A Weekend In Nerd Paradise

Well, it’s been a while, but I’m finally up and posting again. I’ve been crazy sick for a while now, and today I was finally out of bed again. Hooray for that. Anyways, over Labor Day weekend, I went to Atlanta, GA, for my annual pilgrimage to the geek mecca that is Dragon*Con. Dragon*Con is one of the largest conventions on the East Coast, and I’d argue that we have the most fun. There’s drinking, parties, concerts, incredible programming, and just a whole lot of ridiculous good times to be had.

I attended several amazing panels this year, and as much as I’d love to write a post on each one, I know that I won’t, so I’m going to try to fit my entire D*C rundown into one post. We’ll see how that goes.

Comics in Education: I attended a great panel on Friday in the Dragon*Con Academics track. This panel discussed the use of comics in the classroom. I was so excited about this panel, and while the panelists had a lot of good stuff to say, I was a little disappointed by how they seemed to focus exclusively on college-level classroom use. There was a great discussion about how students can best annotate pages of graphic novels, because that is a significant concern. Bringing images into a normally text-centric classroom definitely requires a different approach. However, in the case of many of us in the audience, we’re coming from the perspective of public high school classrooms, which means that students do not have their own copies of texts, and we cannot rationally ask them to obtain them. So, we have to consider how we can get our students to take effective notes and how much we can supplement with photocopies and handouts. Regardless, there was great discussion going on in the panel (which I regrettably had to leave early due to an obligation to be at a photoshoot), and I can’t wait to see what the track comes up with next year. I’m hoping to get some continued discussion going on through the internet between now and then.

Comics, Gender, and the Body: Another gem from the Dragon*Con Academics track. That has to be my new favorite track, and I’m really hoping to submit when they put forth the call for proposals for next year. Anyways, this panel was just phenomenal. One of the presenters discussed the gendering of superpowers, another discussed why the Invisible Woman is invisible. The discussion that followed was just amazing as well, and we ended up getting kicked out of the room so that the next panel could fill in. What a great panel experience! I’m hoping to look at some of this a little bit more in depth in my “Superwomen, vampires, and cyborgs” class this semester.

Battlestar Galactica: I went to one of the several BSG cast panels during the weekend. They were all amazing (I watched many of them when they were re-broadcast on the Con TV station), and the one I attended was just exceptional. There were brilliant questions about gender, politics, and religion, and the cast was intelligent and fun. One of the most interesting moments, though, was when someone brought up a moment in Season 4 when Chief kills Tori. Aaron Douglas, who plays Chief, commented on how everyone always flips out about that and he gets criticized for celebrating violence against women. First off, I don’t feel that’s accurate–the motivation behind the murder is revenge for Tori having killed his wife. The violent act was performed against a woman, but it wasn’t motivated by her being a woman; it was motivated by his desire to get revenge for his wife’s murder. It was irrelevant whether Tori was male or female. There were several instances of gendered violence, however, and those were almost always portrayed in a very negative light. I’m actually a huge fan of how Galactica portrays gender and gender relations. It’s far from perfect, but I also think that was part of the point; they make the point over and over throughout the series how flawed humanity is and how much we need to improve, and I often see evidence that issues of gender is one of those improvements they want us to look at. I’m hugely biased in all this, though, as I’m such as BSG fangirl and I hope to someday write a dissertation on the show. Anyways, after Aaron Douglas brought that up, Edward James Olmos, aka Admiral Adama, mentioned that any time we portray any violence on TV, we are in effect elevating and glamorizing/celebrating it, and that’s something we should always keep in mind. Brilliant. Such a fantastic panel!

Plus there was an adorable public proposal that was just too cute. 🙂

Anyways, this year’s Con was just huge.  There was also a college football game going on in Atlanta and tons of football fans decided to crash the D*C party. So this year there was an exceptionally high rate of women having problems with unwanted attentions, and some women even had to resort to physical retaliation to get men off of them. I myself had some experiences that really surprised me, as D*C is generally very much a safe space–we’re one big family of geeks and we’re good to each other. For the most part, the “problem people” were not wearing con badges.

So, the really cool thing that’s happening because of this is some grassroots activism. On assorted D*C related forums, people are talking about it. Someone printed up a ton of ribbons to attach to con badges that are brightly colored and say “back up!” so that next year, women can attach those to their badges to indicate to other people that if they’re having problems with inappropriate behavior, they can signal a back up badge person and they’ll come over to help. People have been writing (very polite, considerate) letters to Dragon*Con staff and the host hotels, and people have been writing back. There’s been a huge push of awareness, support within the community, and responsiveness on the part of the “powers that be.”

It’s really inspiring. I’m so happy to be part of a community that is so caring and active. This year’s Con was great, and I know next year’s will be even better. I can’t wait to wear my ribbon with pride and hopefully present at the Dragon*Con Academics track. Power to the geeky people!

Ed. Note: I’ll probably post a lot more about D*C in the coming weeks as I recover from being sick, so please accept my apologies for this poorly written post, but sometimes you just gotta go with what you’ve got!

