Friday, January 8th, 2016 01:14 pm
I feel like I almost have a grip on this idea but lack the words to express it. Let's have a go anyway.

So! Fandom discussions have become very social justice tinged of late. In some ways I think this is great, I'm old enough to remember the dark wasteland of "why are you bringing race/gender/etc into it??" fannish dicussions before about 2006, and continue to be delighted by some of the positive changes I've seen in media and fandom over the last decade or so.

But! As is increasingly obvious there are some serious issues with the way social justice is approached in fandom, beyond the unavoidable flaws created by the conversation having people in it. And part of this is the erasure of the relative power position of the people being criticised. None of this is entirely new, but it's gotten worse. Nb I am primarly talking about online female dominated Western fandom, generally on dreamwidth and tumblr, but this happens other places too.

One is the unfortunate fusion between "this is morally good" and "this is good (because I like it)". Fandom is by it's nature all about what people enjoy for largely subjective personal reasons, and unfortunately this has always led to people twisting themselves in knots to come up with justifications for why the thing they enjoy is objectively "the best" by what ever metric is most valued. And then using those justifications to attack people whose tastes are different. It used to be more about what was "really canon", what was 'well written" etc, leading to sporkings etc (for the greater good!). Now people are inspired by exactly the same gut feeling that their pairing is Good and that other pairing is Bad to accuse people of [insert whatever social justice wrong is considered most egregious]. Sometimes these accusations have merit, just like the accusations of bad writing or implausibility sometimes did, but you also get people, for example, accusing fans of the same couple of adults of being pedophiles for liking a different character as the top. We spent decades slowly persuading fandom that the social messages media puts out are important, and the moment they were persuaded fandom went "Oh, so I can use this to put down other fans" :/

Relatedly, I think social justice being used a metric of social acceptability has caused a shift from focussing on how to actually fix social injustice to coming up with supposedly objective, universal metrics of "good" and "bad" behaviour, used to reaffirm one's "goodness" and decry other's "badness". (Which again is nothing new, any group that cares about social justice tends to do this)

The most obvious example of this is sexism in media: the part of fandom I'm talking about is largely female, and we are mostly individual, relatively powerless victims of sexism trying to navigate a media landscape created by much more powerful, largely male creators. Yet time and time again, fandoms's approach to "fixing sexism in media" is to find groups of fans "supporting sexism" and attack them instead of focussing on the system they're reacting to. Instead of criticising the sexist media landscape in a thoughtful way, pick one or two creators who are The Worst and criticise anyone who likes anything they make. Instead of just promoting works by/featuring women, bash anyone who doesn't like these works, though they are not to blame for most fiction (and thus most of the fiction that happens to appeal to them) being about men. Instead of encouraging femslash and other fanworks about female characters, attack anyone who writes slash/about men, even though for many women (as well as non binary people, who are common in fandom) writing about men is a useful psycholgical escape from the experience of sexism, and again there are so many more male characters that it's not surprising that many people's favourites are male. (Or if you're a slash fan, say that het/femslash is inherently sexist/homophobic!) Make "feminist fan" mean "fan of morally pure feminist things" instead of "fan who is also feminist". Which is not to say female fans (and of course, non-female fans!) never perpetuate sexism, or that we shouldn't be criticised for it when we do, but we should not be used as punching bags for frustration with a sexist landscape, and attacking "bad fans" should not be held up as morally equivalent to, and as effective as, criticising the people who actually have power.

And of course it's not entirely clear cut: Individual fans may not have much individual power, but we have some, and it adds up to something significant when we're considered en masse. It is "fandom"'s power to attack that I am criticising myself, after all. Also, not all fans are equivalent: You have people like Naomi Novik or E L James who become very popular as fic writers and then make the jump to published fiction. At what point do they start to have a responsibility as part of the media, not just consumers of it(*)? But all power relationships are fuzzy like that. That doesn't mean they should be ignored.

This deliberate erasure of power relationships is pretty surreal given that noticing and trying to fix the effects of unequal power relationships is the whole point of social justice: it's all about prejudice plus power. And this erasure is always at it's most obnoxious when it attacks and hurts the very people it is claiming to protect. I am constantly frustrated by posts saying "don't write X type of fiction, if even one abuse survivor is hurt by your behaviour you are trash" when many abuse survivors, myself included, have talked about how this kind of rhetoric is hurtful to us.

Some posts I've seen recently exploring similar themes:
concern trolling about what ships teenage girls like
People write stories about things they don’t support in real life
This is about climate change but I can make it about fandom if I want to

Anyway! I hope I got across my point here? I am entirely open to criticism, I have a niggling feeling I've missed an important caveat or something.

EDIT: I think the caveat might be: I'm not saying we should never criticise other fans, or that the people making the kinds of criticism I dislike are motivated purely by a desire to seem Good etc. Just that I dislike the general trend.

EDIT 2: Another way people ignore relative power is by ignoring intersectionality and just focussing on whatever -ism is most convenient to their argument. See: Straight women vs gay men arguments, where "all that matters is that I'm a woman and you're a man/I'm queer and you're straight".

