From Pippi to Ripley: Women and Gender – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

From Pippi to Ripley: Women and Gender

Accompanied by Associate Professor of English Anna Creadick, Sarah Ford ’15 and Kazia Berkley-Cramer ’13 recently delivered presentations at the annual conference, “From Pippi to Ripley: Women and Gender in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Comics” at Ithaca College.

“Pippi to Ripley” began in 2011 as an act of “Guerilla Academe” created by Ithaca faculty and students, and today has become a comprehensive community outreach event that includes five components: a professional development conference for middle and high school teachers; a science fiction and fantasy quiz competition; an academic conference for scholars of science fiction and fantasy, a series of critical thinking and creativity workshops for youth, and ITHACON 40, the Ithaca Comics Convention.

Berkley-Cramer, who is enrolled in the Master’s of Arts/Library Science program at Simmons College in Boston, Mass., previously presented at the 2012 conference. This year, her talk, “Of Monsters and Men: The Gendering of Scientific Ethics in YA Steampunk,” focused on two contemporary works of YA steampunk that deal with ideas of Darwinism, Kenneth Oppel’s “Airborn” and Philip Reeve’s “Mortal Engines.”

“In my presentation, I argued that the women characters in these texts problematically act as moral compasses for the male protagonists and their patriarchal societies, pushing the men within their respective texts as well as us, the readers of those texts, to think about what science is ‘good’ (in this case, natural evolution) and what type of science is ‘bad’ (man-made systems) in very specific ways,” she explains.

Set to graduate from Simmons in 2016, Berkley-Cramer says she “always knew I wanted to study children’s literature in a serious academic way, and I’ve also known I want to be a children’s librarian for a very long time, so it’s thrilling to get to pursue both of these academic paths simultaneously and discover new ways to make connections between the two fields.”

She is working part-time as a children’s librarian and hopes to land a job as a full-time children’s librarian in a public library.

“I first learned about this conference from Kazia three years ago,” says Creadick, who serves as chair of the department. “She was in my Cultural Theory course, and we drove to Ithaca to attend the conference together. It was a fun surprise to learn that she was going back to ‘Pippi to Ripley’ this year to present a paper, just as I was accompanying another William Smith student to present as well.” 

Ford, who took Creadick’s “Pop Fiction” course last fall and “Sexuality and American Literature” course this spring, gave a presentation titled “Pink is the New Black: The Role of Female Villains and the Breaking of Gender Norms in Genre Media.”

“My paper focused on Game of Thrones, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Harry Potter series because they offered not only the best female villains for my study but also the widest variety of them,” Ford says. “I chose villains in general because I believe that female villains are allowed a character freedom that female heroes (or male heroes at that) are not allowed. There are too many restrictions in creating a hero, especially a female one; audiences try to categorize them as ‘action heroes’ or ‘smart girls’ or ‘fighting princesses’ (a real media trope) and so a lot of female heroes all start to become the same hero. Female villains don’t have these expectations so the spread a wider range of femininity, even offering some admirable qualities.”

Ford’s paper, Creadick says, presents “an original and very convincing argument about the complexity of female villains in fantasy fiction, film, and television. Kazia’s paper was wonderfully fresh and polished, revealing the new kinds of expertise she has developed in graduate study. I was so proud of these students’ efforts, and of their friends for coming out to support them. It says a lot about William Smith women that they would write papers they did not have to write, and then drive a couple hours to present them at a conference — right in the middle of the final week of the term — for fun! Both of their papers showcased their strengths as English majors, as well as their sense and sensibility as feminists and popular culture critics.”

This year, it was particularly exciting to go as a presenter and meet peers who are just as excited about pop culture, feminism, and queer theory as I am,” says Berkley-Cramer. “‘Pippi to Ripley’ is wonderful in that it has presenters with a huge variety of experience, from undergrads who are presenting for the very first time to seasoned professors, not to mention graduate students and librarians, and we were all encouraged to learn from each other and take one another seriously, no matter the level of formal experience we’ve had. There is a wonderful sense of community.”

“I really enjoyed the conference because it was for people who loved things that are often ignored in most conferences,” Ford says. “It was the first time I heard people talk about the value of Harry Potter or steampunk literature because they are subjects that aren’t really common in academia and are shoved more to the realm of ‘low-brow.’ The real respect for genre struck me, as did the level of involvement of the audience. I actually had an audience member come up to me after a panel to ask not only a question about my paper but to do so citing a specific passage of a book I discussed and a specific fan theory; it shows an academic level of study from not just the presenters but the fan base and I don’t think I could have found that anywhere else.”

In the photo, Berkley-Cramer (center-left) and Ford (center) are joined (from left to right by) William Smith students Michelle Feda, Wesley Cady, and Caitlin Maloney, who traveled to the Ithaca College campus to support their classmates and attend the presentations.