Tag Archives: SF fandom

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

More horrible than your worst linkspam (18th July, 2011)

  • Black and WTF: photographs of suffragettes. In 1912, Scotland Yard detectives bought their first camera to covertly photograph suffragettes.
  • A bit of an oldie, but relevant to our recent Google+ discussions: Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names: So, as a public service, I’m going to list assumptions your systems probably make about names. All of these assumptions are wrong. Try to make less of them next time you write a system which touches names.
  • Great 101 comment from karenm77 about why it was creepy to proposition Rebecca Watson at 4am in an elevator. (Via tigtog.) Yeah, in case you missed it.
  • Sheryl Sandberg & Male-Dominated Silicon Valley: an interview with Facebook’s COO. You can’t come [into space], [Sandberg’s son] said. I’ve already invited my sister, and there’s only one girl in space. At first, Sandberg laughed. And then it dawned on her that there is only one woman in these movies.
  • Debunking the Top 5 Myths About Lady Scientists: So, people of the universe, when I tell you that I am a scientist, the only conclusion you should draw is that I like science.  Not what I look like or how I dress.  Not what I like to do in my free time.  Not how I interact with other people.  And real world, get used to me because I am your average scientist and I am not at all who you try to say I am.
  • A linkspam of a linkspam: Meanwhile, Back in SFland: While I was off enjoying the company of several thousand women (and an increasing number of men, as Sharon Sala graciously noted while accepting her lifetime achievement award) in Romanceland, the gender wars seem to have broken out in SFland again.
  • You can’t fight sexism with sexism: So, please, before you write about getting women into the game industry, first check and make sure that you’re not perpetuating the very attitudes you’re arguing against before you publish.
  • Are the Open Data Warriors Fighting for Robin Hood or the Sheriff?: Some Reflections on OKCon 2011 and the Emerging Data Divide: Cogent criticism of the demographics of the open-data movement.

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.

Oh-The-Humanities_onshirt

Geekery and the humanities

Cross posted at From Austin to A&M.

I was at ApolloCon in Houston this year, and am really glad I went. I was on a couple of panels, met some really nice people, and got to pontificate about geek culture and science fiction for a few days. A couple of things really got under my skin (I think this may be my fate at every con I go to), but the one that made me the saddest happened at the Geek Girls in Popular Culture panel, which I was a part of. During our closing remarks, I noted that we seem to only be including women in the science/tech/math fields when we talked about “geek girls” and this is, I think, a real problem. As a humanities-based geek myself, it made me feel like I was being left out, but also it seems to include the assumption that the STEM fields are simply better than the humanities, and everyone would be better off if all geeks were in those fields. I worded it carefully, because I didn’t want it to sound like an accusation, and so it came out much more “Dude, I’m a geek too, and it hurts my feelings when everyone acts like I should be a computer nerd to count as one.” The answer I got shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. One of the panelists, and at least two audience members chimed in with, “Well, the only reason you’re in the humanities is because you’ve been discouraged from being in STEM.”

I was kind of stunned by that answer, in part because I had just told this group of people that I am making the humanities my career, and their response was to basically argue that it’s worthless, or at least worth less. So I didn’t say anything for a second, trying to come up with an answer that wasn’t, “Fuck you. The majority of my work lately has been determining the values of this motherfucking subculture right here, and you are the subjects of that work. It doesn’t make any sense for you to tell me that that isn’t worthwhile.” I had told these people that I do fan studies, and as fans, their response is tell me that I only chose my field because I had been discouraged from doing more important work? Seriously.

Someone on the panel did backtrack a little, saying “well, we should be encouraging everyone to be in the fields they enjoy and are good at, whatever that may be,” but there’s still this…niggling. Because this is not the first place in geek culture I have seen a strong preference for STEM over the humanities, and it’s not the first place I’ve seen it outright said that the former is better than the latter, especially for women. And that’s precisely what that argument is; by saying that I’m only in the humanities because everyone knows girls are bad at STEM, they are arguing that all things being equal, every girl (or at least geek girl) would choose STEM. Because, you know, it’s better. Maybe the reason we like to think this is that geeks tend to buy hook, line, and sinker the idea that logic is better than emotion and objectivity is better than subjectivity. And we associate humanities with the latter and the sciences/math with the former. But subjectivity and emotion are not poison and they are not invalid. If you think an argument without emotion is the best kind of argument, go preach eating babies to the poor. If you think that subjective experiences don’t matter, then I guess we can all stop listening to the marginalized people of the world talking about discrimination in their lives. Because “objective” more often than not just means the words of white, hetero, cis men, whose experiences are figured as neutral and who we seem to think are unaffected by their sex, race, class, sexuality, etc.

