A PhD project exploring intersectionality through fan podcasts

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Some Notes On Episode 19 – Resources

Some Notes On … is a section which features my autoethnographic fieldnotes as I document my thoughts throughout different parts of my PhD project. Here, I write about the text resources discussed in our podcast episode. 

For Episode 19, , we discussed the following texts:

1) Fan podcast – Witch, Please: The Goblet is Political (Listened from 51ish minutes to 62 minutes 30 seconds

Hermione at the Yule Ball uses performative femininity to her own benefit without getting caught up in its trappings. Traditionally feminine appearance makes it easier to navigate the world and she is able to control that without letting it control her. She is still able to retain her personality even after – her passion for knowledge, social justice, standing up for  what she believes is right remains untouched. 

Hermione and SPEW – white/brahmin women who don’t include other intersectional identities and appropriate the feminist movement without acknowledging their privileges 

J. K. Rowling thinks she’s most like Hermione – Hermione uses badges and signs and a manifesto, but it’s all created without the input of the oppressed group she is fighting for. She’s imposing her politics on them and not taking their perspectives into consideration at all. 

Hermione as first-wave British feminist (Emmeline Pankhurst) 

House elves telling her they don’t want emancipation versus all the older men telling Hermione she’s wrong – tensions between this – that everyone tells Hermione the elves like being slaves 

“False consciousness” – Hermione thinks her job is to liberate the house elves from their oppressed identities akin to a white saviour complex. She doesn’t seem to learn from the things she does wrong. 

At the same time, Hermione’s activism is presented quite dismissively – at least from all the other characters. 

They propose that in this book, Rita Skeeter is the secondary villain – her rumours and journalism do active harm in spreading misinformation about Harry which in turn leads to everybody including the government not believing Harry that Voldemort has returned allowing Voldemort and the Death Eaters time and opportunity to solidify their strength. Hermione is the one who catches Rita out and punishes her by trapping her in the jar until she promises not to publish more false information – but the damage has been done and in OoTP, the media takes over from Rita’s work.

Earlier in the episode, they talk about Mrs Weasley as a focal point of domestic labour (Hermione is outraged about house elves but doesn’t notice Molly Weasley’s work) – limited gender roles for women 

 

2) Fan podcast – Witch, Please: The Cleansing Fire (Listened from 66 minutes to 80 minutes)

“The gendered labour of the resistance” – Marcelle

The types of work that the women do – Mrs Weasley – cooking, feeding, emotional labour and caretaking 

Tonks is coded as masculine because she’s not good at domestic work and is thereby connected to the “real” work of the resistance. There seems to be only one way to fight in a way which is considered useful 

When Sirius does the same kind of work that Molly Weasley does, he resents it because he isn’t able to do the kind of work that “matters” for the Order 

Hermione is also largely tasked with managing the emotions of Harry and Ron – even though she is also capable and skilled at so many other things – has to anticipate their emotional needs and be aware of them

The way that women characters seem to distance themselves away from other women – the “I’m not like other girls” ness of it all – means that they’re totally cut off from their emotions and are like men rather than women – at least in the way that it is traditionally portrayed 

Emotional labour is relegated to women’s roles in media and in real life 

Molly seems to be the hysterical, emotional and irrational parent while Arthur is on the side of the children and seems to only be listening to Molly because he doesn’t want to upset her rather than because he’s on her team and they’re parents together. Fathers get to be the fun ones and wives are the boring ones trope 

Hermione isn’t a good ally – her politics emphasise liberation of an oppressed group i.e. house elves but her process is troubling – very imperialistic 

She doesn’t even learn from Dobby who – as a house-elf who is now free – would be her best ally in the cause but when he points out her problematic behaviour and the fact that it won’t work, she dismisses his opinion. She seems to want to save the house elves without allowing room for them to save themselves 

We expect more from Hermione because she’s awesome and should do better. 

 

3) Fan podcast – Witch, Please: The Full-Blood Patriarchy (Listened from 63 minutes to 76 minutes 35 seconds)

Gender and patriarchy in Half Blood Prince. 

There are lots of anti-Fleur attitudes which reminds me of the counternarrative I encountered during my master’s research:

The trope that the pretty girl doesn’t have any female friends because other women don’t like her because she’s a threat 

Femininity as performed traditionally and successfully is subjected to hatred by women who don’t choose to or can’t do the same kind of performance 

Fleur being excited about planning her wedding and bringing Ginny and Hermione and Molly into it is met with dismay because the other girls are supposed to be strong and active 

Pitting women against each other because there’s no room for different kinds of women to just be 

Fleur is complicit in the system in a way that Tonks isn’t. Tonks pushes against the system through her overall nonconformity and that has Ginny and Hermione picking her over Fleur. Ron supports Fleur because he finds her more attractive than Tonks  

Also what is it with all the people in these books marrying so young and all of them marrying full stop! 

Ron slutshames Ginny for having too many boyfriends and is upset that Hermione kissed Krum (though that might have been born out of jealousy) 

He uses Lavender to make up for his insecurity. Lavender is also presented as silly and someone not to be taken seriously – showcased in contrast to Hermione. Why can’t we have both? Clever women can’t be silly? In academia and other professional settings, so much more pressure on women to look and behave a certain way than men 

Increase in structural violence seems to impact women more (not always – as in the case of black men in the US and Dalit and Muslim men in India) but they are weaponised by being made victims – murder and sexual assault 

Just two female Death Eaters – Bellatrix – is Narcissa even a Death Eater? Fascism doesn’t have room for women at the top even when women are complicit in the oppression of other races/castes/religions. In the right-wing movement, women are throwing other women under the bus without realising that they will be next. Same with trans-exclusionary feminists who find right-wing men supporting them.  You can’t be interested in human rights without being concerned about the rights of ALL marginalised humans 

Violence against women being normalised. Hermione being assaulted by Cormac McLaggen is treated as funny; Umbridge and the centaurs at the end of OoTP; gender and violence in the case of Mrs Roberts in GoF

 

4) Fan podcast – Witch, Please: Hallows and Goodbyes (Listened from 85 minutes to 92 minutes 35 seconds)

Gendered labour of women in the resistance

Fleur is glamorous and powerful and strong and is reduced to living in the middle of nowhere making casseroles by herself for her husband and the others – filling Molly’s shoes. There is room for different kinds of resistance and the support and safe space she offers plays a very important role – but is this the only role wives are allowed? Why isn’t she out fighting in the Order? Why isn’t Bill helping with the food? Why doesn’t Arthur? They seem to fulfill very traditional roles

Violence against women in the magical world –  Fenrir Greyback and his creepy attention towards Hermione – rape culture, women as default victims

Arianna Dumbledore – book doesn’t explicitly say the Muggle boys assaulted her sexually but it is implied when they “got carried away” and the trauma leads to lifelong impact 

Helena Ravenclaw’s story – Bloody Baron murders her for refusing his advances. She becomes a ghost and is forced to haunt the castle with her murderer 

Relationship between Snape and Lily – where he treated her terribly out of jealousy and his messed up politics as a young man – and even later, taking it out on Harry – but he sees himself as the wronged one. Sense of entitlement and romanticising the tragic narrative in which Snape is quite terrible 

 

5) Fan podcast – Breaking The Glass Slipper: Where Are The Tampons With Tiffani Angus

The absence of women’s bodily functions and concerns in mainstream fiction. We see a little bit of it in The Handmaid’s Tale but not really in a way which provides the women with any sort of agency – menstruation, birth control, navigating the world as a woman is more difficult than going about as a man 

Station Eleven – post-apocalyptic – where are the tampons? Why are none of the women looking for pads or tampons and using it as currency? Even when it’s a woman writing these stories, it’s a default male-centric concern 

What are the things we would be concerned as women in some of our favourite SFF worlds? 

For many people in India and elsewhere, the events of the last few years might have seemed like several different kinds of apocalypses – what problem would the women have in these scenarios? Migrants, pandemic, protests? Compounded by when they’re mothers or carers or pregnant

The predominance of women in publishing too reflects the fact that children’s needs and concerns seem to be relegated to women 

Women’s biological functions are overlooked but women’s ability and need to give birth isn’t – especially in end-of-the-world scenarios 

Blue water used in pad advertisements because red water freaks people – mostly men – out 

The ignorance of men when it comes to women’s bodies and needs 

Very funny in Chalet School books where just barely a hint would be given that the women were tired or busy and suddenly at the end of the book – surprise! Baby! 

Is this considered as gross? How do you normalise it if nobody talks about it and it’s so invisible? 

Things like medication which impacts your life or the lack of medication which impacts your life 

This problem is even worse when you see trans women’s needs – who need hormones during their physical transitioning process – trans men can revert to menstruating 

Women and zombies and armpit hair – shaving hair – what is considered sanitary for which gender – zombies might be considered more unremarkable than women’s sanitary needs 

“Women have been socialised to think that what our bodies do is gross.” – Tiffani Angus

Menstruation – big representation of women’s bodies – armpit hair – small representation – where are women in peril’s armpit hair? 

“We don’t even get to have armpit hair. We’re never going to get to have periods if we can’t have armpit hair.”

Marvellous Mrs Maisel – performs being women – she goes to the bathroom and makes herself up before going to bed 

Female masturbation also seems to be taboo 

How even sex is portrayed – women seem to have orgasms instantly when women don’t really – our bodies don’t work that way – which can also impact women’s own ideas of themselves – women’s crotch hair is missing too

Lack of older women anyway – what about women going through menopause?

 

6) Fanzine – Tonk’s Tale

(I’ve already used this episode as a text for Episode 16. I haven’t made any additional notes for this episode so for the old notes, click here.)

 

7) Fan podcast – Fansplaining: Letting Harry Potter Go (Listen from 6 minutes 45ish seconds to 34ish minutes)

(There are a few different HP fan podcast episodes about JKR’s transphobia but this provides some background context in terms of what she said and transphobia’s place in UK feminism)

They discuss the context of Rowling’s transphobia in the context of British mainstream society and feminism – a long history of the feminist movement which excludes diverse gender identities and expressions 

Gender critical feminists who are transphobic – it’s mainstream, not a fringe group – in media, in society, in the queer movement – LGB without the T – not just straight women but largely led by straight white women – in the US, they tried to recently co-opt the Black Lives Matter movement as well 

They signposted this article in their episode

It’s not just women – but it does seem to be born of privilege – middle-class or wealthier 

As Flourish says, that JKR’s opinions have been perceived to be liberal so this can be surprising. Rowling may even consider herself as feminist and out to protect women’s rights and safety. But her idea of feminism and women seems to be very narrow – how far does her exclusionary policy extend – transness? Religion? Sexuality? Race? 

Taking advantage of the fact that women are a marginalised gender but that doesn’t mean you need to throw other marginalised groups under the bus. Where’s the solidarity among marginalised groups? We’re not going to progress unless we do it together 

While Rowling’s transphobia had been hinted at before December, it was her tweet in December #IStandWithMaya which made her views explicit 

As Elizabeth points out, lots of women don’t menstruate and not all those who menstruate are women 

This doesn’t seem to be a topic of mainstream discussion in India – at least from the limited network I have – but JKR seems to have made it to Indian discourse as well – authors who have posted on Facebook about it in quite exclusionary language 

I still haven’t read JKR’s defensive essay because I can’t bring myself to

A lot of trans and nonbinary fans identified with Tonks because they’re able to change her appearance at will. She seems to be non-conforming to ideas of gender (women) and is punk and seems cool and fun to the protagonists 

While Tonks does transform herself to change her hair and nose, there’s never anything about gender. Other transformations include Animagi who change into animals and the scene with the seven Potters where everyone changes into Harry or the Boggart turning into Snape in Neville’s grandmother’s clothes

Elizabeth talks about how she never connected Tonks to gender because there was nothing in the books or her character that made her open to that possibility. Flourish says that with future books to come out, at the time, people were excited about the possibilities – and both were disappointed by Tonk’s story arc where she becomes mousy and small in HBP because she’s in love with Remus who rejects her before getting together later. Failure of imagination in terms of both gender and queerness 

Flourish, a nonbinary fan, read their own interpretations into the books and was excited by the potential but ended up feeling betrayed – so much worse for fans who it directly impacts 

As E points out, JKR is good at showing the hypocrisy and smallness of middle class British people which people who aren’t familiar with that context may not be able to pick up on. Which is true, as in my case in India as in Flourish’s case in the US, but I think people can and do make connections with their own lives and contexts 

They also signpost this articleFrom the article: 

I vividly remember the visceral excitement I felt the first time I read the fifth Harry Potter book in 2003 and met Nymphadora Tonks, a shapeshifter with spiky pink hair, a punk-rock aesthetic, and an insistence on being called by her gender-neutral last name. I was certain that Rowling had written a canonically genderfluid character. Like millions of other Harry Potter fans who dared to project ourselves into the books, I was ultimately disappointed: By the end of the series, Tonks was a married, fully binary woman, softer and gentler, letting her husband feminize her as “Dora” — a name she’d previously hated.

I have always wondered if Rowling set up Tonks to somehow be “tamed” in the later books, from her earlier nonbinary presentation in Order of the Phoenix, and I’ve always written it off as surely not conscious. As a sickening byproduct of Rowling’s transphobic screed on Wednesday, I now realize I was right to have been wary all along. Rowling argues in the essay for the scientifically flawed and emotionally abusive narrative that “gender dysphoric teens will grow out of their dysphoria,” and uses herself as an example of a teen who felt “mentally sexless” before eventually — “fortunately” — growing out of feeling “confused, dark, both sexual and non-sexual.”

I read this passage as a chilling, heartbreaking confirmation that Rowling wrote Tonks not as an affirmation, even a subconscious one, of trans identity, but as a conscious repudiation of it: She deliberately created Tonks as a dysphoric individual so that the character could “grow out of” her dysphoria, subtly perpetuating the transphobic narrative that gender dysphoria is a choice. She consciously created the shapeshifting nonbinary character who helped me figure out (well into adulthood) that I was genderqueer, and then made her “grow” into being cisgender.

Says that this as well as JKR’s essay unlocked the idea that had been at the back of E’s mind about how regressive the books were in terms of gender. Which I kind of agree with but I think that there fans reading more progressive values into the books by exploring the gaps and filling in the missing pieces is also valid 

In her essay, Rowling talks about her own experiences of abuse and domestic violence. I think this is one of the reasons why I haven’t read the essay yet because I have close experience with this and I am appalled that this is being used against a marginalised group 

As Flourish and Elizabeth say, you can feel sorry for her because you don’t want anybody going through the darkness she seems to be inhabiting even now but simultaneously angry because she’s using her voice and power to put people in harm’s way 

Flourish was struggling with their gender identity when they first encountered Tonks. They became comfortable with acknowledging their gender in the course of the Fansplaining podcast. In that context, they saw the progressive potential of the character and drew connections between their own life and Tonks’s life 

Elizabeth – tomboyish characters who are feminised as they grow up because girls/women are not allowed to retain this gender nonconformity when they grow up – according to traditional media, at least 

Flourish talks about how it’s different reading Harry Potter or a book you’re so emotionally connected to and wanting to find your own identities and ideologies within its pages and reading a more progressive book like Orlando which tackles gender in more experimental ways but not feeling that sense of deep connection with it. I think that’s a really interesting point because that’s why these popular media texts are important – you feel so strongly about them as fans that you want them to be better 

Flourish wrote fanfic about Tonks because “she was not doing the things I wanted her to do” in terms of her gender noncomforming nature and taking the possibilities further. They felt a sense of utter betrayal with Rowling’s opinions now. And I completely sympathise and empathise with this pain even as I’m distanced from it since I’m a cis woman from a dominant culture; at the same time, in the country I’m from my gender marginalises me – nuance and complexity when it comes to being marginalised and dominant in different contexts 

The books reflect her worldview and experience – as do most people’s books – but perhaps the fans ended up being more progressive than the author. 

