Fanfiction is Feministic: And Other Things I Learn at Uni

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I took a course last year about things like gender, participatory culture, race and sexuality. It was very interesting, and I’m very glad I took the course. I thought I’d share my final (dodgy) essay that I had to write. I chose to write about Judith Butler’s theory of gender performitivity and how within fandoms, which are dominated by women and the LGBTQIA+ community, people explore their gender and sexuality. I used Kirishima Eijirou stan twitter as a case study.

Although this isn’t by any means my best essay and I had to stick to a set word limit, there’s clearly weak paragraphs and arguments and in general my dodgy writing littered throughout this. But I’m glad I got to participate in this course and if I ever do a masters’ thesis this is actually a topic I think I would enjoy learning more about and researching. I could definitely write 10k+ words on it. I just would have to make sure that I don’t submit this type of quality of work lol where I’m pretty sure my final non-lucid edits were made an hour before submission. I also haven’t re-written it since getting back feedback so enjoy it in all its weirdly WordPress formatted glory.

Also please be aware since this essay does heavily refer to fanfiction and its relation to academic theories – there may be almost NSFW content (I had to try to make it as clean as possible for the essay) so if that makes you uncomfortable please don’t continue.

Essay

Fan culture, or fandom, is a term that is used to describe communities built by fans of a particular pop culture series to share their enjoyment of it. Fandom is an incredibly popular form of participatory culture which is defined by Jenkins as a culture which includes the following: relatively low barriers to artistic expression and engagement, support for creating and sharing content with others, some type of informal mentorship and a sense that some members’ contributions matter, and members who feel social connection with each other and care about others’ opinions and contributions (Jenkins, 2019). Participatory culture focuses upon fans not only acting as consumers of a series but also as producers and content creators of some form of creative media. Jenkins explains that participatory cultures have thrived in online spaces due to the development and wider accessibility of digital information and communication technologies (Jenkins, 2019). Within fandoms there has been an emergence of content creators subverting and challenging conventions norms, expectations and binaries. Fans create their own fan canon, also known as fanon, which allows them to do this.

A fandom such as the Kirishima Eijirou stan anime-twitter (anitwitter) fandom are a community who consistently create creative media such as fanfiction to subvert traditional gender and sexuality related norms and binaries. They aim to prescribe to the idea that gender can be fluid for people and that is a performative act rather than an assigned sex at birth. This ideal for them is explored through writing Kirishima, the character this fandom is embedded in, and other characters (either in their relation to Kirishima or his relation to them) who they see as an example of a character with no toxic masculinity and who can be used for feminist writings, queer representation, and breaking down gender binaries.

Fanfiction is one of the most common creative media fans create and is inseparable from fan culture. It has been remarked as a revolutionary way for youth to determine and create appropriate content for themselves (Duggan, 2017). Slash fanfiction is fanfiction that depicts queer relationships. It allows for fans to shift the discourse of fandom creations to non- heteronormative depictions of relationships and characters (Duggan, 2017). Fandom content is predominately produced by queer, female-identifying fans (Anselmo, 2018). Dominant icons among the Kirishima stan anitwitter community include Sof, Fran, Maze, Torii and CRIMSON, all of whom identify with female pronouns and are LGBTQIA+. Fans participate in this fandom culture and write fanfiction to reorient cis/heteronormative content and form community while developing their own identifies. They tend to use characters and relationships to create content that they wish to see and fill gaps in mainstream media regarding representation as a way to explore their own desires (Duchastel de Montrouge, 2019). Fans transform canon storylines and characters and alter their perspectives, timelines, romantic partners and other features in order to do so. Jenkins argues that this is an active form of fandom culture participation (Floegel, 2020).

This suggests that fan practices, such as writing fanfiction, indicates that the meaning of media texts is co-constituted by consumers through their interpretations of characters (Jenkins, 2018). As fanfiction is a labour of love and does not need to satisfy advertisers, fanfiction is shaped by its authors (Fathallah, 2017). In their digital works, many queer fans ‘marry’ crafts associated with domestic and heterosexual femininity with established female fan practises such as slashing and shipping as a way for them to articulate complex sexual and gender identities (Anselmo, 2018; Fathallah, 2017). The Kirishima stan fandom in particular uses the platforms Twitter and Archive of our Own (A03) to publish their works, creating threads on Twitter for their writing and frequently cross-posting these works to A03. Fans use the platform affordances of pinned tweets on Twitter to promote their writing that can be found on both platforms and for to allow their followers to easily navigate their works. On Twitter the community is also able to retweet and quote retweet fanfiction for better audience reach and engagement, further creating a sense of community. This fandom also makes use of A03’s tagging system to tag their content appropriately to be more easily found by readers and to showcase content warnings. Both platforms also allow content creators to be able to engage with their readers through comments to form a more personalised connection and sense of community (Marwicks, 2016).

