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27 June 2011 @ 04:40 pm
Chicks Dig Time Lords  
Summary: An oddly unsatisfactory book examining the women involved with Doctor Who, both professionally, via fandom and in the murky spaces in between.

I've described this book as unsatisfactory and in a strange way I think that flows from the breath of material that it seeks to cover while at the same time drawing on a fairly tightly knit group of contributors. Ultimately neither it, nor its contributors, are clear on whether they are providing personal anecdotal accounts of their involvement with Doctor Who or whether they are providing a more scholarly (for some value of scholarly) dissection of the role of women in Doctor Who and its fandom. The anecdotal predominates and is initially interesting but ultimately the uniformity of the voices, nearly all drawn (it rapidly becomes clear) from the female attendees of one large American convention, make these stories appear rather samey and, to this British fan, rather alien.

These women remember stumbling across Doctor Who on a grainy TV set which for some reason was set to a PBS channel. They were captivated by the "Britishness" of this strange show. No one at school was familiar with Doctor Who. Watching it instantly marked them out as strange. They remember fondly the fourth Doctor and his scarf. They grow up, enter fandom, find many like-minded women there. Drift away from the show, come back for Eccleston's triumphant season, interact on LiveJournal and at ChicagoTARDIS and now watch with their partners, families and in some cases daughters. There's nothing wrong with this narrative (and all of the women have a variant on it and their own individual route through it) but it has very little in common with my own experience of Doctor Who as a traditional staple of Saturday viewing, something that was familiar and watched by everyone in the playground, and on entering a fandom in which there were very, very few women - not to mention having a daughter who considers Doctor Who a parental eccentricity. Kate Orman's experience is the closest to my own and even there, as someone who was clearly far more active in Australian fandom than I ever was in British fandom, there was a strange dissonance, a feeling that this story had no connection to my own experience. I was interested to read these other stories of female Who fans and fandom but I'd have liked fewer that told the same, predominantly American, story and more that told other stories of female fans of Doctor Who.

Moving away from the articles which were predominantly anecdotal there were a smattering of interviews with, or in some cases, articles by actresses involved with Doctor Who. These were mostly pretty superficial. Better interviews have appeared with all these women in Doctor Who Magazine (except maybe the one who had played a villain in a couple of audio plays) and there weren't enough of them to form any sort of account of women involved professionally in Doctor Who. I don't' think Chicks Dig Time Lords had any real intention of chronicling the professional involvement of women with Doctor Who (certainly any serious look at that subject needs to consider Verity Lambert and she wasn't examined here) so I wasn't really clear why the interviews were there and their focus on the actresses heavily involved with the Big Finish audio plays rather than on a more general spread, didn't really help pull against the impression of superficiality.

That leaves half a dozen or so articles which, to a greater or lesser extent, focused on analysing either the treatment of women within the show, or within fandom. Kate Orman's veered between the analytical and the anecdotal and caused a big bun-fight in LiveJournal circles when it was published. It suffers from a rather awkward attempt to analyse Kate's uneasy relationship with LiveJournal fandom in terms of gender expectations of discourse which, intentionally or otherwise (and I strongly suspect otherwise), reads as if Kate thinks "male" forms of discussion are "logical" and superior. I'm not sure I want to get drawn further into that particular morass. The article makes many interesting points but its argument is too tinged with unhappy personal experience to really convince. K. Tempest Bradford's Martha Jones: Fangirl Blues and Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Have We Really Come That Far? by Shoshana Magnet and Robert Smith? are both interesting but say very little that hasn't been reiterated a hundred times in [community profile] metafandom circles. Lloyd Rose attempts a dissection of Rose's character journey in What's a Girl got to Do? which I found interesting but when I put forward her argument that David Tennant played the Tenth Doctor as asexual I was quite correctly (though very politely) laughed out of court on primeval_denial.

As an analytical book of essays on women and Doctor Who Chicks Dig Time Lords fails. It simply doesn't have the breadth of articles necessary. Moreover, some of the interesting questions about women and Doctor Who fandom can't easily be answered by this kind of work. For instance, why have there always been so many more women, proportionally speaking, in American fandom than in British or Australian fandom? This probably requires the attention of an expert in sociology and that sort of academic has a mixed, at best, reputation within fandom circles. As a book of personal experiences, the sort of thing that might someday provide valuable data to such an academic, its focus is too narrow. This is the story of the women who attend ChicagoTARDIS. To this outsider it felt overlong. It would be great if there were more books like this focusing on other corners of fandom as well, or a book like this that took a wider view of women and genre shows and fandom but, as it stands, it is clearly a fan project of interest mainly to the fans who produced it and their circle.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/46427.html.
lukadreaminglukadreaming on June 27th, 2011 05:10 pm (UTC)
Fandom has been rather badly served by academic studies, particularly those looking at the female presence. What there is tends to concentrate fairly heavily on slash, or you get Camile Bacon-Smith's ghastly 'GCSE in stating the obvious' book, based on a very shoddy ethnographical study at a con.

I think there is a conflict between academics studying the field and aca-fans. Rather too many of the latter want to tell their war stories. Which may be OK as far as it goes, but the accounts often lack critical rigor and an ability to stand back and reflect critically.

