A few weeks back I tweeted: “After leaving academia, I had to really think about what I wanted out of life. I have far more ambition now than I ever did before.” For whatever reasons, the sentiment resonated with a lot of people and the positive response I received prompted this post.
The entire time I spent in academia, from undergrad through to the completion of my PhD, is best characterized as deadline oriented. Write a paper. Submit. Receive grade. Apply for next course/program/degree. Rinse and repeat. Of course, there was a lot more complication to that process, but the way in which I approached every year of my higher education was essentially the same: meet pre-existing deadlines and fulfill pre-existing requirements. The end goal was the degree, obviously, but I can’t honestly say that I was driven by a specific sense of ambition. “I want to be a professor” was not so much a statement of ambition as it was an assumption of the final outcome of my academic efforts. Once I realized that a professorial life was not in my future, I was faced with a question that I had been avoiding for the entirety of adult life: What do I want to do?
As a person who most often did what was expected of me—I truly excelled at listening to authority figures—it was extremely difficult to not have my efforts directed by an outside force when I found myself no longer a graduate student and unemployed. In my mind, I was a failure. I tried to work for my spouse. That experiment failed spectacularly within a few weeks. In those first long months out of my PhD program, I can only imagine how awkward and challenging it was for my partner to have me (unconsciously) looking to him for the direction and guidance in my life that he couldn’t provide. My housekeeping and pet tending efforts were doubled. But a spotless house and an increasingly spoiled cat did nothing to give me purpose. I was depressed for quite a long while (and it certainly didn’t help that I was coping with chronic pain, which, at that time, was quite severe and debilitating). I was completely adrift without institutional structure. I had no deadlines to meet. I had no ambition.
Graduate school showed me what I didn’t want—an academic career—but it also provided me with experiences of work that were outside of any possibilities I was exposed to as a child. People can, and do, make a living from researching, writing, and exploring difficult and new ideas. There wasn’t any discussion of an intellectual career happening outside of academe, but I read enough to know that independent scholarship—respected, widely read, and transformative engagement—does exist. When I made the mental leap to thinking of myself as an independent scholar, all of the institutional rules of "what is possible and who can do what" started falling away. Freed from other people’s deadlines, I started making my own. The first goals I set were small: set up a website, read a book, write a blog post. Then they started to grow: present at a conference, start a business, edit an essay collection. Each time I devised of and completed a project of my own choosing I became more confident in myself. And I started wanting more.
I want to write a book. I want to write a screenplay. I want to edit science fiction. I want to be an invited keynote speaker. I want to be the next big theorist. I want to never limit myself to the options in front of me. I want to go beyond the obvious outcomes of my current labour and find new ways to grow as individual.
To make my new found ambition public is both terrifying and liberating. Part of me worries that people will say, “who does she think she is?” Another part whispers to me that these dreams are too big for such a small person. But there is also an ever increasing desire to try. I finally understand now that I am only a failure if I don’t take risks. I spend much of my time alone and it is easy to become lost in my own world. My newly found ambition pushes me to write, to learn, to reach out to other people. I have no idea what my future holds but I no longer feel like I am staring into some horrible directionless void. Instead, I am curious and eager to find out what I’ll be doing at this time next year. While not every project I dream up will work out, some of them will.
When asked about her best advice to writers, Octavia Butler (in Bloodchild, p. 144) said that it was to persist: "It’s a truth that applies to more than writing. It applies to anything that is important, but difficult, important, but frightening. We’re all capable of climbing so much higher than we usually permit ourselves to suppose. The word, again, is 'persist'!"
I have ambition. I will persist.
In the 1985 essay that defined the terms for feminist thinking about science and technology in the decades since, Donna Haraway observed that “the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion.” She drew together the cybernetic organisms of fact and fiction, the beings of shiny technology and messy biological stuff, and her terms and her ideas came as much from the creative thinkers of feminist science fiction (Octavia Butler, Joanna Russ) as they did from technologists, political thinkers, and philosophers.
It’s 2013, and the cyborg manifesto is old enough to vote. Where are feminist science fictions now, and what can they tell us about feminism and technology? New media make our experiences of social reality resonant with classics of speculative fiction, particularly works that accounted for the uneven distribution of futuristic technologies and their participation in hierarchies of race, gender, capital, and ability. Literary scholars continue to explore the intricacies of works by Octavia Butler, James Tiptree Jr., Joanna Russ, et al., while the aesthetic and political techniques of critical and creative speculative thinking that these writers pioneered are taken up in multiple forms. Fiction writers like Nalo Hopkinson, Andrea Hairston, L. Timmel Duchamp, and many more bring questions of language, culture, race, and violence into the fray, as social media platforms like blogs, twitter, and Facebook deepen conversations between writers and fans. Small presses continue to support the older technology of the printed page and to articulate why written visions matter for a possible feminist future.