Kirishima is a character known for frequent use of the phrase ‘manly.’ He is known to describe positive actions and mindsets as ‘manly,’ complimenting both male and female characters within the My Hero Academia (MHA) series as ‘manly.’ Fans are aware of this and highlight that he does not conform his concept of ‘manliness’ to gender binaries. Fans have summarised their interpretation as, “Kirishima Eijirou’s conceptualization of ‘manliness’ isn’t a binary rigid mantra on archaic masculinity but the insistence of what it means to be the best of [the] bravest of humanity. In this essay, I will-” (shinsocane, 2019). Fans even explore this concept through fanfictions such as In Which Kirishima is Manly, as the author has created a Kirishima-centric piece rom Bakugou Katsuki (Kirishima’s canon best friend, but Tumblr’s most popular MHA 2019 romantic pairing) about Kirishima’s concept of manliness (2019’s Top 100 Ships; 2019; TheBrokaryotes, 2017). Throughout the fanfiction the author creates original character sisters for Kirishima, fanon interactions between Kirishima and female characters, and showcases his ‘feminine’ personality traits such as nurturance, sensitivity, supportiveness, empathy, compassion and more (Butler, 1988; Fraker, 2018). Gender is ‘performed’ by this author’s portrayal of Kirishima (Butler, 1988). The author portrays him as ‘masculine’ – muscular, athletic and determined, but also having predominant ‘feminine’ personality traits too (TheBrokaryotes, 2017). He never displays toxic masculinity and his frequent phrase does not ascribe to a gender binary. With repeated words and actions, as Butler suggests, fans understand Kirishima to not abide by rigid gender binaries (Butler, 1988; Fraker, 2018).

Jenkins argues that when faced with an absence of the types of representations that fans want, they have used this character to portray in their own creative media this representation (Jenkins, 2018). This is especially true of dominating female-identifying and queer spaces, as having this representation of a male character with no toxic masculinity but who instead chooses to act repeatedly in what can be considered a ‘feminine’ way while still being considered a strong male character who uses a phrase that while traditionally ascribes to gender binaries – he consistently breaks them. This subverts conventional norms and expectations and allows for authors to creatively play with their own identities, by exploring non-conforming performative actions through their narratives.

Unpacking what Anselmo describes as ‘queer cryptography’ as a form of fan labour offers a feminist reading of diverse modes of engagement in a participatory culture from queer female viewers (Anselmo, 2018). They explain that this term refers to the, “Cluster of reception practices that LGBTQ+ audiences have historically been forced to devise in order to eke out subtextual representation from an overabundance of canonical heterosexual narratives” (Anselmo, 2018, para. 3). It signifies the marriage of pre-internet queer reception practices and traditional female occupations with new digital technologies (Anselmo, 2018). Anselmo applies this idea to Tumblr users, who are known for their art, writing and 18+ content. The platform allows for affordances such as re-blogging, commenting and liking. Fans make use of this in participatory culture to allow themselves to make creative media that enables them to form counter-public spaces for marginalised youth, particularly who are female and queer (Marwicks, 2016). Twitter also allows for this sense of community to build through the use of retweets and comments, as seen in the Kirishima stan fandom. This safe space allows for the dominating queer and female community to create fanfiction based in autonomy and feminism thorough explorations such as kinks and sensuality (Anselmo, 2018; Mccracken, 2017).

They are allowed to subvert conventional norms of women being docile, stay-at-home mums in charge of ‘domestics’ to instead explore their own desires. In fanfiction, women can write about women being liberated, independent – whatever makes them feel like they have freedom over their bodies, minds and lives (Mccracken, 2017). Butler insisted that, “Gender resides in repeated words and actions, words and actions that both shape and are shaped by the bodies of real, flesh- and-blood human beings. And crucially, such repetitions are rarely performed freely” (Fraker, 2018, para. 3). Through the use of gender bending characters such as Kirishima and reader-insert fanfictions however, this community is able to show that women can perform their gender freely. In fanfictions such as Bakugo’s Hot (and it’s so Unfair!), a female fanon Kirishima pines over her best friend, performing what the media shows as a stereotypical female action by sighing, longing and gushing over crushes (RubyRoo_Proper, 2019). Told from her point of view however, readers gain a sense that she is not incapable of doing whatever she wants but rather is just expressing her emotions how she pleases. No-one invalidates her but rather encourages her to take action and support her. In fanfictions such as To Bind Our Fortunes, Damn What the Stars Own, a female fanon Kirishima is described as, “a great warrior gifted by the gods with a unique ability is the only skilled protector of her hometown,” which is a traditional masculine role (CathWinters, 2020). In both fanfictions, women have written these characters to be autonomous and free to choose how they act and therefore, this subverts conventional norms as women are shown to perform freely.

