How fanfiction harms and helps young, impressionable women


Molly Rawat

Junior Makenna Leiby browses Wattpad and finds that fan fiction about almost every public figure exists on the internet.

Molly Rawat, Feature Editor

When one thinks of fanfiction, they might imagine obsessive stories about former One Direction member Harry Styles or romantic pairings of characters from the children’s series “Harry Potter.” While there is some truth to this conception of fanfiction, there is much more to what fanfiction truly is and how it came to be. 

Technically, fanfiction is more prevalent than most people think. The term can be used so loosely that even great classics such as Dante’s “Inferno” could be considered fanfiction. In recent years, fanfiction has gained a negative reputation for various reasons.

There is not a single work to be credited with being the first fanfiction ever, but for those who know a lot about the history of fanfiction, the first “Star Trek” fanzine, “Spockanalia,” comes to mind when looking at the modern definition

The two female “Star Trek” fans Devra Langsam and Sherna Comerford responsible for the fanzine are pioneers of modern fanfiction and what is known as slash fiction. Since its inception, the type of fanfiction written and read by many today has always been dominated by women. 

It would not be incorrect to say that, sometimes, authors write and read fanfiction because they cannot get enough of the source material and want to extend the work through other means. Unfortunately, this does not explain why fanfiction is mostly read and written by women. 

Historically, women have been left out of the worlds of film, television and literature. As characters, women were never depicted as significant and often represented misogynistic stereotypes of the texts’ times. As authors and directors, women have been disregarded or have outright been denied the opportunities they deserve in their respective fields when compared to their male counterparts. 

Many female authors, filmmakers and showrunners have broken through these gendered barriers, such as authors Virginia Woolf and Toni Morrison and director Agnès Varda. Still, these industries, especially film and television, lack female-centered stories and women in leading crew positions. Considering these difficulties, many women seem to have turned to alternative forms of expressing their creativity, which is where fanfiction comes in. 

Senior Lauren McGovern who is familiar with fanfiction culture as well explained why mostly women are found in the sphere of fanfiction. “Most media is geared towards men and their ideas of relationships and women, so that may be why women turn to fanfiction to live out their own fantasies.” 

Not all women write and read fanfiction, and many may not do it because they feel left out of spheres of literature and film. Fanfiction is not read and written by women only, but they are its primary producers and likely also its primary consumers. 

Another problematic reason women indulge in fanfiction is because their desire, specifically their sexual desire, has been demonized by society and, therefore, has become suppressed among them. Without adequate support and healthy outlets to explore these newfound feelings many young women face, they can instead explore them through fiction.

Since the romance and sex in fanfiction stems from a place of suppression, it can easily become toxic. Freshman Ella Gambong, who is familiar with fanfiction culture, commented on this issue. “In a lot of fanfiction, themes of sexual violence and abuse can surface. Sometimes when people don’t even realize it, the author or people reading think it’s okay to romanticize that type of behavior,” she said. “So, in reality, when someone is in a relationship they might think it’s okay for their partner to do bad things.”

Fanfiction does not always have to be harmful. In fact, if it comes from a place of genuine interest rather than being a reaction to exclusion from male-dominated spaces or an outlet for repressed desires, it can be great. Gambong recognized the potential positive power fanfiction holds. “I believe that fanfiction could have some significance for one’s well-being. It does not have to be about romance; it can be about what amazing adventures or stories you can make out of something you enjoy,” she said. “We can change the negative stigma around fanfiction by showing people there are many different genres throughout fanfiction.” 

McGovern agreed with this sentiment. “Fanfiction may be an opportunity to be creative and explore and analyze media.”

For centuries, women, especially young women, have been ridiculed for their interests, as seen through terms such as bobby-soxer and  fangirl which often have negative connotations. It is time for society to give women the opportunities to flourish in forms of media such as literature and film and to stop telling women that their desires are shameful and unimportant. It is not until then that women will have the liberty to create, consume and love works that love them back.