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In defence of fanfiction

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fanfics

I have been reading and writing fanfiction since I was 13 years old – I am almost 20 – and I am unashamed of that fact. I believe in the power of this medium. Middle-aged white men may not see the value inherent in fanfic, and the rest of the world may ridicule fangirls and our “creepy/obsessive/weird” hobby, but I know that doesn’t mean anything. After all, aren’t some of the best things about the modern world widely misunderstood and undervalued? Aren’t selfies seen as proof of the ‘fact’ that young women are shallow, vapid creatures? Isn’t YouTube culture deemed as evidence that entertainment is in decay? And yet, think of the brilliance and importance of these things, of how selfies can promote self-love, and of how YouTube allows anyone (with access to a computer – still a massive privilege, of course) to be a creator? Fanfiction has similar value. Trust me, it’s played a significant part in shaping my life and who I am.

As a young teenager, I felt incredibly isolated. I had friends at school, but for several years I was unable to be honest with them – about my emotions, my sexuality, about anything substantial. Thankfully, there was the internet. More specifically, there was the One Direction fandom. It was whilst the band were on The X-Factor UK in 2010 that I found a community for myself, and I am immensely grateful for that. I remember very clearly the evening I went on Twitter, as usual, and one of my mutual followers posted about wanting to write a fic featuring female characters based on herself and a bunch of her fandom friends. I ended up being one of them – the fic concept being of us, as a girl band rivalling One Direction on the X-Factor (but being super close friends with them all, of course!). Each of us in that group ended up writing our own fics, and we all included each other in them. I remember feeling like I belonged, like I finally had a place. That circle of friends – and the stories we created together – was integral to my survival at that point. I was more than a bit miserable at school, but I knew that at the end of every day, my computer was waiting for me. I had something to escape into – the latest chapters of my friends’ fics, and the chatter that followed reading. And I had a purpose – I had my own fic to write, and people who wanted to read it, people who wanted to know my thoughts. Although it was fiction, my group all inserted real life issues into our stories – I remember vividly how one of my friends wrote my character’s body image issues, and finding so much comfort in reading it. The comfort that ‘I’ was given in this fictional world translated into real life. I eventually lost touch with those girls, but I never lost what they gave me. I will always value their friendship, and I will always value the way that fanfiction brought us together.

Fanfiction has not only helped to connect me to others, it’s helped me to connect to myself, too. I have never been comfortable in my sexuality, never really sure of ‘where I fit’ in regards to labels. Bisexual is the word I used to define myself for many years, but it was never quite right, and that always inhibited me considerably. This discomfort only intensified as I began to surround myself with queer friends, people who were out and proud and sure of their sexuality – as I became more and more immersed in queer culture, the more of a fraud I felt. Fanfiction was the thing that began to change that, because it was through fanfiction that I first came across the labels that I felt a true connection to. It was in fanfiction that I came across the concept of asexuality, and suddenly there was a possibility in the back of my mind that I wasn’t ‘failing’, that my general disinterest in sex did not necessarily mean that I was inherently lacking. However, I wasn’t entirely convinced that I ‘fit’ asexuality, because I did not 100% ‘meet the criteria’. For a few months, I was more confused than ever before, and it was immensely distressing. I began to strongly believe that I was defective – sexuality being one of many things that I felt I did not have ‘a fixed place’ in, one of the many things that left me in a grey area. And then came the fic that changed my life. I’m not even exaggerating. This was a high school AU, and in this fic, the two main characters – Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson – defined as grey-ace and demisexual, respectively. I had heard of the latter, but not fully understood what it meant, and – having a friend who defined this way – I wanted to. The former, on the other hand, was a term I had never come across before – intrigued, I looked it up. The results of my Google search were like a slap in the face. Except, pleasant. It was the first time I had sighed with relief at a simple word, the first time that I did not feel like I had to reach for a label and clutch desperately at it. It was the first time I’d latched onto something – not only in regards to my sexuality – that felt natural, easy. It was the first time I realised something important, that I am not defective, and what I feel (and don’t feel) is completely valid. It continues to amaze me that something so monumental in my life was a result of reading fanfiction, and serves as a reminder that doing what you love can have some huge results, beyond anything you could possibly imagine.

