One of our favourite new sites is The Girls' Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse. And judging by the numbers, we're not the only ones charmed by their madcap and far-ranging discussion of one of genre's hottest topics. The blog's editors have given us Christmas music, cocktails, tips on dating and accessories and a serious discussion of which of the Crowleys would be the last to die.
We got in touch with Adele (reviewer, zombie queen and feral leader) to get a look behind the scenes. Why is the Apocalypse such a hot topic right now? And why a guide specifically for women? The "Apocalypse Girls" delivered us a half-dozen answers to these burning questions.
When I tweeted the question of whether there was a book out there looking at apocalypse survival from a girl's perspective, even a really girly girl's perspective, it became obvious that there was an appetite for the discussion. So we started a blog.
A few of the girls have offered their thoughts on why the Apocalypse (and Post-Apocalypse) are at the top of our list of hot topics at the moment.
Why are apocalypse and post-apocalypse settings drawing so much attention from female writers and artists at the moment?
There’s nothing of the moment about it, and there’s nothing especially female about it. What’s of the moment is that the Internet and the growth and flexibility of social networking sites has enabled lady genre fans to stand up and be heard in a way they found difficult in the past. When Adele invited women writers and bloggers to contribute to The Girls’ Guide to the Apocalypse there were mountains of women bursting at the seams to talk about this stuff, not because women are suddenly going apocalypse crazy, but because there have always been women who were interested in this stuff who haven’t been given the same platforms to talk about it that men have.
There’s long been a strong perception that science fiction and fantasy are basically male interests. That’s changing, but there’s still a long way to go; the recent debates concerning the comics industry illustrate merely the most prominent and obdurate difficulties. I have always adored apocalypse fiction, from my earliest memories of reading and consuming film and TV. The scenes that most captured my imagination in The Magician’s Nephew were those set in Chard, the White Witch’s blasted world of ruined cities, its great, dying red sun hanging low in the sky. I always wanted to know more about that world. And yet, it was unusual for having been ruled over by a woman (and, of course, she was evil).
As a teenager I ate up apocalypse fiction – I adored The Stand, in particular, which had a great range of female characters; but, in the end, it was still four men who went off to save the day. You might have hoped that things have changed since the 1990s, but when I watched The Walking Dead and realised how abundantly clear it was that the makers didn’t expect me to be watching, I realised that in many cases there’s been stagnation and reaction against the inclusion of women, rather than revolution.
When I say the makers of The Walking Dead didn’t expect me to be watching, I don’t mean that I wanted more ‘female interest’. I mean that they just didn’t think about what it would be like for a woman watching. The first scene in which we see the main characters converse, is ostensibly a discussion about the differences between the sexes, but amounts to two guys projecting frustrations about their relationships onto essentialist and negative characterisations about women. I get that this in no way reflects the creators personal beliefs – it’s characterisation – but there are other ways to set up that one guy is a bit of a dick, and the other is slightly less of a dick. By putting a conversation like that up front you frame the whole show, and a man may be able to sit back and go ‘interesting bit of characterisation’, but for a woman it’s a discussion about her – what women in general are like – and it’s entirely negative. Suddenly she’s not free to sit back and enjoy the zompocalypse fun, she’s thinking about herself and the negative views men have of her – she’s forced to react, not engage. I do not doubt that my having this reaction was completely unintentional, but that’s kind of the point – they just didn’t expect me to be watching.
The makers of The Walking Dead might have used this as a set up for interesting engagement with gender stereotypes in SF and horror settings – that would have made it intentional in a good way – but they didn’t. I only recall one (living) female character in the pilot, and she was meekly submitting to dominance from a male. In every other way I thought it was a really impressive show, but I just couldn’t bring myself to go back and watch the second episode. I knew a part of me would remain bitter and angry and thinking about gender issues, and not lost in the action, and, well, I don’t need another reason to be angry. I like being not angry, if I can possibly manage it. And choosing to be not angry meant missing out on one of the precious few well-made post-apocalypse TV shows of our times. Choosing not to be angry often means missing out, for women.
Not that it’s all bad. For every Walking Dead there’s a Firefly; for every 2012 there’s a Sarah Connor Chronicles. But yeah, I was champing at the bit to talk about apocalypse and post-apocalypse things. Moreover, I was champing at the bit to stand up as a woman who was interested in apocalypse and post-apocalypse fiction, music, art – everything. Social networking just gave us the opportunity to congregate and find a voice.
