Archive for the ‘conventions’ Category

Cross-posted: A Serious Note From John

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

John of Comics Oughta Be Fun helps out little stuffed bull Bully with a serious note:

Overheard at San Diego Comic-Con while I was having lunch on the balcony of the Convention Center on Sunday July 27: a bunch of guys looking at the digital photos on the camera of another, while he narrated: “These were the Ghostbusters girls. That one, I grabbed her ass, ’cause I wanted to see what her reaction was.” This was only one example of several instances of harassment, stalking or assault that I saw at San Diego this time.

1. One of my friends was working at a con booth selling books. She was stalked by a man who came to her booth several times, pestering her to get together for a date that night. One of her co-workers chased him off the final time.

2. On Friday, just before the show closed, this same woman was closing up her tables when a group of four men came to her booth, started taking photographs of her, telling her she was the “prettiest girl at the con.” They they entered the booth, started hugging and kissing her and taking photographs of themselves doing so. She was confused and scared, but they left quickly after doing that.

3. Another friend of mine, a woman running her own booth: on Friday a man came to her booth and openly criticized her drawing ability and sense of design. Reports from others in the same section of the floor confirmed he’d targeted several women with the same sort of abuse and criticism.

Quite simply, this behavior has got to stop at Comic-Con. It should never be a sort of place where anyone, man or woman, feels unsafe or attacked either verbally or physically in any shape or form. There are those, sadly, who get off on this sort of behavior and assault, whether it’s to professional booth models, cosplayers or costumed women, or women who are just there to work. This is not acceptable behavior under any circumstance, no matter what you look like or how you’re dressed, whether you are in a Princess Leia slave girl outfit or business casual for running your booth.

On Saturday, the day after the second event I described above, I pulled out my convention book to investigate what you can do and who you can speak to after such an occurrence. On page two of the book there is a large grey box outlining “Convention Policies,” which contain rules against smoking, live animals, wheeled handcarts, recording at video presentations, drawing or aiming your replica weapon, and giving your badge to others. There is nothing about attendee-to-attendee personal behavior.

Page three of the book contains a “Where Is It?” guide to specific Comic-Con events and services. There’s no general information room or desk listed, nor is there a contact location for security, so I go to the Guest Relations Desk. I speak to a volunteer manning the desk; she’s sympathetic to the situation but who doesn’t have a clear answer to my question: “What’s Comic-Con’s policy and method of dealing with complaints about harassment?” She directs me to the nearest security guard, who is also sympathetic listening to my reports, but short of the women wanting to report the incidents with the names of their harassers, there’s little that can be done.

“I understand that,” I tell them both, “but what I’m asking is more hypothetical and informational: if there is a set Comic-Con policy on harassment and physical and verbal abuse on Con attendees and exhibitors, and if so, what’s the specific procedure by which someone should report it, and specifically where should they go?” But this wasn’t a question either could answer.

So, according to published con policy, there is no tolerance for smoking, drawn weapons, personal pages or selling bootleg videos on the floor, and these rules are written down in black and white in the con booklet. There is not a word in the written rules about harassment or the like. I would like to see something like “Comic-Con has zero tolerance for harassment or violence against any of our attendees or exhibitors. Please report instances to a security guard or the Con Office in room XXX.”

The first step to preventing such harassment is giving its victims the knowledge that they can safely and swiftly report such instances to someone in authority. Having no published guideline, and indeed being unable to give a clear answer to questions about it, gives harassment and violence one more rep-tape loophole to hide behind.

I enjoyed Comic-Con. I’m looking forward to coming back next year. So, in fact, are the two women whose experiences I’ve retold above. Aside from those instances, they had a good time at the show. But those instances of harassment shouldn’t have happened at all, and that they did under no clear-cut instructions about what to do sadly invites the continuation of such behavior, or even worse.

I don’t understand why there’s no such written policy about what is not tolerated and what to do when this happens. Is there anyone at Comic-Con able to explain this? Does a similar written policy exist in the booklets for other conventions (SF, comics or otherwise) that could be used as a model? Can it be adapted or adapted, and enforced, for Comic-Con? As the leading event of the comics and pop culture world, Comic-Con should work to make everyone who attends feel comfortable and safe.

Con harassment: it’s an ugly and disgusting reality that embarrasses the geek community and actively discourages participation.

Recent examples:

The Open Source Boob Project.

KC describes being harassed at the party at WisCon.

Rachel talks about the “Free Hugs” guy who tried to wheedle one after a “no”.

Cheryl Lynn recounts the extra-special racism of sexual harassment.

Delux_vivens likewise.

Yaoi/yuri paddles, or, don’t fucking hit people.

Basically, no one is entitled to touch other people’s boobs or butts or hair. No one is entitled to verbally harass or stalk people. No one is entitled to smack other people into performing sexual acts for their pleasure. It doesn’t matter how drunk/high/horny they are; there is no excuse. If it’s not consensual, it shouldn’t happen.

You’d think that’d be obvious, but apparently not.

