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The Rise of Hookup Sexual Culture on American College Campus

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Cultures – sets of widely-endorsed ideas reflected in rules for interaction and in the organization of our institutions – are powerful social forces that shape individuals’ lives. In colleges, “hookup culture” refers to the idea that casual sexual encounters are the best or only way to engage sexually; and the concept also refers to rules of social interaction that facilitate casual sexual encounters and organizational arrangements that support these encounters.

Today, almost all of America’s residential college campuses are characterized by a hookup culture – large and small, private and public, secular and religious, and left- and right-leaning campuses. Students must contend with this culture even if they are not especially sexually active. In fact, many students are not very active. The average graduating senior reports hooking up just eight times in four years; and a third do not hook up even a single time. Individual students can and do opt out of casual hookup sexual encounters, but few can escape dealing with that culture.

The Origins of Campus Hookup Culture

Hookup culture is simply the newest stage in the evolution of sexual norms and behavior in America. Its roots lie in the early city life of the 1920s, the first time in U.S. history that young people routinely socialized in mixed-sex groups beyond the supervision of chaperones. This created intense media interest in “youth culture,” as college attendance became accessible to large swaths of the American population. After a couple hundred years of conflict with higher education administrators, fraternity men starting setting the social tone. Their way of experiencing college life – irreverent, raucous, and fun-oriented – was suddenly the way to experience college. Attending college was linked to the idea of being young and carefree.

After a couple hundred years of conflict with higher education administrators, fraternity men starting setting the social tone. Their way of experiencing college life – irreverent, raucous, and fun-oriented – was suddenly the way to experience college. Attending college was linked to the idea of being young and carefree.

The Great Depression and World War II put the brakes on such revelry. Young women initiated “going steady” – monogamous, long-term dating – as a response to the loss of young men to war. Yet going steady, a kind of “premature monogamy,” was both new and short-lived as an ideal for young people. By the 1960s, young people wanted to remain unattached; and meanwhile, gay men in urban enclaves were experimenting with a culture revolving around “hookups.” The dangers of AIDs infection slowed down the process by which casual sexual encounters spread into the mainstream for young people, but this process proceeded nonetheless.

In 1978, the popularity of the movie Animal House ratcheted up expectations for college fun. Beer and liquor companies took advantage of the moment, spending millions in the 1980s to convince students that drinking was a mainstay of college life. Starting in 1984, when the U.S. government financially pressured the states to raise the legal drinking age from 18 to 21, control over campus parties was thrown increasingly into the hands of men who occupied large, private fraternity residences in which they could flagrantly break liquor laws.

Fraternities again came to dominate the campus social scene. Until today, this remains true on many campuses, but many other factors also reinforce hookup sexual norms on college campuses – including media portrayals of college life, rising individualism, and a halfway transition toward women’s equality. Social and sexual norms originally embodied in fraternities now reign supreme on college campuses.

The Destructive Sense that Hookup Sex is the Only Option

After hearing about hookup culture, many older Americans wonder whether today’s students actually enjoy it. The answer appears to be both yes and no, as I learned from years of fieldwork. About a quarter of students thrive in this culture, at least at first. They enjoy hooking up and adapt well to hookup culture’s rules calling for fun and casual, short-term encounters.

At the same time, about a third of students opt out altogether; they find hookup culture unappealing and would rather not have sex at all than have it the way this culture mandates. The remaining students are ambivalent, dabbling in hookups with mixed results. Overall, about one in three students say that their intimate relationships have been “traumatic” or “very difficult to handle.” Many of them experience a persistent malaise, a deep, indefinable disappointment. And one in ten says that they have been sexually coerced or assaulted in the past year.

Notably, my research suggests that hookup culture is a problem not because it promotes casual sex, but because it makes a destructive form of casual sexual engagement feel compulsory. Students who don’t hook up can end up being socially isolated, while students who do engage in this way are forced to operate by a dysfunctional set of rules.

