So, Liz, how is your Continuum going?
Pretty good, thanks! It’s the last day, and I’m sitting on the floor behind the reg desk, fingers on keyboard, but brain engaged in conversation.
Also I’m sleepy.
So, late nights?
I like to be in bed at 9.30! I’m a nanna!
What are people talking about?
RaceFail, social justice and inclusiveness in fandom and the genre writing community have been coming up a lot! Maaaaaaaaaaaaybe because I programmed a bunch of panels on the subject? I deny all responsibility.
But we did talk about RaceFail on Social Justice 101 on Saturday morning, and a couple of hours later, N. K. Jemisin mentioned it in her Guest of Honour speech.
Cool story, Liz. What’s RaceFail?
RaceFail ’09 was a series of incidents in which prominent SF authors and editors said really stupid things about race. It started out with a well-intentioned post by Elizabeth Bear about how to write PoC, and ended in some terrible behaviour, including the outing of a prominent Fan of Colour’s real life identity.
You can find a more detailed history here. While it was going on, Rydra Wong maintained links to posts and discussions on the subject.
So RaceFail is still a thing?
Sadly, there are still authors and editors who say terrible things about PoC, or who write stereotypes, or who think it’s just too hard to write anything but white characters.
But RaceFail also triggered lots of wider discussions about fandom, inclusion, internalised *isms, and wider issues of social justice in the context of science fiction and fantasy fandom and publishing.
Hence the Social Justice 101 panel!
Yep! I have an issue with a lot of fandom’s current social justice discourse, in that it uses a lot of academic concepts and terminology (much of which is apparently now obsolete in actual academic circles), yet becomes quite hostile to people who don’t understand the terminology. There’s a dash of classism, but mostly I fear that the language of social justice is being misused as a tool for exclusion and even bullying.
In short, it’s a social injustice.
That’s a bit rough.
Yeah, well, I think it’s human nature to take good things and misuse them. See also self-styled allies who, instead of being good allies and educating the ignorant/curious so that marginalised people don’t have to, snap, “It’s not my job to educate you!” as if they themselves were part of the marginalised group in question.
(“I don’t understaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand why it’s offensive to say there are no black SF fans!” — for example — is a common method of, at worst, derailing a conversation, or at best, taking up a person’s time and energy by asking them to justify their existence and opinions.)
“Educate yourself” and “Go and Google it” are often the responses in these situations, and I don’t think that’s a wholly useful response on the part of allies. Not everyone has the education and intellectual capacity to seek out and critically analyse information. And there’s a lot of bad information out there. A friend, on being told to go and educate herself about trans* issues, went off to Google and found a whole lot of transmisogynistic and cissexist radical feminists who use the language of social justice to spread hate and intolerance.
Early on, Social Justice 101 had as its blurb, “Just this once we’re here to educate you!” We changed that because it’s not really fair to have an in-joke on a 101 panel, but that was the intent of it.
That’s really inclusive of you.
I know, right? I’m so great. *hairflip*
…actually, I was afraid that either the audience would be really hostile, or I, as a product of a racist culture, would say something really offensive, but it was a great audience and a great panel. Most people had at least a little bit of background in the concepts from observing social justice discussions online, and we defined terms like “privilege” and “oppression olympics”.
We also talked about some of the ways fandom socal justice has gone a bit wrong, like treating privilege as if having it automatically makes you a bad person. Which is wrong — we all have privilege in different ways, and the point of social justice is to recognise that and keep in mind that our experiences are not universal, and that the default narratives of our society don’t always recognise that.
Or, being another way, being a white, middle class man does not make you a bad person, nor does it mean you automatically have an easy life with no challenges. But the challenges you face will be different from those faced by, say, an Aboriginal woman with a disability, and it’s important to recognise that and try to create a society where it all evens out.
So nothing challenging then?
It’s really hard! And I think there’s a fear that if we make a mistake, it will be held against us forever, so why even try? (This, again, I believe, is a place where fandom’s social justice discourse can go wrong.)
And one thing I said, which I think is important, is that sometimes these discussions can get very fraught, and you need to look after your own mental health. For example, I have an anxiety disorder and am very conflict-averse. Sometimes social justice discussions make me anxious, and I have to make the conscious decision to step back and let it go on without me.
So you think people should talk about oppression, but nicely!
I hope I’m being more nuanced than that!
One thing we defined in our panel was the tone argument. This comes up a lot in anti-oppression circles in general. It goes like this:
Person A: Says something a bit sketchy.
Marginalised Person: Says that that was a bit sketchy.
Person A: Complains that Marginalised Person’s opinion is invalidated because they’re being rude.
No actual rudeness is necessary for the tone argument to be invoked, although quite often it ends with a marginalised person losing their temper, and the person who started the whole thing going, “See? They really are irrational and angry and not worth listening to!”
And, needless to say, social justice discussions get fraught, and marginalised people have good reasons to be angry.
But for my own mental health, that’s usually when I close the tab. Luckily I don’t usually participate in these conversations, so I can do that, because I’m not actually participating. And the fandom police don’t actually come to your house and arrest you for not following every single discussion.
