Thursday, August 28, 2008

Just Don't Care

I don't find your questions difficult to answer because I believe there is a very, very clear line between objectification and sexuality. I can't see how this line can possibly be so blurry to some. Objectification shows a lack of respect while sexy does not (to men as well, because it treats you like you are all big throbbing penis's and nothing else). So, no one would really lose out unless they would prefer to view women as sexualised objects rather than sexy women.

--An anonymous commenter who has read Adam Warren's Empowered


What's kinda interesting about this exchange between us is that it practically encapsulates several of my wordiest blog posts in a comparatively small number of paragraphs. But the above quote treads near something that I've probably said before, something others probably have said before, and if nobody has said it, they should. So if you have heard this before, well, you'll be hearing it again.

Now, maybe this is because I'm me, and not the stereotypical image of the loser obsessive comics geek, but: I don't get upset about objectifying depictions of my gender. I just don't.

Part of this, I'm sure, is because of the reasonings I make regarding fantasy and objectifications and all that, but beyond rational thinking, there is no innate, gut-level twinge for me if I should think about some woman looking at, say, yaoi porn. There is no inner response that says "how degrading!" or "that woman must not respect men... or me!"

The 12-year-old in me may think how cool it would be to be Batman or Superman, but nothing done to those characters in some negative fashion, either in canon or the spooky wilds of fanworks, presents itself as an affront to me.

Am I alone in this?

Certainly fanboys can throw fits over issues, like whether Spider-Man is a clone or what color the Hulk should be. Maybe I don't look in the right places, but I don't see a lot of male outcry against women objectifying them, which, true, could be because women are somehow less likely to objectify men in that way... but it could also be because that for the most part men just really don't give a damn about it in the way some women seem to.

I mention this because more than once I've seen (or been a part of) some debate where someone tries to make a point by saying "well, you wouldn't like it if such-and-so was done to YOU, would you now?" And if the action in question was something like getting beaten by police or having my significant other slap me around a bit, well, no, I probably wouldn't like it at all. Such an argument only works, however, when there is shared ground, and so anyone trying to plead for greater reverence for, say, the character of Wonder Woman, will fail if they try to say "but you wouldn't like it if they put Superman in a thong!!"

Big whoop. Hey, if it'd get people to relax about Wonder Woman's sacred buttcheeks for a while, I'd happily endorse Clark Kent running around in nothing but a cape and string-pouch.

I've seen cartoons in response to certain blogstorms. There's an image of Spiderman in a thong, mimicking the Mary-Jane statue. I think it was Lea Hernandez who altered a Flash cover to make an assault on him by a tentacled monster look more amorous than stressful, in response to the Heroes for Hire cover. And when I saw those images, I also saw comments along the lines of "That'll show those fanboys! Now they'll know what it's like!"

Only... I haven't seen any indication that the fanboys did anything but say something like "eh, man-ass" and hit the BACK button on their browsers. (Certainly, dear reader, if you're aware of fanboys losing their minds over these things, do share links.) Any response there was, was far less visible by comparison, not nearly as energetic.

I don't think fanboys will ever "know what it's like", because I believe that for most they perceive this sort of thing in a fundamentally different way. Even the flap over Alex Ross painting "packages" on superheroes seemed less about "oh gosh that reduces my gender to nothing but a sexual organ" than a quasi-homophobic (well, in some cases blatantly homophobic) "ew, I don't wanna hafta look at some other guy's junk!"

Personally, I didn't even care about that. So the idea that somehow, somewhere, women might be looking at pictures of men and thinking of them as nothing more than hot throbbing chunks of man-meat distresses me not in the least. I certainly don't see it as a personal affront to me, or even to the male gender.

So remember that, please, if you feel you want to try to one-up me with "well, if it happened to you", because depending on what exactly you mean, there's a chance that I just do not care at all.

8 comments:

Andre said...

I have always wondered why men tend not to care as much about this sort of thing.
My wife thinks that maybe its about men not always being sex objects. Someone looks at you like manmeat and as you go back up to your job you might even grin about it.

On the other hand you grow up being told men only want one thing and could care less about your skills or thoughts and I bet someone might be less impressed over a catcall then I would be.

Anon, A Mouse said...

