alixtii: Mary Magdalene washing the face of Jesus of Nazareth, from the film production of Jesus Christ Superstar. (religion)
[personal profile] alixtii
This is not a post defending the Organization for Transformative Works (a fan-run pro-fanfic nonprofit organization, if you're out of the loop). The OTW should be quite thankful about that fact, because frankly the OTW doesn't want me (or, more accurately, shouldn't want me) defending them. I'm a crap apologist, because I'm an intellectual radical and I can't hide that fact to save my life, even if I'm arguing with my brother over who should do the dishes, because the reason he can't see why he should do them is totally because he's operating under a correspondence theory of truth (without knowing it) when he should be going for standpoint epistemology, or some such. A conversation about evangelical Christianity's stance on homosexuality inevitably becomes one about whether there was a historical Jesus of Nazareth. And so on.

And God help me, I hadn't even finished the first paragraph of this post and I've already invoked Sandra Harding. Other than the fact that I am male, I am in some ways exactly the sort of academic (though, truly, I'm not really, as I'm only a grad student, and a just starting one at that) that OTW's critics see lurking behind every corner of the org. So the OTW really shouldn't want me defending them.

So I'm not going to defend the OTW. I'm not even sure I want to; if you go to the original post(s?) in [livejournal.com profile] astolat's journal, you'll find me there (naturally), offering up criticisms of the project from the get-go and providing my reservations. (I will say that what comforts me more than anything else is the knowledge that the new archive will be run on open-source software. The OTW's goal is not to hegemonize and never was--and if they end up deciding they can't or won't host chan, somebody else will be able to use the code to do so. Same for having underaged readers.)

Okay, I've gone on for three paragraphs about what I'm not doing, and this is the fourth. What I will do in this post is respond to certain elements of the discussion that has arisen over the Organization for Transformative works and give my perspective on a couple of issues and why I think my view is the correct one.

No one who knows me will be surprised that the main conversation with which I'm concerned is the one over the gender issue--the claim, seemingly based on a single line in its mission statement, "We value our identity as a predominantly female community with a rich history of creativity and commentary"--that the OTW is sexist, excludes men, or cetera. Now the org has been remarkably (and to me, frustratingly) inclusive in its response to said criticism. The official part line on the "female identity" line is that it is a reference to a historically true fact which is thus ideologically neutral.

The OTW has not trotted out feminist theory and explained in those terms why its positions are correct and necessary, which you would think thy would do if the entire project is composed only of acafans (as some have claimed). Instead, it has done its best to present its mission statement in a way which would be palatable to people who hold a number of differing ideologies, even if some of those ideologies are from a certain perspective (i.e., mine) wrong. They'd make very good Episcopalians, I think.

I told you I'm a crap apologist; I can't leave it at that. Maybe the line in the mission statement is ideologically neutral, maybe it isn't. I don't think it matters, because there is a correct ideological position from which perspective the line is appropriate.

If we remember back to the major race discussions which took place a few months ago originating in the Stargate Atlantis fandom and then spreading like wildfire through my flist, we'll remember [livejournal.com profile] hederahelix's eloquent advocacy of the definition of systemic injustice as the intersection of discrimination and power:
Any personal dislike that gets elevated to an oppression (with a capital O) is never just the action of a handful of individuals. It is a prejudice that gets writ large into society as a whole. Racism gets woven into the very fabric of life in the United States. Sexism permeates the very air we breathe. Homophobia becomes so pervasive and insidious that it becomes like background noise to everything else. Metaphors that reveal abilityism become so commonplace that it’s like being in a room with a smell for too long; when that happens, our nerves that sense a scent overload and refuse to notice them anymore. Anti-Semitism plays into stereotypes in such subtle ways that if you didn’t know what to look for, you’d never even notice it (Watto in The Phantom Menace for example, replicates anti-Semitism in his manners and his speech patterns.)
Sexism is a systemic superstructure of male privilege, and it exists in the world. I have been the recipient of that privilege, and fandom has helped me to understand in some small part what it feels to not have it (something for which I am eternally grateful). Resistant measures intended to combat the overarching superstructure are not sexist. Thus the OTW could be excluding men and that would be okay.

The question is not, cannot be, "Would this be just in an already just society?" Putting Supergirl in a short skirt, or giving Powergirl big breasts, would be neutral acts in an already just society: some women wear short skirts and some have big breasts, and that's okay. But we don't live in a just society, and asking what we would do then blinds us to the pattern of oppression these facts form into today. Similarly, some actions are called for today as reactionary measures which would not be appropriate in a feminist utopia. Fandom's female identity is one of these things.

