Favourite things – Steampunk Women

I’ve never heard a story about a woman being harassed, assaulted or otherwise abused at a Steampunk event. No doubt it happens from time to time, but compared to the treatment women can expect in many places, Steampunk is friendly. Women at events dress as they please – from the most outrageous of burlesque-style costumes, through to a full-on emulation of Victorian prudery, and all places in between. It’s all fine. With corsets worn on the outside of clothing, cut off crinolines, knickerbockers, and all kinds of padding, a person can emphasise and de-emphasise as the fancy takes them, and play with ideas of sexuality in clothing.

As artists and authors, clothes creators, models and musicians, poets and peacocks (really, literally as a peacock), as organisers and facilitators and innovators, women are active participants at all levels. On one hand I feel bloody stupid writing this, because it should be obvious, and how the world is, and not worthy of comment, but there are still a great many places where this just isn’t true.

A community is what you make it – it is nothing more than the sum and total of the people involved. One of the few rules of the Steampunk community is good manners. It’s amazing how quickly the various forms of sexism generally manifest in the world can be wiped out by this one simple thing. It’s rude to make negative comments about other people’s clothes and appearance. It’s rude to treat another human being as an object for sexual entertainment. It’s rude to assume another person is obliged to pay you attention. Any assumption of entitlement, is basically rude.

Steampunk women tend to have rejected the narrow, mainstream version of what it means to be female. Often in mainstream spaces, women are the ones who will pull other women down for not fitting in. The female author who complained that the first female bishop wasn’t wearing lipstick, is a case in point. Amongst Steampunk women I have found a more supportive culture. We are, collectively, more interested in lifting each other up than putting each other down.

The paying of compliments is a normal part of a Steampunk gathering. Out there in the rest of the world, compliments can be used as a veil for harassment – highly suggestive and sexualised compliments, statements designed to reduce and disempower the target. And if the target objects, she’s no fun, has no sense of humour, can’t take a compliment. She will be told she should be pleased that she’s getting this attention. Many women have learned to fear compliments. A Steampunk compliment is more likely to go ‘nice squid, did you make it yourself?’ It’s more likely to be about the wit and genius of your costume – things you as a person had a choice over. It means there is no gender aspect to who pays compliments to whom, no aspect of body shape or size.

At Steampunk gatherings I see women of all ages and shapes, and women from groups often considered to be marginalised. I see other women getting to enjoy how they look, getting to play with appearance and identity, and enjoy other people doing the same. As a middle aged women uncomfortable in their own skin, not always very easy with the whole ‘woman’ thing either, I feel safe in this space. No one is going to tell me that I’m fat or funny looking, or too old for what I’m wearing, or not sexy enough, or too sexual, or any of the other things I can and have fallen foul of in other places. People are nice to me. Usually it’s my hat that gets all the attention, and this is fine.

If we start from the premise that we owe each other courtesy, so many other things are better. We live in a culture that makes entertainment out of sneering at people on the telly, and that goes in for celebrity appearance shaming in magazines, relentlessly sells us sexualised images of women while at the same time condemning women for being sexualised. It would be easy to fix, we just have to stop thinking assholes are funny, and that ridicule is funny, and start being polite.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “Favourite things – Steampunk Women

  • Devore

    This is highly interesting, my dear. It brings perspective to something I’ve never actually given thought to. Steampunk gatherings, I’m afraid I’ve never been to one. What am I missing, other than you, there?

    • Nimue Brown

      A sense of play, often quite subversive. It’s a creative space – in all kinds of ways, good social interaction, good music, opportunities to be an active participant not a passive consumer…

  • landisvance

    I love this Nimue! Yes, it is so true. As my husband and I are continuing to cope with our various debilitating illnesses we are conscious of acting with kindness to one another. It is amazing how that simple thing makes such a large impression on people who spend time around us or in our home. It makes me sad that the larger culture has lost its way so badly.

  • Kaylee

    Sadly, I have never been to any Steampunk gatherings, but I have to say that I have seen something similar at RenFaires. I don’t know if it’s that it’s there and I haven’t seen it, or if it is not there. The people I’ve met have been very nice and polite, both the performers and event goers. I wonder what it is about these subcultures that the people in them are polite?

    • Nimue Brown

      This is good to know – and it’s an interesting question. What is it that causes certain kinds of people to take interest and want to get involved? I don’t know, but it’s worth pondering.

  • siobhanwaters

    Usually at conventions the police have to be involved before any harassment is taken seriously, but last year at Asylum, a few people were upset about the way the non-Steampunk photographers had behaved towards a few women – taking pictures without asking, grabbing a backpack and some limbs to manoeuvre somebody round during a photo shoot, and the organisers were great. I don’t think even a month had passed before anyone who’d given their email or was in the Facebook group was contacted and asked what they wanted the organisers to do about it. They were more than willing to ban photographers full stop if that’s what the community wanted, and I thought that was great. Steampunk is such a safe place that there was such a public outcry about what is normally ignored at public places, that some photography groups sent in formal apologies on the off chance one of their members had been rude. Who said fighting misogyny was a losing battle?

    • Nimue Brown

      I have huge respect for the people who run Asylum – sad that people like this can come in from the outside and be horrible, but yes, absolutely worth fighting back, and good to know about the photography groups, that’s cheering.

  • Leeby Geeby

    Thank you for that interesting first-hand insight into the scene. It’s good to know that it’s supportive. I’m stoked to hear that!

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