Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Empowering Secret

I meant to write this a while ago, but, y'know... stuff.

Since I delayed, I no longer can find (well, not with just the energy I care to spare) the WFA-linked blog post where someone idly wondered why there weren't more feminist comments regarding Adam Warren's series, Empowered.

As someone who's read not only Empowered, but a lot of Warren's other work, I may be able to provide an answer, of sorts.

Part of the reason, as has been pointed out elsewhere, is that while Empowered does indeed trade in cheesecake and bondage, which you think might tweak a bunch of the fangirl feminists, the characters are complex, multi-layered, and engaging, even when they're clad in skintight spandex and trussed up in rope. Titillating, sure, but that's not the only thing going for the story. Therefore, you could surmise that whatever faults a feminist might find with the series would be mitigated by the feminist-positive elements.

[Depending, of course, on the feminist, no hive mind, your mileage may vary, etc. I remember reading an exchange between him and a visitor to his DeviantArt page who was absolutely convinced that a woman who had captured Emp in the first book had finger-raped her; despite Warren's claims that no such thing had taken place, the gal leaving comments rejected the direct word of the author and artist to insist that it had happened and that Emp's proper reaction would be to become a shattered wreck after the incident. Disclaimer: It's been a while, I may have some of the exact details wrong. Still, I think the gist is right.]

Now, I confess this is pure speculation on my part, but I submit to anyone bothering to read this far that the other main reason that Empowered hasn't been causing more fuss is that, either consciously or unconsciously, comics feminists realize that what they say and think probably isn't going to have any effect at all on the way Adam Warren makes his comics in the future. Which doesn't mean I think Warren is sitting around going "screw you, feminists!" as he draws Empowered, but that he's secure enough in his own mind that appeasing feminists or any other group would rank low on his list of priorities.

He's not Marvel or DC, after all. You can't say he's making comics that kids might read, because they're pretty clearly aimed at adults. His publisher Dark Horse is not likely to cave in under pressure, as they're the ones making an effort to reprint John Norman's Gor novels (how's that going, I wonder? Haven't heard much lately). A lot of the arguments you might use to try and sway the mainstream publishers lose their bite in his case. Mostly what you have left, then, is the idea that drawing bondage and objectifying cheesecake is morally wrong on the face of it, and I don't think Warren shares that view.

Warren, it should be noted, didn't start drawing cheesecake and bondage with Empowered. The series itself, he claims, arose when he was doing those themes in commissioned artwork, so that's a sign he has no moral compunction against that kind of material. That, and the fact that he's worked it in to a number of his other projects, like The Dirty Pair books and Gen13.

Years ago I saw Jon Stewart on one of the late night talk shows (Leno or Letterman , I can't remember), and the topic of George W. Bush's then-fresh search for Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq came up. To paraphrase Stewart's statement:

"Oh, I don't think Bush'll be embarrassed if no WMDs are found. Someone'll say, 'Sir, there's no WMDs in Iraq, never were', and he'll go, 'Huh. How about that," and go back to whatever he was doing..."

I could see it, if someone was raging at Adam Warren, complaining about his comics. "This is sexist!"

"Huh. How about that."

It's difficult to shame someone into changing when they don't feel the shame you think they should.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Standards and Practices


It's all relative, isn't it?

After all, we can debate about which sub-section of humanity has it better or worse than others, but if you're reading this, you have access to technology out of the reach of quite a few folks, putting you a bit above them, privilege-wise. The odds are your education is a bit above the curve, too, compared to the rest of the world.

We're facing food and energy crunches in the world for a variety of reasons, one of the more significant being that China and India are reaching the point where a lot of their people are aware of better conditions elsewhere in the world and they'd kinda like to have some measure of the largess we in the Western world enjoy (thus demanding and consuming more food and fuel). But again, it's all relative, since both India and China have produced wealthy people, and there are people in the USA who are desperately impoverished.

When, though, will it be enough?

I'm not what the average US citizen would call "rich", probably not really even "middle class", but I do have a job that keeps me clothed, fed, housed, and bolted up to them Intartubes. Which puts me ahead of a lot of the world's folks, but, y'know, I'd still like more. Would it be enough if I was as rich as, say, Bill Gates? He's got acres of money, enough to run all sorts of philanthropic organizations (interesting paradox about Mr. Gates: often held up as the embodiment of evil capitalism and big business, but if you actually compare how much he's sunk into "doing good works" with the benefits created by those thought of as saints, Gates comes in surprisingly strong).

I'd like to think that if I had even a hundredth, a thousandth, of Bill Gate's money, I'd be satisfied. Maybe. On the other hand, once you have that kind of money, possibilities open up. As I sit here I can't even fathom what it must be like to run a corporate empire, but if I was running a corporate empire, I might well be looking beyond that to what else I could do. So just maybe, even if I were a multi-millionaire I'd be looking to get more wealth. And for the rest of the world's poor, at what point does anyone say (to themselves, or to others, either way), "that's all, you've got enough now", and expect them to say "oh, hey, you're right, I'll stop trying to get more for me and mine"?


