Sunday, March 23, 2014

Gender & Anime Culture After Dark RECAP

Apologies to those who asked me personally how the panel went and didn't get a response, Friday really wore me out and I was dragging along for most of yesterday. Today I'm still pretty tired and a teensy bit cranky, so I probably won't go super in-depth about every little thing that happened during the panel; you may want to give me a few days if you need more details. If you want to know what it was about, click here. No, it wasn't filmed. I may put the slides on Slideshare later on, haven't decided. I'm looking for a new job right now, I really don't want employers to Google me and see this slideshow.

So first of all, presenting a panel at 11pm sucks. It seriously, honestly sucks. At 9:30 I was tired, sick to my stomach and dizzy, and seriously wanted to go home. I can see why there aren't many good panels at that time, who the hell wants to present that late if they don't need to?

Around 10:15 or so I headed over to the panel room to wait outside, and to my surprise, people were actually lining up ahead of time! To be clear, I've never seen this happen. Yes, my first panel had a line out the door after it had started because we reached capacity, but I've never seen a line before the room clear, so I consider this a pretty big milestone. And this line was pretty significant. If you're familiar with the layout of the 3rd floor, this panel was in 309, and the line went all the way to the bathroom. Might've even passed that, didn't actually check.

Anyway, as people were streaming in I decided to set the mood by playing The Internet Is For Porn, which people sang along to, and it was awesome. I had a whole playlist of songs about sex, like Show Me How You Burlesque from the movie Burlesque, and March of the Hookers by my new favorite band, Blair Crimmins and the Hookers (check them out, they're awesome!). Didn't go over as well, but got me plenty pumped to talk about sexy stuff!

The presentation itself seemed relatively well-received. I started off with a fairly full room, there had to be at least 50 people in there easily. Of course, some people left, but that happens. Unfortunately, I couldn't use my usual format of having people participate in the discussion from their seats, because we were right next to the karaoke room, people had to come up to the microphone to talk. Not cool, really threw off the dynamic.

How did I do? Eh . . . I said "um" a lot, blanked out a few times, and probably could've either sat with better posture or actually stood up. But I managed to throw in a few jokes, like when I explained that the porn debate, even between sex positive feminists and sex negative feminists, is a "sticky issue." Some of my slides got a good laugh as well. So I'm still not a great panelist, but I'm getting better with experience.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Gatekeeping, Sports, and Geek Culture

I know the comparison between gaming/comic/anime/sci-fi/fantasy nerds and sports fans isn't new, people have been talking about this for a while: how people in both groups are overly enthusiastic in the way they dress up and obsess over minor details. But there's one similarity we don't talk about: both subcultures have elitist, gatekeeping assholes.

Yesterday I went into the heart of Boston to watch the Red Sox parade, and while I was waiting I met a woman who had taken the D line into the city. For those who don't know the MBTA, that's the train that goes from Newton into the city, stopping at "Fenway" (of course, the Kenmore stop is actually closer to the park). For many living in the metrowest area, parking at Riverside or Woodland station and taking the D line into the city is the cheapest and most convenient way to get into Boston, especially for Red Sox games. Naturally, it was packed yesterday. The woman I'd met recounted two men on the train who, when not chanting "LET'S GO RED SOX," loudly insisted that anyone who didn't know the stating lineup get off the train.

Douchey, I know. But I get where he's coming from. When people find themselves competing for resources, in this case space (not even seats, just space), it's natural to convince themselves that only a select few actually deserve those resources. In this case, these men believed that there just wasn't room on the train for casual fans.

Look, if someone wants to wake up early on a Saturday, drive around Newton to find parking because the huge lots at the green line stops are already full, and take a packed train into the city with a bunch of assholes, that's enough dedication, and they deserve to be there. Just like if someone wants to drop money on a badge or ticket to a convention and pay the expense to get to the convention, they deserve to take up space at that convention. If someone's been waiting in line longer than you to get into that panel, there's a good chance they care about that topic, and have just as much right to a seat in there as you - maybe more. No one should have to justify their right to take up space.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Requests =/= Censorship

Today Jill Pantozzi of The Mary Sue tweeted this:

I mentioned this tweet to my followers on Facebook, and one friend of mine got pissed. Because apparently this request is totally unreasonable. Apparently she was requiring that people be forced to draw characters they don't like. Apparently she was abusing her influence in geek culture to coerce poor artists to draw characters they didn't wanna draw.

