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)
Yes, I know that’s the worst title in the history of forever.
Actually, there are probably worst titles in the history of FOREVER. But this one’s definitely in the top ten. Or fifteen.
Anyways! Back to the point. This, my friends, is part two of my epic quest to chronicle WisCon 36. Part one is back HERE.
In this edition, I’m covering the events of Friday the 26th and Saturday the 27th. you’ll read about (among others) my massive paper-related freakout(s), the joy of “Chicks Dig Comics” and a reading by one of my favorite authors, N.K. Jemisin. There will be bonus appearances by The Other Cat and My Awesome Brother.
I should add that this is a very long post. A very, very long post. I am recapping two super-full days of an incredible convention, and I am a verbose writer at the best of times. So get thee a snack and a coffee (or some booze (unless you’re under 18 in Canada/Europe or under 21 in the USA)) and sit back. Relax. Prepare to experience the Secret Feminist Cabal.
Friday (during the day) I was freaking out. Not surprising, given that I was presenting a paper on Saturday. And that the paper was (naturally) not done. I tend to write my papers out long-hand before typing them up, so my living room was covered with loose-leaf paper, academic textbooks and post-its. My poor mother walked in and had a freakout of her own, which is understandable, since you couldn’t see the floor of the room at all anymore.
Which leads me to wonder what kind of stupid, asinine idiot would turn in a paper proposal to a Con where she was hoping to have FUN?
Oh, right. That idiot would be me.
I skipped The Gathering and the First Timers dinner to keep working on the paper. This turned out to be a terrible idea because by this point, I was freaking out so much that I wasn’t actually getting any work done. Here was the scene:
C.D. paces through the house, muttering incoherently about monstrosity
C.D. has a EUREKA moment and writes down a brilliant idea on a piece of paper
C.D. resumes pacing through the house
C.D. then realizes she’s lost her paper. The one with the brilliant idea.
C.D. freaks out and starts looking for the paper
Thirty minutes later, C.D. realizes that finding the paper is a lost cause
She decides to remember the idea instead
C.D. paces through the house, muttering incoherently about monstrosity
And… so on. You get the idea.
I then decided that the only way to “solve” this paper was to barricade myself in my room until 3:45 the next day, when I had to present it. Because obviously the way to break my freakout cycle was to…keep doing exactly the same thing I’d been doing for the past three days.
Even I, in my massively mind-warped state, knew this was a terrible idea. So I threw all my work material in my backpack, jumped on my bike and headed to the Con just in time to catch the opening ceremonies.
Well, after fixing my chain, which fell off my bike while I was crossing a heavily trafficked street. Seriously, what was it about this weekend and the bike problems? I disapprove!
With ease, efficiency and class, I stopped by the registration desk, grabbed my nametag and the program, and found a seat in the ballroom.
[My definition of “ease, efficiency and class,” by the way, is: “covered in bike grease, exhausted and so stressed out that eyelids are twitching maniacally”]
Opening Ceremonies at WisCon are perhaps not the most exciting of all times compared with the rest of the Con, but it was lovely to just bask in the glow of the various con-goers. People are just so darn happy to be there.
Plus, there’s something very relaxing (for me) about watching other people be effective. They have the madness under control. Therefore I too can, perhaps, have the madness under control. I felt my stessed-out nerves melting into a nice, warm puddle of goo as the many hardworking administrators gave critical announcements – a callout for volunteers, a reminder to use microphones, a warning not to take photos without consent (seriously: do not take photos of people at WisCon without asking. This is a good skill to practice in the rest of your life – but at WisCon especially. If you don’t understand why, ask anyone at the Con. Heck, ask me. I wasn’t even there, and I know why), a reminder about the meaning of blue tape (access!) etc.
There were two standout moments in the ceremony for me:
The first began when the wonderful Ellen Klages impersonated WisCon founding mother Karen Joy Fowler (if you’re not a Sci-Fi fan, you know Karen Joy Fowler as the author of The Jane Austen Book Club, if you are a Sci-Fi Fan, you know her as the author of Sarah Canary and the Nebula-winning short story “What I Didn’t See”). Ellen Klages is possibly the funniest person I’ve ever met in real life (I mean, we haven’t met per se, but we’ve been in the same room at the same time. Totally counts). She and Karen Joy Fowler look and sound absolutely nothing alike, which explains why most of the con-goers dissolved into laughter when Ellen finally revealed her “true identity.”
I should warn Karen Joy Fowler (who absolutely does not read this blog, but that’s not the point) that after Ellen told us Karen were missing WisCon (*sad face*), she said: “Karen is very apologetic and I want all of you to make her pay for it next year.”
Just. You know. Fair warning. Particularly since I’m sure Ellen Klages can come up with very inventive methods of revenge.
Anyways. Ellen was impersonating Karen Joy Fowler for a very good reason: to present Tiptree Winner Andrea Hairston with her Tiptree tiara. Now, usually the Tiptree Winner gets their tiara during the Tiptree ceremony on Sunday. But because Andrea Hairston was also this year’s Guest of Honor – an unprecedented event – the ConCom had decided that she, exceptionally, would get to wear the Tiara the entire weekend.
Least you fail to understand what a big deal this is, let me present the Tiara:
You see my point. Myriad, who was at WisCon for the first time, decided that, based on the strength of the Tiara alone, one of her life goal was to win the Tiptree Award. Can’t blame her.
I tried to find a picture of Andrea Hairston with the Tiara, by the way, but was sadly incapable. I leave you instead with images of previous winners Geoff Ryman and Catherynne Valente, so you can see how good the Tiara looks on Real Life People.
And Andrea Hairston got to wear the Tiara starting Friday night! Let us all be deeply jealous.
The other crucial Opening Ceremony moment was that Myriad and I met in real life for the first time in… four years? Five?
Whatever. It had been a REALLY long time. Now that I think about it, Myriad and I had very few Real Life Interactions prior to WisCon. Although we went to high school together, we were never in the same classes. Although we were in a writing group together, the writing group was online(well, she was the fearless leader of the writing group, and I was one of the people who kept emailing her asking for extensions and then turning in 20,000 word “short stories” (yes, my problems with brevity started young)). Although we were both in the same theater group, we were never in the same plays… you get the idea. So yeah, this WisCon was one of the first time we spent Real Life Time together. And as it turns out, we (not surprisingly) had a lot to talk about. If you were at WisCon, you probably saw us at some point, because we kept having long discussions about [Power rangers/Digimon/Tamora Pierce/Rape/Sherri Tepper/Sci-Fi Gossip/Insert Other Subject Here]. We usually had these conversations in random places where other people were congregating (like the ConSuite, or in front of the Dessert Salon). So yeah. You probably saw us. And, er, we probably got in your way. Sorry!
[Myriad and I also kept having really hilarious run-ins, because although we never made plans to meet up during the convention, we consistently ended up at the same panels. Great minds think alike!]
Chicks Dig Comics! (panel)
I probably should have gone home to work at this point, but I desperately wanted to go to at least one panel, and I desperately wanted it to be this one. So, forsaking all good thought…I went.
But there was a reason to my madness. You see, when I was young, I watched the X-men and Batman TV series, with the predictable result that I became obsessed with superheroes. You say the word X-men near me and you won’t be able to shut me up for a year. If you’re lucky.
I also read lots of comics. But they weren’t American comics. I read french Bandes Dessinees. I read the European comic W.I.T.C.H. I read Manga. I read Sailor Moon.
And then, when I was around fifteen, I tried reading American comics. I’ll be honest, I didn’t try very hard, and I probably tried in the wrong places – but I had a lot of bad experiences with superhero comics, particularly with the rather rampant sexism. And so I stopped trying.
