Thursday, August 26, 2010

Links for a Thursday Morning

--Nic Clarke engages at length with Joanna Russ's The Female Man and Vandana Singh's novellas, Distances and Of Love and Other Monsters. (In case you missed her earlier posts on Russ's work, last spring she engaged with Russ's The Adventures of Alyx and Extraordinary People and last winterwith Russ's We Who Are About To....)

--Kelly Jennings reviews Eleanor Arnason's Mammoths of the Great Plains and Tomb of the Fathers for Strange Horizons.

--Aliette de Bodard's essay The View from the Other Side, a discussion of non-Anglophone sf-- has been posted at Asimov's SF (though minus its endnotes).

-- I may be the last person alive to have heard about this, so it will probably be old news to everyone reading, but DC comics have not only given Wonder Woman a costume makeover, but also eliminated her Amazon history and replaced it with a trauma-driven, rootless history. Here's a snippet of Shelby Knox's take on it , in a post titled "Wonder Woman in Pants Is Not A Feminist Win" (link thanks to Suzy at Echidne of the Snakes):
Here we go again, it seems. Wonder Woman donning what looks like skinny jeans is being spun as a direct result of the successes of the Women’s Liberation movement, a reaction to requests that female superheroes do a little less baring of buns and a lot more kicking them. Yet in stripping Diana of her overt sexuality the new writers have missed the reason Wonder Woman was a feminist heroine in the first place. As originally portrayed, Diana Prince was sexy not because of her bare legs and cleavage but because her personhood wasn’t defined by them and her powers not derived from fashioning herself for the male gaze. She could work a 9 to 5 job, hold down a relationship, subvert international conspiracies and toss the villains in jail, and perhaps, as the first cover of Ms. magazine suggested in 1972, even be president—and the way she looked was, as it should be, simply an aside.

While it’s yet to be seen whether this costume change signals an intent to again strip Wonder Woman of her super powers, it’s disconcerting to learn that the writers are creating a new back story for the character that deprives her of her upbringing on Paradise Island with her mother, Queen Hippolyta, and her Amazon sisters in favor of being smuggled out of her homeland as a baby as it was destroyed. Wonder Woman’s original feminist creator’s intent in giving Diana the Paradise Island upbringing was to insinuate she knew gender equality existed because she’d lived it and that her powers were derived from living with and learning from her sisters. In effect, all women could become “Wonder Woman” if they tapped into the feminine power around them and strived for a gender just world that, we know from real live history, really did and can exist. Is this rewrite an attempt to impose the myth of “post-patriarchy” on the character, in which she no longer needs to dream of and fight for equality because she’s achieved it?
Real heroes, I guess, invent themselves out of nothing.


Josh said...

Timmi, I don't know whether I'd given an attentive read to your own review of We Who Are About To . . . , which Nic links to, before. I have a vague memory of having misread a line in your third paragraph and wondering why you would have "burped with its anger"; but I don't know if I read past that.

Wonderful as your "invent themselves out of nothing" tag line is, this Shelby's piece on WW strikes me (and some of its commentators) as kind of mistaken.

1) The Gloria Steinem story is, I think, a myth that DC came up with to justify returning to the status quo ante. You should ask Chip Delany, who was scripting Wonder Woman at the time, what the real story is.

2) Taking Wonder Woman out of the swimsuit might indeed be a response to the past few years of feminist griping about the standard of showing female superheroes (and villains) with nearly nothing on. Take a look at this informative conversation tracing the history of Wonder Woman costumes--note especially the last two pictures before the new one.

3) Wonder Woman is not going to be reinventing herself ab ovo. She seems to have some kind of support system.

Timmi Duchamp said...

I checked my website, where my essay on We Who Are About To... is posted, & confirmed that the verb I used is "burned." Since "burped" sounds like one of your usual transmutations (rather than a mis-reading), it seems likely that my mentioning my 1970s response to the book was just too boring for you to get past. Still, I've noticed that very few people know anything now about second-wave feminism (though they have tons have false impressions about it). & so I worry that soon there will be nothing left but the (false) image of crazed women dancing around a bonfire made of an enormous pile of bras.

& speaking of false images, thanks for the info about WW. I didn't (obviously) investigate Knox's charges before repeating them.

Josh said...

Timmi, honestly, when my vision is bleary enough or the cursor is sliding around my computer screen, I can read "burned" as "burped": I remembered my misreading on accounta I found it funny and still do. If you're suggesting that it was a deliberate crack along the lines of "Neil Diamond's The Stephenson Age," no, unless I'm deceiving myself in order to make a good narrative.