 

8) Fan podcast – Breaking The Glass Slipper: Transgender Representation in SFF 

Signposts book: Gender Identity and Sexuality in Fantasy and Science Fiction – an anthology by Luna Press, where Cheryl Morgan has an essay about trans rep 

Issues with trans representation in SFF – cis people write about trans people, partly due to the fact that trans people form such a small part of the population, and they don’t have a great idea about what being trans is about. Most of them don’t get sensitivity readers to go over their books to make sure they do represent it properly 

There also seems to be a focus on the transition process – which isn’t something most trans people are very interested in focusing on – for trans people, the transition is just them changing their outward appearance to match their inward sense of self – and they are interested in other aspects of their identity 

Trans writers writing books also includes in-jokes that only trans people would get – writing for the audience rather than for a cis audience

Cheryl would rather see no representation of trans people than terrible representation which spreads misinformation about the trans experience 

One of the hosts says that she only first heard the term cis when she was 26-27 – and it’s something I definitely empathise with. It’s something I’ve only come across more recently as well, thanks in large part to online conversations and podcast conversations 

You’re not taught about different gender identities and expressions in school/mainstream media so how would you learn without knowing a trans person or inhabiting spaces where these conversations are normalised? 

TERFs hate the term cis – think of it as a slur – because they want to perpetuate the idea that they are normal and everyone else – trans and nonbinary folks – aren’t normal

Cheryl mentions the term normalising is a bit problematic because it makes it sound like things are abnormal – suggests “usalising” instead which is clumsy but reflects it more accurately

Importance of stories which may mean much more to trans people than cis people – which might be a smaller audience, but it’s important nonetheless – just having trans people being a regular part of the science fiction or fantasy world you’re reading about – just mentioning the fact that they are trans but not making a huge issue about it. It’s like with all marginalised groups, I think. There’s room for issue-based books but those can’t be the only kind of representation there is. 

Being trans either in fiction or in real life, like anything else, becomes more difficult when you add other identities like nonbinary, race, class, religion, national or regional origin 

Cheryl talks about the cis gaze – the focus on transition is a form of objectifying trans people + what trans people are “really like” – where you’re “forcing people into stereotypical social roles” It’s a way to other, exoticise or demonise trans people 

A male cis gaze might look at trans women as sex workers while a cis female gaze might have different connotations – especially when it comes to TERFs 

A common trope with trans people rep which trans people are fed up with is the shock reveal where it’s suddenly revealed that the character you thought was cis was actually trans all along – these tropes and stereotypes are something I would never have thought of at all – my own privilege and blind-spots 

Cheryl also talks about trans people in history – focusing on how trans people have always been around the world – different cultural contexts as well where the Aboriginal people in Australia, hijra community in India, Romans, Incans, Native Americans – different ways in which people “incorporated transness in their culture” among other parts of the world – it’s grown in separate parts of the world which implies that it’s a part of the human experience and identity 

Deadnames – the names people are given at birth which is usually taboo – but Cheryl uses this while talking about historical figures because you don’t know what their preferred name was 

We don’t know about these historical figures unless you go looking for them in queer anthologies (which is where I’ve come across them in many cases) which separates them into specific categories rather than just having them as a part of history. We don’t study about them in school. Even the fact that one of the people who started Pride marches, something which is so mainstream now, was a black trans woman in the US – Marsha P. Johnson 

Cheryl says that trans people who don’t get to be famous – no kings or politicians or explorers so didn’t have statues erected 

Whitewashing – ciswashing? – of history where you don’t research into marginalised groups like trans people and present a trans-exclusive version of events. As Cheryl says, she didn’t realise trans people existed in history or in different parts of the world or even in her part of the world, because she had never come across them. This erasure is ever-present. 

If it’s not born out of ignorance, this erasure is due to people’s deliberate attempts to fit trans experiences into their own understanding and worldview – it’s just a man dressing up as a woman, for example 

You don’t know exactly how to present potentially trans people from history because you can’t discover how they felt about their own identities – especially since trans and intersex discussions weren’t commonplace – and some women genuinely used to dress as men for matters of convenience due to the limited gender roles then rather than being trans men 

Issue of trans women in the feminist movement 

Gender-critical movement within radical feminism in the US and the UK and Australia – part of this is religious beliefs (in the US) – in the UK, history of left-wing socialist feminism where the only struggle which is important is the class struggle – connection to political environment – not intersectional at all since all these struggles are inter-linked. Currently, the iteration is the only struggle which matters is sexism and once that’s fixed, all other struggles will be automatically fixed. Which is ridiculous! 

As Cheryl says, she doesn’t think these TERFs are either radical or feminist – if you go deep enough, they’ll be racist, Islamophobic, classist – you see this recently where the TERFs tried to co-opt Black Lives Matter protests in the US 

Intersectional feminism IS definitely my idea of feminism – that everyone and everyone’s struggles are equally important and need to be addressed and fixed together because one person’s experience isn’t universal 

Cheryl points out that mainstream media seems to be obsessed with the medical aspect of transition but this option isn’t available to most trans people all over the world due to regional, financial, cultural barriers – it’s expensive to access 

I don’t even know enough about the relationship between trans people and history and religion in India 

On the question of whether there’s an obligation for trans writers to write featuring trans people – for Cheryl, she’s been living as a woman for so many years that it’s not an issue which is at the forefront of her thinking on a day-to-day basis but she does acknowledge there needs to be more representation to make up for the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of trans characters in media 

Recommends supporting independent publishers who take more risks and offer more representation than mainstream publishers 

 

Context texts: (So I included these two essays here even though they don’t talk about fandom to maybe think/talk about feminism in a more intersectional manner. I thought drawing on parallels from the US and toxic white feminism/Hermione and house elves, we could talk about Dalit/Adivasi/rural women’s erasure in mainstream feminism in India – maybe even Muslim women? – and how some of them are using the internet to organise resistance. Again, from our position of privilege only because while being a woman in India is terrible, if you add other identities, it’s even worse.)

9)  Article – What Is Toxic White Feminism 

Chose this article to draw parallels between toxic white feminism and toxic savarna feminism – the Indian context with upper caste Hindu women 

Talks about how murder of black women usually goes unreported in mainstream media and the contradiction in terms of how black male suspects are treated versus white male suspects especially when the victim is a black woman

Also discusses the lack of outrage among white feminists – the silence which erases the issue from mainstream discourse. When asked to do so, some white women do use their social networks to spread the news. However, at the same time, there are many white women who become immediately defensive – Twitter exchange between Rukmini Pande, Samira Nadkarni and Anne Jamison where in the middle of a racist and misogynist controversy targeting the former two. Samira wrote long threads calling out the behaviour – and Anne signposted her book where both had an essay, something that Samira called out and something that Anne responded to defensively in the beginning 

Talks about the lack of solidarity among white women for their black counterparts and when asked to intervene, they become defensive and demand acknowledgement for previous actions instead of just doing what is necessary – mix of ego and sensitivity and hurt feelings – reminds me of Serena Joy in The Handmaid’s Tale though the race element there is removed in what seems to be a colourblind society 

Speaks about the history of feminism where black women were often sidelined though when black women were leaders, they fought for all rights 

Going up against liberal progressive white feminists who refuse to let down their guard of “ultimate liberation” to actually learn from women of color—who have been fighting this fight with grit and grace for generations—is the most straining part being a black feminist activist.

Toxic white feminism includes tone policing, demands of unity and peace over real justice, white saviour complex dependent on how well they claim to have treated black women and black men as proof of their solidarity, centering their experiences and comfort all the time 

As these things play out over and over again, it is made painfully obvious that many white women believe that the worst thing that can happen to them is to be called a racist. Let me be clear, it is not. Seeing your child gunned down in the street by the police unjustly is much worse, being turned away for medical care due to race and underlying biases by medical staff, resulting in death, is much worse, being harassed by authorities only to be charged yourself instead is much worse.

Colour-blindness as a way to show how liberal they are 

Points out that true allyship involves acknowledging your privilege and using the privilege to create a space for those with less privilege to fight with and for them and privileging their voices in addressing their needs 

What makes allyship so hard for most? Many liberal white woman have an immediate reaction of defense when someone challenges their intentions. And it is in that precise moment they need to stop and realize they are actually part of the problem. It is never the offender who gets to decide when they’ve offended someone. If you feel yourself dismissing the words or experiences of people of color—because you think they’re “overreacting” or because you “didn’t know” or because “it has nothing to do with race”—it’s often due to your ego, not rationale. Listen and learn, instead.

Dr. Robin DiAngelo, a white woman sociologist who studies critical discourse, reminds us in her new book White Fragility that “the key to moving forward is what we do with our discomfort. We can use it as a door out—blame the messenger and disregard the message. Or we can use it as a door in by asking, Why does this unsettle me? What would it mean for me if this were true?”

In order for feminism to be intersectional and progressive, you need to take different perspectives into view and not just those which are at the top of the marginalised hierarchy 

 

10) Article – Debrahmanising Online Spaces on Caste, Gender and Patriarchy 

Empowerment through/within digital spaces is also a privilege because it requires access to technology, uninterrupted internet connections, and the time and space to be able to navigate these spaces and develop digital literacies which also presumes basic literacy. This doesn’t mean that these spaces aren’t important; it’s just important to remember the limitations of these spaces as you celebrate the possibilities 

Cyber pundits and cyber libertarian social scientists celebrate the role of Information and Communication Technologies in the eradication of rural poverty. On the contrary, low education status, complex social structure and low accessibility to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have expanded the digital divide (DN, 2001)1. Those connected to the internet are 35% of the population – the social composition of those with access to ICTs is dominant Indian castes, and they stand disconnected from the reality for majority of the Indian society. Thus, it accelerates the gap related with access and social mobility2.

This article focuses on young Dalit people are using the internet to create a space of solidarity for other Dalit people and awareness among non-Dalit people – Twitter, Instagram, YouTube – particularly young Dalit women – artwhoring is the one I can think off of the top of my head and Divya Khanduri who I discovered through BuzzFeed India – talk about both the intersections of caste and gender when it comes to Dalit/Adivasi/Bahujan women 

Are there similar spaces for Muslim women since that’s a group being targeted and maligned in India and all over the world? 

Recent nonsense online with the NRI Indian Hindu woman crying about how she feels her religion is mocked and disrespected because she was challenged by a Dalit woman for her regressive views. Her fans then attacked artwhoring in disgusting ways – Priyanka Paul of artwhoring shared the abuse she received then and continues to receive daily but continues to create examples of Dalit joy in the middle of rage 

These social media posts and presence allow for a lived experience of their various intersectional identities rather than just academic, abstract theorising 

Usually feminism seems to be concerned with elitist concerns rather than ones which affect different women in different ways 

Issue of period leave recently at Zomato being announced and while that is great for the women it impacts, there are millions of other women in India without basic access to period products 

As with anything, while social media allows them to share their experiences and perspectives, also leaves them open to abuse and trolling 

Intellectual + pleasure activism on social media. I remember something Priyanka Paul said on her Instagram that she’s glad she doesn’t fit into the preconcevied notions of Dalit women and strives to keep challenging these assumptions 

A Dalit woman activist argued that “Mainstream media does not publish our ideas. Social media is a major help to us.”

An Adivasi girl student said “Our women are being stereotyped as weaker, but our generation is converting new media into a new form of resistance”.

One of the questions the article asks is whether it’s enough to provide access and raise awareness of their political, social and cultural perspectives online when the most marginalised Dalit/Adivasi/Bahujan women’s lives aren’t improved and structural change isn’t developed? 

An innovative approach can be tailored through channelising the creative energy of Adivasi-Dalit-Bahujan girls/women into that of new media design thinking/practice. Dalit-Adivasi-Bahujan social/political assertions attain new dimension through the creation of counter online sphere to the conservative-caste blind “isms” in India. Internationalisation of their claim to private/public sphere has renewed the question of modernity related to these girls/women of change.

Indian feminist-politics of citation has created certain centers and margins while engaging with Advasi-Dalit-Bahujan politics. In other words, it systematically appeases or ignores the epochal, Adivasi-Dalit-Bahujan feminist interventions. Online sphere of Adivasi-Dalit-Bahujan feminist politics thus have the unique and autonomous arena of political sensibility. One of the central facet of the aforementioned online forums represent renewed understanding on the roots and alternatives related with caste-gender-patriarchy-religion- linked forms of oppression and resistance.

 

11) YouTube video – The Matrix As A Trans Allegory 

More recently, right-wing conspiracy theorists in the West have been using the red pill/blue pill allegory to insinuate that they’ve taken the red pill and now know how the world truly works and who controls it and who their enemies are. So I especially love that the creators have come out to say that The Matrix is actually a trans allegory and thus validating its trans fans for whom the movie has been so important 

In a science fiction/fantasy world, surely the only limits are your imagination because the impossible is possible in so many different ways? So the idea of transformation – which is so limited in many series including the HP books – can be revolutionary – similarly in video games as well where you can choose different players that corresponds with your actual gender and not the gender you were assigned at birth 

Lilly Wachowski talks about how the trans allegory was the original intention, the mainstream mediaspace controlled by corporate interests wasn’t yet ready for what was then considered a taboo topic – and still is to a degree but there is more public discussion about this – not always positive, of course 

“The desire for transformation but it was all coming from a closeted point of view” – Switch was a man in the real world and a woman in the Matrix 

Lilly doesn’t know how much her own transness informed the writing of the Matrix but she does think her identity influenced it to a certain degree 

She talks about how she didn’t know the word for her identity at the time – something which is so much more a topic of discussion now which can help others figure out their own identities – and so always found solace in imaginary worlds – sci-fi and fantasy worlds – Dungeons and Dragons worlds.

I’ve read an article which focused on the transformative potential of D&D to be able to play with your gender identity as also exists in video games in a relatively safe space

She thinks that creating stories in SFF worlds can be liberating because you’re able to imagine possibilities which don’t exist in real life 

 

12) Tumblr post – Sameface Syndrome and Other Stories

Disney’s Sameface Syndrome – The evolution of Disney princesses and their effect on body image, gender roles, and the portrayal of love

Disney, a major animation studio, has the unfortunate habit of creating princesses with the same face – Elsa, Anna, Rapunzel – and this post points to a disturbing trend in their female characters where the bodies, faces, features all look similar 

Talks about how due to the design shapes and what they imply, character personalities tend to dictate their shapes which means that people who aren’t conventionally attractive either end up being background characters or villains 

they’re typically older, with more visible wrinkles in their faces, and either grotesquely thin or on the heavy side.

You get the idea: the “good” characters are basically always attractive, and the “bad” characters are basically always unattractive. You see a little more variance in movies from, say, DreamWorks (not so much Pixar) but this rule still holds true for Disney.

Points out that one of the critiques of Disney characters is that they have big heads and big eyes but this is usually to make them more expressive. However in its early days, Disney used to model its characters on real women so the proportions used to be more realistic

When The Little Mermaid was released, the now-familiar formula of “big head, big eyes, small nose and mouth, tiny waist” really started to take off… Which was applied in various ways to the rest of the Disney Princess line.

