Category Archives: Steampunk Feminist

A Steampunk Feminist’s Perspective on Science Week 2017

Warning Science Ahead

 

You can’t have Steampunk without Science … it would be like trying to build a locomotive without cogs! You could do it with great difficulty, but is the result worth the effort? And is it in a recognisable form? Do the wheels fall off when you try to run with it? I have read Science Fiction stories that claim to have no science, but it sneaks in under the door like smoke from a coal fire. After all, you can’t have a coal fire without coal!

Rocket for SCIENCE

This week is World Science Week, celebrating all the various fields of science from the so-called ‘soft sciences’ like Sociology and Anthropology all the way through to the diamond-hard sciences involving Physics. (Personally, I find this sort of description of the fields of science rather judgemental and divisive, and pretty damn useless.) In Brisbane, the majority of the festivities are taking place in and around the Cultural Precinct. You can find a description of the events here: http://www.worldsciencefestival.com.au/

I attended a Science Writing workshop that was one of the events to kick off the celebrations. I wondered if I should attend, since I have considered myself a science writer for over fifteen years, but curiosity and interest got me there in the end. I am endlessly fascinated by how other writers work. It was a well run and very useful workshop, and I always gain insights into my own process as well as garnering some very good tips.

What I did notice was that most of Science Writers mentioned in the course were men, while at the same time, only one man attended the workshop; the rest were women (including me). Several of the women attendees were already working as science writers or scientists (or both). I wonder if this a sign that things are about the change in the field of Science Writing, to reflect the increase of women working in the STEM fields. As well, the workshop didn’t mention too much about blogging, which is a growing arena for science writing. My favourite female science blogger is the SciBabe: http://scibabe.com/

Science!

So, as more women find their feet in the various fields of science, gain respect, and go on to have stellar careers … so should the women science writers … as should the female writers in the Steampunk genre. There is a knock-on effect.

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Filed under Feminism, Science, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Themes, Uncategorized, Women in Science

The Competent Woman Protagonist: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

Compenent Women

Table by Javier Zarracina for Vox

I read an article about Competent Sidekicks on Vox, and saw this table. I don’t completely agree with it, as Luke did blow up the Death Star, but Leia certainly gave him access to the Death Star plans and his torpedo-firing spaceship. But I do think this table makes a valid point; why do these competent women not get their share of the credit at the end of the day?

Agent 99

Agent 99

This cliche is as old as television. Look at 99 and Maxwell Smart. Smart was extremely lucky to be teamed up with Agent 99, as she did most of the thinking and the hard work while he got most of the credit. What made him survive was luck – not to be underrated, but it can’t be depended upon. Even in the modern reboot, Agent 99 has all the training and skills. Max and 99 are the extreme example of the trope, with Starlord and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy coming a close second.

This occurs quite a bit in literature too. So,how do I avoid this happening in my Steampunk novel.

Well, for starters, my protagonist is a competent woman. And – at the end of the story – she will be getting her credit and her reward. Yep. I finally figured out the reward that would make her happy … a free pass into Kew Gardens. For life. No restrictions. For a woman academic of the 1870s, that is like winning Olympic Gold.

So much more satisfying that marrying her off into a faux ‘happily ever after’.

 

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Filed under Characterization, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Genre, Stereotypes, Uncategorized, Writing Style

Suffragette Toys: A Steampunk Feminist Perspective

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A card game – similar to ‘Old Maid’

When I was growing up, I wanted science-based toys and books, and I was very lucky to have supportive parents who gave me a chemistry set and a bug catcher (among other outstanding gifts) for my birthday and Christmas presents. Dolls didn’t appeal to me, as I preferred living creatures like babies, puppies, and kittens – I ended up studying zoology at university to obtain a Bachelor of Science. I often wonder if there were girls from earlier era felt the same way. This got me to thinking about suffragettes.

Suffragettes were a social  and political phenomenon existing for over a century. Doll and toy makers would have to be tempted to capture the likeness of suffragettes in their items. Just a quick investigation turned up quite a few games and such. The suffragettes made a few dolls and games to sell at rallies to raise funds. Others were made by those politically against women’s suffrage, and were often less than flattering, if not downright scary (like the Jill-in-the-Box).

However, if I had been around in that era, I would have been purchasing suffragette toys for my daughters.  Because you can aspire to be someone you know nothing about. What I like about these toys is that they show the women active and involved, not passive. Even if they hadn’t seen representing suffragettes, they showed women with agency.

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Althof Bergmann suffragette drummer toy

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George Brown hoop toy

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Mechanical tin suffragette selling pamphlets.

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Suffragette Kewpie doll

 

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Filed under History, Steampunk Feminist, Suffragettes, Suffragists, Uncategorized

Fainting and Swooning – the Degrees of Syncope in the Victorian Era; a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

fainting-couch

The Victorian era Fainting Couch

Fainting and swooning were more prevalent in the Victorian era, to the point that they created a piece of furniture for use when feeling weak and dizzy. It was mostlywomen who fainted. There are many reasons behind this cultural phenomenon; I favour the tightness of corsets, the overabundance of clothes worn by women, and Patriarchal society’s expectation that women were ‘weak’ and easily overcome by strong emotions. So, fainting could be put down to both physical and cultural pressures.

