Women in the Arts and Online Fandom Culture

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Promotional image from UMBC’s production of Gum.

This semester, I attended the UMBC production of Gum in March, and spoke on a panel on female genital mutilation and the use of clothing as modesty. I also attended a convention in April, and spoke on the involvement of women in the media and online fandom culture.

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One of the comics discussed in the Gum panel.

 

The production of Gum was incredible– it had me in tears, and the panel afterwards was quite the experience. It was an incredibly controversial topic, and we went into the panel thinking we would be speaking on clothing and modesty in different cultures. The panel attendees had a different agenda in mind, but that made the discussion a learning experience. The conversation touched upon how patriarchy affects different cultures. The idea of patriarchy in the ‘west’ and the ‘east’ are two different concepts, and we had a debate on this. We also discussed whether or not, as an outsider culture, we have the power and/or the right to tell another culture to stop doing something (specifically female genital mutilation.)

 

 

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Lucy Liu and Johnny Lee Miller in CBS’ Elementary.

 

I attended a convention in Atlanta, GA called 221b Con in April. I applied to be a panelist, and was accepted on a few different panels. I spoke about minorities in the CBS production of Elementary. We had a ton of discussion surrounding one of the lead characters in the show, Lucy Liu. As an Asian-American female, she has completely stolen the show. Elementary also as a recurring transgender female character, actually portrayed by a transgender actress. Elementary is yet another adaptation of the much-beloved Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes is one of the most portrayed characters in cinema, and historically, he has been primarily portrayed by a Caucasian male, as has his sidekick, John Watson. However, in recent years, some production companies have taken liberties in the portrayal of John Watson- with Elementary, “he” is portrayed by Lucy Liu in the character of Joan Watson. The conversation on my panel surrounded the importance and controversy of women and minorities portraying these very popular characters, “traditionally” portrayed by another demographic (specifically older Caucasian men).

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Natalie Dormer in CBS’ Elementary.

 

Elementary has also crossed boundaries with its portrayal of Moriarty (spoiler alert!). Traditionally a man in Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, Moriarty is a woman in Elementary, played by Natalie Dormer. We discussed the importance of diverse representation of women in the media. Not only is Moriarty a woman, her sexuality is ambiguous due to her involvement with both the characters of Sherlock and Joan Watson. Elementary breaks many barriers when it comes to sexuality and gender.

 

 

 

I also spoke on a panel about the involvement of women in digital culture and fandom. Many women contribute to “fandom”- through fanart, fanfiction, cosplay, etc. I spoke on my own involvement, and how I incorporate feminism into fandom, and how women have started to own the term “geek”- a label previously applied to a primarily male demographic. Women are starting to take over the cosplay world at conventions. We discussed how women explore and express their sexuality in fandom, how we find our own agency in industries typically run by men, and how we find our power and stand our ground when accused of being “fake geek girls.”

A panel I attended discussed female characters in some of our favorite shows- and how narrative is involved with representation in the media. How a character’s story is told- not just the fact that they exist within the narrative- is an incredibly important within media. A trope called “women in refrigerators” occurs in many comic books- female characters being painted as the damsel in distress and later being killed off. We talked about how this perpetuates many negative stereotypes around women.

I loved attending these panels and participating on them this semester. My major is media and communications, and I hope to work in the entertainment industry in content development. The discussions I held directly affect me and my career. I would love to bring feminism to my work, but the tricky part is how. Participating on the Gum panel and going to 221bCon helping me network a bit- I met a ton of like-minded people with the same interests and goals as me. It’s not just a social endeavor, it’s grassroots. I’m now working on promoting a webseries that will bring a bit more queer representation to the internet. Fans are able to create their own content and tell their own stories when the mass media does not do it for them. This project was not just a ton of fun, but was a great learning experience for me, and helped me overcome a few fears I had about public speaking and discussing my hobbies and interests.

 

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