Friday, November 23, 2007

Statement of (Self-Absorbed) Purpose

I eat meat.

It'd be nice if we lived in a world where no lifeform has to consume some other living organism in order to survive, and we could all exist off of sunlight and photosynthesis or something, but we can't, so there you are. If it's not immoral for a lion to eat a gazelle, it's not immoral for me to eat a cow.

I also don't object to animal testing, in many cases. If testing drugs and treatments on animals makes it easier to find drugs for humans without risking human lives (as much), then as far as I'm concerned the animals can take that hit.

Now, I'm not in favor of doing these things wantonly or indiscriminately. I don't think animal testing should involve excessive pain or torture, particularly if the testing is for comparatively frivolous things, like cosmetics. And though I support the right to domesticate and/or hunt animals for food and materials, I don't support blasting an animal just for the thrill of killing something.

You might, therefore, think I could be persuaded to become active in support of animal rights, but in general I avoid affiliations with organizations like PETA or... well, any of them. Though I agree with some things they say, there's a lot of what they say that I think goes far beyond good sense into a quasi-religious dogma. More than once I've seen some soundbite of an activist saying something like how they'd prefer that their disease-stricken relations do without lifesaving drugs if it meant having even one rat confined and experimented upon.

Priorities: If you can't place your own family (assuming you do love them) over the life of a lab animal, how can I take your call for compassion for animals seriously?

This is a variation on what I wrote many columns back, about why I do not consider myself a feminist. While there are some feminist viewpoints I do agree with and even sympathize with to some extent, there's a lot that I feel abandons sensible priorities in favor of dogma and, in many cases, extremism. This applies to feminism in general, as well as the subset of feminism known colloquially as the "feminist fangirls".

Why would I bring it up again?

Over here, there was some musing over the purpose of WFA, leading to a restatement of WEA's intended purpose (and what its purpose isn't). And though I specifically wasn't mentioned (oh, I feel so neglected), I suppose some may see me in the same light, as someone out to "bait" the comics feminists. (Now that I think about it, in past comments on my posts, I was accused of "wagging my finger"... Ami Angelwings did say seeing my pseudonym near a potentially inflammatory title would automatically indicate it being a ploy for attention, and I guess that could be a kind of backwards compliment: at least nobody thought I was actually being that much of a jerk, did they...? But I digress.)

If anything I write can be considered an attempt to insult or bait comics feminists, it's not done out of some need to simply make feminists upset. There's far easier and less polite ways to go about doing that. You can consider what I write an honest attempt to communicate, for whatever that's worth to you. Whatever I say may very well upset you for some reason, well, that's life.

My motives for writing have nothing to do with any of you, really. My motives are purely selfish, and at the moment, I believe they can pretty much be sorted into two general categories:

1) I don't want feminism to take anything away from me, comics-wise.

2) I want comics (meaning the industry in general) to improve, and I believe comics-oriented feminism as it seems to exist now is at best ineffective and at worst antithetical to that aim.

(cue collective "huh? but whaaaaa??")

Number One is straightforward enough. Despite claims that "we aren't out to take the sexy away", I believe some feminists intend to do just that. Now, if you're about to tell me "but no, I like the sexy!", consider that what you think is sexy is different than what someone else thinks is sexy, and remember that "there is no vagina hivemind", so that even if you specifically have no intent to remove anything yourself, your fellow comics feminist may have a somewhat more restrictive goal in mind. Strawfeminist? Perhaps. It'd be nice if nobody wanted to take anything away from anybody, but when someone complains that something isn't morally right to print in a comic book, often the implication is that "somebody should DO something about that".

And it's more than just "the sexy", it's anything objected to in that way. I have yet to be convinced that something (perceived as) bad or objectionable in comics (or any media) has any serious impact on society at large; to me the theoretical risks do not justify imposing one's own standards on comics. Every arbiter of "good taste", however you define that, walks a thin line between personal opinion and agenda for the rest of us.

Note that I'm not against personal opinion or critique, either. If you hate something you hate it. This isn't a call to be quiet and shut up, this is a suggestion that if someone else enjoys reading about (for recent example) Tigra getting the crap kicked out of her, maybe that person has as much right to read it as you do to not read it, regardless of how upset or icky it makes you feel.

