Friday, February 29, 2008

The Third Rule of Post Club: You Do Not Talk About (or after) the Third Rule

EDIT #3: Our fashion-challenged Mouse has responded not once, but twice! And both times manages to miss the point by miles. Plus he goes on an entertaining mini-rant about the APA is using propoganda buzzwords to demonize his libido, or something. Repeat after me: This is NOT about what you do or don't find attractive. It's about how you treat women. Mouse was the one who said sexualized in his post. Sexualization is not about what you THINK of women; it is about what you DO to them. I think I made the distinction between "attraction" and "sexualization" pretty clear in my post, but Mouse continues to respond as if I'm criticizing him for what he finds attractive or sexy.

There are several components to sexualization, and these set it apart from healthy sexuality. Sexualization occurs when
  • a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
  • a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
  • a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
  • sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.
--The APA

Here's an interesting question: At what point do we define something as not being thought about someone, but being done to them?

"Objectified" is a good example. Supposedly, if I look at some cheesecake picture of a woman, and as the APA indicates, I do not see her as a person with her own individual personality and motivations, but instead view her in an entirely sexual manner, then I am "objectifying" her, and that is a form of sexualization.

However: I haven't actually done anything to this hypothetical woman except perhaps applied some personal lustful thoughts. And aside from some Gorean-style master/slave kind of arrangement, in what way could I seriously, truly, in this civilized part of the world, actually cause some woman to become literally nothing more than a sexual object by virtue of my thoughts alone?

And yet, that's the APA, defining "sexualization". And though that's not precisely the way Nenena herself uses it in her post, she cites the APA a couple times as the source of the definition.

As I mentioned previously, the APA's definition is so vague and/or broad as to be able to be applied to almost any barely-related situation. I don't think this is an accident. If you can say that nearly anything is "sexualization", then you can speak out against nearly anything you disagree with and slap a Bad Nasty Label on it. Sexualization is Bad, This Thing is Sexualization, therefore This Thing is Bad.

If you are going to use the APA as the source of your definition, you ought to factor in all of what that entails, not just what's convenient for your argument at the time.

For the APA, as presented in the definition above, it IS about what people think, what they find attractive. Do I need to elaborate? Very well:

"a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy"

While "sexy" isn't (for me, at least) based entirely on physical attractiveness, it's sure as hell the primary factor. Or to be more exact, physical attractiveness has to be present for "sexy" to occur in my brain. A good-looking woman does not always give the signal of "sexy"; however, an unattractive woman simply does not spark that signal at all.

Now, you can parse the APA sentence above in a number of ways. If "physical attractiveness = sexy" is the standard, then what is the result and injustice the APA is implying here? That if someone is good-looking, that they are automatically assumed to be "sexy"? Or is it that someone who doesn't measure up to someone's standards for physical attractiveness can't be considered "sexy"?

In either case, whether someone is considered "sexy" is first and foremost what someone thinks, not what someone does, although whether someone is considered "sexy" may well affect how that person is approached. Whether or not you think a person's criteria for "sexy" is reasonable or fair, that's how they think. The APA would have you consider those thoughts to be "sexualization".

Nenena may have a clearer, narrower, more precisely-defined version of "sexualization" she prefers to use.

Maybe she should present it to the APA first, so they can make it an official part of their lexicon. That way, when she takes me to task for not using her version of the word, there'll actually be someone else using her version besides, you know, her.

----------oh, and also----------

"but Mouse continues to respond as if I'm criticizing him for what he finds attractive or sexy."

Let's recap: I compared Wonder Woman's outfit to sexy lingerie. Nenena's response was to mock me for being "confused" about what was sexy lingerie and what wasn't. If that isn't a criticism of me finding something about WW's costume to be sexy, what is?

"I have an idea! Let's get on Anon's case for saying WW's outfit is sexy like lingerie, and then pretend like that's not what we said at all! All alternate personalities and realities in favor, say 'aye'!"


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Dude, I Really Need to Read More Pornificated Comics

I have to confess, I was mildly surprised that nobody ever put a comment on my blog entry about Wonder Woman's costume. Not entirely surprised, mind you, since a number of people calling themselves feminists more-or-less shrugged their shoulders over it. Not that there was overwhelming approval, or anything, but it wasn't seen as anything special by some. Others, however, began the wailing and gnashing of teeth over what they saw as a desecration of a feminist symbol, so I half-expected someone to lambaste me for being another eeevil anti-feminist for not seeing the Playboy cover as a deliberate attack on all womanhood. The lack of any comments made me think that maybe the consensus was that it wasn't such a big deal, after all.

