Posts Tagged ‘Ink-Stained Amazon’


It’s been a long, long time since I’ve updated my blog – and there’s been so much that’s happened over the past year!

Highlights include:

Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines – which drew research from Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors (and in which I appear!) – screened on PBS Independent Lens.

(Image Credit: Andy Mangels)

I’ve been speaking about Ink-Stained Amazons, Cinematic Warriors, and Superwomen in Modern Mythology through Humanities Washington at libraries, wineries, and schools across the state – and am bookable for 2014!

I had a blast working in Festival Publications for SIFF 2013 – and loved being a minion for a very special secret Whedonverse screening during the Festival, as well as participating in the forum Sheroes in the Media: From Guerrilla Girls to Women in Film.

Spike, Buffy, and Yummy Sushi PJs

First rule of Secret Screening: We don't talk about secret screenings, only about how they make us feel.

Dr. Amy Peloff, Jo Jo Stiletto, and I talked about Geek Feminism at Western Washington’s VikingCon – and we got to meet the Cigarette Smoking Man.

Geek Feminism

With William B. Davis - aka "The Cigarette Smoking Man"

I contributed a chapter on Lost Girl called, “Choosing Her ‘Fae’te: Subversive Sexuality and Lost Girl’s Re/evolutionary Female Hero” for the forthcoming anthology, Heroines of Film and Television (Edited by Norma Jones; Maja Bajac-Carter and Bob Batchelor).

The anthology I edited and contributed to, Fan Phenomena: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Intellect) was published.

Fan Phenomena: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

And was celebrated with an epic launch party!

Scoobies FTW (Photo: Guy Eats Octopus)

With the help of my friends, there was a Handsy Puppet Joss Whedon, a Naughty Fan Fic Reading, Trivia, Rupert Giles singing “Behind Blue Eyes”, an Author Signing, Band Candy, and Snoopy Dancing. Drink Specials included “The Class Protector” and “Boinking the Undead.” We had music, limited edition GeekGirlCon buttons, squee-tastic photo ops, costumes, Scoobies and Slayerettes galore!!! Grr. Argh!

More Photos of A Night at The Bronze Here.

I got to talk about comics and gender with some of my favorite people at a Velocity Dance Center Speakeasy Conversation – BOOM! POW! COMICS, GENDER + MOVEMENT.

Boom Pow + Red Boots (Photo: Amy Peloff)

And of course, GeekGirlCon had its third annual convention! We had between 4300 and 4700 attendees – and sold out of passes before we even opened our doors on Saturday. Huzzah!

Plus, I got to make moments like this happen.

Something to Sing About (Photo: AltaStation)

And this – Where I experience Pure Joy.

Red, Karen, and Jen! (Photo by Josh Weiner: GeekGirlCon)

Most recently, Dr. Amy Peloff, Jo Jo Stiletto, and I took our Geek Feminism presentations to the National Women Studies Association Conference in Cincinnati. We were thrilled to have an enthusiastic and engaged audience – especially as we were scheduled at the very end of the conference!

What’s next for The Ink-Stained Amazon? There are a few projects on the table, but unless anything extraordinary presents itself I’ll be taking it easy for the rest of the year. (Though I’m always amenable to extraordinary. So if you think of me for something, let me know.)

Last week I was thrilled to participate in several events surrounding the West Coast Premiere of Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines — an inspiring documentary I’ve watched evolve, and helped support, over the past few years.

On Saturday evening, there was a Festival Forum Discussion at the SIFF Film Center at Seattle Center called, “Sheroes in Media: Women and Girls Changing the Game.”

Look at those Sheroes!

Participants included, Kristy Guevara-Flanagan: Director, WONDER WOMEN!; myself: Author, Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology and Programming Director for GeekGirlCon; Daniel Tayara: Reel Grrls youth filmmaker; Megan Gaiser, Chief Creative Strategy Officer and former CEO of Her Interactive, and Marta Smith, IGNITE: Inspiring Girls Now In The Technology Evolution and the audience themselves.

Sunday, the film screened at The Egyptian theater with a post-screening Q&A featuring Kristy, Kelcey Edwards, Andy Mangels of the Wonder Woman Museum and Women of Wonder Day (previously known as “Wonder Woman Day”, cinematographer, Gabriel Miller, representatives from Reel Grrls, and moderator Dustin Kaspar of SIFF.

Afterwards,The Stranger hosted a Superheroine Happy Hour at St. John’s on Capitol Hill — and just around the corner from the Egyptian.

Monday, this Stranger Recommended SIFF pick was featured in a segment on Q13 FOX Morning News promoting Monday’s screening at the Harvard Exit.

In the green room

On the set

Additionally, I was asked by The University of Washington Department of Classics to write a few words on how I got involved with the film and how my experience in the Classics department enhanced my studies at the UW.(Note – The best part of the linked post isn’t what I have to say, but the Tag: “Student Success”)

Check out the Wonder Women! blog for more wonderific photos! Future screenings will also be posted at the blog, lovingly maintained by the film’s Executive Producer, Erin Prather Stafford. (Who I can’t believe I didn’t get a photo with – we’ll just have to get her back to Seattle!)

Haywire

“I don’t wear The Dress.”

I hadn’t heard anything about the new Steven Soderbergh film, Haywire, until about a month before its release. The trailer played at theaters over the holidays and began to show up on television but it didn’t tell me much other than “this is a female led action film.” But it was intriguing enough to put on my must-see list – especially as star, and MMA fighter, Gina Carano , doesn’t look like your average Hollywood action heroine. She actually looks like she could kick ass.

So over the weekend Hubby and I huddled up with some champagne and popcorn at Seattle’s Big Picture theater with the following questions:

Would Mallory Kane be:

a) a ground-breaking female character?
b) a stereotyped female character?
c) a potential icon to serve as reference for future female action protagonists?

The theater was packed, and while waiting, we were treated to these choice words from the drunk assholes behind us:

“I like Girls with Guns! . . . . And Mothra!”

Le Sigh . . . . Yes, I like action heroines and kaiju movies too. But “Girls with Guns?” Women action heroines marketed as titillation for the male gaze, rather than potentially empowering, or even entertaining, pop culture icons for women is part of why their success has been so elusive. (The drunk assholes also hated Hanna – who actually was a “girl” with a gun, and was filmed using firearms more than Kane.)

Carano’s Kane is a woman, and she does have guns. (Her idea of relaxing includes a glass of wine and gun maintenance.) But, thankfully, nowhere in Haywire do we see guns OR Carano fetishized the way we have with say . . . any Angelina Jolie action film.

She’s neither a “female James Bond” or a “female Jason Bourne” as so many reviewers have already stated. (And are descriptives I despise – I hope one day we have enough women action heroes that we can describe them by referencing each other, instead of the iconic male norm).

The plot is fairly non-existent. A black ops super soldier seeks payback after she is betrayed and set up during a mission. The betrayal is a MacGuffin that provides an excuse for 90 minutes of a bad-ass in action. (And, as The Seattle Times’ Moira Macdonald brilliantly notes, with a phrase I wish I’d coined, an opportunity for “Revenge Cornrows.”)

The fighting itself isn’t over the top or stylized, but actually fairly accurate in its brutality and reminiscent of Daniel Craig’s gut-wrenching hand-to-hand combat in Casino Royale. Carano moves fast, I mean really fast, and I couldn’t help thinking about how the fight sequence between Bruce Lee and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Game of Death had to be slowed down in order for the movements to be seen and appreciated. Carano’s speed made me wonder if something similar had to be done here.

It’s been pointed out that Carano is not yet as charismatic as she could be, but it should also be said that the dialogue in general is pretty goofy. Choice examples include:

“There’s some water in my backpack. Have some.”

“Turn around, punk.”

“Hey, Wonder Woman. You said your piece. Now shut up.”

“Hold up a sec, Mal. Let’s analyze your options.”

I do want to note, and even applaud, Haywire for actually being a somewhat progressive action movie. Here, as with Kill Bill’s The Bride, we have a female action star who is not hypersexualized. Sure, Kane takes what she wants sexually (namely, Beefcake Channing Tatum), but the story never depends on her sexuality and the camera never reduces her to an object of the male gaze. Even as she scoffs about having to play the “eye candy” (Cinnamon Carter she is not) when she does, it’s a tasteful evening gown rather than an excuse to put her in something as revealing as possible.

