How I Vanished for a Summer, Discovered My Life’s Ambition, and Dyed My Hair Purple (Also: Guild Wars 2)

To those of you who were readers from before June: It’s good to be back! I have missed the blog and all of the kind words of support from our readers.

To those of you who started reading after Joanna’s epic takeover: Hello! My name is BatCat. Joanna’s BFFL and co-founder of geekalitarian. I hope that you continue to reading our blog and help us by shamelessly promoting it to your friends (/shameless plea for promotion)

This summer I worked at a Girl Scout Camp as the Program Coordinator, Art Specialist, and Unit Leader. I have already extensively written about how awesome Girl Scouts is and how influential it can be on girl’s lives. The majority of those articles were for the newspaper The Laurel Mountain Post, but my pro-girl leanings have snuck their way into geekalitarian as well. Going into this experience I thought that working for Girl Scouts and running programing was exactly what I wanted to do with my life. My prospects of becoming an art teacher are few, so this was another way to apply the skills I have learned and still make a difference. By the end of this experience, I was really ready for it to end. I enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong, but working 6 days a week (or 7 days on the off-week) from 6 am- 12am with children? Not for me.

But something happened at the beginning of the summer that I didn’t know would lead to one of those course-of-life-altering-decisions. I took my boyfriend to the Carnegie Museums. He had never been to a museum before, and I was practically raised in one. We went to the Natural History Museum first- for those of you who have never been, it’s amazing. There are lots of activities to keep you engaged in the information or the artifacts. There are documentaries, authentic music, a hall of ‘stuffed animals’, and a lightshow explaining the Navajo creation legend.  Then we went to the Carnegie Museum of Art (which is in the same building), and it was a much different experience. As a student of art, I could walk around at a leisurely pace and actually appreciate what I was seeing on a different level. What I have noticed in other people is that they walk really quickly, don’t stand in one place too long, glance at a work, remain completely silent or shush their children, or walk away saying “I don’t understand why that’s art.” Later in the summer on one of my breaks I was thinking about this again and decided that that is it. That’s my life’s goal. Infiltrate the ‘institution’, tear it down, and bring art to the people! I want to make art museums just as engaging and interactive as science and history museums (and I am not talking about making a ‘children’s’ art museum) . Think about it: What is the difference between art museums as we know them and galleries? That you can buy the work. What is the difference between a history museum and an auction house? That you can buy the antiques and the museum provides the public with interactive and informative information. Why can’t art museums be like that?

Of course infiltrating the ‘institution’ will require me to go to graduate school. So I was looking into things and realized that I only have one semester left before student teaching. One more semester to be unprofessional. This was my last chance to do anything crazy to my hair. Thus, I dyed the underneath of my supa-blonde hair purple. End of that story.

This summer I also purchased a HP desktop pretty much exclusively for gaming. Guild Wars 2 comes out Saturday, so in celebration I want to share the infographic below with you. It is about the economy of Guild Wars 2 and has me pretty much convinced that we should elected game developers to Congress and budget committees:

-BatCat

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Race and Fandom Revisited

So, my cosplay post has mini-exploded a few times on the internet. The fat positivity portion of the post has been well-received, for which I am very thankful. It’s encouraging to know that this is an issue people are concerned about, and that people are being supportive of fat cosplayers.

Not so much with the other part of the post, the race part. What little response I’ve gotten about that part has been negative. Basically, I need to relax because we should be over this whole race thing. In short, these people seem to be subscribing to the view that being colorblind solves all problems, and probably that we live in a post-race society.

Now, maybe I wasn’t clear enough about what my original point was when I wrote the post. These responses only related to that particular Zoe cosplayer, not the issues raised by the article, or the fact that we in the geek community should actually think about racial issues for once. This suggests that I may have let my stunned response to that picture overshadow my overall point, which really isn’t about blackface itself.

Blackface isn’t the problem, but it is a symptom of it. The fact that people refuse to see what might be wrong with this way of cosplaying reflects a wider problem about race, and the overall apathy (sometimes antipathy) felt towards talking about race in the geek community. In a post that has been viewed over 1000 times, the Racialicious article has been clicked on only 69 times. The fat positivity articles and sites have each been clicked on hundreds of times.