That's the argument OTW doesn't want to make, because not everyone agrees with it, and which of course it doesn't have to make, because they're not excluding men. They're not catering to men, of course, and in a world of rampant male privilege that might be felt as exclusion, as [livejournal.com profile] cereta documents in her post Fandom and Male Privilege. And I know firsthand what that feels like, being male, and it's not fun, especially not at first. But it's not exclusion. The OTW has male members working on its volunteer staff, serving on committees. Its mission statement states that:
"We value infinite diversity in infinite combinations. We value all fans engaged in transformative work: fans of any race, gender, culture, sexual identity, or ability. We value the unhindered cross-pollination and exchange of fannish ideas and cultures while seeking to avoid the homogenization or centralization of fandom." 
While men are certainly welcome (and again, I can say this firsthand), it is simply recognize that in a world where everything else is run by men for men's purposes, this is a female space.

I believe in what Helene Cixous called the laugh of the Medusa: the radical, revisionary possibilities of a community of women writing, especially about sex. I believe that what [livejournal.com profile] cupidsbow calls "amazing outpouring of female talent" in How Fanfiction Makes Us Poor has the power to change the world and is valuable from a feminist perspective. In her post Is Medusa Still Laughing?, [livejournal.com profile] kbusse writes:
There clearly is a long tradition of connecting male AUTHORity with its ever-present tool of the PENis and the history of female reading pleasure and sexuality has long been explored (see, for example, Lacqeur’s fascinating Solitary Sex, which discusses the assumed dangers of novel reading as mastubatory practice). While media fan studies has avoided the “slash is subversive” argument since Jones at least, I’m wondering whether we’ve dismissed it too eagerly after all. Because women writing their desires, writing their bodies, writing for their bodies, might not be as acceptable as we tend to assume it is at this point in time within the fanfic community.
Some might argue that OTW shouldn't be a feminist organization. I disagree. I think that every organization should be a feminist organization, and that the OTW is not feminist enough. (This is not a defense, remember?) The Roman Catholic Church should be a feminist organization, although it sadly isn't. The Cato Institute should be a feminist organization. The only reason NAMBLA shouldn't be a feminist organization is that it probably shouldn't exist at all in the first place. There are normative ethics at work here; I am not a relativist.

If you disagree with me on this, I think you're wrong, but I love you anyway. I have had very productive discussions with people on my flist who disagree with me on the role of power in human society. And OTW may still be for you--as I've said, it is way more inclusive of differing points of view that I am, and as in one of my good moods I recognize an organization should and must be if it is going to function. Even if you disagree with the importance of privileging fandom's female identity doesn't take change the coolness of a new archive, journal, or wiki.

This sort of brings me to my second issue, which is the relationship between radical theory (e.g., my feminism) and liberal activism (An Archive of Our Own). For the people who believe that the OTW as an organization is in some ways a betrayal of the anarchic ethos of fandom, I am profoundly sympathetic. Liberalism and radicalism always tend to exist in an uneasy tension with each other, and my temperament is to be a radical. (If for no other reason than that I am still young.) And yet for all that I am a radical--my brand of feminism is not the "liberal feminism" of the ERA brand (that's my mother's feminism)--I can see the good work that liberal feminism has done: suffrage, anti-discrimination laws, assurance of basic rights like holding property and not being raped. So too can I see the compromises with authority which brought about these reforms, and problematize them--and problematize them I do! But that does not change the fact that the plight of women is better than it was 100 years ago, for all the fact that the feminist movement consisted for much of that time of middle-class white (heterosexual) women who, no, did not speak for all women.

Liberalism is necessary for concrete change, but radicalism is the vision which both motivates it and critiques it. And, oddly enough, it is the theoreticians and acafans who are keeping that vision alive. The OTW is in the not-so-strange spot of being attacked from both the left and the right: it is being attacked for being comprised of acafan who think fandom is subversive, and also by fans who do not think the OTW is subversive enough, as it tries to use the master's tools to tear down the master's house.

The goals of the OTW are not as ambitious as those of 20th-century liberal feminism, but they are concrete and useful: an archive, a journal, a defense fund, a wiki. In all of the discussions over the motivating ideologies of the org, these concrete tasks--which all really the only thing the org has in common (two fans, three opinions)--keep getting lost. The criticisms of the OTW most often appear to rest on what it appears to be, to think, to want--and not on what it is doing. (Not much yet. Give it a few months.) This is, I think, a mistake, confusing the radical vision with the liberal nature of an organization. The OTW is not some massive machine which thinks and desires in unison, but a group of people united around a (mostly concrete) set of goals.

I think I was the first person to make the comparison to the ACLU, in December, here, althhough I've seen it made since. The ACLU is an organization which is commonly understood to be motivated by a certain type of ideological agenda, but it is not a "Living Document Constitutional Interpretation Club" or some such. Instead, its members are united in their support of the concrete work that the ACLU does, to the point that people who do not share the perceived ideology can and do support the organization, and the organization (famously) serves even those who do not share the organization's perspectives. And even within the group of people who do share the dominant ideology, there are differences in emphasis. I care much more about free speech (it was Strikethrough2007 that encouraged me to send my dues off for the first time) and gay/lesbian rights than I do supporting affirmative actions or opposing the death penalty; another ACLU member's priorities will be different.

I think the OTW is going to be a lot like that. I'm not defending them, mind you; I'm just calling it like I see it.