As a bonus, she’s generally not laden with some of the stereotypical narrative motivations given to other women action heroes: a literal or metaphorical child in danger (Ripley, Conner, Baltimore, Kiddo) or a rape to avenge (Sonja, Salander, Snowblood).

That said, we’re also never given any real reason to care about Mallory Kane – or whether she succeeds. It’s not that she’s unlikeable, but she’s also neither relatable or compelling.

Haywire is a spy/crime/mystery/revenge flick with an early 1970s-era genre feel, right down to the funky groove of the soundtrack. It’s little more than a tried and true tale of a covert agent betrayed by a greedy ex-lover.

Before the movie Hubby had asked me, “So it’s a female action heroine. But does she have a daddy who trained her, supports her, and is the only man she trusts?”

Why yes, in fact, she does. However could this have been predicted!?!? This ex-Marine is the daughter of what we presume to also be an ex-Marine and who now writes military based fiction. He sends her a signed copy of his latest, Desert Assault, that reads “Semper Fi, always – Love, Dad.” He IS in fact, the only man she can ever trust – a man she “could never lie to.” He says tender Daddy things like, “I haven’t shut my eyes since you were born.”

And would you believe her mother is never ever mentioned?

(So, will everyone who ever wants to write a tough female character please read my book? The daddy/daughter trope is played.)

Kane is the only woman in the film and it’s unclear whether this reinforces her status as a relative anomaly or, as we’re reminded by her former contractor and lover, we’re not meant “to think of her as a woman.” Does not considering her femininity save her from stereotyping, or does it undermine her potential as a progressive female action hero?

I feel it’s a bit of both.

Director Steven Soderbegh told Vulture of Carano that, “I wanted to build something around her, and I was looking to do something immediately, to get my head clear. I wanted to do a spy movie, like a throwback to the sixties, and I thought, Instead of a guy, why not her? I can tell you that this exact sentiment was actually expressed in the 1960s.

The Avengers’ co-producer Sydney Newman recalled that at the time they were replacing an actor on the series he thought the role should be played by a woman. He’s quoted in The Avengers: The Inside Story as saying:

“Why shouldn’t Hendry’s role be played by a woman, I thought. God knows, women were, in life, doing incredible things. . . . A woman [on television] actively physical, attractive and demonstrating intelligence would certainly be fresh and different. Now, thinking about it, it was years ahead of the women’s lib movement as recognized by the media today.”

Keep in mind this was 50 years ago. Is a “throwback to the sixties” moving forward? Perhaps. In the film, Kane [SPOILER] kills an MI6 agent. It could be argued that that Mallory Kane is meant to be a action icon capable of killing Bond. I don’t believe this is the message meant to be sent, but as no other government agency is mentioned by name, MI6 is mentioned repeatedly, and Bond solidified notions about the secret agent in our cultural imagination, it does give one something to ponder.

Regardless, while Haywire is essentially a revenge film with no emotional stakes, it’s also female action film that along with another two other action films, Underworld: Awakening (also with a female lead), and Red Tails, led the weekend box office. When two films with woman protagonists in a typically male genre, and another with an all-black cast, none of which are superhero films, can do that, something right is happening for the greater good of our culture.

*********************************************************************************************
The first five minutes of Haywire are available online.

Heroine Content, which otherwise praised the film, notes that this first scene could be triggering for some, as it initially may look like a domestic violence assault. Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly says of this initial scene that “The brutality is sickening, intensified by the shock of seeing a man whale on a woman with an ugliness that, in the grammar of movies, is traditionally reserved for men on men with the expectation of a fair fight. As it happens, the lady — a covert-ops specialist with the pulp-fiction name of Mallory Kane — can take care of herself.”

This is the most phenomenal review of my book yet. It’s an honor and a compliment from someone I’ve only recently *met* online, but someone that I deeply respect.

And, wow, she completely groked my intent. Thank you, Tricia.

‎”The message of the book comes through loud and clear: This is where we were, this is where we are, and here’s my knowledge-base and the brain-trust of a lot of other smart, strong women – now go use it to make things better for all of us. . . .[T]hroughout the course of the book she doesn’t judge women for their tastes or their preferences, or insist that anyone agree with her point by point. Stuller simply lays out her own experiences as a geek girl, ambassador, and historian, then has the bravery to let the reader decide things for herself.”

And it’s accompanied by a thoughtful companion post.

“What Ink-Stained Amazons provides is deep knowledge about past portrayals of women, effective (and not-so-effective) characterization, and the ruts that storytellers get stuck in.

Self-awareness grows as you read the book. Jennifer is very effective at demonstrating the ways that we truly do write what we know in terms of tropes, relationships with our family, and our own internal biases from a lifetime of experience. Once a writer recognizes his or her own bias – yet another form of rut that can trap our storytelling – that is the path to breaking new ground, making the stories better.

Finally, Jennifer’s book reminds everyone that writers must have empathy, for their characters and for their audience. This book should be a must-read for any writer working in genre storytelling. As a resource for women in fantasy and science fiction who are still searching for that sense of who they are, this book will be a big help as well.”

As always – Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology is available at Amazon, or your local independent book seller.

More wonderful articles, posts, and podcasts featuring GeekGirlCon!

Portrait of an Adoption
“You Have To Hand it to the Geeks,” By Carrie Goldman
“Katie and I just returned from Seattle, where we attended the first-everGeekGirlCon. In case anyone doubts the need for a con devoted solely to the female population, consider the fact that the con was sold out and there were people lined up outside each room before panels began.”

Ape in a Cape
SOME PERSONAL HIGHLIGHTS FROM GEEK GIRL CON, Gail Simone
“Everything felt a little different. Lest you think this con didn’t have geek cred, let me assure you, the superhero/genre panels were absolutely as hardcore nerdy as any I have attended, but it was from a female and safe perspective. As a whole, the con felt more like a festival at times than a con…it was much less aggressive and without that odd hostility that some big cons have acquired. You would walk out of a panel, and there would be female musicians playing awesome acoustic sets. There were artists EVERYWHERE, women doing crafts and cosplay and drawings and paintings and mirror art and stained glass, and just on and on, everywhere you looked was something beautiful.”

Just Jenn
Geek Girl Con 2011, Just Jenn
“More than any other con I came away with a renewed desire to create, to become a better person. For the first time at a con – every single panel topic appealed to me and pertained to my interests. It was small enough to be able to walk and talk with my heroes and my peers and it really felt like the things that I did mattered.”

Critical Hits
I Was a Manchild at Geek Girl Con, by Logan Bonner
“After the concert, I checked out “Ink-Stained Amazons & Cinematic Warriors,” a panel about the book by Jennifer K. Stuller. She appeared multiple times in the Wonder Woman documentary, and I was interested in hearing more from her. Her presentation was great, with a slideshow and video to supplement her lecture/discussion. She broke down the traits typical of heroes, the ways female characters match or defy those expectations, what that says about how female characters are viewed, and the ways their roles have changed over time. This and the Wonder Woman panel were both great, and it seems like this book and that movie could serve as great companion pieces.”

Fangirl Blog
Geek Girl Con Sunday Roundup, by Tricia
“Cattiness has been a hot topic in geek girl circles recently, and the Killing Cattiness and Creating Community panel dove right into it. Just like the SDCC panel, Oh, You Sexy Geek!, this topic was addressed as part of the discussion, and two of the panelists from that discussion were on the dais again – Bonnie Burton and Jennifer Stuller. I think it’s important for geek girls to see all different types of women interacting in a positive manner, even if they don’t like the same things or they hold contrasting beliefs. I’ve witnessed it at two separate cons now, and it’s so uplifting and empowering to watch.”

Gender Focus
Geek Girl Con: Feminism, Race, and Geek Culture, by Jarrah Hodge
“[T]he panel addressed how geek communities, especially online, can exclude women and people of colour. The panelists said they felt like when they or others raised objections to sexist or racist language or behaviour guys would rally to defend the sexist and racist games, attempting to make the argument that somehow criticizing the language or behaviour was against their geek allegiance.”

