At this writing (early 2017), for the last few years there has been a Tumblr-based phenomenon (but also extending to Twitter) of fans bullying other fans for reading, writing, drawing fanart, or otherwise being fans of ships that allegedly "promote abuse," especially child sexual abuse. Here are some of the types of fic that have been targeted:
- Any ship involving an adult and a minor
- Any ship involving a minor and a non-human being
- Ships between two adults who are not equal in power
- Ships between teenagers that are shipped by adults
- Any ship involving a villain
- Ships between two adults who are not the same age
- Ships between characters who are minors in canon but aged up in fic
- Any incest ships
- Ships between two adults whose relationship in canon is not entirely fluffy
- Ships between any two people who are not both perfect, pure "cinnamon rolls"
Anti-shippers, or "antis," frequently claim without offering any proof whatsoever that those who create or consume fanworks of such ships are complicit in CSA and other forms of interpersonal abuse. This is in spite of there being absolutely, positively no established scientific correlation between fanfiction and real-life crimes. Their assertion is that vulnerable young people will read these fics and believe that abuse is okay — which is victim blaming. It also ignores (a) the pervasiveness of abusive messages in all media and (b) the fact that fanfic writers these days tend to overtag, if anything, in case any element of their fics might be considered even slightly triggering. Some antis have claimed that their abusers used fanfic to groom them, not acknowledging that abusers will use anything they can find. When challenged on their claims, the antis cry that they are being "bullied," "gaslit," or "silenced."
Antis sometimes claim that survivors of sexual abuse are allowed to read or write such fics "in order to cope." This has frequently led to people's survivor or non-survivor statuses being demanded by total strangers on the internet. Frequently, antis will at best ignore, at worst harass, survivors who say that fanfic has nothing to do with abuse and that antis should stop using them as weapons.
There are entire Tumblr accounts, too many to count and not deserving of links here, devoted to anti-shipping. There are also entire Tumblr accounts devoted to combatting the antis. Just a few of them: Unpopular Fandom Opinion, You Are Not Damaged, The Shipper Armada, Survivors Against Antis, A Tired Trauma Victim (now password-protected due to harassment by antis), Anti-Anti-Wincest, Why Can't You Just Play Nice, and Anti-Antis Positivity. There have also been any number of posts from other fans, especially older ones — such as this one from farashasilver informing Tumblr that she is not their mommy and that they can shove their Helen Lovejoy act up their collective ass.
Here is an incomplete list of anti discussions on meme:
Oct. 27, 2015: "With all the ship-shaming witchhunt mentality on Tumblr, I am seriously considering going back to Dreamwidth to try and make a go of that again."Here are two excellent comments from the May 17 discussions:
Oct. 29, 2015: In the recurrent Tumblr thread, a nonny asked, "Why are there so many blogs dedicated to how problematic it is ship cartoon characters now? Why?" The very first reply nailed it: "Because it's fun to bully young girls on the site while looking like you're the righteous one." The thread, which neared 100 comments, discussed an anti tumblr which declared, "essentially, we're trying to make sure people realize that some ships are unhealthy (when they usually get overlooked because they're 'hot yaoi,' etc)." (As one nonny said, "Why don't these people realize that sometimes it's 'hot yaoi' because it's unhealthy?")
Nov. 11, 2015: Nonnies discuss another anti blog that claims Iron Bull/Dorian is abusive because IB is a spy and therefore a liar; that "What people enjoy or Don't enjoy in media is the quickest and most effective way to realize someone's ideologies and prejudices"; that "a minor who supports abusive and pedophilic ships can become an abuser without being aware of it"; and that aging up child characters is pedophilia.
Jan. 24, 2016: An anti is quoted as saying that "people shouldn't block users going around posting hate at them," which is "silencing" those hate-posting users. Nonnies point out that Gamergate makes the same argument.
Feb. 4, 2016: "Anti-shipper complaining about someone 'policing the word pedophilia.' The person she's talking about. An abuse survivor who was sexually abused, starting when they were five, and had written how she hates having her abuse compared to fictional ships featuring teenagers."
Apr. 6, 2016: In response to a nonny's complaint about an anti who pretends to be "ship and let ship" while suggesting people attack the Hux/Kylo Ren ship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens fandom, an OEA replies, "Ship demographics and the same reason PETA doesn't throw paint on Hell's Angels wearing leather. Kylux shippers tend to be the older dyed in the wool slashers who take one look at the ship shaming and tell those sweet summer children to go fuck themselves in the ear with a lightsaber. Reylo shippers tend to be a little younger in fandom years, are shipping in earnest, and thus present a softer target to strike. Social Justice Shitlords always prefer the easy pickings of shaming people they perceive to be weaker and more easily cowed."
