I haven't talked much about Merlin on here in aaaaages chiefly cause I'm not all that active in the fandom anymore, despite still loving the show and its cast. Also I feel like everything I could say about my issues with it has already been said and really there's no more to add at this stage when I'd rather be focusing on enjoying Merlin for what it is than castigating it for failing to be what I wish it was.
But there are days when I wish I was a bit more involved in fandom, if only to stop people getting away with shit like this:
(note the tags, btw)
I don't care what anyone says - the fandom is NOT 99% Merlin/Arthur OTP-ers and it grinds my gears when slashers insist on this idea, because it's an incredibly arrogant thing to claim and essentially erases my experiences and contributions to the fandom - and the experiences and contributions of a lot of my friends - as someone who couldn't give less of a crap about Arthur and Merlin's relationship.
Besides which, it patently isn't true for anyone who has bothered to step outside of the Arthur/Merlin bubbles that exist in the fandom as a whole. I would suspect Arthur/Merlin shippers DO constitute the majority, don't get me wrong, but not by that much. My rough estimation is 50% Merlin/Arthur shippers, 30% Arthur/Gwen shippers and 20% everyone else, and of those Arthur/Merlin shippers I'd guess many of them are multishippers who, even if their main interest is Merlin/Arthur, do enjoy other elements of the show.
Beyond that, it's completely laughable to think that the majority of Merlin's VIEWERSHIP is only interested in Arthur and Merlin's relationship. I'm sorry but the fandom, which is much more diverse than these people are claiming anyway, probably numbers hundreds of thousands. The viewership, meanwhile, numbers MILLIONS. Proportionally, the fandom is a tiny fraction of Merlin's actual audience and the slashers have no business claiming to speak for 99% of them.
Ultimately, however, this claim is actually irrelevant - and THAT is what drove me to reblog with the wee mini meta essay I did, on the politics of inclusion in mass media and the history of romance/hero narratives in western culture.
There is, in essence, a REASON why myself and so many others insist on the importance of the inclusion of women on this show and it has nothing to do with what a bunch of privileged straight girls want to fuel their porn with.
This is what I responded with:
I may regret doing this but this quote (indeed the entire review) has been rubbing me the wrong way for a good hour now so to hell with it. I’m wading in.
Marginalising a female character to prioritise a homosocial relationship, fun as the subtext is, is seriously problematic for me. The women on this show are marginalised enough as it is - their relationships with each other are given fractional screen time compared to their relationships with the men on the show and their relationships with the men are always second fiddle to the male characters’ relationships with each other.
I am here to tell you guys, as a queer girl and an english literature student currently writing a dissertation in part about how medieval romances are almost entirely homosocial, that the way Merlin prioritises the Arthur/Merlin relationship over every other relationship on the show is not progressive, nor would it be progressive if they did it any more than they already do. It’s regressive and at its core it relates to one of the oldest, most misogynistic tropes in the history of western hero narratives. This shit has been happening for a very, very long time. Men get stories and male/male relationships sit at the heart of them and women become objects within those stories, effecting those relationships, without being allowed any agency of their own.
This means that women as people in their own right cease to exist in these narratives - there are only men, and ‘others’ (women) who get in the way of male/male relationships. It also means that queer women UTTERLY cease to exist. (Indeed, we have never existed in these narratives. Ever. Which is why, problematic as her arc has been, I love Morgana, as a woman who can arguably be read as queer, for at least being SEEN in this sort of story. But we’ll get to how even that isn’t really mitigating damage done elsewhere in the way this show treats female/female relationships in a moment).
So no, not every fan is watching Merlin for the boys. Not every fan is pulling for their ‘happy ending’ and not every fan wants to see the Arthur/Merlin relationship prioritised over every other one on the show. The vast majority may be pulling for an Arthur/Merlin canon but the vast majority don’t know shit about the politics of representation and the history of misogyny associated with romances and hero narratives, especially Arthurian ones. The majority (statistically) are straight girls with straight privilege who have been socialised to consider male/male relationships more complex and interesting than female/male or female/female ones their entire lives.
I see every minute Gwen (in particular) spends on screen as a victory. Every moment when the men on the show consider a relationship with a woman more important than a relationship with a man is a relief, and every second Gwen and Morgana were allowed to relate to each other independent of any male character was a fucking MIRACLE back when it was still happening at all.
Your slash does not trump women’s rights to fair representation, especially not on a show that officially has a higher proportion of female viewers than male (according to the BBC statistics I’m not meant to have access to but have my sources for thanks to a mate of mine) . And your slash certainly doesn’t trump my right, as a queer girl, to see female/female subtext that comes from a source other than TEH EVUL. I mean, it should tell you something, when the show’s main female homosocial relationship is also the source of the show’s Big Bad in the Morgana/Morgause dynamic, whilst the main male homosocial relationship is held up as this paradigm of all that is good and true.
I think this as close as I have come to coherently summing up my feelings on the issue in the last couple of years, tbh. I love Merlin. I think this show is pretty fucking fantastic, actually, whatever its detractors. But that wont stop me saying over and over that the Merlin/Arthur dynamic is over-emphasised to a damaging degree and that the show would be better and frankly far more interesting and original if it would give the women some space to develop in their own right.
Take for instance, the fact that NEITHER of the main girls are in this Saturday's episode. I think that's utterly appalling because would we ever get an episode that didn't feature either of the boys? Or featured them only in a few scenes in which they exclusively interact with women and carry out actions that will effect women or have been effected by women?
Hells no. So why are the women being treated like that? It's unnecessary and frustrating and frankly just kinda unoriginal.