By gender-bending characters, the female and queer dominated fandom is also able to explore their own specific identities. Dominant creators among the fandom create works that gender-bend Kirishima and place him in a sapphic relationship to explore more complex gender conventions, such as in Love Arrives Safely and Eleven Power Triangle (rdztz, 2020; gummyconcrete, 2020). Jenkins argues that fans take whichever aspects of a character resonate with them with the intent to play with their own desires with the character and their interactions and reactions to their world, timeline and relationships (Jenkins, 2018). Fanfiction authors are able to subvert norms by showcasing sapphic relationships among women based upon their own desires and experiences by taking aspects of Kirishima that they like, such as personality, and his reaction to the world. They gender-bend his canon self to provide a more authentic exploration into issues that they experience and by doing so, they engage in the fandom’s participatory culture and provide more genuine representation accurate to their own desires to fill the gap in mainstream media (Floegel, 2020).

Fans are also able to provide gender diverse representations that subvert conventional norms to express their desires and experiences (Duchastel de Montrouge, 2019). There is a lack of trans and gender diverse representation in mainstream media and even less so among varied body types. Kirishima in fanfictions such as A is for Amazing and We are Guaranteed Chemistry provide a varied representation as a muscular body type (thatbisexualG, 2020; Claus_Lucas, 2018). They are able to subvert norms by exploring varied experiences of trans and gender diverse people – from an accepting home to a transphobic home, from short statue to tall, from being naturally muscular to working hard to gain muscle. Jenkins argues that, “Undaunted by traditional conceptions of literary and intellectual property, fans raid mass culture, claiming its material for their own use, reworking them as the basis for their own cultural creations and social interactions” (Jenkins, 2018, p.18). Fanfiction allows for fans to re-write characters and storylines to explore issues and identities that are meaningful to them, such as they have done with Kirishima and writing him as gender diverse so that this fanfiction piece is meaningful for them and their exploration to their own identities. This allows fans to subvert conventional norms by exploring varied experiences through Kirishima to fill in gaps in the media and break away from a limited number of stereotypes, instead choosing to display the character as a well- rounded human being.

In fanfictions, fans are also able to explore their sexuality. Fanfictions over time have seen the emergence of popular fanfiction genres such as ‘AUs’ like coffeeshop AUs and tattoo artist/florist AUs, crossovers between series universes and also Plot What Plot/Porn Without Plot (PWP). In their creative writing pieces fans have established the use of shipping characters to be able to explore their desires and sexualities (Duggan, 2017). On Twitter, fans create threads for such works and before the work begins mention content warnings, an 18+ disclosure and if ‘aged-up’ characters are there for readers’ discretion. On A03 tags are extensive and allow authors to tag as much information as they’d like, while also ensuring that readers can find their fanfiction via a navigation tool to search for specific tags that they are interested in.

Fanfictions such as A Beauty-Cool Kind of Guy and Had to Be (You) are examples of fans exploring sexuality (Yugioh13, 2020; bigstupidjellyfish, 2019). In the former, fans have used Kirishima as a way to explore their own desires and relation to sexual encounters. In the latter, they have also used the character as a way showcase how one might navigate kink exploration – providing internal dialogue to a character’s thoughts on what is occurring and their exploration into it. This subverts conventional gendered discourses, as females dominate in authorship of fanfictions and are the ones who are writing for their own desires within a sex-positive community (Duchastel de Montrouge, 2019; Duggan, 2017). Twitter and A03 have allowed this community to share 18+ content and promote consent, kink exploration and sex-positivity. They create works with kinks and scenarios that mainstream media shy away from in favour of showing women in more ‘passive’ roles regarding sex, while ‘dominant’ women engage in activities such as BDSM. Instead of consuming these regulated fiction stereotypes though, fans are able to create works outside of the realm of supervision to explore issues of sexuality. Given the lack of sex- education, sex-positive series, and explicit displays outside of porn designed for the male gaze, it is obvious that fanfictions such as these two are written by women for women and can be found on platforms that act as an extensive collection of writings that explore and promote women and sex-positivity.