And since it’s not, SDCC definitely needs to take further steps to address it.

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Bits And Bobs

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

I would love to tell you all about WisCon, but someone already has! Robyn Fleming of Cerise magazine writes her pre-con and con write-up, including an account of the most excellent Capes and Consoles party run jointly by Cerise and

Check out the costumes – I’m the redhead in the green dress and labcoat, hair festooned with ivy leaves. Since I spent the evening mixing concoctions at the bar, this costume choice was deliberate, and entirely awesome.

(Note: When I say that high heels are not suitable for most superheroic endeavours, I do speak from experience. Crouching and swivelling to grab bottles of merlot in three-inch heels is not particularly challenging, but I woke the next day with aching quadriceps, and I am gifted with Thighs of Steel.)

After this and a wee trip to NYC, of which more later, I returned! To be immediately swallowed by a pile of essays to grade and things to review. Life always seems a little flat post-WisCon, but being handed a number of thoughtful critiques of contemporary Hollywood cinema and excellent comics and books is a sovereign specific against what ails me.

Also invigorating: Mistress, the new webcomic hosted by Author and artist Andrea M. Bell pitched it to the Board as “Jane Austen meets Die Hard“, and I was instantly adamant that this was exactly what the universe required.

Mistress is “the story of Mardigale Beauchulle and her romance with the crown prince of Raeuca, Kamreide Renlauther”, and is full of assassinations and drama and delightful hats. It updates Mondays.’s forums are currently running a survey, where we ask for input from you, the forum user. You have a wonderful opportunity to win fabulous prizes and an even more wonderful (though slightly less potentially lucrative) opportunity to make the forums a better place. Have your say; win my gratitude.

And finally, of that NYC trip. Last year, I wrote a novel, and in May my lovely agent Barry Goldblatt sold it to my lovely editor, Alvina Ling of Little, Brown, both of whom I met in New York. Alvina’s take on this event is here; my joy-filled burbling is here.

Guardian of the Dead tells the story of young New Zealander Ellie Spencer, who discovers that certain of the creatures of Maori mythology are a) not mythological and b) fully intent on mass murder. Traumatic journeys, romance and kickbuttery ensue!

It has nothing to do with superheroes, but it does have teenagers and theatre and Tae Kwan Do and taniwha and all that other good stuff, and at the moment it looks like you will be able to read it sometime in 2010. That’s in the FUTURE.

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Honour and Reputation.

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

The Open Source Boob Project, as I’m sure many GRC readers have learned, was a private-to-public experiment held at Penguicon (not under the aegis of the convention), wherein a number of women (some wearing badges indicating their willingness/antipathy, and some not) were approached by people asking if they could touch their breasts.

In April, which is, not incidentally, Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Livejournal’s the Ferrett, an early adopter of this… oh, let’s say, “astonishing” endeavour, wrote a rapturous post about how great it was that he “touched at least fifteen sets of boobs at Penguicon” in the spirit of totally non-tawdry empowerment of women .

For some bizarre reason, not everyone responding embraced the notion that empowering women to mystically heal the wounds of men with their breasts heralded an exciting movement towards a feminist utopia.

The aftermath has included some excellent discussions on the vectors of power and privilege that make a reverse-gender campaign unworkable, some extraordinary satire, plenty of anecdotal real-life examples of why such an experiment is utterly untenable, and many, many passionate and discerning responses on why, whether participants were enjoying themselves or not, representing women as “available” or “unavailable” for touch is not just a way to erase the memories of one’s high school rejection, or a worshipful celebration of the female body, but a reification of the cultural gender binary where women’s bodies are always rendered as either “available” or “unavailable”, and never as a body actually belonging to the woman in question.

It has also included numerous fascinating examples of that amusing phenomena I like to call “Look! A monkey!” wherein someone will defend something they or someone else has said, not on the grounds that the thing itself is defensible, but because this person has done or said other things that were laudable. Or has acted in support of the group that they have now pissed off. Or in the most egregious examples, have a girlfriend/black friend/gay brother/transgender roommate/Jewish teacher, so it is totally unfair to call them out on the misogynistic/racist/heterosexist/transphobic/anti-Semitic thing that they have just said.

This is a good person and you are hurting their feelings! Stop taking this out of context of the rest of their lives! Can’t you concentrate on the positive? LOOK: A MONKEY.

So it is for the Ferrett, who has had stalwart defenders pointing out that he is a good guy, that he has written a comic strip that poses more than a few feminist responses to adverse situations, that his intentions were good and, of course, that he is married.

The problem is that no matter how many monkeys are thrown into the background to provide eyecatching stunts of simian prowess, the person who has said the stupid thing has still said the stupid thing. The problem is that whether the injured party is diverted by monkey spectacle or not, the person who has said the stupid thing has still said the stupid thing. The problem is that when the earth burns up in a supernova flare and the monkeys that have taken over the world in ages past disassemble into atoms, the person who has said the stupid thing will still have said the stupid thing, although, admittedly, at that point it will mean significantly less to the injured party.

