Continuum 9: Contraindicators

This weekend I was at Continuum 9 and it was awesome, to be brief. To be far less brief though…

I had the wonderful opportunity to be on a bunch of panels about some of my favourite things, including Genderbending (obviously!) but also fandom/fanfic, reboots and retcons, female action heroes (Fighting Like a Girl) and craft + SF + gender. I had a ball – I love Melbourne anyway, it includes some of my very favourite people, but the con itself was lovely too.

I mostly wanted to collect together some of my thoughts about the experience. Things like: prep is very important before a panel and that means together, not just on your own!, and water is even more important than that. But also my observations on the talky bits.

  • I love how aware most fan were about gender and social justice. I enjoyed the panel on social justice (feat. Liz, Steph and NK Jemisin) but even on my genderbending panel, and a lot of others, the question-commentary from the audience was really really aware of gender issues and had some very interesting questions and observations.
  • I think it’s a really conflict-heavy idea so I know it doesn’t always have its place at something like Continuum, but there tended to be a whole lot of Geek Social Fallacy, No True Scotsman and red rose glasses in some of the discussions. For me it came up particularly in the fanfic panel – 50 Shades of Reinterpretation – in that there was this sense that geekdom and fandom are super welcoming. Unless you’re a female gamer, or you’re involved in shipwars, or like certain characters/writers/actors. Or you won’t shut up about gender, or race, or class (particularly since Jemisin had been very thorough in her explanation of how writers of colour are/were discouraged from SFF). I understand why it happens, that we want to downplay/ignore those aspects in order to be positive and welcoming, but I think it’s dangerous because it does reinforce the barriers and boundaries by pretending they aren’t there. It’s an irritating line to walk so I’m not entirely sold on how I feel about it all, but there are enormous barriers to participation in fandom and some of them are about fandom itself.
  • Nora Jemisin’s speech was fucking amazeballs. Really really brilliant. Just read it.
  • The Fighting Like a Girl panel rocked as a panellist and I hope it rocked for those people in the audience too. I’m kicking myself because I forgot to mention Pratchett and The Witches (hat tip there to the woman I spoke to after the panel who reminded me, and put me on to Ursula Vernon’s Digger). There was so much to keep saying in that panel about women, about women and violence, and about what we consider action. I felt kind of unsettled by my segue into rape in the armed forces but I do think it’s again a bit of bland positivity to not address it at all. So I’m sorry for that dip into darkness but we recovered with our discussions about children’s action heroes (Susan/Ginormica FTW! – I think ‘kids SF’ is an excellent panel for 2014). For me personally though, it’s somewhat of a revelation to realise that Kerrigan, Cordelia Naismith and Granny Weatherwax are some of my all time favourite female action heroes and none of them have a classic arc and none are a classic action heroine (Kerrigan is probably closest but her arc ends up neither sacrificing herself as the tainted mother figure ala Ripley, nor returned to human – she is part alien, she is the Heart of the Swarm and that is what she will be, fuck your categories). I particularly like competent ruthlessness tempered with strong sense of place/family/duty, I think.

    Kerrigan from the Starcraft wikia

  • Genderbending was excellent and I loved getting the chance to talk to people (and if you want to talk to me I’m not technically doing interviews/research yet since ethics and approvals but I certainly love to talk gender and presentation in media and would love to interview anyone who has anything they want to say on the subject once I’m at that stage) but again, I bloody well forgot Pratchett AND I didn’t even touch on Mrs Hudson in Elementary. It’s become increasingly clear to me that I need to include trans*genderbends (…I know) and I didn’t even mention it! Rachel’s cosplay was amazing – both that day and the night before (T9 on the panel). And obviously Hespa’s the night before as well. I think it’s such an interesting subject, even with the fraught bits (“I’m not slut-shaming the short skirts, I’m grandma-level worried about grazing during a fight and that you’ll get cold” led to my casting as the grandma of a superhero group in Liz’s comic-yet-to-be-made). I think my general thesis on a lot of the visual genderbending is that when practicality/adherence to canon is compromised in order to perform femininity, it starts becoming problematic. Like Liz said, genderbent!Tony is going to be flirtatious and is going to perform femininity the same was Tony performs masculinity and that will be apparent when she is being Tony Stark – but not in the workshop, and not as Iron Man) (ponytail out the top of the helmet!). And her comment on Rachel’s positively AMAZING genderbent!Kaylee find rang true too – a female character as earthy as Kaylee is portrayed, and as practical, is probably going to have an enormous beard, as both ease of grooming and as a secondary sexual characteristic (note: I am adamantly pro-beard and as such am biased).

via Fashionably Geek and I would dearly love to know who the cosplayer is.