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09/14/2010. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. 4 comments.

Chocolate, shoes, and the spinster dilemma.

So, for those of you who live under rocks (like me), you should probably know–that silly comic strip, Cathy, is ending. October 3rd is the big day.

The announcement got posted over at the Post Punk Kitchen forums, where lively discussion began. Cathy certainly seems to induce reactions in people, mostly negative. Someone linked this article from Feministe, which opens by saying that Cathy ending will be the greatest day for all of feminism. There was a lot of issue with that over at the PPK.

Well, this morning in class I walked my clutch of soon-to-be-AP-English-scholars through writing one of the kinds of essays that they’ll see on the AP exam, so I’m currently thinking in literary terms. All I can say is HYPERBOLE. There have been lots of great moments for feminism! Cathy ending is not overshadowing them!

But oh, how great it will be that strip ends. Sometimes, exaggeration is the best way to get across the intensity of emotion.

Cathy, like Miss Piggy, was one of those things that struck me at an early age as hating portrayals of women in media. Of course, I was hanging out with lots of misogynistic guys and had few close female friends, so I translated them into hating women and hating my gender and myself; I went out of the way to prove that I was the antithesis of Cathy (and I still carry some of that with me). Cathy embodies so much of what drives me up a wall–she is Sex and the City but with a lower budget. She’s a single career girl… but not by choice. She hates that she’s single, she spends all her time being neurotic about men, worrying about her appearance, binge eating, and then drowning in guilt for having dared to do so.

Yes, it’s remarkable that we’ve had a syndicated woman cartoonist for 34 years. As I already covered while I was reading Trina Robbins’ excellent History of Women Cartoonists, the ladies don’t really get a lot of press. Now that we’re all big on the internets, being syndicated isn’t such a big deal, but syndication used to be the ultimate “making it” for comic strip artists/writers. The existence of Cathy was, on the outside, a victory for women.

But how much of a victory can you call it? Had Cathy been written by a man, instead of a woman, I don’t think there’d be a woman out there lamenting the end of this era. It’s sad that we’re losing a woman’s voice on the comics pages, but did we ever really have one to begin with? That strip felt like a puppet–pay no attention to the sexism behind the woman. Just because this pathetic stereotyping and denigration was coming from a woman, that somehow made it okay. That somehow made it PRO-woman.

Cathy is not, and never has been, pro-women or advancing feminism in any way. It serves the purpose of the “my [insert minority here] friend thought [same minority joke] was funny, so it’s not offensive!” line. Because Cathy comes from a female writer, it is therefore that much more insidious in its reinforcement of female psychology or whatever you want to call it.

I’m delighted that Cathy Guisewite was able to spend 34 years doing the job she wanted and hopefully loved. I wish her all the best. But I, for one, will be happy to have Cathy no longer in the papers.

08/16/2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

The Foursquare Conundrum

So here’s the thing about the internet–it’s not a particularly private place. Everyone knows better than to put lots of personal information out and readily accessible, and websites using particularly sensitive information are heavily encrypted and put us to very rigorous password standards. This is basic security precautions, just as we lock our houses or cars when we leave them. There are assholes out there in the world who have no regard for decency. We take it as our responsibility to protect ourselves, insomuch as we are capable, from the malicious vagaries of modern life.

When do we move from wanting people to be responsible to crossing the line into victim blaming, though?

A recent post on Jezebel talks about the dangers of cyberstalking becoming real life stalking courtesy of Foursquare. The article mentions examples of real women being approached by people that they did not know because those people had figured out where they were via the internet.

So, first off, I dislike the Foursquare concept, so I’m biased here. My privacy is very important to me–I don’t even like informing close friends, family, or significant others what I’m up to all the time, no matter how innocent it is, because that’s just how I am. My Facebook and Twitter accounts are both locked to the fullest extent possible, and even then, I hesitate to share details. Unless you recognize me from my photo and are in Boston, there’s (I hope) no way to get much information about me off this blog. My obsession with maintaining my privacy and anonymity means that I find Foursquare to be several levels of repulsive. So, I’m biased.

A while back, there was a website called Please Rob Me, that did a real-time stream of updates of people who aren’t in their homes because they have checked in elsewhere on Foursquare. Of course, part of Foursquare is checking into your home, thus putting your address out there (I’m glad none of my friends use Foursquare, as I have heard of people “checking in” to friend’s houses, and thus throwing that address onto the web without the friend having a say in the matter). The website was intended to be tongue in cheek, while pointing out the danger inherent in broadcasting where your location is. However, even in this instance, the context was the danger of belongings, the potential for being robbed. I don’t think that “well, he/she put on Foursquare that the house was empty!” is a valid excuse in court for robbing a house.

And that’s the thing. Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Just because you know that a house is empty and therefore ripe for the robbin’ doesn’t mean that you SHOULD rob it. It is not the victim’s fault that they occasionally leave their house. No one would suggest that someone whose house has been robbed should never leave the house because then it is their own fault if they are robbed.

