Final Thoughts on American Idol and the Season of the Robot Women

So, you know how sometime, I stop covering Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and instead write about gender and race issues on American Idol?

… yeah, this is one of those days. I’m sorry. But for some reason, I cannot rest until I finish writing up my thoughts about this season. I need to give my thoughts on the White Guy With Guitars Phenomenon. I need to talk about the continued robotization of Female Contestants. I need to talk about Jessica Sanchez’s race problems. And I need to squee about the awesome singing.

If it makes you feel better I promise that I will not write another American Idol post until… next season.

My fascination with American Idol began in Season 10, when I fell madly in love with Haley Reinhart, the blues-rock singer who never got the respect she deserved.* By all rights, my fascination should have stopped after Season 10 – Haley Reinhart was gone, and I’d never been a fan of the show in the first place. But I kept watching. And then I got obsessed.

Haley Reinhart What is and what should never be led zepplin

Haley Reinhart (still my favorite)

Partly it’s the singing. Yes, in spite of all my cynical presuppositions, there are some bloody incredible singers on American Idol. And I love watching them.

But mostly? Mostly it’s the sociological stuff. I find it fascinating  – and disturbed – that the five last winners were all white men (with guitars). I’m fascinated – and disturbed – by the ways the fans act. I’m fascinated – and disturbed – by American Idol commentary. I’m fascinated – and disturbed – by the producer manipulations.

Frankly, American Idol is a bizarre back window into America’s psyche. And I just can’t look away.

1. The Phillip Phillips Victory and the White Guy With Guitars Phenomenon

Remember when I randomly wrote a giant post explaining why women can’t win American Idol? And then a few weeks later, I wrote a second post expanding on the lack of female winners?

Guess what?

A woman did not win American Idol this year.

Phillip Phillips beat Jessica Sanchez in the finale, making him the fifth “White Guy With Guitar” winner in a row on American Idol. The other four are David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee Dewyze and Scotty McCreery. [White Guy With Guitar is often abbreviated as "WGWG"]

I am shocked [okay, that's a lie. I'm not shocked at all].

Watching the fandom reaction to Phillip Phillips’ victory was… interesting. To say the least.

Someone would say: “Oh, boo, another White Guy With Guitar.”
Then the next person would say: “You’re a racist.”

Or someone would say: “And that’s 5 WGWG winners.”
Then the next person would say: “That’s racist! You’re discriminating against Phillip Phillips because he’s white and male!”

I never entered these discussions –  I was already violating rule #1 of keeping one’s sanity on the internet (Never Read The Comments). I was not going to violate rule #2  (Never Enter A Comments Argument).

The thing is, I’m one of those people who thinks that the five-year winning streak by white men is troubling. And it’s not because I hate all white men, or because I think Phillip Phillips is untalented, or because I think Phillip Phillips’ gender and race disqualifies him from victory.

So let me explain myself.

First, I want to clear something up: it is not racist, nor is it sexist, to point out that Phillip Phillips is a white man. It is not racist, nor is it sexist, to point out that he’s the fifth white man in a row to win American Idol. These are facts. If you’re arguing that Phillip Phillips doesn’t deserve to win idol because he’s a white man, then yes, that is discriminatory. And if you’re arguing that the WGWG streak proves White Men are better singers, then yes, that is racist. But to remark upon the phenomenon is not discriminatory in-and-of-itself.

When potentially problematic patterns emerge – when, for example, five white men win a competition in a row – it is normal and responsible to ask questions about the process.

And that’s the key here: the pattern. If you voted for Phillip Phillips over Jessica Sanchez, good for you! If you prefer a male contestant in any given year, I have no problem with you. If you prefer a white contestant in any given year, I have no problem with you [if you always like the white contestants and never like contestants of color, however, you might want to examine your internal biases]. The problem is not with any one person’s individual voting decision. The problem is with the pattern. Because once we rack up all the individual choices made over the last four years, and we map them out, the pattern is pretty damn clear: white men have a much easier time on Idol.

Again: I think it’s perfectly fine a white male singer to be the best, most consistent and most original singer on any given year. My problem is when people start trying to argue that every white male singer was the best, most consistent and most original singer on any given year. I don’t care what you say, there is no way you can argue that every single white male winner was a better, more consistent and more interesting singer than all his competitors. There is no way. And yet all five of these white male winners not only won their seasons, but none of them ever appeared in the bottom 3 contestants, no matter how poorly they performed

Women have a much harder time on Idol. People of color have a much harder time on Idol. And women and people of color cannot win Idol anymore. This is a fact. At this point, there is literally nothing a woman or a person of color (or a woman of color) can do to win the show. It has all been done.

This year was a case study in proving that no matter what female and non-white contestants do, they cannot beat a white male contestant. With Elise Testone, Jessica Sanchez, Skylar Laine and Hollie Cavanagh, we had the best group of female singers on Idol in at least five years. They were original, they were interesting, they had an enormous amount of talent, they all had huge shining moments.With the exception of Hollie Cavanagh, who had a few bum weeks but then came roaring back, all of these women were consistent: they made very few mistakes. Meanwhile, with Joshua Ledet, we had – as far as I’m concerned – the best male vocalist on Idol since Adam Lambert. Joshua Ledet was incredibly consistent and high-powered; he almost always exceeded expectations.

I will gladly admit that Phillip Phillips had a good run. But I defy you to argue that he was more consistent than Jessica Sanchez or Joshua Ledet. I defy you to argue that he was more original than Skylar Laine or Elise Testone. I defy you to argue that he had as many standout performances as Jessica, Joshua or Skylar. I defy you to argue that Joshua’s take on Runaway Baby, or Hollie Cavanaugh’s turn on Bleeding Love deserved a bottom three finish while Phillip Phillips’ Time of the Season didn’t. I defy you to argue that Phillip Phillips’ pitch problems were any less egregious than Skylar Laine’s country twang.

My point is: Phillip Phillips had flaws; he had bad performances, but they never seemed to matter. No matter how good, how exceptionally incredible Phillip Phillips’ competitors were, or how terrible Phillip Phillips was, he was never shaken. He never went to the bottom three. And they had no chance of beating him.

And that’s my problem with the White Guy with Guitar phenomenon. White men have it unfairly easy, while anyone who isn’t a white man has it unfairly hard. It’s a perfect example of white male privilege at work. It’s not that the five WGWG winners were untalented. It’s not that they didn’t work hard. It’s not that they don’t deserve good things, or that they’re bad singers. It’s just that, for them, things were easier. The standards were obviously lower (again: they never landed in the bottom three. Ever). Meanwhile, as I’ve detailed in my prior two posts on American Idol, the standards were much higher for women and for people of color. To completely purloin John Scalzi’s explanation of white male privilege: white men play the Idol game on the lowest difficulty setting. And women and people of color play it on a much, much higher difficult setting. [If you haven't read John Scalzi's post on the Lowest Difficulty Setting, you should; it's brilliant]

As Michael Slezak once put it: “Am I going to argue that women have had an easy time on Idol in recent years? Absolutely not. You have to perform better than the men to stay in the competition [...] and sometimes that doesn’t even work.”

The playing field is not level.

That’s my problem.

2. All Women are Robot Members of the Robocalypse

Speaking of American Idol and Gender issues! I’d like to share the #1 thing I learned on American Idol this year: all women are robots. They’re probably also all preparing to kill us in an attempt to institute the robocalypse… but I’m not sure about that yet.

a) All Female Contestants on Idol are Robots

Jennifer Lopez, critiquing Elise Testone: “they [the audience] want to know that you’re a person. That you feel things.”

After Jennifer Lopez said this to Elise Testone, I may or may not have thrown a magazine at the television screen (there were no witnesses. You can’t prove anything).

First, Elise Testone is a person. She doesn’t need to prove it. This isn’t Battlestar Galactica; contestants aren’t required to take Cylon detection tests.

Second, Elise Testone is the last person I would call robotic. Elise Testone is the anti-Lady Gaga. She has no poker face. Over the course of the season, it was nearly impossible for Testone to hide how she was feeling [a problem, since she couldn't hide her disappointment, anger or sadness].

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that Elise Testone was called out for not being “human” enough. Because there is not a single female contestant this season who has not been called “a robot” or “inauthentic” or “soulless” either by the judges or by the fans.

Every. Single. Female. Contestant. has been called a robot. Every single one.

Men, on the other hand? Almost NEVER get the robot criticism.

Case in point: On the final performance episode, the top 2 singers have to repeat their favorite performance. So both singers are, by definition, doing something unoriginal. And neither Jessica Sanchez nor Phillip Phillips (this year’s top 2) made any radical changes to their re-interpretations of their chosen songs.
Let’s look at Jennifer Lopez’s critique of the two, shall we?

“I’ve seen Jessica do that before. And I just feel like that’s authentic Phillip right there.”

Wait, what? You’ve ALSO seen Phillip Phillips do that before. You’ve seen him do exactly. the same. thing.

Two contestants repeat a song. The female one? Inauthentic. Mimic. The male one? Authentic.

Yeah, no.

This whole thing leads me to believe that the “inauthentic” and “robotic” criticism is a lot less about the individual singer, and a lot more about… their gender.

Yes, indeed, all female contestants are robots.

b) All female fans are robots

Random fan critique: ” Oh Please. WGWGs win because young girls always vote for the cute guy.”

There is no myth floating around the idol fan-o-sphere that drives me more nuts than the myth that “teen girls are ruining the show because they always vote for the cute guys.” It’s also, sadly, the most pervasive myth. [And it's the reason behind my original Why Women Can't Win Idol post]

One of the more disgusting things about this critique is that it makes “cute guy” equal to “white guy.” So men of color can’t be cute? Girls aren’t attracted to guys of color?

Joshua Ledet Crazy Little Thing Called Love

I must not be a girl because I find this young gentleman (Joshua Ledet) very attractive.

Also, it’s incredibly heteronormative. Has anyone heard of lesbians? And bisexual women? They exist.

But what’s most annoying about the “teen girls always vote for the cute guys” myth is that it assumes that teen girls are entirely ruled by their hormones, and that they’re thus incapable of making an informed decision. They can’t just like Phillip Phillips because they like his music. No, it has to be because he’s a cute guy. That’s why.

And it needs no evidence! No market research, no rigorous studies, no sample size, no nothing. Because everyone knows that when a cute white guy strums on his guitar, teen girls become mind-controlled drones and start speed-dialing the cute white guy to safety.

Teen girls are robots. Their programming?
Vote for the cute white guy.

… Does anyone else see a trend here?

I find it endlessly hilarious (and by hilarious, I mean rage-inducing) that if fandom isn’t blaming the White Guy With Guitars phenomenon on teenage girls being completely mindless robots, we’re blaming it on female contestants being robotic.

What is it about being female that makes it so easy for people to compare you to a machine?

Female performers cannot be authentic. They can be great  singers. They can even be perfect singers. But they cannot be authentic, real, human singers.
Heart and soul? Only guys have that. Women just sing the notes.
Authenticity? Only guys have that. Women can only mimic.
Charm? Only guys have that. Women are cold and soulless.

Female fans cannot be authentic. They cannot vote for a contestant because they like that person’s music. They cannot vote for a contestant because they enjoy their performance style. They don’t watch Idol because they want to see true music.
No, they can only watch for the cute boys. And they can only vote for the cute boys
Only men can be real fans. Men vote for the best singer. Men watch the show because they care about music. Women watch the show for eye-candy.

So, from my viewing of American Idol, I have concluded that men are people and women are robots.

It’s the robocalypse, people. And I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

3. Jessica Sanchez and Racism

Okay, let’s be clear. I am supremely unqualified to discuss this topic. I am white. I also know almost nothing about discrimination against Asians in the United States; I know even less about discrimination against Filipinos in the United States.

Thus, my ability to analyze the discourse surrounding Jessica Sanchez is… limited. To say the least.
Usually in these circumstances, I go: “hey, look at all the smart, qualified people who have written about this! Read their stuff!”
But unfortunately (and bizarrely), no one else has really talked about this issue.** Or if they do, they aren’t doing it in any depth – it’s all “Jessica Sanchez was voted off, so America is racist!” Or”No, America isn’t racist!”

But the issue of Jessica Sanchez’s race, and how it played into her run on Idol, deserves some discussion.

So I’m going to try here. [If you've seen or read any pertinent commentary, please let me know. I'm begging you.]

Point the first: Jessica Sanchez is American. [This will be important later]
Point the second: Jessica Sanchez’s father is Mexican American. Her mother is Filipina. Jessica Sanchez is thus of both Latin@ and Asian (Filipino) heritage. She’s mixed race.

Jessica Sanchez Stuttering

Jessica Sanchez performing “Stuttering”

Crucially, Sanchez’s Mexican heritage was almost never discussed, either on the show, in American Idol commentary, or in fan circles. She was described as primarily Asian-American or Filipino-American.

I’ve written two long posts about how American Idol systematically disadvantages female contestants. But in the case of race – at least, in the case of race this year – I did not see a lot of institutional discrimination. The show itself was not putting Jessica Sanchez at a disadvantage because of her race (although they did put her at a disadvantage because of her gender).

But the fans and the critics are another story.

I’ve seen loads of comments on fan sites and on American Idol articles that say that Jessica Sanchez’s talent is a “cheat” because her “Asian parents” have been raising her to “compete” from “childhood.” She’s a “trained-since-birth” robot. Because her family is Filipino, they’ve “chosen one child to train as a prodigy.” She has a “tiger mom” who has trained her “since birth” to “win Idol,” and thus Sanchez doesn’t “deserve to win.”

It’s the “Well, of course she’s doing well in Math. She’s Asian” argument.

This, to me, is on the same level as the “Asian-Americans are stealing all the science jobs” rhetoric we see in the news. Or the massive”Asian-Americans have an easier time getting into college” freakouts.

As I like to put it when I’m being particularly sarcastic:”Oh no! Americans of color are actually doing okay! They’re doing well in school! They’re doing well on TV shows! They’re getting decently-paid jobs! Only real [white] Americans are allowed to get those things! We have to panic now!”

And the whole makes me want to throw myself off a cliff.

[Fortunately, I don't live near any cliffs]

This “She’s successful because she’s Asian” argument is a particularly vicious way of dismissing Jessica Sanchez’s achievements. By these standards, Sanchez didn’t get to American Idol through hard work, determination, talent and luck. She didn’t get there because she loved singing. No, she got there because her family was Asian, so they “trained” her.

Moreover, Idol commentary and fan discussions have made Sanchez’s hard work the equivalent of an “unfair advantage.” No one is going “look how focused and dedicated Jessica Sanchez is.” Instead, they’re acting like her hard work is the equivalent of cheating.

I’m sorry, someone’s going to have to explain this to me: Jessica Sanchez is a hard worker, therefore she’s a cheater? Wait, what? Isn’t working hard to achieve your goals the opposite of cheating? [If working hard makes people cheaters, I think I'd best turn myself in to my University's Academic Counsel]

I keep wanting to tell these people: You don’t think Phillip Phillips worked his butt off to get where he is today?

But somehow, it’s okay for Phillip Phillips to work hard. On the other hand, it’s suspect for Jessica Sanchez to do the same thing.

Frank Wu, a critical race theorist, explains this better than I will: “The model minority myth hurts Asian Americans themselves. It is two-faced. Every attractive trait matches up neatly to its repulsive complement, and the aspects are conducive to reversal. [...] To be hard working is to be an unfair competitor for regular human beings, and not a well-rounded, likable individual.” (Wu, Frank. Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White)

People perceived Asian-Americans as being an “unfair competitors” for regular human beings – and by regular human beings, they mean “white Americans.”

I think this is exactly what happened to Jessica Sanchez. Because she was perceived as a hard-working Asian singer, people saw her as having some kind of “unfair” advantage over other (mostly white) contestants like Phillip Phillips. Where Phillip Phillips’ hard work makes him a likeable individual, Jessica Sanchez’s hard work makes her robotic and unlikeable.

So yes. It’s racist. And it’s disgusting. And I’m sick of reading this kind of commentary. If you don’t like Jessica Sanchez’s singing, fine. Just say that. If you prefer another singer, fine. Just say that. If you think Jessica Sanchez has no emotional connection to her lyrics, fine. Just say that. But don’t accuse Jessica Sanchez of being some sort of Asian dragon-lady with “unfair advantages” over her competitors. Because yes, that’s racist.

The other really disturbing thing I see in commentary and fan forums is the discussion around Jessica Sanchez’s appearance.

Around top 8 week, I started noticing that, on the fan forums I visited and on youtube clips of Jessica or Hollie Cavanagh’s performances, there was a kind of universal consensus that Hollie was the beautiful one, and Jessica was…  not. Even people who said they preferred Jessica as a singer would say things like “but she’s not pretty like Hollie.”

This turned into a mini-phenomenon. I saw it everywhere. If you do a google search, you’ll find that there are a whole lot more results for “Jessica Sanchez ugly” than for “Hollie Cavanagh ugly.” And most of the negative commentary on Jessica’s appearance also talks about her race.

There were also entire lines of comments that argued that Jessica Sanchez shouldn’t win Idol because she doesn’t “look American” and it would be confusing if the winner of Idol wasn’t American. I counted fifty of those comments when I was compiling youtube clips for this post, and then I couldn’t do it anymore.

Pardon me for the temporary rant: Jessica Sanchez is an American. Jessica Sanchez looks American. Because she is an American. The End.

Someone, somewhere, will have to explain to me what these people mean by “looking American.” Because I think they mean “white.”

And, you know, I realize the internet can be a terrible place. I do. I really do. I know that people are asshats. But that doesn’t make their conduct okay, and it certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it.
Let me put it this way. If there were no racial bias, Jessica Sanchez and Hollie Cavanaugh would probably get the same amount of “ha ha, she’s ugly” trolling. But because we tend to see white people as the “standard” of good looks, Jessica Sanchez gets the brunt of the “ugly” criticism.

Hollie Cavanagh American Idol Season 11

Hollie Cavanagh

Jessica Sanchez American Idol Season 11

Jessica Sanchez

Oh, yes. Now that I see their photos right next to each other, it’s SO CLEAR that Hollie is prettier than Jessica.

//sarcasm//

I would probably have let the ugly/pretty rant drop if it weren’t for the fact that the exact same thing happened with Phillip Phillips and Joshua Ledet.

Again, many commentators pegged Phillip Phillips as the winner, because they argued that women and girls would vote for the cute boy.

But no one ever said Joshua Ledet has a chance of winning the “cute boy” vote. Once Colton Dixon was gone, everyone assumed that Phillip Phillips was the show’s only male heartthrob.

Phillip Phillips Heartthrob American Idol Season 11

Phillip Phillips

Joshua Ledet

Joshua Ledet

Oh, yes. It’s so obvious that Phillip Phillips is the only attractive one of these two guys. SO OBVIOUS.

[This is one of those cases where my personal taste goes completely against the public consensus, because I happen to think Phillip Phillips is somewhat bland, while Joshua Ledet is a Stone Cold Fox.]

My point here is: there’s a pattern where only white contestants are labeled – either by fans or by commentators – as attractive. The entire “girls will only vote for cute boys so White Guys with Guitars will always win” inherently assumes that only white guys count as cute. This is probably not that surprising to anyone who has studied race issues in the United States, but it’s still disturbing. And we should talk about it.

So yes. Racism has an impact on American Idol. And we should talk about it. We’re probably not going to, and if we do, it’s going to be along the lines of “white people experience discrimination too!”… but I’m holding out hope.

AHEM!

Now that I’ve finished covering the year in misogyny and racism, let’s… end on a high note, shall we?

Here are some of the great things about American Idol this year:

1. Michael Slezak, Melinda Doolittle and Jason Averett

Michael Slezak remains my favorite American Idol commentator of all times. There is no one who is funner to read or to watch. His boundless enthusiasm, his passionate love for the show and the singers, his burning hatred of producer manipulations – he’s amazingly addictive.

Slezak is my hero. Someday, if I work hard enough, and hide my female roboticness long enough, I might aspire to be half as entertaining and incisive a writer as he is.

Some actual quotes for our edification: “I can’t fathom what (aside from Uncle Nigel sending volts of electricity into their chairs) prompted the judges to give Deandre a Standing O for a vocal this week that was about as pleasant as listening to a Snowy Owl sink its talons into a frightened prairie dog and carry it back to the nest for disembowelment.” (Top 9 recap)

On Skylar Laine’s “Show Must Go On” “It was like watching the very first space shuttle take off, and you didn’t know if it was going to make it up into the atmosphere, and then it was like – oh my god, we’re in outer space. We’ve conquered outer space.”

Michael Slezak is also one-third of the team behind Idology, a weekly American Idol video recap where Slezak joins Melinda Doolittle, the third place finisher of American Idol Season 6, to discuss the week’s results.

Melinda Doolittle Michael Slezak Idology

Idology with Melinda Doolittle and Michael Slezak

I love Idology with the passion of a thousand hopeful American Idol contestants. I love it because Slezak and Doolittle are having so much damn fun – sometimes Doolittle makes Slezak laugh so much I worry they’ll have to call an ambulance. The two have incredible chemistry.I also love Idology because the producer, Jason Averett, intercuts each video with amazing, hilarious clips from movies and TV shows. And it is glorious.

Averett is the invisible third commenter who makes himself known through his editing and his hilarious captions. During the first few weeks of the competition, for example,  Slezak and Doolittle argued over whether Colton Dixon or Phillip Phillips had a better shot at the title. Averett kept intercutting their discussions with a photo of Phillips and the caption “Spoiler: This Guy.”

Anyways. I love Michael Slezak. I love Jason Averett. I love Melinda Doolittle. I love Idology. I can’t wait for them to come back next year.

I only have two small quibbles [because you know me; I can't ever just like something. I have to find all the problems]

One: Idology is too short. Last year, we had thirty minute episodes, so Slezak could really get into the nitty-gritty details. And he could invite guests, he could have guest performers etc. If possible, I’d like the longer length back, thank you very much.

Two: I really appreciate Slezak’s commitment to calling out the anti-female shenanigans on Idol. But I would also really like it if he stopped calling JLo a skank. Look, she’s a terrible judge, and I’m fine with you making fun of her and her singing and her terrible critiques. Just don’t use gendered slurs to insult her. You don’t use racist terms of insult Randy Jackson; don’t use misogynistic slurs to insult Jennifer Lopez. And stop saying that she’s setting back the feminist movement, or women’s rights. It’s annoying. One of the main points of “rights” is that they don’t go away just because one woman acts badly.

