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Original Article by Molly Westerman in BitchMedia.Org.
During the quarter century since novelist K.W. Jeter playfully invented the term “steampunk,” the neo-Victorian movement has grown into a full-blown literary genre and an energetic subculture. Steampunk is airships and corsets and bizarre glowing weapons. It’s gears and top hats and goggles and mechanical butlers. It’s no-nonsense pistol-toting female scientists and the oppressive cultural restraints that tries to shape them into proper ladies.
We can find steampunk in novels and comics (The Anubis Gates, the Clockwork Century series, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), television series and films (The Adventures of Brisco County Junior, Wild Wild West, Hugo), and material culture (faux-antique octopus jewelry, DIY bustles, brass-and-leather flight goggles). In steampunk, gender and sexuality are always loaded. They have to be. Steampunk is an aesthetic where masculine and feminine are clearly visually defined. It’s a high-contrast, gendered aesthetic: ladies and gentlemen, soft and hard, frills and metal, shiny and tarnished, pastel parlors and dirty back streets, conformity and individualism, the past and the future all wrapped up in one.
But while steampunk revels in the gendered aesthetics of the Victorian era, many people use steampunk to play with those categories. In many steampunk texts, objects, and garments, masculinity and femininity are more like design elements than like absolutes of nature—which makes gender more fluid and far less moralizing than the nostalgic style might initially suggest.
Defining any genre is tricky, and steampunk is new enough to be foggier than most. Steampunk is a little bit alternate history and a little bit science fiction. Although steampunk-like texts were produced way earlier (and enthusiasts claim precursors all the way back to Jules Verne), the word didn’t even exist until the 1980s. Further complicating matters, “steampunk” isn’t just a literary genre. It’s also fashion, music, art, erotica, movies, television shows, comic books, games, and—naturally—sex toys. Continue reading