Anna and Elsa’s facial expressions, particularly Elsa’s, were significantly dialed back at the animation stage to prevent their faces from stretching out of shape and making them look “too ugly,” producing the side effect of making them look oddly stiff. Stretching and exaggerating faces to get good overall movement is one of the basic principles of animation, and I’m concerned that Disney decided to throw it out in favor of making their women look slightly more attractive, especially since I haven’t noticed this in any other Disney Princess films.

Ugh why is the way the women look the most important part of this or any movie – especially when this was pushed as the “feminist” Disney movie – even though there have been critiques of that especially in the second movie 

Arbitrary decision which does have a cultural impact that good characters are supposed to be beautiful and also beautiful in a certain kind of way – narrowing the definition of morality and beauty in one fell swoop – narrow waist, wide hips – there was such a huge outrage about Barbie with this – but haven’t really encountered Disney ones – especially given the fact that Disney is such a cultural juggernaut 

Disney is a big reflection of our societal norms, so it’s frankly disturbing that they’re saying that this is what beauty looks like — not because all these girls have an unrealistic body type, but because they all look the same. Because what they’re communicating, in a subtle and subconscious way, is that there’s only one way to look good, and that’s simply not true.

Disney may be in the business of stylizing reality, but that’s just it: they’re supposed to be using reality as a starting point. The world is an extremely varied place, and people come in all shapes and sizes. When you’re trying to improve your diversity, making your characters actually look different is a good place to start.

 

13) Article – When Will We See Dalit Women Journalists In India’s Mainstream Media?

Lack of Dalit/Adivasi journalists in Indian media

Talks about how the problem isn’t just entertainment media but also news media where the people in control usually tend to be privileged groups of men and if it’s women, it’s who belong to wealthy, upper caste Hindu backgrounds. This influences what kinds of stories are considered important and how they are told. The stories which are highlighted tend to reflect the concerns and perspectives of this privileged group whereas the marginalised group may have to turn to social media to make their voices heard 

A report published by Oxfam ‘Who Tells Our Stories Matters’ spanning TV news (Hindi and English), newspaper (Hindi and English), digital media and magazines brings forth startling data that demonstrates the severe under-representation of marginalized groups in the Indian Media. Reliable data is not available to establish the number of Dalit/Adivasi journalists in media; experts say, it is minuscule. Media critics say coverage on issues of caste, gender and class lacks sensitivity because of the absence of journalists from these sections. There is no data available specifically for the number of women in media from marginalized communities.

Lack of diversity among journalists also impacts attitudes – if marginalised journalists are only brought on to talk about issues which pertain to that aspect of their identity, people won’t take them seriously on other issues – similar to race in the UK

Post the Rohit Vemula episode, India has witnessed the Third Ambedkarite Wave, wherein there has been an increasing trend of discussion about discrimination faced by the marginalized community. Media houses started hiring or outsourcing Dalit women journalists to only talk about ‘Dalit and gender issues’, thereby reducing their identity to their caste by making them a ‘quota reporter’ and not a journalist who should be allowed to write about Politics, Culture, Art and Sports.

The Adivasi journalists are asked to cover issues regarding Naxalites, Forests and Left Wing extremism.

Even when women journalists and editors talk about issues like feminism or gender politics, it’s still a limited perspective because they aren’t taking into account the perspective of a majority of the Indian population who are impoverished 

This social and cultural capital is replicated because the networks are so limited that the opportunities are only offered to people from the same groups which means Dalit/Bahujan/Adivasi women don’t have access to these spaces and networks 

Journalists from marginalised backgrounds tend to remain on the margins and don’t get access to mainstream spaces and mainstream influence with their counter-narratives 

Dalit news stories are largely relegated to the violence committed against them – a very one-sided, single story view of their existence 

There are no narratives celebrating the intellectual discourses and movements to counter caste-based biases started by Dalit. The privileged gaze fails to see the resistance. No narratives celebrate their culture and identity. For example, Annual Tribal Festival and Dhamma Pravartan Divas, which are significant in Dalit culture, remain uncovered by the media.

Even in schools and colleges, there is no subject integrated in the curriculum that specifically talks about caste, class and gender to sensitize people regarding the inequality in the society. In such aspects, reservation in private media schools is a dire need to ensure participation of marginalized groups in mainstream media.

The politics of language where English is privileged in media rooms 

“Language was a means of power and control. For language is what reflects and embodies the culture and way of life of people, and to believe that one’s language is inferior, not good enough, not worthy of use is, in fact, to negate and make invisible one’s entire way of being and living. It is precisely through creating feelings of inferiority around local languages and dialects that the powerful maintained the marginalization of subaltern groups”, says a journalist from Khabar Lahriya, a path-breaking media channel comprising Dalit women journalists which primarily publishes local stories.

When I was in my early 20s, I was a freelance journalist and had written an article about Khabar Lahriya, a media enterprise I loved, but didn’t even think of touching on the caste aspect because thanks to my privilege, that wasn’t a topic I gave much thought to 

There’s also a lack of rural women’s stories – reading a book Everybody Loves A Good Drought and following The People’s Archive of Rural India – PARI – on Instagram for stories from rural India has helped expand my knowledge and imagination 

It is much more difficult for women from marginalized communities to enter into the field of media and journalism. Families do not have enough resources to educate them. They also do not consider this as a viable career option. This stream requires women to step out of the home at uneven times and work for long hours, which is usually not acceptable to parents. Women are expected to get married and engage in house work.

The systematic structure of patriarchy is so staunch that women do not even consider being a media person as something remotely plausible. According to a report by Media Rumble and UN women, office spaces are male-dominated and patriarchal in nature. The study also found that women continue to be given what are essentially “soft” beats like lifestyle and fashion, leaving the “hard” beats like politics, economy, and sports. “By thus marginalising women’s voices and perspectives, the Indian media essentially denies nearly a half of the population a chance to influence public opinion. This runs counter to the principles of fairness, equality, and democracy,” the report said.

 

14) Article – Building A Newsroom Dedicated To Diversity: An Indian Story

Features Khabar Lahariya which started off as a newspaper that trained women in rural areas to be journalists who printed local news in their local languages thereby diversifying not just who tells the stories but also what kind of stories are told and how they are told 

Now they share their news on distributes their content on Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok

Kavita Devi, the founder of Khabar Lahariya started the newspaper in response to the alienation she felt with mainstream media who did not represent her perspectives or experiences as a Dalit woman in a village 

From 2002 to 2015, KL ran an eight-page print in the Bundeli language covering local issues. They would distribute these prints by hand. Funding was difficult and no mainstream papers wanted to help distribute KL. In 2015, they taught their team how to use smartphones and moved their reporting digital, adding video coverage. Their number of readers have gone from 80,000 (while in print) to five million every month.

They’ve been more successful than a lot of big mainstream publications in the shift from print to digital! 

It features underrepresented populations and issues of people who live in rural communities which are difficult to access by mainstream publications 

While they distinguish journalism from activism, their stories do get local level changes done by highlighting issues until they’re fixed

Intersection of caste and gender: 

Safety is still an issue, particularly for Dalit and Adivasi women reporters. Recently, while reporting on a story on gaushalas where cows were being murdered, upper caste men followed KL’s reporters with guns. However, Devi says that they take care of their reporters and put stringent safety protocols into place. She emphasizes that danger shouldn’t stop them from reporting. Safety might not be an issue that is raised if the reporters were men

I love that they focus on issues other than what urban ideas of rural lives and issues are! 

Also runs a podcast called Love Guru covering stories on romance and sexuality that people might be too shy — or afraid of implications — to come on camera for

 

15) Article – What Steven Universe can Teach us about Queerness, Gender Identity, and Feminism

Positive representations in media: Steven Universe

Steven Universe, like She-Ra and other popular media created for children, has found huge resonance and popularity among adult audiences because it explores themes relevant to adult lives too 

The Crystal Gems are gender-nonconforming even though they go by she/her – expanding the concept of gender and the possibilities it holds – so important for a children’s show 

They also represent different body types – fat activism and fatphobia within the feminist umbrella is also a huge topic of discussion at least in the West 

Just like the different gender expressions seem to be a default in this world – not really worthy of comment, it’s the same in She-Ra – it’s not a big deal, it just is 

Fans reading Bow as trans, an interpretation which Noelle publicly supports but doesn’t say it’s canon because they didn’t hire a trans actor to voice him and Scorpia 

Nonbinary characters – Stevionne in Steven Universe, Double Trouble in She-Ra – Noelle said that she was learning through fan responses who said they wished the nonbinary character was human 

Gender is treated with respect and dignity in Steven Universe. The acknowledgment of gender is of particular importance because since the gems identify as female when they are in romantic relationships, queer relationships are illustrated.

Also example of found family and a queer feminist family – which goes against normative family structures 

Fusion as a way to represent queer relationships 

Not only are the characters in Steven Universe free to be who they are, but there are also no boundaries when it comes to what it means to be an individual, whether the boy, girl or gem. All the Crystal Gems, feminine or masculine presenting, fight and kick ass when they do. They take on the daunting task of protecting the earth from menaces that often come from their home planet and the universe using their various weapons and powers. At the same time, they love Steven and protect him with all of their beings as well as nurture him and teach him how to be the best Crystal Gem he can be. These are not traditional, one-dimensional female characters; they are relatable to the multilayered women who exist in real life.

Portrayal of male and female characters which don’t correspond to traditional gender roles – Steven compassionate and sensitive – Connie often rescues him – there’s room for different kinds of ways to be a boy or a girl and largely media has just pushed one narrative – now it’s making up for this by presenting more ways of existing in the world – also Steven’s dad is the one who shows his mother how to love rather than the other way around 

Normally, especially in children’s shows, it is the very feminine character who is always swooning and searching for love, and when she finds it she has to soften the heart of her more masculine love interest. But this is not the case in Steven Universe, where this trope is turned completely on its head

The writer of this article loves that the show is full of “non-traditional interactions, relationships, and expressions of identity” – it’s not something which came easily to the creator of the show as she mentions in her interview with Noelle Stevenson – impacted her mental health to always have to fight  for representation and authentic storytelling with the corporate producers – but her efforts made it easier for Noelle Stevenson to make her show and point to Steven Universe as an example 

It amazes me how a show like this is more reflective of the world today, yet it is rare to see such representations on TV, especially in a show made for children. This normalization of same sex (or gender) relationships, non-nuclear families, characters who are not constricted by gender norms, and characters who are allowed just to give me hope that our future will be a little brighter since children are now being exposed to these values.

Steven Universe, and shows like it, are so important for children who are growing up in a society that tells them who they should be, without taking into account who they are. It is essential for kids to understand that there’s not just one way to be a girl or to be a boy or to be feminine or masculine. As an adult who identifies as queer, it reminds me that I’m not alone and that everything is going to be OK. We must all understand that each person is different and it’s not about being pinpointed as “normal” or “other.” We are individuals, no matter what category we choose to fall under (or not to fall under) and it’s refreshing to see this positive treatment of identity displayed on TV.

 

16) Article – The Way the Solo Novel Treats Female Droid L3-37 Is Horrifying

This article discusses how even non-human female characters get a raw deal – where a female droid in Star Wars is robbed of her agency and has to submit to further a man’s story and how male characters manipulate her into saving her friends and doing something which goes against her sense of being and identity

The article explores the concept of consent and the absence of it – which makes me think of the lack of consent even with Leia and Han when he first kisses her. I don’t think Star Wars has a great track record with its women anyway – Rey’s story started off great but ended very dubiously – ostensibly as fan service to a bunch of enraged fans who hated the feminism and people of colour in the second film of the most recent trilogy 

L3’s story is so flawed that it’s hard to pair it with the feminist bent Lucasfilm has been aiming for with their current films. Never mind that her quest for droid rights is painted as a joke, but the fact she ends up voiceless and powerless, trapped on a ship that Han then takes from Lando, is deeply problematic.

We are shown a woman who advocates for social justice having her ability to speak taken away and then she becomes a servant who cannot stand up for herself. If that’s not a bad message to send, I don’t know what is.

This social justice and activism being treated as a joke by the male characters is so reminiscent of Hermione’s outrage against house elf oppression 

 

17) Research paper – Gender in Twentieth-Century Children’s Books

According to this study of a sizeable chunk of children’s books in the 20th century, they found male characters were more prominent than female characters – both in titles and as protagonists 

I wonder how much this has changed now that it is such a matter of mainstream discourse. I would be really interested in a more modern study, especially with Indian children’s books. A lot of writers are more aware of these issues and focus on gender diversity among other forms of diversity but even that can be in quite limited ways. A Mighty Girl produces booklists which feature female characters in prominent roles in different books of different genres and for different ages 

I remember when I was a kid and used to be so upset by the lack of girl names in science and maths textbooks – I would make up girl versions for the boy names and proceed that way. I was too young to have any understanding of feminism then but obviously I still noticed it 

I think it’s also important to see how the genders are represented not just whether they are not. Of course, it begins with mere visibility but there also needs to be more nuance and complexity rather than just superficial gender diversity – and what about children’s books normalising diverse gender identities? 

Are girls going on adventures and doing things which according to traditional gender roles they’re not allowed to do? What about women of all ages and backgrounds? 

Diverse representations of gender are important in children’s media because children are still figuring out and developing their own identities and how these fit within the world they inhabit 

I think have a more diverse group of academic researchers will help diversify the kinds of research that is carried out – in the context of children’s books in India, researchers from different genders, socioeconomic, caste, regional backgrounds can draw on their own experiences and priorities and use these perspectives to identify gaps in children’s literature – using quantitative data to back this up  – and of course, having more diverse writers, editors and publishers push for the change as well 

I think the male/female disparity is important in terms of representation especially in a country like India, huge parts of which are so directly entrenched in patriarchal structures – but I don’t think it’s enough to just focus on male/female at the cost of other aspects of identity which are contextually different and impact people in different ways. For example, Dalit men/black men have less power and are in more danger than a wealthy Brahmin/white woman. And among women, many different intersections of oppression and privilege exist. I wish this study explored other facets of identity 

Some Notes On Episode 18 – Resources

Some Notes On … is a section which features my autoethnographic fieldnotes as I document my thoughts throughout different parts of my PhD project. Here, I write about the text resources discussed in our podcast episode. 

For Episode 18, , we discussed the following texts:

1) Fan podcast – Harry Potter and the Sacred Text: Special Edition Owl Post and Marya Bangee (listen from 19 minutes 40 seconds till the end of the episode)

This episode discusses how Hermione has to leave behind her Muggle culture to assimilate into the magical world and how witches and wizards have so many stereotypes about Muggles

One of the listeners believes that Hermione must have thought there were so many easier Muggle technologies to use in the magical world rather than relying on inconvenient magical things. Hermione never talks about her Muggle background and culture, even though so many people in the magical world have some really strange assumptions about and biases against non-magical people. The listener believes that Hermione has internalised the magical world’s dismissal of the Muggle world. She feels like she needs to assimilate to the new culture in order to fit in and consequently leaves her own culture behind. The listener draws parallels between this and her own experiences living abroad where she felt she had to set aside her cultural values and experiences because people in her new culture weren’t really interested in knowing these things. I empathise with this as an Indian immigrant living in the UK. Rarely anybody else seems to really care about what’s happening in India, either culturally or politically. 