The thing is, Andre:

I can see being offended by a catcall. If random strangers yelled out sexually suggestive things directly TO ME, I probably wouldn't care for it all that much.

But I have never EVER seen anything in popular culture, comics or otherwise, that made me feel as if a fictional representation was a direct attack on me or my gender.

And yet, there are some women who so identify with fictional characters that if something bad or unflattering happens to Wonder Woman (or whoever), it is an offense to all real women, as well as a personal affront.

It's a mindset I can't really fathom, and therefore the "if it happened to you" argument falls flat on its face in a case like that...

Andre said...

Yah I kinda know what you mean. My wifes mother has a calender of nekked men on the fridge. Out side of afew jokes about seeing dick when I go to get a glass of milk I see nothing wrong with it and could not see getting offended.

I doubt many men do "get offended" over this kinda thing really.
But for me the real Q is why.

As for catcalls I only ever seem to get them from other men who are driving to fast to see anything other then my long hair.:sad: I don't think I would mind so much myself if a girl did it to me.

Saranga said...

Interesting post and food for thought..I always like reading other people's views on this stuff. I woudl give youa full thought out response but I'm on my lunch break. Another time, dear soul!

Genevieve said...

(Sorry for the long post)

I think for a lot of women it can stem from not having or not having had real or fictional characters to look up to/identify as that weren't reduced to their physical gender in some way. For female characters this tends to draw from the actual physical body, and is usually overtly sexual.

I can see how this is a problem for a lot of women and girls who when they were younger didn't have, say, Gwen Tennyson from Ben Ten as a cartoon character to look up to and want to be like. As an adult whose formative years and self-identity were not shaped by Wonder Woman, I have no emotional ties to the character, and don't care what she dresses like. I also can acknowledge, yes, her outfit is a swimsuit/lingerie thing, and is impractical. But it's a cartoon/comic/TV show, not real.

I can also see how it's seen as a problem by women who are reading comic books for some of the same reason men are, which is to escape from reality for a while. Being reminded of very real and daily-encountered oft-battled problems during your me-time is very frustrating. And for the adult readers looking for a character who they can identify with and as and escape through, having the character be depicted in an unrealistic or out-of-character way can be jarring and infuriating. Not to mention overall frustration due to weak writing or trashy art, which really happens to everybody who deals with any fictional media and is a risk everyone who buys a comic without looking inside first takes, it more often happens with female characters, often a weak point with mainstream comic writers and artists.

I'm more irritated/offended when the characterization is a neat stereotype or caricature of gender roles/class roles/race/etc. than by a character being sexed up, unless sexual violence or something is implied, or the plot suffers for it.

The response to women's complaints is also usually that comics isn't meant for them, it's a boy's club, etc., which is irritating and offensive moreso than the material itself.

But that's just my 2c.

Anon, A Mouse said...

"The response to women's complaints is also usually that comics isn't meant for them, it's a boy's club, etc., which is irritating and offensive moreso than the material itself."

I would be interested in exploring WHY that would be irritating and offensive.

Is it because it's used as an excuse to dismiss women's complaints, or is it because it actually IS a boy's club...?

To clarify: I wouldn't say that Comics, as in all comics everywhere, is a "boy's club". However, you can make the case that mainstream superhero comics are currently being produced mostly by and for men. Is it unreasonable to call that a "boy's club"?

As an example, what if I started buying Cosmopolitan, and didn't like the women-oriented perspective? I could protest to the editors, but somehow I doubt that Cosmo is going to tailor its output to be more man-readable. Certainly they won't care if I spend my money on a few issues, but they sell mostly to women, and that's understood, even if the magazine doesn't say outright "hey, this mag's for women" on the cover.

Though there are attempts to reach women with superhero comics, for the most part they are made by men, for men.

The difference between, say, JLA and Cosmo is the conceit that somehow JLA is intended equally for both sexes, and therefore if there is something in the comic that doesn't appeal to women, that should be corrected.

Now, to me, this is a decision I feel should be mostly in the hands of the creators and publishers. If they want to make feminist-friendly comics, that's their call. And I certainly don't have too much of a problem if women want to request more superhero comics suited to their wishes, or even request that existing comics be more female-friendly.

But, there's a lot of rhetoric that DEMANDS such change, that paints it as a moral imperative, and that's where I start to disagree.

