Tag Archives: feminism

International Women’s Day 2107

I was asked today why I had posted an article on modern feminism on my Facebook Steampunk community page. What makes this comment even harder to understand is that today is International Women’s Day, a day that celebrates the achievements of that half of the human race that spent a lot of history being ignored and suppressed. Some things never change, such as the studied ignorance of how the Suffragettes and Suffragists fought for women’s rights. It wasn’t until I was at university that this historical topic was discussed.

The Australian school curriculum doesn’t like to delve into the stickier and nastier parts of history. Take my schooling. If you studied Modern History in your senior years of high school, it was all about the the Great Depression and the Two World Wars of the Twentieth Century. If you studied Ancient History, its all about the Greeks and Romans, with a little bit of British Medieval Kings and the Feudal System for a laugh. There wasn’t much mention of women’s roles in history, unless you were Caligula’s sister-wife. During my childhood, the only mention of suffragettes I heard was in Disney’s version of Mary Poppins.

So, why is modern Feminism relevant to Steampunk? Without the Victorian Women’s Movement, there would be no Feminism. The Victorian era created social turbulence due to industrialisation; to the sudden flowering of the sciences; and the burgeoning of social reforms that saw women and children gaining their rights, the end of slavery in America, and the formation of organisations like the RSPCA. Feminism owes it to the Suffragettes to remember their battles, losses and, victories.

So, my reply? “Feminism. Suffragettes. … And I will post what I like on my own damn page.”

 

 

 

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Women in Chains – Suffragette Jewellery; A Steampunk Feminist Perspective

antique-9ct-gold-suffragette-chain-brooch

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.

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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

ediths-boudica-brooch-described-as-the-suffragettes-victoria-cross

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

Women Authors in Science Fiction

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Mary Shelley

That old, tired, perennial concept – that women don’t write or read Science Fiction  – has reared its ugly head again. I could add to this list Kate Wilhelm, Anne McCaffrey, Diana Wynne Jones, Jennifer Fallon, Elizabeth Scarborough, R. A. MacAvoy, Judith Tarr, dear goddess, a host of others, to the list below.

Just one of List of Women Writers of Science Fiction

 

Speaking of lists, I did a quick review of some ‘best of’ lists.

One third (33%) of Buzzfeed’s top 24 science fiction books of 2015 were authored by women.

In the Barnes and Noble list of the Best 24 Science Fiction and Fantasy books for 2015, fourteen women authors were represented on the list. That is 58% of the list.

The Guardian’s list of the Best Science Fiction Books for 2014 listed fourteen books, and six of the authors named were women (42%), with special mention being made of Anne Lecki.

Gizmodo’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy books of 2014 listed 22 books and eight women authors made their list. That is 36% of the list.

Overall, this means over forty percent of the top books of the last two years were authored by women. Women not only represent a large proportion of SF authors, they are also among the best known. We study them at school and university (as I well know), and not in Gender Study classes but in Literature classes. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Just about anything by Ursula Le Guin.

More than half of the readers for Science Fiction and Fantasy are women; mainly because more women read these days than men.

*rolls eyes*

I hope I don’t have to bring this up again!

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Misunderstanding the concept of a Strong Woman Character – Steampunk Feminist Perspective

image-from-etsy-02

When a writer talks about a ‘strong’ character, they don’t actually mean that the character is physically able to lift a horse or beat up ten opponents or swears like a shearer. A strong character is a complex character, three dimensional, not a stereotype. There have been some work put into constructing the character. The character lives and breathes on the page.

Lately, there has been a trend toward ‘strong female characters’ in books, television, and Hollywood movies. However, it appears that the multiple meanings of the word ‘strong’ has confused a lot of people. So, here are some questions you can ask yourself when trying to decide if a ‘strong female character’ is strong in name only.

1/ Are her actions over-the-top to overcompensate for the lack of other female characters or a personality of her own? SFC often display exaggerated ‘tough’ mannerisms that no man would get away with, or take risks that are stupid rather than brave.

karathrace

Think of the characterisation of Starbuck, Kara Thrace, during the first season of the new version of Battlestar Galactica. When we first encounter Kara Thrace, she bears a strong resemblance to the original 1978 Starbuck character: both were portrayed as hot-headed and cocky fighter pilots, with a tendency to challenge authority head-on and get into trouble. Both were avid gamblers and enjoyed drinking, smoking cigars, and casual sex. Except Kara was even more full on than the original Starbuck. She did stupid things that a trained warrior would never do. However…

All kudos to both the writers of the series and actor Katee Sackhoff for being able to give this version of Starbuck to opportunity to grow and change.