(c) Frank Julian Bayes; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Woman Reclining on a Couch, by Walter Bayes.

 

The medical term for fainting is syncope. It is a short loss of consciousness. Just before a faint, symptoms may include feeling lightheaded, sweating and trembling, clammy and pale skin, blurred vision, among others symptoms. A true faint has a fast onset, a short duration, and spontaneous recovery. It is due to a sudden decrease in blood flow to the entire brain, usually caused by low blood pressure brought on by a physical or emotional shock. A person who has fainted needs to be checked out by a doctor, as a faint can be a sign of underlying medical problems.

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Abandoned, by James Tissot, 1882

In literature, there is a difference between a faint and a swoon. A faint is something that occurs when a person gets a terrible shock – a mother reading of the death of her child – or the person is suffering from blood loss – a wounded gentleman can faint and not seem unmanly. Women swoon. They see an old lover … and swoons. A rogue tries to make love to them … and they swoon. Their father asked them a hard question … and they swoon. A swoon seems to be more ‘convenient’.

'Fainting By Numbers' (Victorian book).

A swoon involves fluttering eyelashes and an elegant collapse over a waiting arm or onto a couch. A true faint doesn’t allow for grace, the individual keels over and if they are lucky there is someone to catch them. I swoon online quite frequently … I don’t faint.

In most Victorian era novels, there are faints and swoons. It is gender specific. Fainting women outnumber fainting men by twenty to one, if not more. I could not find ONE Victorian era image of a fainting man. The best I could do was a still from a silent film.

silent-film-still-fainting-granger

I suspect this may be a swoon…

In my current Steampunk work-in-progress, I have no one fainting or swooning. It isn’t that none of my characters have shocks. It is just that I feel that swooning contributes to a stereotype. The women and men in my novel are too busy to have the time to faint. However, they are overcome with chloroform once or twice. Does that count?

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Young Woman Reclining In Spanish Costume by Edouard Manet, 1883. “There will be no damn swooning when I look this good in Capri pants.”

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Filed under Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Work-in-Progress, Uncategorized, Victorian Era, Victorian-era Fashion

Women in Chains – Suffragette Jewellery; A Steampunk Feminist Perspective

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Suffragette Chain Link Jewellery at its finest, as it also incorporates the three colours of the Suffragette Movement: Green, White and Violet (Give Women Votes).

It is a well known fact that suffragettes were targeted by their governments as troublemakers, and often spent time in jail, and they were subjected to some awful treatment. They were meant to be humiliated and silenced by this strategy. Instead, suffragettes saw jail time as a victory, that they were considered dangerous enough to incarcerate.

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Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter, Christabel, while in jail.

In previous blog articles, I have mentioned suffragette jewellery. Some people argue that the suffragettes were vocal, and would never stoop to subterfuge by wearing symbolic jewellery. I have to agree with this viewpoint. I believe suffragette jewellery was worn with pride, to support the cause, and I believe some suffragette jewellery supports this hypothesis: the Holloway Prison Pin, Chain Link Jewellery, and Edith Garrud’s Boadicea Brooch.

holloway-prison-brooch

The Holloway Prison Pin, also known as the Holloway Brooch.

The Holloway Prison Pin  – designed by Sylvia Pankhurst, one of the daughters of Emmeline Pankhurst – was presented to members of the Women’s Social and Political Union who had suffered imprisonment. The first presentation of the brooches took place at a mass demonstration organised by the WSPU on the 29th of April, 1909. The broad arrow – the symbol of the convict – was enamelled in purple, white and green, the colours of the suffragette movement. Some of the brooches were marked with dates of imprisonment. The brooch was first mentioned in Votes for Women, the WSPU newspaper, in the issue published on the 16th of April, 1909, where it was described as ‘the Victoria Cross of the Union’.

The Jail Pin

Jail Door Pin

The Hunger Strike Medal.jpg

The Hunger Strike Medal

After the Holloway Prison pin, the suffragettes were inspired to issue pins and medals for other indignities suffered by the women when they were imprisoned for wanting equal rights. To my mind, it is the Hunger Strike Medal that represents the greatest sacrifices made by those imprisoned; hunger strikers were often force fed. Some of the women were also sent to mental asylums, because being vocal about wanting the vote is a sure sign of madness.

image-from-womens-suffrage-memorabilia-an-illustrated-history

Image from the textbook – Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated History Study

Chain brooches didn’t just symbolise imprisonment. It also stood for the chains that held the women back in society. The chains that held them back from education and legal rights, as well as the right to vote. Mind you, the government was happy to tax women, but not so thrilled to give them a voice in parliament.

Chain brooches came in many shapes and forms. Some were more decorative than others, but even the most simple chain brooch was layered with meaning.

9ct-gold-suffragette-chain-brooch

Of course, the suffragette movement was big on pins and brooches. They could be sold to raise funds, worn to show support, or awarded for outstanding sacrifices. It is a form of wearing your heart on your sleeve.

button

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Edith Garrud’s Boudica brooch was also described as the Suffragette’s Victoria Cross.