  • I thought it was interesting that the three of us often came across the same cosplayers/cosplays as interesting – Slave Leo was one where both Liz and I, possibly revealing something about ourselves, thought that Leo was not nearly as sexualised as Leia, and needed a shorter kilt, to have it lower slung (we had words about hotpants – again, I’m pro, but apparently…) – it is an incredibly well thought out cosplay, and his meta-analysis is great, but there are gender performance notions at play that are difficult to genderbend. For example, genderbent!Tifa is going to be buff, but why are his shorts past his knees while hers are tiny? Why is there either an ignorance of sexualised costume choices (shorts are shorts are shorts even though there is a very clear difference between cargo shorts to the knee and the shorter shorts that are available to women) or a misunderstanding of female sexual desire and it’s interaction with performance of masculinity. My point with Slave Leo was also that since the majority of actors shave/wax their chest for roles (even ones you assume would be hairy) that are sexualised/shirtless – and that women deforest a much larger estate than that – the Slave Leo with a hairy chest is out of place (regardless of my own preferences in the area!) as a sexualised character. The interrelation between sexualisation of the male form with the impracticality inherent in sexualising women often intersects with sexuality – hotpants are read as ‘gay’ rather than sexually desireable to women and the aversion is about fear of homosexuality not just sexualisation. Like I said, SO many thinky crunchy thoughts being shared around the room.
  • The Lurker panel was also amazing. I slightly identify as a lurker, in that any fanworks I produce are mostly hidden under several layers of pseudonyms and I don’t participate a hell of a lot in person. This was my first con! But it was very interesting contrasting the experiences of the panellists with the idea that fandom is welcoming because almost all of them said they refuse to participate in fandom in certain ways because of the acts/ideals of fandom. So it’s clearly not that welcoming. But there were also lots of other lovely crunchy discussions about mental health and fandom, and also the idea of outing oneself as fannish – I obviously have because it’s impossible to do a PhD and never tell anyone what you’re doing it on – but also about where the lines are between fans and fandom. There’s enormous amounts written on that idea but the thing that became most clear to me after this panel was that the nascent idea of both my supervisors, D and M, that lurkers be included in any research I do, is correct. Lurkers contribute socially to fandom as a hobby but also as an emotional base (OMG FEELS). They often buy things (secret cosplay! Miss Piggy badges!) but their participation is in the emotional and the social sphere and difficult to quantify.
  • I am never ever going to forgive Liz for The Vid Show because this should have been in my life forever and also blue.
  • I met some really fantastic and amazing people while I was there and it was a really great experience, and something I recommend strongly to fans but absolutely to academics because there’s nothing like a panel to get you really thinking about your research, and nothing like the experience to make you think about your process. It’s been very valuable in that respect because I am thinking around the edges of my process, of my research, and just how I approach the sociological aspect of my research.
  • I’m so annoyed that I missed the evolving sex/gender panel, that sounded like it was going to be incredible.

Other notes:

  • The kinda-genderbent very early ‘lady detective’ story I mentioned to a few people was The Diary of Ann Rodway by Wilkie Collins (1856) – I highly recommend it and many thanks to my supervisor D for mentioning it. Solving crime using specifically designated ‘women’s knowledge’!
  • Liz is the best.
  • The excellent musical reboots I mentioned were part of Metafilter’s OK Computer challenge and can be found here.
  • Murderhobos is a most excellent RPG term, not my own term! Also I sang no folk songs. If you want a crash course in RPG stuff hit up rpg.net
  • This was the inspiration for my costume at the Maskobalo – alas, no photos apart from a selfie that didn’t catch the costume, just the makeup.

 

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Interesting readings around the place

Here’s some of the interesting commentary I’ve been reading about fandom, feminism and gender.

euclase encapsulates, fairly neatly, why I find fandom so incredible and such a wonderful place to be and to study.

I wish the brilliance was louder than the insanity or hate or wank or anything else. I wish that, when people talked about fangirls and fandom, they didn’t have to explain or give excuses, or laugh, or roll their eyes, or feel awkward, or be forewarned. Because this the smartest, most exciting, most passionate creative engine I know of.

The Skyler White Effect is very interesting in terms of genderbending characters – particularly squiddishly’s assertion that Walt’s character arc is very much a gendered one.

Walter’s motivation is his resentment that he hasn’t received his due as a middle-class white man, whereas woman are socialised to expect a life of under-appreciation and unfulfilled potential.  Wallis White wouldn’t be happy about it, but she’d accept help from her wealthy ex.