Hookup culture encourages a punishing emotional landscape, where caring for others or even simple courtesy seem inappropriate, while carelessness and even cruelty are allowed. At its worst, it encourages young men and women to engage in sexual competitiveness and status-seeking while meeting impossible standards of attractiveness. It privileges immediate pleasure-seeking and heightens risks that students will become either perpetrators or victims of sexual crimes.

Changing Power Structures and Destructive Sexual Norms

Understanding that the forces shaping sexual relationships on campuses are cultural – that problems lie not so much in particular encounters as in hookup culture overall – is the first step toward clarifying what needs to change. Because culture is a type of shared consciousness, many people need to work together to make changes happen. And they can. Especially because of the strong ties in student bodies, campuses can transform themselves faster than one might suspect.

Research shows that today’s young people are more open, permissive, earnest, hopeful for the future, and welcoming of diversity than any other generation in memory. They are well-positioned to usher in the next new sexual culture. But colleges as institutions must change, too. Institutions of higher education need to put substantial resources and time into shifting cultural norms in two ways: promoting casual sexual encounters that involve an ethic of care, and diversifying the kind of sexual encounters that are seen as possible and good.

Colleges also need to change the institutional arrangements that give too much power to subsets of students who are most enthusiastic about hookup culture and who benefit from it at the expense of their peers.  Doing this may mean disbanding fraternities and sororities as they have existed, because as long as these organizations and their ethics remain power bastions on U.S. campuses, hookup culture will persist.

Lisa Wade is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Occidental College. Her areas of expertise are gender, sexuality, and culture, with specific expertise in collegiate hookup culture, the relationship between bodies and society, and the politics of female genital cutting. Lisa is also a practiced public sociologist who has won seven awards for the website she co-founded in 2007, Sociological Images. This article was written in collaboration with the Scholars Strategy Network.

          
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Under Pressure

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As it turns out, the behaviour of people around us is contagious. This is truer the closer these relationships are – we are much more influenced by the attitudes of friends and family than we are by those of strangers.   We often think of peer pressure as a bad thing we should resist, but it can also be a powerful influencer in terms of shifting social attitudes for the better as well.

I recently read an interesting article in Scientific American about the power of social pressure and how it can influence our behaviour.  For example, one 2003 study found:

  • If a person gains weight, the likelihood their friend would also gain weight is 171%
  • When smokers quit, their friends are 36% more likely to also quit
  • Having happy friends increased the likelihood of an individual being happy by 8%

It’s also true that fitting in feels good.  We all want to feel a sense of connection and belonging and these things are hugely important to our personal wellbeing.  The difficulty is, of course, when fitting in means feeling pressured to change parts of ourselves in ways we are not comfortable with.  And feeling under pressure to force yourself to be something you’re not can cause a huge amount of psychological distress.

It’s a no-win situation – we either change (or pretend to change) for the sake of fitting into the group – and feel awful and uncomfortable about not being able to be who we really are – or we stay courageous about our convictions, but experience ostracisation and pay another kind of emotional price for that, too.

So what’s the answer?  I’m really not sure, to be honest.  I know that personally when I was younger I felt huge amounts of pressure to hide my nerdy and academic interests because they didn’t seem to be shared by the people around me.  I didn’t talk about my love for sci-fi, comic books, or video games with anyone.  Or show that I loved attending classes and soaking up knowledge anywhere I could.  I simply never seemed to have any friends who had the same interests.

But through my 20s I became a lot more comfortable in my own skin and more confident that being different in some way was okay.  Just the other day a colleague pointed out a nice, but expensive, piece of jewellery online.  She asked, “Wouldn’t you like to own that?”  I replied, “Actually, I’d rather have a new Xbox!”  We laughed about it.  I didn’t feel like an outcast.  I felt like I was being genuine and appreciated for that.

