Women geeking out about geeky women
September 3, 2015 5:01 AM   Subscribe

Reclaiming the Nerdiverse [NSFW audio] is a fascinating hour-long discussion about women in science fiction and fantasy on the late night edition of the venerable BBC radio show Woman's Hour (podcast link). The host is Lauren Laverne, and her guests are author and game designer Naomi Alderman, journalist Helen Lewis, sociologist Linda Woodhead, fantasy novelist Zen Cho, and cosplayer and writer Lucy Saxon. The discussion takes in everything from 70s feminist writers to alpha/beta/omega slash fiction to cosplay etiquette to geek sexism. The Late Night Woman's Hour has been the topic of some discussion in Britain.
posted by Kattullus (33 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
fantasy novelist Zen Cho

Who's just had a novel published, by the way.
posted by sukeban at 5:07 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, adding this to my listening rotation!
posted by Kitteh at 5:10 AM on September 3, 2015


"...That said, I’m not trying to stitch listeners’ eyebrows to their hairlines. Mine have only just come back down after we talked about self-lubricating alien anuses on the first episode.”
posted by jim in austin at 5:17 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Lauren Laverne for PM.

SYLT
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:40 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Woman's Hour celebrates its 70th anniversary on the air next year, and has always (well, certainly during my lifetime) been unafraid of talking frankly about taboo subjects - even though its normal slot is mid-morning on Radio 4, the absolute epitome of the middle-class heart of the BBC. You have an equal chance of hearing a segment about making scones as a no-holds-barred interview with a victim of female genital mutilation.

Even so, hearing the words "self-lubing anus" floating across the air in a discussion that had already covered the origins of slashfic was quite a surprise.

A friend and I had already discussed, only half-seriously, the possibility of an "Adult Radio 4" where swearing and kink were encouraged. The BBC has a complex and rather silly internal standards system called 'compliance', where every programme has to have any potential controversial areas described and sent off to be approved (this was a shameful result of the coverage of the Iraq war dossier, where the BBC was roundly punished for being right). For example, I understand that there are quotas - you may want to use the N-word in a programme on a channel, and you can if it's in context and appropriate, unless that channel has already used up its quota for that day. In which case, you will be told so by compliance and asked to fix it.

The chances of Adult Radio 4 getting past that were slim, we concluded. However, It sounds like comeone inside the BBC has decided to push at those particular boundaries. if it was going to be anyone, it was going to be Woman's Hour, which is the fearless, no-nonsense aunt of the air.
posted by Devonian at 5:57 AM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Thank you for the reminder - I have some of Zen's fiction and her book on order, and on a whim from this post went to Audible and yes, the audiobook was recently added.

I listened to that podcast on the bus home last week without realising it was Zen and the subject being discussed, and had to gnaw on my knuckles to stop from laughing and laughing with joy. Sometimes Women's Hour is just gloomy and serious, but this episode was so much fun.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:12 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


(literally so weird to have real life friends featured on mefi. XD and this isn't the first time! ^0^)
posted by cendawanita at 6:45 AM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I like the fact that the show goes out at a time when all the well behaved and proper audience of the station are presumed sufficiently fast asleep that other people can venture onto the airways. Not just to say, gasp, "fuck" (an hour into a conversation about dating on Tinder), but to dig into a subject in depth without having to cut to The Archers or The Shipping Forecast.
posted by rongorongo at 7:04 AM on September 3, 2015


"...without having to cut to The Archers or The Shipping Forecast."
I am intensely jealous of the shipping forecast on the radio in the UK. Our lives should all have more barely comprehensible jargon from crossed wires that means a hell of a lot to somebody as a reminder of the infinite unexamined complexity of the human endeavor.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:17 AM on September 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


I am intensely jealous of the shipping forecast on the radio in the UK. Our lives should all have more barely comprehensible jargon from crossed wires that means a hell of a lot to somebody as a reminder of the infinite unexamined complexity of the human endeavor.

