If you would like to support Sirens, our presenters, and our programming, we invite you to sponsor our programming. The cost is $35 per presentation, and assuming we have your donation by August 15, 2019, we will include your name next to your chosen topic below and in our program book for this year’s event. Please review the presentations below, and once you have made your selection, click here to donate.
Papers and lectures feature one or more presenters talking about the topic at hand. The specific style and formality of each presentation varies according to the speaker: some may be more formal readings of scholarly papers, with or without time for questions at the end; others may be relatively informal lectures with more audience participation.
Ascension: How Elizabeth Frankenstein Rises Out of Darkness
In The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, Kiersten White explores the narrative of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein from another angle. From the perspective of the girl purchased to keep Victor Frankenstein's volatile behavior in check, the story becomes less about a man's genius and more about what the people around him have to sacrifice to keep him comfortable. But as Elizabeth sinks into the darkness of Victor's obsessions, her own genius subsumed by his, she learns what she needs to break free. Her terrible education is all too familiar, but as she rises, so too can we.
But Whips and Chains Excite Me: The Problem with Kink in Fiction
The inclusion of BDSM elements and power dynamics in fiction, including fantasy, is often reduced to devious dominatrixes who torment our protagonist, or evil masters who use their power dynamic to torture and abuse. Yet rarely do we see the the risk-aware consensual kink that is required for a healthy and fulfilling BDSM experience. This presentation will explore how BDSM is used and misused, and explore the very real strength that can come with healthy, safe, and consenting submission and dominance.
Daydream Believer: The Everyday Fantasy in Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Fantasy is often considered to be a realm beyond our reach, whether set on Middle Earth or in secret vampire bars in New Orleans, but there is one type of fantasy almost everyone experiences: daydreams. Often dismissed as empty and frivolous, this essay looks at how daydreaming becomes a thing of power in Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, giving their female leads a conduit to finding their voices.
The Extraordinary Power of Heroines: Examining Women's Heroism in Fantasy
Heroism means different things to different people; it can also mean different things for women specifically. What are features of what heroism looks like for women, what does it mean to be a heroine, and why? This paper will examine the impact of real-world systemic marginalization on the depictions and perceptions of heroines in fantasy literature, including the double standards we hold female characters to, how sexism impacts whether a woman is perceived as monster or hero, how our society values—and doesn't—stories that subvert masculine-coded modes of power, and why heroines' stories are so powerful and necessary.
Fight, Loli, Fight!: Lolita Fashion, Cute Culture, and Heroic Girlhood in Contemporary Media
Inspired by Victorian dolls and ideas of girlish fancy, Lolita fashion was created as a direct rebuttal of strict patriarchal structures of 20th Century Japan, and represented the reclamation of young women’s bodies. Radical autonomy, revulsion of the male gaze, and girlhood are integral to Lolita subculture, making them the perfect subject of heroic narratives aimed at a feminine-identifying audience. We will explore how the tenets of Lolita subculture appear in Japanese contemporary media and how they may translate in Western narratives, the incursion of the male gaze, and what heroic girlhood may look like going forward.
“Girls” Disguised as “Boys”: The Evolution of the Cross-Dressing Hero(ine)
The girl-disguised-as-boy trope has a long history, from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (and even earlier than that) to today’s most popular Korean TV dramas. However, cross-dressing adventure stories have failed to reflect our growing understanding and awareness of varying gender identities. This paper will examine the ways in which gender-bending adventure narratives have evolved over time, from treating cross-dressing as an unexamined plot device to a nascent acknowledgment of transgender feelings. It will also look to the future of transgender adventure stories.
Heroic Fantasy Saves Lives
This presentation explores how heroic fantasy reading and writing can be part of pedagogical practice and therapeutic interactions with school age children and adults as a mechanism for de-escalation of diagnosed and invisible trauma (including ACEs). Attendees will leave with a vocabulary of theory and research supporting the need for heroic fantasy generation and consumption by women and nonbinary folks in mainstream education and therapeutic settings.
Heteronormativity in Young Adult Fantasy
Despite a crowded market and a recent boom in contemporary fiction for teen readers, young adult fantasy continues in popularity, and caters to a heavily female audience that welcomes both its magical details and its frequently romantic plotlines. While authors are offering stronger, better, more diverse worlds than ever before, the romantic focus is almost inevitably heterosexual, thus inscribing a single story. This paper will examine the ongoing romance phenomenon and recent books that feature alternatives to the heroine getting her hero, and offer options for creating more inclusive fantasy stories.
Shackled, Raped, Mad, Fridged: Intersectional Feminism Failures in Game of Thrones
Cass Morris, Amy Tenbrink (moderator)
For eight seasons, we have watched Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin’s impossibly popular A Song of Ice and Fire series adapted for television by white, cisgender male showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, only rarely with any female writers in the room. And for eight seasons, feminist viewers have criticized the showrunners’ immensely problematic and often gratuitous adaptation choices, such as the needless death of Missandei, the only main female character of color, while shackled; transforming consensual sex into rape for Daenerys and Cersei and introducing rape for Sansa, who credits that rape for her growth; the outcome of the gods’ madness coin toss for Daenerys, conveniently clearing the path to the Iron Throne for a man; and the show’s hero worship of Arya, the only female character to adopt the male trappings of antiheroism. This presentation will break down eight seasons of politics, war, and sexposition to expose how Game of Thrones is really just another feminist fail fantasy story.
