Today’s interview is with Wilhemina Thomas, who curates the Feminist Steampunk page on Facebook. The page has far too few likes, but you can change this. Since Feminist Steampunk offers a different view on the subculture, I jumped on the opportunity to do an interview with the person responsible and share her views with you my dear readers. So, without further ado, here’s the interview:
Please tell me (or rather my readers) a little bit about yourself and the project “Feminist Steampunk” and where we can find you on the web, other than Feminist Steampunk
Greetings: from Birmingham, Alabama, where we have been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement. I am Wilhelmina Thomas, the primary caretaker of the Facebook page Steampunk Feminist. I follow the Facebook pages for Multicultural Steampunk, Beyond Victoriana, and Edwardian Promenade. The blogs I follow include Edwardian Promenade and The Chronicles of Harriett Tubman. You can fine me on pinterest.
Do you have any other projects other then Feminist Steampunk?
Not long after I started doing steampunk, one of my groups sent a request for volunteers to do a cemetery tour at a Victorian cemetery. I volunteered thinking at worst they would tell me they did not need me or that I would be doing one of the background type jobs. Turns out there are a number of people of Afro decent buried in the cemetery and the organizer wanted their stories told.
Very early on it was hard to do research on the Afro-pioneers. When I came across something good, I felt compelled to share. Steampunk Feminist was one of the places that I shared a lot. In 2013 I was asked to take over monitoring the page. It is my ambition to give voice to many of the unsung heroines of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, showcase female cos-players, and keep up with feminine issues in pop-culture.
What does steampunk mean to you?
My brand of steampunk is more accurately describe as steamfunk, afropunk and afro-futurism. It is always fun to see people’s face light up when I say steamfunk, because they get the whole concept and understand exactly what I am saying. You can find my steamfunk persona story on Steampunk Empire.
Steampunk is an aesthetic that I love; it is what I grew up with. Birmingham, Alabama was founded in 1871. Most of the city was built between 1871 and 1935 using some of tenants Frederick Law Olmstead, and the plan books of Andrew Jackson Downing and Wallace Rayfield. The neighborhood I grew up in is populated by do-it-yourselfers. They build, they garden, they sew, and they craft. Many of the homes of my childhood were built during the late 19th and early 20th century reflected by the plan books of the eras and a healthy dose of common sense. Most of these homes were built without a mortgage, in stages and the workmanship is superb.
When thinking of the South, most people are familiar with New Orleans’s French and Creole style and with Atlanta’s English feel. What they are not familiar with is Birmingham’s Silk Road aspect. The majority of Birmingham inhabitants are of Italian, Greek, Armenian, Jewish, West African, the Near East and the Far East. By the 1920’s, some 23 different nationalities had made their way to the Magic City drawn by the opportunities the mining industry provided. My Southern, my steampunk and my retro-futurism are all multicultural.
Are social issues an integral part of the Steampunk culture for you?
As a student of history, it is disturbing to realize that most people’s world view is gleamed from fiction, the news, television and pop-culture. Pop-culture has a tendency of re-inventing selective themes to suit the taste to the times, reinforcing the status quo. When looking through a list of steampunk recommended reads, there are two books that I do not feel that most people have not actually read. They are The Nomad of the Time Stream and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Michael Moorcock’s A Nomad of the Time Streams (Traveler: A book I readily and definitely recommend, it was my first contact with Steampunk) was written in 1974. It presents us with a North European in a universe where he finds himself a minority. When he is spoken to in the manner in which minorities are treated in his time, he is not really sure how to take it. In its original context, the Captain Nemo of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is from India. The book is about how he does not fit into either of his parents’ cultures and that he has no cast. If most steampunkers understood those themes then there would be no need for a number of the discussions that have evolve while trying to define what steampunk is.
Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer recently underwent a make-over where the word “slave” is replaced with the word “Negro”. This implies that the word “slave” and “Negro” are interchangeable. This is far from true. In history not all slaves were Negro and not all Negroes were slaves. Here is a link to a fictionalized blog I wrote that explains that a little better.
Steampunk has an outward appearance of an idealized, romanticized society of the past, despite all this, do you see a tendency of sticking to traditional gender (and race) roles, maybe imposed by those benefiting by those roles?
At worst, I view steampunk as longing for the Empire, a wish for the romance of the noblesse oblige of the Confederacy and a bow to the last huzzah of the aristocracy during Gilded Age. At best, I view steampunk a way to look again at inventions that were abandoned, revise some of the more practical ways of living, and addressing social issues. Steampunkers are do-it-yourselfers who have questioned authority and rebelled again the corporations. We have changed the world, but we have not changed the status quo. Join me at Steampunk Feminist to get a peek at her stories that changed the world and the status quo.
Ms Thomas, thank you very much for your time, it was very enlightning.