I’m not claiming that every individual geek is consciously a logic-worshipping dude who hates gross lady feelings. But this logic worship is something that flutters just under the surface of geek culture, and manifests in seemingly harmless statements like those made at this panel. In this culture, masculinity is logic and science and femininity is emotion and feeling, and one is clearly superior to the other. Look at the show Big Bang Theory as an example. while Leonard is our hero, he is not the star of this show; Sheldon is. And Sheldon, let’s be honest, is kind of a dick. He has no regard for other people and doesn’t think anyone is as important as himself. But he’s smart, and super logical, and thus we like him. We’re supposed to like him, even as we roll our eyes at him, because he may be bad at social situations but at least he is objective! It doesn’t even seem to occur to most geek viewers that, by most measures, Sheldon is a terrible person. Because that doesn’t matter as much as his adherence to an objective, logical worldview. The comparison of him to Spock indicates, I think, another geek hero who represents this worship of logical thinking over emotional intelligence; while Spock’s character development mostly consists of him re-valuing emotion, most fans seem to see him as awesome because he appears to escape the emotion-ridden, subjectively experienced life that we must live through.

I think one of the reasons this logic worship is just under the surface of geek communities, rather than explicit, is because fan communities are actually all about personal experiences (with the text, with each other), even when they pretend not to be. This is a culture in which people dress up as characters, role-play as characters, write stories about characters, and thus relate the text to themselves and their lives. We get emotionally invested in our games, in our TV shows, in our movies, and in our books, because that’s what fans do. So perhaps this obsession with science and logic is more an anxiety than anything else; maybe fans overcompensate for what they know is their own deeply personal emotional engagement with a text.

Now, I’m not anti-logic or anti-science; I do think these things are valuable, but they can only be convincing and powerful when they take into account emotion and the humanities (for lack of a better term). None of these things work best on their own. Which brings me to my real argument: the idea that the humanities are less important than STEM is an idea that geeks need to drop, because the humanities are constitutive to geek culture, just as much as science, technology, and math are.

The idea that the humanities is not important to geek cultures is patently ridiculous; most of the time geek fan cultures are based on books or TV shows (you know, things written by writers and performed by actors, who are by definition in “the arts”); and game designers and writers are likely to have studied literature and the arts to prepare for their jobs, not just programming and computer science. The study of the King Arthur myth, Tolkien, fantasy, and history are not part of physics or chemistry; they are part of the humanities. Obviously, science and math and computers are all important parts of geek culture, but so is literature and history and the arts.

In fact, geek culture is one of those places that the STEM fields and the humanities have blended in a significant and sort of beautiful way; this is the culture in which scientists and philosophers can and do have meaningful conversations, in which literature and science come together in a novel, in which the engineer and the literary critic talk for hours on end at a convention, in which art and cyborgs are not at all at odds. This is the place where these two “opposites” meet and mingle and blend, and for our communities to really shine, we need to get rid of this underlying belief that one is better than the other.

So let’s stop ragging on the arts and humanities, and stop dismissing geeks who do them as limited or stifled. Some of us are drawn to the humanities and arts because of what they do in our culture and can do for our culture, because we recognize that they are important in geek culture and in our world. I am not a literary critic because I couldn’t think of anything more worthy to do. And I don’t think being one makes me less of a geek than anyone else.

Linkspamming the night away (11th May, 2011)

  • May 13 in Boston: A project-driven introduction to Python for women and their friends (unfortunately now gone to “waiting list only” status).
  • An open letter to the Australian SF community: However, the venue staging was awful, in terms of its accessibility. High, and only accessible by temporary stairs, the stage was off-limits to anyone in a wheelchair, anyone in an electric scooter and anyone with a significant mobility impairment… This should not be acceptable to us as a community in the twenty-first century.
  • How To Encourage More Brown Women To Launch Tech Startups I realized that simply asking, “Are you going?” is enough to make a difference in someone’s awareness.
  • As benno37 says: Tip to open source developers: don’t name your library after a sexist/offensive/illegal activity. I’m looking at you upskirt! Seriously, wtf. (So that not everyone has to google for the term, upskirt is a library to parse the Markdown syntax for webpages. The Wikipedia page for Markdown has loads of alternative implementations to choose from.)
  • Confessions of a Fairy Tale Addict: Because it is a lifestyle choice, to write fairy tale books. Make no mistake. I mean, in our culture, the phrase fairy tale practically means: trite, lightweight, and fluffy. You know, girl stuff.
  • There’s a long series of interviews conducted in 2010/2011 with women working in planetary science. See for example Natalie Batalha (From postdoc to Deputy Project Scientist on Kepler), Amy Jurewicz (Stardust, Genesis, and SCIM) and for that matter Emily Lakdawalla (It is NOT failure to leave academia).

