Geek Girl Con 2013 Day two, October 20.
I missed the panel on “The Changing Role of the Character of Color” because I stayed up late playing board games with Jenny and Simon, who kindly hosted me on my trip to Seattle. I was really sorry to miss this panel and I hope to find a recap of it elsewhere.
My first session of the day was the 11AM presentation on Esperanto. I’m familiar with this constructed language from its use in Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat series. Jessica Woodbridge (Berlynn-Wohl) was our presenter. I won’t bother trying to clean up my awful notes here, because you can just read the Wikipedia page on Esperanto if you want to understand the history and mechanics of the language. I did appreciate her suggestions as to why one might use Esperanto in this age of English dominance? First: there’s no cultural imperialism in Esperanto. Also, it makes travel more exciting: you can find Esperantists as you travel, and often stay with them. You can find Esperanto pen pals. There exists a certain amout of Esperanto Pop Culture: Rock music and podcasts, for example. You can use these podcasts to find out about local issues without learning a diversity of other languages. She strongly recommended the Esperanto rock band Personoj (People).
If I hadn’t just decided I needed to relearn Spanish, I’d be dedicating my language-learning time to Esperanto. Mi ĉiam povas lerni Esperanton sekva jaro!
The next panel I attended was on Women in Comics, hosted by Sequential Tart. Panelists were Sheena McNeil, Suzette Chan, Stephanie Chan, Corina Lawson. They used the title ‘editrix’, which I think is really cool. It reminds me of the old excavatrix blog at Rancho La Brea. Here are my notes on some of my favorite questions and responses:
What do we see as a positive trend in comics? Social media involvement is allowing women creators to engage with their fan base. For example, Twitter played a pivotal role in the Gail Simone Batgirl fiasco. We also like the growth of non-typical race, gender roles in independent comics.
Why is it important that they do reviews of comics? Their site lets feminist comic-readers cut through the noise of all of the available online reviews. The important thing is to letting people (both creators and readers) know what is good, plus what is not good and why. Creators appreciate the honesty. Whenever you write reviews, it’s important to make constructive criticism. Reviews can be a catalyst for changing the industry. If you write your own reviews, be sure to give the reasons why you disliked a book.
Note: This is really good advice for any kind of review work. I try to make my comic book reviews constructive, and I find I have more to write about the things I don’t like. Additionally, when I write peer-reviews of scientific papers I also try to make my criticism constructive, offering direction for improvement. I also try to balance critical remarks with praise in peer-reviews (tragically, a rare practice). Now back to the Sequential Tart panel notes.
How has gender representation changed in comics? Indies are doing better, but the big 2 may actually be worse than they were in the 1980s. But there is more dialog between readers and creators: more empowerment of the female fan base. Also, creators are improving their understanding of the difference between gender and sexuality. They still need improvement on depicting sensible, emotionally effective female sexuality. In the end, we need more acceptance of diversity of female readership and their interests. We also need to remember Rucka’s admonition to stop buying crappy comics. (This was the first mention of voting with your dollars, and it became a trend through the rest of the panels of the day).
How can the current state of women in comics be improved? Vote with your dollars! Look to independent comics for good work. Be sure to provide feedback.
At this point in the day, I’m inspired to drop Nightwing and pick up Captain Marvel on my pull list.
The next panel I attended was on “Writing Real Girls in Comics”, at 2PM.
The panel composition was shuffled from the program, adding Amber Benson and Javier Grillo-Marxuach, but missing Rachel Edidin and G. Willow Wilson.
In turn at the beginning all of these creators described the genesis of of one of their female characters. The stories were fascinating, but by this time of the day my note-taking had started to flag. Here are some of my favorite questions and paraphrased responses:
As creators, what does the idea of ‘real girls in comics’ mean? Real girls are someone you can actually think of yourself as being. This involves drawing characters that look like real people, with straightforward, boring clothes. These characters have fully developed personalities. There is no one right way to be a girl, so write a real person who can lead a story.
What’s missing from comics? Stories for adult women. Normal, slice-of-life stuff.
I was inspired by this panel to seek out one of the panelists, Kel McDonald, in the signature line and pick up the books she was selling at the con. I’m quite happy with my purchase, and I’m also happy with this: I was tired out and ready to leave, but I stuck around to get the books and found my second wind. As a consequence, I saw these last two panels, and the final one was really worth the whole cost of admission for the weekend.