Feminist science fiction has never only existed between the bindings of books, however. Fictional speculation is part of how we understand ourselves in relationship to technology; from the way our smartphones seem to extend our embodied being, to the difference it makes when we shift our perspective and think instead of the being of the gendered bodies who made them, to the imaginative constructions we produce of the wireless waves and fiber optic cables that link us to collaborators, interlocutors, and friends. Ada is published by the Fembot Collective’s academic network, which is itself a feminist science fiction. An imagined array of co-conspirators made real, its name indexes the power in reworking the venerable sci-fi trope of the gendered automaton. Technological speculation is our social reality, and feminist science fiction has the tools to code it to the specifications of our politics.
Feminist science fiction describes a diverse landscape of multimodal, multiplatform, multifaceted cultural production. It is a means for thinking marked bodies into technological contexts, from Ada Lovelace herself to Janelle Monae’s racialized android Cindi Merriweather. It is also the visual and conversational online cultures that endlessly repeat, reblog, argue, and fight back about what real and imagined futures of gender, race, technology, and representation ought to be like. It may even be the new philosophical modalities of materialist speculation, when they acknowledge that the hierarchized markings on bodies we name as race and gender are not limited to some narrowly defined conception of the human. And it is the unpredictable future of what cybernetics and organisms could be and could become, in the flesh and in plastic, silicon, steel.
The third issue of Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media and Technology seeks essays on any of these and more. We welcome unpublished work from scholars of any discipline and background, including collaborative, nontraditional, or multimodal approaches that can especially benefit from the journal’s open access online status.
Topics and approaches might include, but are not limited to:
• Key works of feminist science fiction and their relevance for new media and technology studies
• Gender, race, sexuality, and/or disability in science fiction literature, film, and television
• Feminist speculation in new media production
• Feminist science fiction’s online fan cultures
• Speculative or science-fictional tropes in new media and technology theory and practice
General Submission Requirements
Authors should submit essays of 4000-9000 words directly to the editor in Rich Text Format (.rtf) or MS Word format (.doc) by 1 May 2013. We encourage you to discuss potential contributions in advance of the submission deadline, particularly for those contributors interested in multimodal contributions. Contributions in formats other than the traditional essay are encouraged; please contact the editor to discuss specifications.
All submissions should be accompanied by the following information in the email message with your submission attachment:
• Name(s), affiliation(s), email address(es) of the person(s) submitting.
• Title of the text and the issue for which it is submitted.
• An abstract of no more than 100 words.
• A short paragraph (40-60 words) about the contributor(s).
Further guidelines for submission format can be found here: http://adanewmedia.org/submissions/ Please include text descriptions for images and transcripts or subtitles for audio or video files.
Send submissions and correspondence to Alexis Lothian: ada[at]queergeektheory[dot]org
Ada is an online, open access, open source, peer-reviewed journal run on a nonprofit basis by feminist media scholars from Canada, the UK, and the US. The journal’s first issue was published online in November 2012 and has so far received more than 75,000 page views. Ada operates a review process that combines the feminist mentorship of fan communities with the rigor of peer review. Read more at http://adanewmedia.org/beta-reader-and-review-policy/. We do not — and will never — charge fees for publishing your materials, and we will share those materials using a Creative Commons License.
Femspec, an interdisciplinary journal dedicated to challenging gender through speculative means in any genre, invites papers for a special issue of Femspec, Aging and Gender in Speculative Fiction, examining speculative fiction books, TV shows, or movies that re-imagine the way we view women growing older and/or depict the way societal expectations of gender roles impact how we age. Keeping in mind the feminist thrust of the journal, we seek submissions that consider how major feminist sf writers depict aging characters, that apply feminist theory to depictions of aging in sf texts broadly defined, or that address sf’s potential to critique the relationship of gender to ideologies of aging in contemporary society or to re-imagine the future of aging primarily for women, but also for men within a gendered perspective.
The seeds for this special issue were planted at a paper session, "Women Growing Older in the Perilous Realm: Science Fiction and Re-Imagining Old Age" at the 2012 National Women's Studies Conference 2012, chaired by Margaret Cruickshank. Whether analyzing a picture of older women as inhabiting a privileged position from which to critique society as in “The Space Crone,” a vision of the planet Vulcan where an older woman is the powerful high priestess, or the creation of a culture in which older women are given the most creative work as in Joanna Russ’s Whileaway, we need to ask: how does this re-imagining of old age empower older women, give new value to their accumulated knowledge or new expression to their abilities, apply a feminist lens to their subordination or oppression, or otherwise upend the hegemonic narrative of women's aging as nothing but a decline into silence and invisibility.