Reason #2 American Idol was awesome this year?

2. There were some damn fine Singers

It bears repeating: there were some damn fine singers. I don’t think there’s been a season where I’ve liked as many people as I did this year. Moreover, when we got to the top 10, there wasn’t a single singer that I actively disliked. I wasn’t a huge fan of Hollie or Phillip, particularly near the end, but I thought they were fine.

In contrast, last season there was exactly ONE singer I still liked by the time Top 9 rolled around (the inimitable Haley Reinhart).

Haley Reinhart House of the Rising Sun

Gratuitous Haley Reinhart Cameo!

This season, I fell madly, passionately in love with Joshua Ledet and Jessica Sanchez. They were phenomenal. Unbelievable. And earth-shatteringly good. Joshua was all whiskey-soaked raspiness, unbridled emotions and glorious, explosive energy; Jessica Sanchez was gorgeous, finessed vocals; lovely rawness combined with a perfect range and a magnificent, terrifying power.

I don’t care what they sing. I will buy all the CDs. And the singles. Whatever. Everything. All the time.

Jessica Sanchez Joshua Ledet Knew You Were Waiting For Me

My personal top 2 this season

I was also deeply in love with Skylar Laine and Elise Testone. They are tremendous. Elise Testone is bluesy and rocky and her voice is so wonderfully bizarre. Skylar Laine proves I can enjoy country music: she was artistic, original and gutsy, and she had a massive voice on top of everything else.

Skylar Laine The Show Must Go On

Skylar Laine

Elise Testone Whole Lotta Love

Elise Testone

So yes. In spite of the misogyny, the racism, the producer manipulation, the judging issues… there were still damn fine singers on American Idol this season, and they gave some damn fine performances.

Because it’s my blog, and I’m ridiculously self-indulgent, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite twenty performances this season. And because it’s my blog, I don’t even have to be embarrassed that more than 1/2 of them are Joshua Ledet or Jessica Sanchez performances. [Okay, I am embarrassed. But I'll live]

In conclusion! Hurrah for Season 11! And thank god I’ve got six months to recuperate before Season 12.

[These performances are in NO PARTICULAR ORDER. Don't hurt me]

0. Jessica Sanchez You Are So Beautiful (also known as “suck it, trolls)

1.Elise Testone Whole Lotta Love (also known as “Hey, robots sing pretty good, don’t they?”)

2. Skylar Laine Stay With Me 

3. Jessica Sanchez Love You I do (also known as “C.D. falls madly in love with a contestant for the first time this season”)

4. Joshua Ledet No More Drama (also known as “Wait, why didn’t he make the final two again?”)

5. Jessica Sanchez and Joshua Ledet’s duet I Knew You Were Waiting For Me (also known as “C.D.’s personal top 2 make the world explode through sheer awesomeness”)

6. Hollie Cavanagh Bleeding Love

7. Joshua Ledet When A Man Loves A Woman

8. Elise Testone No One

9. Jessica Sanchez Everybody has a Dream 

10. Joshua Ledet Ready For Love (also known as “Joshua becomes C.D.’s other favorite contestant’)

11. Skylar Laine The Show Must Go On (also known as “Michael Slezak thinks this is the equivalent of conquering outer space”)

12. Phillip Phillips Volcano (I will admit, I’ve never really gotten Phillip Phillips. But I got him on this song).

13. Jessica Sanchez Sweet Dreams (also known as “the best song I’ve bought on iTunes in months”)

14. Jessica Sanchez Bohemian Rhapsody

15. Jessica Sanchez The Prayer (also known as “I’m not religious and I actually started crying in the middle of this song”)

16. Jessica Sanchez, Deandre Brackensick and Candice Glover It Doesn’t Matter Anymore (Candice better come back next year, is all I’m saying)

17. Jessica Sanchez And I Am Telling You (I actually held my breath for the last minute. The entire song was like jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet and landing in a side-split handstand)

18. Joshua Ledet It’s a Man, Man, Man’s World (with Jessica Sanchez’s And I Am Telling You, the best ten minute block of the season. My brain almost exploded when these two songs happened back-to-back. The awesome was impossible to contain).

19. Jessica Sanchez’s duet with Jennifer Holiday on the finale (I take it all back. This was the best three minutes on the show on this season. Period. No questions asked. Do not mess with these two ladies. They will destroy you.)

Public Service Announcement: Haley Reinhart’s first CD, Listen Up, just came out. Buy it; it’s incredible.

P.S: Apologies for the spotty posting schedule. Fair warning: it may get spottier. I’ve been having some health-related problems, and they’ve been getting steadily worse over the past week or so. Hopefully I can keep a two-to-three post a week schedule… but I just started a medication that’s supposed to help my migraines and the side effects for the first two weeks are brutal. So if I disappear, my apologies.


The Friendship that Dares Not Speak its Name: Female Friendship in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Xena Warrior Princess Lucy Lawless Angry

“Is anyone here going to be my friend? Anyone? I have a shiny sword!”

[Content note: This is another one of my giant tl;dr posts of doom. Be forewarned before you venture into the abyss]

I’ve decided that I don’t want to be a Sci-Fi/Fantasy hero. Sure, the armor/spacesuits/dresses would be cool. And I’d like to fight a glorious battle. Or meet an alien. Or turn into a dragon. Or turn into a dragon while I meet an alien and wear a cool spacesuit dress.

But.

I’ve been noticing something weird about SF/F heroes. Specifically the female ones.

They don’t have a lot of friendships with other women.

Hell, there are some SF/F movies/books/etc. where the women barely speak to each other at all.

Is it just me, or does it sometimes feel like all those heroines have been cursed by a horrific spell? A spell that prevents them from making friends with other women without dying instantaneously?

Or do they just all have allergies to other women?

Because something’s going on. And I’d like to know what.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy has quite a few iconic male friendships – you’d be hard-pressed to find a book, tv series or movie that didn’t have a prominent friendship between two men.

Frodo and Sam. Spock and Kirk. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. Ender Wiggin and Bean. Hugo and Charlie on Lost. Saul Tigh and Bill Adama in Battlestar Galactica. Magneto and Professor Xavier.

But iconic female friendships?

I can’t think of many.

And lest you ask, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. When I first got the idea for this post, I went through my reading lists for the past three years. I scoured the web. I look through my bookshelves. I looked through my brother’s bookshelves. I lurked around Amazon.com for three hours.

After a good week of research, I concluded that not only were there very few Sci-Fi/Fantasy narratives where female friendships featured prominently, there were very few Sci-Fi/Fantasy narratives where female friendships featured at all.

Black Widow Scarlett Johansson

” Look, it’s not that I don’t want to be friends with women, it’s just that for some reason, I’m never allowed to talk to them onscreen.”

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that women are still underrepresented as characters in Sci-Fi/Fantasy. We’re still stuck in the “lone woman” or “exceptional woman” phase of gender equality. Consider all the movies/books/comic books etc. where there is exactly one major female character. Black Widow in The Avengers.* Trinity in The Matrix. Wonder Woman in the early years of The Justice League. Petra in Ender’s Game. Molly Million in Neuromancer. Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings. 

[*Emphasis on major. I liked Maria Hill and Pepper Potts as much as anyone else, but they weren't on the same level of importance to the narrative as Thor, or Black Widow, or even Nick Fury]

Hell, Mulan in Mulan, while we’re at it. Even feminist narratives often have “lone women,” because so many of them tell stories of the first woman to join the army/become a knight/become a scientist/fly to the moon/play professional foozball. And, don’t get me wrong, stories about how women overcome the odds to join male-dominated professions are important.

But what about the stories after that one? What about the one where there are finally two female superheroes? What about the one where the science lab has a 50-50% gender distribution? What about the one where the army has an entire squadron of female knights?

Where are the stories about women mentoring other women? Where are the stories of women who have been best friends since childhood? Where are the stories where two wacky women are thrown together on an intergalactic adventure? Where’s my female Sherlock Holmes and Watson duo?

Where are my stories of epic sromances (rather than bromances) where the (female) hero would cut through entire armies to save their (female) friend?

[By the way, I fully purloined the term "sromance" from a blog post written by the fabulous Karen Healey]

Mulan Sword reflection

“Touch my BFF, and I will cut you.”

Those stories are a lot rarer.

We’re not that interested, it seems to me, in telling stories where there are many women, not just one. We’re not that interested in portraying worlds where women are the norm rather than the exception. We’re still stuck on the “lone women” phase of gender equality.

We’re not that interested in portraying relationships between women. We’re still stuck on how women relate to men.

***

Even when there are multiple women in an SF/F narrative [HALLELUJAH], they rarely ever meet. Or speak. Or have any kind of relationship. Maria Hill and Black Widow in The Avengers? Never say one word to each other. Eowyn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings? They’re in love with the same man, they’re fighting the same enemy… they never speak. In the Game of Thrones series, there are several important female characters, but they’re rarely in a room together. And if they are, they’re not friends. They’re enemies.

You would think women in Sci-Fi/Fantasy narratives would have something to say to one another. Even if it’s along the lines of:

“So, what’s it like to be the only woman in a group of superheroes?”
“Oh, you know. It’s not bad. Reminds me of that time I was stuck in an airport in France…”

Or:

“Hey, you know where I can get some tampons in the middle of this god-forsaken wilderness?”

Or just a plain, normal, non-gendered conversation like:

“Wow, we’re about to get eaten by a dragon.”
“That’s a problem.”
“We should run.”
“I agree. RUN!”

But no, apparently not. Apparently women just can’t talk to each other in SF/F.

It’s very bizarre. Because – and I hope SF/F authors and scriptwriters know this – there are a lot of women in the world.

It is practically impossible for a woman to go through her life without having a conversation with another woman. It is practically impossible for a woman to go through a single day without talking to another woman. Women are everywhere. Heck, I’ve even  heard they make up 50% of the earth’s population.

Given these parameters, it makes absolutely no sense that the majority of female SF/F characters almost never talk to women. The only way they could pull it off is if they were actively avoiding talking to other women.

This is why I suspect that female heroes of SF/F are all under some terrible curse that prevents them from speaking to other women. It’s the only logical explanation.

[[It's either that, or most authors are doing a terrible job of representing women's reality... and since authors have never historically struggle with representing female experiences, I think we can safely rule this explanation out. Right?]]

So. There’s a curse.

And if there is, I must be honest with you: I don’t think I want to be an SF/F hero anymore.

Because I wouldn’t want to live a life without female friends.

It would be horrible. Are you kidding me?

For one thing, how the hell am I supposed to go into battle and save the world without my female friends by my side?

Don’t get me wrong. I have friends who are guys. I would not want to give up those friendships either; some of my best friends are men. But women are friends with men in SF/F narratives, so that’s not really an issue.

[I feel like all my guy friends who read this are going to go: "You don't love me? " and run away. So, pre-emptively: "NOOOO, guy friends! I do love you! Don't leave me!"]

But frankly, most of my closest, most important friendships have been with other women.

The friends who know my deep, dark secrets? Mostly women. The friends who know that I spent a year of my life breaking into my house through a window instead of telling my parents I’d lost the keys? Mostly women. The friends who have survived my propensity for seven hour walks? Mostly women. The friends who put up with my social anxiety, my inability to answer emails and phone calls? Mostly women. The friends who tortured me with high-school drama? Mostly women. The friends who listen to me rant about stuff they’re completely uninterested in? Mostly women.

The friend I have epic conversations with when we pull simultaneous all-nighters? A woman. The friend who talked me through my academic insecurities? A woman. The friend who rearranged my work schedule when she realized I was exhausted – even though it meant she was picking up extra hours? A woman. The friend I went camping for (I hate camping)? A woman. The friend I went running for (I hate running)? A woman. The friend I stopped writing a paper for so that I could help her find her cat? A woman. The friend who turned me into a compulsive biker? A woman.

If I were an SF/F heroine, I would want these women on my team. I’m just saying.

That’s, I think, why the lack of female friendships in SF/F is so striking to me. When I look at the friends I would walk through fire for, the friends I would fight armies for, the friends who I cannot imagine life without – most of those friends are women. And when I look around me at women I know, I see that yes, in fact, these women too, have friends who are female.

Women are friends with women. Imagine that.

Female friendships aren’t an urban legend. They aren’t a statistical anomaly. They’re not all hiding in the forests like werewolves. Unless the nine places I’ve lived in my life have been exceptions to the norm, female friends are a fairly common phenomenon.

Elizabeth Swann Pirates of the Caribbean Keira Knightley

“Where the frack are all the other women in this blasted movie? Did they get eaten by the Kraken?

So just for the sake of realism, there should be a few more female friendships in SF/F.

Not to mention the fact that female friendships are interesting.
They’re fun. Exciting. Dramatic. Low-key. Tense. Anguished. Tortured. Competitive. Sweet. Bizarre. Twisted. Cool. Captivating. Multifaceted.

If you’re not writing about female friendships because you think they’re boring? You’re not too clever. And if you’re not reading books with female friendships because you think they’re boring? You’re missing out.

Isn’t it sad that we can imagine faster -than-light-travel, fire-breathing dragons and cyborgs, but we can’t imagine two women talking to each other?

Is there really a curse? A curse that says: two women can’t be friends in SF/F? Two women can’t speak in SF/F? Women can only relate to men, and to no one else?

Well, if there is, I’m sick of it. I want to see as many awesome female friendships in SF/F as there are awesome male friendships.

I’m breaking out the curse-breaking equipment, people. I’m compiling a list. A list of SF/F narratives that do have awesome female friendships.

Because it’s time to end the darn curse.

Here, in no particular order, are nine SF/F narratives with prominent female friendships. Seven books; one TV show; one Comic Book series.

I know these are not the only SF/F narratives with prominent female friendships. I have not read everything. I have not seen everything. Heck, I haven’t even ever seen Star Trek (I’m working on it!). So this list is not meant to be comprehensive. I’m sure I’m missing things – and I’d love to hear suggestions!

Curse-breakers, unite!

[And now I feel like I'm either in Pirates of the Caribbean or a Tomb Raider movie. For the record: if this curse-breaking turns into an epic quest where we all become living skeletons and have to pour the blood of Orlando Bloom on a giant pile of gold to end the terrible curse... my apologies]

****

1. Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen by Tamora Pierce

Trickster's Queen cover Tamora Pierce

This was a tough one, because Tamora Pierce always does a fantastic job with female friendships. Keladry and Lalasa. Keladry, Yuki and Shinko. Alanna, Thayet and Buri. Alanna and Daine. Sandry, Tris and Daja. Beka Cooper and Clara Goodwin.

Pierce’s female friendships are all the more impressive because most of Tamora Pierce’s protagonists are women entering male-dominated professions. Two of her series (Song of the Lioness and The Protector of the Small) follow the journeys of the first women to train for Knighthood. Yet even though Alanna and Kel are surrounded by men (and make friends with men) they managed to be friends with women too. Female friendships are the norm in Pierce’s writing, not the exception.

The Trickster duology, however, probably has more friendships between women than any of Pierce’s other series.

After being kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Copper Isles, Aly discovers that the Raka natives are finally ready to throw their luarin overlords. And they need a spymaster. Aly, through bad luck, trickery and manipulation, gets herself that job.

The Raka rebellion aims to put a Queen, not a King, on the throne of the Isles. It’s quite a gender-equal revolution: women and men both act as warrior, spies, mages and leaders. Not surprisingly, Aly cultivates quite a few important friendships and alliances with other women, from her cautious loyalty to Duchess Winnamine (the stepmother to the potential heiress), her easy camaraderie with Chenaol (Aly’s first friend in the Copper Isles and the rebellion’s weaponmaster), her wary “please-don’t-hit-me” friendships with Ochubo (head of the Raka mage network) and Junai (her bodyguard) and her long-distance friendship with Daine.

Aly’s most important friendship, however, is with Dovesary Balitang, a clever and wise thirteen-year-old half-Raka noblewoman. The rebels believe Dove’s older sister, Sarai, is the prophesied twice-royal Queen. Aly’s relationship with Dove is arguably the most important relationship in the book, full stop – the two women’s admiration, wariness and respect for one another is fascinating to watch. And their evolving friendship becomes integral to the rebellion’s success.

It’s a genuine sromance. And it always makes me tear up.

“I don’t need a maid,” Dove said. “I need a friend.” [...]
“I will be your friend till the end of time,” Aly told the younger girl.

2. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Beauty Queens Libba Bray Cover

Friends don’t let friends wear Maybelline

Picture this: a plane full of teen beauty queens crash-lands on a desert island. They must survive. They must practice their pageant walks for the Miss Teen Dream pageant. They must keep exfoliating. And they must foil the plans of an evil organization of evil people hidden in a giant evil volcano at the center of the island. [ Yes, this is speculative fiction. It's a dystopia. Don't argue with me]

And there are explosions.

I know you just ran away from the computer screaming “WHY HAVEN’T I READ THIS YET?” I know. I feel your pain.

This novel is a high-wire act. It would have been so easy for Bray to spend the story making fun of the teen pageant queens and their silliness. But no. Beauty Queens is a satire, yes, but not of the teen girls themselves. It’s a satire of everything in our society that constrains them, that dis-empowers them, that puts them in competition with one another, that forces them to conform to silly gender norms.

Instead of being a “let’s make fun of the silly girls who parade around in swimsuits and sashes,” book, Beauty Queens is about how all these women – the dumb ones, the blonde ones, the silly ones, the mean ones, the women-hating ones, the ones with trays stuck in their head, the ones who love lipstick and the ones who love swordfighting – are actually awesome. It’s a book that’s incredibly supportive of girls and their friendships and their culture. It’s a book that’s also incredibly good at portraying a diversity of female experiences – we have, among others, a transwoman, several women of color, a lesbian character, a deaf girl, a die-hard beauty Queen and a girl who hates beauty pageant (among others). And it’s a book that manages to be critical of oppressive gender norms all while being fantastically optimistic about the potential for making those gender norms explode (and the potential to live fulfilling lives in spite of them).

As the book goes on, the teen beauty queens stop being wary acquaintances playing their prescribed pageant roles and learn to respect and like one another as real people. These developing friendships allow the teen beauty queens to unravel the secrets of the island – and the secrets of their own identity. They discover who they are outside their beauty queens personas. And then they blow things up.

Empowerment and blowing things up.

You want to read this. Trust me.

Mary Lou: “Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.”

3. Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy Rayner Roberts Power and Majesty

In Power and Majesty, the first book of the Creature Court trilogy, Velody, a dressmaker, discovers that she is the potential new King of the Creature Court, a group of magicians who defend the city of Aufleur during the night. The Courtiers are almost all men; the King has always been a man. Should she become King, Velody would be the first woman to ascend to the throne.

Power and Majesty is one of the rare books where a woman enters a male-dominated profession yet still manages to maintain her old female friendships. She beats the curse! Whoo!

Velody lives with her two best friends: Rhian, a former rich girl whose family disowned her for going into business, and Delphine, a florist recovering from an old trauma. Rhian and Delphine are as important in Velody’s journey as the beautifully dangerous men of the Creature Court.

Rayner Roberts’ portrayal of Velody, Rhian and Delphine’s love and loyalty for one another is beautiful, smart and insightful.When Velody enters the Creature Court, her first priority is protecting her friends. She battles other Courtiers to keep them from hurting Rhian and Delphine.  When Rhian and Delphine discover that Velody’s the (potential) new King, their first priority is protecting her. They enter into the dark world of the night to support their friend (as best friends do).  They enter into the world of the Creature Court, I should add, almost completely defenseless, since Rhian and Delphine, unlike Velody, have no magic. But they want to protect their friend, and they find ways to do it. Because that’s what you do for your best friends. You go into the night and you fight the bad guys and you find ways to protect them. No matter what.

And it proves that yes, stories about women entering male-dominated fields are not incompatible with stories about powerful female relationships. It’s sad that more writers haven’t realized this.

I haven’t read the next two books in The Creature Court trilogy because they are only available in North America via kindle, and my kindle is down for the count (if anyone knows where I lost my power cord, please tell me!) But reviews assure me that the Rhian/Velody/Delphine relationship remains a huge part of the series. I can’t wait.

“From that day forwards, Delphine pretended she had intended to take the ribboning apprenticeship all along, and neither Velody nor Rhian every challenged her on it.
That was what friends did.

4. Air by Geoff Ryman

Air Geoff Ryman cover

I’ve talked about Air before, in my “Eight Great Books of Science Fiction for Women” post. Possibly because I love it madly.

Chung Mae lives in Kizuldah, a small village in the fictional country of Karzistan. One day, the authorities conduct a world-test of a new technology called Air. Air is like the internet – in your head. The villagers, who don’t own computers or television, are thrown into a panic by this test. One person dies.

Chung Mae, who is nothing if not resourceful, realizes that the village needs to adapt quickly if the villagers are going to survive the full implementation of Air. She launches a large-scale campaign of preparation. And the people she recruits for her campaign?
Other women.

The women are the engines of change in Kizuldah; it is through their relationships, their ambition and their pragmatism that the town survives. Chung Mae and her friend Wing Kwan, for example, use the television to set up a fashion business selling traditional clothes to fashion houses in the USA. Chung Mae and her friends – and rivals – fight and bicker. They create alliances and friendships; they hide their activities from men; they roam out in the world; they help one another protect their families. It’s one of the most realistic portrayals of female friendship I’ve ever read. These relationships are familiar to me. The women are  real people, and their friendships ring true – intense, fulfilling, and sometimes destructive.

“Kwan looked sober. “We’ve been through a lot together.”
“Oh! You could say that ten times and it would still not be enough.”
“But we came through.”
“We came through.”
Kwan hugged her. “You can stay, you know.”
Mae touched her arm. “I really do not know what I would have done if my friend Wing Kwan had not been so kind. There would have been nowhere else for me to go.”

5.The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman

delia Sherman freedom maze cover

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that three of the nine things I’m recommending are young adult novels (The Trickster series, Beauty Queens and The Freedom Maze) Young Adult SF/F tends to do a lot better in the female friendships department. Perhaps because YA has a wide female readership and authorship, and female friendships have become an established YA trope.

The Freedom Maze is a very recent read of mine, and I can’t recommend it enough. Sophie, a teenager living in 1960s Louisiana is spending a long, boring summer at Oak Cottage while her mother takes accounting classes in the city. One day, Sophie wanders into the garden maze. When she comes back out, she’s been transported to 1860 – the adventure-story-loving Sophie assumes this is the start of a grand time-travel trip.

But things go wrong very quickly: the Martineau family mistakes Sophie for a slave because of her tanned skin, and put her straight to work.