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Date: 2008-01-12 05:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tacky-tramp.livejournal.com
I recently got involved in a mini-wank with a person who claimed OTW is an organization of "sexist feminist extremists" who want to pit men against women. And I wonder if I've gotten so caught up in arguing with headdesky people like that, that I haven't bothered doing my own examination of OTW. For instance, I had no idea that the founders and mouthpieces were not defending their mission statement on the grounds you've laid out here. I figured they were, and people just weren't getting it. Now I wonder if they're hiding their feminist principles behind silence -- and in the process, leaving people to project the usual feminazi caricatures into the void.

Personally, I'm getting involved with OTW because I am deeply interested in the legal standing of fanwork; I believe fen can win a case based on copyright, and am intrigued by the more problematic argument authors might make based on trademark. I want us to have a place to post our stuff where we know the maintainers will not cringe at the sight of a takedown notice. Personally, I'm keeping an eye on how the organization plans to handle smut, especially the less palatable and more legally questionable kinds, and by getting involved, hope to shape that in a direction to my liking.

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Date: 2008-01-12 06:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alchemia.livejournal.com
Being linked to in the last metafandom post, I assume you are in part responding to that, and if so, I want to clarify something. You identify the line in the mission statement about female identity as being the line that is seen as problematic by some. I think the line does exclude (in this case, not people who aren't female, but those fen who don't share that history), but I don't think this exclusion is a problem. Every group needs a focus, and that seems to be theirs. I am uncomfortable by their trying to represent all of fandom and saying that they are inclusive, because obviously some of us don't share their history, identity or vision.

The criticisms of the OTW most often appear to rest on what it appears to be, to think, to want--and not on what it is doing. (Not much yet. Give it a few months.) This is, I think, a mistake...

People are going to respond to what they see, and so far, we mainly have words to go by. We also have the backgrounds of the people on the board. I don't think its a mistake to start forming opinions based on this. That's what we do when faced with something new, like voting for a new president- what do the candidates say? what have they done in the past? I think it is a mistake not to keep an open mind and be willing to change one's opinion though.

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Date: 2008-01-12 06:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alixtii.livejournal.com
Rest assured, I had outlined this post long before reading yours. And I want to reiterate that the further marginalization of marginalized peoples is a moral evil and I don't doubt that you've felt that, and I am sorry for it.

I think you're right that OTW excludes people who are not part of its fannish history, and I agree with you that that's not in itself problematic. I don't see where they are trying to represent people beyond that, though. I particularly remember the discussions over "media fandom" which especially showed the commitment was to a particular community with a particular documented history rather than trying to embrace everyone who had ever tried to do something fannish. Not to mention ComRel's (top-level post) statrement here: "The OTW of course does not represent all of fandom, as no one entity can make that claim. But we hope that many of you will find enough common ground with these goals to continue to support and participate in the OTW."

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Date: 2008-01-12 06:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elizabeth perry (from livejournal.com)
This is fascinating, and I'm going to be re-reading it, I think. Thank you.

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Date: 2008-01-12 07:22 pm (UTC)
ext_2208: graffiti on a wall saying "QUESTION EVERYTHING" (question everything)
From: [identity profile] heyiya.livejournal.com
Thank you for this post! It articulates very clearly where I stand on and in OTW, too. I support their liberal agenda in the same way that I support gay marriage, because I understand that legitimation within existing systems is necessary and important on a practical level, that it improves the experience of living in the world in individual ways. But I oppose gay marriage too, because I oppose *marriage* as the centre of activism, and similarly although I support most of OTW's practical agenda, I have a lot of problems with "legitimacy" as a driving goal. Legitimacy to whom? In many ways, I prefer illegitimacy because I have zero faith in the sexist, racist, capitalist systems which legitimate. But if illegitimacy has negative consequences for some and to be legitimate makes things easier for people/fandom in general, then yes, let's have it.

I don't think I believe that an ideologically neutral position exists; I don't think I believe that a noncontradictory ideological position exists either. But when it comes to OTW's mission statement and gender, the key word to me is *values*, and I think that's the key word for the objectors too -- if you don't think predominant femaleness is something to value, then that line is of course going to annoy or even offend you. I do think it's something to value, but I think it's also extremely important to remember the exclusions or elisions the predominantly female community might take part in. Which I think is a point that's inherent in your post, too.

Of course, to be an academic inclined to radical critique is already to be in a weird subject position -- one is a privileged part of institutions and sites of immense cultural capital, etc, so the degree to which one can be subversive without also being completely hypocritical is very moot. I think that fandom's subversiveness is similarly contradictory -- creating noncapitalist and anticapitalist structures, subverting texts, but being part of capital and reliant on it. I'm not sure what OTW's relation to that subversiveness will be, but I'm interested to find out.


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Date: 2008-01-12 08:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alixtii.livejournal.com
I'm nodding along to this furiously! Yes to everything you say here.