Geek Wire
What geek guys missed at GeekGirlCon, by Mónica Guzmán
“It was liberating to be one of many women at session after session, if only because you knew you could say out loud some of the things women whisper to each other at other geek events.

That doesn’t mean you always did.

In some ways, the geek gender gap had to be part of the conversation, if only to assert the reasons why GGC exists in the first place. But talking about the gender gap alone won’t close it. And to organizers’ credit, their convention was in no mood to whine, ruminate or despair.”

Comics Bulletin
Geeking Out at Geek Girl Con, By Kyrax2
“At Geek Girl Con, women and men came together on an equal playing field. Geeks of all stripes were in attendance. I saw Trekkies and Twihards, Star Wars fans and Harry Potter enthusiasts, coders and gamers and mathletes and science geeks and otaku and yes, even comics geeks. Everyone was welcome. Everyone was treated with respect, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, weight, height, or any other factor.”

A mí, mis comics
Geek Girl Con: primeras impresiones, Alejandra Espino
“It was my first convention of this kind, and I could not have chosen better.”

Lotus Girl Films
1ST ANNUAL GEEKGIRLCON!!!
“The prospect of attending a full-on geek fest devoted to all things SHE was exciting to ponder. The reality has gone so far beyond the expectations, that it all feels a tad surreal.”

Chicks With Crossbows
Geek Girl Con Panels: Steampunk!
“This panel was so popular, they actually had to switch rooms and put it in the larger space. The line wrapped all the way around the hallway.”

Stranger SLOG
Geek Girl Con, by MARY TRAVERSE
“And most importantly there were the nerds themselves: it filled my heart with joy to see women in their 60s as well as teen and tween girls all gleefully letting their geek flag fly. It made me wish I’d had a con like this when I was all awkward and 14 and hiding my obsession with dinosaurs. (Note to teen me: it gets better!)”

Paper Napkins on the Edge of Insanity
Geek Girl Con: Reflections
“I still can’t believe how my girls opened up at Geek Girl Con. I can’t believe how welcome I felt, and I usually am uncomfortable in high female ratio environments. I was so nervous, yet excited before it started, and now I hope next year will bring the same feeling, but more than that. I hope the self confidence that was some how given, inspired, drawn-out of my precious little geeks stays a gift from Geek Girl Con for their lives, making them strong women of the future (whether they stay on the paths of the geeks or not!)”

GeekGirlCon Reflections (a guys perspective.)
“GeekGirlCon benefited from being focused on GeekGirls, but also on the broader geek culture as a whole. It worked very well and there was an amazing amount of content. In addition to the geeky topics I mentioned above, there were panels on ethics, sexism, and gender issues to be sure, but also a refreshing look at academic, science, and STEM careers, geek parenting, working as a coder, game design, and geek crafting (cosplay, craft, and mask making among others). There were often four panels running at once along with signings and craft and game workshops. One person could only see maybe 25% of the Con even if they ran full steam all day long.”

The Inferno
“Reblogging to get the word out. Geek girls are not a small target audience. How long can the media and society ignore that? If GeekGirlCon is any indication, not much longer.”

Optimystical Studios
GeekGirlCon Round-Up
“First let me give some major props and thank you’s to the astounding crew of GeekGirlCon. These ladies worked their collective butts off to make sure everyone had a good weekend. And it showed. Zaph & I spent some time discussing the con on the drive home, and we both agree that everyone on the crew both knew what their job was and knew to ask (instead of making up an answer) if something wasn’t part of their specialty.”

Look! It’s Julia
GeekGirlCon Links!
“I’ve been reading some of the wonderful things that people are writing about GeekGirlCon online, so I’d thought I’d share some links.”

Defective Geeks
Geek Girl Con 2011: Not Just for Girls: by Space Pirate Queen
“Most of all, a shout out to the women who put the entire convention together. The convention sold out! The entire thing ran smoothly. More so than a lot of conventions that has been around for many years. These girls worked their butts off and I am proud of all of them for following their visions and sticking to what they believed in. They’ve created a platform where we can discuss important topics without fear of getting attacked or misunderstood. I believe that it will change our community for the better.”

THE TERESA JUSINO EXPERIENCE
GeekGirlCon: The Squee-port
“The staff was extremely helpful, the design of the show was great, and all of the programming was actually substantive. There wasn’t a “fluff” panel on the entire schedule. Each one either taught you how to do something, or brought together panelists who were truly knowledgeable and articulate about the topic being addressed. “
. . . and . . .
“[T]he fact that I was sitting on a panel with these ridiculously talented women, and afterwards was treated as if I deserved to be there? Well, that made me feel rather good.”

Ramblings of a Prodigal Goddess
GeekGirlCon review, etc.
“I am writing this review from the point of view as a staff member. I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to see and therefore cannot give an opinion. The review also serves as a reflection on my feelings and thoughts toward the experience that forced me to come out of my shell.”

Possible Impossibilities
It’s the Geek Girls’ World
“GeekGirl Con‘s time had come. Women have had panels thrown to them here and there — with, for the most part, the same topics, the same panelists, and, alas, the same problematic moments — at behemoth geek convergences like Comic-Con International for years. Could they have a convention of their own? Would it be a success?

After the past weekend’s GeekGirl Con, we now know: Yes and yes!”

GeekGirlCon
THANK YOU!
“The first-ever GeekGirlCon was a huge success! The con sold out on both Saturday and Sunday. We saw approximately 2,000 people come through the doors over two days to celebrate the contribution of women in geek culture. Attendees, panelists, guests, volunteers, vendors, artists, exhibitors, sponsors, media, parents, kids, and staff came together to create a safe place for everyone and anyone identifying themselves as geeks this past weekend. We should all be very proud of making this ambitious idea a reality.”

Sliver of Ice
GeekGirlCon 2011: Some Presidential Thoughts and Other Things
“I am pretty much beyond biased about how awesome GeekGirlCon was. Along with my staff, I’d worked since August 2010 to make the dream of GeekGirlCon a reality, and I believe that it truly happened. I fought back happy tears all weekend; only to finally cry Sunday evening after reading what Greg Rucka wrote in my Batwoman trade. (Don’t worry, at that point, I was surrounded by people who care and love me and hugged me.)”

KING 5
‘Geek Girls’ gather at Seattle Center
“GeekGirlCon is drawing hundreds of women and girls to an event centered on gaming, fantasy, technology and science fiction. KING 5 Photojournalist Ron Sanford has the story.”

Chicks with Crossbows
Geek Girl Con Panels: Batgirls! (Or, Women in Comics)
“If you haven’t heard of Kyrax2, aka San Diego’s Batgirl, here’s the deal: She’s a fan of comics. This year at San Diego Comic Con, Kyrax2 went to many of the DC panels and asked questions about the lack of women both in the comics and on the panels themselves. This got various responses although she was booed at least once. Thus, at Geek Girl Con, she hosted a panel, along with DC Comics Writer Gail Simone, to address these issues and discuss the state of women in comics.”

CNN: Geek Out Blog
‘Dammit Liz’ went to Geek Girl Con (and it was worth it)
“It was a panel-centric convention, with panelists like Jane Espenson, Gail Simone, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Amy Berg and Bonnie Burton emphasizing strong, capable female characters in science fiction, comics, games and pop culture. Over-sexed, stripper-clad female characters were barely mentioned, Smith said.”

Sarah Darkmagic
Geek Girl Con Recap
“Why go? . . .To hear a diversity of viewpoints . . . To see women presented as experts and leaders . . . To learn about some pretty awesome books, movies, and projects I have to admit, I hadn’t heard of Ink-Stained Amazon before the con. I went to the panel by Jennifer Kate Stuller and it was really good and I can’t wait to buy her book, Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology. Womanthology also presented at the con. . . . Building networks . . .”