Ah, but I would discover that it was up to Nenena to bring the rage.

It never ceases to amaze me how some feminists can salt their their thoughts with bits about how sexual attraction is natural and healthy and then completely fail to comprehend how male sexual drive operates.

It's almost as if they're operating on an assumption of how they think it should work, rather than how it actually works.

Here, check this out. Nenena says:
Clothing is a form of expression. It communicates. And the way that clothing works - its message and its purpose - relies on a LOT more than just how much skin it covers.
Perhaps. But how much skin something covers is a significant factor in how men respond to any clothing. If it wasn't, you'd never have any woman get ticked off because a guy was staring a bit over-long at their cleavage. This isn't to say that guys are always without fail going to see some flesh and get an uncontrollable boner or something, but it does mean that just because what some woman is wearing isn't lingerie, that men are somehow never interested in that exposed skin.

Nenena, on her blog, has helpfully provided a whole mess of images. Many are of lingerie. However, there isn't a single image in the "not lingerie" range that someone hasn't turned into a Google-able fetish or fantasy. Skintight leotards? Check. Swimsuits? Check. Tube-tops? Yep.

The problem with the "clothing as message" premise is that, like all communication, it's subject to misinterpretations and multiple meanings to different mindsets. A swimsuit may have a primary function of making it easy to swim without being either A) dragged under by waterlogged clothing or B) naked, but there are swimsuit contests to show off women's bodies.

You may think a piece of apparel has a particular meaning, but it would be folly to assume your preferred meaning is the only one, or that you are able to restrict such meanings to only ones you approve of. Like it or not, lots of men see lots of clothing types, even those not intended to be sexy, as being sexy. Nun's habit, anyone?

She goes on to post instances of men's apparel, and even there, I imagine, though biker shorts are not primarily intended as fetish wear, for some gay guys it probably is a fetish, or sexy, at the very least.

Moving on:
First, I have to question how he's using the phrase "sexualized by the male gaze" here.
Answer One: sarcastically.

Answer Two: in the way some feminists, like Nenena herself, use it.

Is it somehow not the premise held by those offended by the Playboy cover that it conveys a level or style of sexuality which is inappropriate to the Wonder Woman character, or the symbolism the character supposedly conveys? And is that not how Nenena's own link to an American Psychological Association page defines sexualization, "inappropriately imposed sexuality"? Perhaps it's not just me who's the "confused blogger".

(Interesting word, "sexualization", as defined by the APA. Just what is "inappropriate sexuality?" Inappropriate can be so open to interpretation. Why is Wonder Woman being sexy on the cover of Playboy inappropriate? I don't recall seeing a lot of Wonder Woman's actual sex life depicted in the comics I've read. Is it so hard to imagine that the character might be willing to pose for Playboy if the mood struck her? Would she be offended that anyone might find her sexually attractive in that outfit, "battle armor" or not? And who makes these determinations? Readers? Writers? Wonder Woman's corporate owners? "Sexualization" can be so damn vague as to be nothing more than a propaganda tool, a buzzword to demonize (to use another word tossed around lately) people who find certain things sexy that other people think should not be sexy (or only sexy in ways they allow). Repeated for the umpteenth time: It's an attempt to "take the sexy away" by saying "you should not find this to be sexy".)

There's more:
If you're writing or drawing Wonder Woman to look or act like Tarot, then YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG. That is bad writing (and sexualization). And that is what most feminist fans of Wonder Woman object to.
I refer anyone interested to this blog entry of mine. If there is no hive-vagina, why assume I'm talking about "most feminists"?

Unfortunately, I am unable to re-locate the specific blog entry elsewhere in the blogosphere that inspired my original post, but my impression of it was that, indeed, the blogger was shocked and surprised that Wonder Woman would be used in a sexy pictorial for Playboy, and part of her thesis was that, since Gloria Steinem selected Wonder Woman to be on the cover of Ms. Magazine and the character was adopted as a feminist symbol, the character should somehow be sacrosanct, inviolable. (Which explained the surprise, she assumed nobody at Playboy would DARE use the character.)

I didn't link to that post at the time due to laziness and the fact that I didn't think her arguments were unique to her viewpoint (Greg Rucka pointed out the Ms. cover, for instance), so call it a strawfeminist if you like, but these were specific points of view I was responding to.

