In the light of the AO3 survey, especially the result that most M/M fans surveyed were non-heterosexual women, I have been having a lot of discussions with people about the possible reasons why queer women are interested in slash, to the near-exclusion of all other possible pairing types.
First, let me make one thing clear: I don’t think there is anything wrong with enjoying M/M. If I did, I would be a hypocrite. I do think that it’s strange that there is so much focus on M/M in comparison to F/M or F/F, and that this trend is likely to have problematic causes which should be examined more closely.
I also think that there are generally deeper explanations for people’s preferences and how they choose to express them than these preferences simply existing. If you do not like such attempts to cerebralise the reasons for people’s interests in M/M fics, then this post is probably not for you.
I’ve already discussed some reasons why F/F could be unpopular, many of which apply to F/M as well, but there are also some interesting suggestions as to why M/M is correspondingly so well-received.
The first, and most obvious, explanation, is a lack of canon to build on for other kinds of relationships. F/F intereactions are rare; F/M romances are ubiquitous, but can easily fall into tired tropes which don’t allow the relationship to grow. M/M friendships onscreen are far more likely to be well-explored from both sides, with two interesting characters, and this leaves fertile ground for fanficcers to dig deeper.
Several people have also spoken to me about the desire to go against the norm, to seek out the queer relationships which are rare in the mainstream media, and subvert common romantic narratives which are heterosexist and unconsciously power-imbalanced. Fandom is often seen as the only place which makes it possible to do this, and if the source canon doesn’t contain interesting F/F potential, M/M is the obvious choice to latch onto.
However, this does not hold true in all cases. There are many source canons in which a diverse and interesting cast of female characters, with their own relationships and goals, is still largely ignored by fandom in favour of M/M relationships. (The Avengers and Homestuck are two of the larger examples which I’ve seen mentioned.) In these cases, it seems likely there are other factors at play.
Some women dislike reading about women in fanfic because they find themselves identifying too closely with the situations described. If a fic includes issues which are uncomfortable or triggering to some readers, then a male protagonist can sometimes provide a buffer that allows the reader to examine the topic more objectively.
Stories about men are less likely to include the everyday gender-based upsets that women are most familiar with. While there can be any number of problematic tropes about men which are rooted in sexism, these are less likely to register with female readers - as are inaccuracies or poor writing, especially when it comes to smut.
Even though fandom is a female space, it is not free of misogyny. From disproprtionate amounts of hate towards female characters, to tired heterosexist love cliches, fanfic authors can often draw on and unconsciously perpetuate the misogyny of mainstream culture.
I think perhaps Tumblr user cantheysuffer said it best, in a conversation we had privately (quoted with permission):
I think why I only read m/m, even as a feminist, still comes down to misogyny. Certain characters, experiences, and pleasures are inaccessible to me because of how misogyny affects me in real life. Just thought that it was neat that misogyny not only over values men, but makes female spaces feel unsafe when it comes to my own pleasure.
Well, what do you expect me to do about it?
I could end this post there, but I know this comment will come up sooner rather than later.
If you read this far, you would probably find examining your own reasons for enjoying M/M (or whatever kind of fic you prefer) an interesting, if potentially uncomfortable, experience. I’m not claiming that all of the above apply to all slash readers, but they can be a good place to begin thinking about the topic.
If you are uncomfortable with your own reasons for reading what you do, then try to change your habits. Read more works featuring other kinds of relationships, and leave feedback on them - for rare pairings in your fandom, this will normally be much appreciated. If you would be interested in producing your own fanworks for female characters and F/M or F/F relationships, then do so.
How easy this is will depend a lot upon your fandom - if you can’t find any relationships you ship in your preferred source canon, then at least refrain from posting ship hate about those who see things differently. Consider looking up fanworks for shows with more female characters you would enjoy reading about, and showing your support to both the fandom and the showrunners for the female characters you do enjoy.
Obviously, this is not a problem any one person has caused, and it isn’t a problem any one person can fix. However, no progress can be achieved without acknowledging that this trend is symptomatic of a lot of problems in our society - sexism and heterosexism (and cissexism and racism, although those have not been dealt with directly here) are as much a part of fandom as they are of the rest of the world. They do influence us, what we read and what we write.
It is everyone’s responsibility to question the effects of that influence in their own lives.