The Ferrett wrote this, which works from the assumption that women’s self-worth and body image is dependent on male approval:

We went around the con, asking those who we thought might be amenable – you didn’t just ask anyone, but rather the ones who’d dressed to impress – and generally, people responded. They understood how this worked instinctively, and it worked.

By the end of the evening, women were coming up to us. “My breasts,” they asked shyly, having heard about the project. “Are they… are they good enough to be touched?” And lo, we showed them how beautiful their bodies were without turning it into something tawdry.

With feminist co-author Roni*, he also wrote the script for this comic, which neatly and viciously dissects a particularly irritating trend of poor stories for female characters.

The two are not irreconcilable.

It is entirely possible to do both bad shit and good shit in one’s life. The hard part is recognizing, first, which is which, and second, that one has to own all of one’s crap. Among a flood of ifs, buts and protestations that it wasn’t like that and he didn’t mean it that way, the Ferett has acknowledged that he did indeed screw up tremendously. And that is to his credit. Few people like to think that the words coming from their mouth are tainted with the stench of refuse, but sometimes it is time to recognize that one has indeed spoken with one’s ass. And, also, it is time to abandon this metaphor.

No matter what good deeds you have done, and will continue to do, you will almost certainly say something hurtful, offensive and wrong at some point in your life. You can probably name about half a dozen off the top of your head – I certainly can, starting from the truly fucked-up number of times I called my autistic little brother a retard.

Calling my brother a retard did not make me a bad person forever and ever world without end amen. It made me a person who said something horrible, many times. But just as the wrong things I have done do not cancel out all the good things I have accomplished for myself and others, the good things I have done do not absolve me of saying something truly reprehensible.

I will always have called my brother a retard. I can never not have done it. Don’t look at the monkey: I did it, and I will regret it until I die.

Don’t look at the monkey: Joe Quesada’s love for his daughter doesn’t mean that his theories on why women don’t enter the industry aren’t inaccurate and insulting. Brian Michael Bendis’ devotion to his mother and female friends doesn’t mean his responses to those objecting to the Tigra beatdown sequence were not dismissive and rude. Gail Simone’s entirely laudable contributions to exposing the plight of women in comics do not excuse her from a feminist critique of a no-no-no-okay, yes story.

Those of us protesting misogyny in comics are used to exhortations to look at the monkey. You ought to concentrate on the positive, we’re told. And we do know the monkey is there; we may well watch it later.

Truth be told, it’s no fun to deal with sexism. Taking the time to inspect it is sometimes painful, distressing, and humiliating for all concerned. But nothing will ever change until we can look, undistracted, and see what’s wrong.

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Vito-Excalibur’s Open Source Women Back Each Other Up Project.

Link round-up on JournalFen.

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Comment on this column

* Roni pointed out that earlier versions of this column glossed over her co-authorship, for which I sincerely apologise. I had identified the Ferrett as the writer, and neglected to mention not only her participation as artist, but as co-author.

Farewell To Meat

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

Ah, summertime, and the living is easy! For you, it may well be a good deal colder, but I hope you enjoyed your own celebrations, secular or religious, and managed to steal yourself some peace and joy from the hectic stresses of the holiday period. For me, it’s a time for food, family, arguments over whether “qis” is an acceptable Scrabble play, and other classic pursuits of the season.

I’ve also come down with a bad case of Holiday Brain, where one’s mind, devoid of its usual stimulus, lazes and settles into considering no thought more complex than whether one should have a glass of chardonnay, or one of riesling.* If you are also afflicted with this crippling condition, I hope that the 19th Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans might provide a sovereign specific.


The January edition of women’s gaming magazine Cerise is out and, as ever, is jam-packed with items of interest. My favourite is Richard Pilbeam’s article Choosing Innovation Over Imitation, where he examines the sexist tropes perpetuated in the RPG Maker community:

This generally appalling handling of female characters would be understandable, if no less annoying, were these professional products with money and careers riding on their success; game developers are often pressured into playing it safe and recycling a formula which allegedly been successful in the past. But we’re dealing with amateur productions where the success or failure of the product is quite literally immaterial, yet the creators remain so heavily influenced by the commercial games they play that their approach is often even more conservative than the mainstream commercial industry itself.

Speaking of perpetuating sexist tropes in games, BomberGirl of Girl In The Machine writes A Strictly Female Affliction, which examines that tired old trope of rape as convenient backstory for female characters in the context of a game based on a Harlan Ellison short story:

However, what makes me uncomfortable about the inclusion of rape in a woman’s backstory is that it’s such a go-to motivation for fleshing out female characters. She’s weak because she was raped; she wants revenge because she was raped; etc., etc. We see it so often (admittedly more in written fiction and comics rather than video games) that it’s become cliche.

