Fanfiction, Power, and Sexual Consent

Milena Popova


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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.


Milena Popova:
Milena Popova is an independent scholar, activist, and consultant working on culture and sexual consent and the author of Sexual Consent, a volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series.