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 Slate.com 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 io9.com, 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, io9.com 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.