Sunday, September 27, 2015

Review: Civilization and Its Discontents

Civilization and Its Discontents Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a fascinating read, even though I disagreed with some of his ideas. He did an excellent job of explaining how romantic/sexual love, aggression, and the desire for community motivate people. Also, he addressed some of the potential flaws of Marxist theory, which is that human beings by instinct want to own their own property and strive for success. I am surprised that he did not address another major element of human nature, though, which is the desire for humans to feel that they are a part of something greater than themselves. I am not an Atheist, and Freud was, so perhaps we look at this element of human nature differently. However, as much as he contributed to the fields of psychiatry and psychology, I'm surprised that he did not address this. He discussed our desire for connection with others, but what about with the rest of the universe? I found that I was left with a lot of questions after reading this book, which in some ways is good because it made me think. I was also interested to read his history: He had to leave Vienna during his elderly years to escape the Nazi occupation (he was Jewish by heritage), and he escaped to Paris and London to do his later work.
In 1908, Freud wrote an essay about creative writers and daydreaming. I really want to read this essay. As a kid in school, the only things I ever got in trouble for were: 1. being late to class (rarely) and 2. daydreaming (frequently, at least in elementary school; I learned to be more subtle about it in middle and high school). This is a side of his work that I definitely want to explore, as he seemed interested in the creative person's psyche.

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Review: Out of Darkness

Out of Darkness Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope PĂ©rez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved this book! I am writing a more detailed review for the Fall 2015 edition of JoLLE (Journal of Language and Literacy Education), so please check it out! This book is beautifully written and haunting. Once I got to know all of the characters, I couldn't put it down. Be warned that it is very dark, but it is also an important read. Please share it with your high school students, especially your female high school students! Also, the end of the novel is a testament to the power of writing and its ability to give marginalized people a voice. A worthwhile read!

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Confessions of a Fan Girl: Dragoncon and Beyond

On Monday evening, as I drove home to Athens wearing my Captain Janeway Star Trek t-shirt, I felt a little nostalgic about leaving Dragoncon. I had been able to have in-depth conversations with friends I hadn't seen in a long time, go to amazing panels with inspirational authors, and walk around in superhero costumes. Where else would I get to do that? I got out of my car and thought to myself, people here are going to look at me like I'm a weirdo, which I kind of am, for wearing this t-shirt. But who cares? If there's anything I got out of Dragoncon this year, it's that if we as women are going to feel more welcome in fandom communities, we need to embrace our fangirl identities and wear them proudly.

So I walked into Zaxby's to get myself a blue salad. The cashier looked about ten to fifteen years younger than me (as do many people in Athens, Georgia), and the first words out of my mouth were "I like your t-shirt!" I smiled and was excited. People say that Generation Z is going to be an activist generation, more so than Generations X or Y. This kid looked like he was around Generation Y age (mid high school), so I hope his age group better embraces female fans. A friend of mine posted on Facebook that she wore a Star Wars t-shirt on her way home, and some jerk at Chick-Fil-A asked her, "do you even LIKE Star Wars?" Really? Maybe I have it better than most because I live in a college town that's more liberal than most southern cities, or maybe there's a generation gap here. But if anything, stories such as this one, and the ones that Naomi Novik told at the Fangirl panel, encourage me to wear my nerd culture costumes and t-shirts proudly.

The Costume Dilemma  
Unfortunately, females sometimes still face harassment in fan settings, both online and in person.  At Dragoncon, I wore this Wonder Woman costume, which is the same one I wore last year:

I didn't think it was nearly as suggestive as some costumes that I see at Dragoncon. However, I got a few comments from men that walked the line between flattering and objectifying. Honestly, that was discouraging to me, seeing as Dragoncon is supposed to be a place that embraces people for who they are--and most of the time, it is. I went to a couple of panels that addressed the idea that cosplay should not be an invitation for harassment, so I'm glad it is being addressed.