However, when it comes to female bodily integrity, we always sing a different tune. What a woman wears means she’s “asking for it” (check out this great Scottish PSA on how skirts are not ever a request to be raped), if she’s walking alone at night it’s her own fault, if she accidentally drinks too much then she brought it on herself.

And now if her cyberstalker can find out where she is in the real world, it is her own fault if he shows up and starts harassing her (after all, that nice man was just being so good about taking care of the silly little girl and keeping her safe from her own childish stupidity!).

I am so violently against victim blaming. It’s one of the few things that can push me to seeing red and wanting to become literally violent. Do. Not. Blame. The. Victim.

But this Foursquare thing makes me uncomfortable. At what point is it common sense to cover your tracks, and at what point is it patronizing scare tactics? I don’t know. I really don’t know. But this is an instance where I lean toward erring on the side of caution. Women should not stop doing things in order to avoid assault, and they should not change how they dress or act or speak or anything. The responsibility is not on women to not be assaulted. The responsibility is on the would-be assaulter to not assault.

However, I fear the way Foursquare would be treated in court. I fear that it would be held up by a jury as a woman contributing to her own victimizing, even though in a sane world that shouldn’t be something someone would say. But the thing is, we don’t live in a sane world, and a lot of people really underestimate how easy it is to get information about them from the internet. When Blizzard’s RealID proposal was first making waves, it was over and over pointed out how dangerous putting people’s real information on the web could be. Blizzard had the best of intentions–make the game environment safer and with lower instances of harassment–but the reality is that the more people know about you, the more they can put together online. Check out this post about how one Blizzard user was able to demonstrate this in a very real and frightening way; lucky for the person he demonstrated on, he was benevolent.

A lot of people aren’t benevolent. A lot of people are malicious.

We are not responsible for the actions of others.

However, the world is full of fuckwads and we all know that. We know that they’re out there and on the internet and victimizing people–it happens often. There is a constant dialogue going on about how to protect your identity, your privacy, your reputation, etc. I don’t think that employers should look up the Facebook accounts of potential employees and judge them based on that, but they do. So we all do our best to keep our Facebook accounts work-safe, at least to the public eye. I don’t think that women should have to worry about men showing up at places that they’ve check into on Foursquare and demanding their attention, but they do. To what extent is this different?

I don’t know. I am so deeply against victim blaming, so the idea of saying that using Foursquare is bad and opens women up to all kinds of potential violence makes me uncomfortable, because it smacks of saying that if a woman is harassed or assaulted because of Foursquare that she is in some way responsible for that. I don’t stand by that at all. But I do stand by the fact that I think women–and, hell, everyone–should be wary of the danger of any kind of internet presence linked to your real self, but particularly one as direct as Foursquare.

Am I losing feminist cred for this? Please share your thoughts. I’m pretty divided about this whole fracas.

07/29/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 1 comment.

All Your Books Are Belong To Us

So, you guys sick of hearing me wax poetic about how much I love sci-fi/fantasy and all things nerdly yet? NO? Well good, cause I am not shutting up.

First off, I am halfway through my summer class and it’s enough to make a girl cry with happiness. I spent literally my entire weekend highlighting articles, writing outlines, and creating concept maps (with the exclusion of going out for a rockin’ brunch yesterday, at which I ate so much that I think I am still digesting). My brain has been wrung out to dry, and when I get home, I stare mournfully at my bookshelf and dream of reading for pleasure.

Because books, guys. Books are goddamn awesome. Writing is incredible. I have poetry everywhere in my apartment, and post-it notes scattered around with favorite lines of novels. Books are probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

As someone who is only nine months away from being a high school English teacher, that’s not a bad attitude for me to have. What I am about to say is probably a bad thing to say, but hey, screw it.

Our kids are incredibly disinterested in books and reading because there is much more intriguing stuff out there to consume.

Author Blake Charlton writes that boys aren’t as into sci-fi/fantasy anymore, and while I have some disagreements with some of his points, I can’t aggressively disagree.

Bear with me for a second while I go on a tangent. Remember a while back when I ranted about passivity and gender? How boys are generally steered toward “active” entertainment while girls are encouraged to be passive? Little boys are subjects, while little girls are often objects (please accept my blatant over-simplifying and sweeping generalizations; I’m trying to be brief).

So here’s the thing–it is acceptable for girls to read, within reason. Books that are marketed to girls are essentially chickflicks on the page.

The things that are more “boyish” are still not marketed to girls. However, they are not marketed to boys, either. There was a time when my love of sci-fi made me tomboyish. However, the fact that I giggle gleefully at Stephenson’s humor when reading Cryptonomicon no longer makes me tomboyish–it makes me a really big geek. Hard sci-fi and, well, I guess “hard” fantasy (I’m thinking stuff like Dune, Foundation, LOTR, and other classics, as well as newer stuff like George R. R. Martin, if the dude would throw me a bone and publish another book) are seen as dense books for the truly nerdy amongst us.