2/ Is she ‘every bit as good as a boy’?  In other words, is she simply a male character in every aspect but her gender? Is she a classic Patriarchal male in all her strengths and virtues, and in her flaws, as well as her values – with only her gender ticked as ‘woman’ rather than ‘man’?

sergeant-calhoun

Sergeant Calhoun

Look at Sergeant Calhoun from Wreck-it Ralph. Here is her character description from the Disney-Wiki:

Calhoun is hardcore, tough, and incredibly strict. She commands her troops with a firm and domineering hand, and exhibits a fierce tenacity in which failure is never an option. She has no tolerance for shortcomings, and doesn’t hesitate to roughly reprimand her soldiers, and additionally seems to enjoy goading them with taunts to increase their drive. Although Calhoun comes off at first as crass and callous, she is very serious and stoic when not engaged in gameplay. Her tragic backstory has left her heartbroken and untrusting, with a dry sense of humor. It is her backstory and her dedication to her job that she appears to consider herself a soldier first and woman second.

The comment that she is “a soldier first and a woman second”is telling. I’m yet to hear a man described as ‘a soldier first and a man second’, because, of course, the default setting for soldiers are that they are men.

sharon-stone-as-the-lady

I’m also thinking of Sharon Stone’s The Lady in The Quick and the Dead. Clint Eastwood  – in his spaghetti western era – could have played her role. Her backstory was the same backstory for a dozen Western movies.

Tasha Robinson wrote a compelling argument against Strong Female Characters during last year’s summer blockbuster season, lamenting that: “Bringing in a Strong Female Character™ isn’t actually a feminist statement, or an inclusionary statement, or even a basic equality statement, if the character doesn’t have any reason to be in the story except to let filmmakers point at her on the poster and say ‘See? This film totally respects strong women!'” The irony of the celebration of and hunger for Strong Female Characters is that they perpetuate macho notions of strength and capability, which just happen to be communicated by women and girls.

From the article I’m Sick of Strong Female Characters in Film by Clem Bastow

3/ Does the character have agency and a voice of her own? Does she make her own decisions and take responsibility for her own actions? Does she disappear during the action? Is she the rescuer or the rescued? Does she act and her actions impact the plot, or does most of the action take place around her?

Part of this problem is the idea that behind every great man is a great woman.  It means that the woman’s actions are still being defined by a man. Why isn’t the woman just out there doing for herself?

This one can be tricky. Consider Valka from How to Catch Your Dragon 2; she plays no real part in the plot after her build-up as an awesome character. Of course, overcoming this lack of voice and agency makes for a brilliant story, like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale or Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Female characters lacking in voice and agency tand not to be that memorable. Gee, I wonder why?

4/ Does she end up as the trophy for the male Protagonist? This is a Disney favourite. Think about Jasmine from Aladdin and Meg from Hercules.

aladdin_jasmine

meg

They were sassy. Independent. Actually played a part in the resolution of the story. And still ended up as the trophy brides. This happens so much, I could let you make your own list…

It doesn’t matter how sassy your SFC is, if at the end of the story she is the ‘prize’ won by the hero. The very worst example I can think of is Kate from the movie, Hackers. Kate is the only girl in the hackers group AND she is the ‘prize’ in a bet between her and the protagonist, Dade. I came out of that movie completely enraged.

kate-from-hackers

Kate was played by a very young Angelina Jolie.

5/ Is the SFC complex and three dimensional?  Or is her ‘strength’ her only defining characteristic?  The white-haired witch from the movie, The Forbidden Kingdom, is powerful, and evil, and we have no idea why. Oh, she wants to be immortal … but we are never given any backstory or understanding of her character. She is just strong, physically and magically.

white-haired-witch

As a child, my youngest daughter loved this character because she was so strong, and she wanted to be that strong with magic. I’m not saying that children don’t love complex characters, but when your target audience is older, you need more than strength to define a character.

Gazelle from the movie, Kingsman: The Secret Service, is another of these strong girls with one dimension characterisations. Imagine how much more interesting her character would have been if she had been allowed some dialogue and an insight into her motivations. Was she in it for the money? Did she hate humanity? Was she in love with Valentine or his ideals?

6/ Is she the token female in an all male cast?

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Oh look, a girl on each side…

Need I say more? Others have written reams about how badly the character of the Black Widow is being treated in these movies.

7/ Could all her strengths be defined as masculine strengths, rather than her being strong in her own unique way? In other words, could your SFC be replaced by a male character and no one would notice the difference?