Mighty Ponygirl reviews BioShock as an end result of objectivism, paying special attention to the philosophy’s disdain for the disenfranchised, and the game’s much-discussed “moral choice” over whether one should kill or rescue the little girls who are being used as incubators for a power source:

There are some interesting analogies you could draw from the Little Sisters. After all, we have problems already with people who want to use women solely for incubation as it is in this world outside of the videogame. I don’t know that BioShock is trying to make some statement about abortion–the removal of Adam could either kill or save the little girl so there’s no clear platform on the matter. But there is a very clear point that what’s happened to these little girls is very wrong, and that it’s wrong to treat a human being as just another resource; no matter what the end result is–after all, Adam is “life,” but it is life that is only possible through the enslavement of another’s body, and that there will be consequences to such an action.

On the topic of real world little girls, Bonnie’s Heroine Sheik writes about the appalling sexism of Ubisoft’s line of “games for girls”, but takes a deeper look at the Imagine Babyz game:

Lots of children “play mother” to their dolls, their friends, etc. That in and of itself is nothing new. What’s interesting is to see the role played in a structured, game format with preset gameplay rewards. Rock the cradle well, gain points. Forget to feed your charges, lose them. Oddly enough, what we’re being reminded of here is that motherhood itself–like gender–is a role to be played, not an inherent state. For such a sexist game, it’s a strangely feminist message.

In the same vein, Sara M. Grimes connects the Ubisoft games to a more academic analysis of the way adults seek to direct the play of girls towards “useful” (and traditionally feminine) pursuits, and the strategies of resistance girls sometimes adopt in response:

Although dolls are often seen as obvious “vehicle[s] of feminine socialization,” recent ethnographic research, as well as historical analysis of memoirs, diaries and oral histories, reveal a long-standing tradition of gender role subversion and rejection of adult authority within girls’ doll play (Formanek-Brunell, 1998; Gussin Paley, 2004). This emerging research reveals the familiar, but academically neglected, practices of brutal doll torture, doll-body modification, doll bashing and doll funerals.

On a lighter note, Robyn Can’t Jump reviews Mass Effect, and is impressed with its portrayal of female characters, human and alien:

The great variety of characters in the game, including lots of women who do and say lots of different kinds of things, and lots of people of color. I raised my eyebrows at a couple of costuming decisions for some female characters, and I felt that it was unrealistic to have (apparent) female sex workers but no male ones on a planet that’s the center of everything important for many species of aliens, but overall I was exceedingly happy with the representation of women in the game.


The Ormes Society has branched out to a livejournal community, Torchbearers, where links on race and comics/manga may be posted and read. Add it to your list!

Absolutely essential reading is the And We Shall March series on the Golliwog appearing in Alan Moore’s The Black Dossier. A brief snippet from her coda to the series:

Thematically in the League so far, all indications are Moore cares and has thought a lot about sex and gender. His *approach* to the story so far lends evidence to an argument that he cares and has thought a lot about the sexual liberation of heterosexual white people, particularly white women of a certain level of economic comfort.

It’s a lot of reading, but that’s because there’s an awful lot to say.

Cath Elliot of the Guardian‘s blog Comment Is Free responds to a recent report from Britain’s Department for Children, Schools and Families:

I trawled through the new guidance from the Department for Children, Schools and Families about how to improve educational outcomes for boys, desperately searching for the bit where it says: “All boys must be allowed to bring replica guns into the classroom or they will grow up to be serious educational underachievers,” but I couldn’t find it anywhere. However, one sentence that did leap out at me in the report was:

“Images and ideas gleaned from the media are common starting points in boys’ play and may involve characters with special powers or weapons.”

Sorry? In what year was this report written?

Lisa Fortuner at Just Past The Horizon writes of the DCU’s gender-swapped Earth-11, as revealed in Countdown, and is disappointed that in a world where, for every other character, only gender has changed, Wonderman is a boorish, warmongering jackass:

Every other Justice League member does just as well as the opposite gender, except for Wonder Woman. The point seems to be that Wonder Woman’s peaceable character traits are incapable of manifesting in a man. The refined level-headed conscientious warrior who always tries the diplomatic route when the option presents itself is a blunt, hairy brute with a simple gender change. … The understanding woman who worked hard to regain the trust of the world after she’d lost it becomes a bitter man who brings an army to attack when that trust is lost — a bitter man who betrays his friend’s reputation where the female version would not. The defining characteristics of Diana, her confidence, her wisdom and her loyalty are not inherent to the character, they’re a side-effect of estrogen and a uterus. Traded in for male parts those characteristics disappear and all that’s left is pride and a thirst for vengeance.

Seeking Avalon discusses ShadowLine’s competition to create your own superheroine, wherein the winner will write three issues drawn by artist Franchesco:

Have you looked at Franchesco’s art? I saw in his gallery a picture of a proud, gritty, Moon Knight. But all his images of female characters are the kind of things that immediately turn me off investigating a comic; overly large breasts, odd body compositions and unnecessary crotch shots. And Franchesco, because he will be defining the character’s look (with input from the writer) will own 50% of the creation. There went any idea, any thought, any possible urge I had of entering the contest.