How much is enough to forgive slavery? Not forget it, mind you, and not to ignore ongoing racism, but when you boil down the idea of reparations, is there anything more to it than "You, Group A, did Group B a wrong, and in order to make it right, you should compensate group B, thereby assuaging Group B's hurt feelings and Group A's guilt trip [if any])"? Or, simplified further, "Pay me this much and we'll call it even."

At first blush, it might seem like an okay idea, but then you look closer at it. Who do we include in reparations? Every African-American? Well, black people didn't stop coming into this country after slavery was ended, and though they may be subject to racism and other problems, it's kind of hard to say someone whose parents, say, came over from Lagos in 1975 deserves compensation for American slavery. So there's sorting that out. And then some might ask how many generations down the line deserve compensation and to what degree. It's a bit easier to justify paying a man bearing whip-scars, but what about his great-grandkids? How much time has to go by before the descendants of victims are expected to handle their own lives themselves and leave past events in the past? (Jerusalem, Northern Ireland, these are not encouraging examples.)

Understand, I'm not saying whether it's right or wrong, just pointing out that it's complicated enough an issue already, and on top of that, the most important question is: how much is enough?

Is there any price sufficient enough for black people to say, "okay, fine, as of now the slavery thing is done and settled, and let's all get on with our lives"? Can you even put a real dollar amount on that?

There's the paradox, though. If you can't settle on a dollar amount, what's the point of reparations if everyone is going to be just as angry as they were before reparations are made? And if you can name a figure, does it truly compensate for the injustice felt?

Or, are reparations meant to be a stand-in for a larger racial issue? "For being a bunch of racists, Group A owes Group B this much money." Except not everyone can be made to accept the idea that you should be compensated in a monetary fashion just because some other guy was an asshole to you.


Believe it or not, I've been pondering this kind of stuff ever since I discovered The Woman Who Knows Joss Whedon Rapes His Wife. (Well, I always ponder this kind of stuff, so let's just say it's been a little more often than usual.) Yeah, by the date of the original post it's old news, sure. It was brought to my attention when I read a post by Greg Rucka featuring a bit of hate mail he got where the writer assumed Mr. Rucka was actually "Ms. Rucka", and this Whedon critique was mentioned in the comments. If I haven't seen it, it's new to me.

Anyway, I kept wondering about what kind of standards you'd have to have to come to the conclusions she outlines, and how I, at least, would find it to be a miserable existence if I had to hate everything I ever read that didn't fit such narrow, unforgiving standards.

I mean, look: she takes Whedon to task for having the ship's second-in-command, a woman, follow the orders of the ship's captain, a man, and addressing him as "sir". Which, yes, puts a woman in a somewhat subservient position to a man, but what the hell? In a hierarchal command structure, someone is always going to be the person in charge, because running a ship ain't communism. I don't know of many (any) sailing vessels, space or otherwise, that are run by a committee of equals, so the only way this ship's crewing could have met with approval by Madame I Know Joss Whedon Rapes His Wife is if the captain was a woman. You could speculate that any man in the crew with any authority over any woman would have been unacceptable, so how could you make that work? A ship with an amazon command structure lording it over a stock of obedient drone-slaves?

You may snort in derision, roll your eyes, but it's no more outlandish a suggestion than the reasoning behind Joss Whedon Raping His Wife. (I wonder if that phrase shows up much on Google searches.) To wit: Women are a disadvantaged gender, there is a constant pressure on all women to submit to the terms of male society, and that includes sexual relations. Thus, any time a woman has sex with a man, even if she seems to be doing it voluntarily, that pressure is a coercive factor that makes the sex rape. (This part is mentioned mostly in the comments, you'll have to do your own wading to find the particular threads.)

Do I have that right? Do I comprehend the argument correctly?

If so, then this is the fabled "all hetero sex is rape" viewpoint that I've been told by other sources doesn't really exist, that Andrea Dworkin didn't actually espouse, that's supposedly been blown out of proportion by feminist critics. And yet, here it is being used as a cornerstone of a critical media discussion, by someone who seems to fit the profile of the "man-hating lesbian feminist" stereotype that's supposedly a myth as well.

What good points might be found in the critique are overshadowed by a hypersensitivity to any thing at all which gives a man any advantage over any woman, and there's the rub. How could you write anything that meets those stiff requirements without it also becoming unrealistic or forced in some other way? Is it true equality being sought here, where people are treated without regard to gender, or is it just flipping things over into inequality the other way, where women become the flawless rulers of everything?

It begs the question: how much is enough? Not "how much do you want", because everyone always wants more and better, but what is sufficient? When does what you want tip over from "having it as good as the person you stand next to" into "making your lot better at the cost of others"? These are hard questions to answer, since it's all linked together. Pull here, and it pushes there. To raise one thing, you may have to lower another. Can there be balance? Is balance even what people want?

Eh, nevermind me, just thinkin' out loud.