I ran this series over the past couple of weeks over on my blog, as a look back at the Gender and Fan Culture series I hosted there for the past several months. Since comments have been disabled off-and-on here of late in preparation to switch servers, please e-mail me or Sam Ford your thoughts.
I enjoyed reading and taking part in the summer's conversations, in part because I don't consider myself an aca-fan so much as -- if you'll forgive the neo-neologism -- a fan-aca: that is, while fandom definitely informs my research and teaching (it's what led me to graduate school in the first place), my projects tend not to center on fandom "as such." So while I engaged with the dialogues most immediately for moments of fellow-fan-recognition ("Hey, she likes Battlestar Galactica too!"), I spent more time reflecting on the strange phenomenon of acafandom: this group of exceptionally smart and articulate people positioning ourselves -- with varying degrees of forthrightness, self-critique, pride, and disavowal -- around not just the texts and objects that we love/hate, but the potent essence of love/hate itself. In short, it was interesting to watch ourselves wrestling with our own jouissance, a collective (if variegated) upwelling passion that functioned both to disrupt and drive our interactions.
But to boil it down to a few blunt, highly subjective specifics:
1. The women ruled. Not that there aren't a lot of cool guys here. But I grew impatient with the defensive, almost willful missing-the-point that snaked through the dialogues like a malingering virus, usually expressed in some version of "Gendered power may exist, but it's not germane to what we study/how we study it" or, more perniciously, "Gendered power may exist, but I myself am free of it." Again, I don't mean to totalize. Standing back from the debates, though, it seemed that "we" (the men) were first and foremost being invited to consider the idea that gender has different but valid meanings to, and significant material impact upon "them" (the women), and that, too often, we chose to counterattack rather than to listen.
Of course, it *was* a debate, and assessing the validity of arguments is one aspect of what we do professionally. I just think that if we're going to cross the troubled waters, we should start by building bridges, not standing on opposite shores tossing rocks at each other.
2. Forum matters. It's utterly intriguing to me how the debate unfurled in two distinct realms, Henry's blog and LiveJournal (with of course a halo of side discussion throughout the blogosphere). While I tended to read Henry's blog for the initial posts, I would usually bounce over to LiveJournal for the comments, which seemed more lively and dynamic, more raw and honest. My sense is that we all tried to *behave* on Henry's blog; we were guests at the dinner party (and grateful, let me add, to be invited!). By contrast, LJ was like the afterparty, where people felt free to let their hair down. Was this good or bad? Inevitable or avoidable? I dunno. But the way in which these two spaces structurally reproduced certain essentialist notions of masculinity and femininity is troubling, and I will leave its exegesis to more experienced LJers (I was but a nomad, passing through the territory).
3. We're all really smart! Really. I was astounded at the depth, range, and sophistication of the exchanges, and glad to see that, freed from classrooms, conferences, peer-reviewed publications, and other restrictively overdetermined speech environments, we remain capable of nuanced, compelling, adventurous intellectual engagement.
4. Where next? More dialogue. More debate. More connections. More friendships. More misunderstandings on the way to enlightenment.
After I posted publicly about unexamined gendered assumptions in play across scholarship of fandom as well as within the community of fan scholars, Henry approached me about launching a conversation that would bring a variety of fan academics together to discuss and debate gender. Within my corner of fandom and among my female acafan friends, we'd been discussing these issues repeatedly, so I was very excited that Henry's forum would bring these concerns to broader attention. In fact, I hoped it would offer all of us the chance to engage more constructively with it among a group of academics that would include those who had quite different approaches and investments. I thought the series might result in more general awareness and maybe greater recognition of the academic contributions of the women around me, but over these recent months I have seen that and much more: I've seen conference panels organized, co-written articles planned, and more awareness across the gender line, of both the importance of fan artifacts as subject matter and of particular scholars. I think everyone has made connections and gotten to know scholars they might otherwise not have interacted with. More women have started blogs, more men have started LiveJournals, and more scholars are talking to one another, whether in public or private. Personally, I hope to attend SCMS with a fanboy/fangirl panel that effectively draws from our different perspectives, and will be co-writing an essay on fandom, hopefully offering both perspectives. I have made personal friends and started corresponding with more scholars--male and female.
So while there remain a lot of things that are frustrating to me coming out of this conversation, while there are exchanges and comments that still exhibit unreflected acceptance of patriarchal culture, I think it's been a great beginning. Beyond continuing the discussion in other venues, however, there are two things that I think we need to focus on as we complicate the issues. One is the question of different realms of contact in which being a woman matters. Most of the debates tried to separate academic and fannish and personal spheres, but in my experience they are all connected. The disproportionately amateur status of women is interwoven on the one hand with the type of fan productions we prefer and on the other with the conditions of our offline lives. I don't think we should focus on one area alone, because gender issues run through all areas and mutually affect one another. As we continue to address women and gender in fandom studies, I'd like more of us to examine these often repressed issues of how and why women create what they do (or not), analyze what they do (or not), choose the academic careers they do (or not), and how these are interrelated.