But I’ve decided to get back into comics. I just love them too much to stop. I must. Have. Superheroes.
And in the spirit of getting back into comics… I went to the Chicks Dig Comics panel (which is based on the book of the same name).
And the panelists had booze. They did not give us the booze. But they had booze. Thus, they were badass. And awesome.
The panel was made up of women who had essays in Chicks Dig Comics (the book): Sigrid Ellis (editor of Chicks Dig Comics), Lynne Thomas (other Editor of Chicks Dig Comics, also and Hugo Winning Editor of Chicks Dig Time Lords), Elizabeth Bear (Very Famous Author of, most recently, The Range of Ghosts), Sarah Monette (Very Famous Author of, most recently, Somewhere Beneath Those Waves) Tara O’Shea (Hugo Winning Editor of Chicks Dig Time Lords), Caroline Pruett (a blogger at Fantastic-Fangirls), Delia Sherman (Very Famous and Now Andre Norton Award Winning Author of The Freedom Maze), Jennifer Margaret Smith (a graduate student in Media and Cultural Studies and a blogger at Fantastic Fangirls) and Tammy Garrison (one of the creators of Torchwood Babiez).
They were all, generally, quite awesome. And rather than attempt to summarize their brilliance, I’m just going to write up some particularly relevant (or hilarious) quotes: (I have given attribution where I remembered to note it down, but in the heat of notetaking, names were lost. Apologies!):
Quotes and Stories from Chicks Dig Comics:
“How many [female comic fans] are there?”
“A Fuckmetric ton.”
Lynne Thomas: “I want to know where Black Canary buys her fishnets. Because those have to be some industrial strength Drag Queen fishnets.”
Lynne Thomas: “Also, Nightwing has a mighty fine ass.”
Tara O’Shea: “As a watcher of Teen Titans, I agree.”
Tammy Garrison: “I used to go to a gay pornshop to get Nightwing comics because it was the only place I could get it.”
Elizabeth Bear: *grabs phone* “I’m tweeting it! I’m tweeting it!” (ah, the technology age)
Delia Sherman: “Walking into a comic book store as a 60 year old woman is still difficult.”
Lynne Thomas shared a telling incident. The panel had planned to throw a Chicks Dig Comics party at WisCon the next night, so Thomas went to Party City in Madison, hoping to get some (female) superhero themed decorations. She was specifically thinking of Black Widow, since the Avengers are out right now, and Black Widow is hot property.
There were none. There were no decorations/napkins/whatev’s with Black Widow on them. There were no female superhero themed decorations/napkins/whatev’s at all. There were TONS of decorations/napkins/whatev’s with male superheros on them. When Lynne Thomas asked why, they told her that she should have called to order early, since she wanted a “specialized item.”
Lynne Thomas: “Not one bloody female superhero”
Tara O’Shea: “Well, there are only 150000 items in the store.”
Lynne Thomas: “They think those items won’t sell. I wanted to tell them: “You know you’re losing a fuck-ton of money, right?””
One audience member (who I later found out was Kelly Sue DeConnick, the writer for the upcoming Marvel series Captain Marvel (female superhero! YAY!)) then revealed that according to in-house research at Marvel (and DeConnick works for Marvel, so she would know) the two characters from The Avengers who are testing the best in terms of audience reception are Black Widow and The Hulk.
So yes. They are indeed “losing a fuck-ton of money.”
Oh, and apparently 40% of tickets for The Avengers are being bought by women. But women aren’t interested in superheroes! No duh!
Someone brought up their least favorite topic on internet comic sites – “How do I get my girlfriend into Comics?”
Sigrid Ellis: “Which is like asking “How do I get my girlfriend into TV?”
Lynne Thomas: “Why do you need to ask the internet what your girlfriend will like to read?”
Three panelists, simultaneously: “Have you tried ASKING HER?”
Tara O’Shea : “I have a problem with Catwoman running on rooftops in heels with no bras and Double D breasts –
Elizabeth Bear: “Let’s be honest, those aren’t double D’s. Those are H’s.”
Another panelist talked about her annoyance at comic fans who are mad that Idris Elba – a black man – was cast as Heimdall in Thor. “They say “He’s not norse.” And I say “They’re freaking aliens, you idiots.””
Proving that this was indeed a feminist convention, Lynne Thomas said: “Two things: Alison Bechdel.” and EVERYONE, including the audience, said: ‘YES”
[If you don’t know who Alison Bechdel is, get thee to Google Fu!]
It was all-in-all, an exhilarating, funny panel full of eloquent and passionate speakers. I have more thoughts about it, which I will save for my recap of the Women in Comics panel… (which is later in this post. Yes, there’s more. My posts never end. They NEVER END)
I shall leave my last words to the great Elizabeth Bear, who, contemplating the lack of questions from the audience, said: “We’ve stunned you with our eloquence and our booze.”
Yes. Yes they did. (although I, sadly, was never given any of the booze)
The All-Nighter of Dooooooom:
After the Chicks Dig Comics panel, I hopped on my bike, hightailed it back to the Mansion of Misericorde (ie: home) and…
pulled an all-nighter.
A very efficient all-nighter, I should add. Unlike in the afternoon, when I was pacing around and freaking out, here, I put on Daft Punk (the best writing music) and powered through my draft and a full edit in under eight hours. Which is quite fast for me.
The object lesson here is: when one has entered into a giant cycle of freaking out, break the cycle by getting out of the house. ideally, you would go to a Feminist Sci-Fi conference, but when that’s not available… take a walk? Go to a bookstore? Etc? Because then you will work better.
[Let us note that I will promptly forget this lesson for my next paper…]
I probably would have been working even better if the Other Cat had not insisted I pet her every three seconds, but we can’t have everything.The Other Cat, by the way, is not The Cat, who lives in my home in College. This is The Other Cat, who lives in my… Madison Home. The Other Cat really loves when someone is up at three in the morning, because then someone is up to pet her.
And we all know that my primary purpose in life is to pet cats [for what other reason were humans put on the earth, after all?]
The Other Cat was morally opposed to me taking a nap, but I insisted, and so managed to sleep for about two hours before the start of the convention. Which was good: I would need all my fortitude to face the events of Saturday.
Because on Saturday… my Brother was coming to the convention with me.
Dun. Dun. Duuuuuunnnnn.
As per our usual, it took us a good half hour longer than expected to get out the door, mostly because my brother was glued to his book (Blackout by Mira Grant). And also because we discovered that our printer was out of ink… so my paper was unreadable.
But we arrived with grace and charm (i.e: peeved and annoyed) at the convention, and headed straight to a panel on Women in Comics (are you sensing a theme?)
Women in Comics
This panel was obviously quite similar to Chicks Dig Comics, but it had a focus on more recent events – it was about what the past year had brought for women in comics (including female characters and creators). It also had different panelists – although Tara O’Shea was on both panels, here she was joined by Jessica Plummer (the president of Girl-Wonder.Org), Susan Simensky Bietila (a specialist in independent and alternative comics), Kelly Sue DeConnick (the aforementioned writer for the forthcoming comic Captain Marvel) and Monica Midbon ( a comics and science fiction fan).
It was also filled with a lot of, er, industry gossip, which panel-goers were specifically asked not to tweet or write about. So I have lots of really interesting industry info that I… can’t write about (I know! I am stunning you with my eloquence).
But! There are lots of things I can talk about!
