It just kills me when writers create franchises where like 95% of the speaking roles are male, then get morally offended that all of the popular ships are gay. It’s like, what did they expect?
#friendly reminder that I once put my statistics degree to good use and did some calculations about ship ratios#and yes considering the gender ratios of characters#the prevalence of gay ships is completely predictable (via sarahtonin42)
I feel this is something that does often get overlooked in slash shipping, especially in articles that try to ‘explain’ the phenomena. No matter the show, movie or book, people are going to ship. When everyone is a dude and the well written relationships are all dudes, of course we’re gonna go for romance among the dudes because we have no other options.
A lot of analyses propose that the overwhelming predominance of male/male ships over female/female and female/male ships in fandom reflects an unhealthy fetishisation of male homosexuality and a deep-seated self-hatred on the part of women in fandom. While it’s true that many fandoms certainly have issues gender-wise, that sort of analysis willfully overlooks a rather more obvious culprit.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that we have a hypothetical media franchise with twelve recurring speaking roles, nine of which are male and three of which are female.
(Note that this is actually a bit better than average representaton-wise – female representation in popular media franchises is typicaly well below the 25% contemplated here.)
Assuming that any character can be shipped with any other without regard for age, gender, social position or prior relationship – and for simplicity excluding cloning, time travel and other “selfcest”-enabling scenarios – this yields the following (non-polyamorous) possibilities:
Possible F/F ships: 3
Possible F/M ships: 27
Possible M/M ships: 36
TOTAL POSSIBLE SHIPS: 66
Thus, assuming – again, for the sake of simplicity – that every possible ship is about equally likely to appeal to any given fan, we’d reasonably expect about (36/66) = 55% of all shipping-related media to feature M/M pairings. No particular prejudice in favour of male characters and/or against female characters is necessary for us to get there.
The point is this: before we can conclude that representation in shipping is being skewed by fan prejudice, we have to ask how skewed it would be even in the absence of any particular prejudice on the part of the fans. Or, to put it another way, we have to ask ourselves: are we criticising women in fandom – and let’s be honest here, this type of criticism is almost exclusively directed at women – for creating a representation problem, or are we merely criticising them for failing to correct an existing one?
YES YES YES HOLY SHIT YES FUCKING THANK YOU!
Also food for thought: the obvious correction to a lack of non-male representation in a story is to add more non-males. Female Original Characters are often decried as self-insertion or Mary Sues, particular if romance or sex is a primary focus.
I really appreciate when tumblr commentary is of the quality I might see at an academic conference. No joke.
This doesn’t even account for the disparity in the amount of screen time/dialogue male characters to get in comparison to female characters, and how much time other characters spend talking about male characters even when they aren’t onscreen. This all leads to male characters ending up more fully developed, and more nuanced than female characters. The more an audience feels like they know a character, the more likely an audience is to care about a character. More network television writers are men. Male writers tend to understand men better than women, statistically speaking. Female characters are more likely to be written by men who don’t understand women vary well.
But it’s easier to blame the collateral damage than solve the root problem.
Yay, mathy arguments. 🙂
This is certainly one large factor in the amount of M/M slash out there, and the first reason that occurred to me when I first got into fandom (I don’t think it’s the sole reason, but I think it’s a bigger one than some people in the Why So Much Slash debate give our credit for). And nice point about adding female OCs.
In some of my shipping-related stats, I found that shows with more major female characters lead to more femslash (also more het). (e.g. femslash in female-heavy media; femslash deep dive) I’ve never actually tried to do an analysis to pin down how much of fandom’s M/M preference is explained by the predominance of male characters in the source media, but I’m periodically tempted to try to do so.
All great points. Another thing I notice is that many shows are built around the idea that the team or the partner is the most important thing in the universe. Watch any buddy cop show, and half of the episodes have a character on a date that is inevitably interrupted because The Job comes first… except “The Job” actually means “My Partner”.
When it’s a male-female buddy show, all of the failed relationships are usually, canonically, because the leads belong together. (Look at early Bones: she dates that guy who is his old friend and clearly a stand-in for him. They break up because *coughcoughhandwave*. That stuff happens constantly.) Male-male buddy shows write the central relationship the exact same way except that they expect us to read it as platonic.
Long before it becomes canon, the potential ship of Mulder/Scully or Booth/Bones or whatever lead male/female couple consumes the fandom. It’s not about the genders involved. Rizzoli/Isles was like this too.
If canon tells us that no other relationship has ever measured up to this one, why should we keep them apart? Don’t like slash of your shows, prissy writers? Then stop writing all of your leads locked in epic One True Love romance novel relationships with their same-sex coworkers. Give them warm, funny, interesting love interests, not cardboard cutouts…
And then we will ship an OT3.
I would like to add a probably problematic addendum to this. In that in certain pieces of media that are pretty much all centered around families–where everyone interesting is related to each other in some way–that makes the probability that incest ships will get somewhat popular fairly high. Simply because there aren’t any real OPTIONS for ships that aren’t in some way incestuous or otherwise weird and taboo, like huge age gaps or really noticeably unbalanced power dynamics.