And maybe this is the key.  Sometimes a lot of the pressure to conform is external, but I wonder how much of it is internal as well.  I wonder if my friends in my younger years would have accepted me for who I was if I had given them the chance to.

Or maybe my hard-won comfort with who I am helps other people to feel more comfortable being themselves around me, too.  We’ve removed that pressure, together.

But I’m curious – how affected (or unaffected) do you feel by social pressure?

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The Tonight Show Makes Television History

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Alyssa

On Thursday, September 13, 2018, Central Park was buzzing with more than just insects and birds. The SummerStage was bright with lights and music, and filled with 1,500 people. Jimmy Fallon, the host of The Tonight Show, partnered with T-Mobile to make television history.

As local New Yorkers and fans alike took their seats at Central Park SummerStage the anticipation for the beginning of the show built. This was no ordinary show – this was the first ever late-night show in Central Park. Fallon had promoted the event earlier in the week with People TV and even took Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie behind the scenes.

The show began with ear-blasting cheers and applause from the audience as Jimmy Fallon took the stage. His energy radiated through the audience as he welcomed the crowd.

“Welcome to The Tonight Show at SummerStage in Central Park!”

As the crowd settled down, Fallon jumped into his monologue, introducing his guests for the night. Country music superstar Carrie Underwood and promoting her new movie “A Simple Favor”, actress Blake Lively would be joining Fallon, along with a few other surprise guests throughout the show. Playing alongside The Roots are members from none other than the New York Philharmonic.

“New York City is here tonight, ladies and gentleman!”

Like the rest of The Late Night Show’s tapings, tickets are free. Fallon kindly reminds guests who got tickets to the taping that if they paid for them, “I’m sorry, and welcome to New York City.”

Although Fallon has grown up and lived in New York all his life, he’s only been to Central Park once before. For those who weren’t familiar with the park they took some time for a quick tour and to introduce the must-see sights. The highlights?

  • The Ramble – also known as where all the bodies on “Law & Order” are found.
  • Hamilton Statue – or the only other place in New York City you can see Hamilton without spending $1,000.
  • Strawberry Fields – where every bad guitar player in New York goes to ruin Beatles songs.
  • Boathouse – where bad dates get stuck because they’re on a boat.
  • Great Lawn – or as New York City dogs call it “The Master Bathroom”.

Before Fallon continued the show he took some time to thank T-Mobile.

“I wanted to thank T-Mobile for helping to make all this happen. Really, thank you, guys. They’ve been so great to us, and so, so great and fun to work with. They have so many amazing artists that work with them. You guys may have heard of one of them… Justin Beiber.”

The crowd exploded in applause again. Turns out, Fallon and Bieber were in Central Park earlier that week and decided to do a skit of their own. Dressed in disguise with wigs and mustaches, they used earpieces to dance to Bieber’s hit song “What Do You Mean”.  The duo made their way through Central Park dancing, singing, and photobombing the park’s visitors. The catch? Only they could hear the music.

In addition to the skit with Bieber, Fallon introduced a new game called Name That Song Challenge. Fallon and Blake Lively went up against Carrie Underwood and surprise guest appearance, Henry Golding. The pairs faced off in a music challenge – whoever could name the song played by The Roots and The New York Philharmonic the fastest won each round.

Fallon interviewed Lively about her new movie “A Simple Favor“, her outfit the night of the movies premier, and some throwbacks including a picture of her dressed as Baby Spice. As Underwood took her spot on the couch, Fallon excitedly asked her about her new album, “Crying Pretty” which was released the same night at 12 am.

To finish off the first-ever late night show in Central Park, Underwood took the stage, performing “Love Wins” off her new album. The audience stood with pink flashing batons and bracelets in the air in honor of T-Mobile. The energy between Underwood and the audience radiated through SummerStage, Central Park.

After the taping, Fallon and Underwood performed a fun karaoke duet of “Islands in the Streams” just for the audience to enjoy. The episode aired at its usual 11:35 timeslot and was a huge success for the first of its kind. Check out clips, pictures, and tweets on #FallonCentralPark and T-Mobile’s #AreYouWithUs for additional fun clips.