Brigid Keely discusses the sexism of this portrayal of one comic strip mother in Get Back In The Kitchen:

In a world where women do all the cooking/baking/caretaking, Jeremy is apparently completely unable to do a basic baking task. Instead, this almost-adult manchild turns to his mommy to cook him something sweet, he asks his mommy to do work that he will be graded on, because he is apparently unable to do it himself. And mommy? Seems very willing to give up her time and her sleep to sweep in to his rescue, teaching him that his poorly planned and uncommunicated needs are more important than hers are.

Fortunately, there are comic strips that address gender stereotypes instead of meekly conforming to them. If you haven’t already, check out Something Positive’s take on Women in Refrigerators.


Holidays are definitely a time for curling up with a good book, and appropriately, we’ve got some great sff books links this carnival! Let’s begin with a lament for the decline of the feminist bookstore in the USA by Tacithydra:

In 1993 there were 124 feminist bookstores in the United States. Now only 12 remain. They provided access to feminist books, but more importantly, they offered physical safe spaces and gathering points for like-minded people. Political action groups, support groups, and book clubs flourished in these stores in ways that would be impossible in the modern-day Borders or Barnes and Noble.

Now one of the last remaining independent feminist bookstores in the U.S., and the only one in Texas, is in trouble.

Podblack Cat is concerned by the decline of the feminist science hero (such as that of Carl Sagan’s Contact) in A Girl Called Ellie:

I know that many people who enjoy Contact boldly proclaim Ellie as a role model for any woman considering the sciences. But I also know that I don’t find this novel easy to locate on the shelves anymore. … I worry about the potential death of ‘Ellie’s’ as a sympathetic and iconic figure in fiction. The dearth of science heroines in the same mold.

The Hathor Legacy’s Melpomene ponders Laurell K Hamilton’s mestiza vampire-killer Anita Blake and her troubling implications on issues of ethnicity in her review of The Laughing Corpse:

A curvy trail of rationales leads Anita to the door of Dominga, the “grandmother of voodoo,” a woman who’s feared all over because of her magickal skills. She’s also incredibly evil, and will do anything for money, including some really unscrupulous things involving human sacrifice. She’s everything Anita’s not… including totally Mexican. Anita describes her as “the Mexican grandmother of [her] nightmares” (265), and Anita’s differences from her (Anita’s Christianity, her inability to speak Spanish, and her scruples) are all emphasized as crucial signifiers demarcating the line between a particular type of “Latin darkness” and the deracinated, supernatural cowboy identity Anita performs as the Executioner of the undead.

On a brighter note, Miss Print has a “mildly feminist” review of YA fantasy novel Ella Enchanted:

There are several reasons that I love this novel and recommend it to everyone. The first is that it’s an imaginative retelling of Cinderella which makes the story exciting for readers familiar with the original version without making it too abtruse for readers who have never heard of Cinderella. Also, the book is full of great role models for girls. All of the female characters are strong, self-aware women–things seen far too rarely in the fairy tale genre.

Femsfaward is a livejournal community for reviews of sci-fi and fantasy fiction by women, with an eye towards well-deserved awards:

This is a place to mention works you’ve read that were published this year by female authors, so that we can all throw in our thoughts in the comments. Thus we will be able to find the best stuff and nominate it for various SF awards, or just enjoy the heck out of it.

And Ben Payne provides a tongue-in-cheek guide to why aspiring writers might want to put more women in their stories:

Check out this example. In sentence one we have one of the “foe pars” of writing: the “As you know Bob”.

“Nice work on that device, Mark,” said Karlos to his colleague. “Thanks Karlos,” said Mark. “I used physics and chemistry and made quantum variables of the connector ribbon.”

Don’t be bamboozled by the science!! Now you’ll notice that Mark is explaining something to his colleague that his colleague should already know!! Incongruous!!

But if we introduce a *woman* to this scenario, all of a sudden the “infodumper” is less intrusive. Because the woman probably *wouldn’t* understand what Mark was talking about!!

TV and Film.

The Hathor Legacy’s Scarlett is impressed by the competence of Battlestar Galactica sort-of villain Admiral Kane in Kane is Able:

Yes, Kane was a tyrant. Yes, in some regard, she fitted the stereotype of female leaders being either incompetent or, in this case, heartless. But they also took the time to show the heart she might have had, in different circumstances. They took the time to show us her achievements as a military leader. They took the time to show us her bravery and courage.

Less positive is the news that BBC writers deliberately sought to make black, female Doctor Who Companion Martha second-best to white, female Companion Rose (don’t forget to read the comments!):

Davies is a touch defensive when he explains that Martha was always going to be second best to Rose. ‘That’s how we played it, rather than fight it. It would have been an awful moment if the doctor had said. “Oh, you are like a new Rose to me.”