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A Woman in Chains

Chains are often part of a Steampunk cosplay outfit. Never was there a better reason to wear them than to celebrate the Suffragettes.

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Filed under Fashion, History, Jewellery, Metaphors, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Suffragettes, Suffragists, Symbology, Uncategorized, Victorian-era Fashion

Diving into a research maze

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Miss Sarah Bernhardt, as the Ocean Empress, circa 1880. Image from the Library of Congress

 

This is a story about how a writer can waste an entire day excited by an image, to come up empty handed. I come across the above image, of a pretty woman seated beside a man dressed in a diving suit, about twice a month. This is probably because the photograph conforms to the ‘Steampunk’ genre and aesthetic – contrasting a Victorian beauty with the ‘high tech’ of the diving suit. Then I stumbled across the photograph below, of the same woman wearing a dive suit!

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Miss Sarah Bernhardt, as the Ocean Empress, in Diving Gear, circa 1880.              Image from the Library of Congress.

Well, I was excited. Maybe the young woman was an adventurer, like lady aviators, exploring under the horizon instead of above it. The only problem was the image of the young woman had been shared so many times, that I couldn’t follow it back to the original posting. Then I tried searching for ‘Victorian era woman diver’. Alas, I was both lucky and unlucky. It turns out this is the actress, Sarah Bernhardt, dressed as the Ocean Empress. So I discovered the original images in the Library of Congress, but no evidence of a lady diving adventurer.

mrs-mitchell-one-of-englands-first-female-deep-sea-divers-before-beginning-her-workday-inspecting-ships-hulls-at-the-tilbury-docks

Mrs Mitchell, one of England’s first female deep sea divers, before beginning her workday inspecting ships’ hulls at the Tilbury Docks. (From “Ein seltener Frauenberuf,” Die Welt der Frau, no. 47 [1908]: 752.)

As far as I can tell, the earliest mention of female divers was around 1908, just missing the Victorian era. I do think the picture of Mrs Mitchell is more than awesome, however. Look at that confident smile! She had to be physically strong to even walk in that suit! If any of you know of earlier instances, please feel free to correct me.

In my Steampunk Work-in-Progress (yes, I know, you are all waiting for me to actually finish it), my protagonist actually does don a diving suit. The ‘modern’ diving suit was invented in the 1700s.  The British engineer, Augustus Siebe, developed the standard diving dress in the 1830s, the metal and glass helmet fitted to a full length watertight canvas diving suit, with tubes attached. The first commercially successful closed-circuit scuba tank was designed and built by the English diving engineer, Henry Fleuss, in 1878, while working for Siebe Gorman (founded and run by Augustus Gorman). His self-contained breathing apparatus consisted of a rubber mask connected to a breathing bag, with the oxygen supplied from a copper tank and carbon dioxide scrubbed by rope yarn soaked in caustic potash; the system’s functional duration was about three hours. This means that in 1871 – the era of my setting – it would not be too outrageous that she might have used a prototype of the scuba tank.

After all, it’s MY story. *grins* The fact it might not work as planned only adds to the suspense.

 

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Filed under Feminism, Historical Personage, History, Sarah Bernhardt, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Genre, The Writing Life, Uncategorized

William Banting – the first Diet Guru

letter-on-corpulence-by-william-banting3

William Banting was basically the person who invented diets. He spent his working life as an undertaker. (I am unsuccessfully suppressing the urge to make the joke that “he really did put the ‘die’ in diet”.) After he retired from undertaking, he weighted over 90kg (200 pounds) and he was only 165cm (5 feet 5 inches). He considered himself corpulent, even though he claimed he was an active man; he believed his problem was that the more he exercised, the greater his appetite grew. The physician Dr. William Harvey advised him to take up a diet that restricted starchy or sugary foods. This worked well for Banting, and he reduced his weight to a more manageable level.

overeating

Banting ate four meals a day and drank a generous amount of wine in comparison to his overall caloric intake. He limited his intake of low fat meats and restricted the types of fish and meat he could eat. He ate a lot of vegetables – particularly greens – and fruit. The emphasis of his diet was on avoiding sugar, sugary foods, starchy food, beer, milk and butter. This change in diet worked, and Banting reduced his weight.

banting_quadrille

He wasn’t a man to keep his weight-loss secrets to himself. In 1869, he wrote a pamphlet, Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public, which he published at his personal expense, to distribute to friends and acquaintances. People shared the pamphlet around and word-of-mouth worked overtime. His self-published edition was so popular that he started to sell it to the general public. The third and later editions were published by Harrison of London. Such was the pamphlet’s popularity that the question “Do you bant?” entered the language.

bantingism_small_copy

With the Atkins Diet, The Palaeolithic Diet, and the low-carb, high-fat diet (LCHF) are all based around the original Banting diet. Low-carbohydrate diets are dietary programs that restrict carbohydrate consumption, often for the treatment of obesity or diabetes. Please Note: It is important to always consult with your doctor or dietitian before embarking on a diet that restricts food groups.

 

 

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Filed under Historical Personage, History, Steampunk Feminist, Uncategorized, Victorian Era, William Banting