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Colin Kaepernick’s Eternal Vigilance

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Aldous Huxley said, “The price of liberty, and even common humanity, is eternal vigilance.” Huxley was letting us know that democracy isn’t easy. Democracy doesn’t just happen. Rather, it’s a constant struggle to maintain a society in which all citizens, regardless of race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation, have equal rights under the law.

From time to time we are fortunate enough to have an individual who reminds us of this, even though we may not want to hear it. Colin Kaepernick has assumed this role in American society and Nike has given him a stage to act it out.

Nike’s new commercial ends with Kaepernick saying, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” It was criticized almost instantly. “Sacrificing everything,” they say, should mean sacrificing one’s life, whether it be during war or the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The underlying argument is Kaepernick and Nike are insulting those who died for our country.

There is no doubt the War on Terror has taken the lives of too many US soldiers. Since 2001, roughly 2,300 US soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. There is also no doubt that losing one’s life is the ultimate sacrifice.

It doesn’t make the war in Afghanistan any less tragic, but in 2016 and 2017 Chicago saw almost 1,500 murders. Around 76% of the murder victims were black. When you add in all the murders that occurred since 2001 the number is well over 5,000. This is just one of the types of tragedies Kaepernick wanted to draw attention to.

It’s almost a cliché at this point to make the comparison, but Muhammad Ali was met with similar criticism when he refused to fight in Vietnam. Ali was called everything from a nigger to a traitor. He lost three years of his prime as a fighter, and he had to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court to get his conviction overturned.

Ironically, President Trump has repeatedly criticized Kaepernick, while earlier this year he sought to pardon Ali. And even more ironically, President Trump did everything he could to avoid going to Vietnam.

In 1963, when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed in Birmingham, Alabama for protesting racial inequality, he penned a lengthy response to an article written a group of moderate white church leaders, criticizing the way Rev. King went about protesting. Rhetorically, Rev. King asked the clergymen, “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, and marches and so forth?” His answer, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”

Kaepernick is criticized for confronting America about its racial inequality at the wrong time.  The clergymen also questioned Rev. King’s timing. He responded, “Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.”

It’s true that Kaepernick hasn’t had to deal with police armed with fire hoses and attack dogs. His house wasn’t bombed, and obviously he hasn’t lost his life like those courageous members of the armed forces who selflessly went to war to protect the United States.

Kaepernick also didn’t lose his life like Rev. King fighting inequality. Does that make his point any less relevant? If Rev. King was to say, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” would you tell him, “You can’t say that because you didn’t die in war”? Probably not.

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Up and Vanished Season 2: A New Town, A New Case, A New Mystery

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Alyssa

Up and Vanished Season 2 – Kristal Anne Reisinger (L) Payne Lindsey (R)

On August 7, 2015, Payne Lindsey released the first episode in his first-ever podcast. What started as an interest in film and documentaries became an inspiration after watching Netflix’s series Making a Murderer.

In an interview with Atlanta Magazine Payne says, “Watching that show, something clicked. I said, ‘I want to do that.’”

Payne’s interest in people and storytelling expanded after taking a cross-country road trip. He and two friends traveled through 20-30 states starting from Atlanta, Georgia to the West Coast and making their way back to the East Coast. The 13-minute documentary focused on the lives of local people and trying to discover what makes them happy. Once completed, they took the film titled “Our People” on the festival circuit and won the best documentary short of 2015.

As Payne began research on his next big project, he took inspiration from Making a Murderer and Googled Georgia cold cases. That’s when he found Tara Grinstead a young woman who went missing from her home on October 22, 2005.

Authorities found her front door was locked, and her cell phone was sitting in its charger. Tara’s car was found sitting under the carport, the doors unlocked, and the front seat pushed all the way back. However, her purse and keys were missing. The last time anyone heard from Tara was Saturday night at 11 pm. She was 30 years old at the time of her disappearance.

