Since a friend enlisted me to go in 2007, I’ve been attending WisCon more or less regularly. WisCon is a feminist science fiction convention which, apparently, was really rare when it was founded forty years ago. Since it’s the only con I attend, it seems odd to me that the problems WisCon was founded to combat still exist.
At WisCon, you’ll meet some of the most careful and hyper-aware people in the world, which I say with the utmost respect. Everyone is deeply concerned with language, continuing a conversation that began many years before I was born to Stop Being Jackasses to One Another (unforgivable simplification, but that’s how I take it). I had to skip last year because I was in New Orleans and a poor AmeriCorps member, so I was somewhat out of step with things when I first arrived. My strategy was to pick the panel I knew the least about and go to it, which turned out to be, “I’m Not Your Metaphor: Explaining Oppression with Analogies.”
I say that I picked the one I knew the least about, because I didn’t even know what intersectionality was, let alone that it’s problematic, before I walked into the room. The panel description read: “… is disability really ‘like race’? Is Islamophobia a ‘New McCarthyism’? Are gays the new Jews? Are such analogies ever useful, or are they always unacceptable appropriations, erasing one kind of suffering by reducing it to a metaphor for another?” The panel participants seemed to be on the same page, that using one group’s experience as a metaphor to describe another’s plight is emphatically Difficult (possibly even Troubling).
As I understand it, the problem is that analogy puts one group’s identity and experience to work for the ends of another. Furthermore, it simplifies to the point of insult an identity’s unique experience by saying its challenges and experiences are “like” someone else’s.
The part that resonated with me, however, was Allison Moon’s counter-example of when pragmatism overrules. “To win over hearts and minds” she is willing to employ analogy and metaphor, despite how messy it can be. She explained that in fundraising, she has often played whatever heart-string she thought would compel the Wealthy Person to write a check. I think that I’ve been spending too much time around development professionals, because this made perfect sense to me.
Beyond asking the moderator, Professor Ian Hagemann, to give me a definition of intersectionality, I did not open my mouth. I try to speak as little as possible at WisCon. Being a straight, white, upper-middle class male from the Midwest, I feel that I have very little to contribute to most conversations and galaxies to learn from everyone else. And because I know I will invariably make a blunder. That’s probably why I played Cards Against Humanity with embarrassing abandon the next evening…