There are so many Muggle things that Hermione or any other Muggleborn student could introduce to the magical world and make the world better through cultural exchange. This isn’t just limited to science, travel, technology and communication but also literature and art. Hermione and other Muggleborn students seem to live in a society which largely resembles their society’s history. Nobody in the magical world seems to be interested in making life easier because witches and wizards think they are above learning from Muggle cultures. Visibility isn’t just important for people from marginalised cultures for their own sense of identity but also for people from dominant cultures to understand them in non-stereotypical ways. 

The politics of language – Fudge’s attitude to his Bulgarian counterpart at the World Cup in Goblet of Fire+ goblin languages which are depicted negatively and harshly. Barty Crouch Sr. and Dumbledore seem to be the only ones who speak several languages – shouldn’t this be a more normalised part of the world? Shouldn’t Muggle Studies be a compulsory part of the Hogwarts curriculum?

When Marya Bangee is asked why she thinks Hermione doesn’t always share her Muggle knowledge in the magical world, the guest, a hijab-wearing Muslim woman in the US, relates to Hermione’s insider/outsider status. This is similar to my experience in the UK though I do have the privilege of cultural and social capital. Marya thinks that people don’t always want to point out their differences and want to be a part of the community and connect with other people. She thinks Hermione already has noticeable differences thanks to her origin as well as her intelligence and social justice advocacy.

One of the problems with the dominant culture not having a more nuanced and complex view of marginalised cultures is that it can lead to negative stereotypes. It can also lead to a lack of self-esteem and harmful internalised social conditioning among the marginalised cultures. Witches and wizards in the Potterverse have so many biases against other magical people like goblins, giants, werewolves. What would the magical world be like if there was more cross-cultural exchange? You see more of this in Fantastic Beasts with relationships among magical and non-magical folks but it is still exceptionalised. 

 

2) Tumblr post – Imagine A Muslim Witch

This Tumblr post imagines what the life of a Muslim student in and outside of Hogwarts would be like 

I love this headcanon so much! Even though it speaks specifically of a Muslim Muggleborn witch’s experiences at Hogwarts – something that the books don’t explore at all – it makes me think of other experiences which are missing in the book and how they would fit in within the magical world. This applies not just to real-life religions and cultures but also different magical world creatures and cultures. This is why I love fandom so much. Fans of a popular series like Harry Potter come from such a diverse range of backgrounds. Obviously it’s not possible to represent EVERYONE in the text, knowing Rowling’s own limited perspectives and experiences. But the world is broad enough to host a myriad of experiences. 

What would a Parvati’s-eye view of Hogwarts and her home life be like? And Cho Chang? I’d also love to see Hogwarts welcoming in non-human creatures within its walls too. What about a Hogwarts full of centaurs, merpeople, giants, werewolves, goblins and house elves – as students and teachers? Even for those who don’t have access to the witch/wizarding magic, surely there are some things which don’t require magic? Does making potions always require a wand? What about learning from their skills – which may not necessarily be magical or may be a different kind of magic but interesting and important all the same? Why don’t the witches and wizards learn about the others who share their world – their cultures and beliefs? Harry thinks merpeople might eat humans or murder humans when they’re actually lovely. And this doesn’t come of bigotry – as some of Ron’s beliefs do – but just pure ignorance.

Even in terms of food, language, culture, and religion, surely Hogwarts and the magical world has room for different kinds of people from diverse backgrounds? Maybe they have their own magical traditions that they could share and raise awareness about? What about vegetarians at Hogwarts? Vegans? People with allergies or other food restrictions? It doesn’t just have implications on food but also Potions and spells in Charms and Transfiguration which seem to employ a lot of different animals and birds. 

Through the years, though, things she never considered comes up. Like how she’s basically a vegetarian at Hogwarts in her first year cause the house-elves don’t know about halaal meat, or how everyone looks at her funnily when in Third Year she gets special permission from Dumbledore to break from classes for prayer (and she learns to be quiet for Fajr when her roommates complain).

Or how Madame Pomfrey gets worried about her fasting in Ramadan, and the house-elves are insulted when she won’t eat their food until she explains, and then stuff her full of food half an hour before Fajr and at Maghrib.

Or that she takes to healing the muggle way because not all those potions have ingredients that she can ingest, and she talks to a sheikh for advice on if salamanders and bat eyes are actually halaal.

In one of The Gayly Prophet episodes, they wondered about vegan substitutes for some of the Potions and spells which need animals and animal products. Surely there are magical researchers looking into these things? It may be a slow process like real-world academia but that’s why we need more diverse researchers, no? How about magical researchers from Muggle backgrounds who find ways to incorporate both magical and non-magical aspects into new discoveries? 

And how annoying it is when the only holidays that get celebrated are Christian ones, and that’s when she makes friends with Anthony Goldstein, who agrees that there should be more religious diversity so he can really enjoy Hannukah at school. 

This is something that we briefly spoke of in Episode 7 – where’s Diwali and Ganesh Chaturthi and Pateti other desi festivals? Surely it’ll be a more fun, diverse, multicultural environment where everyone gets to understand and try different kinds of customs, clothes, and – to me, most importantly – food? 

The politics of language rears its head here in a way I’d never considered before. English is the dominant language even in magical spells which draw from Latin words. Super Eurocentric. It’s also strange that people in Hogwarts don’t study other languages to not only talk to foreign witches and wizards but also to British magical creatures who speak different languages like goblins and merpeople, for example. Dumbledore and Barty Crouch Sr. know several languages, but I’m assuming they studied it on their own time. There’s also no study of Muggle culture in Hogwarts which is strange since they live in a Muggle-dominant society. 

She gets in trouble for saying her spells in Arabic instead of English, to the consternation of all her professors who don’t understand the language and insist that its dangerous if they can’t govern her spell-casting.

So she starts a duelling club, and Padma joins her and casts spells in Punjabi, and Anthony who does his spells in Hebrew (they’re not making up spells, just changing the language, and isn’t it funny that the spells are always a teensy bit different?), and others trickle in, and new magic gets practiced under the supervision of a Ministry hire who encourages them and speaks sixteen different languages.

Again, I am so in love with this headcanon exploring religious diversity at Hogwarts in different ways. Ugh I love fan creativity so much! 

She worries about the practical non-existence of Muslims in Wizarding Britain, and will that affect the jobs she can get, because wizards and witches are a bit funny about religion?

Muggles are also RIDICULOUS about religion – does magical Britain inherit the same prejudices as their Muggle counterpart? 

 

3) Fan podcast – Breaking The Glass Slipper: Cultural Traditions of Magic

This episode talks about how most popular fantasy is so Western and Christianity centric and what non-Western fantasy worlds and creatures could look like. They do refer to the guest Zen Cho’s books but you don’t need to have read the books to make sense of the conversation – it brings up some really interesting points

(I’ve already used this episode as a text for Episode 7, so I’m supplementing the notes I made then with these new ones. For the old notes, click here.)

While popular Western fantasy has taken over the world, we still manage to imbibe our own cultural traditions of fantasy and storytelling as non-Western fans. In India, we have our mythological texts which are very much a part of our culture as well as popular folktales which we’ve grown up with. At the same time, we were also exposed to Western fairy tales and mythologies, so there’s a lot of cultural mishmash. 

The language used in these Western SFF texts is unusual for people outside the context. We had to fill in the gaps of our knowledge when it came to words that were used in Harry Potter and Enid Blyton – jumpers, food etc. These things didn’t get in the way of the story but readers had to work harder to build a contextual understanding. This reflects systems of power too – which readers are used to/open to doing this about unfamiliar cultures? Relatedly, what ideas of magic have we internalised? Which elements do we take for granted that we can’t imagine a fantasy world without? A shift in perspective by setting the fictional world in another country/culture or focalising it through a non-Eurocentric lens is valuable because it disrupts our notions of what we take for granted and allows us to examine why we feel discomfited and find it so unfamiliar. What feels like it’s the default and what is othered? 

Zen Cho mentions using Malaysian English whereas we have Indian English. I grew up wanting to perfect the British version of English reflecting my school and society’s priorities and emphasis on the “Queen’s English” even though India has been independent from the queen for several decades! We have to fit the language based on ideas of who and what you believe to be superior. You end up feeling inferior because your language doesn’t match this aspirational other and you also end up dismissing what makes your own language unique. There are several versions of English so what does standard English even mean? It used to be an issue (and still is for some) in children’s books where examples of Indian English were looked down upon. This also impacts what things which you consider exotic on the printed page. Words and phrases are italicised even if you’re writing for an audience which wouldn’t consider those words and phrases unfamiliar and foreign. 

Zen Cho mentions that in Malaysia, even middle-class or wealthier, urban, educated people believe in spirits. They don’t see anything contradictory between these different beliefs; they’re just different aspects of their identity and they see no need to separate them. She also mentions how she’s grown up with certain cultural superstitions which impacts how she thinks about the world. It reminds me of similar superstitions we have – some of which are universal and others of which are very specific to India. Totally resonate with Zen Cho when she says she doesn’t believe in spirits but sometimes she worries that the spirits don’t care whether she believes in them or not! It’s interesting dating a Scottish man and coming from such a different background not just nationally but also regionally – I’m from a big city, he’s from a small town (those sound like song lyrics!) – and how we make room for our different cultural habits and experiences. In terms of language, we used to get into arguments because the way we converse is different. For him, as a Scottish person (and perhaps as a man), someone interrupting him while talking is super rude. For me, interrupting someone while talking is how you show you’re engaged and active and listening to the conversation. 

What terms are considered normal and which are considered political? As one of the hosts says, “people have opinions” if you use Allah instead of god, for example. This controversy itself is also very contextual, historically and geographically. People in the past or in other parts of the world may not take umbrage with the same things. Different religions and cultures have different ideas of the importance of magic and who is allowed to use this magic. I loved The Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho because it so organically incorporated both British and Asian magical cultures and creatures – along with explorations of race and national identity as well as a badass powerful older witch and a fantastic female protagonist.

 

4) Article – Through Sci-fi And Fantasy, Muslim Women Authors Are Building New Worlds

This article lists some recent popular fantasy books and series written by Muslim women who move beyond the traditionally white, Eurocentric fantasy worlds and incorporate their own mythologies, stories, and religions into the narratives 

I love that there’s this surge in science fiction and fantasy which doesn’t focus on primarily Western, Eurocentric cultures. This article specifically talks about Muslim women writing SFF, drawing on their own perspectives, experiences and knowledges. But increasingly, there’s also been room for other cultures. Rick Riordan’s imprint, for example, does a brilliant job promoting lesser-known cultures on the world stage. He’s using his privilege and voice to promote those who don’t have the same power as him.

The women writers mentioned in this article disrupt traditional notions of Muslim women in their books and automatically address the lack of diversity in SFF. This is why you need to not just increase diversity in terms of representation but also who’s doing the representing. These women are drawing on their own cultures and histories and storytelling traditions:

That’s a change from the past, when speculative fiction was dominated by stories that drew on Norse, Christian and Arthurian sagas and mythologies.

A lot of these books have also been popular enough to launch online fan communities complete with fanfic and fan art. I love that diversity is becoming mainstream in this way! I wonder how many of these writers were inspired by popular books like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings etc. which have huge fandoms but not a huge amount of diversity. Were they perhaps inspired to create their own worlds in which they could see themselves reflected? 

The article mentions Ms Marvel’s creator. I only got into comics relatively recently. I didn’t know where to start until I picked up the first in the Ms Marvel book in a Leeds public library a couple of years ago and had my mind completely blown. The representation of a desi superhero felt so completely authentic and not tokenistic, and it’s someone I recognised even though I grew up in India and I’m not Muslim. 

In 2007, G. Willow Wilson — then a journalist writing on the Middle East and religious affairs, now a top comics writer most known for co-creating Kamala Khan, Marvel’s first Muslim character to headline her own comic book — published the magical-realist thriller “Cairo.”

The dense urban fantasy played with Islamic and Arabic mythology, from jinns to flying prayer rugs to Arabian Nights, while also commenting on Arab-Israeli politics.

This extract reminds me of the article which studied Arab fans of Game of Thrones and how they used the fictional framework to explore the geopolitics in the world they inhabited. The flying prayer rugs reminds me of Ali Bashir in Goblet of Fire whose name keeps cropping up because he wants to import flying carpets into the UK as a family vehicle – something that’s currently illegal in the British magical world. Perhaps an unintended hint of British cultural imperialism even when it comes to ideas of which modes of magical transportation are appropriate?  

As a science fiction editor, Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali says her biggest grievance was seeing stories about imaginary worlds where only white people exist.

“It really bugs me to see a far-off future-flung store, and everyone is white, and everyone is assumed to be Judeo-Christian or atheist,” the World Fantasy Award-nominated editor said. “Because we are in this world. I don’t believe that 100 or 200 or 400 years in the future, we will cease to exist, yet we don’t show up in stories about the future.”

Muslim and Indian history has had such a huge impact on events as well as scientific and technological advancements, but you’d think it was only the West that ever contributed anything to society. This creates false attitudes not just within Western audiences but also Eastern ones – superiority versus inferiority.

“It became very important to me as I was learning to be a writer myself, to write worlds where the people I loved and the cultures I find beauty in were present and real,” Intisar Khanani told Religion News Service. “Because we have the right to take up space in this world, and in our imagined worlds.”

A new wave of Muslim speculative fiction writers is chipping away at outdated notions of what belongs in the genre. Their stories often feature strong Muslim women protagonists and integrate themes from Islamic theology, folklore and history. 

Mainstream entertainment and news media has such limited ideas of what it means to be a Muslim person or a Muslim woman and have an inaccurate version of Muslim history and beliefs. Normalising these cultures by letting Muslim women write their own stories is a fantastic way to disrupt biases and assumptions.

“I chose this word to reflect the fact that these women are claiming their history and their traditions to themselves and refusing to be erased from it or suppressed in this world,” Ausma Zehanat Khan said. “I wanted to take the Islamic tradition and put it in the hands of women and have them be its defenders.”

These writers have also used the framework of SFF to explore feminist themes within their culture:

“The genre allows them to break forms, imagining these utopian spaces where women can have certain kinds of power, often magical or otherworldly powers, that we can see as ciphers for a kind of critique or a reflection on women’s empowerment,” Hashem said.

And by drawing on Islamic history and culture in their settings and characters, Hashem argued, many Muslim authors implicitly rebuke anti-Muslim ideas of Islam as backward, while also critiquing notions that speculative fiction was born out of the European Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution.

“Oppressed people are primed to imagine what things could look like if they were not the victim of so many different systems of oppression,” Safiyah Cheatam said. “I think we see a wider range of what futures could be available to us.”

Some Notes On Episode 17 – Resources

Some Notes On … is a section which features my autoethnographic fieldnotes as I document my thoughts throughout different parts of my PhD project. Here, I write about the text resources discussed in our podcast episode. 

For Episode 17, See Different Possibilities: Alternative Relationship and Economic Structures in Fandom, we discussed the following texts:

1) Fan podcast – Be the Serpent: You and Me and Our Boyfriend Makes Three

I learned a lot through this discussion especially since I’m not familiar with the communities and cultures they describe. Balanced triads – each person is in a relationship with the other two people; V relationships – one person is in a relationship with two people who don’t have relationships themselves. These queer relationships are about love and not reproduction. All the people in the relationship offer different perspectives and strengths and skills to each other. They also have a different notion of family from normative nuclear families. Found families is an important concept.

