Owing to a relentless succession of Life Events and despite her best efforts, your correspondent was unable to finish Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking this week. But she wants to; it’s really good. Grab your own copy and let’s reconvene next Thursday, May 16.
You came, you voted and we have a clear winner! I’m delighted to announce that the next Book Club pick will be Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking, by the awesome Gabriella Coleman. The book is available for free download.
Go! Read! Let’s meet back here on Thursday, May 9th! I’m pretty sure this one’s going to rock our socks off.
Mary Robinette Kowal is an award-winning author of Science Fiction and Fantasy. She has a lot of work available for free online, including Hugo award winner “For Want of a Nail,” Nebula nominated novella “Kiss Me Twice,” and my personal favorite of her shorter works, “The Lady Astronaut of Mars.”
She’s also got a brand-new book out this week: Without A Summer. It takes place in London, in 1816, the real year without a summer. If you enjoy Fantasy novels and the works of Jane Austen, and especially if you enjoy fantasy novels revolving around women, I definitely recommend adding this one to your list–I got an early look at it, and loved it to bits. The most important actors in the story are women, the central interpersonal conflict is between women, and while all the main characters are white, it’s nice to see a Regency novel that acknowledges that there were, in fact, people of color in 19th century England.
Over on John Scalzi’s blog, Kowal talks about the roles class and social upheaval play in the book, and about writing a Regency heroine who’s facing her prejudices on matters of race and class.
Kowal is also a professional puppeteer–her twitter feed is a goldmine of funny-out-of-context nuggets about puppet-making. You can also catch up with her over on her blog, or at the writing podcast Writing Excuses.
I’ll be the first to admit that my taste in superheroism runs to the ultra-problematized, not to say outright subversive: I prefer Faith to Buffy, Grant Morrison’s Crazy Jane to Alan Moore’s Silk Spectre, Tony Stark to Bruce Wayne. As I see it, superpowers, like sex, are invariably more or less heavy-handed metaphors for something else. In Buffy and X-Men it’s puberty and burgeoning sexuality. In Doom Patrol, which meant the world to me in my twenties, it’s the marked body, simultaneously mortal and strong.
Superpowers repel me when they are used to single some folks out for special merit at the expense of everyone else. In The Incredibles Dash complains that if everyone is special, no one is. That’s exactly right, kiddo. My deepest political conviction is that everyone is extraordinary and superpowered and jewelled in their most secret inner recesses; everyone; no one is uniquely deserving of special treatment. Business Class is swankier, yes, but you must pay.
Hence my issues. In the Batman canon, superpowers are equated with effectively unlimited money and status. Bruce Wayne’s super secrets are his butler, his vast inheritance and his dungeon full of high-tech toys. As a person who has had to sit through a working lunch listening to a CEO brag about his collection of light aircraft, I find it hard to convey the extent to which this fills me with bored loathing. There’s nothing admirable about being a person like that. At least Tony Stark has shrapnel in his heart, and drinks.
At least it costs him. I’m very fond of that line of Tony’s from The Avengers: “This little circle of light. It’s part of me now, not just armor. It’s a… terrible privilege.” I like that he owns his privilege and its horrors. I like that it’s his way of reaching out to Bruce Banner, whose privileges are equally appalling. I have a lot of privilege that I want to use as a ploughshare, not a sword; the rocket that launched Curiosity to Mars, not an ICBM. Tony’s evolution from arms dealer to clean tech mogul is a useful myth in this way. Bruce Wayne’s Gothic manpain… isn’t.
All of which might explain, at least in part, why the Gail Simone Batgirl left me cold. Canonical Barbara Gordon is problematic in what for me are all the wrong ways. She’s the Police Commissioner’s daughter and the rich dude’s protege. She’s literally the tool of the patriarchy. She uses a wheelchair, yes, and then she’s miraculously healed. I appreciate that Simone lampshades this, most explicitly with her villain Mirror, who embodies the rage of the unlucky towards the lucky.
But Mirror is a villain, and Bruce Wayne, property developer, is a hero, whose acknowledgement of Barbara as Batgirl is the affirmation she needs. All her power is channeled into support for the police, and for capitalism. The arc of the narrative reverts towards the status quo. I am with Doctor Horrible in thinking that the status is not quo.
I’m sorry, but if Donald Trump praised me in any way, I would have to take a long hard look at my life and make some radical changes.
To be clear, I blame Simone for none of this. I think these are structural flaws in the Bat-canon, which tends Ayn Rand-wards and is therefore Not For Me.
I liked Barbara’s roommate, Alysia Yeoh. Alysia tapes Barbara’s cracked ribs and tells her:
If someone’s hurting you, I’m not going to sit by and watch it go on. I am not that person, are we clear?
…and then she makes laksa. I’d rather have read a whole book about her.
What am I missing? Help a Geek Feminist out.
Hi, book geeks! Just a reminder that this Thursday we’ll be discussing the first volume of Gail Simone’s Batgirl run. Looking forward to it!