Look, if someone is drawing character art at a convention, they're usually drawing multiple characters from multiple fandoms. Female characters may be marginalized in most corners of geek media but they're not non-existent. If someone's drawing character art and not featuring one print of a female character, that's a little odd. And if women are absent from so many booths that Ms. Pantozzi felt the need to make this request, then maybe it is necessary for her to use what influence she has to suggest that people include a little diversity in their art.

Seriously, most people who only draw men don't do so because they only like to draw men; most either don't think to draw women, or don't bother because they assume the prints won't sell as well.

Artist alley tables aren't cheap. Even at a relatively small event like ConnectiCon, I believe a table is upwards of a thousand; I'll bet a table at NYCC is a lot more. These artists may not be in it for the money, but I'll bet most of them would at least like to break even. Artists want to feature art that will sell, and they may think that prints of men will do just that. The pictures of women I see at most booths are highly sexualized; outfits are skimpier, waists are thinner, and breasts are bigger than they usually appear in the official media they appear in. Why? Because sex sells; I've heard an artist admit that as I browsed through his portfolio full of female characters drawn as 1940's pinups. There's no shame in wanting to make money, this is America after all, and we all gotta make rent somehow. Maybe if a highly influential woman suggests they feature pictures of women, they might be more likely to do so, knowing such a product will actually sell.

I could talk about how a convention floor that features art, comic books, t-shirts, and other merchandise that's pretty much all made with men in mind, but every time I talk about women feeling alienated and unwelcome in geek spaces, some jerkface assumes I want every convention to be some warm fuzzy hug lounge where people greet each other with tea and stuffed animals. So forget it, I won't bother this time.

Ultimately, yes, people can and should draw whatever they want. This is America after all, freedom of speech and stuff. No one is asking for some weird quota system where all artists at a convention must sell X number of prints featuring women. Pantozzi may have fans, she may write for a publication, but if people are staunchly against drawing women, they're probably going to ignore her, and they'll probably brush it off if some angry feminist calls them out for only selling pictures of men.

Friday, August 16, 2013

My Reaction to Heroes of Cosplay - or why I think the show was horribly misnamed

I finally got to watch Syfy's much-anticipated and highly controversial show Heroes of Cosplay last night. I'll admit, watching the show was actually kind of fun, in that the show did feature names I recognized and was about cosplay and conventions - a huge part of my life.

For a while I'd been wishing for a reality show that profiled people with geeky hobbies, and followed them as they prepared for various conventions or tournaments, because we are pretty damn interesting if I do say so myself, and many of us do put a good bit of work and dedication into our hobbies, so it would be cool to have that recognized. But while most of us work hard, or as hard as we're able, very few of us are as obsessed as the people on Heroes of Cosplay.

The show ought to be called "The Dark Side of Cosplay." Or "Obsessed with Cosplay."

Not that I'm shocked a reality show would highlight the worst of the worst in any scene. I'm sure not all pageant moms are as nuts as the ones on Toddlers and Tiaras, nor are all coaches of competitive dance teams as craycray as Abby Lee Miller - although I have heard both worlds are fairly toxic. Or maybe we all just think they're toxic because of TV. Either way, the lifestyles of the people on Heroes of Cosplay seem toxic as all getout, and I don't want this show to normalize that.

Of course I have some criticisms from a social justice/feminist standpoint. I didn't like the way Becky was so focused on her body type. I know it's not uncommon, I myself have wanted to be in better shape for this cosplay or that, but again, it was shown from a Heroes of Cosplay angle, not a "this is the dark side of cosplay, this is what women sadly have to deal with" angle; the latter is a realistic criticism, the former goes in the dangerous direction of normalizing the obsession. Of course, all of the people on the show were slender, attractive, white people. And one guy.

