Hi! As an avid fic reader, there is something that has always bothered me about a lot of fan-fiction I have read in the Stucky fandom or the marvel fandom in general. There is almost always a level of casual sexism against the female characters, for example, in many fics the female characters are referred to as "girls" despite being grown fucking women also is it necessary to talk about how beautiful Natasha or Peggy are in every single fic? Aren't we reducing them to their beauty?
This is actually an incredibly complicated issue. Yes, there definitely is a fair amount of casual sexism in stucky fanfic and in fanfic in general. But on the other hand, compared to general fiction and the world at large, there is significantly less sexism. I’d also point out that the majority of transformative fandom is female identifying, queer, or both, this makes fanfics relationship with sexism a lot more complicated. Internalized misogyny is incredibly hard to sort out and be aware of, because it’s your own internal monologue and in the case of many fanfic authors, your own internal monologue as a woman and (in most cases) a feminist.
The specific examples you pulled are tricky ones, cause on one hand, yeah theres certainly an element of sexism in there, but on the other hand there also isn’t necessarily a bad wicked thing. In most stucky fics, the narration is third person pov through either steve or bucky, and in the case of two men born in the 1910′s calling grown women girls would absolutely be a part of their vernacular. It’s absolutely sexist, but I’d argue that it’s a strongly internalized attitude and language pattern both of them would absolutely have problems recognizing and or getting rid of. So even if it’s not a carefully thought out choice from the author, it serves as interesting characterization. Also since the majority of fic authors are women, the relationship with using girls isn’t as simple, for one thing it is a part of common english to use women and girls interchangeably and it’s not something that’s closely examined by all women all the time. Also, I think theres as aspect of it’s usage that is reclaiming it in a way. I mean girls isn’t a slur by any means but it’s not free of negative meaning, and by referring to wonderful characters as girls it in some ways seeks to remove those negative connotations- by presenting to the reader a group of people who the reader admires and saying some of them are girls and thats great, it does something meaningful for a woman reading. Using the word girl/s isn’t always something bad, especially when women are using it.
As for calling them beautiful all the time, I’d argue that 9/10 times theres absolutely nothing inherently sexist about mentioning their beauty. I mean it is objectively true, mcu’s female characters are beautiful. Now the reason behind all of them being gorgeous is pretty sinister, hollywood has an insanely toxic and sexist beauty standard and the fact that female characters in movies have to be beautiful in the same way is a whole other barrel of fish and we’re talking about fanfic, we’re dealing with characters who have a appearance and personality not 100% set by the author of a fic. Honestly, I’ve read thousands of Stucky fics and I think I’ve read a handful where women were actively reduced to their beauty. I mean when was the last time you read a novel by a cishet man? It’s absolutely horrifying, the way they treat women is disgusting, and fic is so much better.
Most of the time in fic, beauty is just one aspect of their character, for example Peggy’s strength and steely determination usually follow any mention of her beauty and Natasha’s dry humour and keen intelligence usually follow any mention of hers. On the other hand yeah, you get a lot of Bucky dancing with a beautiful nameless woman who only appears as an object of desire and jealousy and yeah, thats a problem. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all to mention a woman’s beauty provided shes being not shown as important only because she’s beautiful.
I’d also argue that the vast majority of sexism in fanfic isn’t calling female characters girls or referring to their beauty, its demonizing or ignoring female characters who are “in the way” of a m/m ship. I see this happen a LOT with Sharon in particular, but also Peggy and Natasha. You don’t see the female character who is canonically with one half of a m/m ship is a controlling, violently jealous, homophobic monster plotline often anymore, but it does still come up. More common is the female character who is canonically with one half of a m/m ship is a endlessly pure, patient, supportive and unconditionally understanding prop who exists only to step graciously out of the way of the m/m pairing. I see that all the damn time and it bothers me.
Female characters tend to not be as developed in canon and because of that often also remain underdeveloped in fanfic and also tend in both canon and fic to be there only to support the male characters not existing outside that context. That or the fact that f/f ships are incredibly neglected. I mean theres like one f/f fic for every like seven m/m fics. Part of that is the fact that there are so many less women than men in fiction. Part of that is on us for just not writing wlw and favouring mlm or m/f ships. I have really complicated feelings about this as a queer woman, I mean I‘m running a ship blog about two men. I could be putting my time into natsharon, cartinelli or claire temple/misty knight, but I’m here instead. I worked through lots of internalized homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and aphobia while reading m/m fics, not f/f and I spend so much more time and energy on m/m ships. I mean here I am, a wlw and here I am investing almost all my leisure time on men. I mean I love it in this fandom and it’s absolutely my choice to be here but part of me wonders what it would be like if I had gone through that process with a f/f ship instead and what it would be like to invest this time on women. I wonder what it would be like to be in mcu fandom if our source material treated it’s female characters better and had more of them.
You also see barely any not white, disabled, unattractive or poor women in fic, but once again part of that is a distinct lack of diversity within the source material. But you know what, I do not see many fics with Helen Cho or Claire Temple in them at all, let alone as developed characters.
Anyways sexism in fandom is a lot more complicated than it initially appears. Nothing is ideologically pure, even fanfic, but due to the nature of fanfic being written by people who you can easily contact in the sometimes caustic forum of tumblr I think it’s incredibly important to be gentle with authors who violate what you individually see as correct. Much of tumblr’s atmosphere of callout culture has a very black and white view of what justice is and what is correct, when in reality theres a lot of layers to this, it’s not a simple black and white dichotomy. People are at different places in their journeys, theres a lot of reasons why authors write things the way they do that you might not be aware of, broad sweeping statements saying x is always bad are a real dicey area to step into (and yes, I see the irony in saying that)
So while fandom certainly needs to take a closer look at our own internalized misogyny (and racism and ableism and audism and so on), I think theres much more to be gained from larger conversations, self reflection and making an active effort to be kinder to women than there is from things like carefully abstaining from words like girls.