The Cliffs of Insanity: GeekOuts, Troll Hunts, and Feminism

We Love Fine Carol Corps
Higher, Further, Faster, More. We Love Fine, Carol Corps

“I don’t want the crumbs anymore; I want the cake & icing. Everyone deserves the cake & icing.” –Bille Jean King.

Welcome to this week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity. Since we last spoke, a major comic site reboots its entire forum community in response to being called for allowing trolls, I had a major geekout, there was a great talk on the need for superheroines, and I’m surprised by my story being called “feminist” when didn’t realize it was that radical.

But, first, I have to share the geek out with you. My first steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract, came out two weeks ago. I had some nice reviews, including one at CriminalElement.com. That was great all by itself but then I received the online newsletter from CriminalElement.com. And not only is my book in it but I’m on a virtual shelf right next to Sex Criminals: Volume 1: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky.

I’m a virtual shelf with Fraction and Zdarsky.

kermit flail
Kermit Muppet Flail. copyright Jim Henson Company.

Yes, I’ve saved that newsletter. I was thinking of printing it out and framing it but that seems a bit extreme.

Now a follow-up to my column about Internet Bullying.

I wrote it because I was sick and tired of “don’t read the comments” mindset in which we can’t talk about issues like adults on public spaces. I particularly called out ComicBookResources.com not only because they’d allowed trolling comments on a post in which former DC Editor Janelle Asselin critiqued a Teen Titans cover but also because of my own bad experience with CBR.

CBR used to host Gail Simone’s forum until it was clear that the moderators there weren’t taking homophobic and the worst kind of insults to female posters seriously. As one of the co-moderators of the forum, I took some flak but it was nothing compared to what my co-moderator took for being a lesbian.

Gail Simone pulled the forum and moved us over to Brian Bendis’ Jinxworld site, where we are today.

Let me put that another way:

One of the most prominent female writers in mainstream comics pulled her board from one of comic’s most popular websites because that website dismissed concerns about continued and frequent bullying and trolling of female and LGBT posters.

So when CBR announced on April 30 that they were completely rebooting its forums and would no longer allow these types of comments, my first thought wasn’t “all right, good for them,” it was “what took you so long?” (Gail Simone also had the latter reaction.) I did wonder if my column had anything to do with it. It was probably part of it, since I called them out on the reason Gail Simone’s forum was no longer there, but I suspect it was an amalgam of things.

Though it did make me think that next time I write a column, I should wish for a pony. Or maybe I should wish for women to be more than a tiny fraction of the women in the new Star Wars. (I’m more likely to get the pony.)

Speaking of dreams coming true….

Feminist? Strong Female Characters?

First, there’s an incredible post about wanting gender-swapping heroes and heroines at the Argh Ink blog which has over 100 comments already. Fun to read and yet another voice in the rising chorus for a female-led superhero movie.

And it’s made me think about some of the reviews I’ve gotten for the steampunk novel. Some of them mention that the main character, Joan Krieger, is the proverbial strong female character and that the novel is feminist.

The Curse of The Brimstone Contract © Samhain Publishing LtdThis made me raise my eyebrows because I wasn’t think “write a strong female character” or “write a feminist book,” when I wrote Curse of the Brimstone Contract. I was thinking that an intelligent, ambitious young woman like Joan would naturally want more than the hand she was dealt. As a designer and seamstress, she sees the benefits of the nobility from the other side of the looking glass. She has the education and drive to do more than marry an eventual husband who will run her business but she’s stuck. I’d imagine a young male merchant in that situation who wanted more control of his destiny might feel the same, though at least he’d be allowed to run the business.

And, of course, the society in the steampunk world is in flux due to all the changes, as it was in our own Victorian Age. It was an age of questioning in science, in society, in politics. Again, it seemed natural that a smart person caught in this situation would chafe at restrictions.

What I’m saying is this didn’t strike me so much as “feminist” as “what a character in that situation might feel.” And I’m a little concerned that Joan is seen as unusual. Why is she so radical? Shouldn’t  a multi-dimensional character be the default?

But I guess it is. I believe I was nonplussed because I hope every female character is like that. (Male characters too but they usually are.)

Well, that’s cool. Joan is called a “radical” in the book and she doesn’t like being a pawn. The hero, a Sherlock Holmes-analogue, accepts her for that but, again, not unusual given the very first short Holmes story that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote for The Strand magazine was “A Scandal in Bohemia.” And in that story, Holmes loses. To a woman. Who outsmarts him.

I wonder what Doyle would have said if someone called that story feminist. Probably not too much, I guess, given he had a love/hate relationship with his most famous creation anyway.

But Joan’s isn’t so unusual. She’s just the latest in a long line. Unfortunately, some of these earlier characters were kept under the rug. Wonder Woman gets depowered for a while. Then she’s brought back. Except now she’s Superman’s girlfriend. Black Canary is created in 1947 as a superhero with a male sidekick and eventually becomes Green Arrow’s girlfriend. Ms. Marvel is raped and impregnated by an interdimensional being and the rest of the Avengers think it’s cool she’s having a baby. (Yes, this was an actual storyline.)

This is why a Wonder Woman movie is important. It’s why the Carol Corps and Captain Marvel is important. History has tended to erase the women. And that’s nowhere better said in this Hugo-nominated essay  “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley:

“Let’s just put it this way: if you think there’s a thing-anything-women didn’t do in the past, you’re wrong. Women-now and then-even made a habit of peeing standing up. They wore dildos. So even things the funny-ha-ha folks immediately raise a hand to say “It’s impossible women didn’t do X!” Well. They did it. Except maybe impregnate other women. But even then, there were, of course, intersex folks categorized as “women” who did just that.

But none of those things fit our narrative. What we want to talk about are women in one capacity: their capacity as wife, mother, sister, daughter to a man.  I see this in fiction all the time.  I see it in books and TV. I hear it in the way people talk.” (But do go read the whole thing, not just the quote, it’s brilliant.)

Let’s keep our narrative this time.

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Writer, Mom, Geek and Superhero. though usually not all four on the same day. Author of the award-winning Phoenix Institute Superhero series and the steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract.