Your Happening World (26-06-2017)

  • the Mangaka who came in from the cold — Below is a small selection of four manga artists and one writer who are being overlooked by American publishers. They work, by and large, within the field of seinen, a loosely defined category of manga anthologies ostensibly geared towards young adult males in Japan. Admittedly the sample’s homogeneity is partly a result of my own preference as a reader towards this niche, but seinen takes on a special relevance these days as well.
  • On VidCon, Harassment & Garbage HumansTo kick off the Women Online panel at VidCon last Thursday, the moderator posed the question: Why do we still have to talk about the harassment of women? I replied, “Because I think one of my biggest harassers is sitting in the front row.”
  • Beowulf and the Comic Book: Contemporary Readings — This paper explores the appropriation of the Old English poem by modern popular culture in such a distinctive 20th-century art-form as the comic book, which proves that a heroic, legendary story already old for the Anglo-Saxons —it was set in geardagum, “the ancient days”— still elicits the interest of the audience in the modern world.
  • This week’s Bookscan chart is a wake-up call for the comics industry — Let me spell it out for you: girls and women, black and white, cis and trans alike, are the driving force behind comics readership expansion. This has been happening for a while, but it’s a full on avalanche now. It’s also something I saw coming 25 years ago. (No one else is gonna pat me on the back so I gotta do it myself.) Seeing the devoted fandoms that female content-consumers developed for anything that interested them, ESPECIALLY genre material like paranormal romance, horror and fantasy – I had a hunch that once they turned their spotlight on comics, the full force of female fandom would bowl over the fragile shreds of male safe spaces like a Mack truck through a pile of empty Axe cartons.

I’ve worked with Kobayashi-san

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon: Kobayashi-san at work

I’ve worked with Kobayashi-san. Not literally of course, but with women like her, testers and developers in an overwhelmingly male workplace, often the only woman in a department or team, sometimes pioneers. In the almost twenty years I’ve been working in IT I’ve seen a fair few of them and while the numbers of women in IT has crept up, my current team of fourteen still only has two female developers. Sometimes it seems IT has actually regressed in this regards, software development becoming more male dominated rather than less.

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon: our typical IT workplace

As we’ve seen throughout the series so far is that Kobayashi-san doesn’t dress very girly, shall we say. At home she wears comfortable, somewhat slobby clothes, jeans and sweaters. At work she dresses like her male colleagues, shirt and tie, not overly formal, but good enough for IT work. She gives the impression of not overtly caring about how she looks, other than being neat enough for the office. It stands in sharp contrast to the usual office lady we see in anime, dressed in a work uniform or at the very least in skirt and blouse; Kobayashi-san must be deliberately dressing as one of the boys, to not stand out or perhaps to not be mistaken for a secretary. You wonder what her co-workers make of her behind her back.

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon: being asked for advice

In episode five Tohru goes to visit Kobayashi-san in her workplace, giving us the first extended look at her work life. What struck me immediately was that she seemed slightly older and more experienced than her co-workers. She’s acknowledged as such too by the people she works with. Takiya ask her for help with his own projects and a little bit later we see her advicing two other co-workers, not to mention that she has to take over the project of a co-worker off sick in order to solve a problem that cropped up in production. Her expertise is at least unquestioned, but at the same time her nominal boss sees her as an easy target, expecting her to do his work, demeaning and belittling her and blind to the more important work she’s already doing. Not that Kobayashi is defenceless: we later find out that somebody dobbed her boss in with his superiors about his work ethics, getting him fired…

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon: bullied by the boss

The mangaka behind the original manga apparantly drew inspiration from his own work experience in IT, which tells me some experiences are universal, because everything I mentioned above I’ve seen with female co-workers of mine. AsI said, I’ve worked with a fair few of slightly older, much more experienced and knowledgable, tough as nails women like Kobayashi-san. Not always appreciated them, but still.

The smell of print comics gives me flashbacks now

Tabletop Gaming has a White Male Terrorism Problem (but don’t think your nerd hobby is any better):

White male terrorism is the white underbelly of the gaming community, meant to terrify and disrupt the lives of those who threaten the status quo by race, gender, or sexuality. It succeeds because the majority of men in the community are too cowardly to stand against the bullies and the terrorists. At best, these cowards ignore the problem. At worst, they join the terrorists in blaming their victims for the abuse. The point of online terrorism is that it is endless, omnipresent, and anonymous.

