First of all, many many thanks to Kristina Busse for inspiring this wonderful series of conversations, and to Henry Jenkins for organizing the exchanges and hosting them on his blog.
Although I had read the existing literature on gender and fan studies, and had gotten to know some of the emerging scholars in the field, this exchange made me understand just how much more there is to be done, and also gave me hope that so many excellent scholars are interested in this field and willing to do new and urgently important work. Through these conversations, I have found a terrific intellectual partner in Sam Ford, and we are now in the process of co-editing a new volume on soap operas. We hope to bring "soap studies" into the digital age, and aim to address the role of gender, and the role that fans play, in the production, circulation, and distribution of daytime soaps and soap-related texts. Two great university presses have already expressed interest in this project. We think our volume will be a strong contribution to the fields of media (especially new media and television) studies and fan studies, and it would never have come into being without the conversations that took place this summer and fall on this blog. (And at least a couple of the authors whose essays we will include also participated in the Gender and Fan Culture exchanges!)
Sam isn't the only great connection I've made through these conversations. I've been fortunate enough to develop significant professional relationships with other participants, and have become a fan of many other people's work just by reading about their ideas in this forum. Now that this exchange has ended, I am a thousand percent more committed to using my position as an emerging academic (as a scholar, teacher, and member of a college community) to expand on some of the terrific thinking around gender and fandom that was discussed here. In the short term, this means giving conference papers and writing essays that turn the spotlight on these issues. In the longer term, I envision myself organizing symposia and conferences, and essay collections, that bring gender and fandom more and more into "mainstream" media studies, and even into mainstream media production. The conversations on this blog have empowered me to become a leader with regards to publicizing these matters, for which I'm incredibly grateful.
I found participating in this discussion most useful, perhaps oddly, not directly in relation to issues of gender per se, but instead in relation to where theories of fandom are to be found, and what can or should be counted as a 'proper' scholarly reference.
When I was thinking about interesting work on fandom that I'd read recently, the dialogue brought home to me the fact that I had very much been thinking of traditionally published academic work, and not online fan discussion, or 'meta', or even blog content for that matter! And this despite the fact that I've written on scholar-fans/fan-scholars, and the possibility that fandom theorises itself (as per arguments on 'vernacular theory').
This blindspot is certainly to do with my professional identity as a paid academic, but it may also be partly and unwittingly correlated with issues of gender, given the possibility that the fan communities I'm not often reading or citing may be predominantly spaces occupied by female fan intellectuals and thinkers who are perhaps not paid academics.
And there is also a professional time pressure linked to this; I have to make time to seek to keep up with 'traditional' published academic work in my area, and so I quite possibly prioritise this over and above participating in online discussion groups/blogs and so on. I feel that my professional identity requires that I keep up with certain forms of published work, and this leads to a lack of time and attention for what may be perceived to be less securely 'consecrated' forms of fan debate and dialogue.
Right now, I don't even have the time that I'd like to give to discovering new fan objects, passions, and interests, for instance my recent engagement with the reimagined Battlestar Galactica -- I've now seen everything up to the end of series 3 -- was frequently deferred and delayed due to work projects, despite the fact that many, many people told me that I "had" to see it. They were right, of course. But by the time I managed to catch up with BSG, I was far behind committed fans' debates and speculations.
So, what the fandom and gender debate really brought home to me, time and again, was the painful extent to which I was up against the clock, very much having to dip in and out, and having to schedule periods of work on my own contributions with my partner in crime.
These may not seem to be quite 'proper' matters for discussion, but what my PhD supervisor Professor Roger Silverstone once called, after Bourdieu, "temporal capital" is, I think, the most significant delimitation and restriction on what I am currently able to consume (as a fan) and engage with (as a scholar-fan) and integrate into my cultural repertoires (as fan, scholar, and any hybridised version and multiplication of those identities).
What I need -- and what would enable me to participate adequately and properly in online discussion spaces as well as venues of academic publication -- is quite simply a TARDIS. (Failing that, extensive research leave, or a 'fan retreat').