Sophie begins to form friendships with her fellow slaves – specifically with Africa, a smart, strong hoodoo practitioner who helps protect other slaves from their white owners, and with Antigua, Africa’s headstrong daughter. As she becomes closer to these two women, Sophie moves deeper into the reality of slavery. Like Kindred (another time-travel slave-narrative), The Freedom Maze pulls no punches in its depiction of slavery. Sophie’s experiences as a slave are horrific, a far cry from the “Gone with the Wind”-esque picture of happy darkies she’s been taught.Her allegiance to her old ideas of racial politics, her family (the Martineaus) – and even the time period of her birth – begin to fade away. Instead, Sophie relies on Africa and Antigua’s help to survive – and in return, helps devise a plot to save Antigua from being sold downriver to New Orleans.

The novel is very much concerned with the similarities (and disparities) of women’s experiences across races and time periods. It’s also a brilliant portrayal of the way black women’s friendships and relationships helped slaves survive, and even gain agency, under horrific conditions.

“Come with me then,” Antigua turned to her, eyes glinting in the lamplight. “Come take the boat with me, we be free together.”

6. The Female Man by Joanna Russ

The Female Man Joanna Russ

The Female Man is one of the most important SF/F works of the 20th century. It a difficult, confrontational, knotty novel that will chew up your brain and spit it back out. And it’s almost entirely centered around women’s relationships with other women.

The story follows four women on four parallel worlds. Joanna lives in a world much like ours. Jeannine lives in a world where the Great Depression never ended and Adolf Hitler died in 1936. Janet comes from Whileaway, an all-woman planet where the men died in a plague eight hundred years ago. Jael’s world, meanwhile, is a dystopia where men and women are engaged in a literal “battle of the sexes.”

Near the beginning of the novel, Janet mysteriously shows up in Jeannine’s world, then manages to drag Jeannine to Joanna’s world (our world). Eventually all three women end up on Jael’s world. The four women become friends and allies (with varying degrees of success) as they try to understand their predicament. The novel is, essentially, an incisive and moving examination of how women relate to other women. Who are these women to one another? What are their experiences of womanhood? Can they understand one another across these vast cultural differences?

Complex interpersonal relationships between four women who are essentially the same woman (they share the same genes)? Parallel worlds? Feminist utopias?
Count me in.

7. Yoko Tsuno by Roger Leloup

Yoko Tsuno On the Edge of Life Cover Roger Leloup

I almost didn’t include Yoko Tsuno –  though it includes some of the most interesting and intense female friendships I’ve encountered in Science Fiction – because it’s a french comic book series.

And I didn’t think there were any English translations.

BUT THERE ARE.

Two of Yoko’s alien adventures have been translated as “The Adventures of Yoko, Vic and Paul.” Six of her other books have English translations – The Frontier of Life, The Time Spiral, The Prey and the Ghost, Daughter of the Wind, The Dragon of Hong Kong and The Morning of the World. Most of these are out of print, but you may be able to get them at libraries or amazon (I saw some cheap copies). I don’t know if the translations are any good, so this isn’t a ringing endorsement… but I’ll try to find out.

Anyways. Back to the point. The series, which served simultaneously as my introduction to science fiction and as my introduction to comic books, follows Yoko Tsuno, an electrical engineer  who has a propensity for getting herself involved in epic adventures. It’s an action series, and a science fiction series. But it’s also a series which, at it’s core, is about friendship. Yes, Yoko has her constant traveling companions, Vic and Paul. But Vic and Paul are a background noise; they’re not central to the series. Yoko’s most important friendships are with women: of the 23 books I’ve read, 18 feature a prominent friendship between Yoko and another woman.Indeed, most of Yoko’s adventures come about because she’s trying to help a friend.

And instead she ends up in the middle of a volcanic eruption.

Yoko is deeply, fiercely, uncritically loyal to the women she becomes friends with. It does not matter if you’re a criminal, an heiress, a time-traveler, an alien, an assassin or a rogue scientist: if Yoko likes you, she’ll be friends with you. And once she is, she will walk through fire for you. Or travel to a galaxy a hundred light-years away for you. Or fight the devil for you (this is an actual plot; I am not even kidding). Or time-travel for you.

Honestly, Yoko is a bit like James Bond. Every movie, Bond has a different girl he sleeps with; every book, Yoko has a different woman she become friends with. Unlike Bond, however, Yoko stays close to these friends, who remain important characters throughout the series. Her navigation of her complex relationships with a diverse group of women is a highlight of comic books.

James Bond. Except with less sleeping around. And more awesome.

Yoko Tsuno Khany Roger Leloup

Yoko and her friend Khany, the leader of Vinea

Eva: “Careful! Do you always drive this fast?”
Yoko: “Yes – when I think I’m about to find a friend.”

8. The Orphan’s Tales by Catherynne Valente

Catherynne Valente The Orphan's Tales In the Night Garden Cover

Someday, I will stop raving about Catherynne Valente’s Orphan’s Tales, and everyone will breathe a sigh of relief. But today is not this day.

Yes, on top of being a feminist retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, The Orphan’s Tales features women who talk to other women. Lots of women who talk to other women, in point of fact. There are many tales, and there are many female friendships. There are also many male friendships and many male-female friendships, all of which are rendered exquisitely by Valente’s  storytelling.

Listing the many female friendships in this series would take far, far too long. So I’ll just focus on the crew of the Maidenhead.
The Maidenhead is an all-female ship: the Captain, the navigators, the deckhands – all of them are women. All of them are also monsters – satyrs, three-breasted women, fox-women etc. They go around the world, rescuing other monstrous women and welcoming them into their ranks. They mentor one another – one of the most important friendships is the one between Tomomo, the Maidenhead’s first Captain, and Saint Sigrid, the Maidenhead’s second Captain. And they become renown the world over… before disappearing mysteriously in the deep blue sea.

Sigrid, an old woman who worships Saint Sigrid (and who used to be a bear), befriends Snow, a white-haired orphan. The two of them go on an epic quest to discover the location of the Maidenhead; they eventually get themselves swallowed by the same giant whale who swallowed the Maidenhead a few hundred years ago.

This is an epic, “fight-armies-for-you,” “get-swallowed-by-a-whale-for-you,” group of awesome, loyal, sromantic female friends. The kind I always look for in my fiction.  And it is glorious.

“Of course we’ll take you,” The Saint said. “Tommy bade us never turn away a recruit. We are a family of monsters, and the birth of new beasts is a cause for joy.”

9. Xena: Warrior Princess

Xena and Gabrielle

Don’t mess with success

I couldn’t make this list without putting Xena: Warrior Princess on it. Xena and Gabrielle are perhaps the only truly iconic female friendship in SF/F culture.* They’re our Kirk and Spock, our Frodo and Sam, our Holmes and Watson.

{when I say “iconic,” what I mean is: everyone knows about them}

And yes, I know. They’re sleeping together. We all know they’re sleeping together. It’s a truth universally acknowledged in Xena fandom that Xena and Gabrielle are a couple.

But despite all the queer subtext, the two women never have a relationship on-screen. As far as the show is concerned, they’re just very close friends. Very, very close friends. So  I think it’s safe to call them friends for the purpose of this list.

Besides, they started as friends.

Xena: Warrior Princess follows the travels of Xena and her companion, Gabrielle, as Xena tries to make up for her dark past as a warlord by saving the helpless. There are a lot of explosions. And swordfighting.

The two women are constant companions. Gabrielle is initially a naive farmgirl who joined Xena to have adventures (and avoid an arranged marriage), while Xena is… a formerly evil warlord. Many of the individual stories involve Xena saving Gabrielle (or Gabrielle saving Xena). And the major emotional arcs in the series center around Xena and Garbrielle’s friendship.

They’ve died for each other. They’ve fought armies for each other. They’ve saved – and killed – each other’s children. They’ve gone to heaven and hell together. They were crucified together. They raised a daughter (Hope) together. The show calls them “soul mates.” They’re reincarnated together.

They’ve got the most epic friendship of all times, is what I’m saying. As far as I’m concerned, Kirk and Spock, Frodo and Sam and Holmes and Watson can all go take a hike. It’s Xena and Gabrielle all the way for me.

Xena: “Gabrielle, the love that we have, it’s stronger than Heaven or Hell. It transcends good or evil. It’s an end in itself! Our souls are destined to be together.”

[Ares, upon discovering that Xena is pregnant]
Ares: “I didn’t know you were looking for a father.”
Xena: “I’m not.”
Ares: “Well then, someone clearly has the job.”
Xena: “Yeah, Gabrielle. “

Xena and Gabrielle Friends

Xena: “So… you’ll be my friend?”
Gabrielle: “Sure! I love a woman with a shiny sword.”
Xena: “HAHA, we’ve beaten the curse!”
Gabrielle: “The curse?”
Xena: “The curse that says no two women in SF/F can speak to each other without dying.”
Gabrielle: “Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s a myth.”
Xena: “Uh, Gabrielle, we live in ancient Greece. One of our best friends is a Centaur. The other ones are Amazons and Gods. It’s quite mythic around here.”
Gabrielle: “Okay, so it’s not a myth. It’s an urban legend.”
Xena: “You’re an urban legend.”
Gabrielle: “Oh, ha-ha. You’re lucky I like your sword, or I’d go find a smarter friend.”

Edited To Add:

I’m keeping a running list of all the books/TV shows/whatever with prominent female friendships that I remembered AFTER writing the list. [I'm only adding things to the list that I've seen or read, just because it's the only way I can vouch for their...veracity. Doesn't mean I don't agree with other suggestions!]

1. Cold Magic and Cold Fire by Kate Elliot. How could I forget about this series? (which I love) Cat and Bee 4ever!

2. Sailor Moon. For obvious reasons.

Related Posts:

Why I Don’t Read Comic Books: A Call for Recommendations 

May Reading Roundup: Who Saw the Fantasy?

I Never Wanted to Be A Boy (A Tribute To Authors)

How the Power Rangers turned me into a Feminist


Why I Don’t Read Comics (A Call for Recommendations)

[This could be more accurately titled "Why I don't read American Superhero Comics"... but I'm lazy]

“So,” you ask. “Why don’t you read comics, C.D.? “

Me: “Because I hate fun, that’s why. I’m a fun-hating, humorless feminist who couldn’t recognize a good piece of work if she tried. And I live a miserable, miserable, funless existence. With no fun. Did I mention I hate fun? ‘Cause I do. I hates it with every fiber of my un-fun-having existence.”

You: “…well, yes, but that’s pretty obvious. Any other reason?”

Me: “You really want to know?”

You: “I really want to know. Why don’t you read comics, C.D.? My existence will be meaningless if you do not answer this question.”

Me: *Sigh* “This is going to be a complicated one. And  rage-filled one. Are you ready for the rage?”

Hulk rage Avengers Loki

And you wouldn’t like me when I’m rage-filled

You: “Hey, I read your American Idol coverage. I can handle the rage.”

Me: “Okay… you asked for it. It’s time for some serious epic-ranty writing: I’m turning on the Daft Punk-and-Xray Dog itunes playlist.

You: “NOOOO! NOT THE DAFT PUNK AND X-RAY DOG PLAYLIST!”

Me: “TOO LATE! *maniacal laughter*

***

This post has been a long time coming. I’ve basically been planning to write it since last summer… back before I had a blog. Heck, I’m not sure I didn’t get this blog just so I could write this post. So, you know. There’s some bottled-up rage coursing through the prose. And some bottled-up fangirl SQUEE too – but mostly rage.

Part 1: My (Sordid) History with Comic Books

At some point during DC’s reboot last summer (*shudder*), I thought: “I love superheroes with the fiery passion I usually reserve for flourless chocolate cake and the writings of Tamora Pierce. So why don’t I read comic books?”

And then I thought: “Wait. I do read comic books. I’ve been reading comic books my entire life. I remember reading comic books before I remember reading actual books.”

Well, frack me. I do read comic books.

And I love them.

Madly.

The thing is, I didn’t read typical American comic books. My family is french, and I spent a good part of my childhood in France. I also had access to my mother’s massive collection of french BD (Bandes Dessinee = “drawn strips”). So I wasn’t reading Captain America and Uncanny X-Men and Wonder Woman. I was reading Tintin and Lucky Luke and Asterix.

And I was reading Roger Leloup’s Yoko Tsuno.

Yoko Tsuno is quite possibly the best thing ever. Don’t quote me on that. The heroine, Yoko, is a japanese electrical engineer who comes to France looking for work, and who ends up having a series of very science fictional adventures (in the first book, for example, she discovers that aliens are living under the surface of the earth after having escaped their dying planet).

Yoko Tsuno Les Trois Soleil de Vinea Roger Leloup Cover

[Hey, look at that semi-realistic anatomy!]

Yoko is my go-to archetype for action heroes. She practices aikido and kyodu (japanese archery); she can shoot a gun and handle any alien weaponry you give her; she flies helicopters and gliders; she rides a motorcycle, and she can fix her darn coffee machine when it breaks. Despite her many martial talents, she prefers using compassion and intelligence to solve problems. She’s fiercely loyal to her friends. She’s also prideful, egocentric, dangerously curious and puts personal honor above everything else. Which gets her into immense amounts of trouble.

I love her, and I am so annoyed there aren’t English translations, because I think other people would love her madly too.

I was also reading Sailor Moon. [A japanese manga, not a french BD] Which: say what you want about the ridiculousness of the heroes’ outfits, but that was a well-drawn, fun, intelligent manga that portrayed a group of competent women saving the world. It had awesome female friendships, it had lots of weird-ass mythology (like Usagi’s future daughter traveling back in time. Fantastic WTFrackery.), it had a male hero who in no way took away from Usagi’s agency, all the female characters were different and interesting…

[Are you noting a theme? I'm noting a theme]

WITCH Cordelia Will

As I grew older, I started reading WITCH. Sure, WITCH would not win a “realistic portrayal of anatomy” award – I, for one, would like to know where the girls store their organs when they transform – but it was another group of cool, interesting young women saving the world. With SUPERPOWERS. And awesome clothes [fashion junkie. Can't help it]. I’ve got three giant piles of WITCH comics on the floor of my room because I’d collected so many of them that they broke the bookshelf.
I’m not even joking.

Oh, and then I discovered Les Passagers du Vent. Super-inappropriate for a ten year old to read (Rape! Sex! GRAPHICALLY PORTRAYED Sex! Really accurate depictions of torture and violence!). But also one of the best BD series of all time (yes, I am willing to go there). It takes place in the 18th century, and follows the adventures of Isa, a former noblewoman whose identity was stolen by her best friend. Isa is a bit like the count of Monte Cristo… if the Count of Monte Cristo was a bisexual, cross-dressing adventurer-turned-abolitionist. You don’t want to mess with her. She comes up with the most creative (and vicious) forms of revenge. Isa was my first introduction to the twisted, tortured action hero, and I never turned back.

Les Passagers du Vent La Fille Sous La Dunette Francois Bourgeon

Not to mention the artwork, which is stunning

So my introduction to comic books involved a whole lot of strong, competent female superheroes and action heroes. And a lot of female-led titles. And even though these women all fit pretty standard “beauty” norms (thin, young etc.),  they also weren’t overtly sexualized. They were smart, competent, interesting women who happened to be beautiful. They weren’t posed specifically to show off their “sex appeal.” They made things explode and they punched people and they were awesome. [Nothing induces hero-worship in a ten year old so much as someone who can make things explode

Catwoman zero cover

What? The Everloving? Frack?

When I came back to the States, I started watching the Batman TV show (whichever one was on in the 90s). And I loved that too. Because Bruce Wayne was all brooding and efficient, and he had the best theme music ever (Na Na Na Na Na BATMAN). Plus, he was great at making things explode. This led to my discovery of the X-men: Evolution TV show. I became a huge fan of the X-Men in general, and of Rogue in particular.

Part 2: The Rage

Now, here’s where we’re going to get away from the SQUEE portion of the post and into the RAGE portion.

I was informed by a helpful friend that the X-Men TV show was based on a comic series.

And that’s when all the trouble began.

First I tried reading the X-men comics. The problem was that at the time, they were running the “House of M” arc. Which is a terrible place for a newbie to come in. I spent the entire time going:

“Well, this is boring. Who are these people? And where the frack is Rogue? Where’s Rogue? Where’s Rogue? Where’s – “

But, you know, stuff like this happens. So I tried some other comics. And I inadvertently managed to land on a group of comic books with some real WTF posing and major sexualization of female characters. I honestly can’t remember what these comics were, because I was so appalled with what was happening that I blotted the whole thing out. I’m talking MAJOR costume fails (and when I say costume, what I really mean is: lack thereof), and enormous breasts on top of tiny, tiny women, and… yeah. I wish I could remember the name of the comic, because it’s begging for an Escher Girls post.

Let’s be clear: I’d spent years seeing naked women in the Passagers du Vent comics with no problems at all. But these comics were just – they were so ridiculous. I could not take the superheroines seriously. Who in their right mind would go fight the Big Bad Guy wearing four-inch spike heels and a bra? A bra, which, I might add, provided no breast support whatsoever (because the breasts were practically popping out). The men in the comics, on the other hand, were fully covered, and stood like normal human beings do.

I probably could have overlooked this if the female characters themselves were good, but TWO of them were killed off in the same issue. And the third one was completely incompetent.

I was done. I went straight back to my Yoko Tsuno and Les Passagers du Vent, and I stopped trying to get into American Comics.

Until last summer.

Last summer, I heard that DC – one of the two major comic book companies – was rebooting and revamping all of its monthly superhero books. “Well,” I thought. “That would be a great way to get into American superhero comics! I’m going to keep an eye on that and see how it evolves.”

[Terrible ideas. I have them all the time]

Anyone who is at all interested in comics and/or feminism knows what happened next.

First hint that things were not going to end well: People realized that DC was going from 12% female creators (terrible) to 1% (even MORE terrible). Out of 160 artists and writers… three were women.

Second hint: the de-paralyzing of Barbara Gordon, AKA Oracle. Barbara Gordon was once Batgirl, before she was shot by the Joker. She survived, but was paralyzed and started using a wheelchair. She then became an icon for the (real world) disabled community when she got back into crimefighting, wheelchair and all, as a member of the Birds of Prey team.
And the DC 52 reboot completely got rid of that history and turned her back into Batgirl.
People were not pleased.

[It should be noted that my understanding of the Barbara Gordon canon is... less than perfect. If you know more than I do, please call me out on my mistakes]

Third hint: the cancellation of major female-led titles like Power Girl. The disappearance of major female heroes like Huntress and Stephanie Brown.

Fourth hint: the really gruesome treatment of female fans at Comic-Con when one of them dared to ask DC creators: “where are all the women?”
Turned into a PR disaster, because the creators and execs were downright rude and insulting.

Fifth hint: the books come out. The Catwoman and Starfire comics were complete and utter debacles. See photo of Starfire below.

Starfire DC 52 reboot

Starfire… I don’t even know.

Let me put it this way: I went to three comic book panels at WisCon, and the panelists were all STILL MAD about the reboot. A year later.

To be absolutely fair, the DC reboot was thrown together in such a hurry that they can’t possibly have had time to pull together a misogynistic conspiracy to alienate and exclude female readers. It all just happened by accident! Imagine what they could have achieved if they had been trying!” (Andrew Wheeler at No More Mutants)

Seriously.

Look, I understand if I’m not DC’s primary market. I think it’s a stupid move, personally, because comic books are dying and DC could use new customers… and you know who isn’t reading comics? You know what vast untapped group of potential consumers might start reading comics if the industry made a decent effort to market to them? [Yes, that would be women]

But okay, if you don’t want to appeal to women directly, that’s your terrible business decision. I’m not asking you to suddenly start catering to my every desire. I’m just asking you to stop actively offending me. It’s really not that hard.

To quote Lara Hudson at the Comics Alliance:  “(I have long maintained that to bring in more female readers, superhero comics don’t even need to specifically target women as much as they need to not actively offend them. This is not an insanely hard to thing to do, and yet here we are.)

When you make no effort to hire female creators, you show that you don’t care about women. When you cancel popular titles led by female heroes, you show that you don’t care about women. When you treat female fans rudely – refusing to answer their questions, dismissing their concerns, making pseudo-excuses about how DC is the ‘most diverse’ comic book company – you show that you don’t care about women.

When you take comic books that women could easily get on board with – like Catwoman – and you spend the first two pages of the comic showing shots of Selina Kyle in her lingerie (mostly of her breasts and butt) while refusing to show her face -

You’re showing who you do care about.

And it’s not women.

Here’s the thing, Mr. Comic Book Executive/Business Guy/Whatever
When they tell you that your artistic depictions of female heroes are losing you customers, they are NOT JOKING.
When they tell you that turning your female characters into a giant fanservice for straight men turns women off…
They are not joking.
I know you don’t get it. But trust me. Most women don’t want to see themselves portrayed just as fanservice. They don’t want to see female characters depicted as pure objects of male desire.
I can hear what you’re thinking:”She’s just sexy! You must hate sexy! You hate sexy women because you’re jealous! And you hate sex! You’re a slut-shamer!”
*Deep breath* There is a major difference between a comic where the female character is smart, competent, powerful and also sexy… and comic book where the first priority, in all cases, is to show the female character as being sexy.
Natasha Romanov/ Black Widow in The Avengers movie is sexy, because she’s a sexy woman. But she’s not fanservice.
Batman, when he stands around looking all broody, is sexy. But he’s not fanservice. He’s not being posed for the sole purpose of being “sexy.” (here’s what that would look like)

Catwoman up there?
Is fanservice.

Women want to connect with characters.
And it’s pretty hard to connect with a character when all you see of her for three pages are her boobs. I mean, nothing against boobs, but they don’t do much for me.

The DC reboot was hell on wheels. The months of internet debate, the accusations, the “all you humorless feminists just need to get laid” (ad infinitum) etc. Watching DC rolling out their products, and seeing that yes, in point of fact, women were right to be mad, women were right to be afraid, because they really were screwing up…

I gave up.

I stopped trying to get back into superhero comics.

Because I couldn’t take it anymore. I honestly couldn’t. I couldn’t take loving a product that was explicitly marketing away from me. That dismissed me as a potential consumer. I couldn’t take being in a fandom where I was treated like a unicorn, like an exception. I couldn’t take being in a fandom where people said: “but no women read comics anyways, so it doesn’t matter.” I couldn’t take loving a medium that uses female characters solely to appeal to the desires of straight men. I couldn’t take loving a medium that doesn’t care about me, that treats women as windowdressing or as cheesecake. That throws good female characters overboard to motivate the “emotional journeys” of male characters.