A fandom such as the Kirishima Eijirou fandom are a community who make creative media such as fanfiction to subvert traditional gender and sexuality conventions and binaries. Fans are able to create their own fan canon and through the use of fanfiction are able to explore their own desires and sexualities (Anselmo, 2018; Jenkins, 2019). Fanfiction enables them to build a community dominated by female and queer fans who use the affordances on Twitter and their cross-over posts on A03 to do so. Using the character Kirishima Eijirou they are able to explore these identity-related topics via a character who lacks toxic masculinity, has fanon queer relationships and does not need to adhere to a gender binary – all thorough a feminist lens.

Works Cited
bigstupidjellyfish. (2019). Had to Be (You). Retrieved from

https://archiveofourown.org/works/17531774/chapters/41306813
Butler, J. (1988). Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay In Phenomenology and

Feminist Theory. Theatre Journal, 40(4), 519-531. doi: 10.2307/3207893 CathWinters. (2020). To Bind Our Fortunes, Damn What The Stars Own. Retrieved from

https://archiveofourown.org/works/26390668/chapters/64284502 Claus_Lucas. (2018). We are Guaranteed Chemistry. Retrieved from

https://www.archiveofourown.org/works/14927418
Duchastel de Montrouge, C. (2019). Shipping Disability/Fanfiction: Disrupting Narratives of

Fanfiction as Inclusive. The Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, 8(2), 11-30. doi:

10.15353/cjds.v8i2.489
Duggan, J. (2017). Revising Hegemonic Masculinity: Homosexuality, Masculinity, and Youth

Authored Harry Potter Fanfiction, Bookbird, 55(2), 38-45.
Fathallah, J. (2017). Fanfiction and the Author. [JSTOR version]. Retrieved from

https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1v2xsp4
Floegel, D. (2020). “Write the story you want to read”: world-queering through slash fanfiction

creation. Journal of Documentation, 76(4), 785-805. doi: 10.1108/JD-11-201900217 Fraker, W. (2018). Gender is dead, long live gender. Retrieved from

https://theweek.com/articles/751183/gender-dead-long-live-gender gummyconcrete. (2020). Eleven Power Triangle. Retrieved from

https://archiveofourown.org/works/25628224

COMU2150 Final Essay 10

Jenkins, H. (2018). Fandom, Negotiation, and Participatory Culture. In Booth, P (Ed.), A Companion to Media Fandom and Fan Studies (pp. 11-26). doi: 10.1002/9781119237211.ch1

Jenkins, H. (2019). Participatory Culture Interviews. Cambridge, England: Polity Press. Marwicks, A. E. You May Know Me from YouTube: (Micro-) Celebrity in Social Media. In D.

P. Marshall & S. Redmond (Eds.), A Companion to Celebrity (pp. 332-350). doi:

10.1002/9781118475089.ch18
Mccracken, A. (2017). Tumblr Youth Subcultures and Media Engagement. Cinema Journal,

57(1), 151-161. doi: 10.1353/cj.2017.0061
Pande, R. (2018). Why Do You Mean by “Fan?” Decolonizing Media Fandom Identity. In

Booth, P (Ed.), A Companion to Media Fandom and Fan Studies (pp. 319-330). doi:

10.1002/9781119237211.ch20
rdztz. (2020). Love Arrives Safely. Retrieved from https://archiveofourown.org/works/25742332 RubyRoo_Proper. (2019). Bakugo’s Hot (and it’s so Unfair!). Retrieved from

https://archiveofourown.org/works/18071015/chapters/42711866
shinsocane. (2019, December 8). Kirishima Eijirou’s conceptualization of ‘manliness’ isn’t a

binary rigid mantra on archaic masculinity but the insistence of what it means to be the best of bravest of humanity. In this essay, I will- [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/shinsocane/status/1203341129422430208

thatbisexualG. (2020). A is for Amazing. Retrieved from https://archiveofourown.org/works/24408229

TheBrokaryotes. (2017). In Which Kirishima Is Manly. Retrieved from https://archiveofourown.org/works/11447130

Yugioh13. (2020). A Beauty-Cool Kind of Guy. Retrieved from https://archiveofourown.org/works/26531344

2019’s Top 100 Ships. (2019). Retrieved from https://fandom.tumblr.com/post/189431747929/2019-ships

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