When we have Cameron throwing out intense 3-D experiences like Avatar (yes, I hated it, but I will not deny what a visually phenomenal experience that movie was) why would people who want to experience other worlds turn to a book? You gotta, like, SQUINT and KNOW WORDS and shit.

Dictionaries: they are pretty damn rad. I wish I could get my students to get that, because getting them to use the dictionary or thesaurus on their assignments is an uphill battle.

Anyways, so we have this triple-edged sword: books are passive things that girls engage with (books are for sissies!), books that aren’t sissy girly books are only for super smart people, and there is other media that doesn’t ask anything of you to take you away to another world.

If boys want to imagine a fantasy world, they can pop in a videogame and not only be IN that world, but interact with it and shape it. They are a character that they control. It’s full-submersion escapism. When we as a culture are progressively more interested in instant gratification, what can compare with being able to push a button and have the world you’re experiencing immediately respond to that? You can interact with the characters, not just watch from the sidelines.

I will confess to occasionally wanting to reach into my books and shake/yell at main characters (*cough* Robert Jordan *cough*).

On top of being “non-interactive,” books make demands of their readers. You have to keep track of characters, plot arcs, politics, fictional worlds, and more, let alone having the vocabulary and grasp on the language to keep up with the author’s writing. Sometimes it can be very challenging to keep up with an author who enjoys complex styles or words. Sometimes you don’t get all the information simply laid out in front of you and you have to–*gasp!*–draw conclusions from inferences and subtleties in the text. Never mind if we get into any sort of math or science or technology; that’s yet another layer of intellectual demands.

I, personally, find all of these things rewarding. I love stumbling upon a word I don’t know, and I have reread individual sentences over and over and over simply to delight in how they were constructed. (Well-crafted writing is just so amazing. I… Uh, is it getting hot here? Anyone?) I love when authors show and don’t tell and let me draw my own conclusions or form my own image of something (would Beowulf has been as powerful if Grendel had been explicitly described?). And if I come out of a reading experience feeling like I’ve learned something neat, well so much the better! The more my brain does somersaults while I read, the more rewarding I find the experience to be.

The keyword there, of course, is “rewarding.”

We engage in behaviors that we find rewarding. Most of my students will get more sense of reward–that is to say, more affirmation from peers and family–through success as an athlete, or even a musician, than they will as a student.

Someone please issue me a cane, a lawn, and some whippersnappers so that I can wave my cane at said whippersnappers to get off my lawn, because I am about to sound really old:

Guys, we really don’t value reading anymore.

Honestly, in many ways, we don’t value education in general. Outside of us teachers, kids are not getting any sort of reward for reading. While there is a degree of personal reward for being a bookworm, the social pressure to NOT be one far outweighs it. The lonely friendless types will turn to books because hey, what else have we got? However, that’s not the case anymore–now there are videogames, that allow kids to interact with others and not feel isolated.

But we’ve already been over girls and gaming and… and…

I am exhausted. I wish I had the faintest notion how to encourage girls to read better books (Twilight, I wish I could fight you. I’d punch you in the face so hard), how to encourage boys to want to read again, and how to make our parents encourage our kids to read instead of sitting around with videogames and shitty movies like Avatar.

But no, I do not have answers.

What I have is a midterm on Friday, and I still have a lot of charts to make.

Instead, after reading Charlton’s post, all I want to do is head to my local bookshop and curl up on the floor of the sci-fi/fantasy section and read for a week straight.

So help me, I will teach a class on sci-fi/fantasy and comics as literature. It’ll be one of my little contributions to saving the world.

07/19/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 5 comments.

The Paradigm Your Paradigm Could Be Subverted Like

I… I just really wanted to use that subject. Forgive me, internets, for I have sinned.

The other night, as I was waiting for my delicious vegan bagel pizza to bake (you guys have no idea how delicious this is; I am eating one for lunch at this very second and my mouth is having spasms of happiness), I stumbled upon the Old Spice Twitter account and the real-time marketing campaign they’ve been doing with the guy in the shower in the towel (mmm, abs) responding to people’s tweets and facebook posts. Some of them are seriously hilarious (when he responds to Anonymous? Guys, I love it!).

I kind of love these Old Spice commercials because there’s a lot of mockery of the “manliness” ideal, a lot of tongue-in-cheek silliness, and overt mockery of the Axe commercials (which mostly make me want to stab myself or someone else). I find them to be pleasantly self-aware, plus I always encourage the shameless objectification of men–since the objectification of women is never going to go away, let’s at least level the playing field! I enjoy the idea of applying the “sex sells” concept to male bodies as well; it concedes that women have libidos and can also enjoy sexuality on a purely physical level.

Since the first “the man your man could smell like” commercial came out, there have been tons of parodies circulating around. I think this has to be my favorite, though, and since I currently have exciting and glamorous plans for this weekend of doing a lot of homework and studying, it rang a bit true:

Lovely.