Also, on a larger scale, I feel we're still not reaching out enough to bridge other, related gaps. Race has been mentioned multiple times as a conspicuous exclusion, and I hope that we can all become more aware of what trajectories we might be leaving out even as we're becoming more aware of the axis of gender. But the one issue I'm most interested in, and which I believe to be closely related to gender, is academic status. We haven't succeeded in sufficiently addressing, let alone solving, the professional/amateur divide in academia that is also so central to fandom itself. I think the fact that all of us have gotten connected with at least one (and quite often many more than one) scholar we may not have known before has increased the depth of the overall fan studies world. In particular, as fan studies is so interdisciplinary, the debate allowed us to meet across a variety of disciplines and methodologies. I hope that going forward we can strengthen acquaintances and friendships and reach out to new scholars. I want this debate to be the beginning of an ongoing increased awareness of gender and the way it inflects all other areas we need to now focus on: race, class, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, and all the issues that have been raised as insufficiently addressed and, even more importantly, those we haven't even begun to think about.
C. Lee Harrington:
I was very intrigued by this series of dialogues though my own area of fan studies(mainly soap opera) has not been fraught with the gender concerns/debates that launched the blog. I have been more a lurker than a participant these past 5 (6?) months, as is my nature, but I learned a lot -- about scholars whose work I was unfamiliar with, about fan studies in general (especially areas outside of my own), and most useful to me, about specific books/articles/chapters that I haven't read but should. I have compiled a large list of materials to slowly plow through. I've been intrigued by gender debates I didn't really know existed, and frustrated at times with attempts to work through complex notions of gender, feminism, privilege, and media through written (rather than spoken) dialogue. Gender is a hard topic to talk about, teach, and learn, regardless of the context or topic in question, and it was hard at times here. I was dismayed by several exchanges that seemed to devolve into personal attacks. I was impressed by most participants' seeming open-mindedness about hearing perspectives very different from their own. Participating did not change my own line of research in any way that I could articulate on the spot, but as I slowly digest both the exchanges and my to-read stack, I'm sure new ideas and ways of thinking will emerge that would not have happened otherwise.
The only real negative for me is that I'm not in the blogosphere much. It's not a preferred method of communication for me so at times participating seemed like homework rather than intrinsically motivated. I also became more and more guilty over time because I *have* been lurking rather than participating actively....I'm happy to have been invited to the table, though.
The reason I haven't sent anything in is because I'm slightly embarrassed about what I would say ...
There is nothing worse than members of a dominant group saying that they haven't noticed the importance of an identity category: 'Why do you have to go on about being gay all the time? Why do you have to talk about your sexuality? We [ie, straight folk] don't do that ...'
So I'm hesitant to say that for me the experience of taking part in this discussion was about the delight and excitement of finding a like mind (Deborah). I wasn't really aware before I started about the gendered debates in fan studies, and I didn't find that they impinged on my discussions with Deborah. But you see? Even by saying that I feel like a patriarchal oppressor.
So - I thought this was a wonderful project. Mostly I find academics tiresome - their interests and debates bore me. It is always delightful to find others who are interested in things that interest me, who value fun, and decency and delight and joy. Oh, and who are deeply informed about things that I don't know about, but care about (yes, there are a lot of them who know a lot more than I will ever know about the writings of Deleuze, but I really can't bring myself to care about that. There's something wrong with me, I suppose. I'm missing the 'caring about philosophy' gene).
Every time I read what Deborah had written, I laughed and got excited and thought about stuff, and had more that I wanted to say. In the end we were almost late with our contribution simply because it was so hard to let go - there was always just one more paragraph that I just *had* to squeeze in, inspired by something she had said.
And so - thank you so much for setting this up. I am awe of your energy, your passion, your ideas, your networks, your organisational ability. How do you find time to sleep?
Throughout the Gender and Fan Culture conversations, I've been continually interested in the degree to which women comprise a much muddier field of fan commentators than do men. It doesn't seem to be an exaggeration to say that, for the most part, participating men have been firmly situated within mainstream academic culture - their fannish activities notwithstanding - while many of us female participants have a more tangled relationship to that culture. As a graduate student teetering on the edge of academic employment, I've been encouraged by the extent to which women outside of academia have nonetheless managed to publish and otherwise contribute to scholarly discussions about fandom; yet, the ways in which our lack of affiliation with recognized institutions hampers our ability to conduct and disseminate our research is dismaying. This situation seems, in some ways, to mirror fans' relationships to the media they consume (and produce), and, in this sense, something we might engage with more transparently as 'aca-fans'.