In the episode they talk about the fanfic genre of OT3s (or one true threesomes) and how different kinds of polyamorous relationships are depicted in fiction and real-world media. In fandom, OT3 is like OTP (one true pairings) with threesomes – the pairing of threesomes that you love best in fiction. 

In fiction, OT3s work best in longform mediums like TV shows and book series where there’s more time and space to explore different facets of the relationships. Alternatively, in fanfiction, you’re creating an alternative canon based on a fictional world someone else has created.

Examples of potential triads include Harry Potter, The Hunger Games (lots of YA!), and Star Wars. Imagining polyamorous relationships opens up the potential for so many different kinds of relationships rather than the Team Edward/Team Jacob debates of yore. 

The fact that these representations seem to be predominant only in fanfic and not in mainstream media means that most people – young people and adults – can’t imagine other ideas of being in the world. Even I only encountered polyamory a few years ago on a dating app. 

The hosts point out the absence of this in speculative fiction particularly. They believe that SFF doesn’t build alternative family and relationship structures for the most part – only economic and political alternatives. The two person family/romantic/sexual unit is the default which you would think speculative fiction has so much room to explore. In 2020, you would think there would be more explorations of relationships especially in fiction to reflect it becoming more mainstream in the real world.

Is polyamory a queer thing, a millenial thing, a generational thing? Where is it more acceptable as the norm and where is monogamy the default? The norms hurt certain groups of people so they step out of these normative structures to explore other kinds of relationships and families. Seeing representations of this, as with other marginalised cultures, helps both the dominant and marginalised cultures – to understand themselves and others better. 

 

2) Fan podcast – Imaginary Worlds: Fan Fiction (Don’t Judge)

(I’ve already used this episode as a text for Episode 4, so I’m supplementing the notes I made then with these new ones. For the old notes, click here.)

Fanfiction fills such an important need in terms of representation which is absent in mainstream media – particularly fic written by fans from marginalised groups.

Fanfic is an example of communal writing where betas act as voluntary editors of fic. There’s also implications on the intersections of class, fanfiction and gender. So much time and labour are offered for free. This happens for love of the work and the community but people also need to pay the bills. On the other hand, capitalism wants you to commercialise everything and some things are just for the fun of it.

They talk with Francesca who more recently has been at the centre of online controversy in the midst of the Black Lives Matter discussions on Twitter and her and AO3’s complicity in racism. Fanfiction can be progressive and inclusive towards certain groups but hostile towards others – queerness and gender is centered but race is othered.

I like that fanfic offers a space for these alternative stories and perspectives and cultures which defy the normative dominant ones, but I also wish it wasn’t the only space in which these stories thrived. Fanfic isn’t accessible to everyone even on the internet; you have to discover it yourself. Mainstream media can also be inaccessible but more accessible than fanfic.

Fan entitlement – fans may not have institutional power but they are now able to respond to the media and critique decisions. Can fans influence mainstream decisions? Is the new Star Wars trilogy an example of fan or media company feedback? 

 

3) Fan podcast – Imaginary Worlds: Fan Fiction (Special Edition)

(I’ve already used this episode as a text for Episode 4, so I’m supplementing the notes I made then with these new ones. For the old notes, click here.)

“Women like the show too much and in the wrong way”

What’s wrong with fanfiction that focuses on a lot of sex and romantic relationships? It’s a perfectly legitimate form of expression and exploration of self-identity. Fans are writing/reading things they’re interested in which centres their perspectives and desires in ways which mainstream media doesn’t.

What is taboo in fanfiction often differs from what’s taboo in mainstream fiction. This is also historically contextual and can change. For example, slashfic, real person fic was taboo but now less so within fandom. Wincest – incest fic in Supernatural might be considered taboo in mainstream and possibly even in fandom. 

Archive of our Own was started by fans to own the platform where they wrote. They designed the structure and software from scratch. However, the initial group of co-founders had their own blind-spots and biases which undergirded the framework of the website which has now become such a mainstream space for fanfic online. 

 

4) Fan podcast – Verity!: Fanworks Round Table

Definition of fan works differs based on different perspectives and interpretations. Fan works take any elements from the original fictional world and play with it – inspired by or based on any piece of media. I think fanfic is a huge topic of conversation within fandom and mainstream conversation and even fan studies. I’m more interested in critical commentary such as fan podcasts and even Tumblr posts or other social media posts which analyse characters, worlds, events, themes etc. 

As one of the hosts points out, mainstream media seems to discover fanfiction anew every few years in a way that is vaguely if not outright derisive. They point out that slashfic used to be very taboo. Even fanfic itself used to be seen as something shameful. In mainstream minds, there’s a stigma against fanfic where it’s perceived to only be about sex; a view which is exacerbated by mainstream media critics and hosts who find and highlight the raunchiest examples of fanfic they can find. I don’t read a lot of fanfic so only know what’s normative and marginalised within that space through research I’ve read which in turn is also subjective and reflects a limited number of experiences.

Now, less people seem to object as much as they used to and fanfic seems to be more acceptable and accepted. It’s increasingly more from a sense of curiosity and sometimes even attributing their own interpretations which don’t take into account the nuances and complexities. For example, KPop fandom disrupting Trump’s rally being celebrated without including/understanding the prevalence of anti-blackness and racism within the KPop fandom. In slashfic, m/m slash is more dominant than femslash or slash featuring characters across the gender spectrum. Perhaps this reflects the lack of these representations in media. Or it reflects the hierarchy of marginalisation even within seemingly progressive spaces. Can  things like fan podcasts push back against this marginalisation a little bit maybe? Especially those which foreground an intersectional analysis? 

 

5) Fan podcast – Our Opinions Are Correct: Can We Survive Capitalism?

Can we survive capitalism is a superbly pertinent question especially these days of the pandemic! Even India is becoming more capitalist from a more socialist country and the results are awful. Whose lives matter? Whose comfort matters? Who needs to sacrifice for whose comfort? Over-consumption is a way of distracting people from what’s actually going on in the real world including issues of social, political and economic justice. Overall, people are blind to where your goods and your food comes from. You don’t have the context in late-capitalist societies. This is true in India too where even small rural societies are impacted by capitalism. Development projects like dams, canals, electricity, water, mining cause millions of people to forcibly migrate. At the same time, people in urban areas don’t think about where our services come from.

Capitalistic structures prevent class solidarity. Current example of this during the pandemic where a person tweeted their disgruntlement about going to work for Amazon when others were getting money for staying at home (hbomberguy’s response pointed out how much money Jeff Bezos makes every day) – pitting the marginalised groups against each other to prevent coalitions.

Commodity fetishism exists in science fiction too with illusions of branding and advertising. Dystopias seem to deal with class warfare and exploitation more than other speculative fiction. The Hunger Games features oppression through divide and conquer. There are examples of class warfare in Game of Thrones too and social uprisings in Star Trek and Doctor Who with the Ood. 

How does speculative fiction imagine alternative economies? How does it imagine capitalism? What are the different economic and social systems in SFF which are an alternative to capitalism? I just don’t know of enough examples, I think. They describe how in Star Trek, it’s seemingly a post-money economy but not everywhere in the universe. Star Trek features a post-scarcity society, a sort of socialist utopia where people aren’t obsessed with things and have gotten rid of basic human needs. A post-scarcity society implies endless resources or immortality. 

As one of the hosts points out, we can’t seem to imagine a post-capitalist society without some miraculous invention/system which takes care of current issues and needs. Does that make it more unrealistic or just real in fiction? As the same host points out, we have enough resources now but those resources are concentrated in the hands of the very few rather than being redistributed amongst other people. Are there examples of this in fiction? Does this seem more unrealistic than a magical solution? Utopian and dystopian post-capitalist worlds seem to be the norm – not worlds in-between who have eliminated some needs but not all.

Capitalism and colonisation – stealing resources from a group of people and using them to create more wealth only for a certain group along racial, class, gender lines or in science fiction, along species lines. Capitalism and environmental destruction – unsustainable production and pollution. Thinks like fast fashion and food – who pays the social and environmental costs for things like this and who benefits? Capitalism as an unsustainable system where you’re growing and growing and at some point you need to stop; same with environmental destruction. But we’re fobbing off the problem for the future even though it’s impacting people terribly all across the developing and developed world. 

During the pandemic, the idea of essential service workers changed but the class dynamics remained. Those who could afford to be in jobs that allowed them to work from the safety of their homes heralded those who had to put themselves into danger like NHS doctors and nurses or dismissed others like supermarket workers – all in a way which doesn’t involve radically restructuring society to benefit the ones who do the most important work in society. The false idea of meritocracy is still the dominant ideology which guides us. 

Labour which isn’t acknowledged or paid in a capitalist society include parenting, emotional labour. The costs of the pandemic are impacting women’s work more than men. A better way of capitalism would compensate people for educational labour, healthcare labour, and caregiving labour accordingly instead of paying people who do so little so much.

How do we imagine worlds beyond capitalism? 

One of the hosts thinks we still have ages to go before we topple capitalism as an economic system – which makes it even more important to imagine alternatives in our fiction so it’s something which seeps through to mainstream consciousness. This reminds me of the Accidentally Left-Wing Twitter account which presents some of these “dangerously radical” ideas such as abolishing rent and tuition and healthcare costs and universal basic income – ideas which essentially seek to protect everyone and provide them with the tools to live their best lives. Even things like access to parks, food and money in the UK during the lockdown – will post-pandemic speculative fiction address this collective trauma in ways which explore the class imbalances and imagine alternatives which bridge the gap?

 

6) Fan podcast – Breaking The Glass Slipper: Magic, Wealth and Power with Vic James

Vic James talks about her own books where magic is a form of wealth and wealth inequality. Magic is concentrated in the hands of the 10% of society and the remaining people have to give ten years of their lives to contribute to their society through physical labour. There’s an unequal distribution of power, which James believes is similar to mortgages and student debt. People are locked into economic relationships born out of necessity not choice. The story came to the fore in the wake of the Occupy protests as well as her own concern about her personal lack of wealth and a grim future. She drew on the history of inherited wealth and class imbalances in British society. There is now a new form of aristocracy where wealth now is completely locked away in offshore bank accounts from the context in which it was created. There is no circulation of wealth to boost the local or national economy only to boost individual self-worth. 

Access to education also depends on class. Class can’t be seen devoid of other contexts and intersectional identities. What sort of work gets you a lot of money? Not artists even though art is so important to so many people – something you see during the pandemic. The conversation draws connections between SFF and the real world in ways which make sense to current contexts. The rich keep getting richer sounds like a cliche but it’s true and ever-present and seemingly insurmountable. Lack of awareness about the impacts and causes of wealth inequality means that average people are seduced by the wealth and power of the elite because they don’t see the source of the conflict in their lives. They want to join the elite without realising they’re closer to being destitute than enormously wealthy.

 

7) Fan podcast – Woke Doctor Who: Captain Jack Sex Jesus

Jack offers a sex-positive representation in a mainstream children’s TV show like Doctor Who. Jack was Eugenia’s first encounter with such a positive representation of being open about and enjoying sex. As a first-gen Chinese-American, she didn’t encounter these ideas in real life. Jack offers a representation of a pansexual man who is attracted to men, women, other species 

Jack is from the 51st century so the labels for gender and sexuality that limit us today no longer exist then and are more fluid and flexible as seen in Jack. This idea takes advantage of a sci-fi show and all the potentials it offers. There are different conceptions of bodies as well. Jack makes an off-the-cuff remark of being pregnant once and doesn’t go into it. This can signal new possibilities in future worlds where technologies overcome present limitations where only trans men can be pregnant, not cis men. What does time and space do to the human body? 

Need representations of alternative relationships and family structures in children’s media as well. Jack has a found family in Doctor Who and another one in Torchwood. The mere presence of diverse sexualities and families in children’s media doesn’t require adult supervision just like the mere presence of heterosexual couples and normative families doesn’t. It can allow children to imagine and accept different ways of being in the world. 

 

8) Essay –  The truth about polyamory in India – ‘it isn’t about sex and fun’

Absence of representation of polyamory or alternative relationship structures when you’re young means that you won’t be able to articulate your own desires or imagine another way of existing in the world.

“Polyamory advocates honest, open, inclusive and egalitarian relationships between multiple partners.”

Consent, knowledge, and communication is important for all relationships but so much more important in poly relationships. Idea of poly relationships in mainstream imaginations is being all about the sex (just like fanfic) and lack of commitment. But poly relationships require deep commitment and may not always focus on sex. What about ace/aro poly relationships? Poly relationships share similarities with monogomous ones – setting boundaries and open and constant communication. However, poly partnership is about both emotional and physical needs and require people to be mindful, self-aware, and self-reflexive for it to succeed. Even though it’s becoming more mainstream, it’s still a marginalised culture (though more people are open about it now, at least in my encounters).

“This open and expansive interpretation of love and relationships may not be for everyone. It requires a great deal of self-exploration and constant communication. Whether one agrees with polyamory or not, it is difficult to dismiss the essential pillars it is built on. For good communication, generous love and equality among partners are worthy goals in any relationship.”

Polyamory challenges societal conventions, norms, systems and expectations because they don’t work for you, particularly the imbalanced power structures in most traditional relationships. Poly relationships offer a way to get different needs and desires met without placing the burden of these on a single individual who may not be able to fulfill these. Co-habiting and raising children with different partners is an unfamiliar family structure but people can make it work. 

“People who practise polyamory can create families and that is a proven fact,” Ley said. “Is it more difficult? Maybe. Because there aren’t many examples out there and they face stigma. However, things like co-living, parenting or long-term plans can benefit from polyamory, because you are likely to have a support network and a community and not just rely on one person to do all this with.”

Podcasting and fandom as decolonisation

I’ve spent the last two weeks furiously transcribing and marking edits for the last few episodes I’ve recorded. Even though transcribing, marking edits, and then creating a lightly-edited version of the transcript for the blog (accompanied by links, images and gifs) is an immensely time-consuming process (my brain currently feels like mush), it’s also extremely valuable. Since these three things don’t require much in the way of active thinking, it’s a bit like knitting/showering/doing the dishes/listening to podcasts on walks – activities which for me are conducive to being able to focus just enough so that my brain is working in the background and making connections about topics because I’m not actively thinking about them.

More recently, I’ve realised that a few themes have shown up repeatedly:

  • The importance of intersectional representations and perspectives in children’s literature
  • The importance of intersectional representations and perspectives in history
  • A broader idea of intersectionality which emphasises solidarity among different marginalised groups
  • How fan texts and the process of podcasting help in the process of decolonising our minds
Illustration of a museum exhibit. Text says: Donated by the British men who colonised Easter Island and stole this from the Native people there

Image courtesy The Skinny

These observations have definitely been thanks to our collective negotiation with different intersectional themes throughout the course of the year. Some of the texts my co-participants bring up in the course of our discussions shine a new light on my own thinking. Additionally, I’ve also been reading a lot of memoirs, anthologies, and online articles as well as listening to a bunch of fan podcasts to expand my understanding of the different topics. Thanks to being steeped in such a wide range of ideas, while transcribing the episode and editing the transcript, I find that I’m questioning not only what my co-participants say but, more interestingly, what I’ve said. This might be because I say something flippantly without thinking of the broader implications.