There was a lot – a whole lot – of ranting about the D.C. reboot. And most of the ranting centered around the de-wheelchairing of Barbara Gordon. Barbara Gordon was once Batgirl, but then she was shot and disabled and became a badass crime fighter/computer hacker called “Oracle.” She was one of the most popular handicapped characters of all times. And for the reboot… DC gave her back her legs. Which… how they didn’t anticipate the backlash it would get is beyond me (particularly since it meant getting rid of the very popular batgirl, Stephanie Brown). They didn’t think taking an icon of the handicapped community and fixing her spine was going to cause backlash?
Trust me. The women in both the Chicks Dig Comics and Women in Comics panels had over a year to get over it. They are not over it.
Jessica Plummer summed up her feelings on the situation by saying: “You can corner me at WisCon at any time and I will get angry. I will get very angry.”
Moving beyond Batgirl, Kelly Sue DeConnick confirmed that she was one of the female writers D.C. talked to when planning their reboot. D.C. has widely been criticized for having three female writers and a hundred and fifty seven male ones, so it’s good to know that they at least talked to other women, even if they didn’t hire them (or the women themselves weren’t interested). This, by the way, is not me letting DC off the hook: you should be able to do better than 3%.
DeConnick also argued that the best way to get more women writers in the field was through mentorship. But, as she pointed out, the current mainstream comic book system demands such quick turnaround that it doesn’t support breaking anyone new in, which means only the old guard – (mostly) white men – are trained to write. In other words: if we want more women in comics, we have to train them, and right now, no one has time to train them.
Susan Bietila thought that independent comic books had far more gender equity than mainstream comics, and then apologized (because we’d been complaining so beautifully about misogyny in comics before). To which Jessica Plummer responded. “You’re right. That’s such a disappointing answer. “There’s no sexism.” God! I hate it when that happens!”
There were other rather hilarious moments, like when Kelly Sue DeConnick explained why it was difficult for her to criticize comics writers. She pointed out that she knew one of them, and he was a good guy: “well, maybe he’s a bad guy. He’s not an entirely bad guy… because he likes me. Which proves that he’s a man of taste and breeding.”
Or when Tara O’Shea joked that we should stop talking about Black Widow: “We should save this for the Women in Superhero Films panel… which took place last night.”
Jessica Plummer on censorship: “I’m an American! I demand my right to filth.”
And one panelist described a comic book as “Batman’s Mary Sue Fanfic about himself.”
Finally, Kelly Sue DeConnick had the line of the morning when she talked (again) about creating a space for women in comic books: “I still don’t understand how you support professional women by asking them to do volunteer work. I think you support professional women by getting them jobs and paying them.”
I have to say, Kelly Sue DeConnick was brilliant throughout WisCon, and I intend to follow all her future work. I am also officially following Jessica Plummer’s work because she was hilarious and bright and very incisive. Oh, and also Tara O’Shea and Lynne Thomas, both of whom proved why they (and Sigrid Ellis) have managed to make the Chicks Dig… series such a success.
Going back to the big picture: what struck me the most about both the Chicks Dig Comics panel and the Women in Comics panel was how much love and passion all the panelists – and most of the audience – had for the medium. People were interrupting each other (in the best possible way) and jumping up and down, and finishing each other’s thoughts and cracking jokes, and coming up with example after example of great characters – or horrible business practices. In my notebook I wrote down “So! Much! Passion!’ because it just saturated the room.
And there was also this wonderful group feeling – which is something that you get at WisCon more generally, but that I’ve never felt with regards to comics – where I felt like everyone on the panel (and again, in the audience) wanted to have this dialogue, and wanted to make comics better, and, above all other things, just wanted to geek out. Jessica Plummer passed around dozens of comics from her personal collection, Sigrid Ellis brought Lynne Thomas three giant bags of comic books, we all laughed about the crack fanfiction (crack fanfic is the best). I had to tear the X23 comics out of my brother’s hands for fear he would steal them.
One example of this collective spirit was when Kelly Sue DeConnick said she would help anyone who talked to her find stores where they would feel comfortable buying comics:
DeConnick: “”You have the right to a comic book store where you feel welcome. If you email me, I will help you find a comic book store where – ”
Jessica Plummer: “Girl Wonder actually has a map of girl-friendly stores.”
Kelly Sue DeConnick: “That sounds great! More people should know about that! Let’s talk later.”
Collective spirit! Working together! Women! Comics! Nerds!
God, I love WisCon.
By the way, I was quite worried that my brother would be bored at panels (he doesn’t really read comics (yet)), but as we were leaving he asked me: “”Do you think that for gay people and women and – other people who are discriminated against – do you think it’s getting better in comic books?”
And then we had a big discussion about it.
So! Not bored.
And also generally being awesome. I do so love my brother.
Finally, I have a couple recommendations from the two comics panels that I’ll pass on to my lone readers (ie: the FBI):
Two non-fiction texts that were recommended were The Ten Cent Plague by David Hajdu and Do the Gods Wear Capes? by Ben Saunders.
Various panelists raved about the TV series Young Justice.
Tara O’Shea also raved about a Catwoman series known as Her Sister’s Keeper (by Mindy Newell)
And everyone recommended Paul Cornell’s new series Saucer Country (which was described as “The West Wing” meets “Roswell”)
Are you still with me? Is anyone still with me? (this is the longest post of all times. Seriously).
Memory, Bones and Forbidden Lands
My brother got to choose the next panel, and he, not surprisingly, choose to go see N.K. Jemisin’s reading.
We’re both huge, HUGE N.K. Jemisin fans (we buy her books the millisecond they come out) and this was the only programming N.K. Jemisin was doing all weekend. So we had to go.
I have to be honest and say that I’m not a readings person. I’d rather read someone’s work to myself than discover them through a verbal reading – I have a lot of trouble following “read” texts – but for N.K. Jemisin, I was willing to make an exception.
Now, I should be clear that N.K. Jemisin was not the only author at the readings – she was joined by Saladin Ahmed (author of The Throne of the Crescent Moon), Ibi Zoboi (reading from a YA novel manuscript), Neesha Meminger (author of Shine, Coconut Moon) and Daniel Jose Older (author of Salsa Nocturna). All the readings were great (hey, even I thought so, and I don’t… like readings). And N.K. Jemisin has the perfect voice for her books, which sounds like the weirdest compliment ever, but which makes total sense to me. Her reading was particularly fantastic – she read from The Shadowed Sun, which just came out – and my brother and I were on the edge of our seats, hoping for spoilers.
My brother also wrote one line of what I presume is a Shadowed Sun fanfiction, starring… me. And him. I quote the fanfic in it’s entirety
“Reaper” said R. to C.D. “You’re a Reaper.”
Great, my brother thinks I’m someone who likes to steal souls for fun. Wonderful.
The other standout of the reading was Daniel Jose Older, who read his short story “The Collector,” (which will come out in his collection Salsa Nocturna). The protagonist, a paramedic, faces a classic dilemma: what to do when the woman you’re trying to save is causing the apocalypse. (okay, not so classic). It was a darkly humorous, incisive story, and Older’s interpretation of the voice made it even funnier. I will be on the lookout for his fiction [“The Collector” is also available, read by Older, in a podcast here]
Lunch/Freakout (Part Eleventy Billion)
One of the best parts about WisCon is the Con Suite. The Con Suite has food. Free food. Which means that I didn’t have to buy (or prepare) meals at all for the Con.
Yes, it’s hot dogs and chips and cheese and bananas (and bagels. Let’s not forget the bagels), but it’s edible; you can make a full meal out of it, and it makes the Con that much more affordable. I cannot stress enough how wonderful the Con Suite is. If it hadn’t been there, I would not have survived the weekend.
