Why Isn’t Bilbo a Girl? Talking to Kids About Media Representation
Linda Breneman, Cora Walker, Emmett Scout, Keezy Young, and Simone de Rochefort
This panel discussed the troubling effect low diversity has on the performance and goals of children and teens in marginalized groups. The group offered some good tips on helping children handle media with problematic messages.
Emmett: When I was as PAX last month, I went and talked to Press XY, an organization of trans gamers, and they had a list of all the trans characters who have ever been in video games, and I think it’s 7. On that list are characters like Birdo. … [When I was young] I never saw the possibility of growing into someone that reflected who I genuinely was, because those characters just didn’t exist.
Cora: In preschool through 11th, I only ever wanted to read books with female protagonists, it was all I was interested in, it was all I cared about. Something that kept coming up with elementary school teachers and librarians, [they said] “Well, you won’t always be able to read books with female characters. You’ve gotta branch out.” And they encouraged me to do that. What they didn’t tell me is that I would almost never get to read a book with a female character for school. By the time I was in high school … I started asking my teachers and librarians, “Why don’t we ever read any books with women for school?” … The core response that people kept coming back to was, “We tried including more female characters in the curriculum a couple years ago, but what we found was that boys wouldn’t read them.”
Cora (on creating minority characters): Don’t make the fact that they are from a marginalized group their defining trait. Think about humor, and quirks, and terrible terrible choices that they make. I think that’s what makes good characters.
Emmett: Yeah, because nobody looks at Tony Stark and is just like, “Man, he’s the epitome of a white guy, and that’s his defining characteristic.”
Simone: I think it’s really important to talk to not just girls, or trans children, or queer children, but talk to the [straight] boys as well … “So that female character, she’s wearing high heels into her battle, why do you think that is? Do you think I would do that? Would you do that?”
If You Can Write, You Can Make Games
Jacqueline A. Lott
Jacqueline showed the group how easy it is to make interactive stories using free tools on the web. She stepped her audience through an example, described the difference between a choice-based game and a parser-based game, and offered tips for getting started. You can view her slides here.
Jacqueline: If you’ve got this burning desire to write a game about this specific thing and it’s your baby and it’s what you love, don’t make that your first game. ‘Cause you’re gonna screw it up, and you’re probably gonna screw it up really badly. … There’s a lot to be said for releasing a lot of very small things. You don’t necessarily have to show them to the world, but practicing … practice on things that are small, and then work your way back. Come back one day to that wonderful thing you fell in love with that you really wanted to share.
Jacqueline (comparing her example game in choice-based and parser-based versions): You have introductory text to the game in both [versions] here. So you can see the top one is choice-based. It’s got, basically, hotlinks. Words are highlighted, you can clink on things. So it’s very specific as to what your choices are, it’s very narrow. And then on the bottom we have the same introductory text, but instead of having anything highlighted, you just get a prompt. As a player you can type in whatever you want. Now, ideally you’ll type in something that has to do with what you just read, so you don’t read that intro text and then type “Kill the space alien.” … The author is not going to have anticipated that you’ll type that in. That’s one of the things I love about being an author of these games. It’s a lot of fun to see if you can cover all your bases and anticipate anything that the player might reasonably want to type in.
A Woman’s Place Is on the Bridge: Trek Women in Charge
Grace Moore, Jamala Nadra, Jarrah Hodge, and Tanya Feldman
The panelists reviewed female characters in the Star Trek universe. They shared their favorite characters, lamented over characters that weren’t given the opportunity to shine, and discussed the problematic way female characters of authority are perceived by writers and viewers.
Tanya: I will use an episode that I think captures […] who Beverly Crusher is. It’s the episode called Remember Me.
Jamala: That has my favorite quote of all time.
Tanya: Oh, I don’t remember the quote. Could you…
Jamala: Okay. She says, “If there’s nothing wrong with me, then there must be something wrong with the universe!”