The thing is, if race didn’t matter, if we lived in this wonderful rainbow of a colorblind society, then the author of the Racialicious article wouldn’t be given shit for being a black woman cosplaying as a white character. You can’t defend the rights of white people to paint their skin to look like black people, if you’re also ignoring the rights of black people to cosplay as white characters without receiving rude comments. That’s not being colorblind, that’s using the myth of colorblindness to absolve yourself of any responsibility to think or care about racial issues. (Which, admittedly, is the only point of the colorblind myth anyway.)

But Joanna, you might be saying, a black man is president of the United States! Surely we live in a post-racial society! Would that that were true, dear reader. Yes, we in the US elected a black man as president. This man has then received demands to prove his citizenship, which you can’t really believe has nothing to do with race.

Also, black people in the US are disproportionately impoverished, incarcerated, and affected by NYC’s “stop and frisk.” The struggles and poverty of the Asian community are often ignored in favor of the “model minority” myth. Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by alcoholism. The fact that, for some, this nonsense about Gabby Douglas’ hair overshadowed her incredible athletic accomplishments. Just this week, a white supremacist opened fire on a Sikh temple, and major news outlets responded by explaining that people can’t tell the difference between Sikhs and Muslims, implying that murdering Muslims is expected and, consequently, less horrible.

In case that’s too “real world” for you, and you’d like examples related to the geek community and fandom (other than, you know, the original article in my original post), this report on the Racebending panel at SDCC should give you some ideas of how race still affects the geek community. Some choice points: “Marjorie Liu talked about being told that she should change her name, and related a story of a friend who was told that her Asian name was ‘ethnically tainted’ leading to the friend changing her name for her professional work… David Gaiden… brought up a truly disturbing fact, that the most popular mod [in Dragon Age] allows the player to change the race of the game’s one black female to a white, blonde… Brandon Thomas shared a story about his mother, when he was writing for a website that asked for him to include a picture with his posts, his mother asked, ‘Do you really want to let everyone know you’re black?’ ‘And she was right’ he followed up with.”

And how about all the racism that popped up on Twitter after black characters in the Hunger Games were played by black actors? Speaking of movies, how many times have you gone to see a Hollywood blockbuster that starred a person of color who wasn’t Will Smith, Vin Diesel, Morgan Freeman, or Denzel Washington? And there’s the fact that in two seasons of The Walking Dead (set in Georgia, whose population according to the 2010 Census is 30% Black or African American) there have been 2? 3? black characters. Latinos on the show are virtually non-existent, and Glenn functions as Token Asian.

But none of that is a problem, because white people. Or something.

I get it. Race is an uncomfortable subject. Life is much easier for white people when they ignore racism. But life isn’t easier for anyone else in the myth of colorblindness. And suggesting we live in a post-race society is about as absurd as claiming we’re living in a post-gender society. While race and gender may not be quite as oppressive as they used to be, that doesn’t mean that we’re done thinking about these constructs. Just because black people are no longer property and women can vote, doesn’t mean race and gender have no negative effects on people’s lives.

I’d like to reiterate: I didn’t bring up Kendra James’ article solely to condemn blackface cosplay. I brought it up because fandom and the geek community generally aren’t all that interested in discussing race issues. The community is guilty of trying to take the easy way out, instead of facing the harsh realities. And now that we’re talking more and more about gender in gaming, but also geekdom generally, it’s time we had similar discussions about race.

I’m not trying to strip white people of the right to paint their skin to look like Zoe Washburn. I’m trying to foster intelligent, engaged discussion about the place of race in fandom, in terms of both its people and the shows/movies/games/books they love.

I leave you with this relevant video:

(Transcript and background on La Jolla Playhouse can be found here.)

-Joanna

Hobbitmania!

Here’s my take on The Hobbit trilogy, or Why I Don’t Actually Care Whether Or Not Peter Jackson Is Manipulating Me For My Money.