Mar. 7, 2016: Brief discussion of Tumblr antis. One nonny took screencaps of antis trying to bait other fans into suicide and calling them pedophiles.
Mar. 16, 2016: OP quotes an anti blog that insists that anyone shipping anyone under age 18 (even writing G-rated fic) is a "pedophile" and that "it's been proven that fictional renditions of an act will increase the likelihood of it happening." The anti also claims that survivors using ships to cope are "still harming others." Nonny: "I think antis are now stopping to pretend they give a fuck about survivors and even if you're survivors you're a pedo even if you're using the ship as coping U w U" In response to that anti, Tumblr user spyroforlife posted the DSM-5 criteria for pedophilia, cited U.S. case law, and ended with, "So there are my sources. Show yours or shut the fuck up and get out of our tags. Sincerely, an asexual who has no fucking sexual interest in children and never will because wow the things I like in fiction have no relation to things I ACTUALLY support, hot damn what a concept."
Mar. 29, 2016: "Tumblr user undertale-science mentally snaps after harassment and false accusations of transphobia, racism, and pedophilia. Looks like the main harassers were fauxknives, asrieldreaming, 1bithero, and lapis-lazooli. Nobody involved looks good, though I wonder what the hell these kids have against UT-S that spurred them to twist his words and spread rumours. A whole lotta nasty mess. :/" The "nobody looks good" aspect was reinforced by a link to thispost in which undertale-science rails against "SJWs killing Tumblr."
May 7, 2016: In the regular Tumblr thread, OP quotes an anti as saying, "If we really are inherently bad people for being antis then why are the shippers not woobifying us??? Checkmate" and asks, "Why do antis love to flaunt their inability to differentiate fiction from reality?"
May 16, 2016: Tumblr user ozhawkauthor posts TheThree Rules of Fandom — Don't Like; Don't Read (DL;DR); Your Kink Is Not My Kink (YKINMK); and Ship And Let Ship (SALS). The reblogs include vitriol from fans who threatento ostracize anyone who reblogs it approvingly, literallysay "Fuck your live and let live bullshit," and claim that "This isn't 2002, OP," because those rules were created to combat homophobia, which is supposedly not an issue anymore. "Now these rules are being weaponized to shield mostly white cishet fans from criticism for the very harmful things they are doing in their fics with their baking sheet characters that are as representative as a rock represents the moon." FFA OP: "More on how Fandom is Serious Motherfucking Business, and you must conform to the current tumblr teenie hivemind or you're a literal oppressor. … Fandom safety? Bwahahahaha. Kiddo, in my days the Internet was basically the Wild Wild West. And believe it or not, you're going to run across fiction that makes you uncomfortable. Do you see the little x in the corner of your browser? Learn it, love it, and then click it if you see something in fandom that makes you feel 'unsafe.'"
May 17, 2016: Charlemahgns, better known for racewanking in Hamilton and SW: TFA fandoms, informs a fan complaining about policing that she is "okaying things like pedophilia, csa, rape fantasies, and a laundry list of other Not Okay Things." FFA OP: "Jesus fucking christ just take away these people's internet access already, it's obviously all just too much for them." Charlemagns and her co-wankers also mocked rillrill/jonahryan, whom they had been bullying, for venting about policing. Her equally awful friend mysteryho declared that rillrill's commentary was insufficiently "revolutionary."
May 17, 2016: Nonny quotes a Tumblr user: "you are essentially saying, 'free speech exists and i can't and shouldn't be held accountable for the fucked up shit i create.' by saying this, you are okaying things like pedophilia, csa, rape fantasies, and a laundry list of other Not Okay Things." Mysteryho comesup in this thread, too: she insists that "Fiction! Is! Always! Subject! To! Criticism!" Nonnies pointed to mysteryho's now-deleted AO3 account and noted that she writes knifeplay and has written daddy kink before (not that the latter stopped her from attacking another daddy-kink fan).
May 17, 2016: In Fandom Venting, a nonny writes, "I am forever bemused by fandoms inability to fucking understand that the following things are not pedophilia: a character being aged up to 18 in a relationship with someone older, an age difference involving this aged up character or a power differential involving this aged up character. Even a character who is 15 or 16 at the time of the canon, written as this age and not aged up? Still not pedophilia. Two characters of legal age getting together? Not actually 'borderline illegal'."
May 18, 2016: Someone in SW: TFA fandom claims, wrongly, there was no heroine/villain shipping in that canon until this year. Elsewhere in the Tumblr thread, an anti is quoted as speaking for "any survivor ever," when in fact many survivors despise antis. Nonny: "Yeah, I don't remember being asked. But of course I'm a bad survivor who doesn't care about what pairings other people ship."
