Why is #SFR Something to Talk About?
One day, over a typical family breakfast of cereal and coffee, I happened to mention an item related to my involvement in the Scarlet and Herb Overkill (Minions) fandom. In response, my genuinely curious husband asked, “Is there still anything to talk about?”
Cue the sound of tires screeching to a halt.
I knew where he was coming from: Minions came out in mid-2015. How could Overkill fans have anything left to discuss a year later, especially since the characters only have about twenty minutes of screen time?
I told him, why of course we still had stuff to talk about! We speculate endlessly about the Overkills’ backstories, share our headcanons, and lament the strong likelihood that Illumination Entertainment will never release any more Scarlet & Herb content. *sniff*
Not every discussion involves analyses of the characters or their problematic elements. Sometimes we discuss important issues like figuring out their birthdays, the specs of their castle fortress, and the various ways the Overkills get it on in bed.
I was surprised by my husband’s question, yet quickly realized why he’d asked it. He’s a white, cishet male and doesn’t know what it’s like to not be represented in droves and on a regular basis. He doesn’t need fandom and its benefits the way I do because his needs have been met—in all entertainment media, all the time, and like others before him, for all of history.
Though we share many of the same interests, there’s a steep drop off when it comes to diverse female characters and/or stories mixing SF and romance. There are many shows and movies we can’t watch because they simply don’t exist (and therefore one reason I latch hard on to SFR-ish couples like the Overkills, Steven Universe’s Ruby and Sapphire, and Kendra and Ray from DC’s Legends of Tomorrow).
The scarcity is even more alarming in the context of major film studios like Marvel denying us female villains and toys based on such characters. We live in a time when fanboys lash out at the concept of women headlining a meager two—count ‘em two—films in the STAR WARS franchise. There’s hard data that Men Are Sabotaging The Online Reviews of TV Shows Aimed At Women. And now The Federal Government Is Investigating Sexism Against Directors In Hollywood.
The above examples are just the tip of the iceberg. They and others demonstrate how women’s stories are routinely suppressed and our efforts to tell them blocked on multiple fronts:
“In general, men can and frequently do fail up, and women can and frequently do succeed down — and you’re just aware of the fact that as a girl, you can’t screw up,” says [drama showrunner] Nina Jacobson.
So to answer my husband’s question more broadly, yes, I’ve definitely got lots more to discuss when it comes to SFR and especially female characters in various media—and let’s be clear that by women I mean all of them: POC, queer, transgender, etc and all of the various intersections. Since one of my biggest interests is sci-fi romance, that’s where I’ve concentrated my efforts.
Is it any wonder that SFR has roots in STAR TREK fan fiction? Back in the 70s, female Star Trek fans spun romances about the characters at a time when the genre of sci-fi romance didn’t exist. Essentially, they expanded the characters’ personal lives by creating romance and character-driven stories, ones denied to them by mainstream media.
Fan fiction is a tool women can use to reject stories told using the male gaze and replace them with ones that cater to our needs. There’s no rule saying we have to accept all the male-driven canon out there, especially if canon operates on the idea of excluding anyone who isn’t a cishet white male. Fan fiction can serve as a powerful way to transform canon into more inclusive stories.
It can also serve as a jumping point for mainstream, original stories that serve a similar purpose.
Take romance, a mainstream genre wherein women have control to tell the stories that align with our interests. It also claims an impressive share of adult fiction. Literary romance doesn’t seem to inspire much fan fiction and that’s probably because it performs similar functions (a shout out to reader “B” who once shared this insight with me).
The romance genre is one example where women are course correcting the egregious lack of representation in entertainment. We recognized there was a market for romance-focused stories and seized the reins of opportunity to meet the demand ourselves. When other genres shut out romance along with women authors (looking at you, science fiction), countless numbers of women struck out on their own and made it a viable and highly profitable genre.
The lack of representation is a significant reason I’ve been blogging about SFR for eight years now. The genre meets my needs in countless ways.
To wit: in sci-fi romance, the heroine is the hero’s equal and far more than his love interest. She doesn’t exist to simply prop up the hero and his journey. Neither are SFR heroines fridged for the hero’s narrative or emotional growth.
Sci-fi romance is where we can discover lesbian couples having outer space adventures. It’s where we can find female characters engaged in a variety of occupations: bounty hunters, scientists, superhumans, you name it. It’s where we can enjoy female-centric power fantasies, sexual fantasies, and any others we desire. Additionally, SFR embraces the concept of extraordinary heroines. I mean, hey, women are extraordinary in real life, so it makes sense that they’re reflected and celebrated in fiction!
And all of that sweet content definitely gives me something to talk about.