Event, General

Making Unspeakable Things Speakable and Visible

– Laurie Penny Rethinks and Rewrites the (Gender) World

A queer-feminist activist and writer, Laurie Penny lends new glamour to feminism!

Young, slender, witty and bold – that’s how Laurie Penny came across during her appearance at Lit.Cologne, one of Europe’s biggest literature festivals. The sold-out event at Cologne’s Volksbühne theatre did not so much focus on her incisive book Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, but rather on her short stories, which feature protagonists from whom she usually distances herself: representatives of white, academic, middle-class feminism.

An SF and card-carrying Star Trek fan, Penny uses her imagination to liberate her dreams from the confines of traditional gender concepts and to create a different world. In so doing, as a side effect, she also supports the new image and the changing gender ratios in engineering or technology-focused design disciplines: the protagonists in her short story Making Babies, the German translation of which was read by actress Katharina Schmalenberg, are Annie and Simon, a couple trying to come to grips with their new role as parents. Simon is finding it difficult to identify himself with his new role as a father: a robotics engineer, Annie has created the couple’s ‘son’ Tommy with a head full of lovely glass fibre curls and has programmed him to display behaviour based on a baby’s usual development and growth cycles. Compared to real babies, the advantages are obvious: Tommy can simply be switched off when, for example, the parents want to indulge in some uninterrupted sexual lust. Hence he allows young parents to have something that this new role usually denies them for quite some time: the opportunity to experience themselves as a couple.

Ranging from political pamphlets to prose and SF, with her writing Laurie Penny does what science historian and biologist Donna Haraway already called for in the 1990s with regard to knowledge production: transgressing genre boundaries in order to reinvent nature in the sense of creating livable worlds for all beings – for humans, non-humans and cyborgs. Inspired by these reflections, after the reading I asked myself: How can we as designers participate in making unspeakable things speakable and in making them visible with the aim to support gender equality and diversity? At that point I remembered an app that was introduced on the Page website and that, in some respect, does just that: the Weapons Calculator – designed by Alisa Ceh, a student at the ecodesign academy in Cologne – illustrates how much of my money goes towards purchases for the Bundeswehr and how that money could be used to help refugees: http://page-online.de/kreation/waffenrechner-fluechtlingshilfe-statt-panzer/

German version of this article: here