Sunday, November 3, 2013

TeslaCon and Some Musings on Gender Roles in Steampunk

I'm typing this in the middle of what appears to be a clothing store explosion: four women managed to cram at least twenty-five costumes into one hotel room. From my position on the couch, I spy eight hats, an enormous bottle of Advil, a box of my books, several packs of half-opened cookies, two hat boxes, a half-full cup of tea, seven boots, a corset, and the furled flag of the Steampunk Society of Nebraska, just to name a few.

If you have the slightest interest in steampunk at all, you simply must attend TeslacCon next year. In my years of con-going, I have yet to attend an event that can top it. The amount of intricate corsetry, the leatherworks, the gears, the hats. Sensational! Plenty of folks were strolling around in thousands of dollars worth of costuming.

I, alas, missed most of it as the majority of my time was spent at a vendor's booth. I think my face in this picture captures my general demeanor after eight hours in a booth on Saturday.

Note the waxy skin, the glazed eyes, the blank expression of utter fatigue, the mouth incapable of smiling, the brain floating blearily in a haze of exhaustion. Thankfully, not too long after this picture was taken, I was decked out in my River Song fatigues while riding a luggage trolly down the hallway at 2:30am so fun was had, just after the vendors room closed for the night.

The gentleman with the impressive gun goes by the handle of Jessie, and he and I partook of an interesting conversation based on my observations of the men and women of TeslaCon. In my two years of steampunk, I have come to the conclusion that the male of the species is more theatrical than the female. Steampunk gentleman take their steampunk personas with devoted sincerity and dramatics that is not often matched by the women. One stellar example was the head of security during TeslaCon. A former military man himself, this gentleman marched through the halls of the hotel with a squadron of impeccably dressed officers, all ramrod straight and spitting out commands into their lapel mics. Other gentleman strutted about proudly in their finest garb, their voices resonant and commanding, and every inch vibrating with theatrical pride and manliness.

As Jessie and I were discussing this, he commented that steampunk is one of the few realms where it is socially acceptably for men to comport themselves with assertive masculinity. Overtly masculine man are not often widely embraced in our current culture, but steampunk is a unique environment where it common (if not generally expected) to see a clear delineation between the sexes. For Jessie, and for other men, this seems to be much of the appeal of steampunk: the genre allows them to be the men that our culture has worked to suppress.

In a neat parallel, this also works to lure women into steampunk. One of the great appeals in steampunk to me as a woman is being surrounded by well-dressed, courtly gentleman who are men of action, not passivity. Military uniforms are in abundance, and the men carry themselves with pride and dignity. For the ladies, steampunk is the romance of lovely dresses, delicate social graces, and the freedom to let the men take the lead and free us from the burden of always being in charge, forthright, and assertive.

As much as our modern society works to eradicate gender roles, the growing appeal of steampunk is incontestable proof that we still find great allure in a world where men are men and women are women. In many ways, we are desperately hungry for this world, and steampunk is where we can exercise these desires and find the freedom to be the men and women we are born to be.

Meanwhile, this woman is happy back in jeans and sneakers and is agitating for a real meal after having survived mostly on grilled cheese sandwiches and cookies all weekend. For someone who is almost obnoxiously healthy, con life is a catastrophic dive into poor nutrition, even worse sleep, and sporadic grooming practices. My legs have not seen a razor in days, my teeth are clotted with the crumbs of random fried objects, and my digestive system is in catatonic shock. A three day juice fast awaits me back home to repair some of the nutritional damage wrecked on my exhausted frame.

For now, dinner at a German restaurant where I will drink about six gallons of water and hopefully track down something of the salad variety.

More TeslaCon updates to follow!


  1. Well, there's always WWF events. Or Sturgis! Not exactly great markets for books though! :-D
    I think you need to find some sort of mylar radio controlled zeppelin balloon, like Air Swimmers, that you can fly around the con with STEAM ON THE HORIZON printed on the side! That should keep you entertained while you're stuck in your booth at these cons!

  2. That's a pretty interesting observation. And neat. Makes me think I need to up the steampunk love! ;)