So during the lunch break (WisCon has a long lunch break with no programming, which I also appreciate, or else I would never stop) my brother and I headed to the Con Suite, grabbed some hot dogs and found a spot in the lobby to eat.
And by “eat” I mean “frantically edit my paper.”
My brother was nice enough to put up with my massive freaking-out/editing/practicing reading aloud. [By the way, if you ever have to read a paper for a conference, a word of advice: always. Always. Always practice reading the paper aloud at least once]
Part of the reason my brother was so accommodating of my freakout was because he had Mira Grant’s new novel Blackout with him. The final volume of the Newsflesh trilogy.
I’m starting to think that Mira Grant should just film my brother reading her books, because it’s perfect advertising. Observe:Brother:”I have butterflies in my stomach. Actual butterflies. I’ve never had that from reading a book before.”
Brother: “Oh my god. Holy shit. How am I ever going to get through this book? It’s like one WTF polar bear after another.”
(WTF Polar Bear being a reference to Lost, of course).
Brother: ‘Oh no. That’s bad. That’s very bad. That’s extremely bad. I don’t want to read on.”
Let us note that every second we weren’t at a panel (or the Tiptree Awards) he was reading the book. He was done with it by the time we left the Con.
So yeah, I think he liked it.
In a moment of good luck, the Hotel actually turned out to have printers of its own (you may remember that our printer ran out of ink), so I was able to get a readable copy of my paper printed out. Hurrah!
Considering the Female Villain
Panelists: Valerie L. Guyant, Richard Chwedyk (Nebula winning writer and poet), Shayla Dunn, Allison Moon (author of Lunatic Fringe, a novel about lesbian werewolves), Rosemary/Sophy
(a lot of the panelists didn’t have bios, and I… took terrible notes. It’s not that I didn’t love them, because this was a fantastic panel!)
Again, a panel chosen by my brother, but one I probably would have chosen for myself as well. I love villains. I love women. Yet I find that so often, female villains fail to be anything other than stereotypes, and worst of all, misogynistic stereotypes. So yes. How can one have a well0rounded female villain? Can one have a feminist depiction of a female villain? Can a female villain actually be a feminist (without being a straw feminist)?
Plus! VILLAINS ARE AWESOME.
That is all.
I took very few notes during this panel, although it convinced me that I need to watch Avatar: the Last Airbender. And it reminded me of what how badass Mrs. Coulter is (from Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy)
I do, however, have some funny/incisive quotes for your edification:
On female villains who repent and kill themselves: “The Lady always has to sacrifice herself… it’s like an episode of Doctor Who.”
Shayla Dunn:“I have lost my thought. If you find a thought around the room, return it to me.”
On the difference between Sexuality and Sexualization (Allison Moon): “Sexuality is something you define for yourself. Sexualization is something that is done to you.”
On the difference between men and women’s stereotypical motivations for being “crazy” and evil: “When a man goes crazy and becomes a villain, it’s because a science experiment went terribly wrong. When a woman goes crazy and becomes a villain, it’s because a man left her.”
I thought of so many examples for this one – all the male villains in the recent Spiderman movies, for example, are “crazy” because a science experiement went wrong. I can’t think of a single female villain for whom the same is true. Thoughts?
A really great panel – and my brother’s personal favorite from his day at the Con. He would like to add that Micah, the protagonist of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar, is a wonderful example of a female villain who gets to define her own motivations and actions (possibly because she’s also the protagonist)
So, the idea, my friends, was that this post would cover ALL of Friday and Saturday. We’re about halfway through Saturday, with my panel and the Tiptree Auction left to go. And I’m already at 5000 words. So… I think I should put the rest of Saturday into the next post, don’t you? Before my faithful readers (such as they are) try to assassinate me in my sleep.
So! Next post! Shall contain: my panel (of doom), the Tiptree Auction (possibly the funniest thing of all times, ever) and the various program items for Sunday… which includes a panel on female contortionists in comic books.
[Space Babe still approves of the Con reports]
So, it’s been a bit silent on the blog front this past week. I know. I am a bad person. But in my defense, I was at WisCon 36.
What is WisCon, you ask?
I believe I will let Andrea Hairston, writer/professor/drama queen and one of WisCon 36’s Guests of Honor, say it for me:
“WisCon is my/our home planet
A moment in great time
Where we dream and scheme, sing and shout
Unravel our torment
Renew our sense of wonder
Burst into the future”
(Impolitic by Andrea Hairston and Debbie Notkin, Aqueduct Press, pg. 3)
If that’s too esoteric for you, I’ll try again. WisCon is a now-36-year-old Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. There are parties. There are readings. There are panels where people talk about women in comics and racial diversity and de-gaying and privilege and social justice and the Hunger Games and X-Men and the Power Rangers and Buffy the freakin’ Vampire Slayer. As you can no doubt tell, WisCon is full of awesome. It is also the home of the DAMN TIPTREE AWARD.
The DAMN TIPTREE AWARD, also known as the James Tiptree Jr. Award, is an award given to a work of speculative fiction that best expands or explores our understanding of gender. It was created by Pat Murphy and Karen Joy Fowler at WisCon in 1991. It’s the most badass of all badass awards. Trust me. It’s been won by DAMN fine authors like Gwyneth Jones, Geoff Ryman, Mary Doria Russell and Maureen McHugh. It was named for James Tiptree Jr., Sci-Fi author extraordinaire, who was eventually revealed to be Alice Sheldon (a woman writing under a man’s name? GASP). If you win it, you get to wear a Tiara.
[You also get a check for a thousand dollars, a piece of original artwork, lots of chocolate, and you are serenaded by the entire WisCon membership]
Like I said: the most Badass of all Badass awards.
I’m a Sci-Fi/Fantasy nerd. I’m also a feminist and a general social justice geek (Have you noticed the blog content? Yes?). So WisCon for me is…indescribably joyful. Your brain explodes with the general brilliance on display. Or, at least, mine does. When I went to WisCon last year for the first time, my reaction was “Where have these people been all my life?” It felt like all the best friends I had never met had just showed up in the same place, and they were all interested in the same things, and they all spoke my language…(let us note that I was too shy to speak to any of my newly found best friends. But they were still my new best friends).
It was rather incredible.
So obviously, I went back this year (WisCon, fortunately, takes place in my hometown, which makes it much easier to get to). And I planned to BLOG from WisCon. Hem. That did not happen. Obviously. Why I believed it would be possible for me to go to the Con for twelve hours a day AND present a paper AND blog at the same time is completely beyond me. Particularly since even my shortest blog posts take two to three hours to write.
Yes, I’m pretty damn delusional, why do you ask?
And then after the con, I was so exhausted that I basically went *SPLAT* on the floor of my bedroom. For three days. And every time I tried to imagine how I was going to fit the enormity of all the con’s awesomeness into a blog post, I started freaking out and just went *SPLAT* on the floor again.
I have a very supportive floor, okay? She and I are very close. She understands my pain.
Actually, you know what? I’m just going to purloin Myriad‘s brilliant analysis of the effects of WisCon:
But I have finally scraped myself off the floor and crawled over to the couch, burning with the desire to write my damn Con report. Because I cannot keep this awesomeness to myself, my friends. It must be shared with the entire world (or my regular readership, otherwise known as the FBI robots who keep the internet safe). For what other purpose have I been put on this earth?
(The Other Cat’s response to this is: “To pet me.”)
