Slash and Teh Magick Testicles of Perspicacity

Via glandujakiss and sqbr.

You don’t even have to know anything about slash to get a few giggles and more than a few eyerolls out of this interview with evolutionary psychologist Don Symons, author of Warrior Lovers: Erotic Fiction, Evolution and Female Sexuality [eta: see comments 1 & 2].

Like all good evolutionary psychologists who focus on gender, Don hasn’t bothered to talk to any actual *whispers* women. Especially not to any women who write and/or study this, erm, *whispers* smut. Because women can’t define their own experience, can’t tell their own stories, can’t have any useful insights into their own motivations. Because women’s fan academia doesn’t really exist in any meaningful sense, not until chest-beaters come along and put their stamp of Knowledge onto it. Because women’s culture is there to be picked apart with tweezers and analysed with a touch of distanced fascination, a modicum of distaste, and a whopping serve of wilful ignorance. For lo, he has Teh Magick Testicles of Perspicacity. Here, let him show you them.

I found myself interjecting a little while transcribing.

Host: You remember Spock and Kirk? Star Trek? There are groups of women who write stories about them… with a twist. That Spock and Kirk were gay. There are stories about them travelling throughout the universe, and exploring their gay relationship. Anthropologist Don Symons has written a book about it that tells us the story of this group of women.

Don Symons: Slash fiction is a kind of romance fiction that is written by and for heterosexual women …

Wrong,

Symons: …in which the two lovers are both men.

Wrong.

…and for it to be true slash, the male pairing has to be expropriated from some kind of media. So, that’s where slash started actually, it started in the 1970s with women Trekkers starting to write fiction, …

Apparently wrong, though I don’t have any first-hand knowledge here. (Readers?)

…their own fiction, about Kirk and Spock in which the notion is that Kirk and Spock become lovers. And the word “slash” refers to the punctuation mark that separates their name, so Kirk/Spock slash is “Kirk Slash Spock” or “K/S”.

“I read a FAQ somewhere, and I’m inordinately proud of the fact.”

Here’s an example of something that seemed to me really bizarre. I had no explanation for it.

“And I have an explanation for everything, so this was very discomfiting for me.”

And it wasn’t something that one women or two women did, once it started, once the ball got rolling, really women fans of virtually every cop and spy and sci-fi and adventure series that had two buddies, women fans would start to write slash. So for women to write slash, they have to be fans of the show, and they have to find at least one of the pair attractive.

Wrong.

…and they write slash from the point of view of the other one…

Wrong.

…um, and. Anyway, you have lots of women doing this. You have this large international community of women who are reading and writing slash.

“The wimminz are talking to each other! Run for the hills!”

…if you put slash into any search engine you get hundreds and hundreds of sites with just every possible kind of pairing. There’s Holmes and Watson slash!

“This is the most bizarre pairing I could find. Can you imagine it? Holmes and Watson?!”

I was intensely curious about it when I discovered it…

“I discovered it! Me! In my tall ship and my tricorn hat, sword at my side! Ahoy!”

…because I couldn’t see any reason why any woman would ever want to read or write slash.

“And I know everything about women. Any fule kno that the throbbing members of their husbands should be enough for all women.”

My take on it was…

Host: Given that you’ve written a book. So you’ve obviously got from dumbfounded to insight.

Symons: Well, I figured that there’s more in female sexuality that was dreamt of in my philosophy, and I wanted to find out what aspect of female sexuality managed to stay under my radar all those years…

“Because there’s only one. And now that’s solved.”

…and one of the things that struck me first about them was that they’re really not that difference from mainstream women’s romances. That many of the same characteristics come up again and again…

“I feel much better now that I’ve managed to re-interpret this bizarre and deviant phenomenon in a hetvanilla way that makes me feel comfortable and unthreatened.”

…Uh, it’s actually fascinating. I mean, it’s a fascinating topic.

“Like chimpanzees.”

When I first started reading it, things just jumped out at me.

“And none of those things were my erection, oh no.”