Tara was an 11th-grade high school teacher from Ocilla, Georgia, and a former beauty queen. At the time of her disappearance, there was little to no evidence found except a single latex glove in her front yard and a broken necklace inside the home.

Family, friends, and investigators had no leads. Over the last decade, law enforcement was never able to identify a suspect, creating the largest criminal case file in Georgia’s history. When Payne came across the case, investigators and law enforcement were no closer to solving the case than they were in 2005.

Payne reached out on Websleuths asking about the case and was contacted by Maurice Godwin, a private investigator hired by the Grinstead family shortly after Tara’s disappearance. From there, Payne’s Podcast began.

Maurice shared leads, contacts, and his own theories with Payne as he collected research, reached out to Ocilla locals and gathered as much information about Tara as he could. In August of 2015, episode one of Up and Vanished launched, clocking in at 5,000 downloads in the first day.

From there, Up and Vanished (UAV) took off, quickly jumping from a small side project to Payne’s full-time job as new leads, evidence, and tips sprouted. On February 24, 2016, Ryan Alexander Duke, a former student of Tara’s, was arrested with charges against Tara’s disappearance, with another arrest on Bo Dukes made in the days following. Bo Dukes is another former student from Tara’s high school and Ryan Duke’s best friend. Though Payne doesn’t take credit for the arrests, the GBI did thank all the media for keeping the case in the spotlight.

Season one concluded with Payne conducting interviews with Brooke Sheridan, Bo Duke’s girlfriend, on details of the night Tara went missing, possible motives, and the aftermath of her disappearance. The trial for Ryan Duke and Bo Dukes is still ongoing, and Payne promises updates on the trial as he moves forward with season two.

On July 31, 2017, Payne aired the last episode. In the last few minutes, he played a recording of a conversation between him and Maurice Godwin. This is what it said:

Payne Lindsey: Hello?

Maurice Godwin: Hey Payne, Dr. Godwin here.

Payne Lindsey: Hey, what’s up, man?

Maurice Godwin: I’ve been thinking. We did some really good work on Tara’s case. There’s another case I had in mind. I’ve been looking to it for years. Maybe you and I should take a look into it.”

There has been radio silence on the upcoming season two until recently. A teaser trailer released on the UAV website for season. Viewers see choppy video footage with voice-overs from different people.

“She’s gonna turn back up. She’s gonna come back. She just went on one of these journey’s,” says one voice. “Maybe she’s in a cult somewhere and she’s just fallen off the face of the Earth and doesn’t want anybody to find her.”

“There’s just something really, really strange about this whole deal,” says another.

“Apparently there was this one guy that seen her walking off alone into the forest.”

From the clues suggested in the trailer, listeners can expect an investigation on another missing person’s case, but with fewer clues and more speculation. With the help of Maurice Godwin, Payne will likely be investigating the cold case of Kristal Anne Reisinger in the hopes of finding more answers. Season Two was release on August 20, 2018.

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Deadpool, Gaymers and Girlfriends at London ComicCon

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10 Video Games for Gay Gamers

Being gay and being a geek are, you might think, quite different things. But sometimes these two aspects of identity collide, creating a wonderful spectrum of possibilities. London ComicCon 2018 raised the rainbow flag and became a sparkling example of one such space for the  LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community.

Glittery linguistic stereotypes aside, London Gaymers presented a funny, intimate and hopeful panel about LGBT gamers and the video gaming community at large.

They started with startling offline statistics from the LGBT charity Stonewall which found over 60% of university graduates return to the ‘closet’ and over a quarter are not ‘out’ at work. Conversely, the panel was comprised of Charley Hodson, Ashely Spindler, Izzy Jagan, and Nathan Costello all work in the gaming industry and all are ‘out’ in their workplaces.

