Here I am at Geek Girl Con, my first pop culture con since my teen years. My students Kelsey and Brianna, who blog at Fossilosophy, bought me tickets for Xmas this year. I’m going to post my reactions today and tomorrow.
I’m hoping to use this as a dry-run for blogging at science conferences. If I can make it work, expect a similar blogging effort at SVP in a couple of weeks.
Bear in mind that these are my distilled reactions to a very full set of panels, and reflect only my own reactions and not the positions of the presenters.
I began today, Saturday, October 19, at 11AM with the panel on Octobriana, Wonder Woman, and the black superheroine. Alas, but the speaker on Octobriana couldn’t be here. We did get Erin Lovejoy-Guron speaking about the history of Wonder Woman.
She got into WW through Gail Simone’s work on the title. I find this especially interesting because I got into Wonder Woman stating with the Straczynski reboot that immediately follows the Simone run. I love Simone’s work, so I’m excited to read this run of the series. Erin was very kind to answer my questions about her impressions of the most recent two reboots of WW. The unifying theme of these reboots has been to take WW out of her comfortable childhood by disrupting or destroying the Amazon culture, and that seemed to break an important part of the character for Erin. I can totally understand that perspective.
Distilling a complex, nuanced presentation down, the message I took away was WW is best when she is inspiring women to be themselves and living strong lives.
Next we had Grace Gipson, PhD student at UCB, asking “Who says Storm is the only black Superheroine?” She is studying how race and gender stereotypes affect the perception of black female superheroes. She had students brainstorm black female superheroes, which she compared to established characters. Part of the context for her analysis is Patricia Hill Collins’ ‘New Racism‘, which I am not familiar with and need to read.
Grace had some very interesting results relating to the way her participants stereotyped black female bodies, and the surprising way surviving sexual violence emerged as a theme empowering these superheroines. My take home was that 1) There is a clear potential market for black female superheroes. And 2) Black college students have no monolithic view of the way a black superheroine should be portrayed
I stayed in that room to hear Mike Madrid talk at 12:30 about his new book just out on lost superheroines. He went back to the pre-war- and WW2-era comic books and found a huge diversity of superheroines, ranging from vigilante police detectives to undead jungle protectors.
What happened to these fantastic women? Mike indicated that post-war flagging of superhero comics led to a shift to war, crime, and sci-fi. Mike read letters from fans, particularly girls, so publishers knew girls were reading, but the editors shifted to romance comics for this market. These comics emphasized a lack of career and staying home, possibly as a backlash to the women workers of WW2.
Finally, Mike asked whether we are in a new age of diversity and heroic women? Not so much: he sees two roles for women in today’s comics: Superheroine, or girlfriend of superhero. Not much else. So have we moved forward? Not much diversity of roles here.
After a quick lunch, carefully not blinking because of the weeping angel nearby, I rushed to the panel on Women Characters in Games, at 2PM. The room was full. In part, I think this was because Anita Sarkeesian was on this panel. Also here were Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, Kimberly Voll, and Shoshana Kessock. The panel was moderated by Jarrah Hodge, founder of gender-focus.com. I took notes on all of the questions, but the discussion was really epitomized by this one and its responses.
What are you looking for in a strong woman character?
Kimberly indicated that any strong character has sufficient agency to make decisions on the basis of his/her situation. We just need to make sure we have a diversity of people with this agency in games. The other panelists agreed, indicating that developers should include many different views of women, and instead of worrying about ‘strong women’, should make make human beings of all kinds.
At 3PM, I went to the Psychology of Cosplay panel, composed of Andrea Letamendi, Chaka Cumberbatch, Jessica Merizan, and Kimi Hughes. The discussion was fascinating and nuanced, but I was burned out on taking notes, so all I wrote was: Inclusiveness is best. Have fun being someone else. Cosplayers are normal people.
After scooting out for dinner, I returned for the panel “Is Star Trek a Feminist Utopia?” The panelists were Jamala Henderson, Mary Czerwinski, Tanya Feldman, and Jarrah Hodge (who moderated the women characters in games panel and has a fantastic tumblr: Trekkie Feminist). Distilling down another fascinating, nuanced discussion, the consensus was that ST had improved in female characterization over the several series, so that Voyager did a much better job than TOS in depicting a feminist-normal society. One point, though: Voyager still had a tremendous gender imbalance in the writers and directors. The panel suggested this imbalance could be rectified were a new series started. Some digs were made at the reboot movies for their retrograde motion on the feminism scale. Interestingly, no mention was made of Enterprise, as though all had agreed to erase it from history…
Lessons from Day One:
1) Everyone needs to be more inclusive: celebrate people enjoying their passions, do not judge people who have perspectives that do not align with yours, or who are trying to improve minority representation in geek media, even if they’re not perfect.
2) Video games and comic books will have more nuanced depictions of women if more women are involved in their creation (and women are targeted for markets).
4) Increasing the number of women creators, artists, and developers will require both employers taking chances on hiring more women and women being more proactive about seeking employment opportunities.
One point I didn’t hear explicitly articulated in the game panel was the need to vote with your dollars. If folks buy feminist games and refuse to buy misogynist games, the market will shift. Folks like me can apply leverage from the bottom up, while enlightened game developers can apply pressure from the top down.