One is, it was clear to me, in some sort of psychological sense, that in these long descriptions usually of anal intercourse, that the basic fantasy wasn’t anal- anal intercourse. The basic fantasy, I believe, was vaginal intercourse.

“See? Hetvanilla! Nothing to see here! It’s all about penises in vaginas!”

…but it was played out on male bodies. And in fact if you go back to the very early days of slash when these women Trekkers were the only slash writers, they were making all kinds of mistakes. They would have, uh, anal intercourse would be conducted without any lubricant…

“Which is something that never, ever happens in het erotica or erotica written by men.”

…and multiple orgasms, simultaneous orgasms, things that really weren’t likely to happen in male-male sex…

“Because men can never both come at the same time, not like with penis-in-vagina sex where such things are routine.”

…and when these things were pointed out to them, they read The Joy Of Gay Sex, and they became sophisticated, and they started writing much more realistic sex scenes. And so a tube of lubricant would just happen to be in the bedside table when it was needed, and so forth.

“I just read about lubricant last week at Scarleteen. My knowledge, let me show you it.”

But if you read it, it seems clear to me that the underlying psychology is still the same.

Host: And that appeals to prototype female interest?

“Because we all know they’re all the same. Amirite, blokes?”

Symons: Romance heroes, whether they’re of mainstream romances or slash fiction, are in a sense warriors. They may not literally be warriors, but they have the qualities of successful warriors, and they have the qualities that our female ancestors would have admired in a male throughout the long course of human evolutionary history.

“And now I’m just blathering and hand-waving on my pet made-up subject. Evidence? How do you spell that?”

So what happens in a mainstream romance is that the heroine overcomes all these obstacles and eventually captures and marries this, uh, superb Mr Warrior. The slash fantasy is not of being Mrs Warrior, it’s of being a Co-Warrior. It’s having shared adventure, risk-taking, danger. But also, this permanent monogamous union.

Splorf. What?

And that’s a key element that is always emphasised in slash…

Erm, no, it isn’t.

…that this is monogamous, and it’s nothing like real gay male sex is.