Fanfiction has been many things for me over the years – a place of community, of creativity, and of self-discovery. But perhaps the simplest and most important thing that fanfiction has done for me is given me a place to call home. Of course, that’s fandom in general – in the worst of times, One Direction have always been my retreat, my safe place – but fanfiction is perhaps a particularly special extension of that. As a life-long book nerd/story obsessive, it is the part of fanfiction that matters to me most because it encompasses all of myself, and it provides me with an escape of multiple dimensions. I will never understand why the rest of the world can’t see the beauty in that, but I’m not too bothered about that anymore. I know that I am never on my own in what I believe in and care about, and the proof is in this fandom.

Youtube and Sexual Abuse

Author:

images

By Anna Hill

Recently, I have noticed certain disgusting behaviour of some prominent and successful male Youtubers has come out of the woodwork of the Internet.  The whole situation has been handled badly, and honestly I, along with many others, am very upset about it. As a part of the Youtube community (as both a Fangirl – or a consumer of media – and a content creator), I believe it is our job – those who are part of the website – to continue to talk about this and ensure that it never happens again. The pervasive abuse from “Youtube celebrities” is not being tackled properly, and this is a huge issue because it means that many are completely unaware of the situation, therefore continue to support the abusers’ content.

One of the reasons this is all so scary is because people aren’t speaking up. I’ve seen just one video explicitly naming those that should not be endorsed in any shape or form, instead of watching, and thus supporting their work, read up on the master post of all of the abusers and the victim’s stories: http://unpleasantmyles.tumblr.com/post/79455706244/tom-milsom-hexachordal-heres-the-post-olga although obviously some trigger warnings apply (such as emotional manipulation, rape, sexual abuse)) which is infinitely important, but that was the only video. We must be vigilant and open and ensure everyone is educated to make the right decisions about the content they watch and which they therefore support. (here’s the explicit video by Lindsay or Pottermoosh: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pAQDoLeNIk )

It’s also a huge issue because those who are mostly in danger of being preyed upon by older, emotionally manipulative men are the large demographic of 13-17 year old girls that use the website. These are the same girls that we are continually told are “ruining” Youtube due to their fangirlishness when they are actually the ones who are most vulnerable and most in danger.

Frighteningly, one of the main culprits of some hideous behaviour, Ed Blann (Edplant on youtube), tried to come back to Youtube after having a three-month break and then attempted to claim it was all a mistake and people should forgive him. If this sounds like I am being too cruel to him, then let me explain:

  • Abusers need to accept that sometimes they cannot be forgiven.
  • Going back to a platform, which you used to abuse and even rape girls, is not the way to prove how much of a changed man you are.
  • You can’t treat this situation as if the benefit of the victims’ suffering is that you learned something and are a better person. That is not good enough and that’s not a solution.
  • We cannot trust abusers.

In the case of Ed Blann, whose come back video (a song supposedly explaining how much of a changed man he was) was well received by all too many people, he continued to prove that he does not deserve the ears or eyes of all the wonderful women who watch him by deleting actual comments from the main woman who he abused about her feelings towards his return (see here: http://that-teen-witch.tumblr.com/post/88175226722/lions-and-snails-i-commented-on-eds-video ).

Ann, or TheGeekyBlonde, is a fantastic Youtuber and has made a great video about the situation and how we can deal with it and move forward. She outlines some of the ways we can help combat and move on from this experience:

  1. Amputate – This means we have to cut abusers out of EVERYTHING, we cannot allow them to turn up to events/be on Youtube/etc. etc. No endorsement and no publicity
  2. Vaccinate – TELL EVERYONE ABOUT IT. Write blog posts/ have discussions, let the community know and make sure the community knows that behaviour won’t be tolerated. Stand with victims.
  3. Elevate – Value the work of women and teenagers rather than phasing out or neglecting their work! Big up women, and women on Youtube. Listen to them, believe them, support them.
  4. Exfoliate – This is about responding to irl/online creepiness: do NOT do nothing: stop them, talk to them, confront them. If you are too scared to talk to those that are being abusive or dodgy try to help the victim, ask them if they need help, compliment their shoes. Just try to give them a way out of talking to them or engaging with them.

Ann’s Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Uc5eNNG60o

Consent videos are all very well but the viewers don’t need consent videos, the prominent Youtubers who suck do! There have been about four videos defining consent (which is important and useful, don’t get me wrong) but it is not enough – we need real change. A recent example of a consent video falling short is Jack and Dean’s (or omfgitsjackanddean) consent song which ultimately does nothing to rectify the situation, although many celebrate them as being really great people, even when they describe the sexual abuse as a “hullabaloo” and refuse to say that the song was a response to the behaviour of Youtubers.