I love geek culture adjustment. We are legion!

Happy weekend, all. I’m absurdly burnt out from a weekend that had suck that went up to 11. Here’s hoping for a great weekend and a better week next week! Maybe I’ll even catch up on my poor overloaded Google Reader.

07/16/2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. 1 comment.

In Defense of “Fight Club”

Good news, everyone! I’m going to be skinny after this weekend, from all the damn sweating I’ve been doing. I just spent a couple hours down by the river, soaking up some sun (little known fact: I am powered by photosynthesis) and trying to slog my way through Dune: House Atreides. A friend of mine loaned it to me, telling me that since I enjoyed Dune, I would enjoy this prequel very much, as it sets up the story as well as developing the characters and being a much more exciting plot. While I did love Dune, I’ll grant you that it’s a little dry (pun not intended). So I decided to give the Kevin J. Anderson rendition a go.

Guys, this is like pulling teeth. The plot is painfully forced, the characters are so trite that my teeth hurt, and it violently fails the Bechdel test.

Now here’s the thing–I don’t expect, or even want, everything in life to pass the Bechdel test. The original Dune story was just chock full o’ dudes! I love Lord of the Rings and that is kind of like the shining festival of Dudely Dudes Being Superbly Dudeish. The cast of LOTR probably greets each other not unlike The Todd in Scrubs by asking everyone, “How’s your penis?” (Based on internet fanfic, I know I am not the only one who has imagined Aragorn and Legolas answering that question for each other.) The interesting thing about the Bechdel test, though, is that you can apply it to more than just movies–TV shows, books, comics, etc–and it’s kind of a fun mental exercise. I find that a lot of the stuff that I come back to again and again passes the Bechdel test, or my own adjustment to it (if the cast is limited to having only one female, or the females who have names do not interact with each other, do they at least serve a purpose beyond just love/sex interest?). It is media like this reimagining of Dune that makes me cringe–oh, there’s women, but it feels like they’re there because well, shucks, if some folk didn’t get it on back in the day, the cast of Dune would never be born! I would be much happier if this had been a Celebration of Penis Owners instead of the jilting, fingernails-on-a-chalkboard attempt at including females. Eee.

And so that brings us to those things that DON’T pass the Bechdel test and that people tend to get hung up on. The shining gem of this issue is Fight Club. We (and by “we” I mean the big bad scary evil Feminist Hive Mind (TM)) seem to be really hung up on its evils. It’s even been alluded to in some installments of “how to date as a feminist” that one should rule out dating men who list Fight Club as a favorite movie or book.

I… I can’t go with that. I can’t even see Fight Club as all that evil.

Like LOTR and Dune, it is a bunch of dudes grabbing their crotch and grunting. It’s just that LOTR and Dune had a neatoriffic sci-fi/fantasy backdrop to make said crotch-grabbing seem detached from our everyday world of crotch-grabbing. Hell, Star Wars was so fortunate as to have ONE female (sorry, Mon Mothma really doesn’t count, because unless you’re a giant freaking geek like me, you have no effing clue who the hell that is) and even the oh-so modern prequel trilogy really didn’t change that (again, Padme’s cheery doppelganger crowd doesn’t count). But Leia, Jessica, Eowyn (or Arwen if you’re one of THEM) gave us women to admire.

I guess the problem with Fight Club is that Marla is kind of a bitch. I always saw her as a bit of a sympathetic character to be honest–probably not sympathetic to the dudes watching it, but I felt for her. She was a mess, and living in a fucked up world, and so she responded that fucked up world in the best way she could think of. None of us are flawless at coping, so what are we doing up on our high horses? Poor Marla was a product of the ridiculous society we live in. Her coping mechanism was toxic and vile, just like our buddies the Protagonists De Machismo. Cause no matter how you cut it, punching people in basements is not exactly what I’d call well-adjusted.

But it resonates. I would like to meet the lady who has never kind of wanted to beat the pulp out of someone. Give me a chance to be part of an all-girl Fight Club? I’d be pretty damn tempted. We live in a world–ALL of us; men, women, and everything else–that exults daily in stripping us of power, denying us voice, shunting our agency to the side of the road to bulldoze through more bullshit. It’s not like any one of us angry feminists can’t empathize with having all this frustration and rage that we want to work out.

We’re just lounging around in the Oppression Olympics at this point, okay? I, as a middle class white lady, get to look down my nose at the problems of a middle class white DUDE, cause, like, he totally has the Wang Advantage. Are we for fucking serious here?

I think that’s a destructive mindset. Far more destructive than anything in Fight Club. This isn’t an “us vs. them” in this case. People are drawn to Fight Club because they can relate to the feeling of quiet desperation and desire to break out of a toxic system that breaks us down instead of building us up.