Because Femspec is a fully independent journal funded by subscriptions rather than institutional support, subscription is required on submission. Essays undergo a rigorous two-step jury process with independent readers and members of the Femspec editorial board. Submissions can be sent directly to the special issue editor, Aishwarya Ganapathiraju, aganapath[at]gmail[dot]com or to Femspec.org, where subscription information can be found.
In addition to this special issue, Femspec seeks scholarly submissions that explore gender issues in sf, apply feminist criticism to the study of sf or analyze the work of women writers in science-fiction media or “speculative fiction” broadly defined.
The last date for submitting work for consideration is May 30, 2013.
Whew. The past several weeks since my last post have been busy. Good busy, but the kind of busy that makes you feel like you are throwing yourself through each day, just hoping that you land into the next with both feet on the ground and running. There was a heavy client workload, then WorldCon, and then getting the full draft of the Technology as Cure? Representations of Disability together and off to the publisher. I just finished the collection manuscript yesterday…and I’m pretty damn proud about it. I’m entirely confident that the book will be under contract by the year’s end – it looks good. Really good. Each of the 12 essays are excellent and, I dare say, groundbreaking. I have high hopes for this book.
I was planning on writing more about how awesome it is being an independent scholar, but there has been something bothering me for the past month that I think needs to be forced into the light of the internet and hashed out. Here it is: in August, I ran into an old friend from my grad school days. Our lives have amicably diverged paths, so we really haven’t kept in touch the last two years. We briefly chatted about what we were up to, family, work, etc. The usual stuff. When I started talking about editing the book and my motivations for doing so, the words “because I’m stupid” came out. I was a bit taken aback that I said that (since I have been doing great and feeling good about my life). But there it was: Because I am stupid. I tried to cover it up with something that sounded more confident, more self-assured. “Because I am crazy?” I tittered out. Ugh. Total fail.
Because I am stupid …
Because I am crazy …
I am not stupid. I am not crazy. I don’t even like using these words to describe other people. But, if I am being honest, they are words that I have used to describe myself. They are old words. They are words that I have been repeating since childhood. If I make an error that I believe should have been preventable, well, I am stupid. If I am feeling overwhelmed, unable to cope with stress, then I am crazy.
These are words that have been used against me all my life, by abusive boyfriends, so-called friends, and sexist and classist colleagues. And though they are not true, I have internalized these words.
Graduate school made me feel stupid and crazy. It does that to a lot of people. I felt stupid because I never managed to receive external funding. I felt crazy for finishing my PhD when I knew that I wasn’t going to continue on to tenure-track job. And there were definitely people – and a professional culture – that encouraged me to feel those ways.
As a feminist, I chide myself for falling back on these words when I am feeling low or uncertain. I know that these words are used to keep women quiet, to derail our justifiable complaints, and to undermine our authority and intelligence. And we are also guilty of using them, against other women as well as ourselves. With an ever growing backlash against women’s rights, it is important to avoid using this kind of language to describe ourselves and our actions. And I’m guessing that for most of us, we should just do away with stupid and crazy for good. Those words certainly don’t benefit us as self-descriptors, and they rarely are effective attacks to launch against anyone we don’t like or agree with.
Since that day when I explained away my desire to pursue my intellectual passion with the phrase “because I am stupid,” I made a promise to myself to stop deriding myself and my accomplishments. I’ve begun clearly announcing myself as a Feminist and Independent Scholar (with capital letters and all). Because the truth of the matter is, I love my life right now. I’m doing exactly what I want to do and there is nothing stupid or crazy about it.
I wasn’t intending to write this post for another few weeks, but after a recent frustrating email exchange, I realized that I needed to write something about the still inexplicable presence of sexism and misogyny right now. I want to note some of the explicit and implicit incidents of sexism that I have experienced and observed in academia and fandom over the past few years.
During my time as a graduate student, I had to the deal with a certain amount of sexism that I imagine most other women in academia or similar professional institutions encounter. Generally, the sexism I encountered came from my male peers and not faculty (although there were certainly a few incidents at that level – and I have heard countless horror stories from female faculty about their own experiences with sexism). I think only once – *once* – did a male colleague openly admire my intellectual capability. I don’t think that I present myself as a blathering fool, but I can recall many times when a male peer looked at me like I was completely stupid.
So I came to expect disinterest and disregard from most men when it came to talking about my work with feminist SF (and also with posthumanism, corporeal feminism … really challenging and cool stuff!). I thought that once I got the PhD, maybe I would get some more respect – after all, we all experienced the same thesis writing process and we all passed the same tests with the same expectations – but no, not much has changed. The result is that I am hesitant to talk about my research or I down play its intellectual rigor, which is an unfortunate habit that I am trying to break (I have a supportive feminist man as my life-partner, who is always telling me to speak proudly of my accomplishments).