I cannot even get into the bullshit of the “but women don’t read comic books” argument. First, it’s not true.

And second: Yeah, lots of women don’t read comic books.

And this is part of the reason why.

Mr. Comic Book Executive/Business Person/Whatever.
Here’s the thing: I would like to read comics. I would like to read comics very much.
I have money I would like to spend. And I would like to spend it on your product. And I think you would like that.

But I’m not going to spend it on a product that couldn’t give a rat’s ass about women.

You are driving female readers away. You drove me away, and I have a pretty high tolerance for this sort of stuff. I read Science Fiction. I participate in SF fandom. It’s not the most female-friendly place on the planet.

*deep breath*

Okay. I’m calming down.

I know I’m being unfair. I really do. I know that –  if I take time, if I do research, if I find like-minded fans – I can find superhero comics that aren’t offensive. That tell great stories without turning the female characters into window dressing. I know this because, as previously mentioned, I am a science fiction fan. I spend a lot of time dealing with friends and acquaintances who don’t understand my love for the genre because they think science fiction is a sexist medium.

But as a fan, I know science fiction isn’t inherently a sexist genre. It has a lot of really problematic stuff, yes. The vast majority of the big-name series are headlined by white men, yes. The genre has a problem with self-examination and with accepting female fans as equal to male ones, yes. But there is space in science fiction for women. It’s not “inherently” a man’s genre. There are many wonderful feminist science fiction books. There are many wonderful feminist science fiction fans.

And I’m sure that the same thing is true of comics. In fact, I know it is – most of the comics I read when I was young had positive portrayals of women. if I put the effort in, I’m sure I could find some wonderful feminist superhero comics.

Part of the problem, frankly, is exhaustion. There’s only so much I can do. Unlike a straight white male comic book fan, I do have to put significant effort in if I want to find series with protagonists who look like me. I have to put even more effort in to find female protagonists who are portrayed respectfully. And since I already spend a lot of time doing that in the science fiction field…

I’m sort of sick of it.

Because I want to read comics to have fun, darn it. I know I joked about being a humorless feminist at the top of the post, but a big part of the reason I avoid comics is because they’re not fun anymore.

I don’t want to be angry all the time. I don’t want to be dissecting gender roles all the time. I don’t want to post five thousand word rants about how black female heroes are portrayed as animals. I don’t want to have to spend hours on the internet, sifting through reviews to try to find the three non-offensive superhero titles.

I want to have fun. I want to pick up a random comic book and see a bunch of awesome people having awesome adventures. And see things explode. A straight white guy can pick up almost any comic book and find people like him – straight white men – portrayed in a respectful, intelligent fashion. But I can’t do that.

It’s not fair to continually ask female fans – or POC fans, or queer fans, or disabled fans – to put more effort in, and to deal with more BS. It’s just not.

It shouldn’t be this hard for potential fans to engage in comics. It shouldn’t be this painful. It shouldn’t be this rage-filled. Because yes, some female fans will put the effort in, but a whole lot of them (like me) will look at the industry and say “if it doesn’t respect me, why should I put the effort in?”

So.

That’s why, three thousand words later, I don’t read comics. Or rather, why I don’t read American Superhero comics. I still read my french stuff.

Part Three: A Call for Recommendations

Here’s where it changes.

In the past few months, I’ve decided that I would like to give comics another try. I’ve taken a careful stock of my patience – and my rage – and decided that yes, I can, for a short period of time, put in the requisite effort to find the good stuff. For a few months, I can handle the female-unfriendly comic book fandom. Just long enough to see if it’s worth it. To see if I can handle it full time.

Because I do love comics. I do. I wouldn’t put this much effort into a medium that I didn’t love with a mad passion. And I miss them. I keep hearing people talking about Batgirl and Oracle and Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers), and I want to read those books so much.

More importantly, I believe in comics. I know that they aren’t an inherently misogynistic medium. And I know that the way to change comics is to get involved. It’s to read the works. It’s to support the good ones, and recommend them to others. It’s to call out the problems and cheer on the solutions. Not everyone can. Not everyone has the capacity to do so.

But right here, right now, I do.

Plus, I just want to have fun. And see some things explode. And people get punched in the face. You know. The fun stuff.

Comics seem like a good way to go.

So. This is a call for recommendations. What should I read? Ideas? Advice? I really need it! I’m going in pretty cold, and although I have some leads (*cough* Gail Simone *cough*), I trust personal recommendations more than I trust the internet.

A couple things to note. I have access to a library with a fair collection of trade paperbacks, and I’m willing to invest a (small) amount of money into this venture. So nothing… super expensive, thanks.

Obviously, I am not interested in reading overtly misogynistic work. I’m also not interested in dealing with comics that have a huge amount of fanservice. Some is okay (particularly if it’s gender neutral, although I’m not holding my breath). I’m also not interested in reading anything that’s racist or homophobic. I have a very high tolerance for portrayals of sex and violence, so long as the sex isn’t pure fanservice.

If you’ve got a comic, on the other hand, that has hilariously bad portrayals of women… I probably wouldn’t mind reading one. Just so I can snark about it afterwards. I do read Escher girls, after all.

I will gladly read male-led titles. I’m going to try to read at least 50% female-led titles (since I am a feminist blogger, after all), but there are some great male superheroes, and I’d love to hear about good runs. Although I’m concentrating on American superhero comics, I will also gladly read non-superhero comics (huge fan of Alison Bechdel, for example), and non-American comics (mangas, BDs etc.) as long as they’re available either in english or french.

I honestly do not have a preference between DC and Marvel.

I would also love recommendations for any comics-related blogs that have a feminist spin (like DC Women Kicking Ass) – or that at least have an awareness of gender issues. Comics-related blogs that comment on issues of race, class, sexual orientation, disability etc. are also of interest to me!

And yes, I will be blogging about this. Hopefully, it’ll be more fangirl SQUEE and less HULK SMASH RAGE…but no guarantees.

Hulk Rage Mark Ruffalo

This is what I look like every morning after reading the feminist blogs…

All right. Here we go. The great comic experiment of 2012.

Girl your loins.

And send your recommendations.

*Turns off the Daft Punk and X-Ray Dog Playlist. Everyone else breaths a sigh of relief*


May Reading Roundup: Who saw the Fantasy?

This morning my brother and my stepsister woke up at five (am) to – and I quote – “work on their abs.” Because they’re going to a waterpark today, and they need to look good in their swimsuits.

Hedgehog Headdesk

**Headdesk**

I will refrain from comment. At least they didn’t wake me up. [Thank Maud for small mercies]

***

Anyways! Meanwhile, back at the ranch: Now that WisCon is over – and now that I’ve gotten a couple social-justice related rants out of the way – it’s time to move back to what really matters in life: giant lists of books.

Because why did I start blogging if not to inflict my bizarre reading taste on the public? [Let us ignore the fact that "the public" right now is my brother and a few devoted friends]

In spite of the fact that this month included: the return of the “four times a week” migraines (joy), a transnational move, a Feminist Science Fiction Convention and at least four gazillion doctor’s appointments (if one more person asks me for my family medical history, I’m going to throw myself off a cliff), I did manage to do some decent reading. HURRAH!

Twelve books! Woo! Five better than last month! (yes, yes in fact I am ridiculously competitive, why do you ask?)

Reviews follow the list:

1. A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire
2. The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin
3. Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire
4. The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne Valente
5. The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
6. Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger
7. The Orphans Tales: In the Cities of Coins and Spices by Catherynne Valente
8. The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells
9. Chicks Dig Time Lords ed. by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea
10. Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston
11. The WisCon Chronicles Volume 6: Futures of Feminism and Fandom ed. by Alexis Lothian
12. Impolitic! by Andrea Hairston and Debbie Notkin

[Fair warning: the longer the summer goes on, the longer these lists are likely to get. I think my record last year was 22 books in a month]

This is a very WisCon inspired list – seven of the books (The Orphan’s Tales, Shine Coconut Moon, Chicks Dig Time Lords, Redwood and Wildfire, The WisCon Chronicles and Impolitic!) were read in anticipation of the convention.

I’ve talked about Redwood and Wildfire, The WisCon Chronicles and Impolitic! at other points during my WisCon recaps, so I won’t go over those again here. Because yes, I do take pity on my devoted readers. I will say that all three books are fantastic and well worth reading, particularly if you’re interested in WisCon, or the Tiptree Award.

WisCon also inspired a rare event at the House of Disorientation: two re-reads. Yes, in fact, I have already read both The Orphan’s Tales: The Night Garden and The Orphan’s Tales: In the Cities of Coins and Spices. But I presented a paper about the series at WisCon, so I needed to re-read them for research [I have over thirty pages of notes. Have mercy upon me]. If you’ve never read Catherynne Valente’s Orphan’s Tales, you really should. They’re some of the most beautiful and thought-provoking books I’ve read in the past few years. Plus, Valente is an incredible prose writer, and her style has never been better.It’s quite difficult to explain what the series is about, so I’m going to cop to the very-basic and somewhat-inaccurate description: it’s a feminist retelling of One Thousand and One Nights.

The Orphan’s Tales are also tailor-made to my interests – they explore gender, bodies, monstrosity, mythology, storytelling, and above all, the concept of belonging. And part of the reason I love them so much is that the books aren’t a critique of fairy tales – they’re a reconstruction of tales along feminist lines. The books show us how stories could be different – they’re rebuilding an entire tradition from the ground up – which I think is arguably harder than just deconstructing a genre.

And the last scene of the last book makes me cry every time. It’s – you know the last two scenes of Lost? When Jack walks into the church and sees all the castaways again, and he remembers? And if you’re me, you completely lose it? Yeah. It’s like that. *sniff*

Okay, let’s move onto a happier note, shall we? [Sorry - the final scene of Lost always gets to me]

Seanan McGuire! Seanan McGuire is always a happier note.

When I discovered Mira Grant’s work, I wanted to read all her books.  ALL her books. Unfortunately, there was only one them out at the time. Whoops. [There are now three books. Yay!] So I was thrilled to discover that Mira Grant was a pseudonym for author Seanan McGuire, who had published LOTS of books.

After reading the first book of McGuire’s popular October Daye urban fantasy series, Rosemary and Rue, however, I was… underwhelmed. It was good, sure. But it didn’t quite work for me.

And then I read the second book, A Local Habitation.

A Local Habitation Cover Seanan McGuire

(great covers, by the way)

HOLY FREAKING MAUD I MUST READ ALL THE BOOKS NOW! NOW! WHERE ARE THEY? WHEREEEE???? I NEED THEM NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW! I MUST HAVE THEM OR I WILL -

Hem. I, uh, really liked the second book. As in: forgoing food and sleep in order to finish reading it. As in: reading it on the plane (which is a terrible idea, since I get motion sickness). As in – okay, I need to stop with the fangirl SQUEE. Calm down, C.D. Remember that people read this thing. It’s public. Get a grip.

Okay.

So, er, plot summary. Yes. I can write cogent thoughts.

The October Daye series centers on October “Toby” Daye, the only changeling (half-human, half-faery) to have earned Knighthood. She’s also a faery detective operating out of San Francisco. In A Local Habitation, Toby’s liege lord, Sylvester, sends her to the County of Tames Lightning (Fremont,CA), to check on his niece, the CEO of a computer games company.

And after Toby arrives, the county is suddenly cut off from other Fae domains, and employees begin to die, one by one.

I love these sort of tense, psychological, edge-of-your-seat narratives, and McGuire writes them like none other. Her characters are fantastic – Toby alone is a masterclass of a character, one of the best urban fantasy heroines I’ve ever encountered.  Add to that McGuire’s portrayal of Faery politics, her exploration of the Faery world, and the computer-science-magic that emerges near the end (a dryad uploaded into a computer, for example), and A Local Habitation is sheer, frackin’ brilliance.

Oh, and it’s terrifying.

Love. It.

Also, as your resident Literature student nerd, I should point out that all the titles of the October Daye series are taken from Shakespeare’s Plays.

Rosemary and Rue – Hamlet
An Artificial Habitation – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Literature nerd alert, everyone!

I also read Discount Armageddon, the first book of Seanan McGuire’s new urban fantasy series (Incryptid).

Discount Armageddon cover Seanan McGuire
The protagonist, Verity Price, comes from a long line of cryptozoologists  – people who study and protect creatures whose existence has not yet been proven (also known as monsters). But Verity only wants to do one thing in life: dance. So she moves to New York to pursue a ballroom dancing career.

But don’t let the sequins and the high heels fool you. Anyone who can high kick over their head is someone you don’t want to mess with. Verity straps guns and daggers under her dance costume, and she knows enough about the lifecycle of unicorns to scare off a ghoul.

So when a professional monster-hunter shows up in the city and monsters begin to disappear, Verity is ready.

And the result is awesome. Discount Armageddon is the most entertaining of McGuire’s work so far – it’s sheer, ridiculous fun.

One of McGuire’s best traits as a writer – both as Seanan McGuire, and as Mira Grant – is her humor, which laces throughout all her work. In Armageddon, McGuire’s humor isn’t a sidenote, it’s front and center. I could not stop laughing.

“When in doubt, play dead. Well, unless you might be dealing with a ghoul, or a basilisk, or something else that likes its meat a little ripe. Actually, when in doubt, just start shooting.” (44)

“I really don’t think you should put your hand inside the manticore, dear. You don’t know where it’s been” (1)

“Mother nature is a freaky lady who probably created pot so she could spend all her time smoking it.”

Verdict? Fantastic. Like Buffy the Vampire slayer on steroids – if Buffy were protecting the vampires. Can’t wait for the next book.

One of my most anticipated reads of the month was The Killing Moon, the first book of N.K. Jemisin’s new series (Dreamblood).

N.K. Jemisin The Killing Moon Cover

Orbit does the best covers. Seriously.

I  became an instant fan of NK Jemisin after reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms last year, and I’m convinced that the Inheritance series is one of the most best and most original epic fantasy trilogies to come out in the past ten years. So naturally, when I saw The Killing Moon was available a few days earlier than expected in my local bookstore, I bought it.*

(and by “bought it,” I mean “I started caressing it and murmuring “my precious” over and over, until security asked what was wrong”)

Needless to say, I had very high expectations.

Blown. Out. The. Park.

Seriously, I need to start reading some bad books, or people are going to be convinced that I love everything. I really don’t.

But equally seriously: The Killing Moon is incredible. It’s quite different from the Inheritance trilogy, which is good – I do eventually get bored with authors who are too one-note.

[Spoiler: Ninja Priests. Ninja Priests in the city-state of Gujareeh, on a world with two moons]

In Gujareeh, peace is the highest law. The city worships Hananja, the goddess of dreams. The magic-system is based on dreams, which citizens tithe to the priests of the Hetawa. The priests, in turn, use these dreams to heal, to guide, to soothe and sometimes, to kill.  Gatherers – the aforementioned Ninja Priests – bring death to those who are on the verge of dying – but also to those judged corrupt. You don’t die in your sleep in Gujareeh. You are Gathered.

But when Ehiru, a powerful, faithful Gatherer, is sent to Gather Sunnandi, a diplomat from Kisua, he discovers a corruption that taints everything from in Gujareeh.

The world N.K. Jemisin has created is so different, so rich, so well-thought-out, so vibrant and internally consistent, that it feels genuine. Alive. Real. There’s almost no suspension of disbelief necessary, Jemisin’s work is so thorough. And her world is one that isn’t, unlike 90% of epic fantasy secondary worlds, based on a pseudo-european-medieval setting. And hey, I love european-medieval epic fantasy, but damn if it’s not refreshing to see something else for a change. And damn if it’s not refreshing to see something so fantastically well-constructed. We’re so used to medieval settings, we stop noticing how flimsy a lot of the world-building is. Jemisin’s is so superior that it highlights the fault lines in other works. With this book, I have little hesitation in saying that Jemisin is the most original world-builder we have working currently. She’s also one of the most original writers of magic we have working currently – an entire system built on dreams and dream theory? Really? Whoa.

The characters and their trials are equally well-depicted. Although I don’t have space to discuss these in great detail, I would like to briefly highlight what for me was the heart of the book: the relationship between Ehiru and his gatherer-apprentice Nijiri. Although the two are deeply loyal to one another, there are dark elements to the relationship. Ehiru starts to lose control of his magic about halfway through the book, and asks Nijiri to Gather him – to kill him – before Ehiru himself becomes corrupt. Meanwhile, Nijiri is in love with Ehiru. Ehiru is aware of this, and relies on Nijiri’s love, despite not being able to reciprocate it (Gatherers are celibate). That Ehiru uses Nijiri’s love for him to (try) to convince Nijiri to kill him is a fascinating, and repelling, dynamic. This is one of the book’s great strengths – the characters (and the city’s) ambiguous, complex morality.

I’ll leave the final word to my brother, who read the book right after I did.

“God, I love N.K. Jemisin so much!”

(Indeed).

This seems to be my month for fantasy – now that I’m looking over the list, it’s evident that I read almost no science fiction. The Cloud Roads is sort of science fiction, if you squint and look at it sideways. But everything else is fantasy (or just literary). With the possible exception of Chicks Dig Time Lords, which is about science fiction (although it’s nonfictional).

Chicks Dig Time Lords Cover

Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It is a collection of interviews, essays and cartoons written by female fans of Doctor Who. The contributors examine their relationship with fandom, and their love of the series.

Now, I’ve never watched Doctor Who (I know, I know. It’s on the to-do list). And I still found this book immensely entertaining and insightful. As a fan, I love watching other fans indulge in SQUEE. As a female fan, I’m always interested in seeing how women engage with fandoms that are typically viewed as “male.” And as a science fiction fan, I always like looking at analysis of science fiction shows! So I was quite pleased. SQUEE, science fiction and gender analysis all wrapped up in one shiny package: it’s like my birthday came early.

The book is extremely well-edited – it varies in both tone and content, so it never feels repetitive or one-note. There are essays that are pure fannish SQUEE. There are essays that address the specific trials and tribulations of female fans. There are essays dissecting particularly Doctor Who companions. There are near-academic essays. There are fun stories. There are sad stories. There are interviews with Who Actresses and writers. There’s a discussion of costuming at Doctor Who conventions. There’s even a comic (from the creators of Torchwood Babiez)

Chicks Dig Time Lords won a Hugo Award last year – and now that I’ve read it, all I can say is: Well deserved.

Before I close, a quick shoutout to the books I’m not reviewing in depth, but that I still loved: Sarah Rees Brennan’s The Demon’s Lexicon (great, snarky, dark YA; fantastic narrator; cannot wait to read the next book) and Martha Wells’ The Cloud Roads (old-fashioned fantasy in the best possible way; wonderful prose; interesting social dynamics)

And that’s it for May! I’m already well into June reading, and I’ve tentatively titled this “The Month of All The Incest” – because seriously, three books, all with incest. What’s going on?
But the books are good, so there’s that!

Finally, my self-policing statistics (for gender and race):

12 books

14 authors (or editors)

14 women (I swear, this was not intentional).

10 white editors/authors
4 People of Color editors/Authors
(better than last month)

Related Posts:

I Never Wanted to be a Boy: A tribute to Authors

Please Don’t Tame the Shrew: WisCon 36 Wrap-Up

April Reads are Trapped in Heiddeger’s Hermeunetic Circle

March Monthly Reading Roundup is Winning the Alliteration Award

 


I Never Wanted to be a Boy (A Tribute to Authors)

[This post is a companion piece of sorts to my "How Power Rangers Made Me a Feminist" post, although you don't need to have read that post to read this one. In the Power Rangers post, I discussed how sexism in TV shows had a negative effect on me growing up, while in this post, I discuss how the awesome books I read when I was a kid had a good effect on me as I grew up. You see, I don't hate everything! Just the terrible stuff]

***

I never wanted to be a boy.

And it turns out, that’s somewhat of an unusual experience.

***

Back during my finals season (*shudder*), a series of interrelated blog posts penned by female speculative fiction authors went up. First it was Stina Leicht. Then Kate Elliot. Then Kirstyn McDermott. and N.K. Jemisin. There are probably more I missed.  I was, of course, dying of finals, so I couldn’t do anything more than gather links. But there was something so powerful, and so disturbing, about these women’s stories, that I kept on going back to them.

Let’s see if you can spot the common thread, shall we?

Stina Leicht: “[Girls] are barraged with the knowledge that the world is a dangerous place for them specifically at an early age. I have memories of such information filtering down to me at age eight through ten. So much so, that I went through a phase of denial. I took on male behaviors, thinking that would make me safe. (I was a tomboy.) I also went through a phase of not wanting to be female (…) because I was beginning to understand what was ahead and that the world did not like females.”

Kirstyn McDermott: “I was a tomboy for most of my childhood. Thankfully, I have a wonderful mother who I can’t ever remember saying that I couldn’t/shouldn’t do something or like something or be something just because I was a girl [...] I do remember being told such things by lots of other people, though — including some male relatives. Although I didn’t think I ever consciously took that on board when I was a kid . . .  I reckon it did manage to seep in. And I reckon I reacted to it just the way Stina Leicht did, by rebelling against everything girlish[...] Because being a girl isn’t safe.”

Kate Elliot (guest-posting at The Fantasy Book Cafe): “What I saw was that the things I yearned for–adventure, travel, sword fights, the excitement engaged in by characters in the fiction I loved to read–and the things I had–ambition to strive for lofty goals, an inner drive, a questing mind that wanted to discover–were things that society and literature and film told me were reserved for boys. When I was in 7th grade and twelve years old,  my Language Arts teacher [...]  gave us a questionnaire of “fill in the blank” questions meant, I suppose, to make us think about our selves and our lives [...] The last question was the most open-ended one: “I wish . . . ”
I wrote: I wish I was a boy.
What it meant to me was that it wasn’t worth being a girl.
Being a girl was second-class, even in some ways shameful. Boys got the good things, they were clearly seen to be better, it was obviously better to be a boy, and furthermore, the dreams I had and the desires and hopes were boy dreams, not girl dreams.”

N.K. Jemisin (guest posting at The Fantasy Book Cafe): “I did what I could to reject the GIRL box whenever I could. To that end I’d started reading science fiction — but never fantasy, because fantasy was girly [...] Fantasy was full of women in scraps of stupid-looking armor, being rescued or having relationships or healing people or something. Science fiction was full of men going places and doing things [...] Then I clearly remember thinking, but I’m a girl. And that was it. It wasn’t an especially shocking realization, but it was a profound one. In that moment I began to understand: the problem wasn’t that some books were infested with girl cooties; the real problem was my irrational fear of girliness. And myself.”