Looking at the piece again, I do think the first seven paragraphs tell me nothing new: but I have to admit, now that I'm dealing with middle age, that I could be saying, "I knew det" only on accounta I did read it attentively four years ago. No idea: faulty memories are no fun.

Reading your review all the way through, I find that some of the insights in your present-day read of the novel speak more to me than either Young Timmi's or Delany's. But I think some of my favorite bloggers would take issue with the idea that "consciousness of racism came crashing onto the scene" in 1979, thanks just to that "the": whose scene? Audre Lorde and Alice Walker were lecturing to big audiences as many as eight years earlier. Rich and Hacker were not unconscious in those years either. I give the white bougie feminists all the credit in the world for changing, but they shouldn't get to be the Unmarked State.

Timmi Duchamp said...

Look. The benchmark for critical race consciousness across the second-wave feminist movement was the publication of This Bridge Called my Back in 1981-- & before that the Combahee River Collective's Statement, which was written in 1976 but, this being before the Internet, took a few years to be disseminated. That's what marked the beginning of widespread change in feminism. That was the moment in which race consciousness achieved a critical mass.

Consider the parallel situation of race consciousness in sf. Yes, certain individuals have been talking about race in sf for years. But lately there's been a shift. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but I'd like to think that with race-fail the genre reached a point of critical mass. Because critical mass matters.

"But I think some of my favorite bloggers would take issue with the idea that "consciousness of racism came crashing onto the scene" in 1979, thanks just to that "the": whose scene?"

I'm unclear about what you mean here. Do you mean that the real scene was the one that could be found in east coast cities & the Bay Area? Or are you suggesting that I'm taking my own backwater, unsophisticated experience of second-wave feminism as unmarked? I'd be surprised if that's what I do in my essay. (Haven't read it since I wrote it, so I can't say for certain.) Yes, black feminists talked about racism before This Bridge was published, & yes, white feminists talked about race before then (mostly clumsily & nonconstructively), but the difference really came when theorizations & discussions of intersectionality began appearing in the journals (which the CRS did a lot to inspire).

As far as choosing 1979 (instead of 1976 or even 1971): until the advent of the internet, uneven intellectual development, depending on one's location both institutionally & geographically, has been the rule rather than the exception. Histories of second-wave feminism, of course, are always about people living on the east coast or in the Bay Area. & I'm fine with that. But I don't appreciate the assumption that you can make generalizations about the generality of feminists active at the time from that small, albeit well-represented group-- unless, of course, one believes that they were "the" feminist movement, & the rest of us, in the hinterlands (who depended on books & journals & the occasional passing author giving a reading, for theory we didn't make up for ourselves), were mere shadows of the real thing. It's kind of a vanguard vs. rank-&-file issue with me.

In any case, most of my sense of what was going on in the larger feminist world (distinct from the local activist scene) came from feminist journals & feminist novels, especially feminist sf novels (which, like the journals, made me believe that something like a feminist community actually existed, my often discouraging activist experience notwithstanding). Take for example one of those journals, Signs, that started in the mid-70s. A quick glance at the index for the first ten years shows under the heading "Racism" an article on racism in Nazi Germany, another piece on women and the Holocaust, an article on "science politics, and race," and an article on "Black Women, Racism, and Sexism." That's the coverage racism got in the first ten years (i.e., 40 issues).

Nancy Jane Moore said...

Timmi, I think you're right about the recent shift in race consciousness in SF. That's an interesting subject in and of itself. (I will leave the rest of the discussion to you and Josh, being tired and pulled in way too many directions to add anything of value.)

Josh said...

Timmi, Feminist Studies is a lot better: IIRC, articles that address race in the U.S. start appearing in 1980 or '79 and, by 1983, intersectionality is a significant issue. Its first six years are pretty sad, however: WOC seem only to exist in other countries, and "Southern Women" are all the same color.

What am I saying about the review? I'm saying that if I'd been Hartwell, I'd've asked for an adjective in front of "scene," in front of "feminist," or maybe even a prepositional phrase somewhere in that sentence. At that point in the essay, I don't know whether you're talking about a mass movement, a political position, or the mindset of authors and activists from metropolitan elites (obviously you were talking about a mass movement earlier in the essay, but once you bring up battles over essentialism, you might be talking about something else): you accurately infer that I was thinking of the last.

I'm basically grateful for your elaboration I've provoked (and not only 'cause there's nothing like Duchampian prose): maybe I'll show it to our friend who once said that feminism had made all the progress it was gonna by 1971 and the Seventies were basically an era when it became regressive and reactionary (which always makes me ask, "Where? Ithaca?"). Although I think I may have already changed his mind on the subject.