Left LJ Land (grayarcadian) wrote in greatbiggeek,
Left LJ Land

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Geek vs. Feminism

I want to believe in feminism again. I do. I joined this list and started trying to reclaim the label because my husband is going to be assuming a traditionally female line of work. I also saw the Bush administration gag abortion access right and left - and I watched the twit become more and more popular. Still I find myself reluctant to step right in with both feet again, and it seems that when I write or comment on feminist topics, I tick someone off and I even stop to question my own motives.

So, I figure if I stop lurking and start posting, it's time to come clean to the body public so maybe a little insight can be gained on both sides.

The final straw for me was a "History of Women's Writing and Art," class in college. At the time, I am taking her night school course so I could keep up with my day job organizing non-political events at Evergreen State College. Since the club was the largest non-poltical club on campus, we were organizing most of the social events, like movies and dances and I needed daytime for contacting campus staff and picking up supplies, among other thing. There was this very feminist instructor, who had been going over the strides made in women's writing during the WPA (Works is Progress Administration - an FDR program). Fantastic stuff, really, and very informative.

Then she starts the next chapter of the course, which could best be titled, "What Went Wrong." She talks about the push to get women out of jobs to make room for the returning vets. Okay, makes sense. She talks about the rollbacks of social programs and the red scare in the '50's, which targeted women writers, especially those who were social liberals. Makes sense.

Then she says that the final big reason was the rise in popularity of science fiction.

Did mention that the job was running the science fiction/role-playing club on campus?

So I raise my hand and keep it up for the rest of the lecture while my classmates are taking notes. I'm just thinking she's read something wrong. So she gets done with this rant about a genre of all male writers. I tell her she wrong, that the modern incarnation of the genre started with Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein."

She interrupts. "No, science fiction was started with men. H. G. Wells. Besides if there were a few women involved, they weren't involved by the '60's. Now -"

It's a common misconception to think that it's nothing but Y chromosomes out here. It's 50 shades of the wrong answer, but it's a common enough thing. It will just have to be time for me to tell my third feminist Evergreen professor that she buying into a stereotype. Much like I have to write a press kit about gothic role-playing games after that Columbine kid was hauled off wearing a "Vampire: The Masquerade," T-shirt. Just like I had to inform parents at of the club member I ran in high school that chain mail bikinis were not in any role-playing sourcebook to my knowledge and a host of other debunking.

"D.C. Fontanta was the story editor on the original "Star Trek." The "D" stands for Dorothy. A. C. Crispen -"

"Those are minor authors! Look at Ray Bradbury, Issac Asimov -"

"Excuse me, but Ursela LeGuin and Ann McCaffery are not 'minor' writers in my community! We have always welcomed female participation as much, if not more than the mainstream. Now I admit that hard science fiction, like what you are describing, didn't have a lot of woman in the field, but -"

"So it was damaging to feminist writing!"

"No -"

"You just said -"

And yeah, by this point, I was getting really tired of it. Science fiction fans have a term, "FIAWOLA." It stands for, "fandom is a way of life." If you aren't living in a subculture, it's kind of hard to describe to people how this hobby or interest starts to affect you daily outlook on life. It does though. There is a very distinct "us and them," mentality in fandom. This is where I met my husband. This is where I've run clubs and events since I was 12. Most of my friends are here and we know all the same jokes. Most of all though, this where I feel I belong. This is my tribe. Sure, it's a choice of lifestyle, but you can't force me not to like it here anymore than you can force me to change my gender or give up my monogamous tendencies for a polyamourous lifestyle.

"If you'd let me finish! There were less women there because it was harder for women to break into the hard sciences. Therefore, there wouldn't be many with the background -"

"Necessary to write this popular genre. You just made my argument."

"Professor, I live here. You don't. I run the science fiction club on campus. I know my history, and I know damned well that women have a large place in science fiction."

She continued, "Nevertheless, the popularity of a genre where women were not encouraged because of the background necessary blocked access to other types of writing being looked at..."

Sorry folks, but if you are going to make me chose between being a geek and being a feminist - feminism loses a soldier. It's the difference between following your bliss and belonging to a community that wants you there unconditionally, or having to resign yourself to foot soldier status and adjust yourself to follow someone else bliss.