So, how can we continue the good practice, and ensure that more geek workplaces are queer-friendly?  “We need people leading organisations to be supportive, to be open, to be kind most of all – from the top to the very bottom”.

Working in small firms, where one is known and appreciated as a person, was seen as a Good Thing with regard to sexuality representation. At some points, the positive storytelling had an almost bashful edge – perhaps a tacit acknowledgment that this is counter to the dominant narrative of hardships.

That is: It is much more effective if someone from a dominant (or privileged) position espouses the values and principles of equality. In addition to the usual impact of management/leadership positions, a privileged individual is not subject to a fallacy of vested interest when they promote equality. Allies have “access to cultural capital, and cultural power to change the world” (well said, Ashley!).

Doesn’t that sound just like a superhero power?

Of course, some gamers in online communities may need help to adjust their belief in the ‘post-homophobic era’. That era, sadly, is currently as much of a fantasy as a crocodile shooting out bananas from its Kart in order to trip up a pink-clad princess (ten points for getting the reference). It may seem as though LGBT persons have ‘enough rights’, but the sobering statistics say otherwise.

Whilst the London Gaymers panel was in agreement that true equality is on its way, it is still in its infancy. It needs nurturing, and time, and effort… and, yes, the occasional time-out. Ashley was candid regarding the online abuse aimed at her, purely for being trans, leading to necessary banning. Likewise for times that people need to shut their comments sections or step away from the gaming community’s occasional toxicity.

A soft hug of an idea to address this comes from Overwatch. The popular first-person shooter game translates unsavoury phrases into, for example, “It’s past bedtime. Please don’t tell my Mommy” and “I feel very, very small… Please hold me”.  A nudge into nonviolent communication – with humour.

Indeed, the voice actors who play Genji, Mercy and Zarya noted in their panels that the popularity of the game it partly its inclusivity and diversity – not just within the game but within its community – “There is something for everybody”.

London Gaymers suggested the Overwatch model “holds people accountable” without necessarily stepping into the shaming, combative dance which can so often play out. Banning users from chats can ‘work’ in the short term – in order to remove hate or bigotry from online spaces – however, in the longer term, change will be created by supportive re-education.

Well, that, and visibility: the old adage we’re here, we’re queer still has its place. The fact of the matter is that gay people game. “We support the industry, and the industry needs to support us too…. We deserve this respect – if we’re not getting it, demand it.”

There are, of course, different kinds of representation. It is not all about mere presence. There is the bells-and-whistles flounce of a queer archetype, whose one discerning feature is their sexuality. However, there is also the happens-to-be-gay character, whose queerness is part of ordinary – or extraordinary! – human richness.

We have seen this in television with shows such as The Wire, The Walking Dead, and Brooklyn Nine Nine. There are already games which allow same-sex romantic interactions, such Dragon Age, The Sims and more recently The Last of Us and (author favourite) Life is Strange.

The number of Gaymers who explored their gender and sexuality through The Sims (Nathan helpfully chimed in, “I’m gay, so I could make lesbians!” compared to actual lesbian Izzy, who unfortunately couldn’t) was cute to the extent of heart-warming. True sandbox play.

In short, as Nathan stated: “You can put gay characters in the game, and if the game is good, people will want it”. If an audience is interested in the story, the game will be popular.

However we must be careful about how we cater to online spaces: “It’s not a bonus if someone isn’t homophobic, transphobic, racist”. We must expect better from our online communities. Most importantly, “Sharing the positivity, enthusiasm, passion, and love we have, speaking up against injustice and misrepresentation, pulling people up to our level rather than going down to theirs” are all ways that the Gaymers think we can make a difference.

Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead, from Deadpool) (R)

Indeed, it isn’t just video games that are changing to represent audiences. Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead, from Deadpool and the more recent Deadpool 2) noted that she was respectfully asked by bigwigs (or biggish wigs) in the industry whether she wanted to keep quiet about her own sexuality, given the presumed response from audiences.

