Category Archives: feminism

Bitch Planet: Every Woman Has an “Ideal Self”

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Debbie says:

In December, I had the good fortune to attend an event where Kelly Sue DeConnick was a keynote speaker. I’d heard great things about her work, and especially about Bitch Planet, but I hadn’t checked it out. After hearing DeConnick speak, and seeing the visuals, I immediately bought Extraordinary Machine, the first collected volume , and now I am an evangelist:

For those of you who haven’t been lucky enough to encounter Bitch Planet yet, most of the story takes place in an outer-space women’s prison, where incorrigibles are kept away from mainstream society. The number of ways in which DeConnick (and her artist collaborator Valentine De Landro) challenge social narratives, include marginalized voices, and make bitter fun of cultural expectations is awesome, and deserves much more attention than one blog post. Fortunately, if you look around, you’ll find that attention to the series is easy to find.

Unsurprisingly, however, this multi-decade fat activist was especially struck by Penny Rolle, pictured above. Penny is a mountain of a woman (“I don’t run”), with a complex history and a strong ethical sense. She’s one of the best “morbidly obese” characters I’ve run across in fiction, and the best Black one I can think of offhand.

Penny’s crowning moment, so far, is when the prison “scientists” hook her up to a mess of electrodes, on the theory that they can see how she imagines her ideal self, which will help them mold her away from her grotesque reality to something more palatable.

What do they find?

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

“I ain’t broke.

“… and you bastards ain’t never gonna break me.”

Best. Result. Ever.

DeConnick and De Landro are serious about their body image activism, along with all their other prongs of activism. The ads in the back of each issue would demonstrate that even if Penny wasn’t in the story:

If ANY PART OF YOU has ever been jealous of anorexics or considered extra-medical hormone injections or parasites, or use body hate to bond with girlfriends, you have bought in. It’s near impossible not to, but maybe today TRY not to believe that your VALUE is inextricably linked to some asshat’s assessment of your desirability. Fuck that dude. Fuck that CULTURE.

Read Bitch Planet. The rest is every bit that good, just about different at-least-equally-important social and political issues. Oh, and it’s also entertaining, well-paced, and very well-drawn.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Work for Today’s World

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Debbie says:

Events in the progressive world have changed since November 8. I spent the last few days in Eugene, Oregon, at the 2nd Annual James Tiptree Jr. Symposium. The results of the election were present everywhere:  in comments on the panels, in discussions in the halls, in the way everyone was so hungry  to see and hug old friends, to make real connections with new acquaintances. “How are you doing?” is a different question now than it was early last month. I hugged a friendly acquaintance and heard myself saying, “Can I just keep hugging you forever?” and she said “Yes!”

Photo by Joyce Scrivner
Photo by Joyce Scrivner

The Symposium is in Eugene, Oregon, where the University of Oregon houses one of the best feminist science fiction archives imaginable, including the papers of Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, James Tiptree, Jr., Suzy McKee Charnas, and more. Last year, the symposium honored James Tiptree, Jr.; this year, the focus was Ursula K. Le Guin.

The Symposium was a fine celebration of Le Guin’s life and work — and then it was more. The first day hosted two panels (one by students in a feminist science fiction class) and a beautiful, very politically aware keynote by Karen Joy Fowler, who struck a note of moving away from centering the individual in plot and politics. Ursula Le Guin was there and participating from the audience, and we all had a thoroughly satisfying, thought-provoking day.

Read the Twitter Storify of Day 1.

Saturday brought an extraordinary sea change in the programming. The morning began with a panel in which three transgender academics and artists, in a panel organized brilliantly by Alexis Lothian, discussed The Left Hand of Darkness, Le Guin’s late-1960s novel exploring what happens on a planet largely without gender.

Tuesday Smillie, “art to think about how to move ahead, find ways, imagine futures when there is no clear path, no shadows to help us see,”
Aren Aizura, whose deeply embodied talk included “Structural change is up to us – and LeGuin’s book reminds me to put the care of bodies at the forefront of struggle and
micha cárdenas “”I worry that calling LEFT HAND trans feminist may continue the tradition making trans women invisible.”

All three panelists did an absolutely amazing job of simultaneously holding up the novel as a gift to them (and all of us) while critiquing the ways it fell and falls short of its stated purpose. In this process, they showed us their art, revealed their lives, and modeled the intersection of political rage, artistic integrity, and the ability to move past human failings.

Before we could all breathe after that, we were thrown into a panel (curated by Joan Haran), using Le Guin’s anarchist “ambiguous utopia,” The Dispossessed to talk about activism.

Grace Dillon, of the Inishinaabe people, gave us insight into her tribe’s open-hearted, communitarian  ways of making change. Inishinaabe communities are open to non-tribal people, and also include plant people and rock people (and not all rock people take the inanimate language construction).

adrienne maree brown, a Detroit activist and co-editor of Octavia’s Brood (with Walidah Imarisha) drew heartening connections between activism and joy, positing a world in which justice is associated with pleasure.

Both Dillon and brown continued Karen Joy Fowler’s theme of decentering the individual and honoring group action.

The afternoon of the second day featured two excellent, memorable presentations, one by Kelly Sue DeConnick and one by Brian Attebery. Nonetheless, the voices of the morning lifted the symposium experience out of “really really fine tribute to one of the world’s great writers” into “thoughtful, realistic, forward-looking grappling with the questions of today in the context of work by one of the world’s great writers.” The only disappointment was that Ursula Le Guin could only attend one day, and thus was not there to hear these presentations.

Read the Twitter Storify of Day 2.

Embodiment was a surprisingly (to me) recurring theme in both days of the symposium. A number of panelists and presenters noted how much Le Guin’s work is very grounded in the physical, and the geographic; perhaps that’s why it calls on the body more than other fiction.

The University is likely to post the audio transcripts in a month or so; I’ll put links here. Special thanks to Linda Long of the University of Oregon libraries, who did so much work putting the symposium together.