Monthly Archives: May 2007

Festivity and Flamboyance

Debbie says:

WisCon is over, and a wonderful time was (apparently) had by all, or almost all. WisCon is the world’s first feminist science fiction convention, and the social mores are very difficult to describe to anyone who hasn’t been there. People who know science fiction conventions are often puzzled by the feminism, and people who know feminist and other activist spaces don’t always understand what the science fiction community brings to the party. And I’m not going to try to unwrap any of that here.

Sunday night is a big event, with the guest of honor speeches and the Tiptree Awards. Science fiction conventions have long been dress-up spaces, and Sunday night at WisCon is the high point of dress-up for this group. What I wanted to do quickly was try and explain what I mean by “dress up” in this context. Just as some beaches and hot springs are “clothing optional” spaces, WisCon is a “flamboyance optional” space. A significant number of people wear their everyday jeans and t-shirts. Some people wear what we would call on the street “costume,” which could be from a movie or a TV show, or could be elaborate face paint … whatever. Generally, it is home-made or hand-done rather than store bought.

At least 50% of the folks, however, wear dress-up clothing: something silky, something sexy, something special. To understand that, you have to realize that that 50% crosses genders, ages, and body types. I didn’t see a man in an evening gown this year (though I did last year), but I saw a few men in skirts or sarongs, as well as at least one in a tux. One of our guests of honor spoke wearing a tight corset and a black wrap; the other was more modestly (but equally beautifully) dressed. Gray hair and finery are common companions. I brought a dress that looked sexy in the catalogue but looks mother-of-the-bride on me (in a pretty good way). I didn’t wear it, however, because one of our community’s finest clothing designers waylaid me with a multicolored shimmery garment (I’d call it a poncho, but it’s far too elegant for that hippie-sounding word) that slid over my black slacks and completely uninspired black turtleneck to turn me into something out of faerie; slip a beautiful handmade necklack by one of our community’s finest jewelers over it, and I felt extremely elegant. And a lot of people confirmed that with compliments.

In a culture where fat and/or middle-aged women are invisible, the importance of finery cannot be overstated. WisCon is a space where, whatever you look like, it’s okay to dress to be seen. And people will see you, and tell you what they see in the most admiring terms.

In the back of my mind lurk questions about why being seen is equated with being sexy, why we (I) feel better in silk and shimmer than in blue jeans. Laurie, as a professional jewelry-maker, has a lot to say about that, but she’s not here. Whatever the underlying cultural issues, though, I’m here to tell you that being around hundreds of women and men dressed in ways that make them feel visible, and getting props for their choices, is something special.

WisCon, style, body image, size acceptance, feminism, flamboyanceBody Impolitic

Sugar, Pregnancy, Kinky Sex, and More

Laurie and Debbie say:

It’s too close to WisCon 31, which Debbie is co-coordinating and at which Laurie is exhibiting a group of her Women of Japan photographs, to write a long post of our own. Fortunately, our web “stringers” have brought in fascinating material.

The incomparable Sandy Szwarc at Junk Food Science has been even more incisive than usual recently. This post on the city of Somerville’s attempt to eradicate childhood obesity should be required reading in every government office in the country. Here’s the heart of the matter:

[The study] was based on comparing the Somerville children in the program with those in two nearby communities — but … the Somerville group had more whites and Asians, whereas significantly more blacks and hispanic children were in the control groups. The control groups also had higher percentages of single, unmarried mothers and the Somerville kids had more highly-educated parents, with 4 to 5 times more parents with graduate school educations, reflective of higher socioeconomic status.

Despite all these predictors of success in school, “while the school year was absorbed in diet and exercise, (after the Shape Up program was completed in 2005) the average reading test scores among Somerville kids are 15.4% below state average, and their math test scores are a whopping 26% below those of kids in the rest of the state.”

Sandy is also saying the unsayable in “Science of Sweets”. Her column is a breath of fresh air in the “health dangers of high fructose corn syrup” mania that is sweeping our newspapers. We only wish she had also commented on the economic and social causes and effects of the boom in high-fructose corn syrup use, which we believe are far more disturbing than any nutritional scare issues.

We’ve written before about the work of Alison Lapper. Now, a British critic is objecting to the statue of Lapper in late-stage pregnancy, currently on display in Trafalgar Square in London. We couldn’t disagree more.

I’ve grown to loathe the Alison Lapper Pregnant statue (not Alison Lapper herself, please note, who I’m sure has overcome great challenges to become both an artist and a mother). The trouble is that the statue captures much of what is rotten in the heart of new Britain. … In truth, Alison Lapper Pregnant is about as challenging as old underwear. It is a drab monument to the backward pieties of our age.

It shows that we value people for what they are rather than what they achieve. In our era of the politics of identity we seem more interested in celebrating individuals’ fixed and quite accidental attributes – their ethnicity, cultural heritage or in Lapper’s case, her disability – rather than what they have discovered or done in the world outside of their bodies. We prefer victims to heroes.

Three guesses: the author is a) white or not? and b) male or not? Right on both counts. Brendan O’Neill seems to think that a) Lapper is a victim; b) there’s no achievement in becoming a successful sculptor with no arms; and c) that ethnicity and ability levels are “incidental” (which he thinks because his are apparently the norms. Worse than all of that put together is his underlying assumption that the human body is not of interest or worthy of celebration.

He wants to return to the days of celebrating war heroes, and he’s not even ashamed of this statement: “What you think of these men’s contributions to British history is not important; they are at least recognised for things that they did.” Notice how with one stroke of the pen, he turns both pregnancy and disability into victimization. If what we think of accomplishments isn’t important, let’s take down one of those war heroes and replace him with Oswald Mosley, the leading Nazi advocate in Britain during World War II–he was influential and effective, so why not?

Finally, for something completely different, Bitchy Jones on gender stereotyping and the primacy of the male gaze in the BDSM world. This one is clear, explicit, and direct (don’t click the link if you don’t like BDSM imagery or discussion. Here’s a quotation for a wider audience, just to give you a flavor:

Do you want to know something weird? Something that will freak you out? I don’t wear shoes when I am having sex. I don’t wear a duffle coat either.

But I might wear pyjamas or a T shirt and jeans and then if he’s naked and vulnerable and unable to hide his desire, well, that’s quite hot. Then we have vulnerable and uncomfortable in just the right spot.

We read Junk Food Science anyway, but Marcia mentioned the first of her posts, and Kathy Walton pointed out the second. The Lapper controversy comes from Lizzie Fox, and Lori Selke suggested the Bitchy Jones piece.

fat, weight, body image, size acceptance, childhood obesity, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, food policy, disability, Alison Lapper, public art, BDSM, kinky sex, sexism, Body Impolitic