But when I encountered a few discussions as to how male participants were less frequently to be found in specific online spaces (LJ), I thought to myself "but I want to be here, I want to have time to do this, I want to speak to these people". And I wanted to participate in blog discussions.
But I was time-poor, lacking in temporal capital.
And that problem isn't, I think, necessarily a matter of gender (though it is certainly open to gendered analysis: am I too intent on academia as a 'career', for instance, with that being articulated to a reactionary masculinist focus on career-as-identity. Perhaps).
A lack of time is, however, very much a matter of the contemporary University-as-industry, and the duties that are expected of academics in the UK HE sector, and the pressures to publish (in 'approved' cultural spaces -- quite literally, no marks for blogging!) that, with the RAE, are as forceful now in the UK as I suspect they are for those seeking tenure in the US. In short, I suspect that some of my own blindspots and pressures here (reading trad, published "academic" work more than blogs and LJs) can be partly traced back to forms of academic governmentality operating in my national context. Even publishing in online journals is devalued here; the whole system of governmental evaluation is geared towards valorized print culture (books/journals with consecrated sources such as University Presses and well-established publishers) rather than, say, blog interactions. Whilst the US system may be far more techno-embracing, I feel that my national work context strongly favours 'slow' cultures of academia.
Melissa A. Click:
I was excited to participate in this discussion because it aspired to address two issues in which I've been interested: the meaning of the term "fan" and the gender divide in our field. The last few months have been eye-opening, mind-blowing, frustrating, and productive. The experience has exposed me to the positions and viewpoints of a range of thoughtful and talented scholars--for me, that is the best possible outcome of the project. I do still think we have work to do, though, and I'm looking forward to it.
Perhaps because I am not an avid blogger, I wonder if the web is the best place to continue this discussion--it feels like there are too many folks talking in too many different places to feel as though we're all on the same page in the conversation. I think we need to take advantage of occasions when we can continue these conversations face-to-face. More formal conversations in conference sessions are great for provocative discussion, but what about also making time after hours, where we can add to our theoretical work with social work--building on what we've begun here by developing our connections to each other. Drinks at ICA, anyone?
Derek R. Johnson:
Without a doubt, this conversation has been a valuable one. Scholars with diverse interests in and concerns about fandom as an intellectual enterprise have collaborated to provide a snapshot of the field. Evidenced over and over for me was the sense that to understand the multiplicity of fandom, we cannot rely on the methodologies or research questions of any one scholarly approach. We cannot understand fandom without thinking about gender, for example, but we cannot reduce fandom to gender issues either. We need an integrated approach. The future fruits of our labor here, I'd wager, will come from the way this conversation has brought our multiple approaches into direct dialogue.
Significantly, this conversation gave voice to the claim that some perspectives on fandom operate from the margins because of inequalities based in gender--both the gendered practices of fans and gendered researchers themselves. For enabling this expression of gender strife alone, this conversation succeeded. And yet, after months of discussion, I'm ultimately not sure how productive the boys vs. girls format was. Even though our goal was to find "commonalities and differences" in our approaches, and discussion quickly moved beyond these initial grievances, the presentation of each entry as a "round" still conveyed a sense of pugilistic combat to me. This is meant as no sleight to Henry--not only was this format a logical way to organize content for an exciting blog series, but it directly responded to the boys vs. girls antagonism felt by some and communicated to him earlier this year. Indeed, Henry's intervention should be credited with valuably bringing our multiple approaches to fandom together. But to me, the awkwardness of the gender-divided format calls into question what boys vs. girls issues were actually in play. More often than not, men and women seemed to dialectically find common ground, and when it came down to it, no one could really make a convincing argument (to me, at least) that men study fans and navigate the field in one specific way, and women in another, etc. I saw very little in our diverse approaches to fandom that could be even imperfectly mapped on to the binary of gender that organized the conversation. In that sense, while I certainly acknowledge institutionalized gender inequality in the academy, I remain skeptical about some of the perceptions of gender-based methodological and relational schisms that inspired our discussion. But I find it simultaneously reassuring that when positioned for gender opposition, we could thwart it, rising above trying to take down "the other side" and reaching mutual understanding, cooperation, and collaboration. If there's anywhere for us to go from here, it's there.