Fleeing Indecision
Safety; or a lesson in geekery from GeekGirlCon.
“Well, how was it? In a word: unbelievable. The atmosphere was warm, welcoming and safe. Every single volunteer had a smile on their face the entire weekend. The panels were informative, varied and fun. The cosplay was some of the best I’ve ever seen. But I’ll repeat myself here and say that the most important thing about GeekGirlCon was its safe and welcoming environment.”

Back That Elf Up
GeekGirlCon 2011 Report
“Basically, I got to see something awesome and be a part of something where I FELT like I belonged. In a lot of settings I can feel left out because there is usually something about me that does not quite fit. Sometimes it’s my gender, sometimes it’s my introversion, sometimes it’s my pastimes and interests and sometimes it’s my race. But I didn’t feel like that GeekGirlCon. Even though I was hawking books I still felt…at home. Which is kind of strange because the types of geeks that were there spanned the universe (almost literally, heh).”

Closet Nerd Network
Geek Ladies in the House: Reflections on GeekGirlCon 2011
“At GeekGirlCon, like many others, I felt like FINALLY here are my people: accepting, joyous, smart and vibrant geeks who are going to be the future of nerdom. We care about issues, we want to make things better, we question what media we’re fed and we want to show the world how awesome being a nerd is instead of closeting our community away! GeekGirlCon has become the exception to the rule of geeks who turn the tables on what they consider to not be “true fans” and have created a safe place where we can get down to brass tacks about how to change fandom.”

Good Game Media
GGM Visits Geek Girl Con 2011
“Last weekend the Good Game crew piled into the GGM Mobile and drove down to Seattle Washington to check out the first ever Geek Girl Con. While we were down there I had a chance to talk to some of the female con goers and ask what they thought of a con just for them.”

Sailor St. Claire
GeekGirlCon 2011
” Lots of great conversation arose about a variety of topics relating to female fandom: objectification of “booth babes,” women in webseries, women in tech, race and technology, and other practical and craft-based panels on steampunk costuming, cosplay, and gaming. “

Stern-Rake Studio
GeekGirlCon at Night
“As the autumn sun set and the younglings were sent off to their suppers, the gears of GeekGirlCon shifted to more adult-themed topics.”

The Girl in Row B
GeekGirlCon:Life on the other side of the registration table
“Thank you to all of our panelists, vendors, special guests and attendees. And a special thank you to all of the people who gave money, time, and/or support to make this convention happen. It was a success and without all of you it would never have happened.”

Archive Six
HOW GEEKGIRLCON CHANGED MY LIFE: A REFLECTION & REVIEW
“In the past, I had wasted so much time and energy trying to conform to society’s expectations that I lost sight of who I really am. GeekGirlCon not only gave me an opportunity to design for a cause I could stand behind, but also welcomed me into a safe community where I could finally let my geek flag fly without having to prove or justify my geekiness, or be judged for my gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, size, or Doctor preference (4th and 11th, for the record). It amazes me how much personal growth I have achieved in this past year alone. It is through GeekGirlCon that I was able to meet and form meaningful and long-lasting relationships with people who I greatly respect and admire, and who inspire me more and more with each passing day. These people have helped me find my voice in this world, and gain the courage to finally speak up for myself and my beliefs.”

Chicks With Crossbows
Geek Girl Con: General Con Report
“The Con Was Organized by Meticulous OCD Ninjas [and] The Panels ROCKED.”

Gender Focus
Geek Girl Con: Media Literacy, Criticism, and Production
“I was particularly excited about this panel because it featured the awesome Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency as well as Kelsey Wallace and Kjerstin Johnson, who were my editors when I was writing the Revenge of the Feminerd series for Bitch Magazine blogs. The other panelists were Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, director of The History of the World as Told by Wonder Woman as well as Wilson, editor of Smart Pop Books. The panel was moderated by Maile Martinez, programming director at Reel Grrls.”

PopMatters
Comics Needs Women: Why Marvel and DC Should Have Been at Geek Girl Con
“[T]he publishers need girls and women more than girls and women need Marvel and DC.”

Girl Hack
Geek Girl Con 2011 Review
“I am still new to the geek- convention circuit, but Geek Girl Con delivered the most fulfilling con experience I’ve had, as both a geek and a woman.”

Defective Geeks
Geek Girl Con 2011: Feminism, Race & Geek Culture Panel
“I am glad I went to this panel. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was rewarded with a great discussion with well-spoken women. They touched on quite a few interesting points about female and Asian culture in geek media. What I really appreciated about the way these women approached sensitive issues without having to be defensive or threatening to other people. They even gave great advice on how to deal with negative internet interactions.”

Journal of J
Geek Girl Con Reactions
“Overall this con was a great jolt of inspiration for me, not only as a girl gamer but as someone who hopes to make games. The camaraderie and heartfelt support was palpable, and the issues discussed were thought provoking and important. It was a great start to an awesome new tradition, and I don’t have any doubt that it will be continuing next year.”

Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether
NYCC and Geek Girl
“GGC felt practically like a family gathering, and I suppose, in a way, it was just that. The fact is, women remain under-represented and poorly served in so many realms of geek culture; having a convention that speaks to that lack, that attempts to address it, is more than a worthy goal; it may well be a holy one.”

Comics Bulletin: The Squeaky Wheel
Geeking Out at Geek Girl Con: Part Two
“I *got* it. We women subsume our own tastes for fear of being thought ‘too feminine’. We are limited by what people think will appeal to us. We are seen as an amalgamation, as though what appeals to one woman will appeal to all. We push our children to be like us, to like the things we like, never realizing that we are repeating the same mistakes our parents made. We’re told that we have to ‘vote with our dollars’, but when we do choose not to buy something, the action is often ignored or misinterpreted.

And yet, we do have power. We have the power to speak, the power to buy, the power to teach and share and give. We don’t need to listen to those who say that we don’t have any power, that it isn’t ours, that it doesn’t ‘belong’ to use, that we shouldn’t speak, that we should ‘sit down and shut up’. Because they have no power over us…but what we give them.

And that’s what I learned at Geek Girl Con.”

GeekMom
The GeekMoms Podcast #6 GeekGirlCon, Women of Wonder Day
“Women of Wonder Day, an annual auction and in-store event where you can bid on beautiful art and collectibles in support of domestic violence charity programs. Later I’m joined by fellow GeekMom Cathe Post to talk about her weekend with her husband and daughter at the first ever GeekGirlCon in Seattle, Washington. This new entry on the convention scene drew some big Geek Girl names to help promote a positive attitude toward all geeks, men, women and especially kids. And you’ll also hear how the GeekMoms took a stab at the Google+ Hangout feature and ended up having a chat with Felicia Day.”

Defective Geeks
Geek Girl Con 2011: Arts & Crafts with the GeekGirlCon Design Team
“[T]his was a cute arts and crafts panel hosted by Tammy Vince Cruz and Rachelle Abellar from the Geek Girl Con’s design team. Not only were these two ladies busy churning out all the design collateral for the convention; they also organized a successful, interactive panel that encouraged attendees to drop by and make sock puppets.”

Nerd Appropriate
Geek Girl Con: No I Am Not a Booth Babe : Panel Coverage
“[U]ltimately the message that was delivered by the panelists was that we, as fans, need to play nice and work together towards better representation of women in video games. The trolling on message boards, the flame wars are all counterproductive and detract from the end goal: working to see women presented in games in a positive light. Behind the user names, Twitter handles, there are people. It’s one thing to be critical, to express dissatisfaction over a feature/presentation of a character/level, but making a personal attack does more harm than good and inhibits bringing about the desired change.”

The Intersection of Dykedom and Dorkdom
Geek Girl Con 2011 Report
“The programming had something for everyone – a variety of topics, genres and media, both academic and non-academic discussion, films, science [and] was accessible for younger and older audiences”
…and…
“The Ink Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology panel: Jennifer Stuller gave a presentation that hit the highlights of her book, discussing female heroes in modern popular culture from the 40’s to the 21st century and their impact during their time and on future heroes. One of the trends she noted was the lack of women training women: in most cases the women are mentored by their father or a father-figure. That’s a trend I hadn’t noticed before, but see frequently now that I’m aware of it –definitely food for thought. Booboo enjoyed the panel enough to buy the book immediately after the panel ended.”