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.

Things I don’t have to linkspam about today (20th October, 2010)

Say hello to Ms Spam-Spam! We’ve put in a special account for linkspams to make it more clear that linkspams are a group effort here. All the old linkspams are now listed with this account too.

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

G33k & G4M3R Girls: You’re doing it wrong.

Metaneira is a 30 year old female currently in school for a master’s in public administration focusing on the non-profit sector. Meta has been gaming since she could hold a joystick, and has been blogging in one form or another since 1999. She currently co-hosts a site about mages and feminist issues in World of Warcraft at www.empoweredfire.com.

This post originally appeared at Empowered Fire.

By now you may have seen the video “G33k & G4M3R Girls,” a parody of Katy Perry’s “California Girls” written by a few women involved with geek culture. (If you haven’t, you can see it here: while safe for work, the video features women very scantily clad and has an aggressively cloying auto-tuned soundtrack. Watch at your own risk.) The four women — Milynn Sarley, Clare Grant, Rileah Vanderbilt, and Michele Boyd — form “Team Unicorn” and were interviewed by the Official Star Wars Blog about the video. The author of the article says the ladies answer as one unit “cause that’s how they roll.” Fine: “Team Unicorn” it is. Team Unicorn: you’re doing it wrong.

Now, let me get a few things straight: I’m a geek. I’m a gamer. And I’m a woman. But none of those things are me: they are just parts of the whole. Having my entire personality boiled down to a list of nerdy references I get or things I enjoy doing is kind of absurd, but this is what the video promotes. From the very start, Seth Green asks, “Hello friends… don’t you want to meet a nice girl?” The video is not aimed at the women it is purporting to celebrate: it is straight-up pandering to the largely sexist, male-centric geek subculture. It is geek women served up for the male gaze on a shiny latex platter. This is not empowering.

Continue reading

Death by a thousand links (20th April, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

How John Scalzi invented fanfic

So the other day John Scalzi posted on his blog that he is writing a “reboot” of H. Beam Piper’s science fiction novel “Little Fuzzy”. He says:

Why did you do this?

Because as far as I know it’s never been done before. Science fiction TV and movie series are rebooted all the time — see Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek for recent examples of this — but I can’t think of a significant, original universe in science fiction literature in which this has been done, at least, not by someone who is not the original author. So I thought, hey, this seems like it could be a fun thing to do. So I did it.

If your eyes aren’t rolling enough already (because, hello, fan fiction?), melannen pointed out to me that Ardath Mayhar, a female author, had even written a professionally published retelling of the Little Fuzzy story (a fact that’s mentioned on the Wikipedia page for Little Fuzzy, so it’s hardly obscure.)

Is it time for another round of How To Suppress Women’s Writing?

  • She didn’t write it.

(But if it’s clear she did the deed. . .)

  • She wrote it, but she shouldn’t have. (It’s political, sexual, masculine, feminist.)
  • She wrote it, but look what she wrote about. (The bedroom, the kitchen, her family. Other women!)
  • She wrote it, but she wrote only one of it. (“Jane Eyre. Poor dear, that’s all she ever. . .â€)
  • She wrote it, but she isn’t really an artist, and it isn’t really art. (It’s a thriller, a romance, a children’s book. It’s sci fi!)
  • She wrote it, but she had help. (Robert Browning. Branwell Bronte. Her own “masculine side.â€)
  • She wrote it, but she’s an anomaly. (Woolf. With Leonard’s help….)
  • She wrote it BUT. . .

When women do it, it’s just fan fiction. When men do it, it’s a reboot. Right.

ETA: I’ve been pointed at a subsequent post in which Scalzi admits he’s writing fanfic.

For those who are new here, I’d like to point out that we have a comment policy which asks you to “Be at least one of: feminist, friendly, amusing, or perspicacious. Two is even better.” Comments along the lines of “She wrote it, BUT…” (it wasn’t commercially published, it wasn’t called a reboot because we hadn’t invented that word yet, she didn’t have permission from TPTB…) will be bitbucketed.