I’ll admit I was rather cynical when news first dropped that The Hobbit would be in two parts. Ever since HP7, it seems every studio is realizing they can exploit fans into spending more money without getting better movies in return. And, though I may love Tolkien, The Hobbit isn’t quite as long or complex as would justify two films. Then the cast list appeared, and I began to realize this adaptation might not just be The Hobbit. Otherwise, what are people like Galadriel and Saruman doing in it?

Now that it’s been confirmed that The Hobbit is becoming a trilogy, it’s also clear what else Jackson et al. are using as sources, namely appendices from LOTR. Some people are complaining that this somehow devalues The Hobbit as a work on its own, others are just too mad about the existence of a third movie to really say much else.

But you know what I say? Bring on the trilogy. Yes, I’m skeptical of the idea that Jackson et al. just thought they needed more time to tell the story, that money didn’t even sort of cross their minds. But honestly, I don’t even exactly know what that story is, other than that it’s based partly on The Hobbit and partly on LOTR appendices. So I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here, especially because Peter Jackson is like Christopher Nolan in that he’s completely incapable of making a movie that’s shorter than two and a half hours. So it’s possible he really does think he doesn’t have enough time.

You know what else? Three movies gives me three opportunities to dress up like a dork at a midnight showing with BatCat here. And it gives me three opportunities to see Aidan Turner’s beautiful face (even covered in dwarf beard) on the big screen. It gives me one movie to be really excited about, each year for the next three years.

So maybe I’m just being an easily-duped Tolkien fan, and maybe those aren’t good enough reasons for me not to care, but I’m completely indifferent to what Jackson et al’s reasons are for making The Hobbit into a trilogy. I just want good movies. And if the Peter Jackson team delivers with The Hobbit like they did with LOTR, I’ll be more than happy to spend my money on all three movies.

-Joanna

Fangirls/Fanboys

I don’t consider myself a fangirl. I might be ok with someone jokingly referring to me as an Aragorn fangirl, for example, but it’s not a label I identify with at all. Partly, this is because of the stigma associated with the word fangirl. While “fanboy” is certainly used derisively now and again, it is also a word with a sense of pride attached to it. (For example, the name of the comics website iFanboy.) Generally speaking, fanboys are super into geeky things to the point of obsession, while fangirls, on the other hand, are super into geeky men to the point of obsession.

WARNING: The following post contains anecdotal evidence.

I was talking to someone at work about various comics related things. I laughingly told him about how the new Gambit series’ writer has said that Gambit’s sex appeal isn’t going anywhere. Later, when I was trying to refute his friend’s anti-Gambit arguments, I ended with, “and he’s a dreamboat.” (Again, a joke. Not that there’s anything wrong with crushin’ on Gambit, but I don’t really think of Gambit like that. Gambit and I are just friends.)

My co-worker smiled at me, and made the kind of face that usually greets comments like that. A face I’m not sure how to describe. It’s a little smug, a little condescending, and weirdly knowing. He said, “Ok, so you don’t have any real arguments.” (I won’t object to that comment, because I was mostly goofing around by suggesting that Gambit’s sex appeal makes him a better character. However, it does make me wonder what happens in conversations between two men, where one man argues a superheroine is better than another partly based on her superior hotness.)

Last week, this same co-worker was gushing over Catwoman as played by Eartha Kitt and Michelle Pfeiffer. While I didn’t really have anything to add to his comments (Catwoman and I are also just friends), my reaction wasn’t a vaguely condescending laugh and a comment that suggested: oh how silly, you find this person attractive. It’s not that I really think he no longer views me as a comics fan (although some men would), it’s just that my comment was completely blown off. Talking about whether or not Gambit is sexy is not up for discussion.

Is my co-worker a meanie-pants sexist jerk? No. But his reaction to me (even jokingly) referring to a male comics character as attractive is pretty much the reaction I always get from men if I call attention to the dreamboat qualities of male characters.