Jewish Book Council Blog
Their (Our) Time Has Come
“GeekGirlCon is for the Rest of Us; maybe not 99%, but definitely 52%, the women who have for so long been shut out of a male-dominated comics industry, and all the related male-dominated industries, like computers and gaming. It’s for us geeky girls who spent our high school years as outsiders, never cheerleaders, never dating the football team (often never dating at all!), but with our noses buried in science fiction or fantasy books or comics. All those geeky girls have grown up into enthusiastic and talented young women who are making great clothes and jewelry, creating wonderful new comics — and with not a superhero in the bunch. The energy level in the rooms was high and optimistic.”

The Official Website of Nancy Holder
Geek Girls are Here to Stay
“One of the best cons so far this year was GeekGirlCon. Girls and boys enjoyed panels on webseries, Science, Math, Technology, Engineering, vampires, and of course, all things Joss Whedon! I am very happy to say that Geek Girls are thriving! And DEFINITELY here to stay!”

Defective Geeks
Geek Girl Con 2011: Women Running Geeky Businesses
“I admire anyone who are smart enough to be able to turn their own passion and interests into a self-sustaining career… but it’s just that much more cool to have these geek girls talk about their own success. It was also a unique panel where the audience heard different success stories from women of all ages and very different career and life choices.”

Last week I attended my fourth Comic Con as a professional. For those who don’t know me, I’m a feminist media critic, pop culture historian, comics scholar, member of the Whedon Studies Association, public speaker, freelance writer, author, and programming director for GeekGirlCon.

One of my passions is making critical thinking fun and accessible. I believe it’s important to ask questions about the media we consume, as well as enjoy, because we are shaped by culture, just as we shape it.

I also believe that criticism does not automatically mean condemnation. (For example, I love the entirely problematic television series, True Blood.)

I was asked to participate on the “Oh, You Sexy Geek” panel by moderator and organizer, Kat Hill (aka Action Flick Chick) along with Bonnie Burton (Grrl.com and Star Wars Craft Book), 
Adrianne Curry (America’s Next Top Model), Clare Grant (Team Unicorn, “G33k & G4m3r Girls”), 
Kiala Kazebee (Nerdist.com), 
Clare Kramer (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), 
Nerdy Bird – Jill Pantozzi (“Has Boobs, Reads Comics”), and
 Chris Gore (G4).

I almost didn’t. I respect the women involved, but my main concern was that any criticism about sexuality and gender in the Geek Girl community is immediately interpreted as an “attack” and a decree that “women should not be allowed to do that” rather than the suggestion that when we present ourselves as sexual, we’re interpreted as sexual objects. Or that anyone who suggests that empowerment for the one is not empowerment for the many is just a mean, feminist/not-feminist, jealous, prude who doesn’t like other women. When really, these conversations are so much more complicated – or to my mind they should be.

I also debated whether I wanted to use this opportunity to promote (or destroy) my career. Certainly, more people would know about my work after the session, but I wasn’t sure this was the venue I wanted to use to gain exposure. Ultimately, I decided that I wanted to participate in a conversation. Different people have different ideas about whether or not it was an actual discussion and I’ll let readers peruse those responses via the attached links themselves. It’s important to me to present several different ways of considering something, so that you can draw your own conclusions. I’ll also update this post if a video recording of the panel is posted. (I was told it was to be professionally recorded, and apparently, it wasn’t – boo.)

Additionally, I want to stress that I really admire, Kat, for continuing to present and consider an array of opinions, but regardless of her intentions that doesn’t mean that everyone adheres to the idea that we can be supporters of each other even if we have different opinions. And that saddens me as someone who works to create female community. I’m not speaking about any of the panelists – who have been supportive – but to some of the responses online.

This particular discussion went as I expected it to. Most everyone maintained a degree of respect, though there were times when I definitely felt that some voices dominated the conversation. Now, sometimes conversations steer in certain directions; things move quickly, and occasionally erratically, on a panel – especially in front of a GIANT audience. Conversation can be difficult, and understanding takes both time, and learning not just how to listen, but how to listen to what the other is saying. What is their perspective? Where is it coming from and why? Are you saying the same thing but with words so different that it sounds like you are arguing? Is this why suggesting asking questions about why we do what we do, and what the real-world effects are is interpreted as an attack?

I’m glad I got to say a few things that were important to me – and from the response I’ve gotten, important to many of you as well. Thank you for speaking up – it’s incredibly difficult when you know your voice is in the minority. But I also want to stress that I feel it’s important to respect difference of opinion, as well as those who express it. All I can hope for is that I receive the same courtesy.

Because there isn’t video, I wanted to just recap some of the questions that were posed in the session.

Does displaying the sexiness of fangirls benefit or demean them? When geek girls show off, are they liberating themselves or pandering to men? Do some “fake fangirls” blend sex appeal with nerdiness just to appeal to the growing geek/nerd market, or is that question itself unfair? How about sexy fanboys? And what’s up with all the Slave Leias?

And to be honest, I can’t remember all we covered.

But questions I wanted to include in the discussion were:

What IS sexy? (And when we say something is sexy – are we only talking about a specific type of sexy?)

What is the benefit of women making media vs. participating in media that’s being made?

How, or in what ways, are heteronormative depictions of “sexy” damaging?

If geek girls, especially prominent geek girls, are willing to show themselves as objects of male fantasy, why would male-dominated industries such as comics, film, or even television, bother to represent women as anything else? (Additionally, there is a post-feminist idea that if a woman does something, and is okay with it, then that somehow automatically makes it feminist. If something is empowering for the one, is it necessarily empowering for the many?)

Where is the line between exploitation and empowerment?

How can we disagree with each other and still move forward as a community?

I didn’t really want to talk about the “Slave Leia” outfit because that’s one of those issues where people aren’t going to be amenable to critical discussion surrounding it. As I said in my book: Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology:

The “Slave Leia” outfit—as it has come to be known—ensures her status not as an icon of female empowerment and political influence (as she was in the first, and arguably second, film installments) but as an object of heterosexual male fantasy. The pervasive, and perverse, popularity of the outfit is seen throughout popular culture––from parades of “Slave Leias” at Comic Con International to Ross Gellar of the television series Friends admitting it’s one of his sexual fantasies. Admittedly, Leia’s bikini is memorable precisely because it ignited a generation of young boys’ first “funny feelings” and thus serves as nostalgia for sexual awakening. But it’s also troublesome that an outfit a powerful woman was forced to wear in a tactic meant to demean and objectify her, and in which she may have been sexually assaulted (her captor, Jabba, does feel her up with his suggestive tail), has become one of the dominant images of Leia.

In my opinion it’s not hot – it’s demeaning. And that’s because it’s intended to be demeaning. It’s not an outfit that Leia chose as an expression of empowerment or sexuality. The “Slave ” outfit was was forced upon Leia because she was being held as a slave. (And didn’t Carrie Fisher admittedly have an eating disorder – the kind that such exploitative outfits contribute to?) And if it were truly empowering, wouldn’t Leia have freed the other slaves on Jabba’s sail barge?!?!?

Feminism is about changing social and political systems of oppression – not about saving yourself.

(Don’t get me started on the problematic and unexamined use of the word “slave” in reference to sexual arousal.)

Kat brought up the subject of a photo someone sent her of her seven year old daughter in the notorious “Slave Leia” outfit and asked what we thought about that. One panelist’s response to was to joke, “Was she hot?” Another noted that Europe has less Puritanical views regarding the human body, and when I suggested that was different from sexualizing a child, I was asked what I would tell my daughter if she said that was her favorite character? (I never got a chance to answer, but a conversation would definitely be involved. I also came home and read this post on Jezebel about Dance Moms and why it’s important for little girls to be “hot” – to be clear, not what the panelist was saying, just a suggestion that what we say does matter.)

I’m not jealous. I’m not a prude. And I don’t have a problem with skimpy outfits per se. I haven’t put anyone “down” for wearing a costume – or questioned their personal empowerment – and I certainly support women’s right to wear what they want. Especially to wear what they want without being sexually harassed.

