Mary E. Higgins, 1001 Interviews No. 5

Mary E. Higgins is an artist, zinester, and writer living in Portland, Oregon.

She holds a BA from Bennington College in Literature and Philosophy, and is an MFA Creative Writing candidate at Portland State University. She is also the zine librarian at the Independent Publishing Resource Center.

Her series of zines titled Girls can be found at Powell’s Books on Burnside, and at Reading Frenzy in Portland, Oregon.

Keep up with Mary Higgins at www.maryehiggins.com.

 

INTERVIEWER

You are the Zine Librarian for the IPRC. What’s so great about zines?

HIGGINS

Zines are great because you can pretty much make them anytime and anywhere. They’re about passion and creativity and not about making money or being legitimized or anything.

INTERVIEWER

Do you get to meet many of the contributors to the library?

HIGGINS

Yes! we have people come in all the time just to drop off their zines. And then I have friends who are zinesters, and they are pretty much just throwing their stuff at me to put in the library. People get so psyched about it.

INTERVIEWER

What are some favorite zines?

HIGGINS

I Heart Amy Carter by Tammy Rae Carland; Jawbreaker by Toby Vail; and Queer Sailor Moon Fanfiction Saved my Life by Lily P. Like, my top 3 easily.

INTERVIEWER

What are your Girl Zines all about?

HIGGINS

I take different women’s issues, but primarily those that impact teens and young girls, and try to filter them through a pop-culture lens.

I’m interested in the way that women are represented in the media, and so I try to collect as many examples of an aspect as I can. For example, I focus on the disparity of women in STEM fields in my zine Geek Girls.

INTERVIEWER

In the article, “Fake Geek Girls, or, How I Learned to Love Kaceytron,” from your Gamer Girls zine, you mention a quote by Dr. Nerdlove in response to Joe Peacock’s article, “Booth Babes Need Not Apply.”

Considering this quote, “I’m sure Peacock means well, but what he is saying is ‘ladies, you are only allowed to express yourself sexually if you follow my rules.’…” why do you love Kaceytron?

HIGGINS

What’s not to love about Kaceytron? She came in and everyone thought she was really this dumb girl who was trying to exploit stupid guys. But seriously, it has to be deeper than that. I really think she is just the world’s biggest and best troll.

INTERVIEWER

How does Kaceytron troll?

HIGGINS

She has a channel on the gamer-streaming site Twitch. When she first started she would play up how little she knew about games, while simultaneously defending herself as a “gamer girl.” She’d make sure to show lots of cleavage, and spent a huge amount of time not playing games. She just danced and cried and yelled at people.

She’s a troll in that she’s basing her online personality after the stereotype of “gamer girls”. She enacts that stereotype to it’s fullest. And she does it so well that at first glance you think “Wow, this girl is too much.”

But over time you realize, she’s playing. She’s feeding into the frenzy. She’s becoming the character they want her to be.

INTERVIEWER

Do men figure out she’s playing them?

HIGGINS

I think so, and I think that’s what infuriates them so much. People get so worked up, at first accusing her of being a “fake gamer girl” then they realize they’ve been had and they get angry that she’s trolling. It embodies the madonna/whore complex.

INTERVIEWER

So is she playing the culture at large? What does this do to the culture she’s playing? How does it, while apparently meeting expectations, defy them?

HIGGINS

It holds a mirror up to what nerdculture believes a geek girl is, and shows just how insane their claim really is.

Girls are just as good as guys at gaming. There’s just not a lot of space for them to exist together, and that promotes this idea of competition.

INTERVIEWER

Could you elaborate on the madonna/whore complex and why it’s so prevalent in video games?

HIGGINS

The madonna/whore complex is the perception of society that women should be pure and sexual simultaneously. It’s that fine line where a woman is expected to not be prudish, yet to not be a slut. It’s a silly, impossible, and subjective ideal to fulfil.