Julie Levin Russo:
I'd like to thank everyone who participated in our rich, extensive, and provocative dialogue. This project, like all aca/fan activities, was contoured from the start by an uneven topography of power (from Henry's position as the patriarch of our field to the divergent interfaces of the personal blog and the LiveJournal community), and my hope is that, at the very least, it brought this landscape into clearer focus. As a reader, I became ever more convinced of the importance of modeling fandom in terms of multiple axes of engagement rather than a monolithic binary. These axes are all gendered to varying degrees, ideologically and/or empirically, and are also raced, classed, nationalized, etc. Mobilizing the term "fanboy" or "fangirl" activates some overdetermined soup of meanings, often mostly from the left or right column of such oppositions as casual/ watercooler vs. avid, individual vs. community, "as is" vs. "creative," closure vs. openness, knowledge vs. relationships, transformative vs. derivative, public vs. private, straight vs. queer, mainstream vs. fringe, and consuming vs. producing (or vice versa) -- but not with equal emphasis and certainly not with precision. I trust that this set of conversations has pushed others as well as myself to attend to the particulars and complexities of gender and other inequalities on whichever of these planes we're working, and also in the institutional context of this work. Overall, I found the series especially fruitful in materializing and cultivating a network of scholars, and I look forward to continuing our discussion in the blogosphere and IRL (at Console-ing Passions, for one).
I found the entire process extremely rewarding, and not simply the exposure to others' interesting work - though that was definitely my favorite part. I think the entire series reinforced that this discussion of gender and fandom studies needed to happen, and needs to keep happening. In several cases, including my own segment, we wound up reproducing the stereotypical gendered discourses that this series was intended to call out and examine. It was both frustrating and enlightening, and I hope that we can use this as fodder for further discussions of the issue, as an impetus to continue critical examination of our own field and its assumptions.
As for practical and structural issues, while I understand and appreciate the grounding in the blog community, I'm wondering if perhaps, if this were to take place again, a move to a more "message-board" format might be fun to try, just to mix it up a bit; it might be more conducive to free-flowing discussion, and not just because the much-maligned wait period for posting comments might be avoided. A message-board format might encourage more people to comment, since it's the very nature of a blog to function as someone's personal forum, and the sense of... "invading" isn't the right word, but it's the only one springing to mind, someone else's personal space. This is not a commentary on Henry as host, as he was completely gracious and hands-off; I was thinking more in terms of the perceptions of Jane Random Fan, who might feel more comfortable - especially if disagreeing with the OP -- posting on a message board that doesn't appear to "belong" to anyone than in a named someone's blog. (Not that this stops blog-conversant fans, but not all fannishness takes place in the blogosphere.) We got some overlap, with the cross-posting on LJ, but I'm wondering if an entire space set aside specifically for all comers to the debate would bring in a wider base; neutral ground and all that.
Thanks again to everyone for what has been 21 rounds of fascinating discussion that have raised a wealth of issues. I am sure we all share the feeling of being overwhelmed by the content that this discussion has generated and all have secret guilt about certain weeks we weren't able to internalize all of the discussion we would have liked, but I think what we should be most excited about is the textual archive of this discussion and that it can continue providing richness for all our discussions as an ongoing discourse.
This discussion showed both the positives and negatives of discussing these issues in the blogosphere and in a style of writing that can be quite different from traditional academic prose. This led to a type of direct address that is only possible on the blogosphere, which is why I am quite the proponent of using the blog as a tool of discourse that throws off the power structure and closed walls of traditional academic conversation. That raw honesty empowered this discussion, but the insertion of emotion and personal address into this discourse also led to some occasionally heated exchanges that weren't always productive and ultimately served to obfuscate some of the most important issues. I know we all felt frustration at one point or another with how certain rounds went, and with the direction conversations turned.