What I have a problem with is the emphasis on conventional expressions of sexuality in cosplay being the dominant option. I have a problem with women’s bodies being used to sell product (as in booth babes). And I have a problem with the idea that those options are all we have because that’s the only way women are drawn or portrayed in popular entertainment media. One of the comments I heard on the panel was along the lines of “What are we supposed to do when that’s how the characters we love are drawn or dressed?” [Head. Desk.]

It was also suggested that we simply ignore media we don’t like. Ignoring it won’t make it go away, and it won’t change the status quo. Only talking about it will.

I agree with this assertion from “Feminist in Wonderland: The Women of Comic Con” on The WIP via Ms. that:

“What matters is not whether we wear the seven-inch heels. What matters is whether we have asked ourselves—why do we wear them? If we have not addressed that question, then this is objectification, and it holds all of us back.”

I haven’t heard any feminists assert that feminism is about telling other women what to do, or wear, so don’t know where that response is coming from (see Twitter). But I believe we do need to examine the cultural messages marketed and received by media. We need to teach our children how to read entertainment. And we need to open up our definitions of what is sexy by representing diverse body types, races, ethnicities and sexualities as sexy – as well as emphasizing that sexuality is something to be explored, but not everything has to be “sexy.”

If people are going to make hyperbolic statements about how “if feminism is this or that then count me out” (also, see Twitter) – I’ll play along and say that if feminism is about accepting the status quo and never challenging oppressive systems or asking questions, then I’d like to be counted out of that definition of feminist politics.

I’m also continually frustrated by the post-feminist attitude that cries “If it’s empowering for me, then it’s feminist.” That’s an individualistic and privileged perception that does nothing for feminist activism or social justice.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one. (Yeah. I quoted Spock.)

I also don’t believe that either asking critical questions or difference of opinion is girl-on-girl hate. It was suggested by panelists that women are just bitches and that we are hard-wired to hate each other. I absolutely do not believe this.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’ve just been fortunate to be part of female community and have female mentors. Each year at both Wondercon and Comic Con, cartoonist and herstorian, Trina Robbins and I get together with other women comics scholars for lunch and conversation. Trina has been a wonderful mentor, and is always gracious and available whenever I need research advice, an introduction, or a pull quote. I look to her, and women like her, for inspiration about the kind of woman I’d like to be.

I also believe in fomenting sisterhood through community – something wonderful that is happening through GeekGirlCon.

All in all, I got to name check some of my favorite feminist (and feminist influenced) organizations including Reel Grrls, Bitch Media, Girl Scouts, and GeekGirlCon. I also got to mention Whedonesque Burlesque, where sexy and geeky – the topics we were exploring on the panel – had come together in a creative expression of wonderfully diverse representations of sexuality.

I’m glad I had the chance to try to say something about women and body image, the sexualization of our daughters, understanding media images, and the necessity of creating media making opportunities for women. In trying to expand our definitions of what is beauty and what is sexy, I tried to ask why people who are adamant that the “Slave Leia” outfit is empowering say that they would wear it “if” they had the body. If it’s so empowering, why must you be denied such empowerment?

All of that said, I am horrified that some of my co-panelists found Chris Gore’s comment that he’d like to stick his “penis into every woman on the panel” amusing. His behavior was reprehensible and his comment (which he alternately joked was a “compliment” and “satire”) was completely and totally out of line. It was inappropriate given the context of panel, and not knowing sexual history/orientation of his co-panelists. It felt like street harassment in which someone yells “nice ass” and then calls me a “bitch” for not smiling/lightening up. A couple of people have asked why “the feminists” didn’t say anything. I can’t speak for Kiala – but I can say that it wasn’t my panel, and that it was the moderator’s job to address it. Any comment from me would validate his “humor,” and reinforce the “humorless feminist” label I had tried to joke about – and which was later suggested as the problem of anyone who didn’t get the joke via Gore’s Twitter feed, along with accusations of sexual repression.

Finally, a lot of people have been praising Seth Green as the best part of the panel. I’m also very appreciative of what Seth got the chance to say (even though he admittedly hijacked our panel for several minutes – Oh, Oz . . .) but want to note that:

- The most memorable and praised part of a panel of women is something a dude said.

- Seth said many things I’d been attempting to say through the entire session. Thing is, many of my comments were talked over, and suggestions deflected with humor, but Seth was listened to and respected because he’s a celebrity. Once the conversation got away from him, I brought up the Girl Scouts PSA as a way of attempting to steer the conversation back to the issues at hand.

I’m glad people are talking about various issues involved, and hope the conversations remain civil and enlightening. In fact, I’m going to say here and now, that with the exception of Gore, I respect my co-panelists on the Oh, You Sexy Geek panel and their opinions, no matter how much I might disagree with, or perhaps simply misunderstand, them. If you plan to comment on this post, I ask that you remain civil. I’m the moderator in this space, and I don’t mind if you disagree with me, but if you aren’t being thoughtful, or are being negative rather than critical, I will not approve your comment.

I also would like to say that I’m sure I’m not the only one that didn’t get to say everything they wanted to in our limited time together. What I would like to conclude with is two documentary trailers that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

The first is for a film called Miss Representation (the tagline is, “You can’t be what you can’t see).

 

Newest Miss Representation Trailer (2011 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection) from on Vimeo.

The second is for History of the Universe as told by Wonder Woman (full disclosure, yeah, I’m in it).

I invite you to watch these and think about the idea that we can’t be what we can’t see, what it is that we are seeing, and how it affects American culture and politics.

Recaps/Reports/Related Reading on the Oh, You Sexy Geek Panel

Oh You Sexy Geek: Live Blog event #SDCC

Feminist Fatale: Comic-Con Recap: Oh, You Sexy Geek!

Jennifer de Guzman: Comic-Con 2011: Oh, You Sexy Geek Recap

Jennifer de Guzman: Oh, You Sexy Geek: The Responses

Angel-Headed Hipster: Hey, You Sexy Geek

It’s not just atheists with a diversity problem…

Stellar Four: The Origins of the Slave Leia Costume

San Diego Comic-Con 2011 Recap (Episode II: Attack of the Princess Naked)

ifanboy SDCC 2011: Panel Report

Costume Drama: Cosplay or Can’t Play, by Bonnie Burton

MTV Geek (Quoted every panelist but me and Clare Kramer – and misspelled Kiala’s name. Thanks, MTV Geek!)

NBC San Diego: Get Your Hands Off My Spandex! (completely misquoted/misunderstood me)

CLARE-ified: Oh, You Sexy Geek! – Comic-Con 2011

Ladies Rule the Day at Comic-Con Thursday

Re-Orientation: Sex and Gender in the Modern World: Oh, You Sexy Geek: SDCC Panel, Gender, Sexuality, And Feminist Waves

Racialicious: On Geekdom and Privilege: Sympathy For The ‘Pretty’?

Ms. Magazine: A Feminist Visits Comic Conhttp://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2011/07/26/a-feminist-visits-comic-con/

Seattle City Arts: Game Changers

#FFF Fake Fangirl Friday Follow-Up: Oh, You Sexy Geek! San Diego Comic-Con Panel Reactions and Controversies

The Never-Before-Seen Conclusion! (Catch up with parts One, Two, and Three – They have video!)

Popular culture is a fantastic place to explore ideas and assumptions about gender, and because I’m a firm believer that questions are the content, before I close, I want to reference those I posited at the beginning of this presentation, now that we have some context.

If male characters define the archetypes of Spy and Detective, what does it look like when women fill those roles? And are these female characters simply superimposed on to their male source material?

Greg Rucka has said that while gender is an element of character, gender is not character itself – and that while he treats his female characters the same way he treats his male ones there is a difference in how he writes them.

He asserts that if he wrote a female character the same way he wrote a male one, then she wouldn’t be female, she’d be a guy who looks like a girl with a girl’s name.

And a female character is not, in his words, “a guy with tits.”

The next was: is the idea that they are possibly female versions of male characters a gimmick? Or does the fact that they are unconventional bodies in traditional positions mean that they are capable of challenging assumptions about gender? And does that make them feminist?

What about a “female Mike Hammer”? Sure sounds like a gimmick.

