If fan fiction makes you laugh, you’re not alone. Authors of fan fiction are easy targets, whether they’re multimillionaires like E L James or your own tween daughter who has a secret stash of fic on her laptop. Despite being misunderstood and sometimes ridiculed, fandom lives on — and women on the internet are better off for it. Here’s why.
1. Fan fiction is more than sex
Fan fiction has a reputation for being all about making two characters get it on. Think Mulder and Scully finally taking care of all that sexual tension or Kirk and Spock sharing a steamy kiss at last. While there are plenty of explicit fics out there, fan fiction also explores chaste relationships, mysteries, humor and psychological profiles of characters. If you’ve ever daydreamed about what a character did after the credits rolled, then you’re in the same head space as an author of fan fiction.
2. The sex is great, though
A lot of fan fiction is sexual in nature — and the vast majority is being written by women. On the popular fan fiction site Archive of Our Own, one of the most popular tags is “sexual content.” Dig in, and you’ll find everything from tentacle porn to sweet lesbian romance. Fandom is a relatively safe space for women to explore sex and sexuality without being confined to cultural expectations. What does this mean? It means women can read and write what genuinely turns them on, not what society thinks they should be aroused by. Fan-made erotica is a revolutionary genre that removes the middleman and lets women tap directly into what they desire.
3. Fan fiction writers get it done
Escapism goes only so far. When a natural disaster or other crisis occurs, fan fiction writers don’t bury their heads in the sand. Instead, amateur writers offer their time and talent to raise money for various organizations. In 2011, fandom writers and multimedia artists raised over $110,000 for earthquake aid in Japan. Members of Teen Wolf fandom raised almost $20,000 to benefit Wolf Haven International. When Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted for killing Michael Brown, popular fandom site Tumblr blew up, with young women sharing information about protests.
4. Fan fiction cultivates artistic, tech-savvy young women
Though fan fiction tends to get the most attention, fandom isn’t only about reading and writing stories. Artists create illustrations, digital art, videos, websites, costumes and other multimedia projects that celebrate the media they love. While plenty of adult women participate in fandom, there’s a very active influx of teen girls. These girls are teaching themselves and each other how to code, how to use video editing software and how to create beautiful graphics. Fandom teaches girls to be tech-savvy and inquisitive.
5. Fan fiction fixes things — including lack of representation
“I got into it because they killed my favorite character and I had to bring him back to life,” says Angela, a mom from Detroit. When something awful or just plain unsatisfying happens, fan fiction is a way to rewrite history. It’s a way to take control instead of passively consuming media. Authors of fan fiction can create their own happy endings — or tragic endings if they’re not in a mood for happily ever after. When it comes to marginalized audiences, fan fiction is often a way to “fix” lack of representation. In a time when we still desperately need diversity in books, television and film, fan fiction is far more progressive than mainstream media.
6. Fan fiction creates important communities
Women were creating and sharing magazines full of Star Trek fan fiction as early as the late 1970s, but the internet facilitated fandom as we know it today. Now women and girls can find communities no matter how specific their interests are or how outcast they feel. Although women may initially connect to discuss Vampire Diaries or Sherlock Holmes, those friendships often transcend mutual enthusiasm. Fandom gives girls and women an opportunity to connect on their own terms. These female-driven communities give younger girls in particular safe spaces to discuss everything from eating disorders to rape recovery.