Did you spot it?

It’s fairly obvious, but I’ll paraphrase it for practicality’s sake. When they were young, these women all went through a period where they wanted to be a boy and/or they hated being a girl.

[Cue Sigmund Freud jumping out and yelling "PENIS ENVY" at the top of his lungs. Calm down, Freud]

I don’t know about other people, but I find these stories very hard to read. To me, they show how, from a very young age, we teach girls to hate themselves, to think of themselves as second class, as worthless, as unsafe. Even smart, strong, successful women like Kate Elliot, N.K. Jemisin, Stina Leicht and Kirstyn McDermott – women who I might (stupidly) expect to have been unaffected by the negative effects of sexism (again, very stupid assumption) – had to go through a long, sometimes painful, phase where they reconciled themselves to their status as women.

And no one should have to reconcile themselves to their gender.

[Quick side-note: Obviously this particular "I want to be a boy" phenomenon is quite different from transgendered people, whose gender identity does not match their birth sex. But transgendered people shouldn't have to reconcile themselves to their birth sex either; they should be able to safely live as the gender they identify with.//End side note//]

But this phenomenon is not restricted to the four women listed above. If I take a moment to think about it, I can list at least two or three close female friends who have admitted to going through “boy” phases. I can certainly think of more who have deliberately rejected anything “girly.” And then, when I talked to my mother about these stories, she said she’d felt exactly the same way when she was a kid. She’d gone through a phase where she decided she didn’t like being a girl, so she dressed like a boy, talked like a boy and adopted “boy” mannerisms [I saw the pictures. There is proof]. Which shocked the hell out of me, because I’ve always thought my mother was extraordinarily comfortable in the way she expressed her gender identity.

When I think about it, it’s staggeringly common, this desire to be a boy. And on an intellectual level, I completely understand it. Being a girl in our society means not being safe. Being a girl means being judged according to norms which, for all the changes in the past fifty years, are still very traditional. Being a girl means your body is public property. Being a girl means that your rights are a political ping-pong ball; a”hot-button issue.” Being a girl means people feel free to tell you to shut up, sit down and make them a sandwich.

Wanting to be a boy – or at least, not wanting to be a girl – makes total sense.

So why didn’t I ever want to be one?

Because I never did. I’ve thought about this a lot in the past couple weeks, and I cannot, for the life of me, think of any period in my life where I wanted to be a boy. I can’t even think of a period when I really rejected “femininity” (whatever that means) [ Sure, I went through a phase where I decapitated my barbie dolls and buried them in the backyard... but I was always a morbid child]. I have a lot of moments where I wish I were as free as a boy, or where I wish I could walk at night and be safe like a boy, or where I wish that women were paid the same amount as men. But I never wanted to be a boy.

Which is strange. When I was a kid, I read tons of science fiction and epic fantasy – traditionally “male” genres. For years, my greatest ambition was to be – I kid you not – a warrior. I spent hours practicing side kicks against an tree in our backyard. I still have a big heavy stick in my room I used to practice “staff fighting.” Somewhere in my house ( I will not reveal where) is a diary where I recorded my “training” sessions (Hey, don’t judge me, okay? At least I wasn’t plotting the nuclear apocalypse). I wasn’t quite a tomboy, but I was pretty close.

So given how much of my identity was “male” oriented, why didn’t I ever want to be a boy?

On some level, I think I knew, even from a young age, that girls could do anything they wanted to, and the problem wasn’t with girls, it was with people and institutions who didn’t get that. So yes, I could read science fiction as a girl, and yes, I could beat a tree to a pulp as a girl, and there wasn’t anything wrong with me.

But I don’t think this belief came because I was smarter or wiser or better educated than girls who did go through a “I want to be a boy” phase.

I think it was because of books.

Kate Elliot: “After that, at the tender age of 15, I decided I had had enough of there not being anyone like me even in my own stories. I decided to write about girls, about women–about men, too–but women in equal space and equal importance to the story. This was not a small decision. It went against what I saw when I read; it went against received wisdom, especially in adventure stories [...] I realized that in my own small way I might help overturn this diminishment of female lives not only by portraying women in diverse ways that allowed women a full range of personalities, occupations, roles, and stories, but also by respecting the centrality and importance of the women’s work so often considered (often by women) trivial, demeaning, and lesser.”

Tamora Pierce: “Why do I write so many strong female characters? When I was a kid, 7-8 books out of all books written for kids through teens had boy heroes. Those that had girl heroes showed them at “feminine” pursuits, or if they were a little feisty, a male hero had to bail them out by book’s end (…) When I encountered fantasy, I had the same problem: virtually no girl heroes. The ones I found, adult women all, settled down, hated other women, or died. I didn’t understand why there were no girls (or those that existed were severely compromised) in the adventure books, so I began to write what I wanted to read: adventure books with girl heroes.”

Kate Elliot and Tamora Pierce didn’t see female characters, so they started writing them. You know who else did that? Joanna Russ, James Tiptree Jr., Patricia Wrede, Louise Fitzhugh, N.K. Jemisin, Gail Carson Levine, Robin McKinley, Seanan McGuire, Nancy Farmer – the list goes on. And on. There are droves of female authors who grew up reading books with almost no female protagonists, and who turned around and said: “Screw that. I’m writing about chicks.”

And guess who grew up reading those books?

I did.

I read Tamora Pierce. I read Robin McKinley. I read Madeleine L’Engle. I read Harriet the Spy and Ella Enchanted and Dealing with Dragons. I read The Babysitter’s Club (yes, The Babysitter’s Club, you gotta problem with that?). I read Nancy Farmer. I devoured Sailor Moon and Yoko Tsuno. I read Hope was Here and Born Confused.

In these books girls were the heroes – all kinds of heroes. They were knights and policewomen, spies and politicians, ordinary students and fashion experts, electricians and caterers, waitresses and magic girls, aliens and historians – oh my!

So if I didn’t see my girlhood as limiting me, it was because in the world of my reading, there were no limits to what a girl could be, or to how she could save the day.

You know why I wanted to be a warrior when I was a kid? Because I was reading Tamora Pierce. You know why I didn’t see being a warrior as a “male” pursuit? Because Tamora Pierce’s warriors were female. Even in the Alanna series, when Alanna was the only female knight, there were other women warriors [Thayet and Buri, to name a few]. So when I was pounding that tree into a pulp, I was doing it in the grand tradition of Keladry of Mindelan, Buriram Tourakom, Alanna the Lioness and Daja Kisubo (although I’m sure none of them would be silly enough to practice kicking on a tree).

Eventually, my warrior ways (god, this is embarrassing. I’m so glad this blog is under a pseudonym) – prompted me to take Tae-Kwon-Do lessons. Which was lovely, except for the fact that the instructors would always try to goad male students by saying:

“Are you going to get a girl beat you?”

[Spoiler warning: Yes]

Or: “You hit like a girl!”

[No shit, Sherlock. I am a girl]

But you know what? Even though that bothered the hell out of me (and it went straight into my growing realization that “Wow, people are kind of sexist”) – I knew better. I knew no one could joust like Keladry of Mindelan or swordfight better than Alanna the Lioness. I knew no one was stealthier than Harriet the Spy or braver than Usagi (AKA: Sailor Moon) or more loyal than Dimple Lala. I knew no one was cleverer than Ella and no one was smarter than Yoko Tsuno.

I knew that there was nothing shameful with being “like a girl.”

And someday, everyone else was going to figure it out.

So to all those authors who grew up wishing to be boys. Who grew up knowing that being a girl was unsafe, that being a girl made you “lesser than.” To all of you who then turned around and said: “Screw this, I’m writing about chicks.” Who said “girl can be the heroes.” Who were brave enough, and strong enough, and determined enough, to fight the good fight. Who told the people who thought there was no market for girl heroes “You’re wrong” and who got those books published anyways.

To all those authors, in short, who made it possible for me to have a shelf upon shelf of fantastic books with smart, strong, independent women as heroes.

Thank you.

I have never wanted to be a boy. I have always been happy to be a girl. And it’s because you showed me that being a girl was great.

Thank you.

And to all those people who say “but it’s just a book/a video game/ a comic book. It’s not real. Everyone knows it’s not real. So it doesn’t affect you. Now stop complaining about the lack of female/queer/people of color/ disabled/etc. characters and go make me a sandwich.”

I say: “You’re wrong. And go make yourself that sandwich. Git.”

The End

[Giant disclaimer: the state of fiction is nowhere near equitable enough, either when it comes to female characters, or to other marginalized character s(queer, people of color, trans, disabled etc.). In fact, even though I read a lot of books with female protagonists as a child, I still read more books with male protagonists (and that was with me actively trying to FIND books with female protagonists). We're not there yet. But the fight is worth it.]

Related Posts:

How Power Rangers turned me into a Feminist

Eight Great Books of Science Fiction for Women (an Alternative List)

WisCon 36 Wrapup: Please Don’t Tame the Shrew

The Return of the Secret Feminist Cabal


WisCon 36 Wrapup: Please Don’t Tame the Shrew

This is the fourth and final part of my Epic WisCon recap. But before I get there, I have to announce some bad political news:

Scott Walker won the Wisconsin recall.

I have one reaction to this, and one reaction alone:

Cersei Game of Thrones Wine

That is all.

[Oh wait... I can't actually drink wine without getting a migraine, so I must find another way to drown my sorrows. Ideas?]

In silver lining news, Democrats retook the Wisconsin senate. And Madison (my hometown) had over 80% turnout. In Dane County (where Madison is located), only 30% of voters chose Walker (I’m sure the percentage is lower in Madison proper).

So at least I’m living with good company.

Madison is a bastion of left wing progressivism (we have actual marxists and socialists here). Since Wisconsin proper (excepting Milwaukee) is not a bastion of left-wing progressivism, the joke/insult about Madison is that it’s “Seventy two square miles surrounded by reality.”

In light of the fact that Walker won 52% of the vote, I vote we change the joke to: Madison is seventy two square miles surrounded by catastrophe.

Because Walker is a reality I refuse to believe in.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I need a pick-me-up after contemplating the horrors of modern politics. Hey, look! A fanvid! A fanvid that premiered at WisCon! A fanvid about women in science fiction! IT IS PERFECT!

And it is entitled: Space Girls (my mother told me never to watch Science Fiction but I did)

Okay, now that we’re all feeling better… MOVING ON. For life must continue on, and feminist bloggers gotta blog.

Space Babe Tiptree WisCon

And Space Babe’s gotta fight outdated gender roles in speculative fiction.

This the fourth and final part of my epic attempt to chronicle my experiences at WisCon 36, the feminist Science Fiction convention. Here are the links to parts one, two and three. This section covers Monday at the Convention, and my final thoughts about this year’s WisCon (they are deeply philosophical).

I started off Monday with an 8:30 panel.

I know. I am a madwoman, and I must be stopped.

The Great Divide: Are Women and Men Really Different?

From the panel description: “A number of pop science books have asserted large innate differences between the male and the female brain. A recent book by Columbia Professor Rebecca Jordan-Young, Brain Storm, points out the large flaws in the underlying research used by these books. This panel will discuss the science and philosophy behind the difference – or lack of difference – between men and women.”

Again, a subject that is of particular interest of me. One of my pet peeves is non-scientists using science to try to “prove” an innate difference between men and women. Most people who are “interpreting” the scientific data have absolutely no business doing so (and I include myself in this category) because they don’t have the tools to correctly evaluate the validity of research and experiments. I wrote an entire angry rant about this very problem when Roger Ebert decided that the Bestest Idea Ever was to claim that women were better than men (because: science! And evolution!)

But I think it’s fascinating that we as a culture are obsessed with finding scientific “proof” that men and women are fundamentally different. Anytime any kind of scientific study comes out about gender differences, the media jumps on it like my dog jumps on cheese [she loves cheese]. As usual, I’m more interested in the cultural reaction to the science than in the science itself.

What is our obsession with “proving” gender differences? Nancy Jane Moore (who was on the panel) made a great point – “The idea that men and women might not be that different frightens most people.” We – and I include myself in this category – are deeply, fundamentally, and often unconsciously, invested in our current system of gender differences.

Nancy Jane Moore started the panel by saying: “I do have an emotional reaction to the subject…”
Moderator: “Well, you have a female brain.”

Ah, feminist humor. How I love it.

The panelists recapped some of the particularly egregious science used to explain gender differences. As an example, Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist who argues that there is a wide difference between men and women, uses what Janet M. Lafler called “bad graduate student tactics. She cites references that don’t actually support her point, and she also cites herself.

Now, I’m not a scientist, BUT… I’m pretty sure that’s not the way you do science.

There was also an extensive discussion of “Stereotype threat” which is a concept I’d heard of, but never really understood before. And now that I do, I’m obsessed with it.

What is the stereotype threat? Glad you asked:

Stereotype threat refers to being at risk of confirming as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group. It has been shown to reduce the performance of individuals who belong to negatively stereotypes groups. For example, if you remind a woman that she is a woman (a group considered to be “bad at math”) right before she takes a math test, she will do significantly worse than if she is reminded she is a woman after she takes the test.

Yes, in fact, there have been studies that show that if groups are reminded of the stereotypes about their group right before they do a task, they tend to do less well on those tasks. The example above comes from a real study where men and women took a math test and participants were asked to identify themselves by gender either right before or right after the test. Women who were reminded of their gender right before the test began did significantly worse than women who were reminded of their gender after the test was over. There was no noticeable difference in men’s scores either way.

Other examples – and there are hundreds – include the 1990s study where African American and European American students took a test measuring verbal ability. African Americans performed less well. But when the researchers changed the instructions on the test so that participants no longer believed that the test accurately measured intellectual performance, the performance gap reduced drastically. In another experiment, women who took a mathematics exam along with two other women got 70% of the answers right; while those doing the same exam in the presence of two men got an average score of 55%.

In other words: cultural stereotyping affects the way people think about their abilities, and thus the abilities themselves. If you tell a girl that women are bad at math, she is more likely to be bad at math.

David Peterson also cited a really interesting study (I wish I’d taken down the reference) that found that if you introduce games and forms of play (like legos!) that teach spatial skills early enough, there is no noticeable difference between girls and boys’ spatial ability by the time they enter elementary school. [How to solve gender inequality 101]

A great deal of the panel involved book recommendations, or resources for further research, which I really appreciate (being from an academic background). AND, one of the panelists (David Peterson) is a scientist himself, so… these are probably pretty decent [Feel free to skip this part, since it's just a giant pile of books - but I thought some people would find this interesting]

Nancy Jane Moore’s “Bad Science: The Flawed Research into Gender Differences in the Brain” is a really good starting point (since it recaps a lot of the good (and bad) books about gender science). You download it here.

All the panelists recommended Rebecca Jordan Young’s book Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Difference, which is a very dense, highly academic text that systematically dismantles most of the recent pop-science “proof” of gender differences.

Lise Eliot’s Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps – and What We Can Do About It was another panel favorite. According to Peterson, Eliot( a professor of neuroscience) argues that there is little physical difference in the brains of boys and girls, and the differences that arise in time (for example, in math performances) are mostly the restu lfo a matrix of environmental and cultural effects.

Nancy Jane Moore called Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender – How our Minds, Society and Neurosexism Create Difference the book to “give all your feminist friends.” It’s quite short, and clever, witty and filled with solid science. And I love the title.

David Peterson highly recommended Vivienne Parry’s The Truth About Hormones: What’s Going on when we’re Tetchy, Spotty, Fearful, Tearful or Just Plain Awful?  – but only if you can get your hands on it. There are very few copies in the USA. I’m determined to find this book based on the following excerpt alone:

“Some 70% of mothers will experience the blues during the first ten days after delivery (…) it has been suggested that this is all about hormones, particularly the catastrophic drop in progesterone. While it is true that those most likely to be severely affected will have suffered the steepest drop in progesterone (…) I remain to be convinced that the baby blues is simply about hormones. Try keeping a man awake for twenty-four hours while subjecting him to intense pain from a life-changing event. Then see what his mood is like when he is deprived of sleep, made to leak from every orfice, while imposing on him all the relatives you’ve ever known who arrive at your home expecting you to be nice to them.” (PREACH!)

Finally, David Peterson recommended a plethora of books that deal with gender equity issues, particularly in technology and science:

Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever (“Highly Recommended. Everyone Should read this book”)

Ask for it: How Women Can use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever (“Once Again, everyone should read this”)

Opting Out?: Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home by Pamela Stone. The boiled down message is (not surprisingly) that more women would stay in their jobs if they could get accommodation for the family demands that are a part of their lives AND if they were not marginalized in their jobs as a result of this acommodation.

The Mathematics of Sex: How Biology and Society Conspire to Limit Talented Women and Girls by Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams. Apparently the best book on the subject David Peterson has read since the classic Gender Differences in Mathematics.

Oh, and now I know what the Morris Water Maze is. What is a Morris Water Maze? Ask me at the next Feminist Party!

Degaying and Whitewashing: What Publishing Trends Mean for Writers

I full meant to go to the “Feminism, SF and Fandom in the Academy: An Open Mentoring Session”… but I was too scared. Because actually talking to people scares me. Which is a problem since I am planning to go into graduate school for science fiction, and meeting academics with similar interests would be very helpful.

Anyways. We shall save my problems with social anxiety for another day, shan’t we?

[Actually, there's a whole discussion of that coming up. So by "another day," what I really mean is "at the end of the recap"]

Skipping that panel meant I did get to attend the “degaying and whitewashing in YA panel,” which made me infinitely happy, because it was a fantastic panel. From the description: “Can radically feminist and anti-racist works survive the “gatekeeping” process? (…_) Articles about the “degaying” and whitewashing of YA literature have raised people’s ire and ignited a volleying of retorts from writers and reviewers/agents/editors. Let’s talk about some of these perceptions in publishing and what they might mean for writers, particularly those who want to challenge commonly held notions and beliefs.”

This was also my panel to oggle The Famous People ™. The panelists included:

1. Mary Ann Mohanraj, the founder and former editor of Strange Horizons, and the author of Bodies in Motion (which I love, and highly recommend)

2. Andrea Hairston, the WisCon Guest of Honor, Tiptree Award Winner and author of Redwood and Wildfire (I’ve recapped my love of Andrea Hairston in other places, so I won’t do it again. But I will mention that she’s the owner of the most awesome fringe/glitter coat ever)

3. Liz Gorinsky, a Hugo nominated editor at Tor, who has edited Cheri Priest’s Boneshaker, Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey and Catherynne Valente’s Deathless (which means I will love her forever).

4. Neesha Meminger, author of Shine Coconut Moon and Jazz in L0ve (both fantastic)

and

5. Malinda Lo, former editor of afterellen.com, and author of the lesbian cinderella story Ash and it’s companion novel, Huntress. My brother is currently writing a book report on Ash, and I so regret not dragging him along to this panel. He loves Malinda Lo (as do I).

ALL the famous people.

And the fact that the panel was made up of authors and editors (and particularly queer authors and authors of color) meant they could speak from personal experience.

Malinda Lo, for example, said she wanted to be on the panel because: “the number one question I get asked is: Did you have trouble getting published because your books are so gay?”

One author described her current struggle to publish a YA fantasy series. The first book has a straight protagonist, the second book, which she has not yet written, has a lesbian protagonist. Her agent has told her that if she proceeds with her plans to have a lesbian protagonist, he will refuse to sell the books, because he thinks there’s no point in even trying.

Interestingly, the agent would have been fine with the book if it had been about the protagonist coming out. Which implies that in publishing, queerness needs to be the problem, or else it has no place in the story.

The panelists brought up a shocking statistic: according to the Children’s Book Council, less than .05% of young adult novels have either an author of color or a protagonist of color. That’s miniscule. It’s also particularly horrifying when you consider that as of this year, there are more people of color born in the US than white people. Are these kids going to grow up with absolutely no characters in books who look like them?

Malinda Lo actually had a very good publishing experience – no one tried to get her to change her lesbian protagonist, and her book has been quite successful. But, as she and other people pointed out, this is less due to luck than to the wealth of people who have worked very hard to change the situation, from small presses to self publishing to reviewers and critics and authors. Andrea Hairston called luck “The serendipity of the universe… after all the hard work. Luck looks really effortless at the moment itself, but all the history of publishing from George Eliot to Aqueduct Press is behind it.”

Malinda Lo also attributed part of her success to the fact that she used to be the editor of afterellen.com – so she knew that there was an audience for fiction with lesbian protagonists.

Lo: “When people say there is no audience, I could say: “no, you are wrong. There is an audience.” So keep at it. Tell them there is an audience.”

Liz Gorinsky talked about selling queer books, and marketing them so they’ll get through the gatekeepers: “I don’t usually go to my eighty year old straight male boss and say “I’m really excited about the gay male romance in this book…” but I can say that to my friends in the WisCon community.”

Mary Ann Mohanraj pointed out that one of the institutional barriers to publishing YA books with gay protagonists is the fact that “there are whole swaths of libraries that won’t buy YA with gay protagonists.”
Which is really obvious when you think about it, but still. Shoot.

The panelists also talked about the difficulties of having this conversation, because people tend to take the subject as an accusation. As Andrea Hairston put it: “It’s not about blame, it’s about having a discussion.”

Or, (Hairston again): “I’m not mad at you…I’m just mad.”

Some of the big strategies recommended were systematic analysis – making sure to keep the subject prominent, doing the statistics, writing criticism etc. – and talking about those books that do exist. Because the enemy of publishing success is obscurity.

Or: “Buy them. Read them. Talk about them.”

And, if you’re my brother, write your book report about them.

Volunteering

After the final panel, Myriad and I went to volunteer at the art show. Of course, we nearly keeled over during the aforementioned art show, because neither of us had eaten correctly (whoops). Cue emergency trip to the ConSuite (bagels and bananas!)

So yes. We may have sold you art. We also let someone steal the stapler (whooooops). And then we helped take down the art show, which was fun (good thing we’d eaten by then).

By the way, if you’re thinking of going to WisCon in future years and you want to volunteer: I highly recommend just showing up. This year, there was a giant board next to the registration desk where volunteering opportunities were recorded. Show up at the location; say you want to help. Works quite well!

Post-Mortem

From the panel description: “Discussion of what worked for WisCon 36, what did not, and how we can make it better next year.”