Jamala: When I first saw [Commander Shelby] when I saw Best of Both Worlds Part One and Two, I thought … “Why are you bucking heads with Riker? You don’t talk to Riker like that! Oh my god, you went to Picard over Riker? What is wrong with you?!” And now, I’m looking back on this character, and it’s really fascinating to me how much my ideas about her have changed. … She’s coming in, and she’s got a lot of drive, and a lot of gumption, and she’s really competent. And when I first saw her, I really didn’t know what to do with that, in my early twenties. Now I’m like, “Man, I wish I could be her.”
Grace: I recently rewatched The Q and the Grey. For those of you that need memory refreshing, Q decides he has the hots for Janeway, and starts romancing her. It’s played off as being really funny, “Oh that Q, what a rascal!” And then two or three episodes later we get Tuvok being stalked by a hologram and it’s all played very straight-faced like Fatal Attraction, “She crazy! Tuvok’s in danger, there’s a crazy women who’s in love with him!” Why didn’t we get that when Janeway was being stalked by an omnipotent demigod character?
Grace (about Tasha Yar): Let’s just say it: she was kinda the butch women there. … why so afraid of tough women? Why so afraid of masculine women? Why does a women need to be a level of feminine, and that could have been explored. … In fact, as close as we get to that is The Naked Time one where [she says], “Diana, you’re so pretty and girly, and I’m not.” And then that’s over, and “let’s never speak of that episode again!” But there’s a kind of gender imbalance that she as a character is expressing, and we only get to see it when she’s space drunk.
21st Century Boys: Slash in the Mainstream
Aja Romano, Amanda Brennan, Cathy Yang, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, Lauren Orsini, and Mike Cooper
This panel discussed how the slash community has changed over the years. They described clashes fans have had with media producers, and questioned whether slash should become canon.
Mike: The powers that be promised us something, and that didn’t happen. And our shippers had an expectation now that that’s going to happen. … We tend to want to pin that on one person. It’s not really one person, it’s an industry thing. And so the issue is we can’t just attack and be mad at somebody saying, “Oh this person lied, blah blah blah” it’s about changing the world that we live in, so we can actually see our slash couples be canon, if that’s what we actually want.
Kathy: I think it used to be that slash fandom was very much like, I called it “Fight Club mentality.” We don’t talk about it, but everyone knows it exists. … But I think now, a lot of people think it is true … it is conceivable that they may be gay, and it is conceivable that they may be having a real relationship … so it becomes much more of a big deal because these girls genuinely believe it’s real. I have a lot of issues with the way they go about it, but it’s also really heartening to realize that acceptance of queer and gay communities has made it so that we don’t automatically think it’s delusional. Though it is delusional.
Amanda: I am obsessed with Swan Queen. I have never seen Once Upon a Time, but I ship that so hard. It’s weird, because these shipping activities and slashing activities are just so vibrant and so alive. I can write fanfiction about things… I have probably never watched this anime, but I’m going to read that fanfiction because it’s great. I really believe that shipping and canon don’t necessarily have to go hand in hand. If you really like something, and you want to work in that universe and build your idea of this pairing, go for it. People are going to come and enjoy it. If it’s not canon, it sucks if you really want to be represented, but you have this whole universe, and the creative tools to get the word out and find the people to read it.
Queerbaiting in Genre Television: Representation or Exploitation?
Aja Romano, Diana Michelle, Dori Koogler, and Jessica Mason
In this panel the team discussed the problematic combination of homoerotic signals and heteronormative jokes.* They discussed writer intent in a number of works with gay subtext, and examine the evolving nature of queerbaiting, gay subtext, and gay relationships in stories and culture.
Jessica:… Xena, who we all know is so gay, … where they put all this intentional subtext between Xena and Gabrielle, going on and on. Every bath they took was together. If you google “Xena Gabrielle Bath” there’s like 20 different scenes.
Jessica: I have conflicted feelings about slashers going canon. For one, I’d love to see the representation, I’d love to see my own [ship] smooshing their faces together. But on the other hand, fandom is about taking the power away from the creators and the establishment and putting it in the fans. If you don’t see queer relationships, you make them. And if you don’t see enough female characters, you turn your favorite character into a girl. And so it’s putting power back into the hands of the people whose power you’re subverting by engaging in transformative works.