Some may say that the superhero characters are icons and symbols of this or that, and therefore should be handled in certain ways, but I don't agree. They are intellectual properties, the publishers are producing their adventures in a certain way, which currently means "aimed mostly at men".

This is what is meant (by me, at least) as a "boy's club": not that girls are actively forbidden to take part in superhero comics, but, like my Cosmo example above, they have a specific audience for the most part and whether women also buy the comics is incidental.

Whether this is good or right is an entirely different question, but then, Cosmo exists with no demand for gender fairness.

Genevieve said...

The "boy's club" dismissal is more considered irritating and offensive in that since women can/do represent a portion of the buying force or audience for a particular market, whether they are the target market or not, these women who are upset feel like they are being told by the people they are paying that their opinions don't matter. This largely does have to do with the fact that women do not represent a significant portion of the consumer market for superhero comics, in the same way that a lot of manga (not all of it, though) being published in the US is either targeted specifically to women/girls or to both genders.

Any smaller portion of a market doesn't like to be told that because of the laws of commerce, the market that has the most growth potential, in this case men, is going to be the market catered to before the smaller market's interests unless the small market ponies up and becomes a more substantial buying force. A lot of women are also upset by being told to "make their own" comics, because it's a dismissive attitude toward their requests. Also, (from what I've heard) it is difficult for women to break into the comics industry in America, into a position where they would have some control in what would be made and published (editor, writer, penciler). Even if a woman/women were to obtain those positions, they would still, in effect, be "forced" to produce the same kind of products to cater to (largely white) male escapism because of basic supply and demand.

The other thing that a lot of women find frustrating is that there is not really an equivalent alternative to western superhero comics that would be "theirs", or targeted solely or mostly to women. (At least not without the traditional "girly" plot elements, mostly romance.) Personally, if I'm reading a superhero comic, that's not what I'm looking for. My guess is that the women who buy and are genuinely interested in superhero comics agree with that, and would just prefer a tweaking of the existing market to be less sexually charged rather than an overhaul or reinvention of it.

The message a lot of women take away from these comics is that it is being implied that they are not as good/smart/strong as men in female characterizations, and that women aren't being equally represented in an appropriate manner. I blame this on bad writing more than anything, because there are comics that give this impression. If, say, GQ ran an article implying how dumb women are, and I was a reader of GQ and sent in a letter saying how and why I was offended by that article and explained that as a customer I felt insulted, maybe something would get changed. It would be more likely that something would be changed if what I was saying was both true and potentially beneficial to the "main" readers (men) as well as me, and if I represented an audience with a lot of potential to subscribe. If I was offended by something in National Geographic, which is targeted to both genders, then I'd be even more likely to get a spot in the "letters to the editor" section of the mag, or even if I wrote in to a bodybuilding magazine saying I was part of a potentially large buying force if some little things were changed to be more woman-friendly, I could maybe get something done. If no changes were made, I'd take my money elsewhere.

This only works if there is an elsewhere to go to. If National Geographic suddenly became hyper-misogynistic, the only place I could really think to go for the same/similar information would be online, because it's really the industry standard for nature/history/environmental news, pictures, and articles. Eventually, if I was part of a large enough group that was interested, I'm sure that an alternative would be made; the problem for a lot of women is that women aren't a very large superhero-comic-consuming group.

And, say, if I read Playboy, or a porn magazine, and wrote in that I was offended by all their naked ladies and the suggestion that the women were there only to please men, that's a totally different story again. Some comics do function solely as a mechanism for drawing women in various stages of undress, just like some magazines, books, and movies do. (Age-appropriateness and warnings that make this known before buying said comics are totally different and separate cans of worms, unrelated to availability of alternate material.) Another good point is that, yes, Cosmo is for women and by women; Cosmo is also pretty stupid. To go back to writing and art quality again, it's more that women want a product that is high quality all around, not just high quality when it comes to male characterization and slacking on the female characters. This is more a demand for higher standards of quality and for the standards to be the same for everything in the industry.