I listen every night to the shipping forecast before I go to bed. I make a cup of tea, listen live via Radio 4 (I often tune into the Book of the Week right before), and close my eyes as the litany of names washes over me. I have a pretty big obsession with it. My husband made me a beautiful print of all the locations for my birthday last year in a gorgeous font. It is framed and lives in my house. I have a shipping forecast t-shirt. I am trying to design a tattoo for my right arm themed around it (artists, hit me up! I will pay you because I cannot draw for shit). I grew up by a different kind of sea as a child--the Gulf coast--but I remain drawn to water. I live on the shore of Lake Ontario right now, but I dream of retreating to a seaside cottage to live out the rest of my days.
posted by Kitteh at 7:34 AM on September 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


Based on the fanfic-related content of the linked show, I thought "The Shipping Forecast" was about letting the audience know if Dean x Castiel or Rorie x The Doctor were on the rise for the next week.
posted by demiurge at 7:36 AM on September 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


Ok. I admit that this very particular panel would probably be full of people whe were awed to have their contribution followed by The Shipping Forecast. They would probably even be able to tell you exactly what the Shipping Forecast means when it says "rising more slowly".
posted by rongorongo at 7:40 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


From the Guardian article about the new Woman's Hour:

It would be enough to make regular listeners – and daytime host Jenni Murray – choke on their breakfast tea.

I'm not sure I'd be too quick to jump to conclusions about the sensibilities of the daytime presenters after I heard the very politely spoken Jane Garvey, also of Woman's Hour, saying some quite frankly eye-watering things on The Allusionist Podcast.
posted by Dext at 7:46 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


What "Rising slowly" means.
posted by emilyw at 8:00 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Based on the fanfic-related content of the linked show, I thought "The Shipping Forecast" was about letting the audience know if Dean x Castiel or Rorie x The Doctor were on the rise for the next week.
posted by demiurge at 7:36 on September 3


This sounds like a great idea for a podcast
posted by Erberus at 8:11 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


There is an apocryphal tale of a presenter reading out the Shipping Forecast while being given a blow-job beneath the desk, another of a presenter being found in a studio (not on-air at the time) getting serviced by an engineer while shouting "Fuck me! Fuck me! Fuck me 'till I fart!". And of another very-staid-on-air presenter decorating her flat with pictures of herself in various Playboy poses.

Do not underestimate the erotic potential of working at the BBC.
posted by Devonian at 9:38 AM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Fantastic, super interesting! Thanks for posting.
posted by Drexen at 9:54 AM on September 3, 2015


Great podcast! I've always wondered why most fanfiction is written and consumed by women, and this makes a lot of sense to me:

"Men tend to get what they need and are looking out of the original canon. A lot of things are made towards the male gaze and a male audience, so the women are the ones who are left wanting something that they actually are interested in and wanting things to go their way a little bit."

Maybe this is also why it warmed my heart to see Ben Wyatt from Parks & Rec read his Picard/Data slash fic -- he's so cute when he's challenging stereotypes.
posted by CmdrR at 9:56 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


" I've always wondered why most fanfiction is written and consumed by women"

Is it?
posted by I-baLL at 10:29 AM on September 3, 2015


By and large, fandom tends to be woman-dominated until money comes into it. FandomWank, which was a sort of meta-fandom for fandoms, was so woman dominated that we could literally count our men on a list (and, in fact, did so - I wrote it and included myself on it for humor value) despite being enormous. In a weird reflections of gender biases elsewhere, men were more represented in the moderator pool than their slight numbers would suggest, though. I think it was 2/6-7 who were men at the height of FandomWank's influence.

Every time I've stepped into fanfic, speculation, discussion, etc... of fandom things it's been dominated by women - even when it doesn't center women (certain fandoms are notoriously misogynistic despite being dominated by women - Gundam Wing, for example, was horrifically misogynistic and the misogyny was largely woman-driven. Near as I can tell, Supernatural Fandom is replicating that to a T).
posted by Deoridhe at 10:36 AM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh, man, FandomWank is such a great name! Anyways, thanks for the info
posted by I-baLL at 11:48 AM on September 3, 2015


Our lives should all have more barely comprehensible jargon from crossed wires that means a hell of a lot to somebody as a reminder of the infinite unexamined complexity of the human endeavor.

There's also the football results on a Saturday afternoon (or at least always was while I was waiting impatiently for Dr Who to start) - the results of each match in England and Scotland read out in strict order, the reader adopting a carefully modulated tone, varied enough that it not be a monotone, but disinterested-sounding enough that they might not be accused of bias. The teams themselves often have - or had - beautiful names, the most poetic of which was, of course, Queen of the South.