Ultimately, looking at this conversation through the construct of a continuous trajectory doesn't serve us well. The fact that a different pair picked up the discussion each week and that each conversation is somewhat disjointed from the last means that we should not necessarily expect the last round of this series to necessarily be more "enlightened" than the first. And of course we raised many more problems than we solved, but I feel that was the purpose of this conversation to begin with, to bring tensions more to the surface and to get us all thinking more overtly about the issues both of gender in fan communities and gender in fan studies.
I am most indebted to this discussion for the awareness it has provided me for the community that exists around fan studies and the wide variety of interesting voices who surround these discussions. For me, I was aware of some of the C3-related folks who have been involved in this project--Joshua Green, Geoffrey Long, Aswin Punathambekar, Rob Kozinets, etc., some of the folks heavily involved in these discussions on LiveJournal that I had the pleasure of meeting through the Media in Transition 5 conference here at MIT, and the soaps-related researchers whose work I was familiar with and who greatly shaped my thesis writing, in particular Lee Harrington and Nancy Baym. In the process, I've launched a preliminary project comparing daytime and primetime dramas with Jason Mittell that I hope will further the discourse started here and that spilled over into Jason's blog, Just TV. I have been invited to participate in a workshop at Consol-ing Passions with all sorts of fascinating people who I got to know over the past year, directly stemming from the conversation that began here--Bob Rehak, Suzanne Scott, Louisa Stein, and Julie Levin Russo. And I met Abigail Derecho and, through our realization of a common interest in contemporary soap opera fandom, we have started the task of co-editing our first anthology together, on the current state of the soap opera industry and its future.
Ultimately, I think this series was most valuable in this community- forming function. Since my "other self" is a small-town journalist, I see this scholarly community as not that unlike the small towns I covered. Everyone here is bound by common goals and issues, but it doesn't mean we always agree. Nor, perhaps, should we. But I am thankful for the time everyone put into making this conversation happen, and I hope we all stay committed to pursuing the issues raised here further in our own work and conversations.
A final thank you to all those who were not part of the debates but who joined the conversation throughout the summer. Henry and others write often about "aca/fans," but I am interested in doing what we can to include "criti/fans" in this debate as well. As the people surrounding this conversation has shown, there are a lot of very intelligent and articulate people outside academia who are interested in these conversations. How can we adapt our practices to make them more a part of this conversation, while also opening up our resources to help "criti/fans" who don't live within the haven of a university system obtain the resources to become involved with the scholarly side of these discussions?
Now for comments from readers:
Thank you, Henry! Thank you for listening to me and writing to me when anyone's first reaction would have been to be defensive and protective of those I summarily attacked; thank you for spending your--clearly overbooked and precious--time to organizing this and making it possible; thank you for worrying enough about younger scholars and our concerns to want to hear what we have to say; and thank you for trying ceaselessly to be a voice and spokesperson for fandom when you need to be and trying to pass over the reins when you can.
Like most of us, I've experienced moments of frustration at various points this summer, but more importantly, I've also felt that we've begun to build something. There's an intellectual excitement for me and many I talk to for which the summer gender debate is not solely responsible, but is in large parts.
As "partner in crime" I probably have seen more than most how much effort and energy and thought you've put into this, so: THANKS!
Thank you for hosting the discussion. I think it was really important.
BTW, most of the female scholars I'm familiar with have a blog as well as an LJ.... Why do the men of your acquaintance say they are not comfortable in LJ? This honestly puzzles me because it's not an exclusively female space.... there are plenty of men there, and a man invented it. Fanfic, yes -- tons more women than men. LJ, no.
Again -- thanks for the thinky.
I want to address just one issue which I think is important.
The internet in its current formation is for linking. Yet you say:
Female scholars are more likely to start a Live Journal page than to start a blog. Live Journal seems a much more personal and private space so sending large numbers of readers of this blog trampling through some one's Live Journal seems inappropriate. Or for that matter, it doesn't always feel
right to take something which is being discussed in LJland and bring it into the blogosphere.