Otherwise I agree completely with your first post and your response; if I am paying for a product which I feel is projecting a message that I find disrespectful to me, personally, whether it's because it offends my sensibilities, my identity as a member of a group, or my intelligence explicitly or implicitly (or even unintentionally by requiring a massive suspension of disbelief to make up for poor quality), I probably will stop buying it. For example, I used to read the Marvel comic "Runaways". Eventually the plot went way downhill for a few different reasons and I stopped buying it. The "Harry Potter" books were marketed to all age groups and genders, and did have potential-- until it didn't anymore. I also know better than to demand that my interests be attended to by someone other than me; if I want a change in a particular field, I need to take care of that myself, whether by making the change, making a competing product, or getting what I want from a different field entirely.

James Meeley said...

The "boy's club" dismissal is more considered irritating and offensive in that since women can/do represent a portion of the buying force or audience for a particular market, whether they are the target market or not, these women who are upset feel like they are being told by the people they are paying that their opinions don't matter.

It isn't that their opinions don't matter, but that the opinions of the customer base that is paying the bills matters more. What some of these feminist-types forget (or selectively ignore) is that comics today (especially the mainstream superhero one) are a business first and entertainment/creative second.

If the women who complain about female character portrayals in superhero comics from Marvel and DC know they are a minority (within a minority of a minority), with little in the way of economic power to persuade the companies to do what they want, then those companies are not going to heed them very much.

It also doesn't help that some books they put out, which are geared more like women readers say they want (such as Birds of Prey and Manhunter from DC, or Amazing Spider-Girl or Anita Blake from Marvel) rarely ever sell very well. You might argue points of qulaity, but the fact is these are efforts to appeal to that section of the readership and largely they fail to produce the compnay profit. What they will take from that, isn't that the work is poor, but that this part of the readership is unwilling or uninterested in supporting works aimed at them, like their male counterparts do.

A lot of women are also upset by being told to "make their own" comics, because it's a dismissive attitude toward their requests. Also, (from what I've heard) it is difficult for women to break into the comics industry in America, into a position where they would have some control in what would be made and published (editor, writer, penciler).

Actually, it is difficult for ANYONE to break into the industry. Esopecially if your goal is to work for the mainstream superhero publishers (where the competition is very fierce).

Of course, "make the comics" is not an insult (despite how some women wish to take it), nor does it mean that they must "pimp" themselves out to the mainstream superhero publishers.

If those companies have shown they are unwilling or unable to address their market, "make the comics" tells women to start their own comic company, with materials they feel will address this part of the marketplace. Again, it will not be easy, but it is not impossible, either. There are quite a few talented women within the industry already. I imagine some of them might be interested in a company that was going to target this part of the market.

Of course, I doubt that the female readers who complain so strongly will ever have the gumption to do such a thing. Not just because it IS difficult, but because it doesn't address the other part of the equasion to all their rightous fury. That of their own overblown sense of fan entitlment to characters and publishers they do not own. They don't want a series LIKE Wonder Woman or Ms. Marvel from a new publisher. they want those tiles done the way they say. Even if that goes against the wishes of the company, creators and male marketplace who are the ones paying for the book to even exist. And that is all fan entitlment is.

The other thing that a lot of women find frustrating is that there is not really an equivalent alternative to western superhero comics that would be "theirs", or targeted solely or mostly to women. (At least not without the traditional "girly" plot elements, mostly romance.)

This is a moot and/or bogus point, because even if such an animal existed, they would not support it. There have been other companies (outside of the Big Two) who have tried to court these women, with characters and stories done more in a fashion they would like. Most, if not all, of those books and companies have floundered. The female readership has failed to support them, time and time again.

As I said, this goes back to the overblown sense of fan entitlement they hold for creations and characters they do not own and have no conrtol over how they are produced BY the rightful owners.

So long as they demand that their suggestion only be implented on specific characters and series, they will never get what they want.

To use an example, imagine if they demanded GQ be made more "female friendly" of a publication. Even if a new mag came along that would fit that bill (like a mag called "Modern Miss"), they would not support that magazine and instead keep demanding GQ be done that way. Does that make any kind of sense to you? It sure doesn't to me. But this is what comic publishers are facing. And when the choice comes to bend to the whims of the much smaller female reader market and risk upsetting the males one paying the bills, they will easily turn a deaf ear to the women, because staying in business matters more than making them happier. A simple busines equasion.