Because I would like to avoid going *SPLAT* again anytime soon (I love the floor, but I think she and I need to take a break, if you know what I mean (she’s getting a little clingy…)), I’m going to post my Con report in several parts. The plan is:
Part one: Thursday recap
Part two: Friday and Saturday recap
Part three: Sunday and Monday recap
with a possible
Part four: Conclusions.
YES, it shall be long. But Space-Babe demands it! She thinks that I should leave no detail out, no information un-recorded. The awesomeness of my Con experience, Space Babe proclaims, must be shared with the masses (Space Babe seems unaware that there are no “masses” reading my blog. But at least I’ll keep the FBI and CIA amused!)
By the way, before you ask: Space Babe is the official mascot of the James Tiptree Jr. Award. She flies through the galaxy, fighting injustice, oppression and outdated portrayals of gender roles in speculative fiction. She’s also the fearless leader of the Secret Feminist Cabal (also known as the WisCon membership).
And she’s a BADASS.
So, you know. I do whatever the hell she tells me to do.
Officially, WisCon starts on Friday. Unofficially, it begins on Thursday, when the Guests of Honor give a reading at Madison’s resident feminist bookstore, A Room of One’s Own
I went to the GOH reading last year, and there was no way I was missing it this year. Even if I had a giant paper for the Convention to finish writing.
Because I, like a total idiot, decided to propose a paper for the Academic programming. And then the WisCon programmers accepted the aforesaid paper. To which my reaction was:
“Oh, shoot. I didn’t think that would happen.”
By Thursday, I was freaking the frack out. I had threatened to empty my savings account to run away to the Bahamas (which shows you the extent of my desperation, since I hate the beach). I had already pulled one all-nighter (my mother nearly called the cops when she saw me up at six in the morning). I was frantically re-outlining the second half of the paper while muttering things like “Monsters ugly! Maidens pretty!” and “It’s all about CYBORGS!”
[As you can see, I’m not the brightest Tanning Bulb in the Academic Tanning Bed]
But I was going to go to the GOH reading if it killed me. So I hopped on my bike and proceeded to nearly get run over by a mail truck. Which was fun.
I was also bringing my younger brother (R.) to the GOH reading because he loves A Room of One’s Own and never misses an occasion to go. Also – what else would you do with your younger brother except bring him to a Feminist Sci-Fi fantasy conference?
(You don’t think twelve year old boys would kill to go to WisCon? You need to take some Vitamin DUH, my good sir/ma’am)
Anyways. When I stopped by my father’s house to pick my brother up (divorced parents are a logistical challenge), he was not ready to go. Why, you ask?
He didn’t like the way his pants folded over his shoes.
I’m not kidding. We could not leave the house until the pants problem was solved and I had to spend the next ten minutes reviewing pant options and discussing how to pair pants with shoes to avoid bunching.
As you can see, R. was in the WisCon spirit of defying outdated gender norms. I was very proud.
I was less proud when we arrived at A Room of One’s Own and he tried to make off with the store’s entire stock. Possibly I was annoyed because I was trying to make off with the store’s entire stock myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love my brother. But let’s get our priorities straight, okay? When it comes to books, there is no family loyalty. Particularly when we saw that N.K. Jemisin’s The Shadowed Sun was out.
It’s a minor miracle that R. and I made it to the reading room without either of us emptying our bank accounts. Or offering to do dishes for A Room of One’s Own forever if they let us steal their books. Or killing each other.
The Guests of Honor this year were Debbie Notkin and Andrea Hairston. The Space Babe demands that I give you important background information, so here it is:
Debbie Notkin has been on chair of the WisCon Committee twice, and is the chair of the James Tiptree Jr. Award motherboard. Karen Joy Fowler and Pat Murphy, who initiated the award, have both said that it never would have come off the ground without Debbie Notkin’s tireless work behind the scenes. She’s been a Sci-Fi and Fantasy acquisitions editor for Tor Books and a SF/F bookstore owner.
Debbie Notkin also does body image activist work with photographer Laurie Toby Edison: together, they’ve created two books Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes and Familiar Men: A Book of Nudes. They also run the body image blog Body Impolitic. Some of Notkin and Edison’s favorite posts were reprinted in the book Impolitic! (the Guest of Honor book published for WisCon by Aqueduct Press) and let me tell you, they are brilliant. Simply brilliant.
Here’s a random sampling:
On transgender rights: “The right to live in a body that suits you is surely one of the most basic right a human being can have.”(Impolitic, 122)
On the prevalence of stories about people in wheelchairs who “walk again” on TV: “Our culture desperately tries to believe that if you take care of yourself, you will live a really long time and never get sick. Seeing disabled people makes us afraid that we might not live fit and forever. Wheelchairs and the people in them become the bogeyman, the goblin who will be you if you don’t watch your health. To fight the cultural fear, we build myths about people who “walk again.” (Impolic, 118)
[Start reading Body Impolitic. The Space Babe Commands it.]
I know Debbie Notkin by sight, if not personally, because she’s one of the busiest people at WisCon. I swear, she was everywhere last year – I couldn’t have avoided her if I’d tried. When Ellen Klages was auctioning off a naked photograph of Debbie Notkin this year, she joked: “It shows Debbie naked and asleep. You will never see Debbie like this at WisCon. Naked, yes, but asleep, no. That woman does so much. So for anyone curious: this is what Debbie looks like asleep.”
Since Notkin is not a writer, she decided to read the obituary she wrote for her mother’s funeral. Later, a friend of Notkin remarked how typical it was of her to use the spotlight to talk about someone else rather than herself. Notkin’s reading was lovely and moving and surprisingly funny. I meant to take notes, but was too busy listening.
Con reporter FAIL.
Debbie Notkin was followed by WisCon 36’s other Guest of Honor, Andrea Hairston. Andrea Hairston is the director of Chrysalis Theater and a Professor of theater and Afro-American studies at Smith College. She writes plays that have been produced at Yale Rep, Rites and Reason, the Kennedy Center, StageWest and on Public Radio. She’s received a fuckmetric ton of playwriting and directing awards. In 2011, she received the International Association of the Fantastic in the Art’s Distinguished Scholarship Award. I knew her before WisCon because I read her paper on Octavia Butler (“Octavia Butler: Praise Song to a Prophetic Artist”) when I was preparing an essay for a conference; Hairston is one of those rare breed of people who actually does academic work in speculative fiction (for which I am deeply, deeply grateful).
Her first novel, Mindscape, won the Carl Brandon Parallex Award, and was on the Phillip K. Dick Award shorlist and the James Tiptree Jr. Award shortlist.
Her second novel, Redwood and Wildfire, came out last year and promptly won the James Tiptree Jr. Award for 2011. Which makes Andrea Hairston the first person to ever have won the Tiptree award in the same year she was WisCon’s Guest of Honor. The Tiptree Jury and the ConCom are made up of completely different people, so the confluence of events was not planned AT ALL. Which makes it all the more exciting.
Andrea Hairston was wearing the most amazing purple hat/tiara/thing (I don’t know what it was, but I want it), and she read from Redwood and Wildfire with musical accompaniment by Pan Morigan. Redwood and Wildfire is, among other things, about the role of African American performers on the stage and on-screen at the turn of the 20th century. In the section Hairston read from, Redwood, a hoodoo conjure woman and actress, is playing the part of a “savage” in some kind of Safari adventure movie when the lion the studios have hired for the scene breaks out of her cage. As Hairston announced the title of her book, she said:
“If you like what you hear, buy the book”
And someone from the audience shouted:
“If you don’t like what you hear, buy the book.”
Which had everyone laughing.