Now, I have a deep and abiding love for procedural stuff and for knowing all the gritty behind-the-details information, so I love the WisCon postmortem. Knowing about hotel problems, bad conventioneer behavior, past convention gossip etc. is my idea of fun. Other people’s mileage may vary.

I also deeply appreciate the postmortem because it shows how committed WisCon is to improving. I don’t know whether other conventions have postmortems, but WisCon’s is particularly great. The ConCom members are receptive; people willingly discuss issues; there’s a real sense that we’re trying to solve problems rather than place blame. For example, WisCon has safety people (NOT security people), but several people at the postmortem pointed out that we didn’t know who they were or how to find them. At the same time,  other WisCon attendees pointed out that it’s important for safety people to be relatively unobtrusive. By the end of the postmortem, the group decided the best solution might be to put signs explaining the safety team at the registration desk (since everyone walks by it seventy times a day).

Oh, and if you want to rile up a relatively zen group of WisCon-goers, do one of two things:

1. Suggest that the rule against taking photographs is a matter of “preference” rather than “safety” (BAD IDEA)

2. Suggest that WisCon’s Safer Space for People of Color should be used for other things as well (Given the great amount of fighting/arguing it took for the space to exist in the first place… yeah, no. Although for the record, I think the Safer Space should exist as long as POC Con-goers find value in it).

Oh, and the post-mortem included a bundt pan. Which was awesome in and of itself, but which also led to this funny exchange:

A Con-goer mentioned that she’d heard that some people had been rude to the hotel staff. There was a collective gasp of horror, and one of the ConCom members said: “If I start frothing, throw the Bundt pan at my head.”

(Future WisCon attendees. Do not be rude to the Hotel Staff. It will make us sad. It will make us angry. And you don’t want us to be angry. We have bundt pans).

And that is… the end of my recap. *Gasp*

Yes, you can leave now! But if you want to stay… I do have two more things I want to (briefly) mention:

1. Accountability at WisCon

Which fits in nicely after the postmortem, don’t you think?

WisCon is not just any science fiction convention. It’s a feminist science fiction convention. Which means that WisCon isn’t just about appreciating speculative fiction and fandom; it’s also always been about social justice. About making the world a better place. And that’s why I love WisCon, and that’s why I’m planning on returning to it forever and ever and ever (ad infinitum).

My (admittedly limited) experience at WisCon is that the convention and it’s members are deeply committed to enacting social justice not just in theory, but within the Con itself. The Convention works hard to make the convention accessible to people of all ability levels. There’s lots of work being done on accessibility. In the past few years, there’s been a commitment to helping more people of color attend WisCon, with scholarships and work with the Carl Brandon society. After much debate, WisCon also created a Safer Space for People of Color. The Convention tries to make attendance as financially accessible as possible, with low registration rates, scholarships, and the ConSuite. There’s subsidized childcare ($1 a day) so people with children can more easily attend.

WisCon even has a wonderful (and recent) tradition called The WisCon Chronicles. Each year, Aqueduct Press puts out a book filled with essays, recaps, stories etc. from the prior WisCon. Obviously there are a lot of recaps in the Chronicles, but they also contain a great deal of criticism. When things don’t work at WisCon – when panelists say problematic things, when the ConCom makes mistakes, when attendees screw up – the Chronicles talk about them. I see this aspect of the Chronicles as a major part of WisCon’s commitment to accountability and social justice.

This year’s Chronicles (edited by Alexis Lothian, and entitled Futures of Feminism and Fandom) is particularly heavy, because it recaps the Thing-That-Almost-Broke-WisCon: MoonFail.

Last year, the ConCom decided to revoke Elizabeth Moon’s Guest of Honor status due to her comments about immigration and islam. I did not know about this at the time, because I did not even know WisCon existed. Nevertheless, the six weeks between Elizabeth Moon’s now-infamous blog post and the revoking of her GoH status were a hotbed of drama, both on and off the internet. Or, as I like to put it: The Internet EXPLODED.

As per it’s usual.

[If you want to know WHY the Internet exploded, find Elizabeth Moon's post. It's not hard. Here, I'll give you a link: http://e-moon60.livejournal.com/335480.html. Read all of it - the first part is quite boring, but it gets... worse]

The sections within the WisCon Chronicles that deal with Moonfail and its fallout are very hard to read. There are several blog posts from the “heart of the storm” – when all the shit was going down, and they are not easy reading. Because in the heart of the storm, WisCon was screwing up, and screwing up hard, and it was entirely possible that it would…break.

In other conventions, inviting a guest of honor who had said, or done, offensive things would not be as big a deal. Because we don’t expect better from WorldCon, or World Fantasy, or wherever. But we expect better things from WisCon.

Which is why the chronicles are sometimes challenging read. Because I expect better things from WisCon. But at the same time, I recognize that the Chronicles themselves are one of those “better things.” They show a commitment to accountability and to self-policing. They are a recognition that WisCon is always striving, always trying to be better and to grow.

[I am not, by the way, implying that WisCon is perfect in all ways. It still has a lot of growth to do. I fully recognize that there are many areas of improvement]

WisCon is a place of joy, conviviality, excitement and appreciation. It’s a place where we come together to appreciate our fandom and our community. But it can also be a frightening place, because to be a true WisCon attendee – in my opinion -requires a commitment to growth. To paraphrase WisCon ConCom member Victor Raymond, WisCon requires change. It requires always striving for something better. And there’s joy in that too, because it means that WisCon is alive. It’s not a static institution. It grows and changes, and it’s members grow and change.

Moonfail too, caused growth. The resulting convention had a great deal of panels dealing with race and racism, which if nothing else, made an enormous difference to my understanding of, and my personal commitment to, anti-racism. And it led to WisCon creating a statement of principles, which enshrined that WisCon is more than just a place to have fun – it’s a space that is committed to social justice in all of it’s forms.

From the (newly minted) statement of principles:

“WisCon’s focus on science fiction has played an important role in the exploration of feminist futures: futures where people of all colors and backgrounds flourish, where women’s rights and women’s contributions are valued, where gender is not limited to one of two options, where no one is erased out of convenience, hidden discrimination or outright bigotry.”

So yes. A good ending to that particular subplot. The story of WisCon is ongoing; however, and I’m sure Moonfail will rear it’s head again (as all subplots do).

Speaking of Accountability – if I’m going to demand that WisCon attendees commit to growth, I should probably account for myself too!

2. Achievements/Personal Areas of Improvement:

First, I should say that in spite of all the freakouts, I was very, very glad that I presented a paper at WisCon. If you’re going to present a paper anywhere, WisCon is where it’s at. And I got to write about feminist fantasy, which is something I never do in my “Real” Academic life.

Second, I was very glad to have dragged my brother along. He loved it (I knew he was going to, but I had some last minute freakouts). I loved having him there. It was wonderful. I had to drag him away kicking and screaming.

Now, onto the important stuff… Regrets!

Social anxiety! I have it. And most of my regrets are social anxiety related. There are awesome people at WisCon, and I would like to meet more of them. That is basically my regret/goal for next year.

I didn’t go to the Academic Mentoring Session because of social anxiety (and imposter syndrome); I didn’t go to any of the parties because I didn’t know anyone (booo!); I didn’t go to the signout because famous people scare me (in a nice moment of parallelism: last year I jumped into a stairwell rather than meet Catherynne Valente. This year I jumped out of a stairwell rather than meet Mary Anne Mohanraj. Whoops!)

So yes. Goals for next year: Go to the first time dinner again (that’s how I met the most people my first year). Go to the sign-out. Ask the Awesome People to sign your books, even if you’re scared. Go to the parties. It’s, er, good for you.

Oh, and dress up for the Guest of Honor speech, if you possibly can. I have ordered it so, and you must listen to me.

Space Babe Tiptree WisCon

Space Babe has ordered it too!

And this, my friends… marks the end of my epic quest to chronicle EVERYTHING that happened to Me at WisCon 36. I’ve written well over 15,000 words. You’re probably sick of it. I’m probably sick of it. So I’m just going to stop right now while I’m ahead -

Actually, no, because! A FINAL SHOUTOUT to an incredible T-shirt I saw at WisCon. It said: “Please Don’t Tame the Shrew.” I loved it madly (Shakespeare reference and Feminism = Literature student joy), but now I cannot find it anywhere on the interwebs. If anyone knows where to get it, I would be grateful.

[And yes, that is what I am referring to in the title of the post]

So that was WisCon 36. It was awesome. Can’t wait till WisCon 37.

Space Babes out.

[No, really, this time I mean it]

Related Posts:

The Return of the Secret Feminist Cabal: Part 3 of WisCon 36

What Happens at WisCon stays at WisCon: Part 2 of WisCon 36

A Disoriented Con Reporter at Large: Part 1 of WisCon 36


The Return of the Secret Feminist Cabal: Part Three of the WisCon Recap

Before the meaty part of the post starts, some politics-and-geekiness related housekeeping:

Politics! Today may be the last day I can cling onto the hope that Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s union-busting, anti-woman, and generally-horrible Governor, will not buy his re-election. And I am clinging to hope hard. If Walker wins the election, I will be in mourning and this blog space may thus be silent for weeks to come. Be forewarned.

Geekiness! Yesterday, I finally saw the Avengers. I would have been at risk of losing my nerd credibility if I’d put it off for longer. I am currently still processing my reactions to the movie, but I have three important points to make:

1. I want a Black Widow movie. Now.

2. And then I want a movie where Black Widow, the Hulk and Hawkeye run around being awesome. Much as I like the other Avengers, these three are my favorites and they need more screentime. If they drag Loki along for the ride, I’m all for it.

3. The fanfiction writers are probably having a field day with all the potential ‘ships in this movie, right? *checks fanfic archives*
Yup, they’re having a field day! Can’t blame them.

Anyways! Back to the point. Today marks part three of my epic attempt to chronicle my experiences at WisCon 36, the world’s premiere Feminist Science Fiction conference.

Space Babe Tiptree WisCon

Space Babe insists that WisCon be recorded!

Here are the links for part one and two (I told you this was an epic chronicle, didn’t I?)

This particular post will include (among others) the Tiptree Auction (you have not lived until you’ve been to a Tiptree auction), a panel on blogging while female and a panel on the way women are depicted in comic book artwork. Oh, and the Guest of Honor speeches (“let’s work on the impossible. It’ll take longer and be more fun!”)

So! When last I wrote, I was on the verge of going to my panel. Yes, my panel – the one at which I was presenting a paper.

Me! Gah! Me!

As might be imagined from my prior posts, where I chronicled my rather massive paper-related freakouts, I was…er… nervous to be presenting. Very nervous. So nervous that I may have suggested to my younger brother that we run out of the Convention and grab the next plane to France. Or maybe I didn’t. There’s no evidence.

Hem.

Fortified with a good cup of coffee, I took my seat at the presentation table and nearly had a heart attack. Although I’m still an undergraduate, I have, in fact, given academic papers in conference settings before. But the audiences were… smaller. Which is nice, because if you’re going to undergo public humiliation, it’s always better to do it in front of smaller groups.

Sadly, there was quite a decent-sized audience at the panel. My brilliant plans to avoid public humiliation keep failing.

[You may ask: C.D., if you hate public speaking, WHY DID YOU PROPOSE A PAPER? To which I say:

Cersei Game of Thrones, More Wine

-

Fortunately, my co-presenter, Kathryn Allen, was lovely. She also gave her paper first, which I greatly appreciated. I did not, unfortunately, take any notes during her presentation, since I was too busy worrying about my own [and I'd forgotten my notebook somewhere]. This is unfortunate, since her paper was rather brilliant. It dealt with the concept of the vulnerable body –  the ways masculine-oriented Science Fiction rejects vulnerability in favor of “superhumans” or posthumans while feminist Science Fiction tends to stress the importance of the body and the way shared bodily vulnerability marks us as human.

Notes! I wish I’d taken them.

Something Allen said before her presentation struck me – she discussed how her interest in bodies in feminist SF started when she herself developed an illness [I'm going off of memory here, so please forgive any errors]. I know that at least part of my literary obsession with bodies stems from my own complex relationship to my body. It’s hard to think of myself as anything but embodied and – as Allen put it – vulnerable when I’m constantly having to maneuver around conditions like chronic migraines and severe carpal tunnel (to name my two most prominent conditions).

Anyways. I’ve been mulling the issue. There may be a blog post in there somewhere.

[C.D.'s blog readers: "Please, world, STOP GIVING HER IDEAS FOR LONG-ASS BLOG POSTS, we can't take it anymore"]

I did finally give my paper, an event I have very little memory of. I’m told it went well… which is good. I think.

Just so I don’t avoid the subject completely – my paper was on the monstrous female body in Catherynne Valente’s duology The Orphan’s Tales. I’m not going to give a summary of it here (because: GAH) –  if you’re desperately interested, email me!

Afterwards, there was… relief. A lot of relief. And there were questions and a discussion, both of which are new experiences for me – my experiences with academic conferences is that papers get minimal questions and very little discussion. And the discussions were great, because by then I was so damn relieved to be done with the paper that you could have asked me to recite Hamlet and I would have gladly complied.

The absolute best part of the panel?

My brother asked a question.

Well, he didn’t exactly ask a question. He made a connection between what my co-presenter and I were talking about, and the bullying he witnesses at his middle school. I wish I’d taken down his idea, but I was too busy grinning like an idiot (what? I’m proud of my brother. I would never have talked at a panel when I was twelve). As I recall, he said that the central problem in the papers Allen and I presented seemed to be that people are afraid of people who are different from them, which is what leads to bullying…

Anyways. I was very proud.

The Tiptree Auction

If you go to only one event at WisCon, go to the Tiptree Auction. I am not even kidding. Sell your children, fight the evil hordes, commandeer a spaceship – do whatever it takes to get to the Auction. You will not regret it.

The Tiptree auction raises funds for the James Tiptree Jr. Award [which is given to a work of speculative fiction that expands or explores our understanding of gender]. It raises a lot of money. A LOT of money.

Why, you ask? Are WisCon goers particularly generous? Are the items particularly cool?

Well, yes, WisCon-goers are quite generous, and the items are cool. Indeed, things are sold at the auction. Many things. Many cool things. But the things are not the main attraction. The main attraction is the auctioneer, Ellen Klages.

Ellen Klages Tiptree

Ellen Klages: Auctioneer/Comedian/Writer/Awesome

I said it in my first WisCon post, and I’ll say it again. Ellen Klages may well be the funniest person I’ve ever shared space with. And if you knew my family, you would realize that this is no small claim.

In addition to be the funniest person ever, Ellen Klages is also a Nebula Award winning writer. So. You know. She’s got cred.

Ellen and the audience of the Tiptree auction are also a living counterargument to the common belief that feminists have no sense of humor. If you get a bunch of nerdy feminists in a room together, hilarity shall ensue. Raucous, immature, wild, geeky hilarity. I could barely breath from laughing at last year’s auction (particularly when Geoff Ryman sold the right to choose which, er, cheek he would get a temporary Space Babe tattoo on (I shall refrain from mentioning what kind of cheek, exactly, he meant)). This year, I thought my brother’s head was going to explode, he was laughing so hard.

That would have been hard to explain to the parentals…

Me: “Yes, mother, my brother’s head exploded from laughter. What was so funny? Well, you see, it was a feminist joke about prime numbers! Yes! A feminist joke about prime numbers!”

Mother: “…I don’t even want to know.”

Let us begin by noting that the first item Ellen sold was a Hilary Clinton nutcracker that she found on ebay. Because: “When I’m not at WisCon, I’m on Ebay… looking for things to bring to WisCon.”

Hilary Clinton nutcracker Tiptree

I don’t even know…

Then! Then Ellen sold a book from the 1940s called “Knitting Gay Gadgets.” Which did not mean the same thing in 1940 as it does now.

Ellen: “If you are gay, or you knit, or you like gadgets – and let’s be honest, who in this room doesn’t fall into one of those categories…”
Ellen: “I promise, if you buy it, you don’t have to reveal which category you belong to.”

Now, Ellen is a pretty dedicated auctioneer. Let me give you an example: in the course of this year’s auction, she actually sold the shirt off her back.

The shirt said said: “Brontosaurus is still a planet.”
If you don’t get it now, look it up. Trust me; it’s worth it.

Selling a “Brontosaurus is still a planet” shirt in a room full of Sci-Fi/Fantasy Nerds… a pretty lucrative deal. It got over $

[And no, I'm still not over Pluto]

And Ellen then took the shirt off (because she’d sold it! Hello, ethics?). And several female audience members threw cash at her.

Ellen: “I will do one item in my underwear, because this is the sort of convention that likes to see middle aged women in their underwear.

More quotes, for your edification/amusement:

Ellen: “Only at WisCon do sentences like “The other hat is a giant eyeball” make sense.”

Ellen: “Fifty dollars for a collection of my poetry! My poetry is collectible because there ain’t much of it… and there’s a reason for that. Let me read some. I have fifty dollars now, and I’m about to have more… *clears throat* “Expel that gentle zephyr from…”” (at this point, I was laughing too hard to transcribe, which I now deeply regret, because Ellen’s was the most moving poem about farting I’ve ever heard).

When Ellen was selling a female robot, someone in the crowd yelled: “Is it subversive?”
Ellen: “Is it subversive? Is it subversive? It’s a robot for girls!”
(room erupts into laughter)
Ellen: “Do you really think girls should play with robots?”
Crowd: “YES!”
Ellen: “Then my work here is done. “

Describing the female robot: “Her crotch says ‘Cabal’… as so many crotches in this room do.”

The evening also included a moment of general geeking out over Alison Bechdel (thus proving that indeed, it was a conference full of feminists)

Ellen: “Alison Bechdel knows what the Tiptree Award is.”
Everyone: “OOOOH.”
Ellen: “Alison Bechdel drew an extra cartoon in this copy of Dykes to Watch Out For after she found out it was for the Tiptree Auction.”
Everyone: “OOOOOOOOH.”

After proving that indeed, we were in a room full of feminists, we proceeded to prove that we were in a room full of nerds. Someone’s bid on an item was a prime number, so Ellen joked that she would only accept bids that were prime numbers. I don’t think she expected the audience to take her up on it.

We did.

Which led to a good thirty minute segment during which people tried to bid using prime numbers, and the audience would either cheer or correct their mistakes. [What? Didn’t we all memorize every prime number until 500 in the seventh grade? Or was that just me? [Let us note that I've now forgotten them. But that's not the point]]

Yes, we thought it was hilarious. And yes, we are nerds.

Ellen: “I have a hundred and three going once – going twice -
Random audience member #1: “A hundred and twenty seven!”
Ellen: “You – are you looking up Prime numbers on your iPad?”

Random audience member #2: “Sixty nine!”
*Audience erupts into laughter*
Ellen: “I’m not going to touch that one with a ten foot pole.”
Random audience member #1: “It’s not a prime number!”
Ellen: “Oh, now she’s looking “sixty nine” up on her iPad. Great.”
*My brother’s brain nearly explodes from laughter.*

[Yes, apparently, my brother knows what "sixty nine" refers to. I am not pleased about this fact. Sadly, I have no control over it. Hem]

Then there was the customary “let’s make fun of the Guests of Honor ” section of the evening.

Ellen: “We have a tradition of selling naked pictures of the Guest of Honor. Okay, we did it once, so now it’s a tradition.”

Ellen: “It shows Debbie naked and asleep. You will never see Debbie this way at WisCon. Naked, yes, but asleep, no. That woman does so much. So this is what Debbie looks like asleep, if you’re curious.”

Ellen: “In the olden times, there were titles of respect. Men were squires and women were… squirrels. There’s even a tale about Debbie [Notkin's] ancestor… The Tale of Squirrel Notkin. From now on, whenever you see Deb in the halls of WisCon, I want you to curtsy and say “Squirrel Notkin.”

Ellen, after selling a box of Tiptree Award chocolates, turns to Andrea Hairston, the winner of this year’s Tiptree Award: “Andrea, you get these chocolates tomorrow. For Free. Well, you had to write a book, but how long could that have taken?”

My absolute favorite moment of the evening came when Ellen sold a Uhura barbie doll.

Uhura Zoe Saldana Barbie

… so many conflicting emotions, so little time.

Ellen: “They have all the barbie dolls. Every variety. I bet there’s even a depressed barbie. What would that be like, I wonder…”
Ellen as Depressed Barbie: “I don’t care if you take me out of my box or not. I don’t go out much. I’ve been wearing the same outfit for fifty years and I have no genitals and I’m depressed…Have you seen my boyfriend? Can you blame me?”

I finally dragged my brother away, kicking and screaming, shortly after Ellen sold the Hand-Knit flying Spaghetti monster. Yes, the auction included a Hand-knit flying Spaghetti monster (it sold for somewhere around $200). I’m telling you: The Tiptree Auction is the best auction ever.

Flying Spaghetti Monster Pastafarians Hand Knit

My brother did not want to leave –  I had to drag him out of the room. But it was 10:30, and Growing Preteens need their Sleep (at least according to the parentals).

I think I may have inadvertently turned him into a WisCon addict.

And so, to Ellen’s battle cry of “Pastafarians, unite! You have nothing to fear… except losing your balls” we left.

Now, during the auction, I did record all the final bid prices (because there is a land called “Obsessiva” and I am it’s Queen). And there were only a few items left to go when the Brother and I left. So I’ve got a pretty decent estimate of how much money the Tiptree Auction raised this year….

And it’s all nice and impressive! According to my completely informal and somewhat dubious calculations, the Auction raised at least five thousand eight hundred and fourteen dollars and thirty cents ($5814.30).

Close to six thousand dollars raised in about three hours?

Badass.

Space Babe Tiptree WisCon

Space Babe Approves

My brother and I went home where I finally, finally indulged in glorious sleep. As you may recall, I had just pulled an all-nighter to finish my paper… so sleep was quite welcome.

But I did not sleep long, for the next day, I headed straight back to WisCon. Sans brother, sadly – we’d made a deal with the parentals that he could come to one day of the convention and one day alone.

(I offered to take an over-energized twelve year old – a twelve year old  who needs attention and amusement constantly – off of my parent’s hands for three days and amuse him on my dime, and they… said no. I will never understand this. Life’s little mysteries…)

Sunday

My first panel on Sunday was “But it’s not for girls!”
From the panel description: “Legitimate complaints about sexism in comics, video games and other geeky media are often dismissed with the argument that they are “for” women and girls – and since women don’t buy comic books and/or video games as much as men, they have no right to complain (…) How can we stop the vicious cycle of sexist design and marketing that pushes otherwise interested females away and then uses this to justify further sexist practices?”