I personally like to play a game called Imagine If Will Smith Was In It, which is where one thinks of a movie, and then imagines Will Smith in it, whereupon the movie is instantly improved. I Am Legend is a movie with nearly the maximum possible level of Will Smith. It is also, according to Feminist SF: The Blog, an excellent example of post-apocalypse done right, including its take on gender:

As far as gender goes, the two main women in this film didn’t get to do as many cool things as Smith’s character. They largely served as maternal figures, but it didn’t seem especially out of place in the film because Neville as much love for his daughter and dog. I did like that fellow survivor Anna never became a romantic partner for Neville, too. She had her own reasons for being in the film.

My own review of Disney’s Enchanted was a row of ascii hearts and smiley faces, but Dana Stevens of has a much more in-depth analysis, focusing on one of the more troubling aspects of the movie’s feel-good fantasy:

But there was something that depressed me about Enchanted, a grim reality that occasionally peeped through the whimsy like New York City glimpsed from the animated fields of Andalasia. This sinking feeling had little to do with what could be seen as the movie’s retrograde affirmation of true love and happy endings—after all, if you’re going to start complaining about marriage as a plot resolution device, you have to throw out every comedy from Shakespeare on down. No, that intermittent sense of yuckiness sprang from the movie’s solemn celebration of a ritual even more sacred than holy matrimony: shopping.

Finally, two vastly exciting recent announcements that cross media lines!

YA Fantasy author Tamora Pierce and Julie Holderman have announced that they will work towards the establishment of a Teen & Kids Fantasy & Science Fiction Convention:

[w]e decided it would be a grand thing if we could pull together the talent and funding to organize a convention for the fans and creators of teen and kid fantasy and science fiction.

The organizers are looking for volunteers and supporters, but even if you can’t help right now, the livejournal community is certainly worth watching for anyone with an interest in the field or the eventual con!

And if that wasn’t enough New Year excitement, January also brings the launch of, a wonderful concoction of links, musings and manifestos exploring the bizarre future we’re living in and the one just around the corner. It’s perfect for all those who are “strung out on science fiction”.

Edited by cyberfeminist extraordinaire Annalee Newitz, with the assistance of a keen and smart bunch of others, has over 700 backdated entries – more than enough to completely cure your Holiday Brain. Given the talent behind the site, it’s not unexpected that many entries have feminist content and/or reflect feminist concerns: I went prowling through the archives and am barely able to restrain myself to recommending a mere two gems: Children: A Sinister Threat To The Future (which explores the personal choice of environmentalist women not having babies, and the hilarious, horrified response of the conservative press) and World of Warcraft’s Strange Rules About Cybersex, which “[j]ust goes to show that you can move to a new cyber-world packed with an international population of millions, and still be SOL if you want to find a decent tranny bar. ”

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And that’s it from me! Be sure to check the Carnival homepage for the date of the next Carnival, and consider signing up to host yourself. And if you’d like to say anything about this Carnival, here is the place!

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* Both, obviously.

Here I Am.

Monday, October 29th, 2007

All my stories about attending Auckland’s Armageddon convention seem to begin with “So THERE I WAS…”

So THERE I WAS, utterly delighted that Gail Simone was signing my Misfit T-shirt*.

So THERE I WAS, purchasing the original art of this page from Nicola Scott**.

So THERE I WAS, discussing shoe acquisition with Amanda Conner.

So THERE I WAS, eating Japanese food with the comics guests.

Proof! Jimmy Palmiotti, myself, and Bruce Timm, who is doing something odd with edamame.

I suspect that dinner and conversation with the guests (and their significant others and wonderful handler) is not something that usually happens at a con; at least not without prior arrangement and the outlay of considerable expense. Somehow, I got lucky. However, to your possible dismay, I have decided that those conversations were off the record. Besides, I had drink taken – some of it down the front of my dress – and couldn’t swear to the accuracy of any report.

On the record, however, I can report the following from the panels:

- Jimmy Palmiotti is perfectly au fait with your downloading Painkiller Jane and is horrified by the price of pamphlets in the Antipodes. So are we, Jimmy. So are we.

- Much of the background in the big fight of the Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding Special was Amanda Conner’s idea, including my favourite part of the whole issue – Lois Lane and her brass knuckles.

- The Terra miniseries will be out in the spring for northern hemisphere folks and autumn for southern hemisphere dwellers. We can look forward to some interaction with other DCU teen heroes.

- Nicola Scott is aware that people were upset about Barda’s missing chest-piece. She pointed out that the rest of the Birds on that mission were covered up, and that Barda’s Apokaliptian heritage means that she doesn’t really have to sweat bullets. She did listen to fan criticism, however, and restored the chest piece for the Siberian mission. After all, it gets cold out there.

- Gail Simone doesn’t want to remove the sexy from comics (and nor does she sweat skin-exposing costumes). Sexuality, she says, is part of humanity. What she does want is a wider variety of female characters, diverse and realistic, and different expressions of what “sexy” is on the page.

- Onyx won’t be appearing in Wonder Woman in the near future. However, Nicola revealed that she has drawn her in one hitherto-unseen Birds of Prey panel – “One panel. That’s all I’m saying right now.”

I had intended to take notes during, but my laptop was occupied copying Painkiller Jane from the CD kindly lent me. I did scribble some notes after the panels, but my apologies to anyone I may have misrepresented.