I cannot speak for everyone, of course, but I can note a few of the following points
One of the reasons this whole debate started (in terms of the people I know talking about problems) was the on-going perception that the male scholars in blogland in effect dismissed scholarship in LJ, dismissed women scholars in LJ. If that attitude is reified, then there's a real problem. It's sloppy stereotypical thinking. Nobody says that LJ is the only place for acafen, but to dismiss it as unintellectual/girly space, or as a female space that has to be protected from males is just too Victorian for words. (LJ actually does allow a lot more protection than some of the other internet spaces, but that is not only about gender, I assume.) There are differences in communication practices between blogs and LJ, but there are differences between blogs and blogs (I read a lot of the feminist blogs), and between different LJ users.
People ignoring everybody else won't solve the problem of lack of communication between differentn disciplines or different genders. I, and others I know, read some blogs (not always commenting because it's such a pain over here), but the blog writers apparently often don't bother to read LJ.
We now know the name and online personas and spaces of a bunch of new acafan. I've seen several of the women set up blogs and participate in discussion over here. I've seen several of the men set up LJs and participate in discussion over there. That is to the good, I think.
But after reading this post, one aspiring academic has already asked me if she should get a blog, fearing that the LJ will not be enough if she continues her academic work. I find her response incredibly disturbing, hinting at yet more ways in which "male" spaces (which aren't male because many females are there, but somehow ignored) are privileged over "female"
spaces (which haved males in them, but they are somehow ignored). Not all the female scholars in the aca-fan debates are in LJ (nor should they be!).
There are men in LJ online fandoms.
I think LJ is the most exciting fandom space right now, but that's my evaluation, my choice, and my focus for scholarship. There are other areas--and fan studies will be stronger for being more inclusive and aware of multiple spaces (to avoid that pesky "all fans are X" problem). I don't assume that just because I'm not interested in a fan space or topic that it is inherently uninteresting or unimportant. I try to read as widely as I can about areas of fandom I'm not interestd in writing about, just as I try to read scholarship in different areas. Nobody can read everything, but marking off a whole space as if "there be dragons over there," is frustrating (speaking as one of the dragons).
I am not going to get a blog--and given all the complaints I hear about spam over here, I am wondering why anybody bothers. LJ doesn't have spam problems (now, ads, well that's another issue, but that's all over the internet as well). The comparison between the level of discussion on the acafan posts here and the ones in fandebate shows, I think, that more discussion is possible in the LJ format, and certainly more community building.
The point (if I have one) is not that LJ is better or blogs are better--but that good scholarship will come from being aware of what's out there so one's own focus/argument can be stronger rather than assuming that one's ignorance of large areas of fandom isn't a problem.
Deciding that it's just too rude or invasive to link to LJ (as if all LJ users are the same) is, to my eyes, a retreat of sorts. As far as I'm concerned, feel totally free to link to anything I post in either of my LJs: robin_anne_reid or ithiliana (most of the public posts in my fan journal are fanfiction, so not of interest in terms of academic discussions, but I do meta once in a while).
I recently posted about the ethics of analyzing fandom, and human subjects protection, in my fan journal (I find that there's a lot of overlap between the two journals!). The post garnered over 130 responses (some of those were my replies to people): it was a great discussion, and an incredible part of my process/writing. I tend to post ideas in process, as I present on newer ideas, to get feedback and try out my ideas. I learned a lot. The discussion is here: http://ithiliana.livejournal.com/789235.html.
It was linked in metafandom, and probably in some friends' journals as well. I have my comment settings set to screen anonymous comments (but that's no different than this blog!), but I don't at all mind people trampling over to read and comment. That's sort of the point as far as I'm concerned.
In my professional journal, I'm currently posting on online teaching, new media literacies in terms of my own work and a new program starting up in my department, and racism imbroglios in fandom. I'm posting about two presentations that I'll be giving this spring, because the whole time the acafan debate was going on, with very little mention of race, there were conflicts in multiple fandoms over racism in source texts, racism in fan fiction, use of racist language, and the responses of fandom as a whole to concerns raised by fans of color.
You linked to some fan posts over the fanlib issue: I thought that was excellent. Failing to link to them while writing about fanlib or allowing Chris Williams the space to talk about his project would have been incredibly problematic: that is, you would be denying fans their voice and agency. You've never done that as a scholar--that's only one reason, I think, why so many (fans and acafan) admire your work..