I’m not CONDONING shipping those things. I am simply saying that when you decry the horrific depravity of fandom for daring to ship two people who are related, maybe consider the statistics involved, and consider HOW those ships are commonly shipped over the fact that they are at all. Like if you find that fans are going out of their way to write characters who are siblings as not related to each other in AU for fic or whatever then like?? Yeah. That’s probably a factor.
I’ve been in different fandoms for ten years so far, and in that time, I also happen to have gotten a Sociology degree. And these are the “rules” I’ve picked up on.
1) Shipping will happen. Accept it and plan for it.
2)The most popular ship will be amongst whoever character’s inner life, relationships, and screen time are delved into the most–as long as…
Addendum to 2: they’re marginally attractive. If that important main character happens to be, say, a talking dog, then most of the fandom will resist and ship other things because of the “marginally attractive” rule. Others will come up with elaborate body switch/humanization/whatever plots to handwave it away and imagine the dog looking like their favorite actor. There will be a small group who straight up ships the dog as is anyway, but waaaaaay smaller than if it was a normal attractive male human. But still–you’ve put a talking dog in center stage, so prepare for fanfic to be written about it in some way. It will just be significantly less if it breaks the “marginally attractive” rule.
3)There will always be outliers in fandom. Just because a fanfic exists of Roy Orbison in clingfilm, doesn’t mean much. That just tells us about the proclivities of that particular dude who write it. When we notice overall TRENDS and popular ships of broad swaths of people, then we can start seeing actual patterns. So there WILL be people who break these rules in disturbing ways, but those people are exceptions to the rule that don’t discount the overall trend.
Now, WHAT fandom and people as a whole considers acceptable for the “generally attractive” rule, that’s when we can notice some interesting things. The majority of fandoms where I’ve seen lots and lots and LOTS of ships around what are technically underage teenagers are from media that are a)Films with characters played by much older actors, and b)written narratives where we can imagine the characters as said much older actors. Our idea of what certain ages “look like” is warped pretty heavily from Hollywood casting much older people in the roles. Fanart of teenage characters from written works usually bear this out–they will usually be drawn older than an actual person that age tends to look.
Now, let’s apply this rule to one of the mysteries of Tumblr: The goddamn Onceler. Now WHY of all goddamn things the completely mediocre Lorax movie got so much fanart and fanfiction attention, I don’t know. I’m still picking apart what creates MORE fanfic of one media property over another(its not just popularity–lots of book series can be popular but have bupkis for fic), but I have a feeling, even if I did, the goddamn Lorax would probably still end up as a paradox. But when you look at the characters with ACTUAL SCREEN TIME in the movie, it becomes easy to apply this rule. The only people with significant lines and screen time are characters who are VERY clearly children, a strange little creature voiced by Danny Devito, and the Onceler. The only marginally attractive one is the Onceler, so the only possible option fandom could come up with is to pair him with HIMSELF from the FUTURE.
When you frame it in terms of how fandom makes decisions on who gets shipped, it makes perfect sense. Weird Onceler time shipping was bound to happen just from how the movie is written. If your only alternatives are straight-up pedophilia and imagining this strange orange creature with DeVito voice having sex, then yes, I’d choose shipping the Onceler with a future version of himself too.
Let apply it to another fandom: Supernatural. Now, any fan of that show can tell you that for a looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time, everyone but the two main characters–who are brothers–dies around them. ESPECIALLY if you’re presented as a love interest in any way. The two attractive brothers have absolutely no one to depend on but each other, only about once a season visiting a long-time associate holed up in a bunker, who provides pretty much only resources and infodumps(spoiler alert! They also inevitably die, it just takes longer). Think of the rules: the Supernatural writers basically wrote their fandom into either writing incest, or sitting on their hands and shipping nothing at all. I will certainly not deny that incest is a kink some people have, but statistically there are no doubt lots of shippers in Supernatural who never thought of doing such a thing–and for which the kink has no particular thrill–who have nevertheless been roped into doing so just because the need to write SOMETHING to comfort those beleaguered characters.
After Supernatural had an episode or two lampooning fan culture and generally letting the audience know they were aware of their fandom, they finally wised up that they’d put their fans in this weird position and gave the brothers the consistent angel associate, Castiel. But this was seasons and seasons late in the game, so for some, that damage has already been done, so to speak.
You’ve made a show where most of the characters are robots, like Transformers? Well, prepare for written robot sex. You’ve written a show about humanized animals and their adventures? Congratulations, you’ve made furries. You can apply this to basically anything.
I think this also ties in with fandom’s accepted problem with racial minority characters as well. If the show just shoves a character in there for diversity’s sake and the writers seem unwilling/afraid to actually use a character, then the fandom won’t either. The characters fandom will write the most about will statistically be white males, because those are statistically the most common heroes and characters with the most development and screen time. Now, does the usual unconscious bias of fans also hurt matters? Ab-so-fucking-lutely. But fans also aren’t writing in a vacuum. They’re building off the original work, and some of the flaws of the original are going to come through.
It’s amazing to see how this post has grown and the amazing additions to it.