I think it shows up in games in the form of the armor bikini – the phenomenon where-in female game characters are portrayed in a hypersexualized or pedophiliac manner – either the Madonna or the Whore. I think its prevalence exists simply because it is one that is heavily embedded in our culture – not just in video games but in all types of media and art.

INTERVIEWER

How can others challenge the exclusive culture of video games? Can you give us some other examples of gamer girls subverting the VG patriarchy?

HIGGINS

I think girls can challenge the exclusive culture of games by playing often, playing together, and having fun. These games are a place to blow off steam and relax. And if you are playing them, developers are seeing that. A lot of companies are responding favorably to the growing diversity of their audiences. It’s a very vocal (and stupid) minority that is speaking out against the change.

I think everyone – whether you play games or not – should watch Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency series. She has several, but Female Tropes in Video Games is her most controversial. I’m also a big fan of Breanna Wu’s Twitter. And though she’s stepped down from the NA LCS for personal reasons Remi from Team Renegades is a current hero of mine for attempting to take on the male dominated world of e-sports. I think the industry is ready to embrace this change.

INTERVIEWER

In Girly Girls, you mention the concept of the ‘straw feminist.’ What is that?

HIGGINS

A straw feminist is the same as Kaceytron – it’s a stereotype that media perpetuates in order to sway public opinion.

It’s the super man-hating feminist that we laugh at in television shows and movies, but few feminists/gamer girls are really actually embody these stereotypes.

INTERVIEWER

Holding the mirror, while embodying the mirror, is an interesting power to wield. If she is taking on the straw feminist role, she’s kind of burning the whole apparatus of the straw feminist down?

HIGGINS

Let’s hope. At least people are talking about this issue now. At least we see that society constantly limits and polices space, both actual and virtual, for women.

INTERVIEWER

What is wishy-washy feminism? And how can some artists, like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, miseducate their fanbase?

HIGGINS

Wishy-Washy feminism is feminism where people aren’t really applying the principles of feminism to their label. It’s a feminism I think that’s steeped in marketing and more about making money than it is actually bringing change. Feminism is a buzzword now, I see it all the time, and most of the time the context I’m seeing it in is positive. But it’s grotesque for celebrities to claim feminism while refusing to embody its ideals. I’m happy those starlets are learning and talking about it, but they run the risk of sending confused messages about equality and sexism if they hide under the umbrella without really knowing what they’re hiding from.

INTERVIEWER

Earlier you said, “There’s just not a lot of space for them to exist together, and that promotes this idea of competition among the guys.” Can you elaborate?

HIGGINS

Yeah. In the beginning there weren’t very many girls in the gaming subculture. So as women began to introduce themselves to this very male dominated sphere, they became fetishized. Gaming Men were essentially put with their ultimate fantasy, a “Gamer Girl”. Since there was a minority of women at the time, clan’s/guilds/teams just sort of had their token girl. And it promoted this culture of commodification. And socially women are taught to be very competitive, so not only are you suddenly in this environment where you’re having to compete for in-game resources, but you’re also being asked to compete for male attention. It’s literally seductive.

INTERVIEWER

What do you mean by, ”This is the ultimate tragedy of the Mean Girl: that she cannot recognize the game being played at her own expense.” ?

HIGGINS

The Mean Girl is a position of power that is impossible to hold on to. It’s like a forever game of King (or Queen) of the Mountain, where each girl gets their chance to rule. But the reason they’re fighting with each other is because of a lack of healthy outlets for their pent up aggression. While society fails to let men feel, it fails to let women fight, and the fallout is men who withhold their emotions, and women who learn to manipulate others to get what they want.

Where as if women were allowed to express their negative emotions more openly than they would also start to embrace one another as equals, and helped each other to reach their goals, instead of competing for them.

INTERVIEWER

What’s some advice you can give to someone coming up against a mean girl?

HIGGINS

Just talk to the girl. Confront her, when you’re alone (her posse gives her power.) Show her you’re equal and tell her, “It’s ok if you don’t like me, but you should please respect me as a person.”

INTERVIEWER

What does, “The tactic employed to cease feminism traditionally has been to lead the movement to believe it has already achieved its aim,” mean?