1. The most straightforward case
I tried out for a teaching gig at a riding school near where I grew up. The place was rundown and their safety standards were not up to mine: I had to insist on the students wearing helmets, and I had to double-check that everyones’ girths were correctly buckled, and there were complaints when I didn’t let the rank beginners gallop their horses around. Despite my best efforts, the horses flared their nostrils and pranced and boasted to one another. It’s what horses do.
All through our lesson, helicopters hovered over the bush nearby; and the trail ride that had gone out failed and failed and failed to come back.
It transpired that they had taken out a woman who had no English and no helmet, and her horse had bolted with her and she had fallen on her head, and the helicopter was her airlift out.
I thanked them and told them that I was no longer interested in the job. I heard, later, that she had lived, albeit with traumatic brain injury.
Straightforward cases are rhinoceroses. They’re not quite unicorns, in that they do exist. They are just very rare.
The Sydney Anglican Church has a generous helping of Omelas. At its summer camps, bright-towered by the sea, the sunlight sparkles in the rigging of boats. Sandstone churches nestle in moss-grown gardens. At least when I was growing up, there was altogether too much shimmering tambourine. Glebe – an inner-city suburb that belongs to the church, an old word meaning the clergyman’s benefice and income – is nothing if not great parks and houses with red roofs and painted walls.
The parish to which I belonged had more Omelas in it than most. There was a room with a locked door, and in that room was a child. It was not defective and it was not dirty, but it was abused.
It would be satisfying to say that I walked away from the church because of the child. Satisfying, but untrue. I walked away – stumbled away, rather – because I was lied to, and it broke me. It wasn’t until a few years later that I found out about the child, and understood what had happened to it as of a piece with the rest of the lies.
What is true is that I can no longer remember my childhood’s sparkling boats or the old people in their robes or the music without thinking, with fury and anguish, of that child in the locked room.
Intermission: A song for Le Guin
You were the tattered paperback on my sister’s bookshelf; you were my endlessly overdue library books; you did a reading at a bookstore in the Haight the week of the September 11 attacks. Do you remember? I was the young woman in the back quietly weeping. Well, I was one of them. You taught me the true name of the shadow, and what dragons are. You taught me how to revisit my old stories and rewrite them. You showed me what I wanted to be: a mind always reaching out, reaching out to be whole. You are my Great Bear and my Master Doorkeeper. I love you.
3. A disorderly retreat
Not surprisingly, then, one of my abortive PhD proposals was on feminist scifi, and perhaps in one of my alternate-universe lives I hold the Ursula K. Le Guin Chair in Postcolonialist Speculative Fiction (is this a real thing? Because it bloody well ought to be.) In this life I have a master’s degree and am a professor of nothing, because even in 1994 when I graduated, no matter how many times I ran the numbers, I could not find a way to stay in the academy and indulge an expensive passion for equestrian sport.
More frighteningly, very few of the scenarios I ran included the ability to keep much of a roof over my own head. When I looked around at my peers and the cohort ahead of me in graduate school, their lives and prospects could best be described with words like “monastic” and “austere.” Twenty years later, when I look at the academic careers of young people with qualifications like mine, I come up with words like “predicament,” “soul-destroying” and “ongoing scandal.”
Once again, I wish I had left the academy because I was taking a principled stand against the exploitation of grad student labour. In fact, I grabbed whatever I could carry and fled.
Epilogue: Living and working in Omelas
Whether you walk, stumble or flee from Omelas, it turns out the worlds beyond the city have something in common: locked rooms in which children are being held prisoner. I live in San Francisco now, and on our good days my friends and I might qualify as mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives are not wretched. (On our bad days all bets are off.) With one voice, the authorities in our lives insist that the price of our happiness includes torture, drones, and the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. I don’t know whether this is true, but I know that I am complicit in these atrocities.
And then there’s White feminism and its history of racism (and its histories of ableism and classism and transphobia and and and.) I’m a feminist to my bone marrow, but I’ll be damned if I’ll obtain my own liberation at the expense of anyone else.
I used to think the answer to the challenge of “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” would be for the walkers to join forces, fly back to the city with helicopter gunships and free the child by any means necessary. Now I think the best we can do is practise vigilance. To watch out for people who might be locking children in rooms. And to refrain from locking children in rooms ourselves.
Have you walked away? What’s it like where you are?
Folks, we’re delighted to announce the launch of the Geek Feminism Book Club, dedicated to:
- geek discussions of feminist books,
- feminist discussion of geek books, and
- geek feminist discussions of books!
Our immediate models are (for this author, who is lowbrow) the Hairpin’s Classic Trash feature, and (for Mary, who is not) Crooked Timber’s much weightier Susanna Clarke seminar. Other inspirations include the late, lamented Racialicious Octavia Butler book club and the literary discussions hosted by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I expect we will meet somewhere in the middle…
In any case, it’ll work like this. Each month, starting this month, we’ll pick a title together. A month later – to give participants time to get and read the book – we’ll open a thread for discussion. We’ll try to include books available under CC licenses and/or available in electronic formats. If the community picks a book that can’t be had except for cash, we’ll set up a scholarship fund to try to ensure open access.
