paxpinnae: What the Tardis is, is freedom. (Freedom)
Here's the thing. Along with some other RL friends, I've been selling art and handicrafts at anime cons' Artists' Alleys since I was 14 years old. (For perspective, I'm now 22.) It's been great fun, it taught me how to make small talk with just about anyone, and it gave me pocket money all through high school. We've worked well-run cons, where attentive staff nabbed shoplifters discreetly and brought us water when the convention center AC was threatening to mummify us, and we've worked horrible cons, where the convention planners stuck half the tables in a dead-end hallway and broke contract by trying to make us pack up at 6 PM, when most cons are just cranking into high gear. We've worked big, bustling cons, small, desperate cons, and one memorable con that had to stop on Saturday night to hold a live-action telethon to raise enough money to pay for Sunday's venue fee.

But until last weekend, we'd never worked a Western comic convention before.

Let me tell you, it was different. Not in any of the essentials - the activity trifecta of panels-Artists' Alley-Dealers' Room was intact, there were dances and concerts on Friday and Saturday nights, and Saturday night was the big cosplay contest.   But - and there's no good way to put this - the demographics were decidedly different.  This first became apparent during set-up on Friday, when everyone was putting up their displays.   My friend A put it best; about halfway through Friday afternoon, she said, "You know, I never thought of myself as having a girly art style until now, but apparently, I have a girly style."  This was A's first big exposure to the western comics style, whose heavy lineart, primary colors, and anatomical excesses contrasted with her softer, more painterly style.  No one stops at every booth in th e alley, but at this con, it seemed like no one was stopping.  Hordes of middle-aged white men shuffled past our booth without so much as a second glance, while our target demographic (which skews young and female) seemed thin on the ground.  After a while, it just got to be depressing. A and I started riffing to avoid discouragement and boredom.

Pax: Captain, we're detecting immense amounts of radiation emitting from that rainbow-colored booth off the starboard bow.
A: What's the source?
Pax: Sir, our sensors indicate that it's - estrogen.
A: GOOD GOD, MAN. Raise the shields! Set deflection protocols to Ignore. FULL SPEED AWAY.
Pax: It's too late! Smithy from Engineering's already been exposed. He's - he's started dressing in - in pink.  And ruffles.
A: We'll have to euthanize him. Estrogen poisoning is no way for a man to die.

In all seriousness, however, it seemed like we had an invisibility shield around our booth, whose effects could only be pierced by women and those under the age of 25.  Everyone else deflected to the booths around us.  This had never been an issue at other cons; sure, we didn't get a huge adult male traffic, but we always had enough other traffic that we didn't notice.

 So, out of boredom, we decided to do an incredibly informal survey of the typical gender of the artists of Artists' Alley. The methodology was thus: I would walk around and make a quick determination of the primary purpose of the booth (Anime-esque art sales, Western Comics-esque art sales, Novel promotions, and Goods sales, including buttons, pillows, plushies, steampunk gear and clothing, etc etc etc) and the gender of the people working behind the booth. To account for the fact that vendors often get friends or significant others to babysit their booths so they can go have fun for a bit, if there was a prominently displayed name on the booth that didn't match the gender of the person working behind the booth, I just put marks for both. Yeah, this wasn't the most accurate survey. Somewhere, my research methodology professor is crying, and she has no idea why. However, given that, the breakdown was something like this:

Artists' Alley Gender Breakdown
TypeMenWomen
Anime Art15
Western Comics Art6624
Novels51
Goods2626
 

This was kind of appalling. We weren't just feeling outnumbered because we were in an unfamiliar environment; we were actually outnumbered. By 3:2.  However, cons don't control who signs up for AA tables. They do, however, control who they invite as guests.

 
Official Guest Gender Breakdown
TypeMenWomenGroups
Celebrities134 
Artists202 
Authors122 
Anime45 
Cosplay/Costume231
Gaming9110
Entertainers5417
Industry31 

Son of a bitch. When you went to the official program, the gender ratio got even worse, particularly among artists and authors.  The only fields to achieve relative equity were those out of the anime tradition and those in the entertainment fields.  When it came to creators, the majority were males.. 