These two musings about female characters dovetailed neatly with the research – Summer of Supervillainy’s complaints that female characters rarely have the depth and the freedom male characters do and aiffe’s apology to every female character for the fandom itself. Both are astute, and have excellent points (particularly SoS’s “I want to feel heroic. I don’t want to have to chew through a crunchy candy coating of sexism to get to the part where she saves the day.” and aiffe’s “But part of it…I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t this horrible, deep-seated idea that men have more personhood than women do. Men in fiction get to be people.“) but it is the juxtaposition of the two that is more interesting to me* and the way that de-canonising the ‘hate’ so to speak brings it right back to the canon’s faults in providing female characters of note but also our own reaction, as a fandom, to that. Not to mention the compassion fatigue of just not wanting to dredge through the junk portrayals of women in media. Except there is SO much that isn’t junky, so much that is interesting and well-done and not a dredge through sexism that to say ‘well, it’s easier to read about men’ seems self-defeating even as it’s self-protecting.

I am always interested in this research as well, about how women’s voices are perceived and how that relates to the objectively observed.

And of course, the incomparable Elementary, not just content with a genderbent Watson has brought us a genderbent** Mrs/Ms Hudson. The fan reactions have been an absolute treat to read.

I so want this Mary Poppins adaptation too.

*This was interesting too: 

Rule 63ing characters can be an interesting perspective-building exercise, and I recommend doing it for situations where you’re having a lot of trouble wrapping your head around the dynamics, but it is not an acceptable substitute for loving female characters. If you can only love and care about female characters when they’re 63’d men, you’re doing something wrong.

 And apt for one of the more ridiculous Rule 63 fics I’m considering including in my thesis.

 

My first article

(maybe)

 

I’m in the process of writing my first (academic) essay in years, to submit to a journal. It’s nervewracking to say the least. The writing comes smoothly enough; the years outside the tower have been spent steeped in fiction and meta and mummy blogging so that aspect comes easier than the other.

The structure, the argot, the practiced sentences. My university (thankfully) offers a few starter courses within the PhD program and I’ve been running hill and dale to get to them (including one memorable 5 hour stint on public transport to get Bunbun to the coast, then driving four the next day to bring her home, all for my induction) and they have proven invaluable. The performative aspects, the internal references, are slowly slowly coming back to me. Slowly enough that I’m doubting my decision to write this article.

Yet, ditching out now (when I ditched out on a few last year, because I ‘wasn’t enrolled yet’) seems ultimately self-defeating. To not act, when I have the chance, all for fear? Why am I even here if that’s the case, if that’s going to be my choice?  So I keep slogging, keep pushing. Move the words around, pull out themes from the morass, rewrite, delete, rewrite again, find another theme, a better one, and do it all again. Eagerly read Pat Thompson’s series on academic writing and rewrite yet again.

And be incredibly grateful for these past ten years spent deep in a culture that is devoted to beta-reading, to editing, to rewriting and re-reading and pulling out the themes. Fandom, particularly fanfic, has a deep-seated inability to let things lie; not when a simple comment can point out an error and you can correct it, easily (I mean, there are obvious outliers, but that’s the general sequence). As much as the practical aspects of the PhD are beginning to make me wince at how much time I spend organising* how I’m going to get to a two hour confirmation seminar, a three hour tutorial, and hour long lunch on three separate days and none of them are kindy days, this part? The reading, the writing, the researching? I feel like I’ve been in training the past ten years.

*Bluemilk, as always, is rather on point, from her posts about inequity and accessing education (I am still battling that upbringing that meant I didn’t even know what a PhD was until I graduated my undergrad, and still, even now, fights against being characterised as ‘doing nothing’ and ‘welfare cheat’) (note: I don’t actually even get welfare beyond what I would be getting as a stay-at-home-parent, apart from the government paying for my PhD) to her excruciating points on relationships and the work therein, particularly for feminist women. In other words, you need to read her shit.

Unexpected expected things

Shannon Larratt has hit his dead-man switch.

If I hadn’t stumbled over BME in the mid-to-late nineties, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wonder how many other people are the same. I’d probably still be tattooed, still be socially aware, but I wouldn’t have had that crucial exposure to body modification, spirituality, self-determination, transhumanism, body dysmorphia or cultural traditions. An exposure that shaped so much about me, not just emotionally/personally, but had informed my academic processes, my social awareness and my politics at a really fundamental level.

To quote Marisa, over at Needles & Sins:

“Shannon had faith in people, especially people for whom society treated with little respect.”

I am grateful that some of his faith flowed into me.

I realised today that I’ve ‘known’ Larratt longer than my partner, my best friends. I say ‘known’ because as incredibly open as he was, as generous and informative as he was, we couldn’t have shared more than a few emails back and forth more than a decade ago. But his writings informed so much of my approach to life that I feel totally bereft.

We truly have lost an amazing person, a writer, a thinker, an activist in so much more than just the body mod scene.

Vale Shannon.

