WorldCon 2016: The state of feminist fantasy

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.


Panellists: Julia Rios, Ann Leckie, Dr. Janice M. Bogstad, Tessa Gratton

Joined in progress …

AL: In science fiction, feminist authors and novels are being recognized. Why isn’t this happening in fantasy?

JMB: In a culture where everyone is equal, can there be feminism? We’d have to step back and compare.

TG: The feminist conversation is very dynamic right now. Feminism is a tool for dismantling the patriarchy and the conversation is complicated by sexism, ageism, ableism, racism, etc. We can’t talk about feminism in isolation. There’s a lot of intersectionality. I think Kate Elliot and N.K. Jemisin are feminist fantasy authors.

AL: When someone looks at the genre from the outside, feminist fantasy isn’t identified as a sub-genre.

TG: Science fiction is more overtly political.

JR: When people talk about science fiction, everything gets lumped together. Aren’t the classical texts fantasy? Aren’t fairy tales fantasy? What happens when women authors retell myth and folklore? I’d put forth Catherynne M. Valente and Angela Carter as feminist fantasy authors.

JMB: People outside the genre depend on the frame. In academic circles, they call it the literature of the fantastic. Robin Hobb’s novels have feminist themes. Game of Thrones can be read as feminist. Does it have prominent female characters? Yes. Is it feminist fantasy, though? Perhaps that’s another discussion. How do we define fantasy separate from science fiction? Patricia Briggs and Kij Johnson write feminist stories. We’ve had realistic fiction for a very short period of time, relatively speaking. We’ve had fantasy forever. What else is Beowulf?

JR: Who influenced you as a writer?

TG: I have two big influences: Kate Elliot, because she interrogates the issues I want to explore, and Katharine Kerr.

AL: Andre Norton was a big influence on me. There’s a question as to whether she was feminist. C.J. Cherryh doesn’t consider herself a feminist. I didn’t identify as feminist initially.

JR: If an author identifies as feminist, are their novels feminist?

JMB: People describe a feminist author in relation to their work. Are there feminist themes, gestures, sentiments expressed in the work? We need to define our terms first. Is there a canon of feminist fantasy?

TG: I’m uncomfortable imposing a definition of feminism that doesn’t address intersectionality. You can’t talk about sexism in isolation.

JMB: The same people who wrote science fiction also wrote fantasy. Russ was a lesbian. Intersectionality was part of the discussion. We just didn’t call it that.

TG: Explorations of young adult feminist fantasy aren’t interested in anything before Twilight. It’s the opposite problem.

AL: In science fiction, all of the classic feminist authors are from the 70’s. But current novels are being used to say that this is a new conversation in isolation from history. We need perspective regardless.

And that was time.

This was the last of my session notes from WorldCon 2016.

Next weekend: I’m going to talk about changing things up on the blog a bit and reasons 🙂

Until then, as ever, be kind, be well, and stay strong. Tell your stories. We need them.