Just recently, at WorldCon, a man in the audience at my paper presentation challenged me on my academic standing. After I introduced myself, noting that I earned my PhD through studying feminist post-cyberpunk SF and am now an independent academic, he immediately began asking me what university level position I had attained (by listing the various tenure track positions as if I was unaware of them). I explained again that my academic career was degree terminal. The sexist nature of his query was commented on by a wonderful woman (an aerospace engineer – awesome!) that was also at the talk – we ended up noting the various incidents of casual sexism we witnessed during many panels at the con (from male panelists speaking over female panelists to outward deflections of relevant feminist issues). It seems that whenever feminist politics break into traditionally male-dominated communities, there is also a debate about whether or not the issues being raised are valid. Discussion is derailed quickly, as the status quo is eager to move on to other less upsetting topics.
In my position as a SF researcher and capital “F” Feminist, I’m noticing the same tired old responses being bandied about by those who are unwilling to recognize inequality and their implicit support of it. When I mentioned the previous and continuing contribution of feminist SF writers to the (post)cyberpunk genre at one panel, only one of the four panelists directly responded to what I had said. The more general response was to give personal anecdotes about encounters with female writers and edge the conversation towards more neutral ground. I am entirely annoyed by hearing the old line: “I know one woman [writer, editor, publisher, etc], so there is no gender imbalance [in SF publishing, fandom, academia, etc].”
I imagine that most people reading this post are the choir: you don’t need the sermon, you’re already preaching it. To any readers who don’t believe that there is significant gender imbalance in academia, fandom, or society at large: you are wrong. Feminists are not writing and speaking about gender and sexism because we are seeking a second opinion or validation. We are stating the existence of a problem and looking for ways to fix it. I feel that the gains made by first- and second-generation feminists are being undone – all while we are being told to sit down and relax. I definitely will be writing more about feminist issues (which for me intersect with anti-racist, anti-homophobic, and anti-ablist rhetoric) in the future. I do believe that North American culture is at a cross-roads: as financial crises and war create a fearful public, the instinct for too many is turn back to conservative values and politics. If the feminist movement is to survive, we need to make sure that we don't stay quiet about the incidents of sexism -- both casual and egregious -- that we encounter.
It occurred to me while writing my initial posts that I must be careful not to ignore the positive aspects of my graduate education. To just cite problems or characterize my experience as solitary and without mentorship would be not only misleading, but a disservice to those individuals who shaped the academic that I am today. If I am to throw stones at the walls of the tower, there are certain windows that I don’t want to hit.
One of the greatest sources of support and inspiration for me during my doctoral studies was Dr. Janice Hladki. She is, quite simply, an astounding human. I use the word “human” intentionally, because Janice demonstrates the some of the best qualities of humanity: empathy and advocacy. With her seemingly endless capacity to empathize with others and her dedication to achieving equality for all, Janice is remarkable.
I first met Janice in the first year of my PhD when I took a seminar she was teaching. From the first day, I knew that I liked her. In her introductory remarks to the course, she told us that she was just not a prof, but a person too. She carefully explained how she understood that we are bodies, and those bodies need care and consideration – an aspect of being human that academia too often ignores. If we needed extra breaks, no problem. If we had to stand up and walk around because of back pain or stomach issues, go for it!
I am still smiling about how awesome it was to hear a professor talk about the body. Not just about “the body” in theory, but about the real, tired, sore, and inconveniently acting bodies that were us, always and right now. Janice refused to elide the real body in our discussions of the theoretical body. It was intellectually – and, at times, emotionally –challenging work. The texts we studied were a departure from the other more detached and “safe” literary theories I was learning. Janice introduced me to disability studies and helped me to understand deeper aspects of feminist theory.
I ended up being Janice’s RA, off and on, for the next 4 years. She was witness to my never ending health problems. If I needed extra time for a project deadline, she understood. If we had to travel to interview study subjects, Janice made sure that I was well and safe. Unlike many RAs who get stuck with piles of photocopying and lists of sources to track down, I was being mentored in a new discipline of study. Janice consulted my opinion on evaluating works and encouraged me to become an active participant in her field work. I read feminist poststructural ethnographic theory and I learned about the world of art production. It was, hands down, the best job I have ever had with the world’s coolest boss.
One of my other motivations for writing this post of praise for Janice is that I think she needs it. Positive feedback and praise are all too rare in academia – especially for anyone daring to speak and live their politics openly and doggedly. So I am saying it again: Dr. Janice Hladki is an amazing scholar, faculty member, teacher, and friend. Thank you.