I have no interest in football, but find the football results wonderfully calming and Heinz-Tomato-Soup-y. I still hold out hope that Tom Baker will be along in a minute to save the universe again, but to little avail.

The fact that it's the most uneventful-seeming abstract poem on the airwaves disguised the fact that it was tied into the football pools, and so possibly a viewer somewhere was about to receive the largest sudden windfall possible in British working class culture before the coming of the National Lottery.

One should always be calm around life and death.
posted by Grangousier at 12:48 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Deoridhe: (certain fandoms are notoriously misogynistic despite being dominated by women - Gundam Wing, for example, was horrifically misogynistic and the misogyny was largely woman-driven. Near as I can tell, Supernatural Fandom is replicating that to a T).

That's interesting, because if I remember correctly from the program, alpha/beta/omega started in Supernatural Fandom. Is that linked, or is it just a coincidence?
posted by Kattullus at 2:33 PM on September 3, 2015


FWIW the A/B/O thing reminds me a lot of the yaoi manga "Sex Pistols" by Tarako Kotobuki, mpreg and all, and the manga began in 2004.
...It's one of those yaoi manga with a plot that boils down to "rape the girly guy until Stockholm syndrome kicks in", so I'm not particularly recommending it.

For the puzzled, here's the FFA writeup on the genre (NSFW text and anatomical-ish image)
posted by sukeban at 3:09 PM on September 3, 2015


That's interesting, because if I remember correctly from the program, alpha/beta/omega started in Supernatural Fandom. Is that linked, or is it just a coincidence?

Are you talking about the ranking system for social groups? Because that started in animal psychology with wolves in packs formed by unrelated members (it turns out in nature we have another word for these kinds of packs - families).

The misogyny doesn't play itself out against the men, though - it plays itself out in how the fandom (#notallfans) regards the women. Misogyny inside of the product itself (most women on Supernatural are fridged, I believe) I would consider different - Gundam Wing was very egalitarian, for example, but the female fans tended to loathe the female characters and portray them as brainless, screeching, homophobic harpies who in the most extreme are stalkers and/or rapists. It's a form of misogyny that seems to play out in situations where young women are writing fictional male/male relationships and it is usually accompanied by some pretty pernicious homophobic tropes and a real marginalization of actual gay men in favor of fictional creations/projections. The dynamics can get seriously messy and muddled, and if you add in racism, ableism, and the rest it can become terrifyingly cruel and a real example of the damage women do to other women (and some men).

Sometimes I think about sitting down and trying to tease out different aspects of it - Hannibal fandom, for example, in contrast to Supernatural fandom would be fascinating - but it would be a major undertaking.
posted by Deoridhe at 4:21 PM on September 3, 2015


MeFi just got a via mention from io9 for this one.
posted by snap, crackle and pop at 5:16 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Are you talking about the ranking system for social groups? Because that started in animal psychology with wolves in packs formed by unrelated members (it turns out in nature we have another word for these kinds of packs - families).

I would have assumed this was referring to the fandom AU genre kink thing which does really, really weird things with sex and gender and, uh, pregnancy compatibility.

I have really mixed feelings about A/B/O as a genre trope--on the one hand, a lot of the fic I've seen has had the effect of really imposing very cis/hetero dynamics on slash and really pushing the "girlifying one partner" dynamic to the logical (and for me, uncomfortable) extreme. On the other hand, some authors have taken the trope--which has now invaded most megafandoms and become established in many others, like Sentinel AUs or coffee shop AUs--and spent a lot of time playing with what queering it could mean. And those tend to be pretty interesting stories in terms of gender dynamics, for me. I tend to think of it as having really uncomfortable origins, tbh, and I wouldn't be particularly surprised to find really misogynistic origins in the early fic underlying it. But I haven't read those early stories myself at all, so take all that with a heavy grain of salt.
posted by sciatrix at 6:51 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Deoridhe, there's an interesting argument to be made there about the historical relationship between media representation of women and misogyny in fic-centered fandom. Slash and yaoi both became widespread phenomena in the era of second-wave feminism and gay liberation ('60s-'70s), when women's and queer people's presence in mainstream media lagged behind activist thought and consciousness-raising. At least part of the historic appeal of slash was that male characters were people while female characters were often just accessories, so with the male characters there's more "room" for fans to build on the text. The (too often badly-written by men) female characters threaten the more substantial relationship, so there's a deep-rooted antipathy toward them in slash culture that makes much less sense now when some of the most popular shows have well-written major female characters too. There's also tension between fans who care more about their favorite pairings and fans who care more about realistic gay representation, something less possible in that earlier era. (Apologies if everybody already knows this; I do tend to go on.)