Most recently, in episode 20, I made a comment about dedicated Indian movie fans (I didn’t think to mention cricket fans though that is also a similarly enormous fandom) and how I found the extent of their dedication ridiculous. While transcribing, I called out myself for disparaging and singling out Indian movie fans in particular – even though those are who I know best – when there are plenty of American and British music fans, for example, who go to similar lengths – in this instance, travelling to different countries to follow their idols for concerts. In episode 22, in one of our What If? games, I suggested Toph would be a good security guard since she likes beating people up. While transcribing, I mentally facepalmed since I hadn’t thought about the power dynamics inherent in this role which further targets and victimises people who are already marginalised on account of their race, class, gender, caste etc.

This constant problematising of my own beliefs helps broaden my perspective and demands a more nuanced engagement with even those ideas I hold dear. The need to decolonise our minds is something me and my co-participants have brought up quite a bit in different episodes. We usually refer to it because it’s something we’ve learned in fandom/media. However, I think it’s really interesting that fan podcasts – not just the ones we listen to but the one which we are co-creating – play such an important role in the lifelong process of decolonisation as well.

Growing Comfortable With Discomfort – Part 5

As I wrote in my annual progress review reflections a few weeks ago, I’m proud of many aspects of my project. I’m less proud of the missteps. However, I’m still happy to have been able to learn from slip-ups. Even while they’ve made me feel momentarily embarrassed and uncomfortable, I’ve genuinely loved the opportunity to have been able to glean so many valuable lessons from my missteps – so much so that I might go along with a supervisor’s half-joking suggestion of writing an entire chapter on my mistakes.

While I planned my project to be able to receive and incorporate comments and critiques from listeners, this has largely been limited to a few of my friends messaging me to say they listened to a particular episode, had some recommendations of their own, or certain parts of our discussion made them think of something new. I had come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t really receive the kind of critiques I had planned for since I was nearing the end of my data creation period in October. What I’d forgotten, however, was that the episode publication was still behind schedule. While I may have recorded episodes weeks or even months ago, they are still in the editing process. Most recently, I published Episode 16 and received an email critiquing an aspect of my role in it. I thought it would be helpful for my future self – and any other potential researchers/podcasters – to have the critique and my response to it here.

Email: 

I wanted to offer a bit of feedback, but feel free to ignore if the host and Tam worked out in advance that the host would take the lead advocating because privileged people are more likely to believe members of their own group over a marginalised person saying the same thing.

I can read faster than I can listen, I’ve worked in transcription, and one of my own research specialties is computational textual analysis. So I noticed this while reading through the transcript of episode 16 of the podcast and ran some quick numbers. Both versions are in the body of the email below, since I know I wouldn’t trust attachments from a random stranger on the internet. But I can also send along Word documents, if you prefer.

The short version of the feedback is that I was disappointed that more of the podcast wasn’t devoted to Tam’s thoughts on nonbinary and gender-diverse characters in the works you discussed, since Tam has lived experience of these issues. Tam spoke 123 times for a total of 2,298 words, and the host spoke 135 times for a total of 5,905 words (which excludes the intro and outro paragraphs). Again, the analysis was a quick one, so I can’t guarantee it’s free from error, but I think a more rigorous analysis will uphold the trend.

Parinita: – 135 occurrences

5,905 words

Tam: – 123 occurrences

2,298 words

My response:

I appreciate your feedback very much. Thanks for doing the work and for reaching out to me. I’m just going to write down my responses to the points you bring up but I just wanted to ensure I clarify at the outset that I completely understand and accept your critique.

We didn’t work out in advance who’d be doing the advocating at all. You’re absolutely correct about how privileged people talk over marginalised people – and it’s something I didn’t intend to do but of course intent and impact are two very different things. In the context of the project itself, I do take the lead with the discussion and my own contributions act as autoethnographic narratives (aligning with the methodology of the PhD project). However, we do plan in advance what themes the co-participant/guest would like to talk about based on the fan texts we exchange. In bursts of enthusiasm, I also have the tendency to talk a lot which is evidenced in all my episodes (and indeed my real life) and it’s something which I’m still struggling to figure out a balance between on the podcast. I’m sure if you analyse other episodes, it will show that I do more of the talking too. It’s something I always shamefully notice when I’m transcribing the episodes and vow to do better with the next episode and then once again get too excited about talking. I also struggle with silences and wanting to rush to fill them in which only adds to the talking a lot. (The pauses aren’t evident in the episodes because they’re edited out).

We don’t have a detailed plan of what we’re going to talk about, just the overall themes and I leave it up to the co-participant (in this case Tam) to add or leave out as much as they’re comfortable with. This is the reason it’s framed as a conversation and not as an interview (along with my methodological allegiance to co-creating knowledge through conversations rather than letting my questions guide an interview). This is also why I don’t push participants to share any information which they haven’t brought up themselves because I don’t want to force anyone to talk about things they rather would not. Even though Tam is a friend, we haven’t spoken about their personal engagement with their identity even outside the podcast episode, so I don’t know to what degree they are comfortable sharing their lived experience even within the context of the fictional characters. Some co-participants are more comfortable sharing deeply personal information than others while we use the framework of the fictional world. Indeed, some co-participants are chattier than others and some even as chatty as myself. Of course, as you pointed out, this method isn’t without its limitations.

This isn’t to excuse the points you very rightfully called me out on. I do talk a lot and that’s problematic both as a podcaster and as a researcher – especially in those instances when I belong to a dominant group. I do try very hard to learn from my co-participants (and I learn SO much from them – the whole premise of this project). But I could do with lessons on learning how to shut up sometimes too – and that’s something I’ve found difficult. I’m sorry you were disappointed by the ratio of the discussion and I’m very grateful you wrote to me about it. I will make sure to negotiate with your critique while writing my thesis and when/if I do a season 2. Unfortunately, for this season, I’ve recorded all but one episode (though they’re not all out yet) and have to move on to analysing and writing. If you would like to hear more from someone with lived experiences of nonbinary gender identities, can I point to episode 9 and an upcoming episode 21? (I recorded episode 21 on Sunday but it’ll only be out in the next few weeks) I can’t promise I do better in either episode (though I do think the speech ratio is slightly better just because of the different people involved) but I wanted to signpost them just in case you wanted to hear from more perspectives that weren’t mine (feel free to ignore, of course). With Tam’s permission, I have also tagged them on my Twitter post of the episode, in case you wanted to reach out to them for their perspectives/recommendations.

Thanks again for the thoughtful engagement with and criticism of this episode and for helping me learn from my discomfort.

Their response to my response: 

Thank you for the quick response!

I will definitely check out the other episodes, and please do not take my feedback on this particular episode to mean that I think you’re speaking too much generally. I’m well aware of the research showing that people judge women to be speaking ‘too much’ when they’re only speaking 30% of the time, and I know so many women (especially women researchers) who get told they talk a lot, or too much, when they’re actually talking a normal amount.

Not that I think you need my validation. Simply that I hope my feedback on this particular episode hasn’t caused you to feel that you need to change in some broader sense. I understand, too, that not everyone wants to speak on a topic from a place of lived experience–or speak at length.

Thank you again and best of luck!

While my first reaction was extreme embarrassment, I was genuinely grateful for this kind and thoughtful feedback. As I mentioned in the email, it’s something I’ve noticed myself while transcribing episodes but hadn’t really taken any concrete measures to rectify. In the last two episodes I recorded,  I was extremely aware of how much I spoke and I think I made more of an effort to remain silent when my instinct would have been to interrupt.

Interruptions have been something of a sore point between me and Jack in the past when we had first started living together. After a few arguments, we realised we communicated differently and as a Scottish man and an Indian woman, we had different cultural expectations on what listening means. For him, interruptions are rude and imply the person isn’t listening. For me, interruptions are a form of active listening where I’m demonstrating that I was paying attention and this is what it reminded me of. We’ve come to terms with our different communication styles. With my co-participants, I often find myself struggling to balance silence and interruptions. It was relatively easier in the aforementioned last two episodes of the season since my co-participants were chatty and there weren’t too many pauses that I was tempted to fill.

However, the critique got me more actively thinking about how I can rectify this impulse in future episodes if I do decide to do a Season 2. I do believe that it’s easier to talk to some co-participants than it is others. At the same time, I don’t think different personalities/communication styles should hamper the conversation in a way where I monopolise the discussion. With my co-hosts, we usually assign segments so that each of us is in-charge of facilitating a certain part of the conversation. This not only eases the pressure off of us individually, but it also allows each of us a chance to be the first to share our opinions and perspectives about different topics. I wonder if for future episodes, this might be a good plan for all guests. As I’d written previously, in terms of planning the episodes, it might be better to have a meeting right at the beginning of the planning process so that we can understand what we’re both interested in exploring. We can then exchange fan texts and possibly have another meeting to discuss the themes and segments we’d like to discuss more specifically, drawing from the fan texts we go through. In this meeting, what might work is assigning segments where I’m in-charge of certain parts of the conversation while the guest can take charge of others. Hopefully, this will allow more reticent participants a chance to talk more and will help me not rush in to fill the silences. In the meanwhile, I hope the feedback works just as well with other episodes as it did with the two I recorded after I received it.

Re-reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Tomorrow officially marks the last date of my data creation stage and I finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows this morning. Re-reading the series both for the project and situated in the midst of all the tumultuous events of 2020 has been an extremely illuminating, valuable, comforting, and emotional experience. It’s made me excited about re-reading the series again at another time and space – perhaps not the usual annual re-read of my early 20s but once every two years at least.

Here are some of the thoughts I had while reading the seventh book:

  • I like how similar Dudley and Draco’s trajectories are from privileged spoiled bullies to young men who develop compassion and empathy. The damage their parents have done to them coupled with their wealth and being used to getting everything they want – for good or ill – is astoundingly terrible. And it takes traumatic events for both of them to begin to unlearn their terribleness. They’d both benefit from therapy and also better adult/peer influences than their parents
  • Tonks knocks over a mug-tree at one point and I realised I’ve never never known what that meant. I used to think it was a special kind of indoor tree called mug? Understanding at last! Only took moving to the UK, of course.
  • More theme of women are men’s possessions in the books. Ron throws Lupin a “furtive, guilty look” before he holds onto Tonks’s waist. Oh Ron. I know I point out your inadequacies quite a bit, but I really do think you’re brilliant. But address your internalised misogyny, please and thank you
  • Hedwig’s death had so much more of an emotional impact now than when I was first reading it as a teenager, especially since it followed on the heels of Harry losing his Firebolt – his last connection to Sirius (well, nearly – there’s a mirror shard lying around somewhere). It made me think of child refugees who have to leave everything they know behind as they’re forced to leave home and don’t even have the comfort of their favourite things or pets. I know Harry is 17 in this book but that’s hardly any better than a child. His traumatic experiences and childhood may have aged him prematurely but he’s still a child. And Hedwig was his hope, comfort and companion in the otherwise hostile and abusive Dursley home
  • Ted Tonks, a Muggle-born wizard, refers to Arthur Weasley’s modifications on Hagrid’s flying motorbike as “Arthur and his Muggle contraptions.” His Muggle contraptions! How much has he assimilated into the magical community and inherited their prejudice and paternalism towards non-magical people like his parents?!
  • Gender roles on femininity – Harry thinks one of the best things about Ginny is that she never cries and always takes things in her stride. (The comparison to Cho isn’t explicit but very much implied). I don’t think Hermione is really shown to be the sort of girl who cries either. Cho and Lavender were the emotional ones and treated quite disparagingly by the narrative. Are emotions and tears something that make you a bad woman? What about boys being emotional and/or crying?
  • Gender roles on masculinity – George and Fred gift Ron a book called Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches and he in turn gifts a copy to Harry. On one hand, it’s kind of sweet the way they’re looking after each other when it comes to matters they know very little about. They are not only willing to learn and fill in the missing gaps in their knowledge but also share their knowledge. On the other hand, why can’t they just TALK about these things rather than having to read some random writer taking them through these issues? Why can’t they get some proper advice from each other? Is that a thing only reserved for girls?
  • On privilege – Harry is able to stand up to the Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour in a very forthright way but I wonder how much of this stems from the people he knows and who protect him + his reputation + his perceived role as the only hope against Voldemort. Social and cultural capital make it easier to stand up to injustice than someone from an oppressed group standing up or even someone without the same kind of privilege standing up to a government figure which would probably get them arrested or worse. (You see this in India where people who questioned the government are being thrown into prison on trumped up charges)
  • The Ministry which is supposed to be protecting the magical community from Voldemort and the Death Eaters is instead being even more anti-werewolf than it usually is! No wonder Lupin is miserable. What sort of life does he imagine a half-werewolf child would have in this terrible world? Even the good guys are terrible and the end of the series doesn’t even explore ending that oppression – despite centaurs, house-elves, a werewolf, and a giant fighting on their side
  • It’s the first time I’m noticing that the Weasleys have made so many accommodations for Hagrid to incorporate his size into their house (for dinner and for the wedding). Usually we see Hagrid in the Hogwarts context so didn’t think about how hard his life otherwise would be. Interesting both through the lens of fat activism and disability activism
  • The wedding rituals in the magical world seem suspiciously Christian with some magic thrown in. Does the magical community not have its own traditions?
  • Krum takes great offense at the Deathly Hallows symbol Xenopholius Lovegood wears because it was one Grindelwald adopted. This  is more widely known in his home country of Bulgaria since Grindelwald never got huge in Britain as a result of which most wedding guests don’t recognise it. Thinking of how different symbols have different meanings in different contexts. The swastika is the most direct parallel since Grindelwald is supposed to represent Hitler. In India, the swastika has very different connotations (Hindu good luck) than in the West (Nazis and the Holocaust)
  • Apparently in the earlier days, Squibs were a shameful secret that families shipped off to Muggle schools so they didn’t have to feel like second-class citizens in the magical world. The thing is it doesn’t seem like it’s gotten any better even now. Squibs still seem to be treated like second-class citizens. Just putting them out of sight isn’t a particularly effective or kind method. Why are they a problem and why can’t they just choose whether they’d like to live in the community they grew up in?
  • Kreacher’s take is really heartbreaking – less that he was brainwashed by the family he belonged to into being prejudiced (though that is also sad) but that he was used by Voldemort and the potion most likely affected his physical and mental health for the rest of his life. Hermione thinks Voldemort like other Purebloods didn’t bother to learn about house-elf magic because they don’t consider house-elves as equals which is how Kreacher was able to leave the cave. However isn’t this true of all the students and adults in the magical community even now? How much do they know about house-elves? They certainly don’t seem to learn about them, their culture, their beliefs, their powers in school
  • Hermione definitely has the best intentions when it comes to the house-elves (though not always the best methods). She understands Kreacher and how he thinks and the kindness and affection he craves and how this has been to both Voldemort’s and Sirius’s detriment
  • Regulus seems to be one of the other few good Slytherins who bought into his family’s and even Voldemort’s narrative but then realised he was wrong. The trigger seemed to have been Kreacher being left for dead which is also great considering how house-elves are usually looked at. He works to bring Voldemort down in a way which looks for no glory or recognition, just the successful eventual downfall of a movement he had joined and realised was awful. I wish we knew more about him too. I couldn’t help but draw connections to real-world alt-right people who’ve gotten out and are now speaking against their previous beliefs
  • Voldemort’s government creates a Muggle-born Register to keep a track of and round up Muggle-born witches and wizards and to investigate how they “stole” their magical abilities. Such documentation of oppressed or marginalised groups has been used for violence in the past – in India in Gujarat, Delhi and other parts of the country. In the US more recently registered Democrats in some states have received messages from people connected with the Proud Boys militia (though they deny this) that they better vote Republican or else – and showed they had their address and family info. In India, anti-CAA protesters drew connections with the Muggle-born registry more directly and outlined how Muslim citizens would and could be identified and targeted
  • Food privilege – Harry is used to starving with the Dursleys so the lack of food while they’re hiding outdoors doesn’t bother him as much. Hermione is more bothered by it but gets through it. Ron is used to good food all the time and it sends him over the edge. Access to food is a privilege and healthy nutritious food doubly so. How does this lack of access impact both children and adults both physically and mentally (especially in the context of how in the UK the Tory MPs voted against free food for vulnerable children over the Christmas holidays which seems extra Scroogeish even for them)
  • Pandemic parallels – being cooped up together in small spaces without access to food you like even when it’s with people you’re fond of, how it can fracture you and your relationships – Ron, Hermione and Harry together in a highly stressful situation
  • The role of a free, alternative media in a fascist regime – The Quibbler has stopped printing its usual news of the odd and is focusing on the resistance and supporting Harry Potter since all other media sources are toeing the government line. Parallels to India. The government does everything it can to shut down this media which questions its messaging – in this case kidnapping and imprisoning the editor’s daughter to silence him and force him to toe the government line
  • The role of students in the resistance – even though the Death Eaters have taken over Hogwarts, there’s still a group of students fermenting an underground rebellion in school. Parallels to India and the US.
  • Potterwatch is another alternate source of media – radio and podcast parallels – which challenges the government narrative at great risk and inconvenience to their own lives and families. It shares news and information that the government and government-controlled media are suppressing and even make sure to include news of attacks on and deaths of Muggles
  • Relatedly, they talk about instances of witches and wizards protecting Muggle friends and neighbours by casting protective charms on their houses. For all his talk of loving Muggles, Arthur doesn’t seem to have made any effort to get to know his Muggle neighbours or befriend any Muggles in the nearby village. Other witches and wizards certainly seem to have, so why not him? Are they just exotic things meant to be gawked at from afar?
  • I hope that people like Luna and Dean remember that Dobby, a house-elf, gave his life to save theirs and start thinking more actively and more empathetically about house-elves, their rights and their lives and consider them equally worthy of respect as witches and wizards. Ron is certainly affected as seen in the Battle of Hogwarts. I like to think that they all play a role in house-elf-related activism in the future – especially considering how important freedom was to Dobby. God I can barely finish writing this paragraph without wanting to cry
  • Dumbledore and faith – I think Witch, Please first pointed this out about how in the seventh book, Harry almost goes through a crisis of faith in the religious sense with the revelations about Dumbledore and his lack of clear communication and how he unpacks this to come to his own realisation in a way which brings him a more nuanced and complex understanding of his faith in Dumbledore. Doubting he’s dead – believing he sees Dumbledore in Sirius’s mirror shard, being angry at Dumbledore but also afraid of having misunderstood his intentions and meaning and now not following the path that Dumbledore meant him to, feeling lost and wanting some hope and comfort that he was doing the right thing, grappling with uncertainty and doubt and choosing to trust
  • Griphook and goblin resentment that witches and wizards guard the knowledge of wand magic and refuse to share it with Other Magical People for fear that it expand their powers. To which Ron retorts that goblins guard their of magic too, specifically how they make goblin armour. Surely one begets the other? This source of distrust and hoarding of knowledge perpetuates because neither side wants to come together to figure out their issues and share their cultural heritage with each other. I really want some magical world reforms
  • This supposedly tiny Shell Cottage which has no room for guests HAS THREE BEDROOMS. Bill and Fleur want to shift everyone to their aunt Muriel’s which has much more room for everyone to be comfortable. So it’s not like the Weasleys have no access to wealth or any wealthy connections. Lots of capital and opportunities
  • Goblin version of history differs from the wizarding version of history. Whose history is true? Likely nobody’s and both. Depends on who’s doing the telling of history. Lots of shared trauma and inherited prejudice. Even Bill who works with goblins and has goblin friends still considers it prudent to warn Harry about goblin culture and how their ideas of ownership, payment and repayment is very different from wizards. Look who’s talking! A British man whose job consisted of breaking into tombs in other countries to identify and break curses and jinxes so he could bring back foreign treasure to British shores. NO historical parallel whatsoever!
  • Ariana’s story – now that I read it through the lens of the Witch, Please theory, it does sound like she was sexually assaulted by the three Muggle boys who had seen her do magic when she was six years old. The resulting tragedy is a consequence of violence against women, against a child, for being both powerless and unable to control her power. They also included Helena Ravenclaw’s fate at the hands of the Bloody Baron as another example of violence against women being so embedded even in the magical world
  • Harry and faith – the way Harry sees Dumbledore is the way a lot of people see Harry. Dobby certainly has blind faith in Harry. The Hogwarts students in the resistance, the Order members and others, hell even Dumbledore whose last words to Kingsley and Remus were to trust Harry, they all share stories of Harry’s exploits as something to bolster their faith and hope. A symbol of the resistance and to keep going. As Neville says, they’ve been loyal to both Dumbledore and Harry when neither were in the school to guide them
  • Under Voldemort’s reign, Muggle Studies does become compulsory but only to tell the witches and wizards how stupid and cruel Muggles are and how the natural order is now being restored. So not quite what I had in mind
  • Neville on resistance – “The thing is, it helps when people stand up to them, it gives everyone hope. I used to notice that when you did it Harry.” Oh Neville! 💜😭
  • How fan conversations have influenced my own thinking by what I choose to pay closer attention to – Slytherins not being represented in the resistance is absurd in hindsight. Snape and Regulus seem to be the exceptions to the rule. None of the Slytherins stay back and fight. There is honestly such anti Slytherin prejudice in Hogwarts and in the books
  • Firenze stood and fought and was injured for the school and for Harry to protect the people under his care even though the other centaurs don’t meddle in human matters (until much later in the book, at least). God I love Firenze. I honestly want to read so much fanfic about all these side characters and what they were doing while we were following the trio. I don’t think I’m emotionally ready to write these stories myself though maybe I will be some day
  • I’m also more wary of being influenced by fandom opinions/critiques. I realised this with Nagini thanks to Lorrie’s perspective, and now also thanks to my feelings about Snape. I’ve always thought Snape is a great character – complex and nuanced and excellent. After first reading The Deathly Hallows, much like Harry I was totally on his side – enough to name a child after him even. Then fans pointed out some valid critiques – his love for Lily was less love and more obsession, he was cruel to the children he taught, he was vicious to Harry and Lupin and Sirius because of his old grudge. And my opinion of Snape slowly shifted to the other end. But now that I’m rereading the books critically with more time to sit with my feelings and untangle them a bit – I’ve moved somewhere in the middle. I still think he’s an excellent character and I think he’s done terrible things as well. However, I love that he’s imperfect and I think his relatively short life – he was only 38 when he was murdered! – was so tragic. And he didn’t even have a sense of community to count on. He was a part of the resistance but wasn’t trusted; he was welcomed in the Death Eater fold but didn’t belong. Did he have any other friendships? Anybody to talk to? Anybody to share his feelings with? Only Dumbledore and Snape had to kill him on his orders and was thought to be a murderer and thoroughly despised by those he was fighting for. He spent his life being despised and I don’t know that the truth coming out after he died makes up for it. I really wish the ghost of Snape had been there in the Forest with the Marauders and Lily too. And I think he did love Lily, deeply and imperfectly, in the best way he knew how to. He’s not really been shown much love in his life so how would he know how to love well? He did his best. Witch, Please also points out that Snape was a war veteran – trauma shapes his life which doesn’t excuse his behaviour but does explain it. What he really needed was lots and lots of therapy – as did all the people who survived the first war with Voldemort and had to live through the years before the second. I’ve become less attached to the mainstream fandom opinion now. He’s also grown – stops Phineas from calling Hermione Mudblood. He overcomes his prejudice against Muggles and Muggleborns – and wasn’t that thanks to love? No wonder Dumbledore keeps talking about the power of love so much!
  • I really think Harry would have made an excellent teacher – I wish he’d returned to Hogwarts, his one true home, to influence and guide generations of children like Dumbledore did.
  • What I realised while reading this book was that I’m never going to be able to let go of these fictional people and the world they live in – reading the familiar words soothed my soul and has provided me with new meanings every time I’ve read the books. As Harry Potter and the Sacred Text points out, engaging with a text over and over again makes different things stand out, makes different things meaningful – and this has definitely been the case with me

Harry Potter tattoos, closet cosplays, and podcasts as sacred texts

A couple of weeks ago, I (virtually) attended the Fan Studies Association North America conference which was excellent in many different kinds of ways. The first salon I attended discussed embodied fan identities and practices. During the Q&A session, one of the participants proposed that tattoos act as embodied fan practices leading to the question, what do you do when your attachment to the text changes or the creator/artist is outed as being problematic/terrible. “What do I do with this piece of my body that I no longer want to claim?” Somebody shared that they’d written an autoethnographic narrative of their Harry Potter tattoo and I liked the idea so much that I wanted to do something similar.

In previous blog posts and podcast episodes, I’ve described my struggle with J. K. Rowling’s transphobia and its implications for being able to love Harry Potter. It’s a struggle which a large part of the online fandom shares. Some people, including a couple of my co-participants, no longer want to engage with the series because it’s forever tainted for them and they no longer want to contribute to Rowling’s financial, social and cultural capital. And I completely understand. But I find myself completely unable to let go of the series not just because of how important they were to me while I was growing up, but also how important they continue to remain to me. However, this isn’t without its problems – the most public of which are external displays of fannishness. The tattoo is one of them; all my Harry Potter merchandise (both official and unofficial) is another. I own Harry Potter T-shirts, jewelry and leggings all of which I love wearing. But every time I wear it now, I’m always conscious of the fact that I might inadvertently be representing politics I don’t believe in. Every time I whip out a Harry Potter tee or my Time-Turner necklace, I’m tempted to accessorise it with a sign on my back which says, “Trans rights are human rights.” When I met one of my co-participants for a pre-recording meeting to plan our episode, I’d unthinkingly worn a Harry Potter T-shirt and, before the meeting, buttoned my cardigan over it so the camera wouldn’t reveal it. And a tattoo, of course, is a much more permanent part of my body. I do know some fans are now covering up their Harry Potter tattoos or transforming them to something new. Again, something which I completely understand but also something I’m both unable and unwilling to do.

Over the last ten months, I’ve been rereading the Harry Potter books with a more critical gaze and a more intersectional lens. I took breaks in between the books; but with the last three books in the series, I read them in pretty quick succession. This made for an extremely intense, engaged, and emotional experience. Particularly with the Half-Blood Prince and the Deathly Hallows, which I read in mid- and late- October when most of my episodes had been recorded and I was reading to make notes for myself rather than to inform discussions, I fell much more deeply into the books, its characters and its events. And even though I found several things to critique, the critique didn’t take away from my love for the series; it solidified it. The rereading experience this year occurred in light of Rowling’s revelations, the pandemic, and the political situation in different countries all over the world. And because of this, it was full of both pain and joy. I kept drawing parallels to the different, difficult themes in the books and real-world issues – pandemic-related, politics-related, and personal mental health related. If I were to re-read the series in a different year, I’m sure I would find newer analogies relevant to that time and space. But what I realised was how much love I still had for these characters and the books – how much hope and comfort they brought me, even while I was looking at their traumas with fresher, more empathetic eyes. Just this morning, I spent ten minutes crying after Severus Snape is murdered, mentally shouting, “He was so young! He was only 38! What a tragic waste!” And last night, the only way I was able to sleep after Fred Weasley’s death was repeating to myself over and over again, “He lived a good life. It was a short life but he lived it so well and took so much joy in it that the quality of his life makes up for the quantity.” Even typing this no and thinking about this is making me emotional – a feeling perhaps only understood by other fans whose identities are so inextricably linked to the books. And despite finding several things to critique about the books, I realised how much I still love them and how they’re going to be a part of me forever – because they not only saved me during a childhood shaped by domestic violence but also because they saved me in 2020 when I’ve been depressed and anxious and stressed and lonely.

It’s the last week of the data-creation stage of my project which ends on 31st October. I’ve been treating the last two weeks as crunch time and done away with my previous guarding of weekends and carving free time into my schedule. Instead, I’ve worked relentlessly to get as much done as possible before I can shift my brain to another part of the PhD process. I’ve largely been stuck in front of my laptop screen – recording, transcribing, editing, writing blog posts. But every day, I go for a short walk in the middle of the day, during which I’ve been listening to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. And the podcast and its thoughtful and meaningful conversations have become such a source of comfort and inspiration too. While earlier I was listening to episodes out of order to find relevant ones for my own episode, now I’m just listening to them discuss chapters of The Goblet of Fire through different themes including kindness, comfort, grief, betrayal, disillusionment, and love. And much like re-reading the series, walking with these episodes has been intense, engaged and emotional. My supervisors and boyfriend have gently rebuked me in the past for listening to podcasts when I go for a walk because they believe it’s me taking my work outside when I should just be taking a break. My response to them (and myself) was, “What am I supposed to do when I walk if I don’t listen to podcasts? Just be alone with my thoughts?!”

But today, I realised that walking with podcasts hasn’t been an excuse to run away from my thoughts at all. It’s actually really helped me self-reflect and think about my own life and experiences. This has especially been true this week with Harry Potter and the Sacred Text and the themes they chose to focus on. Perhaps it’s because I’m not listening to the episodes for a specific reason i.e. to look for themes I can use in my own project. Instead, I’m just hanging out with the podcast because the hosts make for great company and offer excellent conversation – both flippant and deeply significant. I love the fact that they use Harry Potter chapters to talk about such big topics but also about everyday iterations of these topics and what ordinary people can do to incorporate more radical love in their lives. The hosts and their guests have been trained at the Harvard Divinity School, though the hosts are atheists and offer secular ministry. And the ways in which they frame their ideas – the kind of spirituality they bring to the forefront using both Harry Potter and their own personal experiences – has inspired listeners to offer their own interpretations, experiences, and versions of the spiritual. The idea behind the podcast is to treat Harry Potter as a sacred text, much like religious people treat their religious texts as sacred and engage deeply with its stories and themes to reflect on their own lives and societies. The podcast privileges the imperfectness of a sacred text and also emphasises the importance of doubt. You can’t generate new meanings and conversations if a text is considered perfect. You can’t talk back to the text and bring marginalised voices to the fore if the text is supposed to be untouchable. The podcast also privileges rigour and community – the fact that they committed to meet every week to talk to each other about the books reading each chapter through a different theme; the fact that they take the podcast seriously and carve out time to make notes and think about what they’re going to talk about; the fact that they do this together along with their producer and assorted guests and their listeners – all of this comes together to make their process of podcasting itself a sacred act.

The podcast has provided me with such a different way to think about all these things – what’s sacred and why, the importance of community, why love is a radical act, how I don’t need to run away from ideas of spirituality and self-reflection, and that spirituality and self-reflection can take many different forms – a fan podcast using the framework of popular media texts, for example.