In general, I usually encounter two kinds of dudes who love Fight Club (and I generalize). There’s the one group of dudes that feels strongly about the fact that we live in a fucked up society and eventually the only natural reaction is to flip out and go a little crazy. They are generally down with my feminist ranting and don’t blame me when I freak out a little about shit–because hey, it’s a fucked up world. If you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention, as they say. The second category of dude is all about the punching and bromarnce of shirtless grappling and whatnot. They don’t really, at the risk of sounding like a douche, get it. They are the guys that take you on dates in their khakis while they talk about how you are not your khakis, and they pause in that rant to complain about how they can’t find a parking space, because it is downtown Boston on a Saturday night, so honestly, what did you expect, but they refuse to take public transit because ZOMG HOMELESS PEOPLE AND GERMS.

Are you catching my drift?

There’s a lot of semi-misogynistic BS in Fight Club. It’s there. It happens. But when a bunch of ladies get together to tell a woman-centric story (although I cringe to use this example, it’s the best I can think of on short notice) such as Mists of Avalon, you end up with some kinda sexist BS going the other way, too. People, it happens. I’m not saying I like it, and I’m not saying we should write it off and forgive it just because there’s a PRECEDENT of it happening before. Not at all.

However, I see Fight Club as an opportunity. If someone is resonating with the message of how fucked up our society is, let’s talk about that. Let’s see where that conversation can go.

I happen to like the shades of desperation and the acerbic, dark humor of Fight Club. It’s right up my alley, so I find it easy to connect to someone over the subject, and try to take things to the next level of where can we go with this, instead of just railing against its misogyny. There’s plenty of things that I just rail against blindly that probably someone else could use as an opportunity. But I can’t say I’m too terribly worried about Fight Club undermining our society. Basically, it was made to be an “OOK AAK CAVEMAN THUMP” type man’s-man penis-waggling movie. It was never meant to be anything else. In a sense, it doesn’t hide what it is. I find the subliminal “oh, we’re so warm and fuzzy!” movies like Knocked Up and whatnot so infinitely much worse.

I would, in a heartbeat, much prefer that the men in my life loved Fight Club over any of that bullcrap.

07/05/2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. 4 comments.

Sexy Geekery

Oh my great garbanzo, friends and internets. My summer class has started (that is to say, 20 hours a week of class, 30 hours a week of work (I’m just slicing off 5 and calling it sick time), and countless hours of homework) and I am OVERWHELMED. However, my field experience starts next week, so at the very least, I will be able to start providing you with some interesting reflections on public summer school here in Boston. Later in the summer, I’ll also be serving as a [paid!!] teaching assistant for another BPS summer school program, so brace yourselves. This blog is about to take a decidedly scholastic bent.

Till then, here’s a brief snippet to hold you over. I haven’t even had time to open my Google reader in days, but luckily, I have friends who send me links to the rad stuff that I am missing. This particular gem of an article comes from Dave, who writes over at the BARCC blog. You should check it out, and drop BARCC a donation nugget while you’re there.

Anyways, The Sexist has a great interview with awesome ladyblogger Courtney Stoker (who you can bet I’ll be checking up on in the coming days! Err, maybe “weeks”) all about being a lady geek.

I’ve alluded to my geekery before, and I’ve started and discarded about fifty billion posts on feminism and cosplay and the deep schism within me re: feminism and cosplay. I love cosplay, I love geekdom, I love D&D and comic books and videogames and hugging stormtroopers. I have costumes that are arguably “sexified” costumes.

As she says,

This is where some geek women find their acceptable place in geek communities, because even the most sexist of geek men is going to be okay with women being around as long as they’re dressed up like sex objects. Too often, women in geek cultures are only welcomed if they are decoration, sexy versions of the the things geek men love, not equal participants or fellow fans.

It stings a little because it’s true. I’ve felt that way over and over. I notice, consistently, the difference in reception I get between the variety of costumes I wear–the more skin I show, the more likely that people will be enthusiastic to see me, no matter how high quality any other costume may be. I’m consistently discouraged from doing non-sexy costumes, let alone engaging in crossplay (cosplaying a character that is of the opposite sex) without transforming it into a “femme” version.

I have a big long rant about this, and I’m sorry I don’t have the time or energy to write it up, as this is a highly nuanced issue, and my above paragraph makes it sound very black and white, and makes geek dudes sound way worse than they are.

The issue is something that Courtney mentions–can any of this be reclaiming of female sexuality and femininity, which is pretty much not allowed to exist on its own terms in scifi? I feel like the opportunity is there. Women can be sexual, and even in a “mainstream sexy” kind of way, on their own terms. It’s so hard to define so much of this, though–where are we are genuinely enjoying this, and where are we enjoying the attention? (Because yes, attention can be fun.) I find this relevant because it’s an issue I have when dating–I have often considered punching a boy in the jaw for pushing too hard for me to buy “sexy” undergarments, even though it so happens that black lacy skivvies delight me. Just, like, let me buy them on my own terms, dude. Do I feel hypocritical? Sure. Does it change the fact that one motivation (and often different shopping location) makes me feel skeezy, while the other doesn’t. Likewise, can one girl wear the same costume and feel both of those feelings? Of course. Can two girls wear the exact same costume and one be motivated by feminism and the other by self-objectification? I don’t see why not. Does this become a tangled mess of how do we define and how do we express? Oh fuck yes.

