The Coode Street podcast invite on special guest Ursula Le Guin to discuss the good, the bad and the “oh no she didn’t” contained within the pages of Margaret Atwood’s recent collection of essays about science fiction In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (2011). It’s especially interesting because Le Guin not only considers herself a friend of Atwood, but is often a subject in the essays themselves – but she pulls no punches when it comes to casting a critical eye over the book – and, with equal sharpness, the fans who have contributed to Atwood’s often misguided image of what SF readers are like. If there was a literary canon of SF-themed podcasts, this one would have to be pretty high on the list.
I also very much enjoyed the latest, 12th episode of The Outer Alliance podcast – these have been going from strength to strength with some wonderful interviews (and I’m not just saying that because they namecheck Galactic Suburbia!) and the latest one has host Julia Rios discussing all manner of gleeful and squeeful things with Lynne M Thomas – Hugo-award winning co-editor of Chicks Dig Time Lords, co-editor also of Whedonistas and the upcoming Chicks Dig Comics, incoming editor of Apex Magazine, podcaster of the SF Squeecast, archivist extraordinaire, etc. Oh yes, and she’s my fellow Tiptree juror this year too! Getting a chance to eavesdrop on the conversation between these two bouncy, enthusiastic and smart women was a great pleasure today, and they cover all kinds of issues, from behind the scenes podcasting gossip to third wave feminism, and how talking about shoes can be a subversive act.
I checked on a new discovery, the Anomaly podcast this week, with mixed results. I had been linked to their special two part Women of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Fandom episode, and found that inspiring and illuminating in some places, and deeply irritating in others. I liked that it was a group of women discussing their interests in SF, fandom, etc. and tackling questions like who writes strong female authors best, and whether ‘slave Leia’ costumes are problematic or empowering.
I was put off initially by the opening to the podcast – why is a podcast with all female hosts and a focus on female issues introduced by male voices? And I also bristled about the definition of Anomaly, and the over-emphasis on just how weird it is that girls like geeky things (in my world, this isn’t a weird thing!). However, I was won over by the earnestness of the presenters, and the quite emotional revelations of how they came to fandom, and some of the sexism or gender assumptions they have had to overcome to embrace their geekitude, which made me a lot more sympathetic to their feeling like being geek women is, you know, unusual.
As with all podcasts, the most interesting parts were the conversations where it was obvious that they were only speaking for themselves and their personal opinions – and it screeched to a halt (as far as this listener was concerned) where I disagreed madly with them. The issue that repeatedly had me gnashing my teeth was the lack of mention of female writers – the very long discussion about who writes great female characters in SF and fantasy came back again and again to Joss Whedon, Robert Jordan, and other male writers, but only touched briefly on women (mentions of Jane Espenson and Suzanne Collins) – and then one of them made the appalling statement that she sort of thought women tended not to write strong female characters. For the most part this was met with agreement, and while she admitted maybe that meant she wasn’t reading the right female authors, none of them could think of many examples to counter her claim.
So the statement stood there, sucking up all the oxygen in the room.
Because, sorry, that really does mean you are reading the wrong stuff! Later on the same statement was brought up by someone else as JUSTIFICATION for the fact that women in the TV and film industry were more vulnerable to being elbowed out, in the troubled economy. As in, since women don’t write great female characters… well she didn’t actually say that maybe it was better then that they got fired first so the menz could get on with writing great roles for women, but it was implied. Ouch. I know none of us are perfect feminists, but that bit did rather produce some steam from my ears.
So… I’m not sure about this one. I liked so much of the mega double episode, as an introduction to this group of female hosts, but was saddened to see so little positive discussion of female authors – it made me want to send them a book list! Except for the fact that my whole life is basically a book list arguing against that particular point. The analysis of women’s position in fan culture, though, and the media focus, was of great interest to me and I absolutely think it produced more good than harm. Though – gnash gnash. Not sure I can recommend it.
On a far, far more positive note, I started listening to the interviews that the Anomaly women had posted as part of their celebration of Women in Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Fandom, and I can recommend this one without hesitation: Sue interviews Carrie, the mother of “Katie the Star Wars girl,” whose story went viral last year after Katie was bullied at school for having a Star Wars drink bottle (Star Wars is for boys, apparently) and her mother wrote a heartfelt blog post about it. Being the mother of a proud Grade 1 geek girl myself, I found myself tearing up as Carrie talked about the internet response to her request to hear from women who love Star Wars, so Katie would know it was nothing to be ashamed of. I do love me a story about the internet doing good – and this particular pile-on was spectacular!
Carrie has written a book about bullying, and has done a huge amount of interview-based research for her work, looking particularly at how to teach very young children to deal with and respond to bullying in the most constructive possible way, and how to head it off as early as possible (also about how to empathise with, and communicate with children who bully others). I found her thoughts on the issue absolutely fascinating, as well as her discussion on raising geek children generally, and other things to do with the way society is intent on gender policing our children.
The advice on how to explain the difference between tattling & necessary reporting/telling was very cool, and something I will draw upon in the future, I suspect. So after my disappointment in the group podcast, I was glad to have my hopes for Anomaly pay off so well – I guess that means I have to give some more of their episodes a go now!