This, now, is the capper:
And really, it's pretty fucked-up to say that just because a woman is exposing a certain amount of skin, it's the same as if she's wearing fetish lingerie. That's a curiously prudish thing to say, coming from a blogger who normally casts himself as crusading against prudishness. Honestly now. Have we never been to a beach, or what?
Can we go in two or three different directions at once, here, or what?

First off: Yeah, I've been to a beach, and while there I've noticed that I'm not the only guy there checking out pretty girls in bikinis. The fact that they wear swimsuits and not lingerie does not diminish sexual attraction, and depending on the swimsuit involved, may even evoke a greater reaction.

Second, if it's prudish of me to equate exposing skin with lingerie, how much more prudish is it to equate clothed characters with porn? The Heroes for Hire cover, Greg Land's tracing, etc., etc... Nenena ought to have a talk with the anonymous poster who complained on my blog about "the pornification of comics" before pulling off some double-twist rationalization so she could call me a prude. (And if she herself was in the HfH=porn camp, then, Pot, Kettle, what-the-hell-ever.)

Third: See the above about clothing and skin exposure.

Well, okay. Maybe it was a bit much for me to compare Wonder Woman's costume with lingerie. How about this, then: If you dyed Wonder Woman's bodysuit a solid single color, what would you get?

Whattya know. With bracelets and a tiara, too!

(Brace for impact)

Friday, February 22, 2008

See, This is Exactly What You've Been Asking About, Zhinxy

So what am I, a reasonable person with criticisms of some works, or a vile creature on the road to censorship, demonizing those who like things I don't?

De • mon • ize

3. To represent as evil or diabolic: wartime propaganda that demonizes the enemy.
--The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

Y'know, NOBODY IS REALLY SURPRISED when a comic book superheroine gets shat on.
Zhinxy, you asked me this question, and my previous answer may not have been particularly on-target. Perhaps I wasn't sure what exactly it was you were asking. I'll attempt again.

About you, personally? I don't really know. Honestly, I don't track you enough to be able to say one way or the other whether I think you demonize the male libido or those who like things you consider sexist or wrong. The links I click on at WFA for the most part don't seem to feature you as an author, mostly as an audience member in the comments section. I can say I don't recall you saying anything directly to me in my blog that I thought was an outright attempt to demonize anyone, so as far as that goes, no.

If you want an example of what I do consider demonizing, I refer you to Nenena, there. One flip comment neatly illustrates the difference. A woman bodypainted in the style of Wonder Woman's costume isn't merely a men-oriented magazine pandering to men's tastes, it's taking a dump on a superheroine. A reaction of outrage and revulsion expressed in ugly language, to paint the perpetrators as some sort of hideous, morally-bankrupt ogres.

That's the kind of thing I consider "demonizing".

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I Can Beat Greg Rucka at Conspiracy Theories any One More Day of the Goddam Week

Remember the Mary-Jane "laundry" statue? OF COURSE you do, come on.

Okay. Remember how the people against it were picking at it for every little thing to try and get this mountain of reasons why it was bad and shameful and all that? Yeah? And then how Adam Hughes was trying to explain the concept, and then people started picking at that to try and prove it was all a smokescreen for the hand-rubbing, cackling chauvinist pigs in the smoke-filled back rooms?

Right, right. So Hughes says it's a scene of Mary-Jane discovering Peter Parker's Spider-Man costume, at a time before they were married. But no, no, no, said the critics: A thong? Nobody wore that stuff back then! She's wearing modern clothes, so of course it can't be before they were married, she'd have to be wearing clothes like they wore in 1987 or before! (Which would make the two of them how old today, if we measured their marriage in terms of publishing dates...?)

Yeah. So figure in how much lead time there has to be in getting comics made, how long ago the controversy was... I can see what happened. Joe Quesada says "All right, I'll show you," and he comes up with "One More Day".



"One More Day" and all the rest of it is just statue justification! I said it first! You wait, you'll see! It'll all make sense when they release the comic with the laundromat scene!


Oh, man, I've figured it out! Mary-Jane finding the costume will be the trigger that makes her remember the marriage! She'll be fiddling with her pearl necklace, pulling the costume out, and then she'll remember everything. The hated pose, the hated situation, everything people hate about that statue, THAT will be what saves the marriage, defeats Mephisto, delivers chocolate to all the heroic decent people, alleluia, amen.