*headdesk*

~~~~

ETA 8 May 2009: Several readers have pointed out that Symons co-wrote Warrior Lovers with Catherine Salmon, who introduced him to slash fiction in the first place. Note that he completely obliterates her contribution in this video interview, using “I” throughout, and never mentioning a co-author. Note also that she is an evolutionary psychologist just as he is, not an English literature or history or women’s studies expert.

Almost every assertion of “fact” he makes in this interview is incorrect. Not only incorrect, but readily debunked with barely a few hours of fandom research. It is as though his “research” consisted of only talking to a single person with limited knowledge about one slice of slash fandom, then leaping on that as Truth. All he seems to have done is engage in just enough inquiry to confirm his assumptions about women’s sexuality and experience, then designate those data as universal and his interpretation as correct – because they reinforce his own prejudices. (Another possibility is that he did collect more data in the research phase, then carefully ignored all source material that didn’t reinforce those prejudices.)

This is the standard modus operandi of gender-based evolutionary psychology, as you’ll see from the other Hoyden About Town posts on the subject. It’s Tinkerbell academia, lazy and intellectually dishonest.

All you have to do to learn about women’s experiences and knowledges is to sit down and listen to them. And actually listen.



Categories: fun & hobbies, gender & feminism, history

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

42 replies

  1. Erm, while not in any way claiming that the work or vid is any less than horrific, I do feel the obsessive need to credit the woman he co-wrote with (who if I recall correctly was the slash fan who introduced him to it all): Catherine Salmon.
    Because I don’t like to see women’s contributions not credited by men (doesn’t sound like he credited her), even if the contribution in question is absolute and total crap.

  2. He managed to work with a female slash fan, not acknowledge her at all in this interview (he doesn’t even drop a “we”, not once), AND get it this epically wrong? Wow, that increases the fail level dramatically. Though googling shows that she’s an “evolutionary psychologist” as well, not an expert in Women’s studies or English literature or anything that might have been actually useful.
    I wonder if he figured that if one woman agreed with him, obviously this must be Truth? (It’s a common Bingo square…) That’s if she did agree, which we can’t tell from this interview. I don’t suppose you’ve found anything written just by her, apart from this other interview? How could you be a slash fan for more than five minutes and come away with the impression that it’s nothing except one-on-one male-male monogamous marriage fantasies written and read by heterosexual women?

  3. Wow, it sounds like, once upon a time, he might have skim-read some Constance Penley. Or, like you say, an FAQ that mentions Constance Penley*. And then disregarded most of what she said, so that he could produce the most superficial reading possible.
    When I first started reading it, things just jumped out at me.
    “And none of those things were my erection, oh no.”

    ROFLSNORT.
    Your comments made me LOL and saved me from repeatedly *headdesking*. Especially the image of this fellow in his tricorn hat — so very true. Perhaps he should get a place on the wall of fame right next to the man who “discovered” the clitoris.
    *Constance Penley. ‘Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and Popular Culture’. In Cultural Studies. Ed. Grossberg et all. New York: Routledge, 1992. 479-500

  4. Splorf. What?
    Hahahahahahahahahaha!

  5. The post title is made of winnitude.

  6. Zuh? Seriously. He obviously did not read any actual slash fiction at all before being interviewed.

    Great commentary, though, lauredhel!🙂

  7. What is this guy smoking? I’ve found decades-old Bible slash in the house of every elderly relative I’ve ever been in, and Tudor slash has been a continuing phenomenon for centuries. Have either of these people ever even been in a library?

  8. I hate it when people try to be all high and mighty about slash fiction- especially if they don’t have a clue of what they’re talking about. There are so many nuances in this genre- just boiling it all down to vanilla if you claim to have made investigations is nothing more than willfull ignorance. That man has an agenda and he’s trying to further it by telling fairytales- sooner or later he could not have overlooked the rape, s/m, d/s, mpreg, master/slave etc. fics but recognizing them would have gotten in his way of proving questionable gender relations.

  9. Wow. I’m only peripherally aware of slash, and even I know just how wrong he is.
    Awesome commentary, Lauredhel.

  10. The post title is made of winnitude.
    I’m getting an image of Cartman from South Park saying “Respect my sagacitah!”
    Well, I figured that there’s more in female sexuality that was dreamt of in my philosophy
    And did everything I could to convince myself there wasn’t.

  11. As an anthropologist-in-training and slash writer myself, I’m embarrassed by this man. He’s got all the intellectual depth of my 15 year old self discovering it for the first time (which is being unkind to my 15 year old self, who at least made some ethnographic enquiry!)

  12. I didn’t watch the vid but reading the transcript his voice came over in my head as sounding like David Attenborough’s.