But frankly, I don’t know how you could help but like what you heard. Hairston’s reading was wildly engaging – she’s a consummate performer, and she draws the audience into her work. She had us roaring with laughter with the slightest raise of her eyebrow. Even my brother, who is usually quite fidgety, leaned forwards in his seat, rapt with attention. At the end, he turned to me and asked: “Can I read it after you?”
To which I said: “As long as you don’t try to steal it.”
(spoiler alert: he did try to steal it)
We made it out of the bookstore without stealing any books (but it was tempting) and then headed back to our house.
And then my brother’s bike broke just as it started raining. And not in a “we can just put that chain back on” sort of way. In a “the handlebars are now turned completely backwards” sort of way.
However, my brother and I are resilient. Resourceful. Romanesque. Resolute. In the spirit of WisCon and working through things, we walked through the damn storm, discussing science fiction and feminism all the way. My brother graciously let me blather on about my paper, and pretended to find my whole discussion of monsters and maidens fascinating.
After dropping R. off at my father’s house, I biked to my mother’s house (ah, the logistics of divorce) and then spent the rest of the night (and I do mean: The rest of the night) freaking the frack out as I tried to write my darn paper.
But that’s a story for another time.
NEXT TIME! More tales of WisCon and the Secret Feminist Cabal! Specifically: the tale of Friday and Saturday, which involves a lot of me freaking out, the James Tiptree Jr. Award, and a ton of panels about Women in Comics and Female Villains and other awesome things.
The Other Cat will also make an appearance in my Next Post. Because she helped me write the Damn Paper.
First things first: I am now on Twitter. Yes, in fact, I do hate myself, why do you ask?
I mostly got twitter because I’m going to WisCon, and tweeting at WisCon is awesome. But I still hate myself.
My twitter handle, for anyone interested, is @CDisoriented. My twitter name is Cultural Disorient. Apparently, I can’t call myself “Culturally Disoriented” on twitter, because that’s too long a name. Ah, technology.
NOW. Let’s move on to better (and more interesting) things: Power Rangers and Feminism
I talk a lot – and blog a lot – about gender issues in culture. I get some flack for this in various quarters. The two big criticism I hear are:
1. Culture doesn’t really matter. Who cares if there aren’t as many girl heroines as boy heroines in movies?** Why aren’t you trying to get more women elected to congress?
[ETA: “boy heroines” is either a typo OR a subtle comment on the gendered nature of nouns. You decide!]
2. Sexism is over! God. Get over it.
[I should add that I get both of these critiques for ALL the social issues I talk about (Racism in Science Fiction? Why aren’t you trying to get more People of Color Elected instead? OR Racism is over! Get over it.) But since gender issues are where my interest in social justice issues began, I’m starting with that]
So I’ve decided to explain myself. Why am I so interested in gender issues? And why am I so interested in gender issues in culture (as opposed to congress)?
[Spoiler Alert: it was Power Rangers. Yep. Power Rangers]
Your honor, I’d like to start at the beginning.
I’ve always considered myself a feminist. I mean “always” as in: I honestly can’t remember when I started. I do recall conversations as a six year old when I said I was a feminist, so… it’s been a while.
Back then it didn’t seem like a radical, or a political, position at all. Of course I was a feminist. Why wouldn’t you be a feminist? I thought boys and girls were equal. Feminism thought boys and girls should be equal. Therefore, I was a feminist. To me it was a decision in the same ranks as not killing kittens or believing slavery was wrong. Of course you didn’t kill kittens. Of course you thought slavery was wrong. Of course boys and girls were equal. Why were we even talking about this? Someone hand me the box of legos;I had a pyramid to build.
But in any case, the whole thing seemed rather irrelevant. Because boys and girls were equal. I mean, they might not be equal in some far-away places – but they were were equal in the United States (and in France). If you had told me, at seven or eight, that the great passion of my later life would be gender equality, I would have laughed at you. Why would it be? Sexism was over.
[Spoiler alert: it wasn’t]
At least, that’s what I thought.
(I also thought racism was over, so I was pretty innocent. I was, however, aware that homophobia was an issue. I hadn’t, at the time, even considered issues like transphobia, ableism etc.)
Power Rangers changed all that.
Now, what are the Power Rangers? First, if you’re asking this question, you probably don’t have the stain of 90’s cartoons on your soul. The Power Rangers is a ridiculously long-running children’s series/franchise.Five (or six) young people get trained to take down bad guys; they can morph into “power rangers” and pilot giant machines (called Zords) and fight bad guys. There are at least eleventy-billion incarnations of the power rangers (because every three years or so the creators get bored and start over with a new team)*, but it stays remarkably similar across all the series (at least in my memory). There spandex costumes, the terrible fighting and the very weird production values and the general AWESOMENESS.
[Apparently the actual reason they switched the teams up every three years was because that’s how in worked in the Sentai series Power Rangers is based on. Ahem. This is what happens when you don’t do research before writing your blog]
Because Power Rangers was awesome, let’s be clear. When I was young – which, for the purposes of this post, means when I was under the age of ten – I was obsessed. Obsessed. In a slightly unhealthy way.
I mostly blame this on the explosions. There were GREAT explosions. BOOM! SPLAT!
Also, fighting. There was great fighting. I mean, looking at the fighting in retrospect, it was pretty terrible. But for an eight year old? AWESOME.
Here’s a vid, by the way:
BOOM! SPLAT! AWESOME!
But since Power Rangers had, like, ninety bajillion different teams, after a while, I started to notice a trend.
All the Red Rangers were men.
And since the Red Rangers are always
a) the team leaders
b) the main characters
Well, it seemed a little unfair to me. Why were all the team leaders boys? Weren’t girls equal? And while we were at it, why were the pink rangers always girls? Why were there no pink rangers who were boys? Why were there no girls who were green rangers or black rangers? And why were there always fewer girls than boys in the team?
This, of course, particularly bothered me because I wanted to be the red ranger. Clearly. I wanted to be the leader [I was super-bossy when I was a kid]. But no one like me – no girls – were red rangers.
[note: I can only speak to the seasons I have seen. I stopped watching in 2002, and I certainly hadn’t seen all the seasons/series before then. I know there’s been at least ONE female red ranger since then (out of, like, twenty guys)]
It was almost like girls and boys weren’t actually equal – at least not in the Power Rangers.
Now, I was never one to jump to conclusions. Sure, the last eleventy billion teams had all had this weird gender thing. But maybe – maybe – in the next team, they would change things. I was pretty confident about this.
And that’s when Power Rangers: Time Force started.
The second I saw the promos, I got super excited: it looked like the Power Rangers would have a girl leader for the first time. The story seemed to be that the guy leader had died, and so the girl (Jen) had to take over. Which was great. I was all for it!
I was convinced that this would be a true gender switch. That Jen would be red ranger, and that a boy would be the pink ranger. I remember an enthusiastic schoolyard conversation where I talked about how amazing it was that there would be a boy pink ranger.
See? I thought. Girls and boys really are equal! Even in Power Rangers.
[Spoiler Alert: I was wrong]
The day I sat down to watch the show for the first time, I was SUPER EXCITED. Can’t even tell you.
Sadly, the plot I’d gleaned from the promos, was not the actual plot.
Here was the real plot:
In the future, Alex the Red Rangers dies (so far so good). So Jen, his girlfriend, takes over. Except that in order for the Power Rangers to actually be a team, they need a Red Ranger (which is Jen, right? The new red ranger is Jen?). So they go back in time to find Alex’s (male) ancestor, Wesley.