Why would you deny the same courtesy to acafen in LJ?
I can see a material problem: the sheer number of LJs. I can RSS feed blogs and read without having to bookmark each one. I doubt any blog could "feed" LJ in the same way (but I don't know--I know that people can track LJs outside LJ--I just don't know if you could do it). When Kristina started her blog, I went over the pointed out she could "link" in the blogroll section
to LJs, and why not do it. I know some people in LJ feel awkward or silly about dropping links to their own posts in a blog response (but I don't understand why--when one blogger links back and and comments on a blog post, that's considered a good thing.
I'd suggest the best place to feed or bookmark is which links to a range of interesting discussions in LJ (and if people don't want to be linked, they're not).
People who have to maintain a certain amount of anonymity will have their journals locked, or some posts will be locked. Others, however, do not lock and welcome discussion from others. Many in LJ do see/feel it as a private protected space, but they learn pretty fast that if you want privacy, you friends lock. Some in LJ do want it as a protected space for fandoms, but it's not likely to be that way--anything in public on the internet can be seen by anyone. If you're worried about linking, it only takes a few moments to ask (it's considered polite to notify people if you're linking to them, in a comment).
And if it comes to that: I've seen a lot of rhetoric on various blog debates about how a blog is the owner's private space, and people commenting have to be polite, and they all have anti-trolling policies, etc. Sounds to me a lot like the discussions in LJ over commenting, IP logging, etc.
In LJ (and around fandoms), we link all over the place--there are newsletters like meta-fandom devoted to linking. There are conventions about communicating, just as there are everywhere, but given that a LJ post is likely to get anywhere from 50-150 comments very quickly (if it interests people--it can get 0 as well), when I've rarely seen that sort of response here, I'm baffled by the idea that somehow we don't want comments. Sure, most of those comments are from LJ users--but we don't all agree, we're not all female, we're not all academics, and all of those disagreements and debates go on all the time.
I didn't comment when you first asked for responses, but the other scholars's responses you posted are so interesting I feel like I want to add my $0.02, albeit late.
My experience in reading and writing during this debate has been so mixed. On the one hand, I think the most progress on the gender debate per se was made in those conversations which got most hairy and uncomfortable (either directly in your blog, or in the ensuing livejournal/blogosphere conversations). Real underlying thorny issues were revealed, real disagreements came for us, and people got a chance to learn from each other.
But on the other hand, those uncomfortable conversations were, well, uncomfortable. Women feeling like the contributions of female academics or fans are marginalized; men feeling like they were attacked as sexist -- these left some pretty raw wounds. Whereas my conversation with Alan was pleasurable throughout.
There were places I didn't poke in my exchange with Alan. Not that I thought it would have turned into an uncomfortable, hairy situation. No part of that conversation was anything other than pleasant, enjoyable, and educational. But I'm an independent scholar -- and a woman, socialized to avoid public disagreement -- and I was having a very public conversation with a male credentialed associate professor in my field. I was far too wary to prod at any statements I disagreed with. Not that I think Alan would have responded negatively. On the contrary, I think further questioning on my part would have only enriched our conversation and added to our pleasure in the exchange. I went through drafts of e-mails I didn't send to Alan in which I did raise questions about assertions he made. But I rejected those drafts out of nervous suspicions that I was out of line.
This isn't the fault of Alan or Henry or any of the participants in the conversation giving me this irrational sense of risk. I think it comes back to the professional/amateur divide which Kristina reiterated, and which is part of a larger question: why does the balance of faculty to independent scholar in our field (and academia in general) appear tied to gender, and what can we do about it? (Whether what we do about it is address that gender balance, or instead address the lack of support for independent scholarship is yet another question.)
That being said, I had so much fun in my conversations with Alan -- they were interesting, compelling, and entertaining. And I'm pretty sure I wouldn't accuse him of being a patriarchal oppressor, no matter what he claims!
Thank you so much for setting this up. I had a fabulous time.