I see this “but it’s not for girls” business all the time in internet discussions of sexism, and it drives me nuts. I also had a fight with my father over the subject – when I complained that the New York Times Book Review reviewed very few books by women, he argued that the New York Times isn’t marketing towards women… and that women read very different books than men (because: Romance. And Romance doesn’t belong in the New York Times Book Review because… I don’t even know).

Least you think this doesn’t happen, here are the real-time comments from Feminist Frequency’s youtube video promoting her kickstarter project “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games”: http://www.youtube.com/all_comments?v=l8I0Wy58adM [Trigger warning for EVERYTHING]

Helpful.

Oh, and let’s all remember the Dr. Pepper 10 advertisement, where the tagline was “It’s not for women”

Dr. Pepper Ten Not For Women

Guess what drink I’m never buying again?

(excuse me for a second, I need to bang my head against a brick wall)

I’m back!

The panel was absolutely wonderful – rage-inducing, yes, but absolutely wonderful.

I think Jessica Plummer (my attribution may be wrong here) summed up the panel perfectly when she said: “We have money to spend. We’d like to buy your stuff. Stop pissing us off.”

Another panelist, responding to the “but women don’t play video games” excuse (I wish I remembered her name, because she was awesome): “If people have access to the internet, they should have no problem discovering that women play video games – at least based on the amount of Mass Effect fanfiction that appears on my tumblr.”

One of the issues I have with the “girls don’t read/play this” excuse is: oh, so it’s okay for a book to be sexist as long as no women read it? What the hell?
The gender breakdown of the audience does not matter. Misogyny and sexism are not okay, period. Full stop. In other words, even if the video game/book/movie is never seen by a single woman, it’s still not okay for it to be misogynistic. And we reserve the right to criticize it to death.

[I'm pretty sure this point was also made at the panel - I just didn't record it]

A related point made at the panel: it’s outrageous that “women don’t buy this” is considered a legitimate excuse.

Jessica Plummer: “It’s like saying “that comic is really racist, but it’s not for minorities.” Can you imagine someone saying that? But when it’s women, it’s considered a legitimate argument.”

I have actually seen the “it’s not for minorities” argument used a few times, but in my (admittedly limited) experience, whenever that excuse is pulled out, it’s only used one time, after which everyone is immediately outraged and calls out the person on their fail. I have a completely-unfounded and not-at-all-thought-out theory about this phenomenon: while we’re still a profoundly racist society, we (mostly) all acknowledge that it’s not okay to consciously stereotype people by their race  (even if we do it unconsciously). In other words, if someone says “All Latinos are criminals,” nearly everyone flinches. But we still think that it’s okay to stereotype people by their gender, because there’s a sense that women and men really are different on some fundamental level.

(again, completely-unfounded theory that I have not thought out that well. Any other thoughts on this?)

It also led to a discussion of toys that are explicitly gendered. McDonalds is the big example – they give you a toy in your Happy Meal based on your gender (this always drove me nuts when I was a kid). And when they had Power Rangers toys, or Young Justice toys, there were no female characters (even though there are female power rangers and female young justice-ers).

Here’s an idea: Why don’t you just ask the kid if they want a Power Rangers toy or a My Little Pony toy? Maybe some boys like My Little Pony!

Pat Murphy, a Nebula Award winning author and the cofounder of the Tiptree Award, talked about her current experiences working at Klutz books (she just put out a book called Make a Mummy, Shrink a Head and Other Useful Skills. I want it).

She was working on a project with Lego, and according to her: “[Lego] kept saying “we want to attract girls… we’ve tried pink! We’ve tried jewelry! And now we want to try ponies and shops!”

Which: ARGH.

Who the heck is Lego hiring?

The problem with this extremely gendered marketing is that it’s all based on what marketer’s think femininity should be. So: pink. Glitter. Shops.

And don’t get me wrong, I love glitter. I love ponies. I love shops. But I also love spaceships and explosions and superheros. [I also don't particularly like pink, but that's just me].

The panelists also recommended the website pink stinks, which targets “overtly gender-segregated, sexist products aimed at young children.”

For some reason, that led to this (rather hilarious) exchange:

Panelist:”Every time I’m on a plane, there’s someone reading Gun-Hardwear Porn – “
Other panelist: “Where are you flying?”
Panelist: “You know who I mean – James Patterson, Tom Whatshisname…”

I am now using “Gun-Hardwear Porn” in all the conversations. ALL the conversations.

The panel’s conclusion: “If you stop actively offending women, maybe they would buy your stuff, and you would make more money. And I think you would enjoy that.”

And onto the next panel!

We’re Not Contortionists: Ridiculous Female Positions in SF/F and Comic Artwork

Probably the funniest panel I attended while at WisCon – also one of the most well-attended (my friend and I couldn’t find seats and ended up standing in the back). The panel was a response to the way women are depicted in cover artwork on SF/F books and inside comic books.

(it drew, obviously, a great deal of inspiration from Jim C. Hines’s brilliant post on the same subject, and from Escher Girls, the bestest Tumblr ever.

During the Panel, Brave (Female) Panelists attempted to recreate the impossible poses! Some of them were martial artists, all of them were very brave and had a big sense of humor.

“I would stab you, but I appear to have broken my back. A little help here?”

The moderator: “Please don’t try this at home… or at least, don’t sue us if you do.”

The moderator, again: “I have also not required the panelists to acquire anti-gravity Boobs, because that just seemed like an unnecessary expense. But I wear a G-cup, and to all comic book artists who have bra-less superheroines with giant anti-gravity boobs… just, no.”

The panelists were directed in their attempt to recreate poses by the audience, which added to the general hilarity. Here are some of the actual directions from the panel:

Audience member: “One of your legs needs to be shorter!”

Pointing to picture: “Why is that woman’s foot in her crotch?”
Moderator: “Oh, she’s masturbating, it’s okay.”
Panelist: “Do I have to masturbate?”

Audience member: “You… you may need to get another knee to do this pose.”

Panelist: “This is actually the most comfortable pose so far.”
Audience member: “yes, now just take off your other leg…”

At the end of the panel, the panelists recreated the famous “Assvengers” poster. In one of the original Avengers posters, every hero was fighting in a semi-believable position, except for Black Widow, who was doing the Boobs and Butts pose

Avengers Poster Boobs and Butt Black Widow

Black Widow: “Why is everyone facing forward except me? I feel left out…”

Kevin Bolk then came up with the “assvengers”

Assvengers unite!

Assvengers unite!

And at WisCon, the “Assvengers” poster was recreated, first with female panelists… and then with male ones. (photos after the link)

Hilarity ensued.

(Ah, the hilarity of humorless feminists…)

Blogging While Female

[Trigger warning for misogynistic language]

The Contortionist panel let out early, to give the panelists time to rest their weary limbs/stretch/apply ice/run to the hospital, so I caught the tail end of the “Blogging While Female” panel.

As most people on the internet know, women bloggers are disproportionately targeted by abusive behavior (even if they’re writing about seemingly inoffensive topics like books, fashion or technology). Which often leads to fewer women participating in online culture (because who wants to be called a bitch twenty times a day?)

In the last fifteen minutes or so of the panel, there a general call to stand up for other marginalized bloggers, and to defend them against harassment and bigotry.  Even if you don’t like what they’re saying. To quote Shira Lipkin: “I do not need to like your politics to defend your right to speech.”

Two of the big strategies were:

1. Don’t let people harass marginalized bloggers, even if you disagree with their politics. It’s just as bad to use racist slurs against a black conservative blogger as it is to use them against a black liberal blogger. Call people on it.

2. Look at the comments section of blogs.
This one goes against common wisdom, but the point the panelists were trying to make was: if there is a feminist (or otherwise marginalized) blogger who is getting piled up on, abused or harassed for a post, one of the most helpful things to do is for you to comment – either in support of the blogger, or to condemn other people’s harassment.

In other words, if you have the capacity to deal with trolls (and not everyone does, which is fine), it’s very helpful if you do. Don’t let the trolls control the comments sections. Let the blogger in question know that there are people who support them (or, at the very least, who support their right to have an opinion without being harassed).

And if you don’t want to wade into the comments sections, send the blogger in question an email of support. Because it’s helpful.

The final message of the panel was: ” Don’t Shut up.”

Because that, of course, is what the trolls want you to do.

I took relatively few notes for the next two panels (readers: *sigh of relief*), so this should be short!

(for the record, I took very few notes because my carpal tunnel started acting up, so I started acting… down. It wasn’t because the panels themselves were bad).

Baba Yaga and Other Retired/Secret Goddesses

A few highlights:

Will Alexander’s very funny description of Baba Yaga: “You can’t bribe her and she will not get into the oven.”

During the panel, it became clear that there was an audience member who knew more about Baba Yaga than most of the panelists. So, in typical WisCon fashion…

She was invited onto the panel.

God, I love WisCon.

And there was a really fascinating discussion of the way Mary Poppins intersects with Baba Yaga. I, of course, have never read the actual Mary Poppins books, and so had no idea that she was that, er, brutal. I knew there was a reason nannies terrified me…

Oh. And read Catherynne Valente’s Deathless. Because I told you so. Also because: Baba Yaga.

Pseudonymously Yours:

From the panel description: “The Google+ “Nym Wars” and the Amina Arraf outing are recent examples of public discourse about acceptable vs. unacceptable use of pseudonyms (…) most people would agree that James Tiptree Jr. was a “legitimate” use of a pseudonym; most people would agree that “A Gay Girl in Damascus” was exploitation… is there a clear cultural line between legitimate pseudonym usage and exploitative deception?”

This panel was of obvious interest to me, because I, er, blog under a pseudonym. I know this comes as a shock, but no, in fact, my wallet name is not “C.D.,” nor is it “Culturally Disoriented” (Although those would be an awesome names). Most people who read this blog, I think, aren’t aware that I blog under a pseudonym because they know me in Real Life. But I do. And quite honestly, if it was impossible for me to blog pseudonymously, I’m not sure I would.

I’m also interested in the subject because I attend McGill University up in Montreal. Last year, the fifth floor of our administrative building was occupied by students protesting tuition hikes (among other things). Some of those students wore masks. In the wake of the occupation, one thing nearly everyone seemed to agree on was that “masking” – turning oneself anonymous – rendered those students’ actions illegitimate. I disagreed.  [I'm planning a blog post on the issues of pseudonymity/anonymity at some point, so I won't get into it now]

During the panel, one of the points that struck me was Mark Zuckerberg’s [Facebook's founder] claim that facebook can’t be pseudonymous because “you shouldn’t be posting anything you’d be ashamed of.”

As the panelists pointed out, Mark Zuckerberg, as a straight, cisgendered, white, abled and upper-class man, can say a lot more online than most other people can. There’s not much Zuckerberg can say that he’ll be discriminated against for, or abused for. While, for example, men who blog about tech are rarely harassed, women who blog about tech often are (even if they’re not talking about gender issues).

Pseudonyms are a way of leveling the playing field – of making sure that the people who express opinions online aren’t just the ones who are safe to do so.

Another panelist had a really good explanation of the difference between James Tiptree Jr. (a woman (Alice Sheldon) who gained fame as a science fiction writer under her male penname) and Amina Arraf (the Gay Girl in Damascus who turned out to be a straight American man). I quote: “The difference between James Tiptree Jr. and the Gay Girl in Damascus is the direction in which privilege flows.”

James Tiptree Jr is an instance of someone with less privilege (a woman) appropriating a male identity (privileged) to enter a male-dominated field.
Amina Arraf is an instance of someone with more privilege (a straight american man) appropriating several less-privileged identities (gay, syrian, woman).

Gay Girl in Damascus = Not so great.

The Guest of Honor Speeches

The Speeches – which are accompanied by the Tiptree Award ceremony – are one of the most attended events at WisCon – nearly everyone goes. And people dress up, which is fun to watch (I didn’t, because I’d biked to WisCon, and I hadn’t hidden a nice outfit in my backpack… whoops!)

[Biking in heels, by the way, is not nearly as hard as you'd think, but you get weird looks]

The Guests of Honor at WisCon this year were Debbie Notkin (Editor, Blogger, Head of the Tiptree Motherboard, Body Image Activist) and Andrea Hairston (Professor, Drama Queen, Theater Director/Actor, Playwriter, Speculative Fiction Author, Tiptree Award Winner). I’ve written more detailed biographies over here [Scroll down till you find 'em]. 

Andrea Hairston gave her speech first. Now, Hairston is a theater person, and it shows – she didn’t give a speech, she gave a performance. Her speech itself was great, and I’m sure it’ll be printed in next year’s WisCon chronicles, but I still feel sorry for those who didn’t watch it in person.

There was even a vocalist who sang the Star Trek theme whenever Andrea Hairston said the words “science fiction” or “the future”

And the Indiana Jones theme… and the Jaws theme…

That vocalist was great (I believe it was Pat Morigan, but don’t quote me). This was all particularly funny because the Guest of Honor speeches are close-captioned, and the poor captioneer was completely thrown off by the vocalizing – at some point, her caption was “[Yipping]“

(And yes, there was yipping)

Anyways. In her speech, Andrea Hairston discussed growing up in what she called a “science fictional family.”

She was an African-American child during the 1950s, and so therefore: “I was convinced science and technology would show everyone to a miraculous undiscovered country… the future. Never mind if the president didn’t want to include us in his government! Never mind if we had to go to different schools! We’d be storming the stage soon enough! Science fiction was necessary to survive.”

On Nuclear Air Raid drills: “I told the teacher: look, if the fools drop the bomb, we’ll either be vaporized or shadows on the wall… and who needs to rehearse that?”

“Going into theater? For my family going into the arts was going to the dark side. Oh, the horror!” [Vocalized Star Wars Theme]

On discovering surrealism/speculative fiction: “These anti-realists didn’t worship the spectacle of the real. Bertolt Brecht said art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shake it.”

Which is such a great way of thinking about Sci-Fi/ Fantasy. “A hammer with which to shake reality” indeed.

Hairston finished by saying: “”Let’s work on the impossible. It’ll take longer and be more fun.”

Again: Exactly.

Debbie Notkin followed Andrea Hairston. Notkin gave a speech about generosity, both personal and general – and I’m sorry I don’t have the transcript, because it was a wonderful speech, particularly in the way it explored the complexity of generosity. I did take down one line, which shows how nuanced Notkin’s approach was: “Whatever privilege we carry becomes a form of control over whoever gets what we have to offer.”

She had some great lines about “America, the land of imaginary individualism” and how we’re supposed to “keep ourselves healthy by force of character and then dig our own graves.”

And finally, it was time of the Tiptree Award. Andrea Hairston was the Tiptree winner for her novel Redwood and Wildfire. It’s an exciting event – the first time someone has been both the Tiptree Award Winner and the WisCon Guest of Honor in the same year. Which: Hurrah!

Andrea Hairston received a check for a thousand dollars (hurrah!), a couple boxes of chocolate (hurrah!), the Tiptree Tiara (hurrah!), and a piece of original artwork based on her book. This year, the artwork in question was a topsy-turvy doll representing the protagonists of Hairston’s novel, Redwood Phipps and Aidan Wildfire. It was handmade by Madeleine E. Robbins, with advice from Nalo Hopkinson. Details on the making of the doll (and pictures of the doll itself) over here, at The Book View Cafe.

And then! Then there was singing! Because in addition to all the fabulous Tiptree prizes, the Tiptree winner is also serenaded by the entirety of the WisCon attendees, who sing a song based on the book in question. So if you ever wanted six hundred people to sing a song about your novel: win the Tiptree Award.

John Kessel Tiptree Chorus

A picture of the Tiptree chorus from John Kessel’s win a few years ago.
And yes, that’s Ursula K. Le Guin on the far left, and Debbie Notkin standing three people to the right of the podium.

Finally, the ConCom announced the WisCon 37 Guests of Honor…

AND THEY ARE AMAZING!

Jo Walton and Joan Slonczewski.

GAAAAH, Amazing.

You may not have noticed, but I’m a huge fan of Jo Walton’s (she just won the Nebula for her novel Among Others, and I love her Victorian comedy of manners/dragon story pastiche Tooth and Claw). She may (or may not) be my #1 pick for best novel for the Hugos (the only other book in contention for the first place position, in my book, is Mira Grant’s Deadline). She’s also a blogger at Tor.com, and she lives in Montreal (so of course, I must love her).

I do not yet know Joan Slonczewski, but she’s an author/biologist, she sounds amazing and I intend to discover her before next year.
BEST THING. She’s a Quaker, and Quakerism and pacificism feature prominently in her works.
WHY HAVE I NEVER HEARD OF HER? (Shall remedy forthwith)
[One of my best friends is a Quaker, and if I ever abandon my godless agnostic ways, it will be to become a Quaker. I love them]

***

And this, my friends, was the end of my third day at WisCon. My friend Myriad and I had a moment where we discussed WisCon gossip (specifically Moonfail and RaceFail), and then I went home… and slept.

I shall finish my Con report in my next post, which will recap my final two panels (“Are men and women really different” and “Whitewashing and De-Gaying in YA”), volunteering at the artshow, and the WisCon postmortem. I’ll probably have some final general thoughts about WisCon… so stay tuned! (I can almost swear that the post will not be as long as this one! Provisional promise!)

In the meantime… ASSVENGERS UNITE! (and go recall Scott Walker)

Related Posts:

What Happens at WisCon stays at Wiscon (Friday and Saturday recap)

A Disoriented Con Reporter at Large (Thursday Recap)

My WisCon 36 Schedule

How Power Rangers Made Me a Feminist


What happens at WisCon stays at WisCon. Or not.

Yes, I know that’s the worst title in the history of forever.

Actually, there are probably worst titles in the history of FOREVER. But this one’s definitely in the top ten. Or fifteen.

Anyways! Back to the point. This, my friends, is part two of my epic quest to chronicle WisCon 36. Part one is back HERE.

In this edition, I’m covering the events of Friday the 26th and Saturday the 27th. you’ll read about (among others) my massive paper-related freakout(s), the joy of “Chicks Dig Comics” and a reading by one of my favorite authors, N.K. Jemisin. There will be bonus appearances by The Other Cat and My Awesome Brother.

I should add that this is a very long post. A very, very long post. I am recapping two super-full days of an incredible convention, and I am a verbose writer at the best of times. So get thee a snack and a coffee (or some booze (unless you’re under 18 in Canada/Europe or under 21 in the USA)) and sit back. Relax. Prepare to experience the Secret Feminist Cabal.

Space Babe Tiptree WisCon 36

The Space Babe demands MORE CON REPORTS!

FRIDAY

Friday (during the day) I was freaking out. Not surprising, given that I was presenting a paper on Saturday. And that the paper was (naturally) not done. I tend to write my papers out long-hand before typing them up, so my living room was covered with loose-leaf paper, academic textbooks and post-its. My poor mother walked in and had a freakout of her own, which is understandable, since you couldn’t see the floor of the room at all anymore.

Which leads me to wonder what kind of stupid, asinine idiot would turn in a paper proposal to a Con where she was hoping to have FUN?

Oh, right. That idiot would be me.

Moving on.

I skipped The Gathering and the First Timers dinner to keep working on the paper. This turned out to be a terrible idea because by this point, I was freaking out so much that I wasn’t actually getting any work done. Here was the scene:

C.D.  paces through the house, muttering incoherently about monstrosity

C.D. has a EUREKA moment and writes down a brilliant idea on a piece of paper

C.D. resumes pacing through the house

C.D. then realizes she’s lost her paper. The one with the brilliant idea.

C.D. freaks out and starts looking for the paper

Thirty minutes later, C.D. realizes that finding the paper is a lost cause

She decides to remember the idea instead

C.D. paces through the house, muttering incoherently about monstrosity

And… so on. You get the idea.

I then decided that the only way to “solve” this paper was to barricade myself in my room until 3:45 the next day, when I had to present it. Because obviously the way to break my freakout cycle was to…keep doing exactly the same thing I’d been doing for the past three days.

Right.

No.

Even I, in my massively mind-warped state, knew this was a terrible idea. So I threw all my work material in my backpack, jumped on my bike and headed to the Con just in time to catch the opening ceremonies.

Well, after fixing my chain, which fell off my bike while I was crossing a heavily trafficked street. Seriously, what was it about this weekend and the bike problems? I disapprove!

Opening Ceremonies

With ease, efficiency and class, I stopped by the registration desk, grabbed my nametag and the program, and found a seat in the ballroom.

[My definition of "ease, efficiency and class," by the way, is: "covered in bike grease, exhausted and so stressed out that eyelids are twitching maniacally"]

Opening Ceremonies at WisCon are perhaps not the most exciting of all times compared with the rest of the Con, but it was lovely to just bask in the glow of the various con-goers. People are just so darn happy to be there.

Plus, there’s something very relaxing (for me) about watching other people be effective. They have the madness under control. Therefore I too can, perhaps, have the madness under control. I felt my stessed-out nerves melting into a nice, warm puddle of goo as the many hardworking administrators gave critical announcements – a callout for volunteers, a reminder to use microphones, a warning not to take photos without consent (seriously: do not take photos of people at WisCon without asking. This is a good skill to practice in the rest of your life – but at WisCon especially. If you don’t understand why, ask anyone at the Con. Heck, ask me. I wasn’t even there, and I know why), a reminder about the meaning of blue tape (access!) etc.

There were two standout moments in the ceremony for me:

The first began when the  wonderful Ellen Klages impersonated WisCon founding mother Karen Joy Fowler (if you’re not a Sci-Fi fan, you know Karen Joy Fowler as the author of The Jane Austen Book Club, if you are a Sci-Fi Fan, you know her as the author of Sarah Canary and the Nebula-winning short story “What I Didn’t See”). Ellen Klages is possibly the funniest person I’ve ever met in real life (I mean, we haven’t met per se, but we’ve been in the same room at the same time. Totally counts). She and Karen Joy Fowler look and sound absolutely nothing alike, which explains why most of the con-goers dissolved into laughter when Ellen finally revealed her “true identity.”

I should warn Karen Joy Fowler (who absolutely does not read this blog, but that’s not the point) that after Ellen told us Karen were missing WisCon (*sad face*), she said: “Karen is very apologetic and I want all of you to make her pay for it next year.”

Just. You know. Fair warning. Particularly since I’m sure Ellen Klages can come up with very inventive methods of revenge.