Strength comes in many different forms. If you classify as strength only in terms relating to overt masculinity, you are misunderstanding what strong means. I want to see a strong Female Character who can rejoice in her ‘female’ and girly strengths. She laughs or cries because showing emotion isn’t a weakness. She is strong – not in spite her femininity – but because of it, while at the same time not letting her femininity define her.

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Filed under Characterization, Feminism, Steampunk Feminist, Stereotypes, Uncategorized

Caricature versus Stereotype: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

A Stereotype: a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.

A Caricature: a picture, description, or imitation of a person in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect.

From Google Definitions

Caricatures of attendees at an Australian suffragette meeting.

Caricatures of the attendees at an Australian suffragette meeting.

Anti-suffragette cartoons

The stereotype versus the caricature.

own worst enemy

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Suffragette3USE

The Stereotype of a Suffragette from the viewpoint of those against the suffragette movement.

what I would do with...

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Filed under Caricature, Characterization, Feminism, Steampunk Feminist, Stereotypes, Suffragettes, Suffragists, Uncategorized

It’s been a mad week.

To make up for it, here are three articles you should read.

 

Women in Science: An Illustrated Who’s Who

 

http://www.vox.com/2016/7/14/12016710/science-challeges-research-funding-peer-review-process

 

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Écriture Féminine Mécanique: The Steampunk Feminist Perspective

Robot woman from Pinterest

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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

Victorian Crossdressing as a strategy for Victorian Political Issues

Cross dressing Temperance Parody.

Men cross-dressing as a parody of the Temperance Movement.

Strange to say, cross-dressing was often used by staid Victorian-era men to make fun of views in opposition to their own Patriarchal discourse. This cross-dressing was a kind of negative social pressure applied to any group where women were shown to be politically active, like the Suffragettes, the Temperance Movement or the Dress Reform Movements. They wanted to depict such women as ugly and too ‘masculine’ to be taken seriously, because, you know, only spinsters and old man-hating harridans want equal rights and respect.

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An Arizona Suffragette

This type of attack wasn’t limited to photographs. Postcards and cartoons were also written and illustrated to conform to this strategy. Because pretty girls don’t want to hang out with all the plain ones … plainness is catching, don’cha know?

Do you know what this says to me? That some men prefer dressing up as women to serious debates about basic human rights.

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Goblin Market: a Steampunk Feminist Discussion on Christina Rossetti

Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_Ecce_Ancilla_Domini!_-_Google_Art_Project

Christina Rossetti painted as the Virgin Mary by her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Christina Rossetti was the sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, founder and one of the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and a poet in her own right. She was also a model for several of her brother’s paintings, including being the inspiration for the Virgin Mary. The most famous of her poems is The Goblin Market; one of the best paeans to Sisterhood in my own opinion.

“For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.”

The conclusion to The Goblin Market.

Even though it is fairly obvious that this poem was aimed at adults, it has always been considered a poem for children – probably because of the fantasy element. The society of Victorian era relegated fairies and suchlike to the children’s literary genre; a perfect example of this is The Water-Babies by Charles Kingsley, intended as a tract against child labour, as well as a serious critique of the negative attitudes of many scientists of the day to new theories and innovative research. Christina Rossetti was classified as a children’s poet, even though many of her poems had serious topics, like death, animal cruelty, sin and redemption.

Christina_Rossetti_2, portrait by her brother

Christina Rossetti, portrait by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

When I am dead, my dearest

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

Though Rossetti received three proposals (that we know of), she never married; one can’t help but wonder at the strength of resolve she had in avoiding matrimony in an era where marriage was considered a woman’s only respectable career option. She was never officially recognised as a suffragette, but Rossetti was a volunteer worker from 1859 to 1870 at the St. Mary Magdalene “house of charity” in Highgate, and she opposed the use of young women as prostitutes. The underlying discourse of many of her poems are feminist in theme. She published poems in the feminist periodicals The English Woman’s Journal and Victoria Magazine and in various anthologies. Like all the women on the outskirts of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, she lived by her own rules, though Christina Rossetti was never considered a rebel. A feminist by any other name is still a feminist.

Christina_Rossetti_3.jpg
Christina Rossetti was a very staunch Catholic woman to the point she even has her own feast day in the Catholic calendar. She wrote devotional poetry, as well as her poems that she wrote with the encouragement of Dante. Her obvious religious fervour balanced against her relationship to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and – after all – Dante was her brother and the Victorians valued familial bonds, so that she considered fairly respectable all her life. Her religious views flavoured the fantasy in her poetry, as she often dwelled on sin and redemption.