Number Two is a bit more involved to explain.

I believe that if what the feminist fangirls really want is superhero comics they can reliably enjoy without being made to feel upset or icky, that goal is possible and reachable.

I also believe that if what feminist fangirls really want is for "the boys" to clean up their act so that "the girls" won't ever be offended by some misogynist thing in some comic that passes in front of their eyes, well, tough luck. That's long term stuff, maybe not in your lifetime.

To reach the former goal, what I think needs to happen is that there needs to be more comics, made by more people, and a more diverse group of people at that. Mainstream comics are indeed a "boy's club", of sorts, despite notable exceptions. So long as that persists, and without a "comics code" with any teeth to enforce particular moral limitations, you're going to get comics generally slanted a particular way. There's only so many Gail Simones working right now.

More female creators, more creators of color, more comics overall, and I think the goal will work itself out. If there were enough creators and enough comics, the enlightened feminists could have their comics, the sicko fanboys could have their comics, and we could at the very least leave each other alone most of the time. (True, there's other factors like effective promotion and wider distribution in a currently small and sometimes shaky market...) And I want to see that happen, because a more diverse range of comics (even a more diverse range of superhero comics) suggests more buyers, suggests a healthier industry, suggests even more and better comics. I know, easier said than done. But I submit to you: that is the problem that needs the most attention, not whether a statue of Mary-Jane demeans the entire female gender worldwide because of her contact with laundry in a basket.

I am aware that to many feminists, these media depictions are seen as causes of stereotyping and a source of much real-life unhappiness. I do not believe they are nearly as toxic as much of the rhetoric would have us believe. And I think the more time and energy spent on trying to "fix" the boy's club, and make it perform to the liking of feminists, the less time and energy gets spent on what I feel could really make a difference in comics, not just for feminists, but everyone, and more importantly, ME.

I mean, don't mistake this for "sympathy trolling". If I imply that my advice can somehow make your existence more pleasant, it's only serving my own self-interest in the end.


Motti said...

The purpose of my "musing" was not to attempt to say that people who criticize feminists are baiting them--rather, I was annoyed that a couple select individuals seemed to do little more than post things to piss feminists off and it didn't seem particularly constructive, in my view, to give them attention. As I mentioned in the beginning of my blog post, I didn't mind the criticisms being posted, but just attacking feminists for kicks doesn't seem worth the effort to put up to me. I was disagreed with, and I took that to heart because WFA has their own thing that I probably misunderstood even though I've been a fan a long time of the site.

Anon, A Mouse said...

I understand all that. Though your post and the ensuing discussion were what inspired me to make this post, the post wasn't specifically about you, since you're hardly the first one to suggest that WFA not give any "air time" to dissent that seems deliberately antagonistic, or even any dissent at all. I haven't been around all that long myself, and I've seen a few posts from different people along those lines (and read someone from WFA re-explaining their position each time).

I do think you were mistaken about the person you singled out as "attacking feminists for kicks", though. Mad Thinker Scott may anger a lot of feminists with his refusal to go along with the accepted wisdom, but you'll hardly find a more logical or thoughtful voice on that side of the fence. "For kicks" seems to me to be the last reason he ever makes posts which critique feminism, even when it's a more personal type of criticism.

Anonymous said...

Coming form a vegetarian feminist, so I may be a bit biased.

Your argument makes no sense to me. Basically, you're saying I don't like the extremist elements of a group, so I won't join it. That's like saying I like Islam, but I disagree with terrorism, so I won't convert.

The was pretty reasonable though.

Anon, A Mouse said...

"Basically, you're saying I don't like the extremist elements of a group, so I won't join it. That's like saying I like Islam, but I disagree with terrorism, so I won't convert."

In a simplistic sort of way, yes, that is what I'm saying, although I don't think your Islam comparison is entirely apt. As I understand it, there are sects and denominations within Islam that have differing interpretations of the Koran, and differing opinions of the appropriateness of terrorism. Like Christianity, there are subdivisions within Islam that fight each other, sometimes with deadly force.