If you’re aware of Youtube then you’ll be aware of the Vlogbrothers, Hank and John Green. Their position as de facto leaders of the Youtube community (through their creation of events like Vidcon) means their lack of a real stance and inadequate to no discussion of the situation is reprehensible.  Such behaviour, or lack of any real analysis or response makes them somewhat complicit in the actions of the youtubers that are abusers. (John Green even went as far as welcoming Ed Blann back to twitter after the allegations came out! http://i-burn-i-pine-i-perish.tumblr.com/post/89193450074/eddplant-returned-to-twitter-back-in-february-and-john). The lack of support that John and Hank Green gave to survivors means that not only do a large portion of viewers know absolutely nothing about this, but that they have let down a large percentage of the community – their failure to speak up has meant that this community no longer seems to listen to or care about the very people that allow it and, by association, them to have so much power.

If you are not protecting women and girls from this kind of treatment then you are allowing it to happen. No public discourse, no actual change.

 

Heads They Win, Tails You Lose

Author:

By Elli Wilson

newspapers_0

Ladies, I have some not-so-shocking news for y’all; in the eyes of our largely sexist and often misogynistic mainstream media, you can never win. Some of you have no doubt already reached this conclusion but it took me almost 18 years to come to the realisation that no matter how long I spend trying to ‘fix’ myself, there will always be another ‘problem area’ which is just crying out for a good wax/work out/cellulite-reducing massage (delete as appropriate). I now know that I can never look like the models in the hyper-sexualised adverts that have become the wallpaper to our lives because they are so heavily photoshopped and airbrushed that they don’t even look like themselves. I’m also aware that if I dare to be successful, I will receive less media coverage than men and if I do receive any it is far more likely to be negative and/or focused on my appearance. Yep, in 21st century Britain the representation and portrayal of women in the media still isn’t looking too great.

We live in a society in which the media is incredibly hostile to women, their bodies and their achievements. Nothing we do is ever good enough. We are either too pretty, too ugly, too thin, too fat, too successful, too unsuccessful, too career-oriented, too family-oriented, too prudish, too slutty, too uptight or too slobby. This list could pretty much continue ad nauseam. Whenever a women is in the public eye you can bet your bottom dollar that she will receive gendered comments about her appearance, her family or lack thereof, and her credibility that no man ever would. Think of the ridiculous commentary about whether Hilary Clinton can be both a presidential candidate and a grandmother, or the way Jennifer Aniston has often been depicted as sad and lonely since her relationship with Brad Pitt ended. And such treatment is not just reserved for individual women but for our entire gender. The behaviour of girls and women is frequently blamed for all manner of ills, from badly behaved children to the perceived crisis of masculinity. The media doesn’t just criticise and belittle us; it also polices our behaviour.

So let us be clear; media sexism is real and it has real consequences. The media’s obsession with women’s appearance – from Page 3 to talk of female politicians’ clothing – tells us that our looks are our most valuable asset. The way that certain newspapers talk about rape victims perpetuates our victim blaming culture where the victim is often held as accountable as the perpetrator. The near total lack of representation of women of colour, disabled women and LGBTQ+ women is a travesty that furthers the restrictive heteronormative, white nature of the society in which we live. As a woman, the mainstream media does not represent me or treat me with respect.

In fact, the mainstream media doesn’t represent or respect many people at all apart from a gilded elite who happen to be largely wealthy, white, heterosexual cisgendered men. This is a total joke and something that I hope the people-powered, accessible nature of the Internet can start to address. Online initiatives such as this one and the hundreds of others like it are working to redress the bias and underrepresentation of traditional media. It’s high time to make a change. If you don’t like what you see, do something about it; our voices and our words are powerful and we can make a difference.

Orange Is the New Black – could it start a new trend?

Author:

By Alice Koski

OITNB

Orange is the New Black is my new obsession. Hilarious, dramatic and centred on women who are dealing with real, hard-hitting issues – what’s not to like?

If you haven’t heard about Orange is the New Black (or OITNB for short), let me fill you in. Original to Netflix, OITNB is a show which first aired in 2013 and is now two seasons strong. It’s been a huge hit with both viewers and critics and season three is currently in the works. Set in a women’s prison, the show follows its main character Piper (played by Taylor Schilling) along with many others as they serve their sentences with each other. It’s fascinating, hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking to see how the characters deal with the different issues, from addiction and loneliness to tampons and chickens (watch to find out!).