On the other side of the coin, a Wonder Woman was walking in front of me who was 5 foot 8 and around a size four. She and I were chatting as I walked behind her to the escalator. One man who we walked by said to her, "not everyone pulls off that costume as well as you do." I wasn't sure if that comment was aimed directly at me…I prefer to assume good will and hope it wasn't…but it still pissed me off. I liked her response, though, which was "I think anyone who wants to wear it should." That shut him up fast. It's just interesting that no one makes such comments about the costumes that men choose to wear.

A friend of mine once said, "I think men are afraid to show their bodies and females are expected to," which makes the costuming situation ever so complicated for women. It's even trickier for women like me who, as Mindy from The Mindy Project would say, vacillate between curvy and chubby. We often can't wear the plus size costumes, but we can't wear the super short women's SUPPOSEDLY size medium (not really) costumes either, since Amazon sometimes does not offer some costumes in a women's size large or extra large, only extra small, small, or medium. Sheesh. Maybe I'll just say screw it and dress like a witch for Halloween this year. Or I'll be Willow Rosenberg again; I didn't get any comments for this costume:

So, there we go, I'll be evil Willow and wear my red wig with my black witch's costume dress. That's a happy medium between a costume that people might harass me in and one like my t-shirt and jeans costume above, which pretty much hid the fact that I'm a woman.

The Positive Side 
Okay, all ranting aside, I saw some huge steps forward taken at Dragoncon this year. The Comics and Popular Arts Conference at Dragoncon, along with the Comics track, did a wonderful job of presenting panels that encourage us to think more deeply about comics and popular culture. John Lewis and Andrew Aydin's panel on March I and March II was so moving it brought me to tears. I now want to read March II, which has been sitting on my shelf for months. I was just amazed at John Lewis's lived experience and at how beautifully he, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell can bring them together in a graphic novel format. It's a testament to the power of comics. Many of the other panels within these tracks made me think about how we can better analyze superhero comics. Also, through the comics and Young Adult Literature tracks, I met the amazing Gwenda Bond, who wrote Fallout, a novel about Lois Lane as a teenager. I am so excited to read it, as it shows Lois as a more empowered female character.

Naomi Novik also did an amazing panel about being a fangirl, in which she talked about how to build fan communities both online and offline. I too miss the days of Livejournal, but her panel encouraged me to get a Tumblr account to help give me exposure as a writer. Also, I need to look for more online communities related to my Whedon and comics loves. I am lucky enough to be in a graduate school community that encourages my passions, where colleagues ask me to come to their classes to discuss comics and graphic novels, and where my professors encourage me to write articles and book chapters about fantasy, comics, and graphic novels. But there are only so many people here who have these specific interests, so I need to continue to cast my net. The Whedon track's panel on Warrior Women gave me some great ideas for a book chapter I am working on, and there were clearly many empowered women in the room, which was encouraging.

So, What Next? 
Clearly, Naomi Novik is not only an amazing fantasy writer, but also an advocate for fangirls. I want to be one too, both as a scholar and on a personal level. My mom is an academic too, only she studies 19th century women's literature. I hope I'm not putting words in my mom's mouth here, but I think it makes her proud that I write academic articles about genres that have been traditionally dominated by men. Women like my mom, and some in my department, paved the way for my female graduate school colleagues and me to BE academics, and for that I am grateful. In my Qualitative Methods class last night, my professor pointed out that in a class of about 25-26 people, we only have five men total, and only three of them are white men. Yes, education and humanities Ph.D. seminars are more female dominated than some, but I still thought that statistic was encouraging.

So yes, I'm going to be a female academic and a female fangirl, and a proud one at that. I hope to one day be a published writer of creative writing in addition to academic writing, but I think that might be a journey I am meant to go down later in my life. I'm okay with that. Regardless of where my writing career takes me, I want to pave the way for the Generation Z women who come behind me. Hopefully, when they go into comic shops, the store owner won't assume that they are buying comics for their boyfriends. And hopefully, they will also buy comics and graphic novels that remind them of important social justice issues, and they will listen to John Lewis's call to us all to make necessary trouble. For me, and maybe for some of them too, the pen will be mightier than the sword.