By this point, I was like: ARE YOU KIDDING ME? You have a perfectly competent leader. She is awesome. She can kick ass. WHY ARE YOU GOING BACK IN TIME TO FIND SOMEONE ELSE?
[the answer was something along the lines of “blah blah has to have the same DNA blah blah”]
Okay. So they find Wesley. And he’s the new Red Ranger. And of course, Jen is the pink ranger. BUT. It can still be okay, right? Because Jen’s still the leader, right? Because Wesley has no idea what he’s doing, and he has no training, and he’s a total jerk who thinks he’s better than everyone else, whereas Jen does know what she’s doing, and she does have training, and she’s smart and capable. So she’s the leader. Right?
Despite the fact that Jen was “technically” the leader, Wesley was the leader in the only place it really mattered: in battle. He was the field leader. He was the one whose decisions really mattered. Jen was almost always wrong. Wesley was almost always right.
I was excited about this show because I thought Jen, a girl, would be the protagonist and the team leader. But as it turns out, it was all a massive fake-out. Wesley, the boy, was the protagonist and the team leader.
And that’s when my head exploded, your honor.
I realized that, in the world of the Power Rangers, boys and girls were not equal. I mean, even when a girl was more competent, more knowledgeable, more likeable, more qualified and better trained, the boy was still the boss.
WHAT WAS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?
It wasn’t just an issue of fairness to me. It was personal. It meant that if I ever became a Power Ranger (hey, I was young, okay? It’s good to have lofty goals when you’re young), no matter how hard I worked and how good I was, I would never, ever, ever get to be the team leader.
I was so angry that I never watched another episode.
[As it turned out, I’d made the right decision, since they did exactly the same thing in the next series. The yellow (girl) ranger, was the interim leader, and then when the red (boy) ranger walks out of the jungle, despite the fact that he’s a total rookie, he’s immediately chosen as the team leader]
Of course, I didn’t go straight from “girls and boys are equal” to “I am a warrior for gender equality” in three months. It took a while. But Power Rangers had opened the way. I started seeing gender inequality everywhere, from the other kid’s shows I watched, to the books I read, to the politicians in power.
That’s why I always say Power Rangers turned me into an active feminist. And that’s also a big part of the reason why I’m so obsessed with gender issues in culture.
Because it was in a cultural medium – a TV show – that I realized that sexism still existed
And because that cultural medium had such a massively negative effect on me. It was pretty devastating to think that no matter how smart or good I was, I could never be the leader of a team of superheroes.
So yes. Culture matters. And yes. Sexism still exists.
And if you ever wonder why I spend so much time blogging about social issues in pop culture: blame the Power Rangers. It’s all their fault.
But most importantly. I’ll probably never be a Red Ranger. But I do get to be an even better kind of warrior: A warrior for gender equality. And warrior for social justice (BAAAH, that sounds corny. But I can’t help it. I grew up on a steady diet of Sailor Moon, Xena: Warrior Princess, Batman and Power Rangers. I’ve always wanted to be a warrior. Ah, growing up in the 90’s…]
And that’s something I can do without wearing a weird spandex suit.
One thing I didn’t talk about in this post is the issue of race in Power Rangers. But I really SHOULD mention it. A friend suggested that I look up the uniform colors for the first team of the Power Rangers. I did, and my head nearly exploded.
The black ranger is an African American man, and the yellow ranger is an Asian woman.
I did also notice when I was growing up that all the red Rangers were white men (there have since been non-white red Rangers), and that the pink rangers were almost always white women. I’m sure other people have more insight into this, because the Power Rangers have been going on for so long at this point… but is this still a trend?
[Funny story: The first big thing I did to solve gender inequality was write a letter to 4Kids (the children’s show division of Fox TV) where I explained that Yu-Gi-Oh (the show about the card game) didn’t have any good female characters (because none of the female characters ever won the card games), and giving them a suggestion for a great female character (who could win the card game). Unsurprisingly, they did not take my suggestion to heart]
Uh, first of all: I have a WisCon 36 Schedule? Whose life is this, and why am I living it?
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.
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?
I AM IN NO WAY HYPERVENTILATING ABOUT THIS. I feel fine, why do you ask?
THIS WAS A TERRIBLE IDEA. I have nothing to talk about! I shall be laughed out of the room. GAAAAH. WHY?
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.
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?
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!)
*(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)
First, I would like to apologize to everyone who reads this blog (aka: the CIA and my younger brother) because this post… is very late. For three weeks – three weeks! – I managed to stick to a carefully constructed schedule and put up a post every two or three days. But not this week. And I feel very guilty. In my defense, I had four papers due, so the prospect of writing a blog post – ANY blog post – made me want to curl up in a ball and cry.
But I shall stop being a narcissist now, and get to my March reading list!
(Apparently not being a narcissist involves talking about all the books I read. Obviously, what I really need to read is the dictionary. Hem.)
(Also: I will be a narcissist again at the end of my post. Apologies in Advance (And that’s Alliteration #1).
Yes, in fact, to my great surprise, in March, I read things! I don’t know how I did it, since I was dying of schoolwork, but… books were consumed! By me! Many of them for class!
Discussion of said books follows the giant list.
(note: any book that is starred and in italics is a book I liked enough to recommend).
1. Was by Geoff Ryman **
2. My New York Diary by Julie Doucet
3. Emma by Jane Austen **
4. God’s War by Kameron Hurley **
5. Deathless by Catherynne Valente **
6. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins **
7. Jazz by Toni Morrison
8. Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord **
9. Palestine by Joe Sacco **
10. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
11. Persuasion by Jane Austen**
12. Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts **
As you can probably tell from the excessive italics/stars, March was a fantastic month for books. Which was good, because March was a terrible month for my life, so I needed good literature to keep my faith in humanity alive. Hell, even the books I didn’t like were interesting (I ended up writing an essay about My New York Diaries, which I didn’t enjoy at all, but which I admired quite a bit).
I obviously loved Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord, but I’m not going to talk about it again (because I wrote a giant review).
Unfortunately, The Marriage Plot was the low point of the month. I kept waiting for it to get better, because I Trusted Jeffrey Eugenides To Do Right By Me (he wrote Middlesex, a book I loved), but instead, it kept getting worse. Five days, I spent reading that book. Five Days. And the ending! Let’s not even talk about the ending. Well, actually, let’s (Spoiler Alert). Is it just me, or is it deeply problematic in terms of the gender politics? The woman has no agency in her romantic decisions. Her husband leaves her because that’s the Best Thing For Her. Her best friend decides not to marry her because that’s the Best Thing For Her. He does start a relationship with her, because that’s ALSO the Best Thing For Her. Her parents support the Best Friend because they think he’s the Best Thing for Their Daughter.
(Everyone is so considerate of this poor woman. It fills my heart with joy)
We don’t once hear what the poor woman wants for herself (note that she’s been a viewpoint character, so it’s not like she doesn’t have an opinion in the rest of the narrative). Does she want to n0t-marry her best friend who is now in a relationship with her? I don’t know! And no one seems to care!
What? The Ever-Loving? Frack?
I want to give Jeffrey Eugenides the benefit of the doubt, because I can’t believe the guy who wrote Middlesex was so tone-deaf. I want to believe that he was trying to put forwards these stereotypes in order to question them. I really want to believe that.
But instead, he managed to fail so spectacularly that the novel only ends up reinforcing misogynistic gender sterotypes. Or else he subverted them so subtly that even I didn’t notice, and since I’m pretty damn attuned to gender politics, he must have been VERY subtle.