Aja: It’s also putting power back in the hands of people who are being marginalized and erased by the narrative, let’s be frank. There is a stereotype that slash is written by cis straight women, but it’s not true. There have been numerous surveys and so forth, that have shown over and again that the majority of slashers, people who write slash, who are in this room, identify as some form of queer or genderqueer.
The Heroine’s Journey: Moving Beyond Campbell’s Monomyth
B.J. Priester, Tricia Barr, Alan Kistler, and Jennifer K. Stuller
The groups discussed how stories centering on female heroes are different from the traditional hero’s journey. They listed their favorites heroines, and described how other characters play a part in their journey.
BJ (On Katniss Everdeen): She’s got a team: Peta, and Gale, and Cinna. A lot of other people support her, and she’s annoyed at authority, breaking the rules… she even changes the rules of the game by the end … As opposed to Luke, as in “Use the force, Luke.” “Okay!” He does what he’s supposed to do. “Go to Degoba.” He’s like, “You’re a ghost, why am I listening to a ghost?” “Go to Degoba.” “Okay!”
Alan: Voices! Why would the voices lie??
Jennifer: When Campbell came up with the monomyth, we’re talking about stories that were global in patriarchal societies. So the stories he’s studying, the stories that existed, were about male hero’s journey. I read an anecdote where someone asked Campbell about female heroes while he was giving a lecture. And he said, “Well the female is in hero stories, and she’s a very very important character. She’s the temptress, and she’s the goddess, you can’t have a hero story without those.” “Yeah, well, I want a female hero. Where is she?” And apparently he grumbled something about how he couldn’t wait to retire.
Jennifer: One of the other female hero tropes is that they are all raised by fathers or father figures. Well where is the mom? She’s dead. She’s alcoholic. She’s a drug addict. She’s mentally ill, emotionally unavailable, totally clueless. Even Buffy’s mom had no idea what was going on. Giles was her mentor. So what does this mean for female heroes, that they’re all trained by men, they’re all mentored by men.
Alan: My problem with the parental thing, is for a lot of female protagonists, is used to justify why this women is in a heroic role at all, or is physically formidable. So on Castle, you’re introduced to Beckett and she’s fantastic. And you’re told her parents were murdered, and the case was never solved, that’s why she’s a badass cop. Well some women are just badass cops! She doesn’t need that.
BJ: They created a new bestseller list because JK Rowling was kicking their butts. Is there gatekeeping? Yes, there’s gatekeeping. We have to put Twilight and Hunger Games in YA, because otherwise we have to admit there’s 30 million copies, and these Hugo winning male authors are selling 50,000 copies? 100,000 copies?
Sex Scenes From the Female Gaze
Coirrina Lawson, Sheena McNeal, and Christine Merrill
Barabara and Chistine discussed the difference between sex scenes emphasizing the idea of “scoring” and ones that centered on the experience of those participating. They read a few hilarious sex scenes to the audience to demonstrate the differences.
Coirrina: The last four-way [I wrote] I had to change, because my editor didn’t like the heroine having sex with a man other than the hero. So I gave everybody lots of psychedelic mushrooms. And then the heroine sorta passed out, and the rest was left to the imagination.
Christine: In the case of any sex scene, your character should come out the other side different then they went in, because if you can have … sex with someone and not be changed at all, it’s really not that good. The goal in my sex scenes is they discover something about each other. Perhaps one of them says something at an inappropriate time that the other one will brood about for the rest of the book. You should be at your most unguarded in bed, and if you’re guarded, that brings another dimension to the sex.
Coirrina: I have a problem with the word “penis,” just because it’s so inelegant, and it’s so unsexy. … I wrote an alternate history romance with Romans. And I asked my Roman language expert, there must be a Roman word for penis. And she’s like, “phallus.” And I’m like, “doh!” And actually, phallus is a really nice word, and I was really happy to be able to use that word.
Editing 101 for Writers
JoSelle Vanderhooft and Andrea Howe
Two editors answered writer’s questions about the editorial process, working with editors, and preparing their work for publishing.
Audience: At what stage do you expect to get a draft for a developmental edit? How do I know it’s good enough?