If, say, GQ ran an article implying how dumb women are, and I was a reader of GQ and sent in a letter saying how and why I was offended by that article and explained that as a customer I felt insulted, maybe something would get changed. It would be more likely that something would be changed if what I was saying was both true and potentially beneficial to the "main" readers (men) as well as me, and if I represented an audience with a lot of potential to subscribe.

Except GQ running a "how stupid women are" feature, is talking about REAL women to REAL men. It is making a judgment of reality, that will likely affect it.

Superhero comics are FANTASY. Most, if not all, of the people reading them know that. I doubt hardly anyone would consult All-Star Batman for information on how to pickup a women for a date. They might from GQ, though. And that makes all the difference.

These female readers need to stop viewing these fantasies as the male desire to see it reality. It isn't. It is an escape from reality. One that is written by men, for men, to men. Nothing more. Believe me, as a male, I can tell you, no guy thinks less of a women, because they read it in a superhero comic. The cause of that goes a hell of a lot deeper. And if someone whould use one as proof their feelings are right, then that shows you they would use ANYTHING to support their twisted views. And people like that don't get taken very seriously.

Any smaller portion of a market doesn't like to be told that because of the laws of commerce, the market that has the most growth potential, in this case men, is going to be the market catered to before the smaller market's interests unless the small market ponies up and becomes a more substantial buying force.

But that is the reality of the situation. Not liking it, or trying to ignore it, isn't going to make it change. Neither is constantly complaining you don't like it, or don't want to hear it.

If National Geographic suddenly became hyper-misogynistic, the only place I could really think to go for the same/similar information would be online, because it's really the industry standard for nature/history/environmental news, pictures, and articles. Eventually, if I was part of a large enough group that was interested, I'm sure that an alternative would be made; the problem for a lot of women is that women aren't a very large superhero-comic-consuming group.

Then, it seems to me, the solution isn't to constantly complain about how certain publishers are catering to certain market other than their's. The anwser would seem to be for them to help make their part of the market bigger. So, perhaps if they would support some of the offerings of other publishers who are willingly trying to reach this market, as well as introduce non-reading females to those works, they could grow their own market base.

And if there is one thing I know about business, it is when someone does something others haven't been able to do (in this case, a new company appealing to the female superhero market), others will rush to copy or emulate what they did, to get a piece of that pie. If the female superhero readers really want some change, this is what should be done to start bringing it about. Sadly, I doubt they will, because they are too set in their ways and find complaining much easier and more empowering (i.e. the privilege of victimhood phenomea).

To go back to writing and art quality again, it's more that women want a product that is high quality all around, not just high quality when it comes to male characterization and slacking on the female characters.

If this were true, sales on Manhunter and Amazing Spider-Girl would be among those companies highest. If this were true so many companies who made strong effort to court this part of the market would not have crashed and burned.

No, I'm sorry, it isn't just high quality they want. It's high quality ON SPECIFIC CHARACTERS AND TITLES that they want. But they haven't the economic force to make it happen. So, rather then work to build that, they form little online clubs and blogverses and complain until they are red in the face. Because it is easier and lets them feel self-righteously validated (i.e. the privilege of victimhood) when they spew their bile and hatespeech.

This is more a demand for higher standards of quality and for the standards to be the same for everything in the industry.

This is the same kind of thinking that is RUINING a lot of other things, like school sports. Because males are much more often ones to be interested in sports activities than girls, more school sports clubs will be a result. But the "equality police" say that isn't fair. You have to have just as many girls sports clubs, even if the girls aren't interested in them. And if you can fill enough of them to equal what the boys have, then you must cut the boys clubs to make things "even." Despite this takes things away from the boys who are interested in them. Equality must come first.

The market takes care of this itself. If there are more superhero books aimed towards male readers, that is because that is what the market demands. The much smaller female market needs to stop demanding everything be 50/50, when they only make up 10% of the marketplace. Because they are such a small part of the superhero market, they will never have as many titles geared towards them. It is a simple reality of business and the marketplace.

I also know better than to demand that my interests be attended to by someone other than me; if I want a change in a particular field, I need to take care of that myself, whether by making the change, making a competing product, or getting what I want from a different field entirely.

That is a very reasoned and rational response to the situation. I'm glad you said that. I only wish more were as accepting of the realities of the marketplace as you seem to be. It would save everyone a lot of wasted time and hurt feelings.