This is an amazing article that explores women in Steampunk as objects, authors and more.
Here is just a tidbit, but definitely check out the real article, it is a good read.
Like so much current pop culture revolving around the Victorian and Edwardian periods, steampunk culture does tap into this potentially-retrograde nostalgia. It also participates in a broader obsession with The Fancy Clothes of the Past, a loving and often DIY aesthetic that involves fraught class dynamics as well as gender ones. As many commentators—including Stock—mention, women in the community often struggle against objectification, too often regarded as just a pleasing set of breasts heaving over corsets rather than as actual fans and creators.
Two major features of steampunk push hard against the movement’s gender-retrograde currents. First, steampunk mixes and matches. Men in the community wear corsets, too. Lisa Hager, that delightfully geeky English professor, likes to cosplay steampunk Dorian Grey. Women in big dresses and elaborate Victorian-inspired undergarments also tote stylized brass weaponry, gears and cogs, and goggles (for flying in dirigibles, of course). In Gail Carriger’s bestselling Parasol Protectorate series, readers find a flamboyant vampire who dresses himself and his home absolutely to the nines, a scientist and inventor who wears impeccably-tailored men’s clothes and stashes anti-supernatural weapons all over her person, and (as protagonist) a badass soulless woman who likes tea, adventure, reading scientific papers, and being dominated sexually by her werewolf husband.
I have read a few different articles by people who believe that Steampunk as a genre is driven by violence. For instance, Harry Markov insists in his article for the multicultural Steampunk blog Beyond Victoriana that Steampunk is completely driven by war. The American Civil War and the impending first world war are certainly used as backdrops for Steampunk literature, and there are plenty of stories about fictitious places and made up wars, but I think saying that war is at the heart of the entire genre is broad overstatement.
Perhaps people have gained this misconception because gadgets, vehicles and creative technology are definitely key to Steampunk and war offers a great opportunity for mad scientists to flex their skills. The American Civil War and the over-hanging cloud of World War I are popular backdrops for Steampunk stories, as well as other conflicts like the Second French Revolution (Dark Portals: Chronicles of Vidoqc). And it is definitely true that many of the greatest technological advances in human history have been the result of weapons research. But, our quest to travel in space also drove an era of inventions that we still use widely today (click here for some examples). War may act as a catalyst for technology, but so does curiosity, and there is no reason to think that inventors are stymied without it.
And as central as old/new-fangled technology is to Steampunk, it is not the end of the story, not by a long shot. Steampunk is a means of exploring so many other concepts than war-driven tech that it is a discredit to distill an entire genre to one thing just because it is the most obvious. I would say that challenging gender roles and Victorian society is just as central if not more so than the technological aspect. Women who transcend their corsets and the men who come to appreciate them as equals pop up all over the genre.
And of course, references to and re-imaginings of classic science fiction and 20th century historical figures is where it all began. I would argue that if you had to choose only one thing about Steampunk to highlight this is the most unique and quintessential piece to the puzzle.
What do you think? Have you found war to be more central to Steampunk than I am giving it credit for? Or do you agree that violence does not need to be the key ingredient in a Steampunk story?
I don’t know if you all caught the Coke commercial during the Superbowl that is that causing such a ridiculous fuss, but the controversy stems from a rendition of America The Beautiful in multiple languages from the mouths of people who were various shades of brown. Apparently there has been a “twit-storm” as I like to say, as people have texted in to Coke to let them know that American songs should be sung in English, because apparently that is our national language or something (it is not). If you would like to alternately point and laugh, then feel enraged, you can read a sampling of the ascerbic word from the interwebs here (most of which have terrible spelling and grammar because they are written by lazy native English speakers).
So in the spirit of inclusiveness to counteract the mindless drones I have created a gallery below of Steampunk images that reflect influences from different cultures and often feature non-traditional models. Though some Steampunk purists may feel that something cannot in fact be considered Steampunk without Victorian England as it background, there is a growing movement to include people and settings from around the world. I have a lot more information on this topic as well in my post “How to Punk Your Steam: Make it Multicultural.”