(Sometimes I see people remark that anyone who isn’t participating in Conversation X is automatically supporting the oppressor. Those people must have much more spare time and energy than I do.)
Basically, I think that as long as you’re not actually telling people to be nice or you won’t follow the discussion — and why would you do that? It’s rude. Dickish, even — you have the right to draw your own boundaries.
(Clearly I’m writing this for an audience who are not themselves participants in social justice debates. I lurk myself. That’s the entire foundation of my so-called expertise.)
No one has actually called you an expert.
You talk about anything else?
Apparently I have a lot of opinions about Doctor Who.
You amaze me.
I know. I was a bit shocked too.
I really like Melbourne’s fandom, though, because at ChicagoTARDIS, the older male fans talked over me, patronised me and finally ignored me. The older male fans here were respectful, polite, and even though at least one of them is WRONG about Amy Pond, I didn’t feel like I was in a hostile environment.
Are you about to use the words “safe space”?
I think that, as much as we work really hard to make Continuum a safe space, that judgement is ultimately very personal and subjective.
Do you have any Doctor Who opinions worth sharing?
Someone asked about Amy and Clara being too mysterious, and whether that made them objects in the Doctor’s eyes. It’s a criticism I’ve seen around Tumblr as well.
I disagree that it’s inherently bad to have a mysterious companion. We’ve had many, many years of the show where the Doctor was a MYSTEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERIOUS AND POOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWERFUL ALIEN MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN … and his companion, the everygirl.
And there’s nothing wrong with an everygirl or 30, or even an everyman or, um, four. But to me, it is really exciting that the Doctor is as fascinated by his companions as they are by him. And not a patronising “You sit at home and eat chips and that’s brilliant except actually the narrative repeatedly suggests I despise you for it” sort of way.
Additionally, I think that growing up involves learning about yourself, and perhaps discovering that the things you took for granted as a child or young adult aren’t actually true. For me, it was really exciting that Amy’s story addressed that, and that she continues to be strange and mysterious even after she’s married and domestic.
I don’t think it was as effectively done with Clara, but I don’t consider it an inherently problematic trope.
And as my fellow panellist Kathryn Anderson pointed out, we’ve had 50 years of the Doctor as a mystery to be solved, and no one has said this is problematic or objectifying. But once you give that narrative to a woman, suddenly it’s an issue.
This looks like a good segue into the Gender Bending panel!
Yeah, three panels I did on Sunday:
- Panelbending (about Avatar: the Last Airbender, OBVIOUSLY)
- Gender Bending
Whoever programmed this convention is a — DAMN.
Anyway, yes, my friend Lucy Baker is doing a PhD on fandom, and particularly rule 63, gender bending and … I don’t know, stuff. Academic stuff.
So Lucy, Rachel Holkner and I ran a slideshow of pictures — mostly cosplay, some fan art — and talked about a few things.
Well, that narrows it down!
Well, quite often female versions of male characters are really hyperfeminine and sexualised, even if the male version isn’t. For example, we agreed that a female version of Tony Stark would be really sexy and sort of flashy, because Tony is already really into gender performance. Whereas Rachel actually cosplayed the Terminator — Schwarzenegger model — for the panel, and deliberately constructed a costume that was not overtly feminine. Except, of course, for her modest heels.
We also talked about stories that just wouldn’t work if you swapped the protagonist’s gender. You can’t have Mad Men with Donna Draper. You can’t have Breaking Bad with Wallis White.
We also touched on this, and it occurred to me again while I was running the vid show last night, the Marvel movieverse is full of male gender performance. I just mentioned Tony Stark, but Captain America is basically about Steve Rogers adapting to a body that’s as masculine as his ambitions. Natasha deliberately adopts the persona of a vulnerable woman so that she’ll be underestimated in battle.
You need to spend less time on Tumblr.
I feel like we could have said something interesting about Hannibal, but we haven’t actually watched it yet.
We did, though, talk about Elementary, and Joan Watson, and the way she is very feminine, and quite sexy in her manner of dress — short skirts (with leggings), high heels — but not sexualised. Also, pretty amazing.
Did you hijack any other panels to talk about amazing female characters?
I just like Lin Beifong a lot, okay?
How was the vid show?
I think it went well! I hope it went well, anyway.
One of the vids I showed was Chaila’s “Keep the Streets Empty for Me”, a Twilight vid that positions Bella as the hunter, her prey partially being Edward, but also sensuality and physical power. There was a certain amount of sniggering when the (small) audience realised it was a Twilight vid, and certain parties may have gotten on with the serious business of sharing lollies. But it’s such a compelling, dark vid that it sort of magnetised the audience and regained their attention.
You know, I think it must have been a successful vid show, because when I came out of the bathroom afterwards, people were serenading N. K. Jemisin with “Blue (Da Ba Dee)”, which was the song behind the penultimate vid. (We know how to show an author a good time here!)
LOTS. I think my brain is broken.
We’re back to that sleep issue.
I love sleep so much.
Were meant to flyyyyyyyyyyyyy!