“…because I must climb the mast to see what kind of weather we’re going to have tomorrow.”

At the 11th hour, despite a long evening of roller derby NSOing already planned, I decided to attend what I could of the first annual Pippi to Ripley: Heroines of Fantasy and Science Fiction conference.  I’d seen the flyer at my local comic book shop and was intrigued.  I figure I’ve read enough blogs from my favorite SF&F writers on these issues that it was long past time I educated myself at a deeper level than “GenderFail is bad.”

I was only there for half of it, but I think what I saw merits at least the sort of write-up I do for conventions.

So, I got to three sessions of panel presentations and the keynote speech…

Session 1 – Science Fiction Heroines of Film

  • Katharine Kittredge, “Starting with Ripley: Trends in Science Fiction Heroines.”  Granted, I’m speaking as someone who only sort of tracks these issues out of the corner of his(!) eye, but Kittredge’s overview seemed to hit all the points in the development of the science fiction heroine that I’ve ever noticed.
  • Melanie Lorek, “Utopian Fantasy Meets Melodrams: The Female Heroine in East German Film.”  One of the things I don’t like about panel presentations is how an A/V snafu lasting only a minute or two could potentially torpedo a presentation through no fault of the presenter.  That didn’t quite happen here; Lorek managed to get the audience through her main points about the East German heroine.  I wish there’d been more time though.  I was fascinated by this look from a sociopolitical perspective.
  • Leah Summerville Ferrar, “Uhura Kissed a Vulcan: The Marginalization of Women and Minorities in J.J. Abram’s Star Trek.”  There was no point taking notes on this one since I agreed with pretty much every point she raised.  I wished there was a little bit more underneath it, though.  I was already familiar with most, if not all, of the criticisms Ferrar raised through the blogosphere alone.

Session 2 – Adapting Fairytales and Graphic Novels to Film

  • Elieen Weidbrauk, “From Caped Avenger to Ineffectual Virgin and Back Again: Reclaiming the Agency of Little Red Riding Hood.”  I love presentations in which I learn something brand new, in this case, the evolution of the tale from the 15th century to the present.
  • Jamie Warburton, “Seeing Coraline: Visualizing a Heroine in Fiction, Graphic Novel, and Film.”  I meant what I said about my love of learning something new.  In this case, though, it was overshadowed by the shame over not having read or seen Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.  Still, from a Feminist or any other perspective, tracing the evolution of character depictions between different media rarely ceases to amaze me.
  • Shana Kraynak, “Leathered Objectified and Loss of Super Powers: Gender Representation and Reconstruction in the Film Adaptation of Watchmen.”  Another presentation that didn’t leave me with much to write down.  As in Ferrar’s presentation, I was familiar with the property and the criticism over how the film portrays Silk Spectre II.  And like Ferrar’s presentation, I felt I was listening to the sermon from the choir box.   

I can’t resist nit-picking at the session title.  I wasn’t looking for any sort of writing-related panel at this conference and the topics themselves piqued my interest such that I would’ve attended this session in any case.  Still, a cursory reading of the program showed that adaptations were going to be discussed, rather than the process of adapting.  I’m just saying….

Session 3 – Television Heroines and Almost-heroines

  • Tara K. Parmiter, “Girl Friday Power: The Hacker Sidekicks in 21st Century Teen Television.”  This presentation seemed the strongest (granted, having only attended 1/2 the conference) in terms of the presenter’s analysis of her topic.  Just seemed the most in-depth to me.
  • Carrie Davidson, “The Doctor’s Companions: A Look at Female Power in Dr. Who.”  Another example of why I don’t like panel presentations.  How does a look at female power in Who exclude Leela, of all people??  Time constraints, that’s how.  Other things were ignored too, but I don’t think the presenter was to blame–how can you possibly cover a huge aspect of a TV series approaching its 50th year in 15 minutes?
  • Allison Hamilton, “Sluts and Seductresses: Victim-hood and Power in Farscape and Misfits.”  I did feel like this presentation made me do most of the work with respect to figuring out exactly what was I supposed to take away about victim-hood and power aside from  “Here’s how strength was depicted with these certain women in these certain shows” and “Here’s how sex/victimhood was depicted….”

The keynote by Feminist Sci-Fi critic Marleen Barr, “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Feminist Science Fiction Criticism,” was a true delight!  Hers was a story of a very personal journey from convention fan to scholarly critic which brought her into contact with the legendary Octavia Butler, among others.  Nothing I write here could possibly do justice to Barr’s speech, so I’ll leave it there.

I’m very much looking forward to the second annual conference!

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