This is an absolutely disgusting story and sadly all too typical for many women/POC within fandom and nerd circles. I want to believe that this is an American problem and that we’re better here in Europe, but I fear that’s a lie.

“a covert kind of feminist SF”

In ada, “a journal of gender, new media & technology”, Lucy Baker looks at how Lois McMaster Bujold treats the birthing process in her Vorkosigan series and how it echoes real world feminist concerns:

Lois McMaster Bujold’s science fiction (SF) relies on the symbiotic relationship between the technological and the social. This is often illustrated by the tension between the scientific and medicalized process of reproduction (via uterine replicators, cloning, and genetic modification) and the primal, ‘natural’ process. Varied levels of technological advancement and associated societal changes across the myriad planets within her SF universe allow Bujold to structure this tension as an emotional and social process as much as a medical or obstetrical one, while maintaining a respect for the choices, risks, and vulnerabilities involved in becoming pregnant.

[…]

Bujold’s SF work highlights and integrates women’s experiences into the narrative. It is this examination and ultimately hopeful yet practical approach that makes Bujold’s work feminist – it is “Invention…stories and role models and possibilities, that prepare us to leap barriers and scale heights no one has reached before, that prepare us to change the world.” (Gomoll 6).

I only found this because it showed up in my referers one day, linking to my post arguing that Bujold writes hard science fiction. It’s further proof that despite her and the Vorkosigan series massive popularity, she’s still underestimated as a serious and important science fiction author. Partially it must be because the series is published by Baen Books, often somewhat unfairly dismissed as a publisher of cookie cutter mil-sf and other pulp and at first glance it’s easy to confuse the Vorkosigan books as something like the Honor Harrington series: lightweight entertainment.

That her gender also plays a part I’ll take as a given, though I note that hasn’t stopped her from winning an impressive number of Hugo and Nebula awards.

But what may also play a role is perhaps that Bujold is actually not obvious enough with her writing; as Baker argues, she writes “a covert kind of feminist SF”, nowhere near as overtly political as a Joanna Russ or even a Nicola Griffith. That the setting is the familiar sort of semi-feudal, aristocratic stellar empire helps hide this too, as the revolution the uterine replicator brings to Barrayar on the surface looks just like modernisation, not anything really revolutionary. In the same way the uterine replicator itself doesn’t look like hard science fiction because Bujold focuses too little attention to the technological side of things, but rather more on the social impact of it as filtrered through the point of view of her aristocratic protagonists.

(You could even make an argument that the overall story of the Vorkosigan series is showing the start of a bourgeois revolution, as progressive members of the old aristocracy make common cause with the up and coming rich merchants to remake the feudal system in their favour…)

And of course perhaps the most important reason why Bujold is underestimated is that she’s so very readable; you rarely have to struggle with reading her novels and we still tend to think difficulty equals genius.

This is what patriarchy looks like.

It’s no news that Anita Sarkeesian has had to deal with all sorts of horrible filth aimed at her, from rape threats to an unending stream of gendered insults, but seeing only a week’s sampling in the flesh so to speak, is still something else:

Ever since I began my Tropes vs Women in Video Games project, two and a half years ago, I’ve been harassed on a daily basis by irate gamers angry at my critiques of sexism in video games. It can sometimes be difficult to effectively communicate just how bad this sustained intimidation campaign really is. So I’ve taken the liberty of collecting a week’s worth of hateful messages sent to me on Twitter. The following tweets were directed at my @femfreq account between 1/20/15 and 1/26/15.

Which is followed up by tweet after tweet of abuse. It’s hard to read this stuff even as a bystander, somebody who this isn’t aimed at, how much more awful must it be for Sarkeesian and other women who are deliberately targeted by every odious little troll with a persecution complex. What makes it all that much worse is knowing that even men with a similar sort of visibility like Sarkeesian, somebody like John Scalzi say, also noticably outspoken on matters of feminism and privilege, seem far less likely to have to deal with shit like this.