Category Archives: Steampunk Themes

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

Female-only Idioms; a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

bionic-unicorn

Image of the Bionic Unicorn

There are certain sayings and phrases in English that refer purely to women. The ones I am going to discuss today are “She’s the cat’s mother”, “A woman’s place is in the home”, “A Scarlet Woman”,”A woman’s work is never done”, and “Don’t teach your grandma to suck eggs”. I have picked these because there is no equivalent sayings that refer to men. These are not the only examples, I could have included “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” or “the little woman”, but those I picked cover the most common discourses that entagle women in their daily lives.

She’s the cat’s mother: 

I’ve never heard anyone correct someone using ‘he’ by saying ‘He’s the cat’s father’. For some reason, women are held to a higher standard of grammatical English than men. Women aren’t supposed to swear; our language is meant to be lady-like. This is reflected in sayings like this, with the underlying discourse that women are more polite and speak correctly – this was pointed out in Robin Lakoff’s Language and Woman’s Place. Reading this book was a revelation to me, particularly as I was only just learning how gendered English was as a language.

babushkakitty

A woman’s place is in the home:

Aspects of form, topic, content, and use
of spoken language have been identified as
sex associated. – Adelaide Haas

I am imagining a lot of people frowning at their computer screens as they read that idiom. Until recently, that was the argument everyone used when women tried to enter the public sphere. It was the greatest argument used against the suffragists and suffragettes in the Victorian era. You don’t hear of where a man’s place is supposed to be; but the inference is the woman should be cooking him dinner and caring for his house & children. A woman is NOT a refrigerator, and a wife is not another item of white goods.

suffragette-madonna

Because, you know, a father spending time with his infant is a terrible thing. Only a mother can supply the right sort of care. This is insulting to both the mother and the father, when you think about it.

A Scarlet Woman: 

This is the old double standard; a man who plays the field is sewing his wild oats, whereas a young woman doing the same thing is a slut. This is an underlying assumption built into the very foundations of our language. Ponder the difference between the concepts of a male ‘pro’ and a female ‘pro’, or a ‘master’ and a ‘mistress’. That status of women in our culture is reflected in our language. We need to start redefining these terms to take away the negative implications. Women can be assertive without being aggressive, and talk loudly without being shrill.

swedish-holocaust-survivor-attacking-neo-nazi

A Swedish holocaust survivor attacking a neo-Nazi!

A Woman’s Work is Never Done:

This saying is actually part of a couplet: A man he works from sun to sun (sunrise to sunset), but a woman’s work is never done. This saying originated in the days when women were unable to go out into the workforce in the public area, and were basically unpaid slaves. This perception of unending tasks was because of nature of the unpaid labour done by a wife and mother, which involved caring and feeding for the said ‘man’ and their mutual children, as well as cleaning the house and doing the laundry (and possibly caring for the garden as well). If the woman had actually been paid for this work, no one would have been able to afford her salary.

Now that women can go out to work, the burden of domestic labour still falls on the shoulder of women. This happens even if both partners work full time.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/mar/10/housework-gender-equality-women

It is frustrating that our language and culture still encapsulates this discourse. Who does the Christmas shopping in your house, as an example?

ive-suffered

Hah! You never hear about henpecked wives.

Don’t Teach Your Grandma to Suck Eggs: 

For those who haven’t come across this say, it means that inexperienced people should try not to give advice to experts in their fields. However, the depreciating humour in this idiom never pokes fun at Grandpa. And sucking eggs sounds disgusting.

spirit_photos_jb_misc_008-223x361

 

“So a girl is damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t. If she refuses to talk like a lady, she is ridiculed and subjected to criticism as unfeminine; if she does learn, she is ridiculed as unable to think clearly, unable to take part in a serious discussion: in some sense, as less than fully human. These two choices which a woman has — to be less than a woman or less than a person — are highly painful.”
Robin Lakoff, Language and Woman’s Place (1975)

 

 

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Filed under Metaphors, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Themes, Steampunk Writer, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Style

Being Productive whilst on Holidays; Flights of Fancy

steampunk-book-as-vehicle

I went away to spend some time with my parents.I was away from my computer … but took plenty of pens and paper with me. I often do my ‘chunking’ exercises with pen and paper. ‘Chunking’ is when you write out your idea, as it comes to you in chunks and pieces; this is what my first year lecturer called the process. You might call it something else. It doesn’t matter what it is called, it is just the very first step – after thinking – towards writing a story.

I thought I was in holiday mode. My muse disagreed.