I returned from Armageddon and dived headfirst into writing a dissertation chapter, which has the effect of turning my mind into finest grade mush when attempting to consider anything else. But never fear! I’m back, well-rested and with plenty to rage about.

So! Here I am!

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Comment on this column here.

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* Made by the thoroughly crafty Rachel Edidin, who is probably capable of anything she puts her hand to.

** It is perfectly all right if you hate me for this. I would hate me too.

Never-Hads and Should-Haves.

Thursday, July 5th, 2007

WisCon, the world’s first and largest feminist sci-fi and fantasy convention, is held every year in Madison, Wisconsin in the States. It’s a vibrant three days of panel discussions, paper presentations, readings, karaoke, book-selling, awareness-raising, recruiting, networking and purest, concentrated awesome.

It’s not quite Themiscyra. For one thing, there are men there – intelligent, thinking men who never start sentences with “What you ladies really should do is-“ And although WisCon is something of a refuge, it’s not a retreat. People there know the world is fucked up. They want to fix it, not hide from it.

Which is not to say WisCon doesn’t have its own fuck-ups – guests bring the world in with them, and occasionally that means the world’s unthinking prejudices are brought in too. And when it goes wrong at WisCon, it hurts more, because WisCon is supposed to be right.

But until I went to WisCon 30 last year, I couldn’t conceive of anything like it. I couldn’t imagine such a gathering: a thousand people; brave, brilliant, angry people, activists and critics and fans and artists; dreamers of enormous dreams; shining word-warriors. I was surrounded, for the first time in my life, by people I could reasonably assume would not judge me according to preconceptions about my gender, age, sexuality, ethnicity, or any of those other myriad, stupid conventions.

That’s how the world should be. I’d never had it before.

This year, I enlisted more friends. We went to the costume ball dressed thusly:

Birds of Prey, plus Batman.

I am the blonde with the bangs:

In nearly every shot of me, I am holding a drink.

It was awesome*. I had thought I’d feel self-conscious about my belly, my butt, my arms. I didn’t. I felt great the whole night, posing for pictures, promoting and explaining who the Birds of Prey actually were. And because WisCon achieves near-parity and perfect safety, I didn’t worry about being harrassed. I had the privilege most men have daily of not being automatically viewed as a sexual object. So quickly did I adapt to the privilege of not having to put up with that shit that I didn’t even notice I had it.

Until, going to the bathrooms on the second floor alone**, I stepped into the elevator. It was filled with men who were all taller than me, and not wearing WisCon badges. They looked surprised and pleased as I got in. And I felt uneasy and self-conscious before I had time to think of why.

“Well, hey, now,” one guy murmured. “Hey there.”

“Yeah,” another chuckled.

“Second floor, please,” I said.

“Hey!” someone else said. “What’s going on on that floor?”

“Costume party.”

“Well, can we go?”

They laughed appreciatively. I said “No.” And I got out.

And that was it. They didn’t say anything foul, they certainly didn’t touch me, and it wasn’t even close to harassment by the standards of our society. So why was I shaky and scared and angry afterwards?

Two things:

1) At the costume ball, my clothing – fishnets, black leotard, blonde wig – was coded “superhero”. In the elevator, it was coded “stripper”.

2) Everyone is conditioned to assess women primarily by how sexually attractive and/or available they appear to be. Making that assessment clear is normal. Vocalizing that assessment is normal. Blaming women for others harassing or abusing them based on how attractive they are or what they were wearing at the time is normal.

If you’re gearing up to say something like “But nothing really bad happened!” or “Well, what did you expect?” or “Come on, weren’t you looking for attention?”, or “They were just being nice!”: don’t.

I know that those men almost certainly meant me no harm; they probably thought expressing a wish to follow me to a party was a compliment. It is entirely possible that none of them have ever imagined being in an enclosed space with a group of big strangers eyeing you up and asking if they can come with you could be a frightening experience. Our culture is set up so that they’ve never had to.

This and like incidents have happened to me, like many women, time and time again: strange men telling me to “smile!”; strange men shouting “Show us your tits!” as they drive past; strange men groping my breasts and ass in crowded train carriages.

(Women also buy into the patriarchal imperative to judge women primarily by their physical appearance, and that is also extremely unpleasant. However, as it is far less likely that women will follow such assessment with rape or other violent crime, it is generally much less threatening when a woman says, “You look like a whore.”)

If a woman doesn’t want to be viewed – for some weird reason – as a sex object, her choices are limited. She can be visibly angry or ignore harassment, in which case she is a FRIGID BITCH who can’t take a COMPLIMENT from NICE GUYS. Or she can be pleasant in an attempt to show them she’s actually a human being, in which case she may be ASKING FOR further “compliments” with her MIXED SIGNALS.

Or she can stay at home.

I wore that costume because Black Canary is badass, and the Birds of Prey are heroes. I wanted to join a group of strong women, who, like the Birds, are striving to change their world for the better. It’s sad that I would never wear that costume outside of WisCon – not at any other geek con, and certainly not on the street. I’m already female in public; being a scantily-dressed woman in public compounds my crimes and my punishment.