This wouldn’t be a problem if that’s how men talking about female characters were greeted. But men are always talking about how hot female characters are, without women feeling the need to condescendingly nod at them and act as though it’s sorta funny that a female character might be thought of as attractive. Women put up with a lot of talk about who the hottest female characters are.

The issue with this reaction can be highlighted through the difference between the terms fangirl and fanboy.

Fangirl is often used derisively, to denote that a woman or girl only likes Geeky Thing because of a male character. This is often used to devalue said woman or girl’s genuine appreciation of Geeky Thing.

Take the first Urban Dictionary entry for each word:

Fanboy: A passionate fan of various elements of geek culture (e.g. sci-fi, comics, Star Wars, video games, anime, hobbits, Magic: the Gathering, etc.), but who lets his passion override social graces.

Fangirl: A rabid breed of human female who is obesessed with either a fictional character or an actor. Similar to the breed of fanboy. Fangirls congregate at anime conventions and livejournal. Have been known to glomp, grope, and tackle when encountering said obesessions.

While fanboy is sometimes used derisively too, among the geek community it also denotes a source of pride. In this way, a fanboy is the opposite of a fangirl: his obssession, rather than devaluing his appreciation, actually increases it. Being a fanboy proves your stature in the geeky community, while being a fangirl demotes it.

It’s for this reason that often women don’t like sharing in mixed company the male characters they think are dreamboats. Men usually tease us when we do. This reflects a larger societal issue of making light of female desire. Much of the negative hoopla surrounding Magic Mike revolves around society’s disinterest in the female gaze and female sexual agency. It’s ok for men to gawk at female strippers, but women gawking at male strippers is silly and up for laughs. Female sexuality is funny and shameful, unless men are calling the shots.

Dismissing conversation about attractive male characters also partly stems from the homophobia inherent in much of society and geek culture alike. Men, to some degree, don’t want to seem gay by discussing the attributes of a man, while women usually feel less inhibited adding to the reasons why Hot Female Character is attractive. Of course, that also relates to the way that it is normal to fetishize the female body, but not as normal to do so to the male body. Women are also (generally) more comfortable describing a woman’s looks because judging women’s appearances is pretty normal for both sexes.

So what does all this mean? It relates to my previous point about the geek community and society’s values. We can’t pretend like we’re better than normal folk if it means we partake in the same negative behavior as the rest of society. I don’t want men to stop feeling comfortable being attracted to female characters and talking about it. What I do want is for that same privilege to be granted to female geeks. I want women to be able to feel comfortable talking about their fictitious crushes in mixed company. I want gay geeks to be able to discuss their same-sex fictitious crushes without scorn. And I want fangirl to stop being a dirty word.

The geek community, like the rest of society, needs to embrace a more whole vision of human sexuality. And as with fat-shaming and racism, it is up to geeks to lead the way: otherwise all our self-important superiority about being fringe members of society is completely worthless.

-Joanna

Things I’ve Learned This Week

Things I’ve Learned This Week:

  • Sometimes, if only sometimes, there is justice for survivors of sexual abuse.
  • Joe Biden is my all-time favorite Vice President. While sometimes I laugh at the silly things he says, I have only admiration for his attempts to end violence against women. I couldn’t agree more, Joe: 1 is 2 Many.
  • What with Saudi Arabia, Brunei, and Qatar all sending women to the Olympics this year, I’m finally living in a world where no country is barring women from representing it at the Olympics, which, despite the way commentators talk about women athletes and the (often racist) gender policing of the Olympics, is making me a little more excited about the Games.
  • Unfortunately, the Supreme Court is cool with racial profiling. Thanks, Supreme Court!
  • I’m beyond tired of the “can women have it all” debate. I’m not even going to explain why, or link to any articles, because then I’ll be a part of the debate I refuse to take part in.
  • Sometimes people get carried away with their otherwise valid points, and someone in the world thinks “Magneto is [a] classic Jewish blood sucker”. In an article expressing disapproval about the way True Blood handled their quasi-Jew-inspired vampiric blood ritual, the author also expresses disappointment in the lack of Jewish characters and actors on the show. I completely understand the blood libel part, but I’m not sure that decrying the lack of Jewish actors on the show is particularly relevant. As for the Magneto bit, that came from someone in the comments, and I have to heartily disagree. Maybe this is my pro-Magneto bias talking, but Magneto, even when he’s a villain, is a sympathetic character. (I also learned that the people in the comments section of that article seem to overestimate the abilities of the goyim to identify a language they hear as being Hebrew.)
  • And finally, BatCat and I are actually Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Matching tattoos and everything. Give us a few years, this will be us:

No, I can’t provide any context for this picture.