I realize that none of this is news.  Men have dominated western comics for as long as they've been in existence.  Marvel hyped the crap out of their Marvel Women impact, staffed from editor to inker by female employees, precisely because the reverse case is so common.  Back in high school, when I was still buying comics on the regular (back when I still had money to buy comics), I'd frequently drive half an hour out of my way to go to the impersonal chain comics shore, rather than the local store where the clerks were either overly attentive or asked why a nice girl like me was buying Hellblazer and Preacher.  But you don't often get such clear, immediate data on the gender slant in comics.

As I said earlier, this was mostly surprising in contrast with our experience at anime cons.  We've been privileged to get to know a number of smart, funny women through our work at anime cons.  Female creators at anime cons, at least at the artists' alley level, are present in equal or greater numbers than male artists.  Fanart from the female gaze is as readily available as that from the male gaze - maybe more available, given the prevalence of easily slashable male characters in anime.  I'd gotten used to the idea that at any given con, our neighbors were probably going to be female.  Anime cons are not safe spaces (years of hearing about and sometimes experiencing low-grade (and sometimes high-octane) sexual skeeviness have disabused me of that notion), but, at least in my experience, they are relatively diverse ones, and they're ones we understand.

We broke this cultural barrier and got outside our comfort zone deliberately, because A and I were trying to promote our webcomic, and it seemed like an expedient way to entice in new blood. (I'm not going to link to the comic directly, because I believe in the separation of professional life and fandom, but PM me and I'll hook you up.) And don't get me wrong. This was a net positive experience.  We had a few fans show up to say hi, and a few more people sign up for our mailing list.  We broke even on sales, and took home a little extra, which, in this economy, isn't bad.  It turns out that comic cons are much better for networking than anime cons, and every last one of the male creators we talked to were completely welcoming and professional.  We made some excellent contacts at this con, a few of which might turn into actual collaborations down the line, and another few of which might turn into the kind of behind-the-table friendships that keep artists sane when it's two AM on a Saturday and the teenagers spilling out of the rave are trying to get you to sell a $40 plushie for a half-eaten bag of candy.

But it makes a difference when you're a member of a group that makes up half the population, instead of two-fifths.  It makes a difference when you're not wondering whether it's just the audience or whether your stuff is actually crap.  In two weeks, A's going to another anime con.  She's going to repeat the experiment there, just to make sure that we're not painting them in a halcyon glow.  In the meantime, I'm just going to keep writing.  Because there's a trend here.  The lower the barrier to access is, the more women creators you find.  There are more women in the artists' alley than on the guest list; more women in the newer field of anime than in the older field of comics; more women writing on the internet than being published by companies.  And the only way that changes is if we all keep writing and drawing and getting our work out there.  There's a trend here, and I want it to continue.

Do you?

paxpinnae: You were given a brain with which to think; to speak, you were given a tongue; but use them in conjunction please (Someone is Wrong on the Internet)
So, I was trying to write a comment on this post by [personal profile] zokiblue, which was a rebuttal to this post by [livejournal.com profile] _dahne_ about the recent trend in fandom towards self-policing against the various "isms" - she mentions racism, rape culture, ableism, homophobia,  and transphobia in particular.  It got a little out of hand for a comment, but I think it makes an okay post.

I'm glad this made [community profile] metafandom. Because here's my thing: while I agree with the majority of [personal profile] zokiblue 's article (notably her call-outs about  [livejournal.com profile] _dahne_'s needless alienation of the Republican diss opening, attachment to "crazy" and "retarded" when there are so many wonderful synonyms, and dismissal of the "-ist" trend), I'm not sure [livejournal.com profile] _dahne_ entirely wrong. She's a lot wrong, especially when she tries the "there is honest-to-god injustice in the world, why are you arguing on the internet" derailing tactic, but she's not entirely wrong.

I support the FoCing Cabal and Ableist Allies and all the letters in the alphabet soup of Queer rights in their quest to lay the smackdown on -ist trends in fandom. There is too little fic about characters outside the pretty white male demographic. Hurt/Comfort does represent a skewed way of looking at disability. Our culture does treat rape too lightly. Teens figuring out who they are and who they like do need to have safe spaces to do just that, so maybe they'll stop fucking killing themselves because they can't see any other way out.