The security I experienced at WisCon, bar those thirty seconds in an elevator, should be a universal privilege. That’s how the world should be.

How can we make it so?


* Although I have no idea how Canary fought in a wig for so long. It’s hot and distracting and hair gets in your eyes even when you’re just dancing! Wig-wearing superheroes now also break the suspension of my disbelief.

** NOT the easiest outfit to get in and out of in a hurry. I’m just saying, Dinah probably doesn’t drink a lot on missions.

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Save the world: tell me how!

I Like To Be In America.

Monday, May 21st, 2007

Right, I'm off.

Oh, not forever, no! Just for three weeks, while I traverse the wilds of Uh-me-ri-ca. If you are now inclined to fretting, I beg you don't fash yourself. I have enlisted the aid of three Mystery Guest Bloggers, all of whom are so fabulous that my only concern is that you will like them all much better and grumble at my less-than-triumphant return.

If you are going to the rightly-renowned WisCon, I shall be participating in or moderating the following panels:

Sarcasm and Superheroics: Feminism in the Mainstream Comics Industry. (Feminism, Sex, and Gender)
Saturday, 4:00-5:15 p.m.
2006 has been declared the year of Women in Comics. Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" was one of Time's 10 Best Books, best-selling authors Jodi Picoult and Tamora Pierce were signed up to write for DC and Marvel, and DC announced a new "Minx" line for girls. However, 2006 was also a year of increased feminist activism in mainstream comics. New websites When Fangirls Attack and collected and encouraged feminist debate on issues of diversity and sexism in comics, and there seemed to be plenty to talk about. Moreover, the Occasional Superheroine confessional memoir recounted a disturbing tale of abuse and misogyny within the superhero industry that was reflected onto the pages of its comics. What has improved in the comics industry? What is yet to be done? What challenges are posed by the industry's peculiar institutional structure? How can women break into the comics mainstream? How can we critique it? And what comics *can* you buy for your kids?

The Allure of the Unreconstructed Stereotype (Feminism, Sex, and Gender)
Sunday, 10:00-11:15 a.m.
Addicted to 1950s boys' own whizbang novels? Reading particularly hidebound comics? Absorbed in a monogender TV show? Really really want your own laser gun? Where does ironic play end and wholesale purchase into the dominant paradigm begin? And how come that paradigm tastes so good sometimes? Let's interrogate the phrase, "I don't want to DO you; I want to BE you" and see where the gender-play leads.

The X-Women (Reading, Viewing, and Critiquing SF&F)
Sunday, 1:00-2:15 p.m.
The X-Men comics are well-loved and have a disproportionately high number of female fans (and strong female characters). X-Men: The Final Stand was nonetheless widely interpreted as quite sexist (out of control sexual women must be destroyed for the good of the world, etc.). Did the problems originate in the adaption to film, or the source material, i.e. the comics themselves? What attracts women to the X-Men story no matter what format it's told in?

Other people will also be there, as well as many other extraordinary comics/sci-fi/fantasy-loving feminists. WisCon is really rather amazing.

After this I do some other stuff, and then I'm heading to San Francisco, which is one of my favourite cities in the whole world, wherein I shall interview some people. It is possibly y'all might be interested in those interviews. I'm just saying.

And now, I leave you, but not before showing you the exceptional artwork of my dear friend and former flatmate, Matt Powell. Lo, it is Super-Me!

Raising one eyebrow is my secret superpower.

Praise Matt here.

Get The Word Out.

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

To: Feminist Comics Cabal
Re: Next Meeting

Hi people,

We've heard some rumours flying around regarding the Feminist Comics Fan Agenda. Obviously, confusion in the ranks is never a good thing, so we've attached the final agenda for the next meeting.

Note: this is *final*. You can raise other business after Item 11, but we're going to be pretty short for time, so you might want to keep anything non-urgent until the May Day get together.

And once and for all, NO, we will not be burning Joss Whedon in effigy; that's reserved for the AGM with Potluck Dinner.

Thanks, and we hope this clears things up!
Karen and Betty.

Feminist Comics Fan Agenda

Item 1: Minutes of last meeting.
Item 2: Correspondence.
Item 3: Force captive, weeping comics creators to make doctrinally pure stories; slaughter upon completion.

Morning Break.

Item 4: Panel discussion: “Power Girl or Rogue: Who is Awesomer?”
Item 5: World domination, mass emasculation, burning all pictures of ladies prettier than us, destroying comic book industry.


Item 7: Paper presentation: “Slash and the Superhero, or, How Gay Are Superman and Batman for Each Other?”
Item 8: So Gay.

Afternoon Break.

Item 9: Motion of support for other movements of diversity in comics.
Item 10: Panel discussion: "Green Lanterns' Butts."
Item 11: Ignore oppressed women everywhere, sip champagne from slippers.

Discuss the Agenda here