I bet even the thong will play an important role. Like Spider-Man gets his wall-crawling powers taken away briefly by some bad guy. Oh no, he gonna fall! But wait: "Spidey! GRAB MY THONG! I LOVE YOU!"

This stuff writes itself.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Tolerating the Intolerable, Defending the Indefensible

The moral sense, we are learning, is as vulnerable to illusions as the other senses. It is apt to confuse morality per se with purity, status and conformity. It tends to reframe practical problems as moral crusades and thus see their solution in punitive aggression. It imposes taboos that make certain ideas indiscussible. And it has the nasty habit of always putting the self on the side of the angels.


People have shuddered at all kinds of morally irrelevant violations of purity in their culture: touching an untouchable, drinking from the same water fountain as a Negro, allowing Jewish blood to mix with Aryan blood, tolerating sodomy between consenting men. And if our ancestors' repugnance had carried the day, we never would have had autopsies, vaccinations, blood transfusions, artificial insemination, organ transplants and in vitro fertilization, all of which were denounced as immoral when they were new.
The above quotes are from Stephen Pinker's article, The Moral Instinct, published in the New York Times. Those who can't overcome their ADD long enough to read it may consider listening to an NPR radio discussion of the same thing.

Hey, didja see the fuss a couple posts ago? It never fails. Defending someone's right to produce and distribute something some folks might find offensive is, in some eyes, equivalent to defending or even endorsing the offensive thing itself.

Nevermind that the point of the original post wasn't to defend Chugworth Academy or its creator Dave Cheung but to point out an instance of "I'm-not-against-sexy-unless-I-don't-like-it" doublespeak; no, the fact that I took a stand in opposition to Lilith Ester, through some non-Euclidean geometry, became me defending a pervert, which brainfarted its way into "They might think you're a pervert too, better watch out!"

Whoooo I'm skeerdy!

Well, if nothing else, it puts me in the same company as the ACLU, or at least the ACLU as I remember it many years ago. They'd defend the rights of NAMBLA, or neo-nazis to speak their hateful stuff, and then get castigated by both the Left ("why defend Nazis when other more righteous people need help??") and the Right ("Don't criticize us for trying to censor stuff! YOU DEFEND NAZIS!").

Speaking of many years ago, I wonder if anyone else remembers Pat Robertson and his 700 Club cronies getting all worked up about a "Censored Art" show. The show featured a big range of controversial stuff from the time, such as the photos of Mapplethorpe and Serrano. This was during one of the Republican pushes to disembowel funding for the arts, particularly anything mainstream middle-class folks might get a shock over.

At the entrance to the exhibit was a quote from Adolph Hitler, pontificating about how all traces of eroticism and other badness should be removed from the arts. (I've repeated that quote and others elsewhere in my blog.) But, it never fails: On his TV show, Pat Robertson focused right on the tagline "ADOLPH HITLER" (not bothering to read or repeat the quote, either) to say, "LOOK! A QUOTE FROM HITLER! THESE FILTHY ART GUYS LIKE HITLER!"

So congratulations! Discourse has not moved all that far away from Pat Robertson's myopic crusades of a decade or more ago. The sad part is that the irony of supposed liberal-leaning folks (like feminists, for example) adopting the same kind of moral-outrage tactics commonly associated with conservatives and Christian fundamentalists seems to be lost on all but a few. You may even be reading this right this very second, thinking "how ridiculous! I'm not a right-winger!"

And you may not be, but fundamentalism isn't just for Christians anymore.

"Abortion is just wrong!"

"Homosexuality is just wrong!"

"You wimmen should get back to makin' babies and cookin' dinner like God intended!"

"I wouldn't mind Cheung's right to publish his shit (he can draw it all he wants, publishing is another thing) being taken away."

Ideology may differ, but the underlying principle is the same: "Something makes me feel upset, so I think abridging someone else's rights is justified just because my moral sense gets tweaked." You would have to be blind or intentionally self-deluding to completely miss how these things are alike, despite where they may rest on the political spectrum. Anyone who's ever spoken out for any cause they believe in, and had someone from the opposite side of the debate whip out a Bible or bring up "family values" as a reason why you should be punished for believing in your little heresies, loses just about every bit of my respect when they engage in the same sort of "I just think it's WRONG" kind of reasoning. If you don't accept someone else's moral imperative, what makes your moral imperative any more compelling? Just because it's more right? Everyone thinks that, big deal.