Click on any thumbnail for larger images.
Rjurik Davidson is an author who tackled this topic in 2012 an Australian magazine called Overland. I ended up reading this one because it was listed on Cate Russel-Cole‘s Steampunk Inspiration and How-To for Writers as “a controversial article by people who just don’t get the concept of fantasy” and I absolutely agree with that as an assessment of the literary critics quoted by Davidson, but not of Davidson himself. (Though I don’t agree with Davidson that Steampunk has reached its zenith and is in decline.)
I’ve included the first few paragraphs and a link to the main article below. I’d love to hear what people think of the article, so please come and report back by commenting on this post.
“The subgenre of Steampunk – that subgenre of speculative fiction set in a fantastical Victorian era filled with airships, mad scientists and mechanical replicas of people or animals – may well have reached its zenith. With the new Sherlock Holmes movies, The Golden Compass or Scorsese’s Hugo, it seems possible that the initial burst of zest and inspiration will now settle into a more subtle ticking over of novels and films as the subgenre colonises the cultural spaces still open to it (Heart of Darkness steampunk? Opium-war Steampunk?).
For some time a debate has been raging about the politics of the subgenre.
For some, Steampunk is a reactionary nostalgia for past that never happened. In a review last year, author and critic Adam Roberts claimed that Steampunk is a perfect example of Jameson’s claim that the culture of postmodernism means a loss of any sense of historicity. For Roberts, Steampunk is ‘a studied dismantling of the consecutiveness of history in the service of a particular set of styles and fashions.’ He continues:
the appeal of the genre is in the way it finesses the past into the present. This is an aesthetic strategy it shares with Heroic Fantasy (or much of it) as a mode: a disinclination to encounter the past as past. Most twenty-first century representations of a notional “past” are based on the idea that people in the nineteenth century (or, in post-Tolkienian Fantasy, the middle ages) were basically people exactly like us, and therefore people with whom it requires no effort from the reader to identify.
According to Roberts, Steampunk jettisons a sense of the logic of history. Fundamentally, the subgenre is an irrationalism.
Others have mounted similar arguments. A couple of years ago, science fiction author Charles Stross claimed on his blog that most steampunk refused to face up to the Nineteenth Century as it really was. In that world, Stross claimed:
Life was mostly unpleasant, brutish, and short; the legal status of women in the UK or US was lower than it is in Iran today: politics was by any modern standard horribly corrupt and dominated by authoritarian psychopaths and inbred hereditary aristocrats: it was a priest-ridden era that had barely climbed out of the age of witch-burning, and bigotry and discrimination were ever popular sports: for most of the population starvation was an ever-present threat. I could continue at length. It’s the world that bequeathed us the adjective “Dickensian”, that gave us a fully worked example of the evils of a libertarian minarchist state, and that provoked Marx to write his great consolatory fantasy epic, The Communist Manifesto. It’s the world that gave birth to the horrors of the Modern, and to the mass movements that built pyramids of skulls to mark the triumph of the will. It was a vile, oppressive, poverty-stricken and debased world and we should shed no tears for its passing (or the passing of that which came next).”
Read the whole article here.
Steampunk, Technological Time & Beyond Victoriana: Advocacy and the Archive | Journal of Victorian Culture Online
I have been curious about what “serious” scholars have to say about the Steampunk ouevre, and I ran across this article in the online Journal of Victorian Culture. The full article contains no small amount of history/social studies jargon so the vocabulary is not for the faint of heart.
“Steampunk studies is an outlier in Victorian scholarship. In fact, steampunk subculture can arguably be called “neo-Victorian” or even “non-Victorian” in the way that it defies strict adherence to a certain periodization or topic relevance. Steampunk is an aesthetic movement inspired by nineteenth-century science fiction and fantasy. Over the years, however, that umbrella phrase has expanded to include speculation outside of an established time-frame (such as post-apocalyptic or futuristic), outside of the established geography of the Western world, and even outside of history (as with alternate history and secondary fantasy worlds). How can we, then, describe the relationship between steampunk academic work and Victorian studies?”