(*)Since I can't find anywhere else to put this: this is also an example of the important difference between what you write and how you talk about it. One of the really disquieting things about 50 Shades of Grey is not it's screwed up fictional power relationship, but the way E L James refuses to acknowledge the screwed-up-ness when discussing the book in real life.
Friday, January 8th, 2016 06:20 am (UTC)
I have nothing particularly intelligent to say, only that I liked reading your thoughts and I agreed with some of them too (the ones I haven't agreed on aren't in like a 'I strongly disagree' way but more of 'I don't have a feeling either way or I need to think about it more to know what I think' kind of way).

But I have noticed that morality policing and gatekeeping is getting more aggressive in fandom, with a great deal more concern trolling. It's - for me - offputting. I'm so bad with conflict anyway, that I just end up unfollowing a whole bunch of people and doing the mental equivalent of putting my head in the sand.

And for my own fanfiction Tumblr account (where I have 1300 followers eesh) I just try and make sure that I don't concern troll and am very, very careful about the opinions I post (mostly to avoid judging groups of people or judging ships or pairings or characters etc.) Some of those people listen to me far too much, or lend far too much credence to what I say, so I just...try and be extremely careful. Not sure if I'm doing it well. But yeah...'tread carefully' is something I've been embracing on that particular account. As you say as well, there is that important difference between what you write and how you talk about it. I remember once someone messaged me and said they wanted a romance like Augus/Gwyn, and I messaged them back privately and said that while I was glad they were inspired by their love and romance, and I hoped they found that on their own terms, A/G do not have a healthy relationship (*snerk*) and that I am sure they could find something far better for themselves. I think the message was received well but, yeah, E L James inability to simply say 'Anastasia/Grey are not healthy' bothers me more than the book existing.

(But I'm not bothered at all by the book existing. To me it's no worse than thousands of other books that have come before it, and in some cases a little better. o.o).

Okay it turns out I had something to say after all. Eek.

(And I think there is a general increase in the wave of 'criticising other fans to self-validate' - it strikes me as dangerous, because it also potentially desensitises people to legitimate arguments. I know it's desensitised me. Now whenever I see a 'sit down and listen to me about X issue' post, I tend to often autoscroll past it without even looking. Like, after seeing my tenth 'if you write noncon you're basically a rapist or endorsing rape' rant on Tumblr, I switched off. My PTSD brain went 'well goddamn that's triggery as hell.'

It's fine here, because I can carefully curate my reading experience here - i.e. my reading list is filled with people I know, vs. my dash which is filled with people reblogging stuff from people they often don't)
Tuesday, January 12th, 2016 01:01 pm (UTC)
And for my own fanfiction Tumblr account (where I have 1300 followers eesh) I just try and make sure that I don't concern troll and am very, very careful about the opinions I post (mostly to avoid judging groups of people or judging ships or pairings or characters etc.) Some of those people listen to me far too much, or lend far too much credence to what I say, so I just...try and be extremely careful. Not sure if I'm doing it well. But yeah...'tread carefully' is something I've been embracing on that particular account.

It seems to me (and I'm not any sort of creator, artist or writer), that you be mindful of the fact that there are pitfalls out there, you do the best you can to avoid them and you accept that sometimes you are going to do your best and screw up anyway. And other times you are going to screw up because you weren't being as careful as you might have been.

Then you allow for admitting that you did, or even might have, screwed up, and you try to grow from there.

Now if you can find the balance between admitting you screwed up and trying to be better without beating yourself up overly, do share the trick with the rest of us, yes? ;)
Wednesday, January 13th, 2016 11:21 am (UTC)
Yeah, I mean I'm fortunate in that I find your articles easy to read (including most of the ones you reblog), and a few others too, though I don't envy yourself and those others being the sort of buffer zone between the toxic stuff and the constructively critical / non-toxic stuff. It's tough though. Super tough.

As for the 'internet fame' thing (pfft, such as it is), I mostly try not to be a dick. Sometimes I get it right. Sometimes I don't. It has taught me a very 'walk away and respond *later* ethos' - and these days I tend to delete troll messages, because I decided I didn't want other people seeing that on my dash. Though thankfully it's been a very long time now since I've been told I'm a rapist and child abuser for you know... posting heavily tagged noncon/dubcon on AO3. But every time I get a Tumblr message notification, I still get mild anxiety attacks before opening it, because it's like 'will today be the day someone decides to dogpile because they don't like what I do.'

Probably also why I'm so avoidant about this kind of stuff, actually. :/ I'd love to have more discourses about it, but I no longer feel welcome in most of them, and as someone processing my PTSD in a very lonely environment as is, I just don't want to pile more stressors on top of that.
Friday, January 8th, 2016 07:18 am (UTC)
No coherent thoughts, but you've outlined a thing that I've been feeling for a while. Thanks.
Friday, January 8th, 2016 10:41 pm (UTC)
THANK YOU
Friday, January 8th, 2016 11:22 pm (UTC)
One of the really disquieting things about 50 Shades of Grey is not it's screwed up fictional power relationship, but the way E L James refuses to acknowledge the screwed-up-ness when discussing the book in real life.

A huge part of my relationship to fandom can be summed up as a paraphrase of that:
One of the really disquieting things about [anything that people fan over] is not its screwed up fictional power relationship, but the way [some fans] refuse to acknowledge the screwed-up-ness when discussing the [work] in real life.
The rest of my relationship to fandom can be summed up as: Keeping my mouth shut unless I either agree, or am explicitly invited to comment.