To quote the Times article again:

The other external support for morality is a feature of rationality itself: that it cannot depend on the egocentric vantage point of the reasoner. If I appeal to you to do anything that affects me -- to get off my foot, or tell me the time or not run me over with your car -- then I can't do it in a way that privileges my interests over yours (say, retaining my right to run you over with my car) if I want you to take me seriously. Unless I am Galactic Overlord, I have to state my case in a way that would force me to treat you in kind. I can't act as if my interests are special just because I'm me and you're not, any more than I can persuade you that the spot I am standing on is a special place in the universe just because I happen to be standing on it.

Working from this premise, a call to remove sexist imagery from comics, or to get Dave Cheung to stop drawing jailbait*, falls flat on its face. What sort of reciprocal deal is that? "I want you to not publish anything I find offensive! In return, I pledge to also not publish stuff I find offensive."

Yeah, that'll work.

The very first comment in my previous post about Ms. Ester says this:
Do you need porn** to have sexy? Why do you need porn poses in MAINSTREAM comics? Why not get an erotic comic, if you want that? If you never saw Jean Grey's nipple again, would she suddenly cease to be sexy? Was she not sexy in the days when such representations were less common?
But that misses the entire point of both my original post and the larger idea I've been espousing. (Plus: Jean Grey's nipple? What? Where'd that come from?) Does anyone need this or that in comics, or even "mainstream" comics? Immaterial. First off, nobody "needs" comics, period. You may want them badly, you won't die without them. Comics are entertainment, be it sloppy dumb entertainment or cleverly crafted, literate, thoughtful entertainment.

To demand that depictions you find objectionable be removed is basically calling for someone else to give up something in return for nothing but your head-nod of approval. A cheesecake-filled exploitation comic may have no value to you, but if it had no value to anybody, it wouldn't be produced, sold, bought, read.

"But, but, but," you may be saying, "the things I hate are wrong!" Just as someone else may be convinced homosexuality is wrong?

Because I am not gay, I don't really enjoy the idea of gay sex. Two guys making out does not arouse me, in fact, I get a bit of a "ew" reflex when I happen across some example of gay eroticism.

But I tolerate it. I tolerate it because I hold the belief that I don't want anyone else telling me what I can and can not find sexy, therefore I don't have a right to tell anyone else what they can or can't find sexy.

I don't like the Nazi philosophy, but I defend their right to say what they want, because I know full well that many stances I hold are objectionable to some other people, and I don't think they should have the right to suppress what I say, so what could justify me taking a stance to suppress someone else's speech, no matter how vile?

But as evidenced by the comments I got, some people still hold the idea that their likes and dislikes trump those of everyone else.

I don't want what I find sexy (whatever that is) to be taken away from me, so I don't advocate taking what others find sexy (whatever that is) away from them, and I even don't want what Dave Cheung finds sexy (whatever that is) taken away from him, not because I support what he likes, but because it's fair, it's a reciprocal arrangement.

To think otherwise, to demand that others give up what they like while you keep what you like, that's unfair.

You could even call it immoral.

* By the way: I looked it up, and the UK age of consent is 16. So assuming the Chugworth characters are that age or older, by the standards of his country of residence, any sexual activity depicted is legal, or at least as legal as anything happening with fictional imaginary drawn characters can be. "But that's not how it is elsewhere in the world!" you might whine. But isn't that pretty damn politically incorrect, the pretense that the USA or any other country should force its standards upon others?

** Really, if you seriously call what's going on in mainstream comics today "porn", you are a precious sheltered child who isn't grown-up enough to discuss comics with the adults. Oh, was that a bit condescending? Perhaps, but no more so than this "you couldn't possibly need this much sexy in comics! Why won't you let me take it away from you for your own good?" routine.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Why I Do Not Feel Feminist Outrage Over Sexed-Up Wonder Woman, in 60 Words.

Wonder Woman runs around fighting crime in what is essentially a bustier and panties with go-go boots.

I simply cannot conceive of the level of naiveté it would require for someone to think Gloria Steinem picking that character as a symbol of empowered womanhood would somehow make Wonder Woman, so attired, immune from being sexualized by the male gaze.

Monday, February 11, 2008

See, This is Exactly What I've Been Talking About.