Anyways. Ellen was impersonating Karen Joy Fowler for a very good reason: to present Tiptree Winner Andrea Hairston with her Tiptree tiara. Now, usually the Tiptree Winner gets their tiara during the Tiptree ceremony on Sunday. But because Andrea Hairston was also this year’s Guest of Honor – an unprecedented event – the ConCom had decided that she, exceptionally, would get to wear the Tiara the entire weekend.

Least you fail to understand what a big deal this is, let me present the Tiara:

Tiptree Award Tiara WisCon

Exactly.

You see my point. Myriad, who was at WisCon for the first time, decided that, based on the strength of the Tiara alone, one of her life goal was to win the Tiptree Award. Can’t blame her.
I tried to find a picture of Andrea Hairston with the Tiara, by the way, but was sadly incapable. I leave you instead with images of previous winners Geoff Ryman and Catherynne Valente, so you can see how good the Tiara looks on Real Life People.

Catherynne Valente Tiptree Winner Tiara

Catherynne Valente

Geoff Ryman Tiptree Winner Tiara

Geoff Ryman

And Andrea Hairston got to wear the Tiara starting Friday night! Let us all be deeply jealous.

The other crucial Opening Ceremony moment was that Myriad and I met in real life for the first time in… four years? Five?
Whatever. It had been a REALLY long time. Now that I think about it, Myriad and I had very few Real Life Interactions prior to WisCon. Although we went to high school together, we were never in the same classes. Although we were in a writing group together, the writing group was online(well, she was the fearless leader of the writing group, and I was one of the people who kept emailing her asking for extensions and then turning in 20,000 word “short stories” (yes, my problems with brevity started young)). Although we were both in the same theater group, we were never in the same plays… you get the idea. So yeah, this WisCon was one of the first time we spent Real Life Time together. And as it turns out, we (not surprisingly) had a lot to talk about. If you were at WisCon, you probably saw us at some point, because we kept having long discussions about [Power rangers/Digimon/Tamora Pierce/Rape/Sherri Tepper/Sci-Fi Gossip/Insert Other Subject Here]. We usually had these conversations in random places where other people were congregating (like the ConSuite, or in front of the Dessert Salon). So yeah. You probably saw us. And, er, we probably got in your way. Sorry!

[Myriad and I also kept having really hilarious run-ins, because although we never made plans to meet up during the convention, we consistently ended up at the same panels. Great minds think alike!]

Chicks Dig Comics! (panel)

I probably should have gone home to work at this point, but I desperately wanted to go to at least one panel, and I desperately wanted it to be this one. So, forsaking all good thought…I went.

But there was a reason to my madness. You see, when I was young, I watched the X-men and Batman TV series, with the predictable result that I became obsessed with superheroes. You say the word X-men near me and you won’t be able to shut me up for a year. If you’re lucky.
I also read lots of comics. But they weren’t American comics. I read french Bandes Dessinees. I read the European comic W.I.T.C.H. I read Manga. I read Sailor Moon.

Yoko Tsuno Roger Leloup

One of my childhood heroines (not to mention my first exposure to Science Fiction) – Yoko Tsuno

And then, when I was around fifteen, I tried reading American comics.  I’ll be honest, I didn’t try very hard, and I probably tried in the wrong places – but I had a lot of bad experiences with superhero comics, particularly with the rather rampant sexism. And so I stopped trying.

But I’ve decided to get back into comics. I just love them too much to stop. I must. Have. Superheroes.

And in the spirit of getting back into comics… I went to the Chicks Dig Comics panel (which is based on the book of the same name).

And the panelists had booze. They did not give us the booze. But they had booze. Thus, they were badass. And awesome.

The panel was made up of women who had essays in Chicks Dig Comics (the book):  Sigrid Ellis (editor of Chicks Dig Comics), Lynne Thomas (other Editor of Chicks Dig Comics, also  and Hugo Winning Editor of Chicks Dig Time Lords), Elizabeth Bear (Very Famous Author of, most recently, The Range of Ghosts), Sarah Monette (Very Famous Author of, most recently, Somewhere Beneath Those Waves) Tara O’Shea (Hugo Winning Editor of Chicks Dig Time Lords), Caroline Pruett (a blogger at Fantastic-Fangirls), Delia Sherman (Very Famous and Now Andre Norton Award Winning Author of The Freedom Maze), Jennifer Margaret Smith (a graduate student in Media and Cultural Studies and a blogger at Fantastic Fangirls) and Tammy Garrison (one of the creators of Torchwood Babiez).

They were all, generally, quite awesome. And rather than attempt to summarize their brilliance, I’m just going to write up some particularly relevant (or hilarious) quotes: (I have given attribution where I remembered to note it down, but in the heat of notetaking, names were lost. Apologies!):

Quotes and Stories from Chicks Dig Comics:

“How many [female comic fans] are there?”
“A Fuckmetric ton.” 

Black Canary Fishnets

Black Canary

Lynne Thomas: “I want to know where Black Canary buys her fishnets. Because those have to be some industrial strength Drag Queen fishnets.”

Lynne Thomas: “Also, Nightwing has a mighty fine ass.”
Tara O’Shea: “As a watcher of Teen Titans, I agree.”

Tammy Garrison: “I used to go to a gay pornshop to get Nightwing comics because it was the only place I could get it.”
Elizabeth Bear: *grabs phone* “I’m tweeting it! I’m tweeting it!” (ah, the technology age)

Delia Sherman: “Walking into a comic book store as a 60 year old woman is still difficult.”

Lynne Thomas shared a telling incident. The panel had planned to throw a Chicks Dig Comics party at WisCon the next night, so Thomas went to Party City in Madison, hoping to get some (female) superhero themed decorations. She was specifically thinking of Black Widow, since the Avengers are out right now, and Black Widow is hot property.

There were none. There were no decorations/napkins/whatev’s with Black Widow on them. There were no female superhero themed decorations/napkins/whatev’s at all. There were TONS of decorations/napkins/whatev’s with male superheros on them. When Lynne Thomas asked why, they told her that she should have called to order early, since she wanted a “specialized item.”

Lynne Thomas: “Not one bloody female superhero”
Tara O’Shea: “Well, there are only 150000 items in the store.”

Lynne Thomas: “They think those items won’t sell. I wanted to tell them: “You know you’re losing a fuck-ton of money, right?””

Captain Marvel Carol Danvers Kelly Sue DeConnick

Captain Marvel. Upcoming. Will be the only female led series at Marvel.

One audience member (who I later found out was Kelly Sue DeConnick, the writer for the upcoming Marvel series Captain Marvel (female superhero! YAY!)) then revealed that according to in-house research at Marvel (and DeConnick works for Marvel, so she would know) the two characters from The Avengers who are testing the best in terms of audience reception are Black Widow and The Hulk.

So yes. They are indeed “losing a fuck-ton of money.”

Oh, and apparently 40% of tickets for The Avengers are being bought by women. But women aren’t interested in superheroes! No duh!

Someone brought up their least favorite topic on internet comic sites – “How do I get my girlfriend into Comics?”

Sigrid Ellis: “Which is like asking “How do I get my girlfriend into TV?”
Lynne Thomas: “Why do you need to ask the internet what your girlfriend will like to read?”
Three panelists, simultaneously: “Have you tried ASKING HER?”

Tara O’Shea : “I have a problem with Catwoman running on rooftops in heels with no bras and Double D breasts -
Elizabeth Bear: “Let’s be honest, those aren’t double D’s. Those are H’s.”

Another panelist talked about her annoyance at comic fans who are mad that Idris Elba – a black man – was cast as Heimdall in Thor. “They say “He’s not norse.” And I say “They’re freaking aliens, you idiots.””

Proving that this was indeed a feminist convention, Lynne Thomas said: “Two things: Alison Bechdel.” and EVERYONE, including the audience, said: ‘YES”

[If you don't know who Alison Bechdel is, get thee to Google Fu!]

It was all-in-all, an exhilarating, funny panel full of eloquent and passionate speakers. I have more thoughts about it, which I will save for my recap of the Women in Comics panel… (which is later in this post. Yes, there’s more. My posts never end. They NEVER END)

I shall leave my last words to the great Elizabeth Bear, who, contemplating the lack of questions from the audience, said: “We’ve stunned you with our eloquence and our booze.”

Yes. Yes they did. (although I, sadly, was never given any of the booze)

The All-Nighter of Dooooooom:

After the Chicks Dig Comics panel, I hopped on my bike, hightailed it back to the Mansion of Misericorde (ie: home) and…

pulled an all-nighter.

A very efficient all-nighter, I should add. Unlike in the afternoon, when I was pacing around and freaking out, here, I put on Daft Punk (the best writing music) and powered through my draft and a full edit in under eight hours. Which is quite fast for me.

The object lesson here is: when one has entered into a giant cycle of freaking out, break the cycle by getting out of the house. ideally, you would go to a Feminist Sci-Fi conference, but when that’s not available… take a walk? Go to a bookstore? Etc? Because then you will work better.

[Let us note that I will promptly forget this lesson for my next paper...]

Space babe Tiptree Award WisCon

The Space Babe approves of All-Nighters

I probably would have been working even better if the Other Cat had not insisted I pet her every three seconds, but we can’t have everything.The Other Cat, by the way, is not The Cat, who lives in my home in College. This is The Other Cat, who lives in my… Madison Home. The Other Cat really loves when someone is up at three in the morning, because then someone is up to pet her.

And we all know that my primary purpose in life is to pet cats [for what other reason were humans put on the earth, after all?]

The Other Cat was morally opposed to me taking a nap, but I insisted, and so managed to sleep for about two hours before the start of the convention. Which was good: I would need all my fortitude to face the events of Saturday.

Because on Saturday… my Brother was coming to the convention with me.

Dun. Dun. Duuuuuunnnnn.

As per our usual, it took us a good half hour longer than expected to get out the door, mostly because my brother was glued to his book (Blackout by Mira Grant). And also because we discovered that our printer was out of ink… so my paper was unreadable.

Hem.

But we arrived with grace and charm (i.e: peeved and annoyed) at the convention, and headed straight to a panel on Women in Comics (are you sensing a theme?)

Women in Comics

This panel was obviously quite similar to Chicks Dig Comics, but it had a focus on more recent events – it was about what the past year had brought for women in comics (including female characters and creators). It also had different panelists – although Tara O’Shea was on both panels, here she was joined by Jessica Plummer (the president of Girl-Wonder.Org), Susan Simensky Bietila (a specialist in independent and alternative comics), Kelly Sue DeConnick (the aforementioned writer for the forthcoming comic Captain Marvel) and Monica Midbon ( a comics and science fiction fan).

It was also filled with a lot of, er, industry gossip, which panel-goers were specifically asked not to tweet or write about. So I have lots of really interesting industry info that I… can’t write about (I know! I am stunning you with my eloquence).

But! There are lots of things I can talk about!

There was a lot – a whole lot – of ranting about the D.C. reboot. And most of the ranting centered around the de-wheelchairing of Barbara Gordon. Barbara Gordon was once Batgirl, but then she was shot and disabled and became a badass crime fighter/computer hacker called “Oracle.” She was one of the most popular handicapped characters of all times. And for the reboot… DC gave her back her legs. Which… how they didn’t anticipate the backlash it would get is beyond me (particularly since it meant getting rid of the very popular batgirl, Stephanie Brown). They didn’t think taking an icon of the handicapped community and fixing her spine  was going to cause backlash?
Trust me. The women in both the Chicks Dig Comics and Women in Comics panels had over a year to get over it. They are not over it.

Oracle Barbara Gordon Batgirl

Barbara Gordon/Oracle

Jessica Plummer summed up her feelings on the situation by saying: “You can corner me at WisCon at any time and I will get angry. I will get very angry.”

Moving beyond Batgirl, Kelly Sue DeConnick confirmed that she was one of the female writers D.C. talked to when planning their reboot. D.C. has widely been criticized for having three female writers and a hundred and fifty seven male ones, so it’s good to know that they at least talked to other women, even if they didn’t hire them (or the women themselves weren’t interested). This, by the way, is not me letting DC off the hook: you should be able to do better than 3%.

DeConnick also argued that the best way to get more women writers in the field was through mentorship. But, as she pointed out, the current mainstream comic book system demands such quick turnaround that it doesn’t support breaking anyone new in, which means only the old guard – (mostly) white men – are trained to write. In other words: if we want more women in comics, we have to train them, and right now, no one has time to train them.

Susan Bietila thought that independent comic books had far more gender equity than mainstream comics, and then apologized (because we’d been complaining so beautifully about misogyny in comics before). To which Jessica Plummer responded. “You’re right. That’s such a disappointing answer. “There’s no sexism.” God! I hate it when that happens!”

There were other rather hilarious moments, like when Kelly Sue DeConnick explained why it was difficult for her to criticize comics writers. She pointed out that she knew one of them, and he was a good guy: “well, maybe he’s a bad guy. He’s  not an entirely bad guy… because he likes me. Which proves that he’s a man of taste and breeding.”

Or when Tara O’Shea joked that we should stop talking about Black Widow: “We should save this for the Women in Superhero Films panel… which took place last night.”

Jessica Plummer on censorship: “I’m an American! I demand my right to filth.”

And one panelist described a comic book as “Batman’s Mary Sue Fanfic about himself.”

Finally, Kelly Sue DeConnick had the line of the morning when she talked (again) about creating a space for women in comic books: “I still don’t understand how you support professional women by asking them to do volunteer work. I think you support professional women by getting them jobs and paying them.”

I have to say, Kelly Sue DeConnick was brilliant throughout WisCon, and I intend to follow all her future work. I am also officially following Jessica Plummer’s work because she was hilarious and bright and very incisive. Oh, and also Tara O’Shea and Lynne Thomas, both of whom proved why they (and Sigrid Ellis) have managed to make the Chicks Dig… series such a success.

Going back to the big picture: what struck me the most about both the Chicks Dig Comics panel and the Women in Comics panel was how much love and passion all the panelists – and most of the audience – had for the medium. People were interrupting each other (in the best possible way) and jumping up and down, and finishing each other’s thoughts and cracking jokes, and coming up with example after example of great characters – or horrible business practices. In my notebook I wrote down “So! Much! Passion!’ because it just saturated the room.

And there was also this wonderful group feeling – which is something that you get at WisCon more generally, but that I’ve never felt with regards to comics – where I felt like everyone on the panel (and again, in the audience) wanted to have this dialogue, and wanted to make comics better, and, above all other things, just wanted to geek out. Jessica Plummer passed around dozens of comics from her personal collection, Sigrid Ellis brought Lynne Thomas three giant bags of comic books, we all laughed about the crack fanfiction (crack fanfic is the best). I had to tear the X23 comics out of my brother’s hands for fear he would steal them.

One example of this collective spirit was when Kelly Sue DeConnick said she would help anyone who talked to her find stores where they would feel comfortable buying comics:

DeConnick: “”You have the right to a comic book store where you feel welcome. If you email me, I will help you find a comic book store where – “
Jessica Plummer: “Girl Wonder actually has a map of girl-friendly stores.”
Kelly Sue DeConnick: “That sounds great! More people should know about that! Let’s talk later.”

Collective spirit! Working together! Women! Comics! Nerds!

God, I love WisCon.

By the way, I was quite worried that my brother would be bored at panels (he doesn’t really read comics (yet)), but as we were leaving he asked me: “”Do you think that for gay people and women and – other people who are discriminated against – do you think it’s getting better in comic books?”

And then we had a big discussion about it.

So! Not bored.

And also generally being awesome. I do so love my brother.

Finally, I have a couple recommendations from the two comics panels that I’ll pass on to my lone readers (ie: the FBI):

Two non-fiction texts that were recommended were The Ten Cent Plague by David Hajdu and Do the Gods Wear Capes? by Ben Saunders.
Various panelists raved about the TV series Young Justice.
Tara O’Shea also raved about a Catwoman series known as Her Sister’s Keeper (by Mindy Newell)
And everyone recommended Paul Cornell’s new series Saucer Country (which was described as “The West Wing” meets “Roswell”)

Are you still with me? Is anyone still with me? (this is the longest post of all times. Seriously).

Memory, Bones and Forbidden Lands

My brother got to choose the next panel, and he, not surprisingly, choose to go see N.K. Jemisin’s reading.
We’re both huge, HUGE N.K. Jemisin fans (we buy her books the millisecond they come out) and this was the only programming N.K. Jemisin was doing all weekend. So we had to go.

I have to be honest and say that I’m not a readings person. I’d rather read someone’s work to myself than discover them through a verbal reading – I have a lot of trouble following “read” texts – but for N.K. Jemisin, I was willing to make an exception.

Now, I should be clear that N.K. Jemisin was not the only author at the readings – she was joined by Saladin Ahmed (author of The Throne of the Crescent Moon), Ibi Zoboi (reading from a YA novel manuscript), Neesha Meminger (author of Shine, Coconut Moon) and Daniel Jose Older (author of Salsa Nocturna). All the readings were great (hey, even I thought so, and I don’t… like readings). And N.K. Jemisin has the perfect voice for her books, which sounds like the weirdest compliment ever, but which makes total sense to me. Her reading was particularly fantastic – she read from The Shadowed Sun, which just came out – and my brother and I were on the edge of our seats, hoping for spoilers.

My brother also wrote one line of what I presume is a Shadowed Sun fanfiction, starring… me. And him.  I quote the fanfic in it’s entirety
“Reaper” said R. to C.D. “You’re a Reaper.”
Great, my brother thinks I’m someone who likes to steal souls for fun. Wonderful.

The other standout of the reading was Daniel Jose Older, who read his short story “The Collector,” (which will come out in his collection Salsa Nocturna). The protagonist, a paramedic, faces a classic dilemma: what to do when the woman you’re trying to save is causing the apocalypse. (okay, not so classic). It was a darkly humorous, incisive story, and Older’s interpretation of the voice made it even funnier. I will be on the lookout for his fiction ["The Collector" is also available, read by Older, in a podcast here]

Lunch/Freakout (Part Eleventy Billion)

One of the best parts about WisCon is the Con Suite. The Con Suite has food. Free food. Which means that I didn’t have to buy (or prepare) meals at all for the Con.

Yes, it’s hot dogs and chips and cheese and bananas (and bagels. Let’s not forget the bagels), but it’s edible; you can make a full meal out of it, and it makes the Con that much more affordable. I cannot stress enough how wonderful the Con Suite is. If it hadn’t been there, I would not have survived the weekend.

So during the lunch break (WisCon has a long lunch break with no programming, which I also appreciate, or else I would never stop) my brother and I headed to the Con Suite, grabbed some hot dogs and found a spot in the lobby to eat.

And by “eat” I mean “frantically edit my paper.”

My brother was nice enough to put up with my massive freaking-out/editing/practicing reading aloud. [By the way, if you ever have to read a paper for a conference, a word of advice: always. Always. Always practice reading the paper aloud at least once]

Part of the reason my brother was so accommodating of my freakout was because he had Mira Grant’s new novel Blackout with him. The final volume of the Newsflesh trilogy.

Yes. Exactly.

I’m starting to think that Mira Grant should just film my brother reading her books, because it’s perfect advertising. Observe:

Blackout Mira Grant Cover Newsflesh

My brother’s highest recommendation
[Read the other books FIRST]

Brother:”I have butterflies in my stomach. Actual butterflies. I’ve never had that from reading a book before.”
Brother: “Oh my god. Holy shit. How am I ever going to get through this book? It’s like one WTF polar bear after another.”
(WTF Polar Bear being a reference to Lost, of course).
Brother: ‘Oh no. That’s bad. That’s very bad. That’s extremely bad. I don’t want to read on.”

Let us note that every second we weren’t at a panel (or the Tiptree Awards) he was reading the book. He was done with it by the time we left the Con.

So yeah, I think he liked it.

In a moment of good luck, the Hotel actually turned out to have printers of its own (you may remember that our printer ran out of ink), so I was able to get a readable copy of my paper printed out. Hurrah!

Considering the Female Villain

Panelists: Valerie L. Guyant, Richard Chwedyk (Nebula winning writer and poet), Shayla Dunn, Allison Moon (author of Lunatic Fringe, a novel about lesbian werewolves), Rosemary/Sophy

(a lot of the panelists didn’t have bios, and I… took terrible notes. It’s not that I didn’t love them, because this was a fantastic panel!)

Again, a panel chosen by my brother, but one I probably would have chosen for myself as well. I love villains. I love women. Yet I find that so often, female villains fail to be anything other than stereotypes, and worst of all, misogynistic stereotypes. So yes. How can one have a well0rounded female villain? Can one have a feminist depiction of a female villain? Can a female villain actually be a feminist (without being a straw feminist)?

Plus! VILLAINS ARE AWESOME.

That is all.

I took very few notes during this panel, although it convinced me that I need to watch Avatar: the Last Airbender. And it reminded me of what how badass Mrs. Coulter is (from Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy)

I do, however, have some funny/incisive quotes for your edification:

On female villains who repent and kill themselves: “The Lady always has to sacrifice herself… it’s like an episode of Doctor Who.”

Shayla Dunn:“I have lost my thought. If you find a thought around the room, return it to me.”

On the difference between Sexuality and Sexualization (Allison Moon): “Sexuality is something you define for yourself. Sexualization is something that is done to you.”

On the difference between men and women’s stereotypical motivations for being “crazy” and evil: “When a man goes crazy and becomes a villain, it’s because a science experiment went terribly wrong. When a woman goes crazy and becomes a villain, it’s because a man left her.”
I thought of so many examples for this one – all the male villains in the recent Spiderman movies, for example, are “crazy” because a science experiement went wrong. I can’t think of a single female villain for whom the same is true. Thoughts?

A really great panel – and my brother’s personal favorite from his day at the Con. He would like to add that Micah, the protagonist of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar, is a wonderful example of a female villain who gets to define her own motivations and actions (possibly because she’s also the protagonist)

Charlize Theron Snow White and the Huntsman

I have high hopes for the Queen as a Villain

So, the idea, my friends, was that this post would cover ALL of Friday and Saturday. We’re about halfway through Saturday, with my panel and the Tiptree Auction left to go. And I’m already at 5000 words. So… I think I should put the rest of Saturday into the next post, don’t you? Before my faithful readers (such as they are) try to assassinate me in my sleep.

So! Next post! Shall contain: my panel (of doom), the Tiptree Auction (possibly the funniest thing of all times, ever) and the various program items for Sunday… which includes a panel on female contortionists in comic books.

[Space Babe still approves of the Con reports]

Assvengers Avengers

Assvengers, unite!

Related Posts:

A Disoriented Con Reporter At Large: WisCon 36 (Thursday) 

My WisCon Schedule

How Power Rangers made me a Feminist


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