Sex-positive feminist ethics collide with personal fandom, part the first.

This is an entry about an experience I had this weekend. It’s a personal entry, it doesn’t have much feminist meta-critique in it, but it is something I’m thinking about. I’m not calling anyone out, I am not saying that anything shouldn’t have happened, I’m just wrestling with some thoughts in public.

At Dexcon there was a D20 Burlesque performance. I am generally pro-burlesque, in that I am pro-women having agency over their sexuality, and I am pro-women expressing that agency in the way they wish. And yet…

Every woman I saw was dressed as either a sex symbol from the media she was in (an Inara from Firefly, for example) or someone that’s clearly not a sex symbol (R2-D2 on roller skates, which was cute, but…no one objectifies R2-D2).

And then there was Chandra. Now, Chandra is often a role-model for Magic playing women and girls. She’s a character we get twisted in knots about because the meta-fiction of the game presents her as a strong woman, a survivor of abuse, a powerful Mage, a force to be reckoned with. Even when she’s drawn like an Eschergirl (link is not work safe!), she’s fully covered. She wears armor. And she throws fucking fireballs.

But then, as I’m in the process of taping down wires for the sound system, I see a woman who is definitely supposed to be Chandra, and she is not in armor, and she is in a bikini essentially, and it strikes me that this woman is about to strip. For a bunch of nerds. And while Double Exposure is pretty good about doing their best to prevent objectification and other artifacts of the kyriarchy in their space, this is burlesque and its whole point is, at some level, objectification.

A lot of nerds still have problems around objectification.

And I still have to keep my shit together like a professional. So I stuff it the fuck down and I finish my job and I go downstairs.

And that’s when I realize I’m angry.

So now, here I am standing outside the hotel having a little meltdown on my own (because these feelings are my feelings and they’re not for anyone else to deal with) about the fact that I character I love who is already frequently ill treated at the hands of dudes (a very quick sketch of some of the ways she’s mistreated here and here) and turns her into a sexualized object. A woman is literally about to strip out of a Chandra costume. And the costume doesn’t even feature the armor that Chandra always wears, because that would be hard to strip off.

I said some unkind things while I was in the middle of my meltdown, and I’m glad no one was around to hear them.

But here I am, still struggling with a question I don’t really have an answer to. As a Magic playing woman, I should be happy to meet another woman that’s into MtG. That’s into it enough to create a performance number around it. And yet I can’t help but wonder… I wonder if this woman has any idea the cycle she’s feeding into. I wonder if this woman has any idea how hard those of us who use Chandra as a pick me up on game days have to fight not to have her seen as just another feisty redhead who’s great in the sack. I wonder if this woman went for it because it was a much easier, low-hanging sexy fruit than trying to come up with an awesome cross-tumed burlesque number like Jace Beleren or Gideon Jura.

And on the other side, I wonder how long it’s going to be before I’m so tired of the tropes this reinforces that I walk away from Chandra, because I don’t have the energy to fight the bullshit kyriarchal narratives that have been reinforced by someone dressing as her to strip.

I have a lot of feelings, and not a lot of answers right now. And it sucks, because I wanted this to be something I could be joyful about, oh yay nerd burlesque, but instead I wonder how much of the appreciation of these women isn’t about their talent or agency, but is instead about the permission they’re giving to see characters who are written as strong women as, instead, nothing more than cardboard porn cutouts.

[Edited to Add, 7/8/15 15:17: I spoke about this with the Double Exposure crew before posting, and they are aware of my feedback. I was satisfied with the response I got from them, and chose to write about this because I think it’s a bigger issue than a single performance at a single convention.]

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