Incidentally, Cheung and Cheung's rabid fans: I do not hate sex. I do not hate men or women, except in specific cases. I am neither Christian nor prudish and I don't believe that keeping the lights on is the most exciting thing one can do in the bedroom. I'm just very clear on where an empowered female character who just happens to enjoy sex becomes a juvenile vehicle for fanservice and wanking.

The above comes from the recently revived Your Webcomic is Bad blog. Sadly, I did not voice my suspicion that the Jade Raymond/Dave Cheung controversy would cause Cheung's webcomic Chugworth Academy to be at the top of the list if/when the blog revived; alas, instead of looking prescient, I just seem cranky.

But read that paragraph: After going on at length about how she isn't against sex, oh no no, she wraps it up with one sentence that immediately whips around 180° and condemns what she considers "juvenile". If you like what's in the strip, juvenile, creepy or not, it's your sex she's against. Not "sex", per se, just what she finds distasteful, nevermind if you like it or not.

She is upset that Dave Cheung draws what she finds creepy and unsettling; I get the sense she's also upset that anyone might possibly find any of it arousing, and I can't imagine she does not believe that some people are indeed "wanking" over it, despite her disgust and derision.

This is what I've been grumbling about back here all along. It's all very well to say you don't want to "take the sexy away", or that you aren't "against sex", if you define what you like and approve of as "the sexy", and anything that falls outside of your personal preferences and approval as some filthy perversion that must be expunged.

Strap that jerking knee down: Ms. Ester is free to not like Chugworth or Dave Cheung or any of that stuff, I don't care. Criticize it all you want until the Heat Death of the Universe, knock yourself out. But don't tell me you aren't against "the sexy" when what you really mean is "I'm not against anything I like but anything I dislike is fair game". Admit that you are against someone else's "sexy".

In other words: Just don't bullshit me.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Listening to the Antichrist





In short, it seems the "hive-vagina" is only valid when they want it to be. When they are complaining to get the change they want, ANYONE who's voice can be used to that end is made part of the community. But when outsiders take a harder look at the tactics and actual comments being made, and start in with their thought on how and why they are doing things, suddenly they are just individuals who speak only for themselves.

Whatever hate-fest it is that has marked James Meeley to be treated as the pariah of the feminist fangirl community (and no, I still don't care), it has the unfortunate side-effect of generating the knee-jerk reaction to overlook his words when he does say something worth considering.

Granted, James does have a tendency to write five paragraphs where one would suffice; he also tends to frame his points in a way to paint feminist fangirls as some sort of intentionally self-deceptive cabal/conspiracy, in a tone that skims along the edge of patronizing.*

Still, I think he has a valid point in the above quote. I have seen something of the sort myself when reading about things that garner a large-scale controversy, such as the Mary-Jane statue. The pattern goes something like this: someone is offended by Incident A for Reason X, and makes a statement to that effect. In the ensuing discussion, Reason X is challenged, examined, its faults (if any) brought to light. At the same time, other people may voice their opposition to
Incident A for Reason Y or Reason Z. Some people, seeking to bolster Reason X, will add together all voices for Reasons X, Y, and Z and point to that as "popular" support for opposition to Incident A, regardless of whether the various Reasons are even linked in some way.

If, however, Reason Z is found to be without merit or irrelevant, Supporters of Reason X often try to have it both ways: they can claim "oh, those people aren't part of us" when Reason Z is challenged, but they often won't amend earlier statements that include supporters of Reason Z as evidence of the rightness of Reason X.

If you managed to follow all that, it might then become a bit more understandable why Dirk Deppey would conflate's stances and goals with that of the larger feminist movement. It's a valid criticism of his piece, but at the same time, he's got some good points about how that issue actually relates to comics feminism that, I think, get glossed over in the rush to say, "oh, that Dirk Deppey's just a bitter anti-feminist who doesn't know what he's talking about".

It's a little difficult to discuss feminist issues and comics without running into the counter of "We're not all like that! There's no hive-vagina!" And that's fine as far as it goes, but if I make a statement, and someone responds by saying "but I'm not like that!", that says nothing about whether or not someone else is like that.

And that brings us to:

A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position.

Every so often, you'll see that trotted out as evidence that criticism is unfounded. "That's a strawfeminist, there! I'm not like that!" And if the argument is directed against a single person, or even a group of people who share a common stance, it's a valid defense if the criticism has no basis in reality.