It would then be possible to be a Muslim and not also be strongly bound to a pro-or-anti terrorism stance by proxy, just as a common Christianity didn't prevent Irish Catholics and Protestants from killing the crap out of each other. (Though, stereotypes may make others think all Muslims are by default suicide bombers.)

By comparison, I don't see a lot of sharp division within the collective of "animal rights groups", and I'll admit that I may be utterly oblivious to any divisions, since I really don't track these groups closely at all.

But when, say, the Animal Liberation Front does something like break into a lab, wreck the place, let the animals free and wreak some measure of havoc, I don't ever recall seeing PETA following up with any statement condemning the use of vandalism and burglary to further animal rights goals. If any statement is given, it's usually carefully worded, breaking down to "that's not something we would do, but we support the idea that animals should be free at any cost", you know, neither condemning nor openly endorsing the ALF.

This could be either because their respective viewpoints really aren't that dissimilar, and that the extremism of the ALF isn't actually that much of a problem for PETA (though for legal reasons they may wish to distance themselves); OR if they do oppose the ALF's extremism, they don't want to admit it in order to maintain a solidarity between like-minded groups, and project a sense of unity to the non-animal-rights world.

So if I were to align myself with PETA I would be not only supporting them (and that's unlikely, since even PETA's own party line has stances I disagree with) but by proxy supporting similarly-aligned groups that may take things even further than I like. If I were to find a group that shares my particular views on animal rights, I would expect them to not only espouse their own position, but also speak up when another organization goes beyond what this theoretical "we" considers reasonable.

Anonymous said...

I just went back through this blog and found numerous posts where you criticized feminist bloggers while saying you espouse their viewpoint but none where you actually espoused their viewpoint.

You say that feminists should change comics by participating in their creation. I say that you should follow your own advice: Change feminist comics blogging by participating in it. Blog about female creators or positive female stories. Get the word out on new female-created comics. You'll change the current course feminist comics blogging is taking and you won't get any people accusing you of concern trolling.

As it is - you're scoring pretty high on the trollometer, what with all of those posts where you talk about how very feminist you are and how much you dislike the tone of all the feminists.

Anon, A Mouse said...

"As it is - you're scoring pretty high on the trollometer, what with all of those posts where you talk about how very feminist you are and how much you dislike the tone of all the feminists."

Well, for one thing, I'm only "feminist" in so much as there are some points of view we have in common. Since we do have them in common, there's not a whole lot of need to sort them out, is there?

And isn't that more the job of actually espoused feminists, to get the word out about female creators and female-friendly books? If they need my help doing that, their own efforts must be less than efficient.

I did try to give a thumbs-up to Brave and Bold; response was at best lukewarm.

For another thing, if I worried THAT much about whether people think I'm a troll, I wouldn't bother to write anything in opposition at all. I can merely claim I am not and then let everyone else out there deal with their own interpretations.

Anon, A Mouse said...

"You say that feminists should change comics by participating in their creation."

I couldn't exactly put my finger on what was wrong with this statement at first, I had to mull this one over a bit.

But now, let me clarify: I'm not saying that feminists themselves should get involved in creating comics, although they certainly can, if they're so inclined. This isn't at all a "if you don't like it make your own" statement.

What I believe is that if there were more women making comics in the first place, and a greater representation of women creators in the mainstream, I think many feminists' concerns would be addressed just by virtue of having a wider and more diverse talent pool. If the complaint is that there should be more superhero comics written and drawn with more consideration to female viewpoints, it seems fairly plain to me that getting more women in the creative end of the mainstream would go much further to reaching that goal than trying to somehow shame some hated male creator into changing their ways. That does NOT necessarily mean it's the fangirl feminists themselves who need to step up and fill those shoes; the skills needed to write angry rants on Teh Intarwub do not automatically translate well to composing a compelling fiction. (How preachy would you want your superheroes, anyway...?)

I'm not even exactly sure just how they'd go about doing this, mind you, but if the energy spent blasting away at specific nuggets of perceived injustice could somehow be directed at improving women's participation in the industry itself, I think that would be a far more efficient and fruitful way to effect some sort of actual change in the industry.