The panel I saw at 3PM was on “The boys of Doctor Who”. That is, it was a feminist deconstruction of the roles of the rare male companions on DW.
It became clear quickly that the panelists are fans of Captain Jack, which is hardly surprising: he’s a strong character. Also in the top running were Jaime and Mickey. Most of the discussion was of ‘New Who’ characters, but there was some coverage of classic DW. Here are some stream of consciousness notes:
How different is the Doctor’s relationship with the male companions? They often arrive following their female companions. The Doctor is often patronizing towards female companions, but more collegial with male companions. However, he is never as comfortable with the male companions, never takes them into his confidence.
DW fails a reverse Bechdel test with the male companions: when they’re alone with the Doctor, they’re always talking about the female companions.
Could DW work with no female companion? Then it would lose much of the female viewer’s interest. Current DW marketing is aimed at female viewers escape fantasies.
There’s a lot of objectifying of the male companions here, and that’s OK, I think. There seems to be a panel and crowd consensus that a Doctor-Captain Jack season would be the only way they’d be OK with a no-female TARDIS crew. I detect some impure thoughts behind this verdict.
Interesting point: Mickey and Martha, both black characters, end up getting a lot of ‘not good enough’ flak from the Doctor. Panelist K.T. Bradford has a blog post about the treatment of Martha, which ended up a dialog with the episode author in the comments. Alas, but I cannot find this blog post; perhaps someone will add it to the comments someday.
At 4PM I attended my final panel of the con. Sad, sad. ‘Two steps forward, one step back: How feminism has changed pop culture.’
Amy Peloff and Andi Zeissler (co-founder of ‘zine called Bitch) are joined by a set of surprise panelists!
One of the first points made is how sad it is that the label ‘feminist’ is still a negative epthet.
How have you seen feminism/ gender identity matter in the work you do/ field you cover?
Reader engagement in comics has forced the improvement of female images, creator involvement.
On TV, it’s still very tropey. The sterotypes are entrenched, but the creators do have to respond to consumers because of social media. Twitter is a major vector for female control.
Games are really bad from a feminist perspective now, but the landscape is changing. The lag time in games is longer because of the longer term for development of games compared to comics, TV. So it’s changing, slowly.
We’re starting to see women and people of color in peer positions with white characters on TV, e.g. Agents of SHIELD, Sleepy Hollow, Scandal.
Strong women are still often objectified when they get onto the covers of magazines.
One of the themes here is the Twitter discussion of the dearth of black comedians on SNL.
DC comics had a dearth of women creators, lack of empathy for women characters. One person called them out at SD ComiCon (the Batgirl who is here, too). Now readers are standing up and calling them out for it.
Use Twitter to let folks know when they’re doing it right, not just when you’re mad at their mistakes. If you only complain, they’ll label you as a hater and ignore it.
How do we make the big, monolithic, corporations change? We have to put the onus on the oppressors, not the oppressed. Do not blame the underrepresented folks for their inability to break through the barriers. Remove the barriers.
It’s true that independents are making a lot of strides in equality, but the big corporations reach way more people, so we have to get those bits of media to change, to allow many consumers to get access to these diverse perspectives.
Comics are cheap enough, especially with online distribution, that anyone can break into it. Comics are also a small enough business that they can be influenced directly by the purchasing behavior of geek girl consumers.
Why are there so many straw feminists in popular culture?
FemFreq has a video about straw feminists. Parks and Rec is one of the few places you can see real feminism in pop culture. Veronica Mars has a bad 3rd season with evil straw feminists. This trend makes young people not want to identify with feminists, and that’s very damaging.
There’s been a recent influx of women characters who are successful professionals but cannot have a successful social life. This trope implies there is a complete tradeoff between professional and personal lives. The contrast here with male characters like Don Draper, who is a mess personally, but is still supposed to be aspirational for male viewers.
Are we post-feminist?
No, not at all. There is a utopian feminist parody in the media, but there are clearly many, many issues that need to be addressed. For example, this season on TV has lost all of the advancement in terms of women and people of color. Do we get complacent when we have a season of success and then it quickly backslides?
Personal note: This backsliding effect is similar to what is happening in academia: representation of women in science peaked in the past and is dropping now… That’s not OK.
And that’s the end. After that panel, I got in the 4Runner and drove back to Eugene.