Anne Bean

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Tag: geekgirlcon

The Heroine’s Journey

So this past weekend, I attended GeekGirlCon in Seattle. It’s a wonderful con: a crowd of probably 70% women, 30% men, a selection of geeky arts, crafts, real SCIENCE, great panels and awesome networking opportunities.

My buddy @tereshkova2001 doing science!!1! (luminol experiement), dressed as Ms. Frizzle.

My buddy @tereshkova2001 doing science!!1! (luminol experiement), dressed as Ms. Frizzle.

One of said great panels that I went to was titled “The Heroine’s Journey: Moving Beyond Campbell’s Monomyth.” (When I saw this in the program I was like THEY’RE PLAYING MY SONG GOTTA GO. As a reminder, the title of my master’s critical “thesis” i.e. 20-page paper was “Mistress of Both Worlds: Women’s Stories and the Monomyth.”)

So I was 85% incredibly pleased with this panel and 15%…displeased? Feeling like they were missing something? At the end of the panel I sort of vibrated and wrote stuff down for the next 20 minutes because I was so excited about the topic and had so many thoughts and feelings. Allow me to try and explain.

First off, a description of the panel:

The panel was moderated by B.J. Priester, who has a great series of blog posts on FANgirl Blog about the Heroine’s Journey. You can start here.

Panelists included Star Wars expert Tricia Barr of FANgirl Blog, Jennifer Stuller of Ink-Stained Amazon, and Alan Kistler of The Mary Sue and other places as well. They are all super-rad and I recommend checking out their work.

The basic thesis of the panel was this:

  1. Joseph Campbell’s monomyth is a story far too limited to tell women’s stories. This is because a) it was based in male Freudian psychology and b) it’s limited to a going forth-becoming-returning story, i.e. a coming-of-age tale.
  2. Also Campbell was an asshat who dismissed women as even needing to go on a “hero’s journey” because they were obviously either sort of pre-enlightened quest objects, or the Goddess, or the temptress.
  3. There are specific aspects of stories involving a central female heroine that move beyond and differ significantly from the monomyth. (These were SO RAD that I’m going to discuss them next post.)

The only bit of the panel that I had a hard time with was that the panel was a bit dismissive of fairy tales. Look forward, not back, they said. And I agree that looking forward is our goal, and that these new stories with central female characters in the 20th and 21st centuries are great and worthy of study. However, it’s throwing the baby out with the bath water to dismiss fairy tales and even myth entirely. In fact, I think fairy tales in particular are incredibly important. (Duh. It’s me.)

But why? Because they have been orally transmitted vessels of popular, often populist culture for millennia. Until a bunch of middle class mostly dudes wrote them down, fairy tales were told mostly by women and poor folks. The panelists pointed out that myth and old tale have often been vehicles for advancing the ideals of patriarchal societies. And to an extent, yes. But I think there’s a lot more going on in myth and tale than mere patriarchal values. I have a working thesis that fairy tales were collected by the Great Collectors of Tales (Mme. Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy in France, The Brothers Grimm in Germany, Alexander Afansyev in Russia, Joseph Jacobs in England, etc.) riiight at about the time that nationalism was becoming a thing. The tales of a particular region suddenly got co-opted into that region’s national identity, and used as a cultural touchstone. Thing is, many have used tales for very specific purposes: nationalism, morality (e.g. bowdlerized versions of tales being read to children), propaganda (you bet the Nazis latched on to the Grimm tales), and vehicles for a particular school of thought (coughBRUNOBETTLEHEIMcough). So fairy tales have been used and abused for many reasons, patriarchal culture being a major one. But that is not all they are.

So why do I like fairy tales so dang much?

They are simultaneously problematic and redemptive for women. They are wrought with tropes and bizarre internal logic, but at the same time they exist in a weird psychological landscape that I find freeing. The influence of fairy tales in particular is strange and universal, and not always nice.

For example, why do tales about women with hands or an arm cut off come up in so many cultures? Why tales of wicked mothers? How did this dang dead mother, father raising daughter thing come about? Why so many discussions of incest in these tales? Psychologists love to have goes at answering questions like this. And I don’t begrudge psychologists their place to do so. But I’m also curious as to how we as world-builders and story-creators respond to fairy tales. We’re not all Jungian jerks like Campbell. What have we to take from this incredible wealth of source material?

 

Anyway, after the panel, my friend says “So…is this gonna be a blog post?”
And I, in my vibrating-muttering-frantically-scribbling state still, said, “It’s gonna be a book.”

Point is, I have a lot to say about the Heroine’s Journey. Stay tuned for some more of it next post, including all the awesome points that the panel made.

Geek Girl Con 2013

Seattle has a lot of cons, many of them very quality and wildly popular. ECCC is becoming a contender for major US comic con alongside NYCC and SDCC. PAX sold out in nine minutes and packed the entire convention center. But this past weekend was the Seattle con that has my heart the most: Geek Girl Con. I have heard (male) friends describe the best part of going to PAX is “being with my people.” And for reals, GeekGirlCon is my people, even more so than any other con.