But the thing that strikes me most about Orange is the New Black is that it’s one of the only popular shows out there that represents a truly diverse range of women and portrays each of them as complex individuals. Frustratingly, a lot of mainstream television fails to do this: women are often typecast into narrow roles beside their male counterparts, such as The Girlfriend or The Love Interest. This categorising of women sends out a message that there is nothing more to these female characters than the one-sided personas they are presented with. Furthermore, mainstream television often fails to properly represent minority groups such as LGBTQ+ women and women of colour, which again presents audiences with false ideas about what women are like and how they should be.

However, I believe that every woman who watches Orange is the New Black will be able to relate to at least one of the characters. The diversity of the cast is unparalleled – there are white women, black women, hispanic women, asian women; there are women of all shapes and sizes; there are gay, straight, bisexual and transgender women (Laverne Cox is brilliant); there are old and young women. Writer for the show Lauren Morelli has written that ‘Casting the show was thrilling. The array of skin color and the range of bodies were unlike anything I’d seen on television before… it felt important to be telling stories about women who are largely ignored in the mainstream media.’ It is not just OITNB’s inclusion of these different types of women that is appealing, however, but its portrayal of them as complex individuals. Although these women are criminals, the audience is shown that this is and not the be-all and end-all of who they are. OITNB digs deeper than surface level by revealing the characters’ pasts, complexities and vulnerabilities. No, they’re not perfect role models, but they’re real and they’re complex, and they are not limited to being The Love Interest or The Girlfriend. This is something we need more of, not just in television, but throughout the media.

Unlike most media that is about or aimed at women, OITNB does not rely on glamour and style to pull in viewers. The actresses’ make up is minimal and everyone wears the same unflattering prison uniforms. Of course, make up and styling is not inherently a bad thing, but it’s refreshing to see a show that isn’t obsessed with appearance. Kate Mulgrew, who plays Red, says ‘I think women get tired of the standards that Hollywood continues to impose. On our beauty, on how we should look, on how we should behave, on what is sexually desirable, on what it is that men want. Finally, this is a series about us, and people dig it.’ I think she’s hit the nail on the head. Unlike a lot of today’s media, Orange is the New Black does not set out to make its viewers feel inferior. At the heart of the show’s success is, I think, it’s raw and realistic portrayal of women. And quite frankly, I think it’s almost a criminal offence that the world has gone without it for so long.

Talking Sex

Author:

By Guest Blogger Janie O’Halloran

sex

Can you remember a time in your life when you felt so incredibly uncomfortable and awkward? I sure can. I was sitting in my ninth grade health class during the sexual education unit. Our class was taught by Mr. H, the most feared and mysterious man who walked the halls of our high school. He was also the head coach for the varsity football team, and exactly the kind of man I wanted to go to for all of my burning questions about sex−not.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure that Mr. H was a quality guy, just not the guy I felt comfortable asking what it means to ‘pop one’s cherry’? So I didn’t ask, and no one else in my class did, either. I think all of us were scared that our curiosity would suggest we were either having sex or thinking about having sex− two things that none of us, boy or girl, wanted Mr. H to know about us. As you can imagine, a lot of the questions we had about sex remained as questions.

Like many schools in the U.S., our sex education stressed abstinence and the plethora of STDs we were bound to get if we did engage in sexual activity. There was so much missing in our health class conversations. Important stuff, like relationships, sexual pleasure, and desire. Nobody talked about these experiences and feelings so we weren’t sure they were okay. Any hint of desire was about adolescent boys —assumptions that they were innately inflicted with “sex on the brain.” They wanted it. They were naturally horny and they simply couldn’t help it. But what were we? Our desire was missing. We were passive, the cause and objects of boys’ desire. So we learned by our absence that if one of us engaged in sex it was not because we wanted to, but because of a boy’s unrelenting testosterone.

Fortunately for girls out there who are experiencing their own Mr. H, there’s a way to fill in this missing information about ourselves. Scarleteen.com is an online “sex education for the real world” that every girl should know about. This website provides a place where girls and young women can engage in a free and open discussion about sex, filling in all of the topics left out of traditional sex education classes, like girls’ sexual wants and desires. Scarleteen allows girls to ask questions about sex, take polls, and gives us an opportunity to share and read the sex testimonials of other girls.

Reading this amazing site makes me more certain then ever that we need a discourse of girls’ desire in our schools’ sex education classes, not only because there are still so many girls without access to the internet, but because this conversation is fundamental to what makes us human. Perhaps if I had known about Scarleteen when I was in Mr. H’s class, then I wouldn’t have gone through most of my teenage years thinking there was actually a “cherry” that I was terrified to pop.

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