It is probably safe to say, from a completely informal and unverified statistical viewpoint, that the writers of slash fiction online are, demographically, overwhelmingly female. Given that, by definition, 'slash' is used almost exclusively to refer to a homoerotic male sexual relationship (a homoerotic female relationship is usually given the designation 'femslash') and given that, further, these male protagonists being slashed are usually given a female love interest, this begs the question, 'what becomes of the female love interest in the slash fiction under examination?' There are a number of approaches to the female love interest: most common among these are, firstly, 'bashing', or portraying the love interest's character (fairly or unfairly) as selfish, unfaithful, abusive, or any of a number of other traits that would make her an unsuitable mate. These traits may be rooted in the source material (Katchoo in Strangers in Paradise and Astrid in the first How to Train Your Dragon film are both shown as physically abusive toward their male love interests) or made up out of whole cloth (such as a fan fiction of Astrid, again, leaving her male love interest Hiccup because of his disability, when such an attitude on her part was never so much as hinted at in canon). A second quite common approach to the female love interest is treating her canonical relationship with her male love interest as a transient affair, after which the fanfiction author selects a suitable mate for her from among the other characters, frequently male (an example of this is Hermione Granger being paired with Viktor Krum when the author desires to ship Ron Weasley with someone else) or sometimes female (such as Thursday26's choice of Heather as a romantic partner for Astrid in Out of Time, covered on this page previously). This is of course helped along if there is seen to be some interaction, a friendship or even a brief courtship between the female character and the selected other partner of choice. A third option, especially if the female love interest is a strong and well-loved character, is to bring her into the relationship as a third party, in which case the story becomes categorized not as slash but as what is known as 'OT3' i.e. a polyamorous relationship. One of the fandoms most famous for this is White Collar, where Peter's wife Elizabeth is so popular and has such good chemistry with both actors that she is often included in any relationships that pair Neal Caffrey with Peter Burke. The final method under examination is the one employed in "Redamancy", namely, to make the female love interest a Cupid: usually an ex-girlfriend and mentor, where she actively, to varying degrees, helps the men work out their attraction to each other.
This approach is interesting because it tends to play on the trope of men being emotionally obtuse (or underdeveloped) and women knowing better about emotions. What happens in Redamancy is a textbook example of this approach, which accomplishes the dual goal of getting the two male protagonists together in a (presumably) more egalitarian relationship than would be possible in the accepted heterosexual tradition, and empowering the female party to be 'pulling the strings', as it were. The most prominent aspect of this approach, more than the others mentioned above, is that in a very real way it is not about dismissing the female love interest or shunting her to the side, but empowering the female characters and making them into mentors (a role almost exclusively always occupied by males, with the possible exception, in Young Justice, of Black Canary). The role of 'emotional mentor' is often handed societally off to women, giving relationship advice etc., so to subvert this even more, the female figure is frequently quite sarcastic and assertive, almost bossing the male characters around and commenting on how they are emotionally stunted (by society, one assumes).
This dynamic is immediately apparent in the exchange between Artemis and Dick in "Redamancy."
"Nightwing," [Artemis] repeats, voice brooking no room for argument.
Dick pointedly does not look her way. Her hand lands
heavily on his shoulder and she turns him in his chair.
He resists looking at her for a moment, but he can feel
her gaze boring into his face. So he looks at her…
What starts with an assertive statement – "voice brooking no room for argument" is followed up with body language that makes Dick obey Artemis "she turns him" and her hand lands "heavily," indicating power. Also, his resistance being overcome is signaled by "He resists looking at her…" followed by "So he looks at her." In other words, her insistence has overcome his resistance. This is a situation that places a woman in a position of power over the male protagonist.
The body languge of assertiveness and eventual yielding is continued at the start of the conversation:
Dick growls and turns back to his computer screens, starting to lose his patience.
Artemis doesn't let him spin too far, stopping the chair and leaning on the armrests,
close to his face. Dick sighs and slumps, trying to put some
distance between them. She frowns in concentration, staring into his soul, not moving an inch.
The power is all with Artemis here: Dick is almost like a sulky child, "growling". Artemis "doesn't let him spin" and then Dick "slumps," a posture of concession. Then Artemis is described as "not moving an inch." What all this presents is a portrait of resistance in the face of determination. Since the reader is invested in the outcome of the fiction – Dick and Wally getting together – and Dick is resisting talking about it, the reader is here placed firmly on the side of the powerful woman, Artemis, and is cheering on her show of strength. This is a way to get the reader on the side of a woman in control, outside the confines/constraints of a heterosexual relationship. Mentor is a role that women have historically been excluded from, whereas girlfriend is a role they have often been forced into. Making the woman a romantic mentor and extricating her from the role of girlfriend may be a way to subvert this long-lasting trope.
Throughout, Artemis is shown, not only through body language but through deductive skills, as having the upper hand.
Artemis' frown deepens. "If you're not going to tell me
what's going on, I have to figure it out myself."
"And staring at me is going to help you with that?"