But there is a line between calling out offensive material and attempting to micromanage the creative processes of fandom as a whole, and we're collectively starting to flirt with it. I'm thinking here of the "-somebody in an Inception fic joking with his Indian friend about looking like a cab driver" kerfuffle, which [livejournal.com profile] _dahne_ cites as a product of the "vacuum chamber full of self-important pseudointellectual gibberish." I actually read the fic before the kerfuffle went live, and I remember being appalled at the fact that this author was being taken to task by prominent fans for a joke that a character made in a story to a close friend. Maybe I'm not actually a good person, but in my experience, close friends? Say stuff to each other that would make any outside observer think they hated each other. Example from my life (bear in mind that these two were debate partners for years and double-dated to prom):

Bengali-American: Man, why do they call you "white" people? Every time I look at you, you're bright red!
Irish-American: Hey, at least we're not all pruney from being underwater all the time like Deshies.

So needless to say, I viewed the joke as relatively mild. I was saddened when the writer (voluntarily, and with a Good Apology) removed it from the fic. Not only did that action take out what I perceived as a nice character moment, it also came entirely too close to self-censorship for my comfort.

Not everyone deals with injustice in the same way. Some people write thoughtful, experience-based essays that inspire other people to purge all -ist thought and action from their life. Other people make jokes, often in bad taste. There needs to be room for a little reflection of reality in the virtual world, especially in fic, where the views of a character may not reflect the views of the author. Sometimes, yes, they do, especially indirectly, but sometimes not!

If a pervasive trend (like H/C) does reflect a common prejudice (like an ooky and inaccurate view of disability), the best response isn't to try to get everyone who enjoys H/C to stop writing it, it's to point out, loudly and publicly, that H/C reflects an ooky and inaccurate view of disability, and then write a crapton of well-researched fic with characters with disabilities being awesome and screwing it up and getting it on and generally being, you know, people. The answer to bad speech isn't censorship, however indirect; it's more goddamn speech. This is why challenges like [community profile] purimgifts and Chromatic Yuletide and Chromatic Porn Battle are so awesome - instead of silencing the airwaves (with criticism of portrayals of women, PoCs, or the differently abled), they're trying to boost the signal-to-noise ratio.

I recognize that I'm picking on one hyperbolic example among many worthy kerfuffles, but that's what happens - people forget the times when fandom pressure took down honest-to-jebus racist content (c.f. the [community profile] metafandom debate on the Haiti J2 fic) and focus on the debates that make us look like the worst stereotypes of a group of Soapbox Sallies. I'm not saying that we collectively need to stop getting mad about stuff; just, maybe take a moment to breathe before we go into a full-court press.
paxpinnae: Inara Serra,being more awesome than you. (Default)

There are many, many reasons why I love dead-tree media, not least of which is that I hope that one day they will give me a job, but the one most pertinent at the moment is that they can yield up articles that set your world on its head in ways that might take a small fleet of blog posts to accomplish.

E.G., I present this New York Times article about Afghan girls who are raised as boys in order to give their families the prestige (and monetary opportunities) that their all-girl families would otherwise lack.

Yeah, it blew my mind too.  In one of the most gender-stratified societies in the world, there are enough of a certain kind of cross-dresser that they have their own noun: "bacha posh," or literally "girls dressed as boys."  These girls are dressed as boys from a young age.  Some attend school as girls, then work after-school jobs, socialize, and play sports as boys.  When the bacha posh hit puberty, or become engaged to be married, they transition back into girls. 

I urge you to read the whole thing; it says a whole lot about gender and identity and the social pressures to have a male child in Afghanistan without simplifying the issues overmuch, and is an enormous credit to the reporter.  Some of the girls interviewed loved the freedoms they got; some were uncomfortable socializing with boys and playing the male parts.  One little girl interviewed kept stealing her older sisters'  clothes because she didn't like hers; one teenager, Zahra, was referred to with female pronouns in the article but said ze never wanted to transition back, because "nothing in me feels like a girl."  One woman didn't transition back until she was 20 years old.

Reading the article was kind of heartbreaking, because while most of the women interviewed said they liked living as boys for as long as they got to do it, it's difficult to separate out whether they liked being men or just the freedom that came with being men.  Most of the older women interviewed said that their time as boys gave them strength and confidence, and let them deal more evenly with their husbands; but most of them also found switching back to be incredibly confining, "like being born again."

As soon as I read the article, I shared it with my roommate, J. J and I have talked before about our slightly gender-atypical childhoods; we were both tomboys growing up, but this article helped me realize that we constructed that identity in different ways.