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Date: 2008-01-12 08:05 pm (UTC)
ext_841: (female nude (by liviapenn))
From: [identity profile] cathexys.livejournal.com
I think the beauty of an org like ACLU (and hopefully OTW) is that we can disagree and yet have enough in common to work side by side.

Or maybe it's the sibling thing: we may fight like cats and dogs, but when parent comes, we stick together :D

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Date: 2008-01-13 05:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alchemia.livejournal.com
except for my appreciation of the "anarchy" of fandom, this makes some sense to me.... I support gay marriage, heck, any marriage, but my mom and her "boyfriend" are not married, nor am I and bugland, and I avoid labels, because I've no clue on how to. :-/

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Date: 2008-01-13 09:52 am (UTC)
ext_150: (Default)
From: [identity profile] kyuuketsukirui.livejournal.com
if you don't think predominant femaleness is something to value, then that line is of course going to annoy or even offend you.

It's not just that, but also, when I read that someone values fandom being female as the #1 thing, it feels to me like they are only tolerating people who don't identify as female, and furthermore that they are invested in actively keeping it that way (such as by the rhetoric of "for women, by women").

(This is not necessarily about OTW, but this slice of fandom in general.)

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Date: 2008-01-12 08:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kbusse.livejournal.com
You non-defender you :)

I like your radical standpoint not just in content but in action--the fact that you as a guy can stand here and say that (both the feminist agenda and your fannish identity of being part of media fandom) supports the fact that one can value predominantly female history (and even identity) and still be inclusive and value diversity.

Also, how much did I laugh when I saw that horrendous line with the under erasure and the random capitalization...and only afterwards recognized that *i* had committed that atrocity. LOL

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Date: 2008-01-12 08:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bethbethbeth.livejournal.com
What a very smart discussion (even if it's not a...defense *g*).

I particularly like the way you bring in the parallels between the OTW and the ACLU because, okay, I've been sending money to the ACLU for most of my life, and yet some of the time, the organization makes me extremely uncomfortable because of things they say in the media or defenses they've chosen to take on (Nazis in Skokie, for example. she said, risking the invocation of Godwin's Law)...but I so completely want somebody to be there on the front lines that I can't not support them.

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Date: 2008-01-12 09:55 pm (UTC)
ext_3244: (Default)
From: [identity profile] ignazwisdom.livejournal.com
Thank you for posting this and articulating your thoughts so clearly and openly. I will almost certainly be linking to this in the future (even though I just promised myself that I wasn't going to read/discuss any more posts about the OTW, argh) because it says so much of what I'm incapable of expressing.

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Date: 2008-01-14 11:23 am (UTC)
alias_sqbr: (livejournal)
From: [personal profile] alias_sqbr
I know this is horribly shallow and off topic but...icon twins! :D

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Date: 2008-01-13 04:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rivkat.livejournal.com
I find it extremely amusing that we both modified "two fans, three opinions" for this topic. Thanks for the fascinating post.

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Date: 2008-01-13 04:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] la-vie-noire.livejournal.com
I didn't even finish to read it, and I have to thank you for this. You don't know how tired I was of the 'BUT THEY ARE EXCLUDING MEN' argument. Didn't we talked about this years before, fandom? In, like, discussions about male-privilege?

And hell, I don't care about OTW.

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Date: 2008-01-13 04:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] r-becca.livejournal.com
...hahaha, my entire reaction to this post is "you are male? I had no idea! I just assumed you were female this whole time!" *is stupid, yet very appropriate*

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Date: 2008-01-13 01:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alixtii.livejournal.com
I'm surprised anymore when people ar surprised by my gender, since I feel like I talk about it a lot (since I talk about feminism a lot), although naturally it happened a lot when I was new to LJ, but part of me is gratified I can still pass. In the beginning, even Ari, after her having read my journal for three months and my having left comments in her journal for about a year, was surprised when she found out.

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Date: 2008-01-13 05:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cupidsbow.livejournal.com
What an interesting post! I have difficulty reconciling action with ideology too, for all the reasons you state (plus a few more, like: What do I do when two causes weigh equally with me, and yet they are in opposition in some practical way?).

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Date: 2008-01-13 06:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kerravongenius.livejournal.com
As a woman, I find this twaddle about poor ickle women being the victims of the nasty, strong patriarchy profoundly insulting.

Fandom is not a female space. Fandom is a human space. Sexism works both ways and women (at least those of us who don't blame every problem in life on some invented male conspiracy) don't need to turn everything into a gender war.

If you really respect women, why not let us fight our own battles and stop being so patronising? The "plight of women" makes us sound like victims. Please, understand, the majority of us are not. If you believe in male privilege, by all means wring your hands about it, but don't expect gratitude from any woman with a speck of self-respect.

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Date: 2008-01-13 07:52 am (UTC)
ghost_lingering: Robin Hood and Little John cross dress and accidentally grope (hey!  watch the goods!)
From: [personal profile] ghost_lingering
*pokes head in fire*

[Disclaimer: This comment is a bit of a non-defense of the post...I'm still thinking about every thing that was written and I can't say I agree with all of it, but I also don't violently disagree--like I said, I'm still processing. What follows is my own reaction to your comment, without reference to the preceeding post.]

