Logo by Andrew O. Ellis
I spent 12th-14th August at Nine Worlds geekfest. Mostly, it was a delight, although I did witness a couple of things that alarmed me a little, which I will explore further below.
On Friday I was on a panel on New Who, which was a lot of fun. There were some great other panelists who were very knowledgeable and funny, and we discussed canon, Doctor Who across media (audio, novels, comics as well as TV), expressed a lot of love for the Eighth Doctor, and took a vote on whether the War Doctor counts as an incarnation of the Doctor. I am particularly grateful that nobody objected to me being accompanied by my 7 year old Iron Man:
and, as someone pointed out, childcare is an equalities issue. Lack of adequate childcare does prevent parents from fully participate in cons. There is no creche at this con (and in fact I’ve only been to one where one was offered) and even though I had friends there, my stepson has additional needs, including ASD, and I wouldn’t have felt comfortable leaving him with anyone who didn’t know him very well.
On Sunday morning I delivered my paper ‘Daemons and pets as signifiers of social class in Harry Potter and His Dark Materials’ on the academia and humanities track. The room was full- in fact sadly some people were turned away- and my stepson sat in the audience, which meant that my partner Steve was able to stay and listen. It was great also that friends came along to support. My co-panellist Meg Macdonald from Anglia Ruskin gave a fascinating paper about imprisoned gods in fantasy novels, including a very detailed (and complicated!) family tree for the gods in NK Jemesin’s Inheritance Trilogy. We both had some fascinating and thought provoking questions and comments, which were much appreciated.
Steve took a very tired boy home after my panel, which enabled me to attend one on YA novels (sadly with no young readers on it, but perhaps that’s an aim for another time) where there was spirited defence of novels that have been considered ‘trash’ over the years, and people’s right to read Flowers in the Attic, Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey if they so wish. Notably, of course, these are books marketed to and popular with teenage girls and young women, the most scrutinised and patronised group in contemporary society, in my opinion.
In the afternoon I was on another panel in a larger room, which was full. It wasn’t until later that I realised that it was an all-woman panel on Marvel and DC, which was not specifically about women in those universes. It was delightful, and I am also delighted that it appeared that there was a good variety of questioners: female presenting, male presenting and those who do not define themselves by binary gender. We had great questions and comments, and very little ‘whataboutery’, even when the panel all roundly criticised the portrayal of Harley Quinn in her tiny red pants as the crazy sexy girl- which is a very tired trope and also a dangerous one, when one considers the high risk that mentally ill women face of sexual assault. All in all it was a lovely event, particularly when many people supported my call for an Unbeatable Squirrel Girl film, which I have decided that I would like to be animated.
Two incidents disappointed me this weekend, and they were both linked to social class. I witnessed two occasions where staff at the hotel were spoken to disrespectfully; one in the bar, and one in the left luggage room. This is not the fault of the organisers, who made an explicit point in the con guide (though I can’t find it online) that hotel staff deserve to be treated with respect. The venue was great in terms of location, layout and facilities (though I should note that I have no mobility issues or sensory processing difficulties; however my stepson spent most of the weekend with headphones on) and it though it was expensive and at times there was a long wait for food and drinks, it was also very close to central Hammersmith where there are supermarkets, restaurants, coffee shops and pubs. And as all of us who have worked in hospitality can attest, at no time has management ever thought “a member of my staff has been shouted at; by golly I’d better immediately change my pricing and staffing!”. Yelling at minimum wage staff because you didn’t immediately get your needs met, then attending a panel on diversity/ immigration/ feminism in geek culture makes you an entitled, obtuse prick. Social justice is nothing if it is not inclusive.