Let’s move away from the Ugly, shall we? Because there was a hell of a lot of good. I greatly enjoyed Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay – okay, that’s a lie. I didn’t enjoy Mockingjay at all – but it was not a novel made for enjoyment. Unless you enjoy being emotionally tortured. Which I do, sometimes (Deadline, I’m looking at you), but Mockingjay was not that kind of torture. Unlike most of the fans of the Hunger Games trilogy, I thought Mockingjay was a very good ending to the trilogy – and in fact, I think it’s the darkness of the final two books that elevate the trilogy, that make it more than a good YA series and propel it towards greatness. Mockingjay is brutally, unrelentingly honest. Which is not fun. But it is truthful. And I do so admire truthfulness.
I raved about God’s War by Kameron Hurley in my Hugo Nominations post, and two weeks later, I haven’t changed my mind. It’s a sensational novel, in every sense of the word (I’m really overdoing it with the alliteration, aren’t it? Sensational and sense? Really?) It was a deeply uncomfortable read, but again, that was the point. I usually don’t enjoy detective stories (I never managed to like Lauren Beukes’s novel Zoo City in spite of the fantastic worldbuilding, because it was too much about the mystery) but Hurley makes the detective work so much a part of the backstory and the worldbuilding and the character development that it worked. It didn’t feel like “mystery story set in Sci-Fi world”. Which is quite an achievement.
The book was also deservedly nominated for a Nebula for best novel.
I haven’t yet raved about Deathless by Catherynne Valente, but I shall take this opportunity to do so. Catherynne Valente is one of my favorite contemporary writers. You can tell she’s one of my favorite contemporary writers because, when I had the opportunity to meet her at WisCon, I ducked into a stairwell instead (The extent to which I admire an artist is directly related to the extent to which I will avoid meeting them). In my defense, it was a pretty awesome stairwell.
Catherynne Valente’s Deathless is a radical reworking of a Russian folktale about Koschei the deathless and his bride, Marya Morevna. I was not on-board with this plot. Stories about marriages tend to bore me – especially stories about unequal marriages, like the ones between a god-like figure and a human. Yes, yes, those unions can never work, blah-blah, unequal power dynamics, angst, hot boys, angst, blah, blah, etc. Why do we care so much? I don’t know about you, but I’ve just stopped caring at all.
Oh, but Valente will make you care. She made me care. She has an uncanny capacity for getting to the heart of what makes stereotypical stories so damn compelling, and then ripping those tropes apart and sewing them back together them until your mind reels with the wonder of what she’s constructed. By the end of the novel, I cared so much about Koschei and Marya’s marriage that I started to tear up. I can’t explain why. Valente’s work defies the kind of superlative criticism that is within my capacity to write.
I also feel guilty that I didn’t read Deathless in time to nominate it for the Hugos. At least I didn’t have to make a sophie’s choice over which novel to throw out to make room for it. Still.
My final read this month was Tansy Rayner Robert’s novel Power and Majesty. I am planning to write a full review sometime soon, so I won’t say too much. I will say that there was no novel this month that I enjoyed more – I’m having trouble remembering a novel this year that I enjoyed more, in point of fact. I kept smiling during the days I was reading it, and I couldn’t figure out why. I had a giant paper due. I was freaking out. Why the hell was I smiling?
And then I remembered that once the paper was in, I could go back to the world of Aufleur. And Velody. And the smiling made total sense.
Power and Majesty is urban fantasy, technically, although I think it shades into the epic. It takes place in a city with a quite a few similarities to ancient Rome (I have no doubt those similarities are a complete coincidence, especially since Rayner Roberts doesn’t know anything about Rome, what with her PhD in Roman History (Hem)). Velody and her friends have come to Aufleur to make their fortunes as dressmakers, ribbon-makers and flower-arrangers. Unbeknownst to them, they’re also about to get dragged into a world of magic, warfare and gratuitous nudity (which turns out not to be gratuitous at all).
The “random girl discovers she’s actually the key to the success of an epic war” narrative is pretty well-explored in the fantasy genre, but Rayner Roberts manages to make it fresh. I think a lot of her success is due to the contrasts in the story – it’s chugging along, light and frothy and fun, and suddenly you hit an intense, violently emotional moment. And those moments are never the ones I expected to be violently emotional. When Velody negotiates a pact with the people she’s supposed to be leading into battle, for example, it should feel cold and stark and political (particularly since all of those people want to kill her and drink her blood) but instead, it’s so intimate that you feel like a voyeur.
In any case, if you like urban fantasy – or epic fantasy – or hell, if you like fantasy, full stop – you should buy Power and Majesty. I’m so pleased to be able to buy it at all: Rayner Roberts is an Australian writer, and until a few weeks ago, her work was only available in Australia. Which was quite frustrating for me – I am a big fan of Galactic Suburbia (witness my freakout over their Hugo nomination) a podcast Rayner Roberts runs along with her friends Alisa and Alex (the alliteration never ends). Based on the strength of Rayner Roberts’s genre commentary, and the fact that I greatly enjoy urban fantasy, I was pretty sure I would love her fiction – but I couldn’t get my hands on it. So it is to my unending delight that there is now a kindle edition that you can purchase in Canada, the UK and the USA.
Jump. On. It. NOW. Like I said, it’s possibly the most enjoyable book I’ve read all year. Which is high praise – have you seen my booklists? It’s not like I’m not enjoying myself.
And in an attempt to prolong my enjoyment of the book, I will be writing a full review. Soon. After my finals. Okay, so… not soon. But soon. ish.
That’s the end of my (giant) Monthly update on my reading list. I do have some blog-related things to freak out about, so if you feel like indulging me, keep reading.
I will apologize AGAIN, because I need to be super-self-indulgent and talk about the fact that, as it turns out, people who aren’t the CIA and my younger brother have actually read this blog.
Apparently, if you write a post about a super-topical topic (the Hugo Awards! Also: “topical topic?” Why can’t I stop with the alliteration)
And you link to other people who have written about said super-topical topic (“said super topical topic” = double alliteration!)
THEN people will read what you wrote. Specifically: people who you wrote ABOUT in your super-topical post will read what you wrote. And then they’ll write to you and say nice things. Or they’ll link back to you.
All this leads to the events of this morning, when I checked my (blog-related) email in the middle of my class (I realize I am a bad person and going to the special circle of hell reserved for child molesters and people who talk at the theater).
And started grinning like an idiot.
You know, I am fully aware of the fact that it’s weird for me to be surprised because the POINT of blogging is for people to find your blog and read it. But it’s still a shock for me. And I don’t know how to deal with it. I literally keep checking my email to see if the email in question is still there (I’m convinced it’s a hallucination).
And then I keep trying to formulate a response. And fail.
As I mentioned, I usually duck into broom closets when my favorite authors come near me. What am I supposed to do when they read my blog? Or link back to me? Is there an internet broom closet? Or stairwell? (not that I’m unhappy to have gotten the email or the link. See: grinning like an idiot in the middle of class).
Anyways. This is the end of me being self-indulgent. Thank you for…indulging.
(someday, I will learn not to be a narcissist. Today is not this day).
Since I so often complain about the lack of race and gender diversity in literary awards, best-of lists, reviews etc… I will be examining my own reading habits for race and gender biases. I may add more biases as the year goes on. Because it’s interesting. And because I think I should live my life according to the principals I tell others to espouse. I mean, I don’t mind being a hypocrite, but if I can avoid it..
So. In March, I read 12 books.
3 by women
9 by men
2 by authors of color
10 by white authors
(This is the statistic that bothers me the most, honestly – I make a conscious effort to read more books by women, and I should be making a much bigger effort to read more books by people of color. I’m working on it.)