"Of course." She flashes him a smile. "You can't hide anything from me."
Artemis is by no means clairvoyant, but the implication is that Dick, the male character, is so transparent and she is so astute that she will be able to find out what she wants to know just by looking at his face. This is a subversion of the traditional male/female power dynamic (and the author is careful to avoid any references to feminine intuition, instead making Artemis a master of reading facial expressions and body language). Artemis continues to have the physical upper hand:
Artemis gasps and grabs his head, tilting it to one side at an
uncomfortae angle. "Hey!" he yells, hands slamming to the desktop in surprise.
"Shush," Artemis orders, unfazed. She pushes his head a
little farther to blthe side and pulls at the collar of his uniform…
She also "orders," as in "commands." She also "grasps and grabs," and "pushes… and pulls," which, although permitted by the bonds of friendship, shows that she clearly has the upper hand here. The final assurance of this is in the lines
"Deal," she says, holding out her hand. Dick shakes it
and curses himself. He knows he's already lost.
It may not be going too far to say that in this approach, the female character is a stand-in for the (usually female-identified) author, talking a great deal of sense from the point of view of someone who is invested in these characters' homoerotic relationship and wanting to nudge them to take the final step of embarking on a relationship.
"Oh my god, you slept with Wally." A huge smile breaks out
across [Artemis'] face. "You slept with Wally!" …Her
reaction is good, but he doesn't know why his stomach
drops at her happy tone. "It's about damn time!"
The glee in Artemis' tone is the reader's delight at seeing these characters get together. However, there is an obstacle (in the best romantic tradition), and here it is the readers' very frustrations with the social roles forced upon men. Most Western men are raised to act with machismo and be less than intuitive about emotions, so the vast majority of the readership will feel Artemis' frustration:
"So…" she says slowly, "the best way to prove who was
better in bed was to sleep with each other?" she asks, unimpressed.
Dick gulps. "Uhhh… yeah."
Artemis sighs heavily, like her soul is leaving her body.
"I swear, for some of the smartest guys I know, you are both idiots!"
The reader's catharsis continues as Artemis schools Dick (note the repetition of the body language from above) and Dick reacts like a schoolboy:
"No, that's not it." She grips onto his chin and examines his face,
turning his head to the left and right slightly. "I think
I don't believe you because you have a big, fat crush on Wally."
"I do not!" Dick argues reflexively, sounding like a teenager…
"Oh! Junior high levels of denial right here!"…
"I don't have a crush on him!" Dick repeats, voice bordering on whiny.
"Noooo, of course not!" she continues… "It's not a crush, at all when all
you can think about is kissing him and holding him and wearing his sweaters-"
"I-I don't!" Dick thinks his cheeks might be on fire.
And then, finally, Artemis is permitted to do what many female readers have often wanted to do: knock some sense into the heads of the men in their lives. This is a great sensation of vicarious fulfillment, to have Artemis say this and have Dick listen to her:
"Like I said before, lie to me, but don't lie to yourself." She squeezes his shoulder.
"You can't live your life wondering 'what if I did this or I didn't
do that' because I know that's what will happen. I know, firsthand, how awful it is."
Artemis completely embodies the powerful woman trope, with a little side of the clueless male being like a schoolboy being coached by a mother or, more likely, an older sister. The reason the powerful woman element is so important is that slash fiction is often construed to be a jettisoning of the female in favor of having only males on the page, which it would be easy to mistakenly view as a misogynistic stance because of its emphasis on male homosexuality. Such a famous homosexual author as Alfred Jarry, writing in the last century in defense of having boys play the roles of women on stage, said of the female presence:
…the ridiculous profile and unaesthetic walk of women…
the outline of their muscles is blurred by fatty tissue,
odious because it has a function—it makes milk."
(Jarry, qtd. in Ferris 57).
Homosexuality and misogyny can, and often do, go hand in hand. But it is here that the predominantly female demographic of slash fiction comes to the fore. It is tempting to say that slash fiction plays much the same role as girl-on-girl porn videos—and they do share some demographic characteristics, namely that girl-on-girl is made for (cishet) males by males, with female protagonists, and slash fiction is (almost overwhelmingly) made for women by women, with male protagonists. One could argue all day and night about whether slash fiction fetishizes the male protagonist in the same way as girl-on-girl porn fetishizes the female porn star, and one could also argue at length about whether slash erotic fiction is a way of 'getting the girl out of the picture' so that the primarily heterosexual female readership can have an experience similar to the one cishet men have when watching girl-on-girl porn. But that is not the issue here. The issue is the degree to which this particular method of dealing with the canonical female love interest empowers or disempowers women in slash fiction. I would say that making the female love interest a mentor – specifically, in this example, making Artemis a mentor – accomplishes the goal of getting the male protagonists together while simultaneously retaining female agency and power.
Thursday26. "Redamancy." Archive of our Own, /works/17445473. Accessed 17/5/2019.
Ferris, Lesley, ed. Crossing the Stage: Controversies on Cross-Dressing. London and New York: Routledge, 2005.