  13. his voice came over in my head as sounding like David Attenborough’s.
    Yes, me too!

  14. But if any good has come out of this it is the phrase “testicles of perspicacity”, which I will treasure forevermore.

  15. I *love* it…in the same warm fuzzy way I love kitties and puppies and helpless little babies.

  16. @ fuckpoliteness:
    Warm and fuzzy are indeed most apt words when discussing testicles, magickal or otherwise.

  17. I think the Magic Testicles of Perspicacity should become a permanent award to be given to anyone who goes on about something that they clearly either have no understanding of, or a wilful misunderstanding of. Bettina Ardnt could be a good retrospective winner.

  18. testicles of perspicacity

    To be awarded for the self-regard that comes of staring for too long into one’s own glass balls.
    [slinks away]

  19. This is a bit odd. Camille Bacon-Smith published a book called ‘Enterprising Women’ in 1992 discussing women’s creative fan work, including slash. She’s one of those women, and her project is an interesting exploration of women’s participation in fan culture, and it’s also interesting as an example of how to do participant observation or ethnographic work as part of the community you’re researching.
    Bacon-Smith’s work is one of the key case studies in fan studies/audience studies in cultural studies, and was taken up by Henry Jenkins’ book ‘Textual Poachers’ (Jenkins is right-on and feminst-friendly). Bacon-Smith is _the_ name for slash fiction research.
    This stuff by Bacon-Smith and Jenkins is so significant I’ve taught it in first year courses many times. In fact, one of my favourite things is showing large fan art depicting the romantic relationship between Kirk and Spock to lecture theatres full of undergraduate students. The mature aged women students always giggle (because they know wassup), but the teenaged boys get all uncomfortable. The teenaged girls are usually very curious. And the queer teenaged boys delighted.

  20. As an anthropologist-in-training and slash writer myself, I’m embarrassed by this man.

    If it’s any consolation, while he’s introduced as an anthropologist here, he works (for varying values of “work”) as an evolutionary psychologist, an unrelated field of faith-based academia.

  21. I am involved (actually, mostly in absentia these days) with the http://www.craiggilmore.co.uk slash fiction site (anyone who remembers the Sergeant Gilmore/Luke Ashton story arc from The Bill will know the characters) and some of our members were interviewed by a Scottish professor whose name eludes me for the moment (I think Deirdre was her first name). She published a book on the subject and ALL of her researches involved actually talking to the women who write the stories, as well as those who read them. I’ll try to track down the details of the book and post it here if anyone is interested, but I remember others saying it was an excellent read.

  22. What is this guy smoking? I’ve found decades-old Bible slash in the house of every elderly relative I’ve ever been in, and Tudor slash has been a continuing phenomenon for centuries. Have either of these people ever even been in a library?

    I’m curious about the Bible slash.

  23. I’ve remembered. It was Sheenagh Pugh and her book is called The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context.

  24. So much wrong with this…excellent commentary! This stuck out for me…
    they were making all kinds of mistakes…
    Unlike any erotica written by het men I’ve ever read where women have explosive orgasms at the very sight of his rock hard member and climax consistently and gloriously from good old penetrative sex. Gah!
    romance fiction that is written by and for heterosexual women
    Also this! Apart from being blatantly WRONG – why is erotica written by women ‘romance fiction’ but written by men it is edgy, confronting literature??

  25. Also worth checking out:
    Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse (eds). Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet. McFarland. Jefferson. 2006. (Particularly Ika Willis’s “Keeping Promises to Queer Children: Making Space (for Mary Sue) at Hogwarts.”)

  26. Apart from being blatantly WRONG – why is erotica written by women ‘romance fiction’ but written by men it is edgy, confronting literature?
    The answer is in the question. For sufficiently small values of answer.

  27. and multiple orgasms, simultaneous orgasms, things that really weren’t likely to happen in male-male sex…
    I always cringe a little inside when I see men so proudly reveal their ignorance of male sexuality. Then I point and laugh (mentally, of course!)
    Dear Don: Male multiple orgasm–google it!

  28. This might be stating the obvious, but given the very large numbers of 100% hetro-identifying males whose favourite sexual fantasy is watching a couple of lesbians get it on together, might there not be a significant number of 100% hetro-identifying females similarly titillated by the thought of some male on male action?
    (I also loved the little dig about the impossibility of monogamy in real gay male sexuality – should we send him John Barrowman’s phone number?)

  29. DEM, you’d think that would cross his mind, but at the same time the important point that plenty of lesbian and bisexual women read and right slash — slash communities are in no way heter0-women only.

  30. Also in no way women-only. Men also write slash … gay men, bi men, and straight men, OMG!