Andrea: The rule of thumb is that you want it to be as good as you can get it, before you send it to someone who’s going to charge you money. There are lots of ways to get that way. You start on your own, then there are critique groups, there are workshops, there are conventions like this one … and you get opinions and feedback – real, critical, feedback – from people who either know what they’re doing or are your target audience. … People who will not charge you money to look at your manuscript and give you advice.
Audience: If I want to publish my novel traditionally, should I assume that once I get an agent they will take care of finding me an editor, or should I assume I should find an editor before I even approach an agent?
Andrea: Don’t assume anything. Everyone works differently. It sounds from your statement that you’re assuming you’re going to get an agent, which is also a big assumption. I’m not saying that you can’t, obviously people do. It’s very difficult. … The industry is very fluid right now. So some publishers expect it to be edited first, some don’t. Some still have in house editors that take care of that sort of thing, and some hire freelancers like us. … Make it as good as you can get it, before you send it to anybody.
JoSelle: I would say it’s best, before you send it to an agent, to have an editor look at it – if you have the time and the budget.
Audience: Is there a way to discern whether something an editor wants to change isn’t actually bad, but just isn’t to their tastes?
JoSelle: Ultimately what I would do is trust your instincts. If you really feel like your editor’s just not getting it, particularly after you explain what you’re trying to do. Because I think that’s the key to editing, to help the author do what they want to do, and say what they want to say. If [the author is] not quite saying that, whether or not [the editor likes] what they’re trying to say, or thinks it’s the best way to tell the story, I think it’s an editor’s job to get you there. So if what they’re saying is going in a completely different direction than where you want to take it … then that’s when I would probably think … this is not a good match.
Andrea: Yeah, [in that situation] you should probably find somebody else to do it. However, remember there’s a reason the editor doesn’t like it, and maybe delve into that. … See if there’s an underlying cause that your editor can’t quite see, but feels.
Gaylaxy Quest: Exploring Queer Fantasy and Science Fiction
Amber Dawn, Astrid Amara, Ginn Hale, J. Tullos Hennig, Langley Hyde, and Nicole Kimberling
These LGBTQ spec fic writers described the importance of queer and sex-positive literature, and how speculative fiction lends itself to stories that push social boundaries.
Astrid: I just really love spec fic because of the melodrama; I’m really into melodrama. I think it’s more fun to write. I mean I can write a story saying, “I had a really bad day. My computer at work got a virus and it doesn’t work anymore.” Or I write a story that, “I had a really bad day. My homeworld was destroyed. And I got thrown in jail, and I’m gonna be tortured…” It’s a way to take that emotional construct of what our daily life is, and make it bigger, and make it more dramatic, and that’s kinda more fun and for some reason more freeing. It really gives us an opportunity and that’s what I love. … Even when I’m writing contemporary fiction I just want to blow things up.
Amber: In speculative [fiction], I feel like I’ve been allowed to explore a more holistic identity than I ever have in contemporary fiction. I just sold a memoir last year, and it started with a top tier publisher, “I don’t know, can you downgrade the queerness, because it’s hard to have a sex worker memoir and be so radically queer.” And I’m like, “This is a memoir, there’s not a lot of room to move. It’s a true story.” And in my monomyth, she’s like a queer magical prostitute duking it out in magic land, and everyone was okay with that, because it’s speculative fiction. So I think we just have more room to actually explore holistic identities in speculative than realism or contemporary fiction will ever allow.
Langely: I’ve done literature classes, and one of the ways you’re supposed to analyze any piece of work was authorial intent. And you’re supposed to pick up this book, and you’re supposed to say what the author was intending. And as a writer I know that’s… I don’t intend to write a work for a reason, I write a work because I have an idea in my head, and I’m thinking, “Wow, that would be really cool.” or “I’m curious about that.” And I might write it with a question in mind but I don’t intend to answer my own question. So when I’m writing something there are lots of different things that go into it. And saying there is one message is narrowing it down in a way that’s just impossible for me as someone making something. So when I’m reading something, I try to keep in mind that what I am reading, in a certain respect, comes from this person, but can have nothing to do with them. Because … what you take away from a book as a reader can be very different from what the author put in.
That’s only a fraction of the great content from GeekGirlCon 2014. If you’re in the northwest United States and you haven’t been, consider it for 2015. I hope to see you there!
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