Picture of wrist with 9 3/4 tattoo on it

Which brings me back to my tattoo. I got it carved into my skin in my early 20s – nearly a decade ago. It was meant to be the first of several literary tattoos – something which I still hope will cover my hands some day. But for now, it’s the only tattoo I have – tucked away on the inside of my wrist; easy to miss; and facing me so that anybody who wants to see what it is has to tilt their head (though for fellow Harry Potter fans, the symbol is instantly recognisable). After so many years, it’s no longer as vivid as it used to be. The tattoo is much more simple in design than any of the elaborate works of Harry Potter inspired body art I’ve seen over the years. I thought about what design I wanted for quite some time before deciding on this one. Because to me, Platform 9 3/4 represented Harry’s entry into this magical world – my entry into this magical world – full of wonder and torment; of joy and loss; of grief and community; of love and kindness and compassion and empathy – of all these big things and everyday things which the books are full of, which the podcasts are full of (the ones I’ve been listening to and the one I’ve been co-creating), which the world is full of and also desperately needs more of. For better or for worse, Harry Potter has given me a language to engage with the rest of the world. It has changed the architecture of my brain and the shape of my life. The books and the conversations and ideas around them will forever be imperfect and sacred to me. And hopefully, they will help me make more good choices than bad – love rather than hate – as I continue engaging with them throughout different periods of my life.

“Justice is what love looks like in public.”

– Dr. Cornel West

How/Whether To Incorporate Multiple Interpretations Of The Research Project

Throughout the last ten months, I’ve changed some aspects of my project as and when the need arose or I discovered there’s a different/better way of doing something – things that couldn’t really be planned for beforehand but could only be encountered through experimentation. This has largely been thanks to my co-participants’ insights as well as what I’ve learned from mistakes. Since co-creation of knowledge is such a fundamental part of my project, I wanted to retain this emphasis in my final thesis too. I’ve quite uncomfortable privileging my own interpretations and opinions throughout the project. I tried to mitigate this more or less in the podcast episodes themselves (with varying degrees of success). However, ultimately, it will be me analysing the project and writing the thesis.

I’m still considering alternatives to the traditional academic thesis. With my supervisors’ and transfer examiners’ support, I had submitted an application the doctoral college to present my final thesis in the form of a podcast (supplemented by a blog). However, this wasn’t permitted. Even though the alternative format has been rejected, I’m still determined to find a way to write the thesis in a way which makes it accessible to non-academic audiences, without the potentially intimidating structure of traditional PhD documents. Besides making it more easy to read, I also want to experiment with ways in which to give my co-participants’ voices and perspectives as well as the non-academic texts I’ve been reading (memoirs, anthologies, online articles among others) equal space and respect as I would academic literature and my own analysis.

My original plan was to analyse the episodes and then share this analysis with all my co-participants in order to get their interpretations, comments and/or critiques. I envisioned this feedback to not act as research data but as something I could include in the final thesis alongside my own analysis – highlighting their voices as well as my own. While I still see the merits in this idea, I’m very aware of the time and brainspace constraints of this project – both for me and my co-participants. I was trying to figure out the best way to both share this analysis in an effective and efficient way with my co-participants + have them share their thoughts about it with me in the best way for the needs of the project. This is complicated by the fact that all my co-participants – nearly 20 of them – have their own different schedules and priorities. All of them may not want to contribute in this way. Even if they did, they might not be able to commit the time and resources necessary to make this idea possible – especially considering the pandemic and the political situation. It would be highly unfair of me to expect anyone else to be willing and able to care about this idea in an effort to make the research more democratic. And, as one of my supervisors pointed out, I will have spent much more time with the data and will have much more space to describe my thoughts. The co-participants will not. As my supervisor further pointed out, I shouldn’t incorporate their feedback merely as a token gesture; if it can’t be done meaningfully, it might be better to change my original plan.

Text says: It doesn't require me to hate you because you have a different opinion.

In lieu of this advice (and my struggle with finding a good way to go ahead with my original plan), I’m considering asking all my co-participants to send brief reflections of their experience participating in the project and planning and recording our episodes. If they prefer, I could provide loose guidelines about the sort of things they can talk about (for example, what worked, what didn’t, what would they change next time, did the episode have an impact on any future media consumption/conversations/ideas); but otherwise, I would leave it entirely up to them so that they can share anything they feel like. They could share an audio recording of their feedback – between 2 to 10 minutes – or write or illustrate or present their ideas in any format they choose. Going back to my original plan, I would then include this feedback in my thesis, interwoven with the rest of my discoveries and conclusions. This wouldn’t be compulsory at all and would depend entirely on the willingness and ability of each co-participant. After recording our last episode, my two co-hosts (and friends) offered to do this themselves and would be very happy to help. My supervisors did warn me that there may not be enough room in my final thesis to incorporate this; but that it was nonetheless a good idea to get in touch with my co-participants for any future papers, chapters or conference presentations. Personally, I would just love to know what they thought so it could also help with future podcast episodes (I’m still planning a Season 2) and to provide me with a fresh perspective I wouldn’t otherwise have thought of.

Podcasting about Harry Potter in 2020

A couple of weeks ago, I listened to The Gayly Prophet episode 61 “The Toll of TERFs and Trolls” which featured the co-hosts’ struggles with running a queer, intersectional Harry Potter podcast in light of Rowling’s transphobic statements over the last year. Lark, one of the co-hosts, is a trans man; whereas Jessie, the other co-host is a queer black person – both located in the US. When I was first listened to their conversation, I felt the same sense of emotional and psychological distress they spoke about – though I’m keenly aware I have a fair amount of privilege in this instance as a cisgender heterosexual woman. Quite understandably, they are much angrier and much more hurt than I am at J. K. Rowling. Despite our differences, we do share some of the same conflicting and complex feelings so I thought I’d write some of them down.

Harry Potter has always been an escape and comfort for when the world is on fire. This has been my experience right since childhood and should have definitely been my experience in 2020 of all years. However, as Jessie points out, this is now ruined by Rowling’s transphobia to the extent that even recommending the books to potential new fans feels fraught since it’s no longer a source of untainted joy. Lark and Jessie have somewhat dealt with their complicated feelings by launching a campaign against Rowling’s transphobia and pushing to create a safe space for trans and other queer fans on their podcast. In my own case, on the podcast, there are some episodes where we don’t really mention Rowling’s transphobia much or at all even while talking about other aspects of Harry Potter and I always feel guilty about, “What if that’s the only episode someone listens to and either thinks I’m supporting her uncritically or isn’t even aware of her problematic statements at all?” We do have episodes where we explicitly engage with Rowling’s transphobia and the discomfort of loving Harry Potter, but the feelings don’t quite disappear.

Lark created A Guide To Cancelling JKR which lists resources and ideas for what queer fans and allies can do, specifically those who still love the world but not it’s creator’s bigotry. Both Lark and Jessie had to split the work of moderating their comments section – specifically when their Facebook post went viral and attracted trolls and targeted attacks. The monitoring and moderating took an emotional toll on both hosts and utterly exhausted them – especially as it came in the midst of a pandemic, the Black Lives Matter uprising in the US, and an upcoming election. Though not nearly to this degree, but this is something I’ve felt acutely as well – compounded by the ever-speedy descent of India into fascism – that how can Rowling think this is the time to share her opinion about an already vulnerable group of people? Especially in June, when Rowling’s statements were ongoing – after a period of deliberate silence on the issue – I know how exhausting it was keeping up with everything. Lark and Jessie had it so much worse because they were doing this in addition to their work on the podcast and the work they do to pay rent and bills. I’ve been lucky that the podcast is my full-time job at the moment (though that is not without its problems vis-à-vis its impact on my mental health).

For Lark, The Gayly Prophet and the associated memes is a form of activism because he can’t participate in many other parts of activism. He speaks about how he’s currently on autopilot because it’s all too much for him but feels a sense of obligation to keep working for the community they work + the result of capitalism because of the feeling that they will lose the community and momentum they’ve built up. Add to this the fact that the world is broken and a break might not really help. The work makes him feel better. This is absolutely something I relate to where the podcast has become such a huge part of my coping mechanism of dealing with the world and not being emotionally ready to let go of it. This is also entwined with the fact that Harry Potter is so important to so many people’s development and sense of self, as Lark points out. It feels impossible to let go of it – I’m certainly unable to. Lark further describes how simply not talking about Harry Potter won’t make it go away – won’t prevent other people from reading it; people who may be unaware of the transphobic context now and may engage with it uncritically. Fans and allies can use Harry Potter to critique not just problematic elements in the text but also in the real-world – though, again, this isn’t without its problems. Maybe it will be better to stop talking about it altogether. As Rita pointed out in our episode, talking about Harry Potter – even critically – provides Rowling with so much cultural and social capital which can be translated to financial capital. However, both hosts find joy in the podcast process – having a fun conversation with each other – and sometimes other people – about a specific thing. Podcasting acts as a form of friendship and relationship-building; something I’ve definitely found to be true podcasting over the last year. Talking to friends, acquaintances and strangers about different aspects of Harry Potter and other media texts has been such a source of joy and inspiration – and has honestly kept me from completely falling apart in so many instances.

As they further point out, since Harry Potter has such a huge cultural impact on so many people of our generation (and others), it has become a shared language which we can use as a framework to talk about real-world oppressions and injustices. It’s something quite a few fan podcasts – including my own – do. For example, using The Prisoner of Azkaban to talk about the failures of the healthcare system in the US or the broken criminal justice system in the country. Parallels from Harry Potter make these real-world issues more accessible and become a way to talk about issues they may not have previously considered. It’s why I wanted to include fan podcasts in my research and it’s definitely been true in my own podcast. They’ve also been able to draw on their own experiences with mental health issues like depression to identify it in Harry Potter characters. Listening to these parallels has honestly helped me so much in being able to identify and address my own depression over the last year.

To deal with all the complicated feelings associated with Harry Potter, they launched a new quarantine podcast this year called EsGaype from Reality which is a re-read podcast of Carry On by Rainbow Rowell which is explicitly queer and which actively engages with diverse cultures and issues of marginalisation and justice. Based on this episode’s recommendation, I finally listened to the audiobook, and could see where they derived their sense of joy in this book from. It also allows them to not talk about J. K. Rowling and just enjoy the book without any baggage (though with the knowledge that Rainbow Rowell has also been critiqued for previous books). In the course of my podcast episodes, I’ve also been so happy to be able to sometimes focus on media I love and gain uncritical joy from like She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and Anne With An E – though, again, with the same knowledge that no media text or creator is perfect. Though, as Lark points out, very few other texts share the kind of outsized popularity and common knowledge which Harry Potter does so it’s difficult to use another text with the assumption that the other person knows its themes and characters.

They talk about the frustrations of only being listened to because they’re queer and not because they’re good podcasters or whenever they get a surge of listeners whenever Rowling said more problematic things rather than because they’re successful because they have fun, interesting conversations. At the same time, they’re really aware, proud and grateful about the fact that their podcast has created a safe space for many trans and queer fans – including in at least one instance where a fan wrote to them saying they started transitioning in large part due to the supportive community they found in and through The Gayly Prophet. Podcasting is an accessible medium – definitely more than academia and even physical spaces and communities – to create a space of queer joy, comfort, and support.

Creating art at any time is difficult – but when it’s in 2020, it’s so much more draining – emotionally, physically, mentally. It’s something Lark and Jessie have felt, and it’s something I’ve felt. But art can be an important form of protest and activism – to shift ideas and change conversations and expand imaginations. To create a space for anger and joy. Because both anger and joy are necessary to imagine and build a world more equal and more just than the one we currently inhabit.

The Different Kinds of Fannishness

(I found a perfect GIF that won’t save as a GIF so please just imagine Harry and Ghost (?) Dumbledore standing together at Ghost (?) Kings Cross Station as they say this)

Harry/Fandom: Is it all real? Or is it just happening inside my head?

Dumbledore/Tumblr: Of course it is happening inside your head, Fandom. But why should that mean that it is not real?

When I first came up with the name for the podcast – Marginally Fannish – a little over a year ago, it was supposed to be a pun which worked in two ways – exploring fans who are on the margins of dominant groups in different ways and how this is reflected in media and culture + fans who are not necessarily fannish in the ways fan studies has largely focused on i.e. active in fan communities, participatory, creating transformative works, engaging in online discussions. This was partly self-centered – I’m on the margins in some ways in the UK (though also a part of the dominant culture in many ways in both the UK and India) and for most of my fannish life I’ve been a lurker (except for a brief stint as a teenage fanfiction writer and now as a fan podcaster).

However, I was really interested in exploring how other fans engaged with their favourite media in different ways. For instance, I primarily bonded with my two co-hosts through our various shared fandoms when we first met. Ever since then, we have been excitably fannish and have discussed news, theories and plot twists featuring our favourite worlds – all in the confines of WhatsApp group chats (which replaced a GChat group chat). Being a part of this podcast meant that both my co-hosts and I had to engage more actively in what other fans were doing – looking for essays and Reddit threads and fan podcast episodes – and also draw on our own experiences and interests as we discussed different themes in our episodes. The three of us share similar journeys within fandom now though we had different fannish childhoods. I spent a lot of my teenage years in fanfiction communities and my adulthood lurking on Facebook fan pages. The two of them are sisters and incorporated a lot of their fannishness in their childhood games which they’ve carried into their playful adulthood. This is a fannish playfulness I’ve been lucky enough to participate in ever since I got to know them. All our birthday celebrations and holidays together have had elements of fannishness – the most memorable of which may have been when we each dressed up as characters from some of our favourite fictional worlds as we explored Udaipur together.

My other co-participants also come from a range of fannish (and national) backgrounds – some similar to mine, others vastly different. A surprising number of them are postgraduate researchers themselves – some even focusing on different aspects of fandom (though perhaps this shouldn’t have been very surprising considering the nature and purpose of my project and the kind of social network I have access to). Some of my co-participants are extremely active members of different fandoms online and engage with fan texts on different platforms. I have at least one co-participant who isn’t really an active member of any online fan community and, to my knowledge, doesn’t really engage with any fan texts, but he considers himself as a fan of movies and was excited to participate in the project and discuss some of his favourite movies through the lens of race and racism. To juxtapose that, quite a few of my co-participants also write fanfic for different fandoms – some of whom have written tens of thousands of words. One co-participant listens to a lot of fan podcasts, situated herself as a fan of various science fiction and fantasy texts as a result of motherhood, and shares the media she loves with her daughters who are now fans in their own turn. A few of my co-participants also have experience with offline fandom in the context of fan conventions – which is something I only discovered the existence of last year where, in fact, I met two of my co-participants for the first time. Another co-participant – who is also a friend from my master’s – reads a lot, watches a lot of movies, and in the past we’ve been a part of group discussions about specific media texts. However, I’m not sure to what degree they engage with fan texts. I think Twitter conversations and online articles and essays might feature in their fannish engagement but again, this is something I can only vaguely conclude based on what they share on their personal social media and what they’ve referred to in our conversation. Yet another co-participant was an extremely active fan online when she was younger, but with her master’s and now her PhD work, she’s found she has grown out of her previous active engagement. However, she still excitedly and frequently texts with her sister about their shared fandoms – which very much reminds me of my own relationship with fandom and with my co-hosts – prior to this podcast, at least.

This question of the degree of fannish engagement hasn’t really featured in any of my discussions – not on purpose anyway. But even without planning to, through our conversations, I managed to gauge some sense of how they expressed their fannishness in their everyday lives. These vague ideas might, of course, be entirely inaccurate; at the very least, they don’t paint the whole picture. I plan to ask my co-participants to send me their reflections on participating in the project so I can either include it in my research/use their feedback to expand my understanding. I wonder if I should include a guideline about asking them to briefly share the (self-identified) level of their fannish engagement.

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