Mpreg and seme/uke have always struck me as fascinating from a gender studies perspective, since they can function as ways of subverting and reinforcing binary gender at the same time. It's interesting that these kinds of tropes have expanded into this very complex A/B/O system.
posted by thetortoise at 11:56 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


thetortoise: Mpreg and seme/uke have always struck me as fascinating from a gender studies perspective, since they can function as ways of subverting and reinforcing binary gender at the same time. It's interesting that these kinds of tropes have expanded into this very complex A/B/O system.

One of the things that had me drifting away from science fiction in my late teens/early twenties was that I found it frustrating that in otherwise radically different imagined societies, gender roles were so often retrograde. In the Woman's Hour discussion, the case for alpha/beta/omega slash fiction is basically that it allows its female writers to play around with relationship tropes without the baggage of gendered social roles. It's put in the context of Le Guin and her explorations of gender and sexual relations.

My first reaction to hearing the description of it on the program (clip doesn't include the full discussion of alpha/beta/omega) was that this sounded like a reinforcement of gendered social relationships. People who get pregnant are submissive, impregnators are dominant, neither can control their urges. So it was interesting to me to hear that the origins are in a fandom that could be misogynistic. And it's doubly interesting to hear how it's being turned into something very different from its possibly retrograde origins.
posted by Kattullus at 12:20 AM on September 4, 2015


I would have assumed this was referring to the fandom AU genre kink thing which does really, really weird things with sex and gender and, uh, pregnancy compatibility.

I.... I... well that's very new.

Mpreg and seme/uke have always struck me as fascinating from a gender studies perspective, since they can function as ways of subverting and reinforcing binary gender at the same time. It's interesting that these kinds of tropes have expanded into this very complex A/B/O system.

I have thought for a while that most of the slash/yaoi genre is about girls and women playing out and in many cases reinforcing gender norms on the bodies of men - a sort of reversed objectification (with collateral damage). There's a lot of self-hatred within a lot of girls and women, and it is inner-directed a lot of the time. For example, many Chill Girls maintain their chill via disdain of femme characteristics and it's only when they experience the fact that being "one of the boys" doesn't actually insulate them from discrimination that they seek out alternative ways of being in the world.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:25 AM on September 4, 2015


I have thought for a while that most of the slash/yaoi genre is about girls and women playing out and in many cases reinforcing gender norms on the bodies of men - a sort of reversed objectification (with collateral damage).

It's also just fun to play around in a preexisting fictional world without whatever gendered baggage you got slammed with growing up. Of course, it's not that easy to remove yourself from your cultural context, so you end up duplicating some of the same poisonous gender stereotypes. It's like how the hyper-progressive future of Star Trek still manages to reproduce colonialism. But a lot of people discover their queer selves (in gender and sexuality) through this kind of play.

I've sometimes thought about how an equivalent cultural play space for men (or people who outwardly identify as male but inwardly are more genderqueer) can be found in the explosion of moe schoolgirl series in anime, and in My Little Pony fandom. When these subjects are treated in the media, there's usually a nasty assumption that it's all about attraction to young girls, but I actually think these spaces are appealing to some men exactly because they're desexualized. When practically every character is a girl or at least girly, it becomes safer to identify with them. There's no male avatar to retreat to. That kind of fandom can be very liberating for people who feel hemmed in, at least until they have a space to be themselves in real life.

Okay, now I'm going to listen to the whole podcast for real! Really!
posted by thetortoise at 12:57 AM on September 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


Just listened to the show (er, after rambling about things amply covered in it). Thanks so much for posting, Kattullus. The speakers are such a witty, thoughtful group. I liked the bit on cosplay especially. I want more of this... I guess I can always look through the past Woman's Hour episodes.
posted by thetortoise at 3:20 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've sometimes thought about how an equivalent cultural play space for men (or people who outwardly identify as male but inwardly are more genderqueer) can be found in the explosion of moe schoolgirl series in anime, and in My Little Pony fandom.

Ooooh, that is a really interesting point. Thank you for that.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:24 PM on September 4, 2015


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