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:
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.
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)
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.
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!
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.
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]
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.”
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?”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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…)
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]
Oh, and let’s all remember the Dr. Pepper 10 advertisement, where the tagline was “It’s not for women”
(excuse me for a second, I need to bang my head against a brick wall)
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!”
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.
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.
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
Kevin Bolk then came up with the “assvengers”
(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.
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.”
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.
Finally, the ConCom announced the WisCon 37 Guests of Honor…
AND THEY ARE AMAZING!
Jo Walton and Joan Slonczewski.
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)
First: my computer is fixed! At great personal cost (I had to fight seven dragons and save seventy handsome princes(ess)), but it is fixed. Hurrah! I now have over eight hundred unread emails (and that’s in my primary inbox – I can’t even look at the other one). Less hurrah!
So now that my computer is fixed, I shall attempt to get back onto a regular blog-schedule. I.E: More than once a week.
(Don’t get too excited, interwebs! Wouldn’t want anyone fainting! (and by “anyone,” I mean my favorite regular readers: the CIA. Keep protecting the world, gentlepeoples!))
Second: Politics are culture, right? Kind of? Well, they are now, because I’m going to talk about them! I was going to stuff these tidbits in other posts, but then I realized… my posts are already the length of a short Tolstoy novel. Adding my political freakouts will not help that situation.
Anyways! Politics! Why am I talking about them instead of talking about American Idol or the Hunger Games?
In the past week (week-and-a-half), both countries that count me as a citizen have done me a solid by taking major steps down the path of Progressivism (Alliteration!). And I am EXCITED, because usually, the news out of all my countries of citizenship and residence is less than good. For example, my current state of residence… is having issues. Issues like “women don’t care about money like men do”. We also may re-elect the Arch-Douche of Jackassery* (i.e.: Scott Walker), a fact that fills me with joy (not). But none of this matters now! Because France and the USA have, for once, done Good Things!
And yes, I am coming out of the progressive closet. I know this may be a shock to my regular readers. Apologies, apologies.
Country #1: Socialism and Sarkozy (ie: France)
For the first time in OVER FIFTEEN YEARS (yes, fifteen years) France has a Socialist President. *insert massive freakout here*
Most of my readers are American (according to wordpress stats) so I’m going to clear this one up: in France, the Socialist party is the (main) leftist party. It’s our “center-left” party. They’re like France’s Democrats (except much, much, much more liberal). And yes, we call them Socialists and it’s not an insult. France also has an official communist party! And there are some Trotskyists and Marxists running around. It’s okay! I promise! We’re not all living in communist gulags. We’re not crushed under the weight of an oppressive bureaucracy. We eat fine, sleep fine, and we have universal health care and nearly universal pre-K… and no one has exploded yet. Incredible, I know.
Our current president is Nicholas Sarkozy, a center-right gentlemen who enjoys pandering to the far-far-right section of French society. Or, as I like to call the far right: the anti-immigrant, anti-muslim, racist, sexist, homophobic wing of French society (hey, every country has their problems *cough* Tea Party *cough*). Sarkozy is the President who decreed that public schools must teach children the good effects of French colonialism (at least they got to eat baguette while we were taking over their countries, am I right? Right?). He’s proposed stripping foreign-born French citizens of their citizenship if they commit certain crimes. He’s been (correctly) accused of nepotism. He also made a horrifically racist and ignorant speech in Dakar a few years ago. I’m… not a fan.
[Although to be fair, Sarkozy doesn’t believe in laissez-faire capitalism, and he has been at the forefront of fighting against climate change. In the United States, he’d probably be a democrat. A liberal democrat. Which says more about America’s political system than it does about Sarkozy]
I ended up watching the results live by total accident – my mother and I went into a coffeeshop in Quebec to get a snack, and the French election was on the restaurant’s TV on mute. Now France, unlike the USA, does these things in a civilized manner: they have a countdown and tell you the results all at once. Countdowns are great if you want to get the results over with… and less good for people like me, who have absolutely no nerves to speak of.
Mom: Francois Holland [the Socialist candidate] looks unhappy. He must have the results. Bad sign.
Me: Oh no. Oh no. I can’t believe it. I thought we were finally rid of Sarkozy. Can’t ONE country I live in have some good news? One out of three! That’s all I ask for.
Mom: Yeah, he looks really unhappy. And the people around the Bastille are pretty glum…
Me: I can’t watch. I can’t watch. I can’t watch.
Mom: Calm down. Oh, look, there’s Holland’s ex-partner, Segolene Royale. Well, she looks happy. That’s a bad sign too.
Me: I can’t watch. I can’t watch. I’m going to take a walk.
Me: *run around neighborhood*
Mom: It’s over! Holland won!
And then me and my mother were all:
The couple sitting next to us thought we were pretty hilarious.
We followed our high-five up with a massive freakout after realizing there hadn’t been a Socialist president of France since 1995. I remember growing up in Paris (wow, that sounds pretentious – in my defense, I actually did grow up in Paris) watching massive demonstrations in the street, with people shouting: “Chirac, t’es foutu! Tout Paris est dans la rue!”
(Chirac, you’re screwed! All of Paris is in the Street! (it’s more poetic in French, trust me))
President Chirac was Sarkozy’s predecessor (and another French conservative). Francois Holland’s election thus represents the first time a Socialist has entered the Elysee in my personal memory. It’s a big deal for me, is all I’m saying. So can you blame me and my mother if we walked home like this:
No. You can’t.
That was HURRAH Political News update #1.
Country #2: Gays and the Glory
But then! Just as I re-entered the USA (my other country of citizenship)… President Obama endorsed Same-Sex Marriage!
ON THE EVE OF THE NATIONAL FREAKIN’ ELECTION!
…I can’t even.
A sitting US President endorsed gay marriage. A sitting – Holy mother of –
I mean, yes, I know. It wasn’t enough. Obama very explicitly said that he would leave the decision to legalize Gay Marriage up to the states which… no. Not. Okay. As someone from a state that has banned gay marriage at the polls… No. No, no, no. Absolutely not.
[To quote someone whose name I can’t remember: The vote of the majority should never determine the rights of the minority]**
But still. Obama endorsed gay marriage. He is the first American president to ever say that same-sex couples should enjoy the same rights as opposite-sex couples (great for me, since I may be able to marry the Russian bride of my dreams).
Is it sad that he’s the first American president to do it?
But is it a meaningless gesture? Absolutely not. For the first time, the President of the United States said that citizens’ rights should not be predicated on their sexuality. He said, implicitly, that gay couples are no different or less important than straight couples. That they deserve the same recognition and status in society as straight couples. And yes, that does mean something.
There’s a lot to do yet; Obama has a lot of actions to take. But I can’t be mad at him for taking that first step. I honestly thought it would take another two or three presidents to get there. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the news.
I also think it took real courage to do it right before the national election, because the Gay Rights issue has often been used as a “swing” issue to defeat Democrats.
The election could get very ugly, very quickly.
But this? This is the good fight, and I, for one, will fight it with him.
As the great CJ Cregg once said:
And that’s all for “Good News in the Political Sphere”! I shall return shortly with more posts… but probably not political ones.
Any other good political news I should know about?
*All credit for the name “Archedouche of Jackassery” goes to my friend RB, who comes up with The Best in Insults.
** Do you know who said it? Because I seriously can’t remember.
***This post was particularly hard to write because my brother spent his time reading it over my shoulder and demanding explanations… or commenting on the book he’s reading (which is Liar by Justine Larbalestier). Perfect work environment!
(and now my brother is punching the book yelling “What? What? I HATE YOU!” He’s discovering the joys of unreliable narrators…)