I was not at all impressed by a paper at a conference some years ago when one of the supposed names in the field (who, at the time, was lecturing at a uni) produced a paper which was presumably written on the back of a fag packet the night before and then played for cheap laughs. Her book was scarcely better and lacked any academic rigor - it's what a colleague calls 'commonsense theorising'.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on June 27th, 2011 05:29 pm (UTC)
I was struck when reading it how much I'd like to read a more wide-ranging account of women and fandom, let alone women and Doctor Who. Without being particularly scholarly, Doctor Who Magazine has produced very respectable overviews of the work of people involved in producing Doctor Who down the years so the, I suppose broadly speaking, journalistic skills are present within fandom even if the academic skills are not, so I don't see why you couldn't put together a wide-ranging examination of women and Doctor Who. But it would need less of a focus on the interview and the anecdote or, if it was going to go down that route, then a more ruthless selection of participants. Towards the end I began to roll my eyes a bit when an essay inevitably got to the "and then I started going to ChicagoTARDIS" bit.

I very much doubt we'll get a good academic study in the near future though. As you observe the aca-fans are invariably too close to the material and fandom as a whole has been too badly treated by academics from outside its circles. Any outsider seriously wanting to study the topic is going to meet a great deal of obstruction from significant parts of the community, rendering any study partial at best.

Edited at 2011-06-27 05:31 pm (UTC)
lukadreaminglukadreaming on June 27th, 2011 09:04 pm (UTC)
I think there's a huge gap in the market for that sort of book. It's faintly depressing that the best book on fandom is still Henry Jenkins's Textual Poachers, which is fairly old now. Jenkins at least made an effort to engage with and understand fandom. Other general books since then, including Matt Hills's, have been very much the male voice with women as the slash oddities.
parrot_knight: Tomparrot_knight on June 27th, 2011 09:24 pm (UTC)
There's a lot still to do, specifically in Doctor Who fandom, in disentangling the generalisations of that fandom in Textual Poachers (brilliant, but as you say outdated) and in the volume he co-wrote with John Tulloch, Science Fiction Audiences, from the allegations made in their rejection (with another set of generalisations by Tat Wood in About Time 6 (broadly representative of some veteran male fans, I think). What late 1970s UK Doctor Who fanzines I have reveal a higher level of female participation than myth suggests, and story ideas which if not explicitly embracing the slash tradition more obviously represented in American zines which I've come across (through eBay, admittedly) place a higher emphasis on relationships than is usually expected from late 1970s/early 1980s British Doctor Who fandom.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on June 28th, 2011 10:39 am (UTC)
One thing that was refreshing, in terms of women examining fandom, was a lack of focus on slash and an acknowledgment of the much more diverse ways people interact with fandom. I did get a bit tired of the emphasis on "squee!" though. As a term for a particular kind of reaction, I like squee, and I like the way squeeing is now a recognised part of loving a show. But I dislike it as some kind of badge of membership or some kind of marker of the lines between "male" and "female" (or old-skool and new-skool) fandom, and I in some ways I find an over-emphasis on squeeing as an activity, infantilises fans by implying that some kind of initial gut-reaction to a piece is as far as we ever get.
pink_flame_87: whatifshedoesn'tpink_flame_87 on June 27th, 2011 05:36 pm (UTC)
I got this book for my birthday last year and enjoyed it overall even though I agree with pretty much all of your insights. The aspect I found most interesting (as a young, female American fan myself) was the perspective on how other women expressed their fandom (costuming, cartooning, livejournal debating). Whether it's women or men the idea of loving something enough to be driven to interact with it in some way creatively is really interesting to me (and clearly something I relate to). As a perspective on women involved with Who and its fandom in general though it does fall short.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on June 27th, 2011 05:47 pm (UTC)
I meant to say that the book was good in covering many of the different ways of being a fan and that is certainly true.

I suspect that the editors' search for breadth was focused on that aspect without realising that the formative experiences of these women were, in fact, very similar. To someone outside of that sub-community their similarities were far more pronounced than their differences. That may have been an editorial steer, possibly if the accounts had focused more on their fanworks, and less on the story of how they encountered Doctor Who, and the progress of their involvement, then the diversity would have been more obvious than the homogeneity though I think they would always have been ham-strung by recruiting contributors predominantly from the same sub-community.

I don't think it's a bad book. It wasn't what I expected and I guess, at my particular point in my involvement with fandom it didn't have much to say to me that I didn't know, or hadn't read already. What it did have to say that was new to me, was repeated too many times to really hold my interest. It felt like it was a book for someone else, I suppose.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on June 27th, 2011 08:24 pm (UTC)
I see my comment of earlier didn't get through (the library connection was playing up). I had said something along the lines of it still being a book I would recommend, but like some other titles from this publisher its success can't be measured in terms of the task which it officially sets itself.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on June 28th, 2011 10:43 am (UTC)
I suppose if you are not aware that there are women in fandom, and are not aware that fandom involves many different kinds of activities then there is a value in the book but there is a potentially much better book about women and fandom out there, I think, even allowing for the problems of such a book being written by practitioners who may not be accustomed to non-fiction prose writing, or analytical writing.

EDIT: Actually that is overly harsh. I was engaged and interested through the first few essays, it's just that I felt they began to get repetitious and the vast majority were not adding anything to the material that had come before. It was too long for its message, rather than having no message.

Edited at 2011-06-28 10:44 am (UTC)