The Enforced Idleness of Public Transport (and Poverty)

I leave the house at 7:50am. I walk for 30 minutes with a three-year old, up and down hills, sometimes with a footpath, sometimes through grass knee high for me, waist high or higher for her. It’s that or the road. We choose the grass, for all that it soaks through our shoes and pants, and we sometimes trip in unseen holes. Better than run over.

At 8:25 I drop her at kindy. We have time today, so I can chat with the staff, make sure she’s settled (Monday I didn’t, and for the first time in a month and a half of drop offs by me and her aunt, she cried after I left). A quick goodbye and I’m back walking up the road by 8:35/8:40. My bus, at the top of this steep hill, leaves at 8:51. Supposedly. It has never been on time. Today I waited until 9:05 for the bus to come. I can’t rely on it being late though; it leaves once an hour in the morning and if I miss it I have another half hour walk to a different route. So I wait, unable to read lest I not signal the bus to stop (because even though it is the only bus servicing this stop, I may well be reading while leaning on the pole for fun) (this stop does not have a seat, or a shelter, which is somewhat problematic for me carrying my laptop and assorted gear in what is rapidly becoming Brisbane’s wet season). I wait, listening to music, furtively checking twitter, or instagram, or facebook. The things that I can drop at a moment’s notice.

The bus route itself winds and grinds and bumps. It is a suburban route, so it winds through the backroads, speed bumps and traffic calming devices abound. I’m writing today, to see if it works. I am afraid I will be engrossed and miss my stop however. Again, I must signal my intention to leave the bus.

I reach my transit station at 9:25. I have missed one of the connections so I wait for the second. I finally hit my campus at 9:40. Another 5 minute walk to the lab, chatting with my ex-supervisor/current head of research. I sit, and get myself settled now. Lunch unpacked, maybe a coffee or a tea (nope, just water because I haven’t brought any milk with me to make said tea). Wonder once more exactly how one prints wirelessly and get told IT won’t help me with my laptop, only with uni property. In direct contrast to the advice on their website, but I give up for today and start to read, taking notes on index cards and Cornell paper printed at home.

I left the house at 7:50 and start work around 9:50. Two hours in transit (with about 30 minutes of that simply waiting around) for a journey that would be less than 30 minutes if I had a car. A car we cannot really afford, not right now, not with insurance, rego, fuel, parking and assorted costs. And I do it all again this afternoon, leaving my desk at 1:30, getting home at 2:00 to dump my ridiculously heavy bag off, then walking to kindy (only 30 minutes on my own!) and back again (close to an hour with a post-kindy three year old walking mostly up hill). My legs hurt, my feet hurt, but dinner needs to be made, laundry needs to be done, discussions had with the three year old. The books and notes get dumped and I slide right into the domestic sphere again. I haven’t managed to tear myself out of that routine yet.

It’s my first week and I am half way through and fucking exhausted already. And it is nothing to do with the work itself (which is delightful! And interesting! And I’m already slightly riled at completely unexamined and deeply sexist footnotes that disappear women from the subject being examined!) but simply the logistics of getting to and from where I need to be.

Balance and Outsiderness

This week I finalised my paperwork at the university and Bunbun’s kindergarten; at both places I felt like an outsider, excruciatingly so. At the university I was surrounded by eager undergrads and seasoned staff while I towed my three year old behind me getting lost in the construction mandated detours; I was ably assisted by an extremely nice professor though, and the admin staff were very helpful too so the outsiderness did not weigh on me so much.

At the kindergarten it was less so; class based outsiderness is difficult to overcome. Student status is very much linked with low socio-economic status (mostly for the short term but it isn’t like we’re in this for the big money) and it was painfully obvious how different my family is. One car, so we will walk to kindy. Healthcare card. No private schooling. No outside classes.

But I have innumerable privileges. I’ve spent much of the last week organising repairs to our house rather than studying – but we own a house. We own a car too. I am at home with my daughter, a privilege not open to all families (for all the sacrifices we made). It means I have so far been interrupted in my morning’s readings for morning tea, toileting, to create a pair of felt socks, to comment on the felt creations and to clean up the mess from those things. All to the soundtrack of either Madagascar or Bunbun’s version of The Sound of Music. But I am at home, with my brief moments to study, between the jobs of parenting and being the person on the ground at home.

In other words, I’ve fallen behind on the ‘article a day’ already…

getting ready

I’m slowly ramping up to this endeavour. Bunbun starts her academic journey in two weeks. I have two months before I begin my next stage. I have a new and shiny laptop (one that neither burns me, nor sounds like a lawnmower), a handy SLQ card to access J-stor and a burgeoning list of articles to read. I’ve got a convention to attend (Continuum 9!) back in my beloved Melbourne and an increasingly tight budget suggesting that I may need to get a part-time job after all.

I’ve set myself a goal of an article a day over the next two months. One article, Cornell notes, nothing more. That should get me started at least. Right?