May 18, 2016: Discussion of yet another anti Tumblr. Also in the general Tumblr thread, another nonny links to "not just a callout post, but someone actively encouraging someone to report a fic writer as a pedophile to the FBI for dirtybadwrong fic." The fic writer is a CSA survivor. The person who called the FBI wrote her a fauxpology that included this: "i'm sorry that i made you discolse these details, however, you ought to understand what kind of harm you create for other survivors and victims of child rape." Eventually that person did retract and delete everything. (See also.)
I just want to tell these people on repeat that fandom is not a safe space. Fandom is not a safe space. You are personally responsible for controlling your own fandom consumption. If not, your parents or guardians are responsible for controlling your fandom consumption. The same thing goes for which books you choose to take out at the library. So if you're having trouble, go to your parents and say "I can't handle this myself. I need you to filter and monitor my internet use".
But, people do have options for controlling their own fandom consumption, and these can include establishing an actual, small safe space.
Furthermore, people should bear in mind that there are dangers present in trying to create a safe space. People sometimes use the idea of a safe space to manipulate others and to sweep abuse and bullying under the rug. "[Whatever] can't possibly be going on here, and definitely not by me, because we're a safe space!" And also, the idea of a safe space can be used as a club to beat other people with; manipulative, power-hungry bullies can set themselves up as the enforcers of the "safe space". It can turn toxic. If you really do want a safe space, you have to find a small area you can control (SUCH AS NOT TUMBLR), set out specific, limited and narrow rules, and also effective moderation. It might not work out, but you can try.
I do wonder, though, how much the changing internet use attitudes of parents has affected people who came to fandom later. A lot of parents used to be all "Stranger danger! Don't give out info online! The internet is the wild west! Stick to safe websites! And tell me if something bothers you." - but things seem to have changed since then. Has the lack of that kind of attitude encouraged kids or younger people to have false expectations of safety and of things being designed for their protection and personal comfort? At least the whole "take care online" thing can encourage personal responsibility and some kind of awareness that you need to avoid places which don't meet your needs.
You don't walk into the wild west and start complaining that you're not being catered to and coddled and why isn't your personalised safe space already set up just the way you want? What's all this dust doing in the desert?! And it's too sunny, but I refuse to get a hat!
What about when survivors project their personal trauma onto characters and situations that are not portrayed or even intended to resemble actual sexual assault? Because it's one thing to be criticized for eroticizing a (fictional) person's (entirely fictional) canonical sexual assault. It's another thing entirely to be berated for months because "Character X said something that reminds me of something my abuser said to me, how dare you ship him with Character Y?!" I've seen the latter happen so many fucking times--hell, I've seen it happen far more than I've seen people actually shipping a canonical survivor with their canonical rapist/abuser--that I've lost all patience with the "this hurts survivors!!1!" argument.
In all the "rapey ships" wanks large and small I've seen over the past few years, only one of them (Jessigrave) involved a canonical rapist/survivor ship. The rest of them were subtextual, metaphorical, extreme interpretations, and/or people projecting their own damage like a goddamn IMAX, followed by a crusade against anyone having shippy thoughts of any kind about them. If you write non-con fic for a ship, you're a bad person for eroticizing rape. If you write fluff for the same ship, you're a bad person for not taking abuse seriously. I am so sick of this conversation being controlled by people who take the rapeiness of the ships they hate as understood and unquestionable, when 99.9% of the time, they're not actually talking about canon and they shut down any other (honest and valid) interpretations as "apologism!!"
So no, you don't get to use the nebulous assertion of "my trauma" to make blanket statements about ships (or kinks) you don't like. It's perfectly understandable to say, "I don't like this ship because certain elements remind me of my abuse/assault." It does not make you a bad person and I will gladly tag my posts and my fic appropriately to help you avoid it. But saying "No one is allowed to ship this ever because it reminds me of my abuse/assault, and if you do ship it, you're a bad person"? In what universe is that reasonable? Like, I once walked out of a movie and cried in the bathroom for the remainder until I had popped blood vessels in my eyeballs because a scene reminded me of my late grandmother's alcoholism--does that give me the right to tell people categorically not to watch it? That the film has no redeeming artistic value whatsoever? Should I (loudly) boycott the Oscars in perpetuity because it was nominated for a few? Tell other people who enjoyed the film that they're terrible people for not being outraged at the depiction of an alcoholic falling off the wagon, and shut down their interpretations of the scene as pure "apologism"? If fandom talked about substance abuse like they do sexual assault, I would be 110% justified in doing all of that and more. But I wouldn't, because I understand that fiction is a means to explore the entire range of the human experience, from truly awful suffering to exquisite joy, from all possible angles.
At the end of the day, you are responsible for you. It's up to you to manage your own mental health, to curate your own internet experience, to moderate your own media consumption according to your own personal principles and limits. You are well within your rights to dislike or even be disgusted by certain kinds of stories just for existing. But remember that you can only really speak for yourself.