So, my first science fiction convention was a feminist one
, and it was unsurprisingly awesome.
My flights to and from Madison were uneventful, and I arrived late Friday morning to my room in the middle of the con floor of a very pleasant hotel. (WisCon essentially sold out the hotel, and the programming took place mainly on the bottom two floors, but the con floor was the scene of the con suite, several parties each evening, the bake sale, childcare, and more things that escaped my notice.)
After grabbing a delectable lunch at Fromagination
, I'd originally planned to head to the Gathering for activities like hair braiding and a clothing swap and a fiber circle and tea. But I was operating on a sleep deficit, and the bed was sooooo comfy... yeah, I took a nap. An afternoon-long nap. I even missed the dinner outing for first-time attendees. Oh well, I'll catch it next year. :)
When I finally roused, I headed to...
I'm Not Your Metaphor: Explaining Oppression with Analogies
[Indented paragraphs like the one below are program descriptions, in most cases copy-pasted but in the case below lightly edited for correction.]
In 2011, some
Occupy Wall Street protesters Slutwalk participants embarrassed themselves by citing John Lennon's problematic comparison of gender oppression with racial injustice. That comparison is part of a long tradition in which people try to point out that one kind of oppression is being overlooked by citing a more familiar outrage. But is disability really "like race"? Is Islamophobia a "New McCarthyism"? Are gays the new Jews? Are such analogies ever useful, or are they always unacceptable appropriations, erasing one kind of suffering by reducing it to a metaphor for another? What about attempts to make a statement about oppression or colonialism using fictional peoples — can they escape all the problems inherent in the real-world comparisons? How can we avoid creating hierarchies of oppression?
wrote up her good set of notes
on this panel. I would go on to see kate_nepveu
on further panels throughout the con and be continually impressed by her analysis. I didn't meet her one-on-one, but knowing that she's a lawyer I can't help but think she would be a kick-ass judge someday.
Towards the end, during a discussion of using potentially-problematic metaphors to recruit supporters to one's cause (pandering to the mainstream), one audience member described how she compared one rights movement—I forget which—to religious-expression rights when recruiting people over the phone using the logic that both are choices rather than intrinsic characteristics, and our acceptance of religious-expression rights should lead us—or at least the caller—to accept rights for other choice-based contingents. I mentally chewed on that for the rest of the session; as I added in the twitter conversation
, I question the idea that religion is entirely a matter of choice. I think religion, like gender, is a combination of performance, "given" identity, and internal personal identity. I can't choose
to believe in a particular god any more than I can choose to feel myself to be a particular gender, although I can perform
either if I choose. Thoughts?
On Saturday morning, the con panels had to compete with the Dane County Farmers' Market
around the corner. Asparagus and rhubarb were abundant, as were cheddar cheese, morrels and other mushrooms, and baked goods. I bought pickled green tomatoes and cucumbers, spicy toffee, cheese curds, blue cheese, chipotle and extra-sharp cheddar cheeses, a quarter pound of morrels, blueberry rhubarb jam, a gourd out of which to carve a sumitori (charcoal basket) like one of these
, Ranunculus flowers, goldenrod vinegar, rye bread, a strawberry-rhubarb turnover, a cheese empanada, a chocolate chip scone, and a chocolate-and-cream-cheese muffin. I know. I don't regret any of it.
But back to the con...
Whose Dystopia? Freedom-to Versus Freedom-from
Genre dystopian novels frequently feature either totalitarian government (1984, A Handmaid's Tale) or a lack of effective government (Neuromancer, Parable of the Sower). This echoes a broader conflict in activist communities, between those who see rules as necessary protection and those who see rules most frequently employed by oppressive institutions. What books have explored that tension, rather than the two extremes? What lessons can we draw from dystopian fiction to improve our communities?
I arrived late for this panel, in time for some conversation about how amazingly little utopian fiction has been written in the past few decades. One of the panelists mentioned having a page of recommended dystopian reading, but I forgot to find out how to get a copy of it.
Unrelated to the panel itself, this is when I started noticing that the number of people doing fibercraft in any given room reliably and significantly outnumbered the number of people with open laptops. I got quite a bit of sashiko stitching done and found, as I later heard someone comment of themselves, that if anything it helped focus my attention on what was being said. At work I've heard about a fairly high-level male manager who does some kind of fibercraft during long meetings, and even though I haven't seen it in person I'm gratified to hear that someone who is clearly considered competent and influential is modeling this activity.
"Speak To Me in Your Native Language!" And Other Things You Should Never Say To Anyone
Over the past decade the WisCon community has made progress toward creating a more intersectional and inclusive convention, but problems remain. Con-goers are still exposed to othering language and attitudes that make the convention and community feel like an unwelcome place. Let's discuss these problematic situations and what steps the community needs to take to further address these concerns.
Some of this panel was a description of racefail
for those, like me, who weren't very familiar with it. As an aside, one of my favorite things about my WisCon experience was how willing panelists and other speakers were to explain possibly-unfamiliar terms, and how that led audience members to feel welcome to raise their hands to ask. In other environments, I tend to cringe when a speaker throws out to an audience a quick and almost disingenuous, "Is everybody familiar with $foo?" before rushing on to their point. I can't remember the last time I was in an environment where any non-$foo-conversant audience member did not suppress the impulse to speak up. As a speaker, unless you have a really good reason to believe your audience would not suppress this impulse, just explain $foo.
If I remember correctly, there was some when-to-just-let-it-go discussion that, for me, draws out a tension between let-the-issue-drop as an imperative issued by people who don't want you to complain so much, and pick-your-battles as a suggestion issued by supporters who don't want you to burn out.Here's sophy's write-up.
And an important point summarized in the twitstream:
Tiptree Bake Sale
The con hosts a bake sale each year as part of fund-raising for the Tiptree Award
, an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender. To contribute, I baked a dozen matcha cupcakes (using Koyama-en's 松柏, of which I have a sizable canister around for demonstrations and such) and ferried them through three airports and two flights without damage. The bake sale organizers sold items in pre-plated pairs, $1/pair, so it was difficult for buyers to know what the options were (bakers had labeled their containers but not each individual item within them) and for me as a curious baker to know how popular my cupcakes were.( Read more... )