It is interesting that cosplay seems so female dominated, because so much of it is considered feminine. Sewing is a traditionally female task and hobby, and dressing up (especially for attention or for a competition) is primarily associated with women. Typically, when you think of men making cosplays, you think of men making cosplays. They construct suits of armor, craft mascot suits, and forge weapons - y'know, man stuff. That may have something to do with the fact that many male characters involve that kind of craftsmanship.

But while men's manly forging abilities may be up for criticism, female cosplayers and feminine costumes are subject to a high level of scrutiny. God forbid you not have the body type to portray the character you wish to dress as (despite the fact that these characters are usually drawn with unrealistic proportions), then people will comment on your waist being too big or your boobs being too small. Wear a revealing cosplay and you're asking for sexual harassment, but choose to be more conservative and you're a prude - not to mention the majority of female characters wear revealing costumes, and any changes to make them more conservative may be criticized. Women can cosplay as male characters and it'll be seen as empowering, but if a man dresses as a women, it's rarely well received - think "Aaaah, my eyes!" or "It's a trap!" or "Is that a guy??"

Men will rarely be accused of "just wearing that for attention," whereas female cosplayers are constantly assumed to be doing just that: wearing sexy costumes and showing off for the sexual attention of their male peers. And yeah, some of us do that - the attention one gets while in cosplay can be glorious (when it's not sketch b'getch) - but it's certainly not the sole reason why most of us cosplay.

How about a show where people trying to overcome sexism, racism, and transphobia to do what they love in a space that isn't as "equal" as we've been led to believe? I'd watch that.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Girl Worth Saving: What Anita Sarkeesian Failed to Mention

So first of all, I like Anita Sarkeesian. I don't love her, but I like her. I didn't like her commentary on Sucker Punch, but I did enjoy her original Tropes vs. Women series because it touched on tropes people either didn't know about or hadn't thought of; she briefly summarized the trope and gave what I thought were compelling arguments why they were problematic. I think her video game project is worthwhile, but three videos on a row on the same trope? It's been months since the first video came out and all we've heard of are damsels in distress; I want to hear her talk about other tropes - any other trope will do. Just please, god please, stop talking about the damsels in distress.

But I am going to add to the conversation on them. Because for all of her talk on sexism, her three friggin' videos have been completely devoid of intersectionality. None. At all. Anita, you're better than this, I know you talked about race . . . once. You talked about it once. Which when you consider all the videos you've made one might expect more, but okay, you did it once, so I know you know race is an important component to the representation issue . . . right?

It is, and it's worth mentioning that here's very little diversity in the damsel role.

With a few exceptions (I assume), damsels are all created to be girls the player will deem worth saving. The damsel is pretty, she's young, she's thin, she's pure - conservatively dressed, wearing white, and/or stated to be pure of heart (like in Kingdom Hearts). Most notably, she's always white. Have there been any damsels of color? Er, no really I don't know maybe there has been one or two somewhere in gaming history. But all the damsels I've seen have been white. Let's face it, we may have a black president, but the gaming industry knows that their audience - or at least their mythical audience made up of only white teenage boys - and they know that some guys won't want to save a black princess, and they certainly wouldn't want to lose that audience.

EDIT: one of the Princesses of Heart in Kingdom Hearts was Jasmine, who's not white. One exception!

Remember, all the Disney princesses that had to be rescued in some way were white. The one black princess they had was independent, which was great, I don't mean we should be reducing black girls to damsels with no power or agency. Perhaps we've actually spared them the damsel role, which is certainly one way to look at it. But let's face it, we're not relegating white girls to damsel roles because we hate them or think they're worthless. Our world values girls who are worth fighting for, and there may be some cruelty in telling girls that only some of them are worthy of being rescued.

Girl Univited from Supehero Party, Because Comics Are For Boys

A woman recently wrote to the New York Times Social Q column about her daughter being uninvited from a boy's birthday party. According to her letter, which you can find here, the girl was initially invited, but the parents decided to uninvite the girls because they determined the party's superhero theme was too masculine, and planned a separate party for the girls.

Now I see there are a couple issues, the first is the parents being overly concerned with making sure everyone has a good time. My mom did this too, but in the much more reasonable form of making sure there was a good variety of games and party favors so there was something for everyone, and yes sometimes this meant the girls would get one thing and the boys would get another. Parents do this all the time, but to have two different parties because you assume girls wouldn't like the original party is dumb, and sends a message to the kids that boys and girls are so different they need separate parties to have fun. Nope.

Look, themed parties are fun, but at the end of the day the theme is little more than decoration, a way for the birthday kid to express his or herself, not please the guests. Whatever the theme is, at the end of the day the kids really only care about playing together and eating cake.

In this case we have parents probably making the insulting assumption that girls don't like comics and superheroes. Well, some might not, but how do you know if you never even encourage them to check 'em out? If you purposefully keep girls away from things like comics and video games, you tell them "these aren't for you, you won't like them, and you're not supposed to like them."

And no, this is not the same thing as girls-only princess parties. I honestly don't care who gets invited to those (although personally I'm not a fan of them in general), but saying that having a boys-only thing is okay because some girls have girls-only princess parties is a false equivalency. Comics have both male and female superheroes; it's not inherently a boys-only genre, so why do we keep acting like it is? And why are we passing that "comics are for boys" attitude down to our kids at such an early age?

What I will say is this: if I have kids, they will be exposed to video games and comics regardless of gender. If they like it, great, we'll dress 'em up and take 'em to comic conventions. If they don't, that's fine too, but I'm not going to assume my son would like comics and my daughter will only like princesses and ponies.

PS: it's rude as hell to uninvite someone from a party without a good reason why they're no longer welcome. If you don't want someone there, y'all better think of that before sending out the invites.

PPS: I know the parents can plan the party however the hell they want, what they did isn't illegal, just awful.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Recap of "The Social Politics of Cosplay"

Apologies for this taking forever to get up, I was beyond exhausted when I got back from ConnectiCon, had to get back to work, and then I went to the Cape with my family for a few days and I couldn't access the internet from my laptop. Long story.

Anyway, the panel went okay. It had a low turnout at first since it overlapped with some Cards Against Humanity/50 Shades of Gray event that everyone wanted to go to. People did trickle in as the panel went on, especially in the discussion section. It was shorter than I thought it'd be, probably because I was tired and forgot a lot of points I wanted to make. On the bright side we had plenty of time for discussion, which it great because it lets people talk about what's on their minds, focus on what they wanna talk about, and lets them offer their own take on the issues.

The slides are on slideshare:

So, what's next for Allison?

I am set to present a panel on gender/race representation at Coast City Comic-Con in November.

I submitted a panel called "So If You're An Anime Character, Why Are You White?" panel to New York Comic Con (NYCC). To clarify, I don't actually think anime characters are "white," but a lot of anime fans - particularly younger, newer fans, or fans who haven't been able to take a fancy course on Japanese popular culture - ask that question, so I want to tackle the issue. I know this is a long shot and it's really hard to get a panel at that convention, so I know what even with a clever title it still might not get in. This is not self-deprication, this is reality and I'm okay with it. But either way, I'm expecting to know on or around August 8th, and I will let you guys know if I'm accepted.

I will probably submit that panel to Anime Boston and Otakon when possible.

Speaking of intended submissions, I'm also planning a few other panels:

"Geeks Gone Wild: Raunch Culture at Anime Conventions" to be submitted to Anime Boston 2014.

"Blue Drop," a panel on the anime series of the same name, so be submitted to Anime Boston 2014 assuming I can come up with an angle to make it interesting. I don't have one right now.

"Government and Horror Movies" to be submitted to Balticon* and ConnectiCon.
Balticon is a convention in Baltimore that focuses on science fiction but, judging from the website, seems kind of multi-genre, similar to ConnectiCon.

A panel on Mary Sue characters, no name yet, to be submitted to Balticon and possibly other conventions.

A panel on Neurotically Yours ("the Foamy cartoons") to be submitted to ConnectiCon 2014.

I'll keep y'all posted.