HIGGINS

This is a really complicated idea I learned from Shulamith Firestone. Actually, I learned it from Kathleen Hanna who talks a lot about Firestone’s theory of Fifty Years of Ridicule. Basically the closer we get to gender equality, the louder the patriarchy will bawl. And so they will try anything to convince us that we do have the same rights, or that we should be grateful to have the rights we do have.

INTERVIEWER

In first wave feminism, the goal was achieving the right to vote. The cultural ~vibe~ was ‘equal rights achieved,’ then the activism fizzled?

HIGGINS

Yeah, exactly. So first we’re given the right to vote, then we want the right to work, then reproductive freedom, then wage equality, etc etc oh god when will their demands ever end? haven’t we given you enough?!

INTERVIEWER

What are you working on at PSU?

HIGGINS

Right now I’m working on just getting a lot of stuff. I’m really in a generative state. I’m hoping to start a novel, a bildungsroman about girls’ slumber parties.

Other than that I’m also writing a lot of Kardashian poems.

INTERVIEWER

How do you go about writing a Kardashian poem?

HIGGINS

Several methods. My favorite is just to go through the entertainment blogs and give these wrap-ups of what’s going on in the Kardashian world. Another is to watch an episode of one of their shows and write an ekphrastic: what I see or hear and my impressions of it. And a third is to amass quotes they’ve said or interviews they’ve given and rearrange them in some way.

INTERVIEWER

Can you tell us anything about the bildungsroman?

HIGGINS

It’s still coming to me, but I read Virginia Woolf’s The Waves last quarter and I loved it. I started to do these exercises writing in the voices of girls, and I wanted to talk about some of the “universal” experiences adolescent girls have growing up, and it just sort of came from there.

I want to do a girls half and then a boys half.

INTERVIEWER

Boys’ slumber parties too?

HIGGINS

Sure, but I’ve been asking for ideas other than that. I know there aren’t traditional slumber parties, but there are similar experiences guys have together as well.

INTERVIEWER

Are you going to write in stream of consciousness at all? (speaking of The Waves.)

HIGGINS

It’s funny you should ask because unlike The Waves I’m trying very deliberately to make the characters sound different from each other, but I want that lack of exposition in that same way. That novel is so beautiful, and it strips down the moment to just consciousness in such a practiced manner.

INTERVIEWER

How do you set out writing a novel? What are your first steps?

HIGGINS

First steps: A lot of angst and foreboding.

I start by mapping out my characters and then I see scenes. I approach a novel like a patchwork. I can’t write something that big from beginning to end. Eventually a plot develops or a theme will carry through.

INTERVIEWER

Do you use prompts or exercises to develop your novel?

HIGGINS

This novel was born from a prompt/exercise. But usually when I’m writing I come at it from a blank space. I read this theory about rhizomes once, and that’s how I like to work. I like to just amass a whole bunch of things in my head: words, images, characters, stories, and then put them together into one thing.

The thinking can take weeks or months, but usually when I sit down to write it I’m done in a few days.

INTERVIEWER

Do you want to answer any particular questions? That is, are you aiming toward any specific goals or understandings by writing this novel?

HIGGINS

I want to challenge myself to stick with something. I’m very bad at getting bored in the middle of projects and abandoning them. Grad school has taught me a lot about avoiding burnout and the reward of commitment.

INTERVIEWER

But for your characters, your themes, is there anything you want to find out? Anything you’re driving towards in these beginning stages?

HIGGINS

Sort of that guys and girls have the same experiences but that the expectations and acceptance of those experiences is different. I’m also drawn to the bildungsroman as a form for a female story. The pre-adolescent heroine gets a lot more attention traditionally (Anne of Green Gables, Alice in Wonderland, etc.). I’m interested in female coming of age, like Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, or Nina Bouraoui’s La Vie Heureuse.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any plans to fictionalize any of the work you’ve done in the Girls Zine project? I mean, do you think it would be rewarding or elucidating work to work with the identities you’ve worked with in nonfiction?