And I really liked Adele’s idea that there are those of us (people generally) who spend our lives looking at the world a bit differently – clocking up which household objects would make good weapons, what public buildings we’d claim and turn into fortresses if civilisation collapsed. When I got my allotment I immediately started thinking about the new skills I was gaining in terms of how I could survive in a post-supermarket era. I started writing a story in an apocalypse setting, about how the people in films always get it wrong in terms of what to loot and where to go. I stopped when I realised that what I was really doing was writing an article, and if I finished it, I’d have nowhere to send it. And then, like magic, Adele started this blog and invited women like me to come and spew forth our crazy apocalypse thinkings and I knew I had to be a part of it. My aborted story became a series of articles on ‘Digging for When the Canned Goods Run Out’. My oddball collection of apocalypse-themed music became fodder for ‘Music for the Apocalypse’.
It’s great to see so many other women coming together and sharing my obsession. It’s great to see proof of what I always thought was true, but the world kept trying to tell me wasn’t: I’m not alone; other women like this stuff, too. And they’re not all like me. It’s been eye-opening to see the range of views and angles and interests a bunch of women who are all interested in the apocalypse and post-apocalypse can have. Wonderous variety. None of us is a stereotype. We’re just people who like apocalypse stuff, and who are grateful for the opportunity to show what we know.
Ro / Apocalypse Womble
I think that speculating about the apocalypse is interesting regardless of gender. Let's face it we're unlikely to actually survive it so we might as well think about it now.
Possibly the reason it appeals to women so much is that the end of the world is a great equaliser. Our society as a whole doesn't encourage women to be very kick-ass, so it's easier to imagine your mettle will be tested by something big and dramatic that sees social attitudes thrown out of the window. We may not have a testosterone-fuelled, macho need to prove ourselves physically (as men supposedly do), but when it comes to survival a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.
Because real women have never been weak, frilly, or in need of rescue by some tosser. Quite frankly we’re more likely to be equipped to do the rescuing than become prey. (Especially those of us with children - you better believe we can survive almost anything and keep our families safe as well!) Also, the little matter of the survival of the species.
Pretty is all very well and good (we can be pretty and still kick-ass) but when it comes to genes that count towards replenishing the population, we have a lot more to contribute. Let’s face it, in an apocalyptic situation or the post-apocalypse after it, who do we want breeding? Some air head that runs down the middle of the road or the smart resourceful chick that not only survived but is a competent leader?
Cat Connor / Foxglove
Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice.* And that’s before you get to the aliens, zombies, dragons and mad fairies. We don’t know quite what’s going to do it, but one thing’s for sure - it’ll be interesting finding out. And that’s where the appeal of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction and art lies: in the possibilities presented. Both in how the apocalypse is going to happen and what the world is going to be like after it has changed beyond all recognition. How do you meet the challenge of finding solutions when you’ve only got limited resources? How are other people adapting? How did the mess get kicked off in the first place? And just how many ways are there to kill a zombie? We demand answers, and the apocalyptic arts are the perfect place to find them.
-Jenny Barber / Battleaxebunny
*Robert Frost. "Fire and Ice." (1920)
I think a big part of the appeal is that women are often in crisis mode anyway. We may hold up half the sky, but we also tend to hold up a disproportionate part of the responsibilities for feeding, clothing and caring for others. Women make up the majority of the poor of the world, so we’re always trying to do more with less — for Americans personal apocalypse can be an illness or injury away. We need to remind ourselves how resourceful and powerful we are. A lot of women lack confidence, but picturing yourself in the most dire circumstances and imagining how you would get out of them can be a real boost. We have amazing skills and resourcefulness — sometimes we need to be reminded of that. And it’s great fun destroying the world just to remake it in your own way.
K. A. Laity / Katemandi Last Girl on Earth
There are a number of reasons why I set a lot of my writing in apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic worlds and I think it’s seen such an explosion in popularity recently. I find it interesting to see what characters will do when all their comforts, all their security, is stripped away and they are facing a survival situation.
When people are fighting for survival, their emotions are heightened which allows for great interplay between characters and it’s fun to write how a character’s previous ‘life experiences’ defines who they are during and after the apocalypse. It is interesting to explore the changing dynamics within a family during the apocalypse. Parents, used to being firmly in control, may not be able to cope when everything they know collapses, while children may be required to take on more adult roles.
The idea and meaning of family changes as well. Close friends and people you travel with can quickly become closer than blood relatives. However, for me, writing characters set during and after the apocalypse, when stereotypes and societal constraints are removed, allows me to write strong female characters. There are no rules or limitations and when you never know who you can trust or what will happen next, only the strongest (and most well written) survive.
More wisdom from The Girls' Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse can be found on their site and on Twitter (@apocalypsegirls).