Cause part of me doesn’t give a rat’s ass how much we can discuss the woman-power of Princess Leia saving Han and then choking the shit out of Jabba, it doesn’t change the fact that wearing the metal bikini is gonna get you objectified. But… I love that woman-power side of Leia. I love the brazen courage it takes to wear that freaking bikini. But…

But but but. Even my non-overtly feminist friends seem to deal with the same but-but-buts when we talk of being girlgeeks. Sometimes it just seems easier to settle for being an object than to get driven out of fandom. Sometimes, you even internalize it.

Read the interview. Courtney Stoker is an exceptionally well-spoken lady who makes some awesome points, and I cannot wait to read more of her stuff. Check out her blog here: http://austintotamu.blogspot.com/

06/29/2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Moar vagina gaming

Oh my god, it is for real and there is a trailer and it is HILARIOUS.

Condom-hatted marines! In vaginas and “bottoms!”

I AM SO EXCITED.

06/24/2010. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

The Missing Woman

Cuppy van der Cake, and the case of the missing female protagonist, today on the internet!

I know, it’s the weekend, and I don’t usually post on the weekend, but I’ve got a head covered in bleach and a kitchen full of experimental vegan muffin makings that I am procrastinating on actually assembling. This’ll be a quickie, though.

I’ve started watching a lot of anime lately, getting caught up on all this culture stuff I’ve been missing, and I really gotta know… where the hell are all the ladies? Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of women in anime. They happen left and right. But where are the women who aren’t fingernails-on-a-chalkboard style stereotypes and tropes? They make me want to carve my brains out (don’t even get me started on Julia in Cowboy Bebop). Where are the female protagonists that aren’t the worst of all stereotypes?

Also, with all the extreme power at my fingertips, I’d just like to say that using a celebrity’s first-letter-of-first-name and first-syllable-of-last-name nickname thing really needs to end. Long, long ago. J.Lo can keep it cause she started it, but really… Put down the cutesy nicknames, world. It’s gone on long enough.

06/13/2010. Tags: . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

What Girls Think, I Guess.

This was linked on Twitter the other day and I couldn’t help but laugh:

I mean, seriously. It’s hilarious because it’s TRUE. (Obviously not all the time, so on, so forth, all the disclaimers I always make.) I just know way too many ladies who think like that, and way too many dudes who think like that. (I also know way too many ladies who think that by faking that they are insatiable whores, they will get their prince charming. And, uh, yeah. I have gripes with that.)

Of course, now it’s going to be porn movies and Twilight. But that’s beside the point.

Anyways, I think we’ve all ranted Disney to death. I can spare you that. I just thought the image was great, because it takes a ton of ranting and condenses it into a nice, accessible, succinct little image.

The idea of accessibility and succinctness has been pretty heavily on my mind as of late, actually. I’ve been thinking a lot about the accessibility of learning, for the most part–how do people learn, how do we teach, etc. There’s just so many examples of how traditional educational paradigms fall short, or where they could easily be improved upon. A friend of mine is pursuing a PhD in education, studying the creation of educational videogames, games, and classroom-based role playing games and practomimes. Twenty years ago, educational videogames weren’t nearly as viable or relevant as they are now, but now they’re not only a very real potential, but they could easily involve multiple different subjects within one game. It’s a fascinating field.

But anyways, my obsession, as we all know, is literature and literacy. I can’t stress enough how much I think literature and literacy matters and can make or break a student’s future (though I do think math is incredibly important–trust me, guys, when the person with a BA in literature and foreign language says math is important, it’s because it is). Do I think that it’s essential that every student ever be able to read the exact text of Macbeth or Moby Dick? No. In an ideal world, yes, they will read it and analyze it and love it. But the exact words on the page are only a fraction of what students are learning in language arts classes (note: it’s called “English and language arts” not just “book readin'”).

Students are learning how to analyze characters, how to read between the lines, how to notice and respond to themes and imagery, and they’re learning about the cultural and historical context that the texts are situated in, but also how that relates to their contemporary world. In writing my lesson plan for The Sun Also Rises, I made the emphasis not just on the context of when Hemingway wrote, but how that applies to now. The study of literature should always be relevant to the now.

So bundle up all those ideas, and I posit that comic books should be much more heavily used in English classes (hell, in history classes! in all kinds of classes!). They allow students to interact with different texts that may be much more compelling, they provide greater accessibility to students with difficulty with reading, and they tend to engage students more easily. Plus, there’s an entire world of really awesome literature going on out there that is being ignored–literature that builds on other classics (such as Sandman or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), literature that builds on history (Maus), or fantastic social commentary that has sparked all kinds of reactions in our culture (Watchmen). There’s so much potential that’s going unnoticed.