-Joanna

Cosplay, Race, and Fat-Shaming

For someone who loves costuming as much as I do, it’s surprising I haven’t mentioned cosplay in the blog before. Cosplaying is usually looked at as a fun, awesome way to participate in a con or have a Halloween costume a million times better than everyone else’s. Cosplaying is definitely not something to feel anxiety about, right?

Well, for some people, the thought of cosplaying is very much anxiety-inducing. One reason why people feel this way is the fat-shaming that is normal in the geek community and our society in general. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that heavier people (or people who think they’re heavier) might feel self-conscious enough never to cosplay. Women (as usual, in the realm of weighty matters) in the geek community definitely have more reason to be self-conscious at a con. If you’re a woman seen as conventionally attractive, you’ll probably be creeped on, regardless of your costume, but many female cosplay options (especially superheroines) seem to invite more unwanted creeping than, say, Princess Mononoke. So, while the decision of what character to cosplay is definitely a loaded decision for geeks of all shapes and sizes, fat geeks definitely have a disadvantage.

Not only are there virtually no characters to choose who are already portrayed as fat, but people can be very cruel to/about chubbier cosplayers who dare to cosplay conventionally attractive characters. (And, let’s face it, how many female cosplay options wouldn’t be considered conventionally attractive?) Who does this fat woman think she is? Why does she think she has the right to invade male sexual fantasies about female characters? What, does she think she’s attractive or something? As though “fat” and “beautiful” were mutually exclusive, and as though the purpose of women cosplaying is to perform hotness for male con-goers.

I stumbled on a very honest article by Tabitha Grace Smith called “Why I Don’t Cosplay.” Anyone who’s never considered what it’s like to be an overweight person at a con needs to read this and think about their own behavior and ideas.

“While my body image and confidence are usually fine, going to a big convention filled with scantily clad hotties sends my shields up. I’ve been in earshot of people who snicker and laugh at the plus-sized Batgirls or other cosplayers who don’t fit the skinny actresses they’re portraying. Once I asked one of these curvy girls to pose for a picture and genuine shock crossed her face. Other times it’s been a large man in a Roman gladiator outfit who gets laughed at or the plus-sized Princess Leia. Every time I heard these snickers and laughs I was less comfortable with dressing up.”

About the few options available for plus-sized women and girls who want to cosplay as a plus-sized character, Smith writes:

“I remembered the poor girl who asked on a forum who she could dress up as being plus-sized, the only answer she got was ogre Princess Fiona. I wanted to scream.”

I don’t know about you, but that makes me sad as hell.

Even if you aren’t someone who considers yourself fat, I think we can all agree that not only is fat positivity a good thing, but that we can all relate to considering dressing up as a character who wears spandex and being nervous about walking around all day in such an unforgiving outfit. Luckily, the comments section of Smith’s article led me to two awesome tumblrs: Fuck Yeah Fat Cosplay and More to Love: Fat-Positive Cosplay. Each posts pictures of cosplayers who have awesome costumes and happen to be plus-sized.

Because my boyfriend’s favorite comic book character is Gambit, and omgomg X-Men, we’ve decided to cosplay one day as Gambit and Rogue. For me, the hardest part won’t be making the costume (a challenge I am decidedly up for), but wearing it. In public. Around other people. While I’ve never been a plus-size woman, I have always been on the higher end of the misses sizing chart, and well, let’s just say I’ve got some body issues I need to work on. But sites like this give me a little more confidence. See this rockin’ Harley Quinn? She’s wearing a full body suit and looking damn cool.