    It’s almost as if … writing about people of all sexualities can be done by … people of all sexualities! Wow!

  31. I love this post so very, very much. That is all.

  32. Beppie:

    but at the same time the important point that plenty of lesbian and bisexual women read and right slash — slash communities are in no way heter0-women only.

    And at the same time, not all slash is male-on-male action either. There’s male-on-male-on-male action, female-on-male action, female-on-female action, various other threesomes and more, intersex and genderswap action of various sorts (including mpreg), alien-on-human action, alien-on-alien action, person-on-robot action, person-on-plant action, animated-stuffed-toy-on-animated-stuffed-toy action… Trying to shoehorn all this into a “het women fantasising about being fucked and getting married” is doomed to spectacular failure.

  33. Why thankyou rainne. I love that the thread’s also turning into a discussion of resources on good acafandom.

  34. Ack, I cannot believe that I typed “right” instead of “write”! *headdesk*
    And, of course, very good point, Lauredhel. While I think it’s important to note that there is a lot (though not by any means all) of slash that is informed by heteronormative paradigms, even THEN, reducing it to “het-women’s fantasies about getting married/fucked” is way off-base and misses the point entirely.

  35. Beppie: Definitely. And this chap is making absolutely no attempt at critiquing the heteronormative paradigm – on the contrary, he’s wedded to it, and is looking for reinforcing “data”. Check out his co-written article “Slash fiction and human mating psychology”. The coda is:

    Without question, there are now and always have been happy marriages. That said, we recommend the following armchair experiment in unobtrusive measurement: Open any book of quotations and read the entries on marriage (this article’s epigraph is a typical, relatively mild example). After reading a few dozen quotations on this topic you may conclude that the core fantasy that animates slash fiction–erecting a “marriage” on the foundation of an established, trusted, and tested friendship—might not be such a bad idea.

  36. You know, the funny thing about that is that I’ve also heard slash criticised for representing same-sex relationships as a passing phase, which will eventually be replaced by heterosexual marriage — an equally wrong assumption, of course.

  37. Oh dear. The poor boy’s just discovered fanfiction and doesn’t know what to do. Particularly since the whole damn field is full of these women who don’t know what they’re not supposed to be doing. Clearly this is an invitation for him to come in and tell us how to Get It Right.
    Bloody hell, someone send the lad a link to Porn Battle’s list of current prompts. But do stand back, as I understand exploding brains are hell to get out of the soft furnishings.
    Oh, and I must ask: what are his thoughts on yaoi?
    Deus Ex Macintosh: The point is that men fantasising about lesbians is natural and good and pure and perfect and normal as all get-out, but women fantasising about gay men is wrong and unnatural and abnormal and really what on earth are they thinking?
    (I speak as a fanfiction writer, who not only reads slash, but very occasionally writes it herself. My thoughts on yaoi are “yes please”.)

  38. Deus Ex Macintosh: The point is that men fantasising about lesbians is natural and good and pure and perfect and normal as all get-out, but women fantasising about gay men is wrong and unnatural and abnormal and really what on earth are they thinking?

    About sex. Sex whose purpose is personal satisfaction/fulfillment/enjoyment rather than being procreational in nature or part of their obligations as the supporting appendage of a man in a hetro relationship.
    Oh God, women enjoying sex. No wonder the poor delicate flower couldn’t deal with it.
    [And whilst I do recognise that the Slash community is wider than that, Mr Symonds’ real issue does seem to be trying to understand why straight women would write gay-male porn. Everyone else can be written off with “because they like it in real life”.]

  39. I can only imagine that Symonds would be confused to the point of implosion by women who write femmeslash/Yuri fanfiction. It might hurt his poor widdle head – I should probably tell him.
    Cheers,
    Erica
    [mod note: I deleted your signature, as it was just a link leading to a YAYBIBLE! site, which I’m fairly sure was not your intent – the one your nym links to seems to be the one you actually wanted. ~L]

  40. Have edited the post. The erasure of Symons’ co-author by him is, it seems, a common event both in academia and in fiction writing – do we have a neologism yet for this phenomenon? – and it dovetails completely with all the other “Huh! Me man! Me most important! Women revolve around my penis!” attitudes displayed here.

  41. I speak as a fanfiction writer, who not only reads slash, but very occasionally writes it herself. My thoughts on yaoi are “yes please”.

    Hentai rules, OK?!

  42. Haven’t anything more intelligent to add to this thread except that it’s wonderful, and the image of Don Symons in his tall ship and tricorn hat nearly had me spraying breakfast coffee.
    These days I now understand, because I have some handle on Slash fiction – as opposed to none – why the Girlchild rolled her eyes so at me when I erroneously referred to her fanfic as Slash. Of course, since then I’ve been educated by blogs such as this one.

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