I'm a college student right now double-majoring in two liberal arts fields. One is mostly women (English). The other is mostly men (Film). (At least, those are the demographics where I am.) The one that's mostly women is maybe a 60/40 split; the one that's mostly men is...basically a 80/20 split (*to clarify: in film production classes, which are the bulk of my film classload at this point--film studies/media studies classes are more even, but still probably more guys).

I love both majors. I am equally sucessful in both majors. I have two jobs, one relating to each major, both of which I love very much and which I am good at. I love the people in both majors, though I'm probably closer to people in the second major (aka, the guys) because I spend more time with them (hard not to when you do film production classes). I fit in equally well with the people in both majors, though perhaps slightly better with the second major because most of the guys are geeks like I am (albeit mostly film geeks who argue about soviet montage and wether film is more hardcore than video, not sci-fi/fantasy/media/rpf/whatever fans, but still). In both majors we discuss issues of gender, sexuality, and race; of representation; of sub-culture; of subtext; of interpretation. In neither major do I do I blame my sucesses/failures on male patriarchy or whatever.

But.

Sometimes it is a relief to get together with my other female film friends and talk film and whatever. Because, man, I get sick of being around guys all the time. Even guys I like, who I respect, who like and respect me, to whom I am 'one of the guys'. Sometimes I like heading over to my other major and being in the majority; sometimes I like 'being one of the girls' instead.

So here's what I think: fandom (at least the corners I hang out in) is mostly (though not exclusively) women. Which would, at least the way I understand it, make it a predominately female-space. And that's nice, sometimes. It's not about male patriarchy, or male priveledge, it's about hanging out with a whole bunch of women and being geeks.

And I find nothing wrong with that: not diagnosing it as such, and not thinking that's cool. Because guys are great, and hanging out with guys are great; and people of both genders are great, and hanging out with people of both genders are great; but women are great too, and, sometimes, it is nice to hang out with just women. And if guys want to join a large group of geeky women hanging out on-line, that's cool: it's just like when I'm hanging out with my film people...after all, it's not always bad to be in the minority.

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Date: 2008-01-13 06:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] illicit-grace.livejournal.com
Yes...just, yes...
I feel as though I cannot coherently respond to what you have said. As I read your post I knew the reference you were making to academic work, and I know the vocabulary to give you a good response...but my language skills aren't working at the moment...

I think in many ways I am torn between the OTW filling my heart with fannish squee and some of the reservations you made here. Just like I'd so much rather for fandom to remain insular and unnoticed so we can continue on our merry way and in the next breath I'd like to be able to be out and proud about my fannish identity and what that means to me.

Sometimes I think that the OTW is almost politicizing fandom identity. I do not know yet whether or not this will be such a good thing. It could be good in thatt fandom then will be able to work more collectively for those things it wants, but identity politics have a lot of bad to them, and a lot of bad rhetoric surrounding them...and just in general are a dangerous and slippery slope to walk.
While I agree for the most part with your comparasion to the ACLU, I do find one difference. The ACLU (as a space, as an institution) does not seek to explain and contextualize the people(in our case it will be the "culture") who use it's services. The OTW, with the wiki and the Journal, are going to be spaces to work on the contextualization of fandom. This contextualization is what is going to protect our culture, yes, but it will make the space as a whole problematic. Of course, it could also help radicalize the OTW...but that gets into arguments of scholarship as activism vs scholarship detracting from activism and other headdesky things that I can not get into right now, at 1:46am.
I really do apologize for the poor (academic) quality of this comment, but please take this small offering of squee, such as it is. Because you have totally made my day. I may only be a second year undergrad, but I know I want to go into academics, and male feminists such as you are love.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-13 02:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alixtii.livejournal.com

The OTW, with the wiki and the Journal, are going to be spaces to work on the contextualization of fandom. This contextualization is what is going to protect our culture, yes, but it will make the space as a whole problematic.

That's fair, although it's my understanding that in the name of intellectual freedom the Journal wiill be operating almost completely independently of the org, and as thus will not speak for the org. Also, since a journal is multi-authored, it won't have only one perspective; I trust and [livejournal.com profile] kbusse to publish people they disagree with, for example.

I really don't know anything about the wiki--the org hasn't said very much about it yet, have they?--but ideally the nature of a wiki means that even if the people who own the servers have an agenda, it wouldn't find its way into the content, because everyone would be welcome to serve as editors. Of course, the world isn't always as wonderful as the ideal, so we'll just have to wait and see. But still, it's probably safer in the hands of a non-profit organization than in just those of one person; there'll be sure to be some checks and balances.

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From: [identity profile] illicit-grace.livejournal.com - Date: 2008-01-13 05:06 pm (UTC) - Expand

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Date: 2008-01-13 11:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ithiliana.livejournal.com
First off: I think this post is absolutely brilliant, and admire the way in which you construct it (I am such a sucker for good writing!).