So if all these fine ladies and gents can embrace their bodies and cosplay their favorite characters, ignoring any vicious con fat-shaming, so can I. (Besides, ’90s Rogue wears a jacket. …I’m joking. Sort of.)

I also stumbled on a post on Racialious by Kendra James called “Race + Fandom: When Defaulting to White Isn’t an Option.” In it, James writes about facing all kinds of ignorant when you’re a cosplaying woman of color.

“It often feels like a white cosplayer can not only dress as their favorite characters of color but also do so in the most offensive way  without comment. But when a non-white cosplayer colors outside the lines in the same way, there’s a risk of getting an awkward look because–instead of seeing the costume–no matter how perfect it might be, others see the color of your skin and you can see the confusion in their eyes: Why is a black girl dressed as Zatanna?

Worse are the ones who aren’t confused, but then think they’re being inoffensively clever. ‘You know there probably weren’t many Black USO Girls in the 1940s, right?’ Or, my personal favorite, ‘Wonder Woman? I thought you would’ve done Nubia.’

It’s an extension of the “default to white” privilege many fans still engage in on a regular basis.”

In case you didn’t click on the “most offensive way” link, it’s a white woman cosplaying as Zoe Washburn from Firefly… in blackface. There’s nothing wrong with a white person cosplaying as a black character. The offensive line is immediately crossed once you paint your skin. Why some white people still don’t seem to get what’s wrong with blackface, I will never understand. (And seriously, did no one try to dissuade her from this awful decision, or did she just ignore them? Friends don’t let friends wear blackface.) While the woman’s heart was probably in the right place, it just shows how ignorant white people can be about racial issues, and is indicative of the lack of racial sensitivity in the geek community.

I imagine that the point where these two cosplay issues overlap (being an overweight woman of color) is fascinating and equally depressing. But as I have no articles about that particular issue, and am not an overweight woman of color myself, I’ll have to stop here.

It is important for all of us in the geek community to think about the particular obstacles faced by our fellow geeks who don’t live up to the thin, white-washed ideals of our society. And it’s important to remember that the geek community is ultimately a product of society, meaning our ideals of beauty and correctness are derived from the norms of our society. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. As a community insistent on being outside of the norm, it is our responsibility to reconsider our values and perspectives on beauty and race, and realize there is nothing alternative about fat-shaming or race-based condescension.

-Joanna

#YesToFemaleDoctor

Internets! I just found the most amazing website ever!

Doctor Her is a website dedicated to fan posts about Doctor Who from a feminist perspective that is also concerned with not alienating (dis)abled, trans*, genderqueer, GLBQ people, and people of color. They paraphrase bell hooks in their About page! They use the term “kyriarchy!” I can’t handle this!

I stumbled across a totally awesome post Courtney Stoker wrote called “NuWho, poverty, and class: Or, the poor women are totally screwed.” In it, she examines the lives and fates of Rose, Martha, and Donna, arguing primarily that Donna and Rose get totally shafted because of their lower class status. If you’re interested in insightful anti-oppressive commentary on Doctor Who, visit this website. Now. Well, finish this post first. But then go.

And now to explain the title of this post, I also found out today that SFX Magazine started #yestofemaledoctor and #notofemaledoctor.

These two basically sum up my position:

https://twitter.com/erinpuff/statuses/184043723674488833

I would also add that I’m sick of lazy science fiction that is only willing to challenge norms like “Time travel’s not possible!” and “Aliens aren’t real!”, but never heteronormative assumptions about gender and sex. (I also just realized that Courtney Stoker, author of the aforementioned article, also is responsible for that first tweet. Is she just the coolest person ever?)

If you have a Twitter account, please tell the world, Yes to a Female Doctor! (I’m not going to be mad if you say no, but I will wonder why you read this blog.) Even if this is never, ever going to make the producers of the show let the Doctor regenerate into a woman, the world needs to know you support challenging heterosexist norms that place men at the center of the universe! (That’s right, the whole universe!)

-Joanna

P.S. If I seem a little excitable today, it might be the cold meds talking.