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]

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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


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


My Wiscon 36 Schedule

Uh, first of all: I have a WisCon 36 Schedule? Whose life is this, and why am I living it?

WisCon 28 poster

WisCon, for the uninitiated, is the world’s foremost feminist science fiction convention. It’s taken place every year in Madison, Wisconsin, for the past 36 years. It’s home to the James Tiptree Jr. Award: an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.* It’s got incredible, political, in-depth programming about feminism, race, gender, class, genre, fanfiction, sexuality and writing (among others). It’s got hilarious and fun events like the annual James Tiptree Jr. auction, and the parties (the parties are amazing). It’s now an international convention, with people coming in from all around the world to celebrate being part of the feminist science fiction community.

This year the guests of honor are Andrea Hairston and Debbie Notkin. Andrea Hairston is also this year’s Tiptree Award winner (a first!) for her novel Redwood and Wildfire. If you live in Madison, or in the Madison area: drop everything and go. It is that awesome. Trust me.

WisCon union poster

Now, here’s the thing about WisCon .I am a feminist. I am also a huge science fiction fan. So you would think that WisCon would be the perfect place for me, right?

So why didn’t I know about it until last year?

And even worst – I live in Madison! It’s my hometown!

Oh, situational irony.

But it does not matter. For I came to WisCon 35; I saw WisCon 35; I, er…well, I’m not sure I conquered WisCon 35, but… let’s just say it was a life-changing experience. My first night, I was having dinner with a group of lovely people when someone mentioned I was sitting next to Geoff Ryman, a Tiptree Award (and now Nebula Award) winning author. I nearly choked on my soup. (by the way, Geoff Ryman, in addition to being an incredible writer, is also a very funny and kind human being). I discovered writers like James Tiptree Jr., Karen Joy Fowler, Nisi Shawl, Nnedi Okorafor and Nalo Hopkinson. I spent the entire weekend feeling awed and overwhelmed and overjoyed to have finally found people who were as wonderfully obsessed as I was with feminism and with science fiction.

So yes. I’m going back. And this time… I’m on the programming.

Okay, one programming item. But still. I’m terrified.

Saturday from 4:00 to 5:15, I will be giving a paper about Catherynne Valente’s duology The Orphan’s Tales. I have in every way finished writing said paper, and thus have nothing to worry about.

(and that was a tangled web of lies)

This is my first paper I’m presenting outside of my University setting, so, you know. No pressure. Also, I’m an undergrad. So why am I giving a paper?

Oh, god.

I AM IN NO WAY HYPERVENTILATING ABOUT THIS. I feel fine, why do you ask?

Oh god.

THIS WAS A TERRIBLE IDEA. I have nothing to talk about! I shall be laughed out of the room. GAAAAH. WHY?

Annie Scream community GIF

This is me right now. Except less restrained.

I’m starting to think I have an evil twin that just submits abstracts to things without my permission. There’s no other explanation for why I keep finding myself in this situation.

And it’s only Sunday, people! You can come here every day to witness more of my freakouts. Because they will be legion.

I may as well throw myself off a bridge now…

Ahem. If I manage to survive the paper, however, I intend to spend the rest of the convention running around to all the cool panels (this will involve breaking the space/time continuum because all the cool panels happen at the same time. I’ll figure something out) and avoiding the legions of famous authors who always show up at WisCon. As everyone knows, famous people scare me. Last year, I threw myself in a stairwell to avoid meeting Catherynne Valente at WisCon. I also ducked in a bathroom once when Nisi Shawl came my way (they both seem like lovely people. Trust me: I’m the problem). I’ll also run around to the cool parties. And the other cool things.

pink balloons

SQUEE, parties!

I’ll be there all day, every day, from Thursday evening to Monday morning, grinning like an idiot. It will be awesome (except for the paper. WHAT WAS I THINKING?)

I will also be blogging from WisCon, so my apologies, but there will be many posts next weekend, and they will all be along the lines of “OH MY GOD, BEST PANEL EVER *FREAKING OUT*”

And my brother’s coming with me (at least for part of the time) this year. Because he heard about the awesomeness of the feminist science fiction convention, and now he wants to be there too. Can you blame him? He’s threatened to drag me to the genderfloompf party (where there is gender bending), which I find patently unfair, because he can just steal one of our stepsister’s dresses, but I have to come up with an entire male-outfit ensemble from scratch. Anyone have a tux I can borrow?

How I met your mother suit up barney

Already pressing my suits.

Anyways! If you are planning on going to WisCon, and you want to meet up (or say hi), drop me a line. Well, not literally, because I’m not sure what that would entail. But you know what I mean. Or if you just want to say hi, I’ll be the girl grinning like an idiot (I realize that’s not too specific. Okay, how’s this: I also wear glasses!)

So excited!

*(the inside joke about the James Tiptree Jr award is that it’s founders wanted to have an award named after a woman (since all sci-fi awards were named for men) – so they named it after James Tiptree Jr. Because James Tiptree Jr. is the pseudonym of Alice B. Sheldon)