I agree totally that there is an important relationship between what is called radical and what is called liberal ideologies and pratices in every movement for social change: women voting! How radical! What is radical in one generation is "normal" for the next. There must be multiple, ongoing, varying types of feminisms in debate at the same time for anything to happen: feminist movement (where the emphasis is one the movement) cannot be achieved by one "true" approach.

In other words, fantastic post, and I especially like how you handle the gender and feminist issues.

However. Let's move to the next level.

First, some personal history. After discovering feminism in the early eighties, and become a self-described radical feminist (and spending a lot of time explaining to people that it didn't mean I was going to become a terrorist and bomb all male spaces), I found myself stomping away from the academy after telling the graduate director of the playwriting program that he was sexist. Note to grad students: never tell a graduate director off unless you are prepared to leave. In my exit interview with the dept. head (do I need to say this dept. was all male except for an adjunct who taught dance), he told me that they knew the director had problems with women, that no female students ever did the playwriting option on the undergraduate level, that I was the only female student to get as far as I had on the graduate level, but they could not do anything because he had tenure and becauase his stance was that he could not be sexist because he was Jewish and a member of the ACLU (I LOVE your analogy between OTW and the ACLU, btw, but it is funny in the context of this story).

And even had they made someone else graduate director, it probably wouldn't have made any difference to the overall sexism in place.

The program, not surprisingly, was even more racist (during the time I was there, there was one African-American undergrad student; all the grad students were white).

So I left. I was unemployed a while which sucks. I lived with my mom. I found clerical jobs (for the federal government which taught me that the feds have a much better tenure system than academics do--three years, and you're in, and they cannot fire you--they can get rid of your job, but they cannot fire you).

And I joined groups/volunteered: environmental, small struggling radical literary types, and bisexual. (The only feminist group I could learn of that was active in the area at the time required a commitment to both Marxism and vegetarianism and had come about a result of fierce internal philosophical struggles.)

I worked the crappy clerical job and threw my heart and soul into the groups.

A few years later, I stomped back into academia, pissed off beyond measure at the groups and frustrated with their inability to do anything beyond fight with each other. At that time I evolved my theory of groups: any group no matter how marginalized/oppressed will immediately, upon formation, look for some 'scapegoat' who can be expelled to show the greater purity of the group. NOW expelled lesbians. There are lots of other examples. I am so not a group person, I learned. And that applies to every group I've been in from Campfire groups to the Bisexual Support Group.

part 2

Date: 2008-01-13 11:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ithiliana.livejournal.com
I came to feminism via reading and writing. Books are the most important element of my life, and so I decided to go someplace where I could work with books, where I could make a difference (compared to my experience in academia), and where I could in fact keep working with feminist ideas.

There are, I am sure, groups committed to social change which are much more effective, but I do not think I found them.

I also learned that philosophically I pretty much do not like working with people in that sort of situation (I also hate clerical jobs).

I decided to subvert from within and went back to academia. The challenge then became getting tenure, and that's another whole issue.

So here's my question: given the validity of your points about the OTW not being "radical, what sort of *practices* would you say would be appropriate (say, in a radical group that you could help form)? Based on the theory, what specific practices would be best? (I also agree with you on the strength of the open-source software! That's fantastic, and something I see given little credit by the people critiquing the archive. Of course since their argument seems to boil down to "we don't need another archive," I guess they wouldn't see forming other archives as a good idea.)

The whole excluding men issue--I see no reason for a feminist or a radical feminist group to exclude men at this point in time although there is every reason for some women to form groups that are women-only, but given that a HUGE amount of the criticism of the "valuing female communtiy" is coming from women, not men, and a lot of the criticisms of "feminism" come from women (often calling themselves feminist), it's not as easy as let's keep the men out. For one thing, the possible "whiteness" of the Board hasn't even been raised/debated (or if it has, I haven't seen it). The class issues are perhaps tied up with the whole critique of academics. Nobody's talking much about sexuality/gender identity--but I strongly suspect that the majority of the Board, as of fandom, are straight.

That said, of course, I was the one involved in aca-fan debate saying why spend a lot of time trying to explain ourselves to the men? Let's just do what we want to do, and those few men who understand (i.e. are feminists, who are working to dismantle their own and institutionalized systems of male privilege) will join in. I'm sort of in the space (in this one small space) described by Joanna Russ (I'm up early for some reason and not at work where all my Russ books are) of just not caring what men say, and being busy with my own stuff.

But deep down and simply; what practices do you want to see? How would you do things differently?

Because (given my age and years in the system and the fact that I'm probably not a radical anymore, given all of that), I'm seeing OTW as a lot more potentially radical than you or [livejournal.com profile] heyiya. Women are trying to own the space. Women who are not a corporation are creating a group to own/control space for fans who *wish* to use it.

