How the treatment of sexual consent in erotic fanfiction functions as a form of cultural activism.
Sexual consent is—at best—a contested topic in Western societies and cultures. The #MeToo movement has brought public attention to issues of sexual consent, revealing the endemic nature of sexual violence. Feminist academic approaches to sexual violence and consent are diverse and multidisciplinary—and yet consent itself is significantly undertheorized. In Dubcon, Milena Popova points to a community that has been considering issues of sex, power, and consent for many years: writers and readers of fanfiction. Their nuanced engagement with sexual consent, Popova argues, can shed light on these issues in ways not available to either academia or journalism.
Popova explains that the term “dubcon” (short for “dubious consent”) was coined by the fanfiction community to make visible the gray areas between rape and consent—for example, in situations where the distribution of power may limit an individual's ability to give meaningful consent to sex. Popova offers a close reading of three fanfiction stories in the Omegaverse genre, examines the “arranged marriage” trope, and discusses the fanfiction community's response when a sports star who was a leading character in RPF (real person fiction) was accused of rape. Proposing that fanfiction offers a powerful discursive resistance on issues of rape and consent that challenges dominant discourses about gender, romance, sexuality, and consent, Popova shows that fanfiction functions as a form of cultural activism.
“Dubcon is a cracking read and an important contribution to current considerations of consent. Popova brings the marginalized wisdom of fanfic writers to the fore, providing fascinating examples of how they've grappled with such questions in their creative work and communities.”
Meg-John Barker, author of Sexuality: A Graphic Guide, Mediated Intimacy, and Enjoy Sex (How, When and IF You Want To)
“In Dubcon, Milena Popova looks at fandom as an engine of feminist thought. While other works treat fanfiction as media criticism, Popova shows how fandom's artworks result in new thinking about issues of sexual agency and consent. A must-read.”
Francesca Coppa, Professor of English and Director of Women's and Gender Studies, Muhlenberg College; author of The Fanfiction Reader: Folk Tales for the Digital Age
“Milena Popova offers nuanced analysis of issues of sexual violence, rape culture, and sexual consent as they are explored in Omegaverse fanfictions and fandom. More than just a book about fanfiction, Dubcon is a persuasive contribution to ongoing debates about sex.”
Clarissa Smith, Professor, Northumbria University, UK; coeditor of Porn Studies