The Suppressed Powers of Women Heroes
While the theme of suppressed power is common in fantasy, the narratives vary drastically. In some cases, the narrative is distinctly anti-power. This paper examines the suppressed powers of women heroes in fantasy narratives such as The Shadow Speaker, The Power, and The Bone Witch: what kinds of powers are suppressed, who does the suppressing, how the suppression is achieved, the reasons given for the suppression, how the culture a character belongs to views her powers, and what happens when those powers are released.
There Is Method in It: Why We Tell Stories About "Madness"
For as long as we've been storytellers, we've been fascinated by the idea of "madness." Although our working models about the genesis of mental illness are no longer linked to the supernatural, symptoms of psychiatric disorders are often evoked in genre fiction to create a chilling effect, to disorient the audience, or to indicate a character's sensitivity to things unseen by normal mortal eyes. Why do these tropes persist even as we become more educated about the biological and environmental roots of psychiatric pathology? What purpose does the idea of an "uncanny madness" serve in our narratives, and in our lives? This talk will attempt to unpack our attraction to "mad" characters in popular fiction and media, and will discuss alternate mental frameworks for these universal human fears.
Trends in Speculative Poetry by Disabled Poets
Lisa M. Bradley
“Speculative poetry by disabled poets” may sound like a very narrow niche, but it’s actually quite expansive. Learn the current trends in fantasy poetry written by disabled poets and how these trends differ from those in the wider spec field. What do merfolk and changelings mean for poets with disabilities? For that matter, who identifies as a disabled poet, and how do gender, race, and ethnicity interact in their poetry? Disabled poet and editor Lisa M. Bradley will share insights from editing the poetry for Uncanny’s special issue “Disabled People Destroy Fantasy.”
The Unconscious Depiction of Autism: Robots, Aliens, and Fae
Mette Ivie Harrison
Popular speculative characters, including Mr. Spock and Data on Star Trek, as well as the unworldly, unemotional depictions of fae in many stories, might be unconscious depictions of autists. What traits are similar across these depictions, and what do they tell us about the collective unconscious view of autistic people by allists?
Upgrading your Words to Say More
Editing isn’t just about correcting mistakes; it is also an opportunity to identify lazy or flat words and replace them with words that can do more for your story. Identify which words are most likely to need an upgrade to reflect tone, mood, and voice. Learn to add depth to your writing without adding length.
Witch, Please: An Apologia for and Indictment of Mean-Girls Stories in Young Adult Fantasy Literature
Like young adult literature generally, young adult fantasy literature offers its share of popular mean-girls stories: those works where a girl transforms herself into a skinny, hair-tossing, dragon-lipstick-wearing, miniskirt-sporting witch in order to gain friends, status, and magic—and into someone she can properly redeem herself from in the end. Because that’s how these stories do end, with our heroine rejecting her power in order to properly subordinate her hair-tossing, dragon-lipstick-wearing, magic-wielding self to the heteropatriarchy once more. Perhaps more than any other trope, mean-girls stories are about female magic and female power: what it takes to get it, what it takes to keep it, and just how unseemly it is to want it or wield it. But mean-girls’ power necessarily relies on the heteropatriarchy; without the promise of romantic and sexual exchanges with boys, and exclusive access thereto, mean girls’ power disappears, and we’re left with the conclusion that power derived from proximity and tokenism isn’t worthwhile power at all.
Wolves and Werewolves: How Our Beliefs About One Influence the Other
The portrayal of werewolves in modern fantasy literature tends to draw on either the hostile fabrications about real wolves that plague the public consciousness or on fact-based evidence about wolves discovered over the last seventy-five years. This presentation will cover an overview of what modern researchers know about wolves in the wild and a sampling of the lurid stories passed off as facts during the early twentieth century, then proceed to analyze the usage of these facts and fictions in fantasy literature. We’ll also consider how fantasy readers conflate their emotional connections with werewolves to real wolves and the conservation thereof.
“The Woods are Lovely, Dark and Deep”: When Heroines Overtake Liminal Spaces
Fairy tales would have you believe that any girl who wanders into the forest is destined for a wolf at the door. In opposition, the male hero's journey uses the woods as a transitional space in which the hero gains the strength and wisdom to defeat their final obstacle by the story’s end. Recent young adult literature has turned this trope on its head, with novels like The Hazel Wood, Sawkill Girls, We Hunt the Flame, and The Darkest Part of the Forest. This paper explores how new young adult literature twists and reimagines these tropes by letting female characters into traditionally male spaces and having them emerge not as victims, but as legends, monsters, and saviors.