Brianna did not want to ‘keep quiet’ although she didn’t want to shout either. Her sexuality emerged in the public eye quite casually in a tweet which has been covered extensively elsewhere (not to be sensationalised as a ‘reveal’, mind). Responses have been supportive, and Brianna said that ComicCon 2018 had provided a platform for queer kids to talk to her about the importance of herself and her character in representing queerness in geek pop culture.

And it didn’t stop there. Not only is Brianna officially gay, but so is her character Negasonic, who was ‘outed’ in the same lowkey style. Ryan Reynolds – the characteristically ‘sweet guy’, the eponymous anti-hero, and co-writer of Deadpool 2–asked Brianna, “Hey, would you mind if we gave Negasonic a girlfriend?”.

(It is important, of course, to ask first).

Brianna claimed, with a wry smile, that she responded, “Mind?! I’m ecstatic!”.

And so, love of a feminine and lilac-becostumed variety struck the teenage warhead. Brianna discussed how they thought it would be more impactful  if Negasonic’s love interest was mentioned, but ‘not a thing’. (This, by the way, has been considered by some theorists as the mark of ‘true diversity’; a celebration that neither erases nor exotifies difference).

When asked how Deadpool 2 covers such tender and sensitive issues amidst its swearing, sexuality and gratuitous violence, Brianna and Stefan Kapičić (who plays the well-mannered, gentle giant Colossus) said it’s because of the “Magic of Deadpool”. It’s the use of humour, the fact that these issues are treated as if they’re “Not a big deal”.

And it is magic. It’s the magic of fun, and fantasy, and play. It’s the fun about engaging in media that represents you – or gives you empathy to understand someone who is different to yourself.

It’s putting equality as a casual thread, not as a snazzy sideshow, the same way that the many queer vendors at ComicCon’s Comic Village market were just.. there. Not in a special LGBT section, but integrated with all the other talented artists. (Pride comics, and Joe Glass in particular, I have to give you a mention because you expertly encompassed the superhero realm with the adage, I didn’t see anything like me, so I created it. Allow me to share your creation.)

It short, pop culture is evolving, and much like an Eevee (ugh, too dated?) it comes with a range of elements. It is okay in the modern era to get your geek on. It is becoming steadily (or sporadically) more acceptable to get your gay on. And of course, at ComicCon, you can even get your gay geek on.

Call for the change you want to see – and if you can’t see it, be it. Rainbows for the win.

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Girls Who Run the World at London ComicCon 2018

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Geek culture has a rocky history with women. But now, women are rocking geek culture. Historically, women have faced invisibility (not the superpowered kind), exclusion, active hostility, violence, and sexualisation.

This is across video games (the communities surrounding video games), films, TV, and comic books – from sci-fi, superhero and fantasy genres. Geek culture does not ‘cause’ gender inequality. However, it does facilitate and shut down particular attitudes.

The stories we tell teach us who is important – and who is not. And now, women are taking charge of their own stories.

MCM London Comic Con

Orange is the New Black stars Tiffany Doggett (Taryn Manning) and Flaca Gonzalez (Jackie Cruz) spoke about the importance of centering women’s stories, particularly untold stories. The hit Netflix series focuses on a women’s prison, and the actors admitted that they have learned a lot about the conditions faced by incarcerated women during the filming process. There is also space to unpick gendered issues around race and class. “If you don’t see it, create it”, Jackie added, speaking of her extracurricular endeavours with music production.

Then, there were the wrestlers.

EVE  is a self-described “ground-breaking feminist-punk-rock wrestling promotion”: a pro wrestling group for women. ComicCon hosted a debut screening of Empowered, a documentary by Lea Winchcombe showcasing Rhia O’Reilly and Candy Floss. Unashamedly feminist and political, the documentary considers the challenges of being a female wrestler (stereotypes, naysayers and balancing home life), with the buzz of parading around the ring being “glamourous and outrageous”.