I came up with three solid ideas for short stories, including the ‘Dissected Graces’ story based on the artistic anatomical models. I finally have got a handle on the (hopefully final) structural edit to my Steampunk novel; I will have to kill quite a few of my darlings in the process. I also wrote five individual timelines for characters within the novel, which support the structure and at the same time give them all logical stories of their own that don’t conflict with their characterisations or motivations.

I even came up with a strategy for the structural edit that doesn’t make me too fearful of messing up. I am going to write up the new timeline I came up with, and copy and paste into it. In this way, I keep the original draft ‘pristine’ in case I do stuff things up. I’ve been trying to make better sense of my story and plot for a couple of months, so I am very pleased to be moving forward again.

Writers don’t really get proper holidays, because you can never predict when a great idea is going to strike. The muse can’t be ignored. So, I might not have done much in the way of writing on my computer, but I was certainly doing a lot of writing by hand. I was gone for five days, and I have over 13 pages of notes and observations, timelines and research plans. Some of this stuff is pure gold.

Sometimes, getting out of your familiar work routines kick-starts a new train of thought. That is what happened to me. So I am adding this to my writer’s toolkit.

 

 

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Filed under Editing, Personal experience, Steampunk Themes, Steampunk Work-in-Progress, the Muse, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Career

Ghosts as Big Business: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

the-ghost-child

Just as vampires and zombies are big business at the moment, ghosts were popular everywhere in the Victorian era. A sure sign of their popularity is that Dickens climbed onto the money wagon with his own ghost story A Christmas Carol. We all know how very popular that story was and still is. You can’t say it is not a commercial success!  Why were ghost stories so popular?

whose-afraidscared

 

Part of the blame can be laid at the foot of the growing interest in Spiritualism, mediums, seances, and Ouija boards. On both sides of the Atlantic, it was not unusual for fashionable parties to be themed with a spot of Spiritualism. Who could resist the lure of contacting a departed loved one? I know how much I miss my deceased family & friends, so why would the Victorians be any different?

seance

The esteemed literary historian, Jack Sullivan, argues a “Golden Age of the Ghost Story” existed between the decline of the Gothic novel in the 1830s and the start of the First World War, brought about by popularity of the works of the American author, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Irish writer, Sheridan Le Fanu. It is important to realise that the ghost story has never really gone out of print, but the popularity of the genre fluctuates, both through time and geographically.

the-haunting

Even though the Steampunk genre stands squarely as a subgenre of the Science Fiction genre, this doesn’t mean a ghost story can’t add some excitement to the plot. Sheridan Le Fanu was famous for construction hauntings that were only visible to a single character and inferred the ghost (or other gremlin) was only a figment of that character’s imagination. And seriously, who doesn’t like to be given a bit of a scare while sitting safe in an armchair?

i-feel-a-presence

 

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Filed under Ghosts, History, Horror genre, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Themes, Uncategorized, Victorian Era

Écriture Féminine Mécanique: The Steampunk Feminist Perspective

Robot woman from Pinterest

manufacturing-a-womans-sentence-virginia-woolfs-criture-fminine-mcanique-11-638

In reality, a mechanism has no gender or sexuality, even if it is painted pink and covered in lace, or gunmetal grey and carrying weaponry. Even the most sophisticated computer -designed to mimic feminine or masculine traits, like Siri – has no innate gender. Our Western society posits ‘normal’ as ‘male’, and so most robots are thought of as male, unless the robot is overtly feminine.

Begging robot

Is this robot ‘gendered’ in your opinion? If so, do you see a masculine or feminine mechanism?

This androcentric designation of gadgets and robots had been used within the Steampunk literary genre as well. Unless you specifically write against this, it is a very easy lazy writing trap to fall into. However, it also doesn’t work if you designate all your robots and gadgets as ‘female’; unless you want your inventors to be characterised as straw feminists.The TV Tropes website has a page dedicated to the phenomenon of androcentric gendering.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MenAreGenericWomenAreSpecial

ruptures and spaces

As the English language has an underlying Patriarchal discourse, language cannot be considered a gender neutral medium. Western culture in the Victorian era was staunchly Patriarchal, but that doesn’t not mean that Steampunk narratives have to mimic that cultural prejudice. In fact, I would argue that the Steampunk literary genre should embrace the concept of Écriture Féminine because of the overwhelming Patriarchal discourse, to give balance and a postmodern resonance to any narratives.