"My opponent believes in sacrificing puppies to Satan! I'm against that!" Okay, that's a bad strawman at work there, if the opponent has no such anti-puppy agenda.

"I would be against anyone who sacrifices puppies to Satan!" This, however, is less of a strawman argument, since no particular person is identified.

If you speak out against a policy or stance in general, it's only a straw man if you can establish that nobody endorses that viewpoint.

If those who criticize feminism are urged to keep the "no-hive-vagina" mantra in mind, then to be fair, to be reciprocal, counter-criticism ought to bear it equally in mind. When someone says, "I think this feminist stance is wrong", should it not be understood that it is those who endorse that stance who are being criticized, and not anyone not linked to that particular hive-vagina?

In other words, if you don't do the thing that is being criticized, the criticism isn't being aimed at you.

When I, for example, express my doubts about feminists who say they "don't want to take the sexy away", any person who seriously, honestly, does not want to remove "the sexy" from comics is exempt from my criticism. (Defining precisely what such phrases mean, that's another process entirely.) When someone who is thus exempt chimes in to contradict my criticism, I'm left with the impression of "closing ranks", a support of other feminists for politics' sake, not for the sake of the ideal being criticized.

To defend a stance you do not necessarily believe in, for the reason that the criticism is coming from "the enemy", that someone is criticizing one aspect of feminism and therefore all of feminism itself, well, that would indicate a solidarity befitting a hive-vagina... wouldn't it...?

* "Patronizing", to be fair, is an attitude shared by many pro-feminist commentators as well. The "Bingo Card", for example, is one of the most condescending constructs I've seen since I began taking notice of the WFA and such.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Indestructable! Indefensible! REPREHENSIBLE!

Sorry, nowadays whenever I hear the word I think of the They Might Be Giants song of the same name.

So tell me: what do you think of police brutality? The Rodney King incident, for example. Or any number of other examples where the police get a little too wrapped up in the subduing of a suspect, where they cross the line from reasonable force to just wailing on some guy 'cuz they're mad at him for resisting or something.

Reprehensible, right? We expect our law enforcement officials to act in a calm, efficient manner at all times, even the most stressful. It's a lot to ask for, but that's the job, it's an awesome responsibility, and we don't want people beat to death or shot just because they gave some stressed-out officer a little lip at the wrong moment.

Dress a guy up in some spandex, though, maybe a cape, and we're willing to forgive him his little violent tantrums. Give him hair flares and knives coming out of his arm, and heck, we'll applaud when he kills a few people.

Granted, in superhero comics the bad guys are normally pretty clearly labeled as Bad Guys who deserve to get the living crap kicked out of them. Nobody feels too sorry for the Joker, despite whatever sob story he may or may not have for an origin.

Still, step back and think about what would really happen if costumed heroes were taking the law into their own hands in the real world. Oh, the civil rights abuses alone...

And it might give kids ideas. Some kid might think strapping on a mask, tracking down that bully who picked on him, and beating him to pulp with a baseball bat is a virtuous path to take after reading the amazing adventures of Revenge-Man.

Tell me now: in the real world, which is worse? Beating the crap out of someone, or sexism? Leaving aside the issue of whether sexism can lead one to beat the crap out of someone else, can we agree that between sexism and violence, violence is the greater of two evils?

If everything I have said is true, then why would anyone fixate on eradicating sexism from comics before they had been cleansed of violence? Surely, the latter is a greater threat to society, if we believe that the content of a comic book leads the youngins down the slippery slope to a life of crime.

Or phrased another way: If everything I have said is true, why do some people excuse violence but not sexism?


For some reason, the Oscars recently crossed my sight. More specifically, the hordes of celebrities that attended the event. I was thinking to myself (and now I'm repeating the thought to you) that like superhero comics, one could say there's a sexist mode of dress at work there. Most men are dressed in suits and tuxes, most of their body covered, while many women parade around in very revealing gowns, some of which are structurally unsound to the point of needing double-sided tape to keep the naughty bits from being inadvertently exposed. Even more demure gowns expose much skin and cleavage, compared to how much skin men have exposed. Why? Well, to look attractive and glamorous, by the standards of today's western society.

You can certainly say that it is sexist, if you like, but in that light, isn't it reasonable to speculate that if superheroes did exist in real life, they might very well dress as they do in the comics, with women dressing in a more sexually pronounced fashion?