On being a role model for her daughter and others, EVE founder Emily Read laughed, “I am the hero, I am the strong one”.  They have opened up wrestling classes for women which build their confidence and self-esteem (irrespective of being novice, casual, professional or old hat). “Women have a place, women have a voice, and women kick ass!” she concluded. The author of this article may very well have shed a tear.

On a less physically exerting note, geek writer/actor/creator Felicia Day happily spoke about her work and creative projects alongside motherhood and her hair. Many members of the audience seemed to share with Felicia the same heartfelt and almost tangible importance of having a female role model within the industry to look up to. Felicia humbly acknowledged the praise and assured us that female representation in geek culture is changing. This was a repeated message at this year’s ComicCon – and a very believable one.

Photo Credit: GoGCast 156: Interview with Patricia Summersett and Victoria Atkin | Girls on Games

Voice actors from Pokemon, South Park (yes, April Stewart confirmed that Wendy is very well received by female fans) and Assassin’s Creed participated in discussions about their gender (of course, only as one element of the colorful spectrum of conversations).

Victoria Atkin and Patricia Summersett of the Assassin’s Creed games spoke about how “challenging” things can be in the industry – particularly to find female characters that aren’t one of the two common tropes of  “sexualised” or “butch”, but “somewhere in the middle”. They discussed wanting to be role models for women in a world where there can be little representation, with a standard gender ratio which appears to “almost compensate for having a female lead”. (Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy and Justice League, I’m looking at you – the good old ‘one woman in a group of four or five men’ trick).

Victoria and Patricia positively, and somewhat bravely considering how women can be treated for speaking up, critiqued their industry to a somewhat male-heavy press audience. These women want to be, and indeed, they are, changemakers – whilst acknowledging the hopeful message that, already, “It is changing”.

Away from the interview room in Comic Village, there was a whole host of women proudly showcasing their own work. This included everything from personal stories about one’s cat (and other pets), adventure tales, tea and romance, magic, fairies and fantasy, space and Japan. Worth a special mention in this mix was the interweaving of gender, sexuality, and race in the creations. Sexuality we may consider another time.

Olivia Duchess showcased a stall solely dedicated to beautiful, tender artwork of Black girls and women. Having been drawing since 2015, Olivia explained that “When I was growing up, I didn’t anyone who looked like me… I didn’t see a lot of Black characters,” (Susie Carmichael from Rugrats got a special mention). She continued, with a modest shrug, “I’m trying to be the change I want to see”, as though unaware of her brilliance.

The interplay of gender and race was also witnessed in other ways – for example, Letitia Wright (Princess Shuri from Black Panther), discussed the importance of  Black female presence in her film, not least the range of “strong female characters”. She agreed with an audience member, “The women were an amazing entity”, before going on to talk about the value of a “Disney Princess with cornrows”.

There was a woman so overwhelmed with emotion at meeting the badass Black Panther science princess, Letitia Wright, that she was trembling with joy. After a quick photo, she took my hand intently, asking: “Do you understand? Do you understand what this means for Black people?”

Her face was full of magic and the power of visibility. I don’t know how one heart held so much in a moment.

This theme was repeated by IvyDoomKitty in her panel on mental health with Janina Scarlett. She spoke about how she had never thought the representation of women was important in geek culture until she saw it. Before then, she was satisfied with the norm of the male superhero. Then she saw DC’s Wonder Woman: an unfurling, a stirring. A hunger revealed. As Dr. Scarlett said, in her discussion about seeing oneself in these stories, “equality sends a very powerful message that everyone is equal and everyone matters”.

I felt it too, this ComicCon. A sense of … something, resonating, muscular and powerful, yet somehow delicate and bright. The kind of visceral sensation that glows in your belly and makes you grab a stranger’s hand and ask them:

Do you understand?

ComicCon, I think you did understand. You gave women – all kinds of women – space, made us central and elevated our power.

Superwomen are here to stay. See you next year!

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