Interrupting this blog for a special bulletin — or, rather, a bit of an intellectual endeavor. I’ve been talking with Dr. Roger Whitson of Washington State University about steampunk — and he is currently working on an MLA Special Session proposal on the subject — and what came up in our discussion was the role of the social media and how it fosters and records the process of cultural change. Steampunk, which has been both upheld as a ideological movement and downplayed as an apolitical fashion trend, is only as politically substantial as people make it to be. But the use of the aethernetz, however, democratizes the power of social opinions and magnifies the power of these conversations. More importantly, however, all of these conversations create a more transparent picture of what cultural politics are actually happening on the ground, and opens up more possibilities of challenging “entrenched institutions”, as Roger explained to me, “…it is a politics that is removed from the exclusive analysis of the academic, the editor, and the expert, and placed into the hands of everyday people using social media.”
How can we gauge the political potential of our imaginations in the steampunk community?
Thus, Roger asked me to submit a brief response — at most 250 words — in reply to his questions: “What role do feminism and queer politics have in steampunk? What role should they have?” in order to assist his article on steampunk fandom and the digital archive.
And of course, being a steampunk, I rebelled, and, instead, unleashed this question to my fellow readers. To show a sampling of what political awareness the community has (and the application of that awareness to steampunk) I posted the above blog to Beyond Victoriana’s tumblr and another one to its Facebook page. After the jump, I do give my response, but it cannot be one made separate from the responses of many, many others.
Yes, feminism and queer politics do have a role and should have a role in steampunk.
Because politics are about people and who has power. And why. And how.
And steampunk is about people too—how we relate to technology, how we try to deal with shifting systems of power that our current technology has granted us. Specifically, how people can come to grips with the fear and awe of our age by referring to past patterns in history.
Steampunk is a verb and it is happening now: it is doing, engaging, living, exploring, and fashioning new ethical relationships with technology and art and ourselves.
Feminism and queerness are both part of who I am, and, although these influences are not always visible or relevant to whatever I’m doing, it is impossible to say that they are never there. Both color how I understand the world, and my place in it. It is inevitable that these politics should have a place in steampunk, because I am in steampunk too and I cannot leave parts of myself behind in every space I go to.
The role of these politics is for other people to recognize that in order for us to envision a better world, we have to be able to challenge the flaws of our current one and not repeat the ones of the past.
Facebook had a wide range of dialogue, from the politically adamant to the adamantly disengaged.
Granted, tumblr is better known for intensive discussions and the infamous SJ crowd….I’ve made a record of likes & re-blogs, since I consider them a more passive, but still significant form of interaction as well as individual responses too.
2 responses to “Politics in Steampunk – A Sampling (aka “Why it Matters”)”
I have always gotten the feeling that during the last century feminism moved from pushing for equality while respecting both masculine and feminine qualities to pushing to take over the traditional male dominant role at the cost of devaluing the feminine while belittling the masculine. As such feminism has felt increasingly irrelevant and out of touch if you are a woman who doesn’t hate men and doesn’t want to be one. Which is a shame since we need feminism. Stereotypes still persist such as in many genres a “strong” female character is often marked by a lack of or suppression of feminine characteristics. It is like the authors fear that if they write a heroine who both loves adventure and frilly dresses no one will take her seriously – no one can be both “soft” and “strong”. In most genres it seems like a woman lawyer,businessperson, soldier, scientist, engineer, etc. has to be “one of the boys” to get respect, have her intelligence valued, etc. Steampunk rejects this division, both in the literature and in the people who gather to its banner. Neither masculine or feminine is prized over the other – for instance equal praise is given to the man who sewed and the woman who welded their gear. A woman who is an engineer or pipe-fitter in real life can present as the most girly-girl at the con and no one laughs, or tells her that doesn’t suit her. No issues are taken with a man who likes frills or a woman who likes functional attire. A woman can create an adventurous persona and no one bates an eye, even if she is petite and like cute things. A man can create a persona that is in a traditionally feminine occupation/ role. A woman doesn’t have to present as a fine lady or as “masculine” to get respect. Both genders are considered intelligent. In the literature every possible character combination or role and gender identity is accepted and acceptable.
In such an environment both men and women can relax into their inner selves, even if their inner selves happen to be the opposite gender than they were born! By accepting both masculine and feminine qualities as equally relevant and important it creates a welcome space for both women and the GLTQ community. I have seen this demonstrated at steampunk events where every possible gender and orientation has been present and in each person was treated as a person – with dignity and respect. Neither gender nor orientation mattered for all of us were equal. Steampunk.
Like the stereotype about historical Victorians as mostly white and stuffy, the above description of current feminism seems pretty cliche, and that includes when discussing politicized feminist advocacy just in the US. Not to disagree that some people want to control the choices made by those of their own or other genders and sexualities–that seems sort of the point of the original question, right? But, just as people are not homogeneous neither are feminists. Feminisms, of many different sorts, flourish and have grown in (measured and researched) popularity–and they probably wouldn’t if they were all so narrow-minded and intolerant. At any rate, pushing forward debates about identities is important, and steampunk seems to provide a wealth of resources with which to do that.