Even if you are writing in an androcentric manner for the purposes of parody and/or satire, you should be writing with the awareness of how your word choices define gender within your prose. Écriture féminine isn’t – and shouldn’t be – limited to women writers. It is just another brush to add to your writer’s toolkit.

a-very-rough-guide-to-feminist-criticism-4-638

 

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Filed under Écriture féminine, Feminism, Gender and Sexuality, Sociolinguistics, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Themes, Uncategorized, Writing Style

‘The Other’ as a Characterization Device

The Other is a literary and sociological concept, used to understand the construction of identity. There is an ‘Us’ and there is ‘The Other’; the outsider, the foreigner, the nonconformist, the maverick, and the rebel are usually identified as ‘The Other’. It isn’t a cut-and-dried concept, because Otherness changes with location, time period, and circumstances. My own personal definition of Otherness relates to the underlying Patriarchy of my Australian ‘Western’ culture – the Other is someone who is not white, male, heterosexual, rich/middle class, or human – someone who isn’t ‘normal’.

Ming

Master

In the early decades of the Twentieth century, in the Modern era, someone like Ming the Merciless was ‘The Other’. His East Asian appearance, his name, referencing the Ming dynasty of China, and the name of his planet Mongo, “a contraction of Mongol” (Brian Locke, Racial Stigma on the Hollywood Screen: The Orientalist Buddy Film) all delineate to his foreignness and otherness. This made him a cookie cut-out classic villain of the era; no real motivation was given to his character because being Other was apparently motivation enough.

Tilda Swinton as the White Witch.

My personal favourite example of the female Other is Jadis, the White Witch from Narnia. She is a powerful female and refuses to submit to any authority other than her own. Of course, this makes her completely evil …

In this Postmodern era, society has become more accepting and tolerant of the Other. In the 1960s and 1970s, Doctor Who’s the Master was made to resemble Ming somewhat. Lately, the Master has been quite human looking, John Sim’s Master was given a more in depth backstory. It might be argued that the Doctor has always been a representation of the Other. They are both 3D characterizations, and more understandable and likeable for their rounded personalities.

In the Steampunk genre, Otherness may equate to
• Femininity, and in particular nonconforming women.
• Being ‘Foreign’
• Non-heteronormative sexuality
• Living to the precepts of an Alternative Philosophy to Capitalism
• Not being a human (like a Timelord or Frankenstein’s monster)
• Being poor (or, rarely, extremely rich)
• Being a criminal
• Being under or over educated.

Mustrum Ridcully

Now, we can all think of villains that are examples of these sorts of Otherness. In fact, using Otherness to create a villain is overdone. Otherness can also be used as a virtue when creating characterization. Terry Pratchett was the supreme master of this: Captain Carrot, Granny Weatherwax and Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully.

 

Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson is a six-foot-tall dwarf (by adoption), and could pretty much be the poster boy for Otherness. He is in a serious relationship with a vegetarian werewolf. He is a policeman who is the opposite of street smart, being kind to a fault, trusting, and believes everyone is good at heart. He is a simple man, but never confuse simple with stupid, because he is also one of the most intelligent characters in the Discworld universe. He is clever enough to hide this, though his close companions have a fair idea of his genius. More criminals have been caught due to Carrot’s apparent naivety than ever by cunning. And before you point out that he is a tall, white man in a position of power … remember that context is everything for defining Otherness.

Yep. Carrot is a redhead, but that isn’t how he earned the name.

 

So, if you are contemplating making your villain one of the Others, recall that this is using a stereotype and lazy writing. Think about how scary a villain might be if he appears completely bland and normal, a razorblade hidden in a slice of bread. How much deeper will be your characterization, and you will give your audience much more to think about.

 

There you go, Erin! A deeper discussion of Otherness.

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Filed under Antagonist, Characterization, Doctor Who, Steampunk, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Themes, The Other, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Style

The Most Kissed Face in the World; the Madonna of the Seine

Madonna

Is Beauty a concept that is ephemeral for a moment, or is it eternal? The body of the young female drowning victim was pulled out of the Seine River at the Quai du Louvre in Paris around the late 1880s. The girl child was never identified and no one ever came to claim her; it was assumed she was a suicide as there were no signs of a struggle on her body. However, the serene loveliness of her expression encouraged a pathologist to make a cast death mask of her face. Plaster copies of this death mask went on to decorate the sitting rooms and studios of artists and other fashionable people throughout Europe and North America, becoming the muse for thousands of artworks and literary works.

The Death Mask

L’Inconnue de la Seine means ‘The Unknown Woman of the Seine’ in French, and in America she was known as La Belle Italienne. The death mask inspired so many others with her Mona Lisa smile.

Art

Earrings

 

The death mask as art

This death mask was also used as the basis to Resusci Anne – the CPR dummy that everyone uses to learn first aid techniques. This means this face has been kissed over a million times, by people learning to save lives, including drowning victims. Not a bad way to be remembered.

Resusci Anne

Resusci Anne masks

 

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Filed under Historical Personage, History, Steampunk Aesthetic, Steampunk Themes, Uncategorized