And yet, as Collins has said, one of the interesting aspects of writing Ms. Tree is that all he had to do was let her do things men routinely did in this kind of story – meaning a pulpy detective tale – and a special resonance would be created.”

Which does reinforce the idea that unconventional bodies in traditional roles are capable of challenging assumptions about gender, simply by being there.

But because sex and subterfuge are inseparable from the spy fiction and detective genres, even when female agents use the same fighting skills and weapons as the opposite sex, the addition of their sexual appeal makes them deadlier than the male.

For example, Modesty has a trademark technique called “The Nailer” – where she walks into a room full of criminals topless, effectively stunning them, while Willie sneaks round from behind to take them down.

Ms. Tree, in a nod to the cover of Mickey Spillane’s I, the Jury – as well as to Modesty, distracts a villain in nearly the same way.

And it worked so well the first time that she did it again.

Tara, in a more subtle fashion, manipulates a border crossing in potentially hostile territory by pretending to accidently hand over a nude photo of herself with her papers.

So we can assume, at least with these 3 character examples, that women in unexpected roles are capable of BOTH subverting and reinforcing assumptions about gender.

Finally, why a female – and is she feminist?

Modesty Blaise, who was often, and erroneously compared to James Bond, was created by O’Donnell to counter the preponderance of “big,” . . . “male,” . . . “superheroes.” And has himself has said, she is the antithesis of Bond.

A female character with all the skill and excitement of a “Bond”- type, but that has little to do with him, is not modeled on him, and is the protagonist of a series that ran successfully for over 40 years, is certainly feminist indeed.

Of Ms. Tree, Max Allan Collins has said that she was, and is, a feminist in the sense that she is a strong woman who makes her own decisions.

He didn’t want to do the typical role reversal story in which the female hero is depicted as tougher, smarter, and more athletic than the men around her – feeling that an approach of that nature was inherently sexist. And he wanted equality for his female protagonist.

Of course, one Ms. Trina Robbins recognized Michael as a feminist early on. In a missive to Beatty and Collins’ letter page, she writes, “Any woman as intelligent, tough, and independent as Michael is certainly a feminist.”

Tara, is a highly trained, intelligent, and skilled agent. She’s also realistically depicted as having a complex emotional life. She’s depicted as physically beautiful – as most female heroes are – but Rucka has noted that “she’s never more attractive than when she’s being smart, when she’s doing her job, and doing it well.”

It’s a welcome rarity in spy fiction for a woman’s actions and intelligence to be emphasized over her appearance.

Queen and Country is more than a simple role reversal story, a woman in a man’s place. As Rucka has said, one of the reasons he loves writing female characters is that “situations and stories that we have seen thousands of times before, become entirely different if you recast your protagonist as female, because dynamics change.”

So while these women ARE rooted in, based on, or frequently referenced in relation to male characters, they are not merely female imitations.

They are anti-Bonds and female dicks.

Tara Chace: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

If you haven’t read Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country, yet, I suggest hook yourself up with one of the most unique spy comics you’ll encounter.

There are 8 volumes of this espionage series – illustrated by different artists.

As well as 3 novels.

The protagonist, is Tara Felicity Chace, named so after Rucka’s high school best friend, in honor of discovering a love of gritty spy fiction series together.

One of those was, The Sandbaggers – a British Cold-War era drama broadcast in the late 1970s. It was created by, Ian Mackintosh, a former lieutenant-commander in the Royal Navy who had an Intelligence background.

“Sandbaggers” is a nickname for special operatives in the secret intelligence service – an organization also known as “SIS” or MI6.

Essentially, they are the equivalent of the CIA.

The people in Special Operations are absolutely nothing like James Bond, and in fact, Bond is mentioned throughout the series to reinforce how much of a fantasy 007’s world of espionage is compared to the real thing.

The real thing is filled with tedium, cramped offices, contention between the government and SIS, a “Special Relationship” with the CIA – one that consists of exchanging mutually beneficial, if seedy, favors.

Politically and personally dangerous missions are the rarity. Most of the Sandbaggers time is spent shuffling paper from In Tray to Out Tray. They are instruments of government, and nothing more.

What impressed Rucka about the show was that it emphasized the politics – and political tension – between government and espionage – something that was, and for the most part remains, lacking from Bond.

Rucka says what made The Sandbaggers sing for him was that the stories were always about individuals.

And that you saw the toll this work takes on people’s lives set against the context of the mission, and the even larger context of the political situation, and how those influence one another.

He found dramatic power in the idea that these people were entirely expendable – and that it was the political level that made it the most human story because it was the political level that said people don’t matter.

That dramatic potential, combined with character-driven stories that explore the moral complexity of global politics make Queen & Country a spiritual sequel to The Sandbaggers.

Tara is a special operations officer for the Secret Intelligence Service. Here nicknamed Minders rather than Sandbaggers.

Like its inspiration, Queen and Country is set in the real world, and takes an honest look at modern espionage – from sending agents on politically sensitive, and often dubious, tasks such as government sanctioned assassination – to the subsequent, . . necessary . . .paperwork.

Tara’s is a thankless job – one marked, as her boss, says, by “months of tedium, interrupted by bursts of bowel-freeing panic.”

Like James Bond, particularly Daniel Craig’s most recent incarnation, Tara is, as 007’s superior, M, describes him, “a blunt object.”

But she’s also smart, . . . very smart, and skilled. And, as Rucka has noted, Tara feels fear, an emotion that humanizes her, without making her vulnerable, and further grounds the series in reality.

Regardless, she’s also incredibly damaged – understandable considering one day she’s asked by her government to assassinate someone, and the next, handed over to a foreign government by her own people to appease the very act she had been sent by them to do.

She goes to work knowing she’s good at her job, better than most, and is still entirely expendable.

She does it for Queen & Country.

And as Gail Simone said, I think she’s ruined me for other spies.

Video of Part Three and Q&A – I had to skip the conclusion as the previous panel ran long, cutting into our set-up time, and I had to leave time for Q&A (which gets cut off at the very end). I’ll include my conclusion in a bonus Part Four.

Parts One and Two.

Each of the three characters I talked about have been described in terms of male icons of popular culture. Modesty Blaise and Tara Chace have both been called a “female James Bond.” And Ms. Tree was conceived as the “female Mike Hammer.”

Now, Bond and Hammer have clearly become cultural embodiments of specific archetypes – the British spy and the American hardboiled detective, respectively.

But rarely does one hear of male characters being described in terms of iconic female characters. Additionally, to say that someone is a “female spy” or a “woman detective” continues to reinforce the idea that male identities are the default position.

Questions I invited the audience to consider during the presentation were:

• If male characters define these archetypes, what does it look like when women fill those roles?

• Are these female characters simply superimposed on to their male source material?

• And is the idea that they are possibly female versions of male characters narrative novelty? A mere gimmick?

• Or does the fact that they are unconventional bodies in traditional positions mean that they are capable of challenging assumptions about gender? And does that alone make them feminist?

After meeting these three characters, we were able to revisit these questions with a bit more context – with the intention of further exploring them together during the Q&A.

Modesty Blaise, one of my favorite heroes in popular culture, is a survivor, a force of nature, an ex-crime boss, and a loyal friend.

She was born out of glamour girl strips and British espionage stories—but Modesty is neither a nearly-naked ditz, nor, as she has often been called, a “female Bond.”

She is one of the great literary characters of the 20th Century.

Peter O’Donnell, who passed away just last year, created the character and was her only writer. Prior to her debut in 1963, he wrote other newspaper strips, as well as romantic serials for women’s magazines.

Modesty was drawn by the talented, Jim Holdaway—until his untimely death.

Even though other capable artists took over – it was his work that was the most exquisite.

Modesty was inspired by a encounter O’Donnell had with a young female refugee while he was stationed in Persia during World War II in which his unit shared rations with her.

His fictional character, was also a refuge, an orphan from Hungary who traveled alone until she met a Jewish man in his fifties at a displaced persons camp.

He became her teacher and traveling companion.

Upon his death, Modesty made her way to Tangiers, where she ran a roulette table at a casino, before becoming the leader of a crime syndicate called the Network – at age 19.

