Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Genre Accessibility For Young Women

I'm not a fan of Justin Beiber. His style of cotton candy music isn't my thing, and he's had a few things to say about rape and abortion that I don't agree with, along with working with the creeptastic photographer Terry Richardson (not a person I'd like to see role modeled towards young women). Perhaps if I was younger I might like him. I was a teenager through the days of New Kids on the Block and Bros, I remember what it was like needing an outlet for suppressed energies.

So what does Justin Bieber have to do with speculative fiction? Currently the industry, fans and contributors alike, are going a little potty over Bieber appropriating steampunk for his latest video, a cover of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town". The master of culturally sanctioned nice white boy pop (read: white washed), Bieber dances with a clockwork doll, interacts with backup dances sporting cyborg-style limbs, and romps through a Victoriana toy factory, all the while wearing a vest covered in clockwork jewellery.

Apparently Bieber appropriating steampunk motifs means steampunk is now far too mainstream for genre aficionados, that its Cool Quotient has disappeared and we can now expect the imminent death of the genre. Why? Because it's fallen into the hands of the kids, who don't appreciate or understand its unique history and foibles, and it takes money away from the real creators of the genre. Damn kids, get off my velocipede!

To take it further, Bieber is a pop culture icon to young women, and anything girls, young women and the genderqueer like immediately comes in for derision, immediately considered less worthy, because they're emotional, silly, hysterical. And as emotions are bad, they must be invalidated at all costs in a rational world, and in the supposed liberated world of speculative fiction.

Sound familiar? I'm not a fan of Twilight, but I would far prefer young women read the books or saw the movies, then engaged in a dialogue about its problematic aspects and further reading within the genre. As it is, the overwhelming derision has relegated constructive criticism of the series to feminist literature and pop culture communities, which are not always accessible to young women since feminist can be such a dirty word. Double trouble, it seems.

Even in speculative fiction there's still the ridiculous notion of a gender divide: fantasy, with its elves and princesses and pretty clothes and made up worlds and romance, is for girls; science fiction, with its maths and adventure and heroes and rockets, is for boys. What a load of gender essentialist bollocks. Where does social justice/sociological science fiction fit in? Ah, then we're getting into the divide again: sociological SF has been dubbed "soft" SF, that is by and for women; adventure, far future and space based science fiction has been dubbed "hard" SF, that's the mens club.

By invalidating a young woman's experience with speculative fiction - like ridiculing Bieber's video, the Twilight series, and fan fiction culture; women are only allowed "sexy" cosplay; gendering gaming and comics - society is telling young women that certain sectors of popular culture, like speculative fiction, are not allowed to be available to them. If they are, they are silly, meaningless, not real, not contributing to culture or literature in any meaningful way. Hello Joanna Russ, by gum we still need you to talk to another generation of women!

Never mind that if youth and young women like what they see in Bieber or Meyer or Paranormal Romance or Insert Previously Ridiculed Girl Genre Things they'll seek out other forms and writers of the genre. Genre and popularity are not static. There's a flow on and learning effect here. It's called a Personal Media History (wow, I'm actually using theory I learned at university! Hold me back!), and each media choice influences the next as you get older.

If we are denying young women and others (the queer too) an introduction or access to speculative fiction at a most basic mainstream level we are denying their first engagement with a culture they may find a connection with. Not all kids have the money, bravado, or social connections to access indie or subversive movements (why, hello my youth). Consumers and readers are the future creators. It's tough enough for women to make headway in speculative fiction as it is, we don't need to be putting such basic barriers in their way by gendering and devaluing their media choices.

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