I was always happy being a girl, but I wanted to be a girl who could be Han Solo.  I wanted to swoop in, crack jokes, and save the day, and I wanted to do it without all this goddamn talking about FEELINGS -  but I was a girl. This led to some frustrating moments of gender-confusion until I found myself some heroines who acted like heroes - Alanna of Trebond, Kara Thrace, Amelia Peabody, and others who were definitely female but who interacted with the world on male terms because that let them get shit done.  J, on the other hand, says that when she was a kid, she definitely wanted to be a boy, because girls were weak and sissified.  She was proud of being her father's "oldest son," and didn't start being comfortable with girly things until college.  It's weird, because we've talked about this at least four times and never really understood what the other one was saying.

So!  The reason I'm letting myself post about this in a fandom blog is because after the discussion with J, I remembered this fic that I read a while back that dovetails quite nicely with the whole "do I want to be male, or just interact with the world on male terms" quandry.  It is Hating the Weather, by [archiveofourown.org profile] rivkat , and I have it bookmarked as "the genderfuck I have been waiting for since I learned the genre existed," because it isn't "What if Dean Winchester was born a girl" or "How does Dean Winchester cope with being turned into a girl," but rather "How does a Dean Winchester who was born a girl cope with being turned into a man (and furthermore, what are Sam's thoughts on the matter)?"  And whoa, does that make for one hell of an interesting story. It's long (40,000 words), plotty, AUs the whole of seasons 2-4, and if you were allowed to nominate fanfiction for the Tiptree I'd be circulating petitions as we speak.  Go read. Now.

I had more thoughts, but J apparently needs me to kill a cockroach.  What the hell.



paxpinnae: Does this icon make me look canon? (Fire the canon!)
So Highlander has eaten my brains. I am filled with love for Methos and - well, it's just Methos. I understand there are some other people, and they are also kinda cool, especially that Duncan MacLeod guy, but I've only seen three episodes of the actual series. I'm in China, so Hulu's blocked and my internet sucks golf balls through a krazy straw when it comes to downloading. My knowledge of Highlander is limited to What Fandom Hath Wrought, and What Fandom Hath Wrought is a lot of excellent fic about Methos.

This is not my usual modus operandi at all; generally speaking I have to read or watch Everything Ever in a fandom before I am comfortable reading fanfic. In this case, I blame [personal profile] thefourthvine. She recently recced an ancient Highlander fanvid called I'm The Cat in such a way that I decided to go ahead and watch it, even though I'd never seen Highlander before and had always thought that it was vaguely cheesy. So I watched the vid. And then I watched it again, about 20 times in a row. And then went back and watched it some more after work. I am still not tired of this vid. It is all kinds of incredible. And then [personal profile] thefourthvine went ahead and linked me to this post which lets you know what to skip in the early seasons to get to the good bits, so I decided to give it a shot.

Well, Highlander is incredibly cheesy. The special effects are bad, the dialogue is worse, and there are swordfights in every episode. But it also has this one character, Methos. I have only seen this dude in two episodes (the first two he's in), and he's pretty good, but not captivating. His portrayal in that vid, though, was so good that I decided to cheat and read some fanfic. And then. This guy, as written by fandom, is so compelling that even if his canonical self gets infected by a Wraith virus while discussing his daddy issues ad nauseum with a previously unknown brother from another mother as they plot to remove the chip that prevents him from doing violence from his head so that he can use the incredible number of powers he has stolen from other people in the series to their full and devastating effect, I will still love him forever. Seriously, he is clawing his way up into the pantheon of all-time favorites, though I'm holding off on the deification until I actually, you know, watch the show.

This got me thinking: there are other characters who I didn't really love or pay attention to in their original canons but whose portrayal in fandom was so damn awesome I had no choice but to love them. You should love them too. Here they are, presented with some of the fics that made me love them so.
 
Gaila )
 
Christine Everhart )
 
Teyla Emmagan )
 
Neville Longbottom )

Holy Mother of Run-On Posts that got long. To sum up: what made me love these characters was not the ways in which their creators made them, but the ways in which other people reacted to them. That, in my opinion, is what fandom is, and why it's worth it.

EDIT: Holy CRAP do I hate the rich text editor.  I hate it so.

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paxpinnae: Inara Serra,being more awesome than you. (Default)
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