HIGGINS

I’d definitely like to write a film one day that encapsulates all of the media archetypes of women. It’d definitely be a satire, channeling my best Amy Poehler/Tina Fey. It is something I’ve thought about.

INTERVIEWER

How do you do with editing work you’ve written? Cool, collected? Or tortured, enraged?

HIGGINS

Revision is difficult for me. I have a very hard time making decisions, and I thought that workshop would really help me to learn to make ruthless choices about my work, but instead it’s opened up even more possibilities. I think the hardest part of revision is the same as the hardest part of writing: getting away from your own inner doubt and turmoil. Writing is a really good tool for learning how to trust yourself, I think.

INTERVIEWER

Who is your advisor at PSU?

HIGGINS

Goddess and face melting badass writer Leni Zumas. She’s teaching me how to be a literary witch.

INTERVIEWER

What are you focusing on now? Workshop or new techniques, new styles?

HIGGINS

I’m focusing on getting a couple of new stories out, and then revision and novel prep this summer. I find that the more things I give myself to work on the less likely I am to abandon something. It’s like writerly ADHD. But it’s the same with video games, weirdly. I can’t play just one all the time, I have to be changing it up, or I get bored and burned out.

INTERVIEWER

You don’t get panicked? How do you make sure you finish them? Are you used to completing games?

HIGGINS

Not really. I know I’ll get there eventually.

INTERVIEWER

Video games you have to repeat the same goals over and over, for the tougher ones anyway. Is it a little like crafting the write paragraph or chapter? If you fail the goals, you have to try at them until you pass them, I mean.

HIGGINS

Yeah, I think so. It’s about knowing which paths to take, which shortcuts are helpful and which are going to harm you. The best thing I think videogames have taught me is to look for the unexpected. Think about it. When  you start a new game now, the first thing you do is go the opposite direction: Left. Why? There’s cool loot there! There’s stuff to find! I think it’s the same in writing. Sometimes you need to go left for the good stuff.

INTERVIEWER

Are you continuing the Girls zine?

HIGGINS

Yeah, I have several issues I hope to have done this summer. I’m always joking that summer is zine season and winter is short story season.

INTERVIEWER

Can you talk a little about fat girls in the media?

HIGGINS

There’s a statistic that says after spending only 15 minutes looking at a women’s magazine most teen girls will have lower self esteem than before they began reading the magazine. There is this idealized media persona that is repeated again and again: a white waif thin or athletic girl. But I’m seeing that image challenged more and more lately, and I think the handful of bigger actresses that are sweeping Hollywood right now are really helping to represent a different type of body than we’re used to seeing.

INTERVIEWER

What is wrong with Megan Trainer’s “All About that Bass?”

HIGGINS

That it celebrates the “fat” body at the expense of a skinny body. It’s so hypocritical, to tell people not to shame you while shaming others. It’s a very divisive and defensive song. We should be celebrating all bodies. We should realize all bodies are different and all bodies represent unique and unalterable histories. It’s not a war or a contest, it’s more like a party. A body party.

INTERVIEWER

In your zine, Fat Girls, you say “[you] have faith that things will continue to get better.” What are some examples of our younger generations being surrounded with positive reinforcement about body image, sexuality, and queer issues? Do you see these issues as linked?

HIGGINS

I definitely see these issues as related. Traditionally these are groups who undergo a lot of policing in terms of their bodies. They are usually pushed to the fringes, and ignored in society, and tend to be pigeonholed and represented according to stereotypes. However lately, representation has been upped beyond just the ‘token’ characters. Television, books, and films are portraying complex queer and plus size roles. It baffles me that a lot of people told Christina Hendricks she was too fat to be an actress. She’s so talented. And I think Amy Schumer is so smart. The episode of her show 12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer looks at this issue in a really funny light. I don’t think it’s perfect, I definitely think there could be a quicker response to diversify our culture and media, but I do see positive steps in that direction.

Interviewed by Bobby Eversmann.

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