1. Genre of fanfiction involving pairing two male or female characters together; characters are commonly shown with a slash in between
Those who are new to fanfiction are generally surprised by the level of slash, especially m/m that occurs in fanfiction, and in particular the level of slash among character which are hetero in canon. It can be a little overwhelming, especially for those who are sensitive or prudish or just plain unsuspecting.
I have a real fascination with slash (oh really, you couldn’t tell?) and about the people who are attracted to slash. Despite what some might tell you, I am not actually a pervert. I think that very few slash readers and writers actually are.
But there is still that question – ‘WHY slash?’
My initial response is ‘Why not?’ but it really does go a little deeper than that the more I consider it.
I think there are several aspects to this, some emotional and some sexual. Let’s start with the sexual first.
As I’ve mentioned several times in this series, the vast majority of writers and readers of slash are women, and m/m far outweighs f/f in the majority of fandoms that I looked at. I spoke to as many readers and writers as I could and the responses were surprisingly similar in vein.
1. The concept of ‘forbidden’ sex
This was one of the first things that came up when I spoke to people – part of the reason they liked slash was because it WASN’T canon. It carried with it an element of it not really being allowed in that universe, a forbidden aspect that immediately lent itself to a heightened state of arousal. This I can understand – after all, don’t we all get that little burst of adreneline when we do something we know we’re not supposed to?
Likewise, the element of voyeurism provides that same thrill. When we are shown sex and pairing in canon we do it within the world the creators/writers provided for us. That sex is ALLOWED and so we don’t get the same naughty thrill from it as we do from observing two non-canon characters that the creators DIDN’T show us. It’s like we are peeping toms looking through the curtains at something we aren’t supposed to see.
3. Sexual attraction
Most of us at some stage will have found ourselves attracted in some way to other people of both sexes. It’s a natural part of our sexual development especially in adolescence. Even as adults there is often a lingering sense of appreciation for other bodies of both genders – and it doesn’t have to be deeply sexual. After all, how many times have you heard a women commenting on how pretty another woman was etc. It’s an inbuilt part of our sexuality whether we exhibit that in base form or not – consider it a sliding scale rather than a clear cut either or issue. Slash allows us to explore that side of our sexuality and curiosity in a safe environment with ‘people’ (characters) that we already know and in a world that we already trust.
4. Underlying sexual chemistry in canon
Some fandoms have this in buckets, and the writers and creators really play up to it. Take Sherlock for example – the BBC version especially. Oh my, so much eye sex going on, flirting and innuendo and general fan service in different situations etc. It positively encourages slash. And when characters have that sort of chemistry, especially if they are not a canon couple, then OF COURSE fans are going to pair them up in fic. After all, we’ve already been given half the image already.
And then there’s the emotional aspect of things.
This is related to the last point above, but in a non-sexual way. These are characters who just WORK. They don’t have to be friends, they just have to have something about them, especially when they are together, that makes them interesting. Which ties in with-
2. Character development
Characters grow and change. We want to see that, we want to see them beyond the story. What sort of situation would it take for one of them to finally make a move, for them to end up together. Can they get past their own hang-ups, issues and fears? What would it take? Would it be cute and fluffy? Or would it be angsty? Would it hurt? Would they be happy? This tends to look more at the relationship side of things rather than just the sex, but the sex is an important part of it too – HOW would these characters have sex. Would it be sweet and gentle? Awkward? Fun and giggly? Hot and hard? Simply put it allows for character development in a situation we would not otherwise see them.
But why is m/m so popular among women? Well, I read an interesting comment over at The High Hat which raised the point about male bodies being more sexually liberated than female ones. At first I was like ‘what?’ but then I read on and realised that they were making a very valid point about how women’s bodies are treated as public objects while male bodies are their own:
And then there is the universal desire to control women’s bodies for their own purposes or agendas. To quote another fanfic writer:
Women’s bodies are baggage. Battlegrounds for every political yahoo that comes along, property of the state or your ethnicity or religion. Every institution in the world has a say on what gets into your cunt — are you marrying an Italian, is he Catholic, you’re going to have babies for your religion and your country, right? Pro-choice! Anti-choice! Keep your rosaries off my ovaries! Life begins at birth! Hey baby, wanna ride?
You can read the whole post over at http://thehighhat.com/Marginalia/005/slash.html – there are some great points about slash in fanfiction.
This ties in with the power aspect of sex and sexual liberation. Men’s bodies are, on the whole, more powerful than women’s, and there is something incredibly erotic about that power, especially when it’s barely under control – such as during sex, and when it’s being used for pleasure and to pleasure someone else. It’s all too easy to imagine the effect that power would have.
In addition, we have to consider that when it comes to sex and arousal, it’s so much more obvious when it comes to men. A man can’t physically hide his arousal, while a woman can. That blatant exhibition of desire is incredibly intoxicating and empowering, but it also exhibits the male’s vulnerability to the desires of their own bodies.
Another more obvious reason was brought to my attention by another fan – in general male characters are more interesting than female ones. I can’t speak for all fandoms, but certainly in many of the fandoms I have been part of over the years or observed from afar. The fact of the matter is, especially in film and television, the most interesting parts are generally male. Audiences don’t react as well to funny women as they do to funny men, likewise, characters who have a tragic past – if it’s a woman she’s pitied, if it’s a man he’s respected for coming through it. We are more accustomed to seeing the strong female character now, but that is a pretty recent invention in the grand scheme of things. For most of written and visual fiction, the woman was there simply as a background love interest for the big strong male hero. It’s a part of our social conditioning that we look to the men as being more important (but that’s really a topic for another day). Also, in general we consider men to express less emotion than women, so to see them in a sexual relationship, especially where there is emotion involved is an interesting experience for both the reader and the writer.
It could be suggested that so many women read and write slash because they are either trying to understand male emotion, or they are projecting the sort of expression of emotion and desire they would like to see coming from a male partner.
Another thing to consider is the number of male characters versus the number of female characters in that particular fandom. Take, for example, Buffy – particularly later seasons when the females outweighed the males. So is it any wonder we started to see so much f/f in that fandom. In other fandoms, such as Sherloc, which has an almost exclusively male cast we are going to see predominately m/m pairings.
So, all things considered, why slash?