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Pretty sure the guy on the left won the costume contest. On the right is cosplayer Chaka Cumberbatch.

How do I describe GeekGirlCon? Do I talk about the gender distribution: maybe 75% women, 25% men? Do I talk about how much more visible queer geeks, geeks of color, and geeks with disability were than at other cons? Do I talk about the high quality of cosplay, the seriously good panels, or the interesting bits that other cons don’t have, like the DIY Science section or the networking section? I dunno, maybe cosplayer Chaka Cumberbatch said it best:

 

I just hope everyone else had as good a time as I did. This con was a game changer for me, and I mean that sincerely. #geekgirlcon

— ★ Chaka ★ (@princessology) October 20, 2013

 

There’s just nothing else like it! Here’s a quick rundown of Interesting Things from the con:

The first panel I went to was about female characters in videogames. The panel was well-chosen: two game designers, Shoshanna Kessock and Kimberly Voll, and two gamers/critics, Anita Sarkeesian and Elsa Sjunneson-Henry. They talked about how to make good female characters. (Protip: Agency. Making choices that affect things in a meaningful manner.) They talked about the difference between choose-your-own-gender games and games where there is a female that you must play. They talked about the silly double-standards revolving around emotions: women have too many, men have none or maybe one. Douchey game developers have argued that women have too many, and even that anger (the only male emotion obvs) is just easier to animate than more complex emotional states. Shoshanna Kessock said she’d actually heard an argument against female “must-play” characters that goes like this: “Why would men be able to feel through the avatar of a woman?” I think if we could determine why many men wouldn’t be able to feel through the avatar of a woman, or if those men could figure it out for themselves, then we’d actually be on our way to a more just society. Not just in games and geek culture, but in general. To me, avatars and empathy is an example of the positive power of games.
Later in the day, I went to a panel entitled “Rule 63 Cosplay,” about genderbent cosplay. The presenters were my buddy from childhood (no kidding) and cosplayer extraordinaire, Torrey Stenmark, and turbo-experienced cosplayer Jonnalyhn Wolfcat Prill. They highlighted the difference between crossplay and gender-swapped cosplay. Crossplay is where one dresses as an differently-gendered character attempting to look like that character’s gender.

Jareth, the Goblin King (Torrey Stenmark)

On the other hand, genderswapping is where one dresses as a version of a character that is as if that character had been written a different gender.

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Steph Rodgers, Captain America. (Torrey Stenmark)

The radsauce Kelly Sue DeConnick gave a fantastic spotlight presentation where she talked about her upcoming title, Pretty Deadly, and a host of other topics. Kelly Sue is so smart, down-to-earth, and genuine in her presentation. I am consistently impressed by her as a writer and a human being. She talked a lot about Captain Marvel as well. She had a simple, humble moment of apologizing for screwing up by not putting in a black servicewoman into the Banshee Squadron. It’s an idea she’d gotten and discarded because it seemed unrealistic to her at the time. “I have these women with guns that they somehow know how to use fighting aliens in the South Pacific,” she said. She was saddened to later realize that she’d found a black servicewoman somehow *less* realistic. “I screwed up,” she said. “I’m sorry. I’ll do better next time.” God damn, I wish more creators and cultural curators could/would do that when they screw up. What a world that would be.

When Trade Secrets! reviewed Captain Marvel, incidentally, one thing we weren’t so hot on was the time travel aspect to the story–the pacing felt a little weird to us. I now know the heart-wrenching reason why she did a time travel story right off the bat: she really wanted to get to the banshee squadron and some of Carol’s relationship with Helen Cobb, but was also convinced that the story would be cancelled after six issues. So she got what she wanted to write about most done up front. I, for one, am glad that Captain Marvel didn’t get canceled after six issues. I heard several women talking about how they started reading comics because of the title–wow. We need this. Representation matters.

Lastly, let me give you a beautiful gift that Kelly Sue DeConnick gave the audience: The Sexy Lamp Test.

Deluxe Lit Leg Lamp mediumThis is a good test of whether or not your (female) characters have agency. It goes like this: “If you have a female character and you could replace her with a sexy lamp and the plot still works, then FUCK YOU.” *Cough* I mean, then re-examine her, give her a real purpose and like maybe a character arc or something, give her some agency, and let her choices matter.

 

So, GeekGirlCon! There are important conversations about women and race and disability and all kinds of neat things! There’s a lot of rad cosplay! There is actual science! There is a non-creepy vibe! (And yes, you can totally come if you’re a dude. Aside from it being FUN, it’d be a good exercise in what-is-it-like-to-be-female-at-most-other-cons.) It is a magical place. See y’all next year.

 

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