I wrote my essay that week on women in science fiction. I wrote how women help plan most of the conventions in disproportionate numbers, how women published most of our 'zines and other reading materials, I wrote about Mary Shelley. I got it back saying my feminism was suspect because I "allowed," my love of "masculine," stories to cloud my vision about the lack of solid women's roles in the genre. We kept going round and round about this and I ended up barely passing her class. We were both were really glad to get out of each other's hair by quarter's end.

Now, yes, that's one stupid professor that desperately needs copies of the "Chick in Chainmail," anthology and Kate Bush's cover of "Rocket Man." I didn't check out of being a geek and a feminist just because of her. Like I said though, this was the third fucking professor. The one before this winner lumped the genre in with "boy's stories," that should be "improved," to allow women to do more then sit on the sidelines. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Sara Connor, Ripley, Lois Lane, and Wonder Woman were real fence-sitters weren't they? The one before that was minor, but ignorant. This would be the professor who claimed, according to her research, that outside of Leia, there weren't any women in Star Wars and that the Princess need to be saved each movie. (This was before the new movies.) Ask any Star Wars geek, male or female, who is in charge of the Alliance and the subsequent New Republic. She appears in "Return of the Jedi," and she has short sandy hair. Ask them whose's a better shot, Solo or Leia? As for Leia needing a rescue, every time the guys try to plan a rescue in SW, something screws up the rescue that has to be compensated for. It's Leia that shoots the Stormtroopers. It's Leia who got the plans for the Deathstar and it's Leia who strangles the Hutt.

And why just harp on science fiction? I got flack for liking sexist music videos, for admitting I thought Madonna was a poor copy of Bowie when it came to image-swapping, and for pointing out material that was sexist to men in "Thelma and Louise." And I like "Playboy!" I could care less about the nudes, but the female CEO, the artistic photographic opportunities for up-and-comers, the fact that James Bond was introduced to America here, along with Olivia, Patrick Nagel, uncensored interviews, the best way to set up a stereo, and a metric ton of classic science fiction. I love the fact that we have institutions like this which expand the reach of the Constitution's First Amendment. I like that they are willing to photograph women over 40 nude. I also love the concept they popularized of the girl next door actually enjoying sex.

The ironic bit to this is when I was running a science fiction club at my high school, I was considered the biggest feminist on that campus, in part because I was a geek. I go to college. Because I love science fiction more than I appreciate the "realism," of the works of Dorothy Parker, or that I like the Shelleys more than Sylvia Plath, or that I extol the virtues of certain men's magazines and things that condone sex, I'm not feminist "enough," anymore. The negativity and "what's the right way," list just never stopped. Unless I brought it up, none of these enlightened female feminists even brought up taboos men faced when they did something "feminine." Only one male professor was engaged and would site the men's movement as a work in progress, but he even said both sides needed to create "new stories," as he called them to bring both sides together in common works. Sadly, that was freshmen year. By the time I graduated, I felt like an outcast from something I used to champion.

I've come back, oddly enough, because my husband was getting resistance when he was trying to get hired to work with children. I've realized that the female sphere, female traits, or whatever the hell you want to call them, are still undervalued. I've come back because Bush scares me. I've come back because I'm hearing that equal pay is sliding further away. I'm coming back because maybe feminism, as a movement, has lightened up on trying to PC police my lifestyle and entertainment since there are bigger fish to fry at the moment.

To the feminists: I keep thinking when the dust clears, will I still be "feminist enough," for this crew? Has anyone besides me been considered a feminist or not a feminist by geography and the people in the setting?

To the geeks: Henry Jenkins, my favorite academic, pointed out in "Textual Poachers," that most fen, while being very supportive of feminist issue and being upset with sexist decisions or moments within their favorite text, do not identify themselves as feminist, or the say things like, "Yes, but I'm not obnoxious about it." or "Yes, but I like men." Is the type of behavior I ran into at Evergreen and the suspicion they hold for our cultural outlets the problem? Have any of you received this type of scrutiny?

And to everyone geek, feminist, both, or neither: It might be enlightening to look at the responses on the cross post. I'm sensing here is that, as groups, we don't communicate much. A truly ironic thing, considering Mary Wollstonecraft birthed Mary Shelley.

(x-posted to greatbiggeek, personal LJ, feminist)
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