Here are some of the books we’ve thought about for the kickoff on Thursday February 28th. Vote for your favorite below! Suggestions always welcome!
- Biella Coleman, Coding Freedom
- bell hooks, Writing Beyond Race
- Ursula Le Guin, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas
- Sarah Schulman, The Gentrification of the Mind
- Gail Simone, Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection
ETA: The voting period is over, and we have a tie! Full results are here, but to summarize: Le Guin and Simone both got 14 votes, hooks 9, Coleman 8 and Schulman 7. I suggest we start with (drumroll):
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas on Thursday February 28th
and then read
Batgirl, Vol. 1 on Thursday March 25th.
In fact, since there was so much enthusiasm for all five titles, what about reading the hooks in April, and so on? We can have another vote when we work our way through these five.
(Oskar, you’re right, we should definitely try that polling thing. Making spreadsheets by hand feels very second-wave…)
It is so splendid when excellent people are recognized for their excellence! It’s delightful that Octavia Butler won a posthumous Solstice Award and that Connie Willis was given the Damon Knight Grand Master Award. And! I am personally over the moon that Jo Walton’s Among Others won the 2011 Nebula.
I loved this book so very much and if I haven’t already forced it into your hands, you are to imagine me doing it now: this is a geek feminist coming-of-age novel, and it is full of wonders.
- Four-day online course in September: Build Your Own WordPress Website. Early bird and BlogHer discounts now available.
- N.K. Jemisin writes “The Limitations of Womanhood in Fantasy.”Â “Here’s the problem with this wholesale rejection of both societally-imposed and self-chosen “typical” women’s behaviors…”
- Nancy Linde wants the girls-in-science recruiters to learn some marketing. “Which title did the girls like? Dot Diva, of course. To them, the word “diva” was neither negative nor frivolous—rather, it suggested maturity and sophistication, a good thing among aspirational young women.”
- Trigger warning More Heartbreak: Jim Henley documents the survivor statements that Kynn Bartlett, creator of the feminist RPG proposal Heartbreak & Heroines, is a sexual abuser. (Also on our wiki.)
- On being a woman and a non-physicist at CERN:
I… feel like people here, men especially, treat me like some sort of novelty item. Like because I am not a physicist, I have nothing substantive to contribute to CERN, but it’s cute that I try.
- Archive reveals women’s vital role in the Post Office:
Records of Post Office workers dating back to 1737 have been published online for the first time.
- Rebuttal: Make Room In the Bubble For Everyone:
Being gender-blind or race-blind or truly meritocratic is an incredibly worthy aspiration, but there’s plenty of research including new neuroscience to demonstrate it isn’t possible without actively mitigating individual and organizational biases.
- What is Feminist About Open Access?: A Relational Approach to Copyright in the Academy: Is it a feminist/social-justice issue that access to scholarly information is often walled off by its publishers?
- Questions for Nicholas de Monchaux, author of Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo:
Like few others in the whole process, [the Playtex seamstresses] really had the lives of the astronauts literally in their hands. They had a skill and dedication that was unparalleled. The same women have made U.S. space suits all the way up to the shuttle and space station era, so the skill is by no means obsolete.
You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).
Thanks to everyone who suggested links.
This is a guest post by Katie Zenke. Katie has been writing about children’s books for almost ten years and occasionally writes about them in various places online. She even has a blog that she sometimes updates at Pixiepalace.com. For several years she also worked in (and was the lead of for part of that time) the childrens and teen departments of one of the largest bookstores in the midwest. One of these days she plans to officially work in the book world again.
Katie is lending her expertise to answer this Ask a Geek Feminist question:
Is there a good series of books for tech-loving less than 10yo kids that isn’t sexist?
The Zac Power series seems OK for what it is, apart from the fact that they have an unreasonable division of good characters being male and bad characters being female.
The main good characters are Zac and his brother Leon, while Caz and her sister Leoni are two of the main bad characters.
Another problem is that those books have a lot of anti-nerd propaganda, which has got to be bad for kids who are destined to be called nerds in high school.
Is there a geeky modern Enid Blyton out there?
It is sadly true that finding good books for kids that are feminist is far more difficult than it should be, however they absolutely do exist. I wanted to highlight some of the great books that we can share with kids that do have feminist themes and content.
The list is roughly organized by age, but keep in mind that kids are all different and one ten-year-old might be reading early chapter books while another is totally ready for the more dense novels to be found in the middle-school and high school lists. Kids also have their own individual interests and preferences (even little kids), so just as you might buy a mystery for your mom but never for your girlfriend, make sure the kid you’re getting the book for likes the topic or genre first! Continue reading