Cage match

Author Info: Quixotess is a geek of wordplay, numberplay, names, history, easy logic puzzles, IRC, various works of fiction (particularly speculative fiction), certain aspects of theatre, and local geology. Not computers, though. She blogs at Reconcile and has an IRC channel which she would like you to visit.

This is the Suvudu [Cross-Verse] Cage Match, where we may vote on how characters from various speculative fiction works may fare when fighting each other, tournament style. The order and initial matches were chosen randomly.

I think it’s worth looking at, first because you all ought to have a chance to vote. Second, because of the dynamics surrounding the tournament that i think merit feminist examination.

Some questions: How many of the characters are women? How many of the characters are characters of color? How many of the authors are? Now, how many of those characters are winning?

I think it’s pretty clear that in some cases, as with the Jaime Lannister vs Hermione Granger match, the white male character is winning at least in part because of sexism on the part of the voters. Jaime’s a handsome man, oldest son of a great lord, and an experienced warrior (a very male-dominated profession) and Hermione Granger is a girl whose parents are dentists. In fact, look at what Jaime’s author Martin has to say about the pairing on his livejournal.

[Jaime’s] opponent? Well, he’s really pissed off about that. He wanted Conan or Elric or Aragorn. Instead he’s drawn (they CLAIM it’s random)…

Of course Martin frames it as his character wanting to fight one of these kingly heroes (more on that later), but even if Martin himself didn’t care, you can bet that many of his readers–gritty realism fans, a realm also dominated by men–identify with Jaime.

Speaking of gritty realism, Martin’s written up a little ditty on how he thinks the match would really go [TRIGGER WARNING]:

He’s not going to waste time and effort swatting at birds with his sword, either. He’s encased in gilded steel. What are they going to do, crap on him? He’ll rush right through the birds, and go straight for Hermione. A sword is not a knight’s only weapon. While she’s watching the blade, he will slam his shield right into her face, knock her off her feet. Let her try and mumble those spells with a mouthful of broken teeth.

Martin’s well known for putting a lot of violence in his books, where it fits, but I find it shocking when applied to characters from another verse, especially a young woman. As this piece is written to convince readers that Jaime would beat Hermione in a fight, the effect is not so much “gritty realism” as “alarming glee.”

I don’t mean to pick on Martin (even if he deserves it) because I know that various fandoms as boy’s clubs is familiar to all of us. I see that pattern playing out here.

I think it’s equally interesting to look at those cases in which there is a genuine imbalance of power. For example, see Hiro Protagonist vs Gandalf and Lyra Belacqua (called Silvertongue) vs Cthulu. No points for guessing who’s winning those fights.

Look at how many of the characters in the tournament are gods, messiahs, patriarchs, or kings. I don’t know all of these verses, but I see Aslan, Dumbledore, Gandalf, Cthulu, Conan, Aragorn, and Rand al’Thor. The women and characters of color are likely to be knocked out in the first round here because they’re going up against characters who their authors made all-powerful.

How much we enshrine ultimate power! Most of those with unconventional powers are going down to a very male idea of strength or intelligence; those who win are those for whom sheer power is a big part of their characters. (for example, Arthur Dent lost, narrowly, to the Shrike.) Look also at how many of these characters have some sort of Grand Destiny–that trope which makes it okay to have been born a farmboy, or living in exile, because in reality you are still more important than others in the fabric of the universe. In this sense it’s worth looking not just at the characters’ demographics, but at their abilities and means of power, and the intersection thereof. I’m talking about the difference between conventional marks of heroes and villains–destiny or control over the cosmos–and unconventional powers–like access to information and lying, as with Lyra, or improbable luck, as with Arthur Dent.

Many people in the comments have complained about the inclusion of Cthulu in the contest, predicting that it will come down to a battle between him and Aslan, because who can stand against those two? They might be right, but why? What’s with our preference for these mighty male forces of nature or chosen ones of gods?

What do you think?

Wiscon panel brainstorming post

Those of you who attend WisCon probably already know that they are seeking program ideas. For those who have never attended WisCon before, it is a Feminist Science Fiction Convention held each May in Madison, Wisconsin. I went for the first time last year, and met many of the GF bloggers there for the first time, not to mention many of our regular commenters. It was a great experience, and one I look forward to repeating this year. If you’ve never been to an SF convention before, I can recommend this one to first-timers.

Anyway! My point! I had one!

Program suggestions close on the 22nd. What are you going to suggest? Got any half-formed ideas you’d like to bounce around? Do any of the geek feminist events of 2009 suggest panels? And the most important question: GF Party Y/Y?

How much is that linkspam in the window? (13th December, 2009)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.