Re: part 2

Date: 2008-01-13 01:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alixtii.livejournal.com
I can't (and won't) defend OTW against accusations of being less subversive than fandom as a whole, but the arguments I've seen made to this effect (in [livejournal.com profile] dkompare's and [livejournal.com profile] ethrosdemon's posts and the comments thereto, mostly) are often at too high a level of abstraction to be practically meaningful (but isn't that true of a lot of theoretical radical critique?), and that's saying a lot coming from this very abstract philosopher-to-be! And I think that OTW will keep track of its radical vision as exemplified in the explicitly feminist title "An Archive of Our Own," in large part because of the acafannish influence, and am amused that it is being attacked at once both for being too radical and for not being radical enough. So I'm profoundly sympathetic to those arguing about OTW's liberalizing influence, but I'm not sure I completely share their critiques.

That said, there is something inherently liberalizing in the idea of an archiv4e. First and foremost is my concern--which I held from the very beginning--that for legal reasons chan and/or underaged readers will not be allowed. This, if it happens, would be a compromised forced by the necessity of obeying the law, not being criminals anymore. That's a liberalization. So too is the fact that on my LJ, I can write a NC-17 BDSM Dawn/Giles fic with character death and noncon where Dawn's 14 and title it "Dawn gen, PG" and the only thing anyone can do is defriend me or stop listing me on newsletters. There's a fundamental anarchy in the way we do things on LJ, with no governor anywhere except maybe SixApart or their Russian successors, and a) they are King Log much more often than King Stork, at least until recently, and b) fans typically don't feel any real obligation to obey their rules beyond the possibility of consequences.

With an archive, there presumably would need to be some type of shared consensus as to what certain fannish terms meant, one true rating system, etc. So it is certainly a pulling back from the anarchy we experience on LJ--but with LJ's masters suddenly becoming more vigilant, it's nonetheless possibly necessary that we will have to take our game elsewhere. And with the possibility of more than one archive (or rather, the certainty, since the old ones aren't going anywhere) there will be a place for anarchy as well.

Re: part 2

From: [identity profile] tacky-tramp.livejournal.com - Date: 2008-01-13 07:11 pm (UTC) - Expand

Re: part 2

From: [identity profile] alixtii.livejournal.com - Date: 2008-01-13 08:32 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-13 11:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ithiliana.livejournal.com
They are trying to change the structure.

I am not sure how the tension between radical and liberal feminists is working out these days, but in the 1980s, one way was activist/academic.

I'm not sure that in 2007 anybody working in an academic insitution really gets to consider themselves a radical (as I understand the word) just based on the theory/reading/writing--I could be wrong, and just reflecting my own situation, but I think that's something to consider in the critiques of the OTW as not "radical" enough. I'm quite open to the idea that it's a generational issue.

The question is what is one doing beyond that academic setting--what I see the OTW doing, even with the academic journal (which btw is going to be seen as extremely radical/possibly marginalized/discounted by a lot of the gatekeepers in academia), is working to make a structural difference in existing conditions by changing the nature of ownership.

That they're not also making feminist arguments (and the systemic nature of oppression as you note is not solely a feminist analysis) is not surprising to me: look at all the criticism and complaints about the academic/feminist/exclusionary/oppressive nature of the group even as they currently exist (and before they've done much of anything beyond set up some committees!)

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-13 03:41 pm (UTC)
ext_2208: image of romaine brooks self-portrait, text "Lila Futuransky" (Default)
From: [identity profile] heyiya.livejournal.com
They are trying to change the structure in small ways that fit in the world as it is; the changes they want are within the system. That's my definition of liberal -- change within existing structures. Legal defenses are pretty much by definition liberal. My take on it is in the essay I just posted flocked, in fact; I want illegality to be defended too, I want there to be the idea of something more than an enclave within the corporate web. Now, I *don't* want that from OTW, because that's not their goal, and I understand that. But I still want it. I want the greater transformation, I want to think OTW in alliance not only with Creative Commons and open source but with social justice activism on and off the web. I have some connections to such RL activism, though not enough to claim any kind of cred, and I've seen amazing small-scale things get done by people who inform all they do with a radical anticapitalist, antiracist, anticolonial analysis. I can't look at OTW without wondering what it would be like with those tools involved, even while I still support what it does on its own terms. Like, as I said, more-or-less supporting gay marriage legislation while also opposing it because I don't believe in the kind of normativity that values marriage above other kinds of relationship.

I tried to address the fundamental hypocrisy of being a radically-minded academic in my reply above. For me the crucial issues revolve around capitalism and colonialism/neoliberalism rather than gender; I write critically about both structures while benefiting from them. And I have thought about the potential value in leaving academia and joining the activist world, but despite the fact that being in the system renders one liberal by default, I think that the academy needs radicals so that students aren't just being taught how the system works and how to find their place in it but also that it's fucked up and what the cost of their place is (and how not everyone and not all culture accepts the status quo).