But Modesty had her own sense of morality, and made sure The Network never dealt in vice. Those who disobeyed this rule through the sale of drugs, women, or children were delivered to the authorities or their graves.

A man named Willie Garvin was Modesty’s right arm in The Network, and is her closest companion. She is his “Princess.”

The pair have been called “criminals with hearts of gold,” a description which is only partly true, as when we first meet them, Modesty and Willie are retired from crime.

More accurately, they’ve always walked a fine line between criminality and heroism—always leaning towards the moral side, if not necessarily the legal one.

They occasionally do favors for a dear friend in the British Secret Service.

But Modesty is no one’s agent, and where she goes Willie follows.

Over the years Modesty branched out into other media. A terrible, terrible movie was released in 1966. In fact, we took a few minutes so everyone coulds get an idea of just how very awful it is.

Peter O’Donnell once said of the film, “It makes my nose bleed to think of it.”

O’Donnell, was able to turn his original screenplay for the movie into the first of a series of 11 novels. As well as two collections of short stories detailing Modesty and Willie’s exploits and adventures – including their eventual demise.

Since the original Modesty Blaise fiasco, several prominent creators of popular culture, including Neil Gaiman, Luc Besson, and Quentin Tarantino, have expressed interest in making an adaptation that would remain truer to its source.

Tarantino was tangentially involved in a B-movie made over 18 days in Bucharest called, My Name is Modesty. Which is actually pretty good.

It features an original story, which O’Donnell was consulted on, and an authentic Modesty – one who is compassionate, resolved, resourceful – and completely full of whoop-ass.

Max Allan Collins notes that the character, Ms. Tree, which he created with Terry Beatty, was partly inspired by Modesty. They were intrigued by the idea of “An American Modesty Blaise” for their detective series, who would be to private eyes what Modesty is to spies.

Their “female Mike Hammer” debuted in 1981 – and thus predated the wave of women PI’s in literature in the 1980s – a fact that gets often gets overlooked, mostly due to the medium of the comic book.

As hard-boiled as they come, Ms. Michael Tree (her father wanted a son) first appeared in a 6-part serialized graphic novel called “I, For an Eye” in Eclipse Magazine, and most recently in the pulp paperback novel, Deadly Beloved.

A true dame of modern noir, the tough talking Ms. Tree was conceived out of Collins’ and Beatty’s love of EC Comics, Dick Tracy, Dragnet, the lone wolf tough guys of Hammett and Chandler . . .

. . . And especially Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer.

Ms. Tree, left the police force her father had worked for, to ultimately end up following in her husband’s stead.

First, as his begrudging secretary, and later, as the head of Tree Investigations.

For the physical look of Ms. Tree, they referenced the obscure ‘Mike Hammer’ comic strip from the early 1950s and were inspired by the way Ed Robbins had drawn Velda – Hammer’s Amazonian secretary and eventual lover, who, by the way, was a licensed PI herself. But they’ve noted that even without cartoonist Robbins to light the way, Spillane’s description of Velda had been fairly exact:

To put it even more bluntly, Velda is a brick house.

As Collins and Beatty were fans of Blaise, they additionally referenced Holdaway, and borrowed from Modesty, what Beatty calls that “Velda/Bettie Page/Tura Satana look” noting that “a wasp-waisted, big breasted, long-legged super-heroine figure made no sense in Ms. Tree’s ink and paper universe — especially after her pregnancy!”

They wanted her attractive but strong, feminine, but not girly.

Collins, has often explained the central notion of the Ms. Tree series was a play on the cliché of the tough guy private eye, his loyal secretary, and their unrequited love.

Here, this was rooted specifically in Hammer and Velda – a couple that Spillane had eventually intended to have marry.

In Ms. Tree the comic they do, only for the P.I. to be murdered on their wedding night, leaving the secretary to take over the detective agency and step into her late husband’s shoulder holster.

The private eye’s murder was the former secretary’s first case.

But Ms. Tree became much more than a playful, or even, progressive, gender reversal in a noirish tale of loss and revenge, and her story moved far beyond the confines of a reductive “you-touched-my-stuff” narrative.

Don’t get me wrong – She IS vengeful – and, as Beatty has said – “Female PI’s hadn’t been nearly as gun happy or disturbed as their male counterparts until Ms. Tree came along.”

But, while adhering to tropes of the hard-boiled detective genre, Collins and Beatty also created a complicated character – tough, but tender, feminine but not girly, gun-happy, but feminist.

As argued in Hard-Boiled and High-Heeled this is partially because, “The very concept of the ‘female dick’ asks us to reimagine sex . . . bodies . . . and gender.”

But also because while dealing with the stereotypes of pulpy crime comics, Collins and Beatty wanted to “build some flesh and blood onto them.” So that, for example, Ms. Tree herself was a distinctive tough detective, “not just another refried Philip Marlowe.”

For over 15 consecutive years, and through various publishers, Ms. Tree was the heroine of the longest running detective comic book of all time. She lived . . . loved . . . and lost, as hard-boiled protagonists do, but she was also afforded a complexity denied most female characters in comic books.

Her first case as a P.I. may have been to track down her husband’s killer, but Ms. Tree was never reduced to a widow (or, for that matter, to a cop’s daughter). She was also independent, a killer, a sister, a step-mother, and a dangerous enemy.

She was the respected leader of her own, successful business, and later, a mother, who hunted down baddies while 8 months pregnant . . .

. . . and was even lovingly and beautifully depicted breast-feeding her newborn—a rarity in comics for sure.

As per her creators’ intention, she is not a superhero, and doesn’t know martial arts, but she is smart, resolved, lethal, and a bad-ass babe. She has a gun, and she knows how to use it – happily.

See Part One.

Part Three is next!

Here are slides and video from my recent Wondercon presentation with Trina Robbins for the Comics Art Conference. The video is missing the very beginning of our opening, but I’ve included text below.

Comics Arts Conference Wondercon 2011

If one imagines a Spy, someone that embodies spydom, espionage, and intrigue – someone who is a covert agent, it’s quite likely that James Bond, in any of his incarnations, should most definitely spring immediately to mind.

But maybe you also picture, Harry Palmer or Jason Bourne.

Now, if you imagine a PI, it might just be an archetype you imagine . . .

. . . or it could be a specific character: Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, maybe Columbo, Kojak, or Mike Hammer.

For those of you who know Trina and myself – you know we want to represent when it comes to the female of the species – and therefore, we wanted to share with you but a few of our favorite women of spy-fi and detective comics.

For those of you who don’t know us – Ms. Trina Robbins is an award-winning herstorian and expert on the subject of early 20th century women cartoonists. She produced the first all-woman comic book, It Ain’t Me, Babe, in 1970, and was a co-founder of the Wimmen’s Comix Collective. And she is a writer whose subjects have ranged from Wonder Woman and the Powerpuff Girls to her own teenage superheroine, GoGirl! – from women cartoonists and superheroines to women who kill.

As for me, I’m a writer, blogger, author, feminist, and also a pop culture herstorian. I’m a regular contributor to Bitch magazine, a Charter Associate of the Whedon Studies Association, as well as the Programming Director for GeekGirlCon. My first book – Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology – is both a history of, and a thematic look at, female super and action heroes and was awarded on place on the 2011 Amelia Bloomer Project List.

Because someone will inevitably say – “You didn’t talk about my favorite character” – we wanted to acknowledge upfront that there are many characters we could have talked about in our presentation, both well-known and obscure . . .

. . . but since we only had an hour we decided to each pick three of our favorites to share.

We hoped we introduced you to something thrilling in the herstory of spy-fi sheroes and female dicks in comics.

After I introduced the presentation, Trina started in the 1940s with her talk, Fighting Women’s Fashions: Marla, Rio, and Honey – and I joined her in the 1960s, with my Anti-Bonds and the Female Dick: Subverting, and Reinforcing, Gender Expectations in Spy-Fiction and Detective Genres. We then had time for a very brief Q&A and were joined by the wonderful artist, Cynthia Martin — who is doing work on Moonstone’s Honey West comic book.

Part Two – Coming Up!