had an impact and, I hope, are seen as individuals worthy of respect and even honor. And I’ve tried to do this with the other stories I’ve written as well: I hope that my version of Arwen isn’t seen as retiring and wimpy, and that my Eowyn isn’t too one-dimensional; I’ve tried to make Esmeralda Took Brandybuck and Menegilda Goold Brandybuck into women we can admire even at the times they might exasperate us; I’ve written Eglantine Banks Took as a bit hysterical and yet at the same time I hope sympathetic so that we can begin to appreciate just why she tries to reduce Pippin’s accomplishments to “he was safe, my little boy!” I’ve tried to give Gilraen reason to feel frustrated and fearful, having given so much hope to others she’s left none for herself. I’ve even tried to give Lobelia and Lalia a human side so that although they are the characters we love to hate, we also can truly feel sorry for them because they are so much less than they could have been, and much of that due to their own choices–and yet there is the chink in their selfishness that allows for one to see how they might find their salvation, as we know Lobelia in the end did.

    Tolkien and Lewis and others within the Inklings felt that since they couldn’t find the types of stories they wanted to read available in the world, then it was up to them to write them. And I think that the same is true for us. If we want stories of realistic women, we need to write them! Most fanfiction writers in our fandom are female, after all; we all know both good and strong and weak and wimpy women–let’s get them depicted.

    I believe I’m doing my part in making this happen, and I know that Barbara is doing so and most others who’ve written to this thread.

    It’s up to us to write the types of stories we want to see if we are going to lead the way to others leaving off writing basically male-based stories. Tolkien managed to prove that fantasy is a viable genre to write for adults, against all the conventional wisdom at the time that dictated that fantasy was strictly for children to read or to be read TO children. Well, if we want Arda-based stories in which richly characterized women abound, it’s up to us to put them there if others won’t do it for us!

  15. Dawn says:

    @Dreamflower:

    I don’t feel right telling someone they are wrong in a public post, unless it’s a discussion or a debate.

    I wanted to cheer when I read this. I have had this view for years, that unless I know the person wants public concrit, then I always handle it privately and, then, only after asking. From a purely selfish perspective, I don’t want to take the time to write an in-depth critique of a story the author has no plans of editing! :) From a less selfish perspective, not everyone is trying to be the next Ursula K. LeGuin, and I respect those who are just writing to have fun. My opinions are not so pressing that I can’t keep them to myself.

    But I suggested in a discussion of concrit once that it is a good idea to ask before offering concrit, and people were aghast! I don’t think it’s rude, necessarily, but the same people who complain that writers ignore their concrit might get better mileage, I said, if they asked the author first if she cared for concrit.

    Anyway, I’m glad that there’s at least two of us who do it this way. 😉

    I also once recieved *unsolicited* “beta advice” that a certain word I used was wrong–it was “too modern” and “too American”! I was able to show the person a citatation that the word was in use in England as early as the 17th c. I was huffily informed that perhaps it was, but it wasn’t common and it didn’t “look” right.

    Valar. Don’t even get me started on the whole “American versus British English” debate. I’m a U.S. citizen, and I write in the language I have used my whole life and that is part of my identity as an author. Or the notion that if a word was not around before or during the Renaissance, then it is off-limits to Tolkien authors. The books were written as “translations” of other, older (imaginary) sources, so to write in the actual language of the sources, they’d have to be in Westron, Sindarin, or Quenya. JRRT’s early 20th-century British voice is just the voice of another translator; my voice in my stories is my (21st-century U.S.) voice as a translator.

    I am sometimes tempted to write a Tolkien story in Middle English. Concerned that a word isn’t old enough or English enough? Well there ya go. 😛

    @Larner: *applauds* Well said!

    I am, at times, tempted to set up an archive for stories about the women of Middle-earth. If only I had more hours in the day …

  16. Dreamflower says:

    Dawn said:
    I am, at times, tempted to set up an archive for stories about the women of Middle-earth. If only I had more hours in the day …

    (Now you’ve given me a little idea…*grin* (No, not an archive by itself, but… hmm. *goes off furiously to think*)

  17. Rhapsody says:

    @Dawn

    Well I need more hours in a day as well, but then again… why not? I might have a few annoyed male elves who will stomp their feet and will pout that they want in too… 😉

  18. Dawn says:

    Well boys are allowed! The story must just also have a significant female presence! 😀

    Not like I thought about this over lunch or anything. 😉

  19. Rhapsody says:

    *whistles an innocent tune*

  20. Larner says:

    Well, I have a fair number of ladies I’ve included in my stories, including a number of OCs such as Narcissa Boffin, Will Whitfoot’s wife, maids in the Citadel of Minas Tirith and minor nobles from Pinnath Gelin, embroidresses, noblewomen from Harad and even a former courtesan from Khand who ought to work in well–as well as a number of girls and lasses who have doted on various characters, as well as the more typical ladies such as Lalia, Gilraen, Nerdanel, and even in one story Luthien.

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