So with this in mind, I’ve been researching comics history more in depth. I took a couple of courses in college (The International Graphic Novel, and Comic Art in North America, which were both broad survey courses) and did an internship with DC Comics, so I’ve got a reasonable foundation of comics. But I want more. I want to really dig in, and I want to dig in from the academic side, not just the “whee, I am reading comics!” side (though I am reading comics. And usually I exclaim, “Whee!” right before I do so. You should too!).

One of the books I’ve picked up (from the amazing and fabulous Hub Comics in Somerville, for you Boston-area folk) is The Great Women Cartoonists, by Trina Robbins. Ms. Robbins was part of the indie comics movement in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 60s/70s and was a huge contributor to a lot of women’s comics zines and really bringing women comics creators into their own. I think she is a deeply fantastic person.

What bothered me, though, was her coverage of women in the big companies (DC and Marvel). She talked about how the women weren’t having high rates of success because they didn’t like having to draw superheroes and violence. They were unhappy with having to make things that they didn’t like.

First off, I think it’s safe to say that many of us spend our days doing things we don’t like. I highly doubt that the secretary sitting at the front desk of DC or Marvel was thinking, “Oh golly, I am so glad I’m a secretary and not an artist because it is SO MUCH MORE FUN AND SATISFYING to be filing documents and answering phones and smiling at jerky delivery guys! This job really speaks to my talents!” Now, mind you, I’m hardly saying that they don’t deserve sympathy, as they do. But still.

Anyways, she goes on to continually talk about how women don’t like violent comics, women don’t like the aggression, the fighting, etc. She goes on to quote a female artist who said something along the lines of “I like to draw ballet and dancers, things that are more like reality.”

I will grant you that ballet and dancers are more like reality than Superman and Bizarro engaged in some vaguely homoerotic wrestle-punch-fest thingie, but this is where we are looping back to that graphic at the beginning of this post.

Why do girls have to like fluffy delicate things and boys like violence?

One of the coolest things about Hub Comics is their giant shelf of local artists’ self-published work. There you will see plenty of men lamenting love, and girls writing about poop and kicking things. I know plenty of women who enjoy dark, violent comics (hell, I’m one of them!), and would rather strangle ourselves with our shoelaces than read a pink happy comic about ballet dancers.

Maybe, like, cyborg ballet dancers with lasers in their eyes sent from outerspace to destroy the evil NutcrackerBot 9000…

Anyways, I don’t doubt that for that particular female artist, ballet and dancers was preferable to violence and superheroes. That’s fine. But Ms. Robbins, for all her feminist asskickery, paints female artists with a broad brush, making it sound like ruffly dancers and sparkly romance comics were all that appealed to girls reading comics and to women artists drawing them. That bums me the hell out.

Ms. Robbins is entirely accurate when she talks about how it was such a shame that there weren’t comics for girls–that’s true! It IS a shame! Even now we’re underrepresented (though I’d like to mention that the editor I interned under at DC was a woman and still one of the most bad ass, amazing women I’ve met in my life; I will be so fucking jazzed if I turn out like her), but it’s not because we need more romance comics. GIRL SUPERHEROES! I want more asskicking girls (with or without spandex; I could go either way)!

I’m pretty excited to check out Frenemy of the State, after reading a blurb about it on Jezebel recently, as it’s a comic by a woman, targeted toward a female readership. On the other hand, I already love titles like Empowered, starring mostly women, and Fables, which has a pretty heavily-female cast. Both those titles are written by men, and Empowered is even a superhero comic. However, I don’t think either title was meant to be aimed specifically at women (in fact, the inspiration for Empowered came from a pornographic drawing commission–go figure!), but they have the appeal. They have strong female characters, engaged in exciting plots. Sometimes there’s romance, but there’s also action, intellect, and compelling relationships with friends, colleagues, and enemies. They’re fully fleshed-out worlds with engaging characters; it just so happens that some of them are women who rock.

I am all about getting more female voices in comics. I want to see more women artists and writers and editorial staff (dear DC Comics, if you are reading this, that internship was the best experience of my life; please hire me!). However, I’m also all about getting more awesome female characters in comics. Having an equal split of women, or even a majority of women, in comics isn’t really progress, in my mind, until the books that are being created are depicting awesome women doing more than swooning over boys and buying shoes. Just because a woman made it doesn’t mean it’s pro-woman (I mean jeez, just look at everything that comes out of Sarah Palin’s mouth!).

Anyways, I want to end this with a link to one of my favorite lady cartoonists right now: Katie Cook! Katie is an incredibly talented artist with a very distinct style (dare I say it even seems feminine? :P) who draws for all kinds of awesome properties, like Star Wars. She has even drawn troopers being dismembered. Take that, girls don’t draw violence! Also, she draws the webcomic Gronk, which is pretty much my new favorite part of Fridays.

So in short, don’t go for gender-assigny bullshit. Don’t wait for your prince charming or insatiable whore, instead go to your local comic shop and read some bad ass comic books!

06/10/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 4 comments.

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