Again like I said above, I don't believe in a noncontradictory ideological position. We all want to live comfortably even as we may deplore the systems that give us comfort off the backs of others; trying to live a pure and untainted life is probably more likely to lead to burnout than anything else. That isn't to say that I think it isn't worth *trying* -- but I think there are times when strong, negative critiques need to be made even if they can't be backed up with immediate positive action. They are probably already neutralized by being made within the academy, and I believe it's really important not to close oneself up in the ivory tower -- to be an intellectual rather than just an academic, if you like, something I try to do -- but I suppose I do believe in the value of ideas for their own sake, and that's why I do this.

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] alixtii.livejournal.com - Date: 2008-01-13 05:02 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] heyiya.livejournal.com - Date: 2008-01-13 10:31 pm (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-13 12:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] http://users.livejournal.com/peasant_/
I think you are right that the OTW doesn't want you defending them ;o) mainly because if they become too associated in the fannish mind with anything political/social issue related, fandom will wander off elsewhere. I suspect they may have already gone too far down that route, but then I have only really heard of them via metafandom style posts and those by definition are concerned with the more ideologically aware branches of fandom.

If they can pitch themselves as just a big new archive, fandom may be interested, and may then pick up on some of the other things they are offering in passing. Most of fandom will be willing to at least investigate them if there is a chance of picking up more readers.

Otherwise they will end up just representing those few fans who like talking about gender/race/sexuality/whatever issues, and everyone else will just ignore them. Nothing wrong with that, of course, if that is what they want then good luck to them, but it won't have much to do with fandom and it certainly won't be providing anything fandom needs.

But a good open-source, adaptable piece of archive software - now that fandom really would benefit from. So if they are providing that then good for them.

For myself, I will continue to write for myself, post for the readership I am in the mood to post for, and don't really see how OTW will ever be relevant to my life.

Oh, by the way, I have taken a vow to stop trying to talk about gender/race/sexuality etc. issues online since they just make me upset and in the case of the race discussions last year actually made me considerably more racist (which naturally is not something I welcome). Hence I'm sorry but I won't reply to the two comments you replied to this morning - please understand that is not anything personal against you.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-13 01:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alixtii.livejournal.com
Agreed. There's an apologetic virtue in OTW not making the argument I'm making, but at the same time (As someone who agrees with me) I think there's a value in the argument being made somewhere.Thus my approach of distancing myself from the org and laying out my perspective without defending them.

I think once the new archive comes out, the focus will be on that much more than any perceived ideology. People mnay hate it--probably will, people being people--but I do think the focus of the criticism will change once the OTW has something concrete to show for themselves.

And fair enough.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-13 09:32 pm (UTC)
ext_6602: (Jack-a-Eo)
From: [identity profile] mtgat.livejournal.com
I don't have a strong enough grasp of all the issues being raised here and elsewhere to be able to respond to this effectively, so I'm not going to embarrass myself trying. I just wanted to say that you have an amazing brain, and we need more like it in the world.

Okay bye.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-14 06:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carmarthen.livejournal.com
Other than the fact that I am male, I am in some ways exactly the sort of academic (though, truly, I'm not really, as I'm only a grad student, and a just starting one at that) that OTW's critics see lurking behind every corner of the org.

It's funny because it's true. :D

The question is not, cannot be, "Would this be just in an already just society?"

I think this is the crux of things, actually.

I've been thinking about this a lot, because it's hard to articulate to people who don't identify as feminists (and some who do) why I would never say "I value science for being dominated by white men" (and why I'd be kind of pissed at a white man who said that) but I'm okay with saying "I value fandom because it is largely composed of women." I think some of the men in fandom are great and some of the women are insane--but the plain fact of it is that it's easy to find spaces full of men. It's hard to find spaces full of women, and harder yet to find ones where women can explore their creativity without having it dismissed as lesser than male creativity.

And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Someday, perhaps, none of this will be an issue. But we're not there yet.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-15 12:04 am (UTC)
ext_1888: Crichton looking thoughtful and a little awed. (Default)
From: [identity profile] wemblee.livejournal.com
The question is not, cannot be, "Would this be just in an already just society?" Putting Supergirl in a short skirt, or giving Powergirl big breasts, would be neutral acts in an already just society: some women wear short skirts and some have big breasts, and that's okay. But we don't live in a just society, and asking what we would do then blinds us to the pattern of oppression these facts form into today. Similarly, some actions are called for today as reactionary measures which would not be appropriate in a feminist utopia. Fandom's female identity is one of these things.

<333333333

I get so frustrated reading various conversations about various "isms" where there's this attitude like the one you describe and critique above -- where the reaction to female space and the like is "two wrongs don't make a right!" I wish there was a pithy, easy catch-phrase to respond to stuff like that.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-01-17 12:44 pm (UTC)
copracat: dreamwidth vera (little monkey)
From: [personal profile] copracat
I wish there was a pithy, easy catch-phrase to respond to stuff like that.

"Your error is in assuming they are both wrongs."

*g*

(no subject)

From: [identity profile] wemblee.livejournal.com - Date: 2008-01-18 04:57 pm (UTC) - Expand

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