After all, as far as function goes, a cape and cowl are just as ridiculous as a boob window. A real-life Batman would be an idiot if he wore anything other than Kevlar body armor and a riot helmet. Unless you're invulnerable like Superman, most superhero costuming of either gender is pretty damn impractical.

Which leaves "because it looks awesome cool!"* as the only reason any of them dress like that. You dress to be noticed more than anything else. And thus, superheroines dressing in immodest fashion would be sexist, but not more so than real life itself.

*standards for "awesome cool" being completely subjective, of course.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Conundrum to Adventure

As I write this, When Fangirls Attack's last link-list is dated Jan. 30. And a scanning of the titles reveals little to no commentary on Countdown to Adventure issue #6. Which interests me, since I thought there'd be more of a reaction. In fact, the only commentary I saw, I saw just by clicking a link sort of at random.

Shelly mentions the comic, almost in passing, in a post that is mainly about action figures, and here is her review, in toto:

Nice interactions here. Also, it's the issue where the women take center stage. Alanna saves her hubby and kicks ass. Kory and Ellen sorta reach an understanding and go rescue Buddy, with an assist from Alanna and Adam who make a timely arrival. There's just something that warms my heart about seeing two male heroes rescued from certain death by their wives. Good stuff here. I didn't read the Forerunner story.
It's the Forerunner story, however, that has what I think is a fairly problematic storyline. So SPOILER ALERT, for those who care, because that's what we're talking about today.

And let me preface by saying that I've read neither 52 nor Countdown to Final Crisis, so be understanding if any gaps in my knowledge reveal themselves.

According to CtA, Forerunner is of a race of super-powerful humanoids who came to inhabit Earth after a solar-system-wide war destroyed Earth's human population (in another alternate Earth, natch). Earth became some sort of neutral combat arena where aliens would go to fight over their differences while leaving their homes intact, and a lot of aliens were abandoned on the planet. This mixed-bag of castoffs began to interbreed, resulting in the Forerunner race, which practices both a survival-of-the-strongest warrior philosophy and an intense eugenics-oriented breeding theory.

So. At first employed by the Monitors, she's recruited by Monarch after he reveals that her race has been wiped out by the Monitors, who fear their power, or whatever. She spends some time gathering heroes from alternate worlds to join Monarch's army, but after expressing some doubts about his intentions, he dismisses her, by dropping her off into outer space. Conveniently rescued by a passing ship, she winds up on board a pirate vessel, having killed the captain, as well as most of the crew (by challenging the crew to a battle for the captain's position, to take place in a cargo bay, which she opens into space when all her challengers are inside).

That brings you mostly up to speed for issue #6, wherein the pirate vessel encounters a clutch of Thanagarian ships, looking to bring the former pirate to justice. In an attempt to get them to leave the ship in her possession, Forerunner challenges the Thanagarian leader and his men to hand-to-hand combat.

She kicks their butts, and claims the Thanagarian as her own, taking him back to the pirate ship. Using their code of honor against them, she persuades the others to let the ship go. She has her captive drugged to make him more compliant, then she drags him to her quarters, where she announces her intent to have sex with him (among other things, his performance in battle marks him as decent breeding stock). Initially resistant, he eventually consents, sort of ("I'd be a fool to refuse", he says).

Afterwards, she maintains her emotional distance, and throws out the idea that maybe a couple of the surviving female crew might be called to have their own way with him. She even characterizes his protests as well as his statements that they "connected" as "sensitive".

Assuming that you have not read this comic before, the reaction you are having right now to that synopsis will, I think, say something about your perspective on things. Such as, if you are a feminist, what sort of feminist are you?

Do you feel that the content in comics today is tolerable in general, but just wish there were more equal time portraying genders in various situations? Then this should be great for you. Forerunner acts like many a womanizing, conquesting barbarian. This scene could have come out of a Conan story, only with genders reversed, and, ah, in space.

Do you think it's okay to depict a woman dominating a man like this, but not okay when it's a man dominating a woman? Perhaps you are sexist.

Do you consider treating a person of the other gender as a "prize" or as a possession that can be traded with your pals, regardless of gender, to be wrong? Well, then, you may not find this to be so great. But you may be reacting to the lurid nature of the story more than any gender issues: in other words, it's the sex, not the sexism.

I should point out that, at least in this one comic, Forerunner's amoral stance has been fairly consistent, so this isn't a case of "oh, she would never do something like that!"

I dunno, I'm curious. Good? Bad? Indifferent?