Camille_Claudel

Camille Claudel

Christina Rossetti was considered the ‘successor’ to Elizabeth Barret Browning, and she is still studied as a Literary poet. However, her brother’s fame has always been greater than her own. It is the same for Camille Claude, whose great talent as a sculpture was overshadowed by her brother’s reputation as a poet. Dorothy Wordsworth didn’t even try to compete with her brother William, though he read her journal for inspiration. In the Victorian era, a female artist was always considered a secondary talent. Even the poet Shelly was rather scornful of Mary Shelley’s writing efforts, though he loved his wife dearly. Christina should not be dismissed as a minor Victorian poet; if Christina had been a Christian, would the poetry still be considered more suitable for children?
Christina Rossetti herself was of two minds about her poetry. At different times she claimed it was written specifically for children, and at other times she considered it unsuitable for children to read. I think her audience read into her poetry what they want to see, which is the real quality that delineates a true poetic vision. I’m gratified to see that her vision still has relevance in the 21st century.

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Do Genre Restraints Create Ageism?

 

Wouldn’t it be nice to visit with Buffy now that she is middle aged?

Being a middle-aged woman who has been a fangirl most of her life, I find there is a dearth of middle-aged women characters in popular culture (unless you count all the evil stepmothers in fairy tales). And yet, with middle-aged women being one of the largest consumers and creators of pop culture and anything in the fantasy/science fiction genre, you would expect plenty of representation. I can only think of one or two really memorable middle-aged character; most female protagonists are usually very young or very old females.

My favourite is the menopausal witch, Jenny Waynest, in the Winterlands novels by Barbara Hambly.

This image is from the cover of Dragonsbane. That is meant to be Jenny being cradled in the talons of the dragon. As you can see, that damsel is a rather attractive young woman with a strategically torn dress. Jenny is meant to be short, mousy, and not fashion model pretty.

A quick search of the usual fan art sites on the internet comes up with just a few images of Jenny – with only one showing Jenny as a human. Most show her in her dragon form. If I turned up dressed as (the human) Jenny to a cosplay event, I doubt anyone would get my character right. Most would think I was Nanny Ogg or Professor McGonagall, who are considered elderly rather than middle aged (though McGonagall was only middle-aged in the books).

Lady Sybil with her husband Sir Samuel Vimes, the Duke of Ankh Morpork

Even Terry Pratchett has only a few middle-aged female characters, like Lady Sybil Vimes and Lady Margolotta (though, as a vampire, does Margolotta Amaya Katerina Assumpta Crassina Von Uberwald really count?). They are only secondary characters, though Sibyl does manage to play a major role in several Discworld novels. Middle-aged women are nearly invisible in Discworld, think Doreen Winkings (vampire by marriage), Mrs Evadne Cake, and the series of humorous landladies that pop up in the books. It must be noted that in all the Tiffany Aching books, we never learn what her mother’s Christian name might be, though we know her father’s name is Joe and her grandmother was Sarah.

(By the way Disney, you couldn’t do better than to convert Tiffany’s books into animated movies. The story for ‘Wintersmith’ will make everyone forget Frozen.)

 

Thanks to Doctor Who being such a long running show, we have had the opportunity to see characters age, including everyone’s favourite companion, Sarah Jane Smith. Sarah Jane managed to remain feisty, opinionated,and strong willed to the very end; it is a damned shame Elisabeth Sladen died so young and will never get to see an elderly old lady with grit and wisdom. And River Song has to be considered middle aged, even though she isn’t exactly human, as she is played by Alex Kingston who is 53 (same age as me).

Of course, genre has a major impact on the ages of your main characters. In Young Adult fiction, the protagonists are going to be teens or a little older (or at least look like teenagers, even if they are hundreds of years old – I’m looking at you Twilight). Older women might play secondary roles, but they are never going to be the protagonists. However, why does nearly every other television show, movie or dystopian novel assume only young people can be protagonists? Where are the middle-aged female superheroes suffering from menopause and finding it difficult to fit into the same clothes they were wearing in their twenties? Do the genre markers for our various narratives actually encourage ageism?

Captain Janeway – she never seems to garner the same enthusiasm in fans as Kirk, Picard, Sisko or Archer. (Except in slash fiction.)

Genre fiction is supposed to be able to take risks and envision strange, new worlds. So why are middle-aged women so under-represented? If you can think of a middle-aged lady protagonist in any Steampunk narratives (not a secondary character or antagonist) that will rock the world like Buffy, please feel free to let me know!

 

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Filed under Ageism, Characterization, Feminism, Gender and Sexuality, Genre, Genre Markers, Pop Culture, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Writer, Subgenres of Steampunk, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Style