11/21/2008

*Insert Internet Rape Joke Here*


This link went up today on Journalista concerning the question of just how negatively women are portrayed in comic books. It takes it's stance against this article from Stuff Geeks Love, claiming that one of those things is "strong female characters who actually aren't."

The first thing that irked me about the Stuff Geeks Love article is the accompanying photo of a horde of Princess Leias at some convention posing together next to a Jabba the Hutt with the caption "Strong, empowered women posing for men." I don't think anyone who wants to spend their free time dressing up like a fictional character gets a sense that they are being "empowered" by it. I think... well, I don't really know what they think, but to suggest that they're all being duped into displaying their bodies for creepy, leering fanboys is misleading. They're probably fully aware of doing that, and eating it up, obviously.

The rest of the article talks about how various other prominent female characters in science fiction are made weaker due to their gender, or have their gender completely ignored so that these issues don't come up. One of their examples for this "wo-man" syndrome is Scully from the X-Files, which is the only example of this I am somewhat familiar with. I'm sorry if I've taken one too many Women's Studies classes at a liberal arts college (and that would be one) but if you're going to argue that stereotypical "feminine" attributes are negative in a character, and the absence of them undermines her gender in a negative way, what are you looking for as a medium? I can see the problem in that sort of thing in intentionally overly dude-like female characters, but Scully? Isn't she awesome because she doesn't have to worry about breaking a heel while running from bigfoot and she can still get all kissy-kissy with Mulder?

Then they drop the bomb, "In the comic book world, if there’s an alleged strong female character, you can count on one thing: she was raped." I happen to be one to point out misogynistic overtones I see in comics I read, and yeah, sometimes it's wrong and sometimes things aren't meant to be taken so seriously, but a statement like that is wayyy too rash.

And so then we get this response. Leading off with some of the flaws of the aforementioned article, it is accompanied by a list of 67 female comic book characters who were known to be raped. To counter this, there's a list of 335 (yes, the number is bolded in the article because it's just SO MANY) female characters who weren't raped. Now I know these sorts of issues have great potential to slip from talking about comics to talking about the real world, so I'll only say this, but statistics on rape don't come out every year saying "This many women WEREN'T raped this year! Hooray!" And not that I have an extensive knowledge of female superheros, but the percentage of relevance seems way higher in the rape list than in the not raped, where it seems like there are probably literally hundreds of throw-away obscure references.

A sort of good point is made in a really stupid way in saying, "If we are to take Stuff Geeks Like at face value, we’d have to say that the blogger thinks that none of the women on the non-raped list are empowered role-models or that none are strong women" which is totally bullshit because of course that's not what they meant, but it's important to notice that rape as a means for female ascension to superhero ranks is just the easiest traumatic origin story that most writers can come up with for women. At least most women that are raped in comics make the better of the situation, and while it's still not totally cool, I think the cause of the frequency of rape lies in poor writing rather than intentionally misogynistic intentions.

So if we can toss out all this rape debate as being part of insensitive, unimaginative writing, I think the bigger issue still lies in visual depictions of women in comics. Big titties and impossible proportions have long been ingrained into the public idea of what ladies are supposed to look like in comics, and that'll probably never go away. All I'm saying is, comic book reading dudes should be ready to level the playing field, a la some Simon Bisley Judge Dredd, where you can clearly see which way he decided to pack his dong into his blue leotard.



Comic dudes, you can have your scantily clad women, but if a little dong shadow is making your uncomfortable, just think about how we feel.

15 comments:

Monique R. said...

I seriously could not tell if that was tits or an ass in that picture...KILLER MOUNDS.

James said...

I am ALWAYS up for some male-focussed genre balance-redressing. Check out the nude dude on dude fight-fest in Casanova #3 - sublime. We need more like that.

david e. ford, jr said...

whoa . . . yeah, james; good call on the casanova reference.

Firefly said...

I am one of the 13 zillion people miffed by the current media trope of "post-feminism," and I think that, like black rights, women's rights have merely gotten out of the more clear-cut Really Obvious Problems To Be Solved era of the struggle. That, of course, merely means that there are a whole lot of problems still to be solved, and they're a whole lot less obvious.

This sort of debate is an excellent primer in why these problems are so difficult - because they get to the point of people in similar social groups and of similar viewpoints having very different ideas of what the problem even is, or if it exists at all! Very sketchy stuff, but still very important.

To me as a gender-queer person, my biggest interest in comics gender politics (as in all gender politics) is seeing not just women represented and treated well, but a the whole variety of gender-variant folks and people with minority gender expressions represented and treated well also. What about butch women, femme men, intersexed (hermaphroditic) folks, people whose gender is way off somewhere in the middle? What about, for that matter, straight-up homosexuality, (straight-up, har har), which it seems to me is still misrepresented in mainstream American comics?

I'm essentially an indie/underground comics person, so I honestly don't know all that much about the mainstream action/adventure/superhero fare, but the above are some thoughts I've had nonetheless.

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

a few thoughts along the way...

http://inkdestroyedmybrush.blogspot.com/2008/11/women-in-comics-yet-again-into.html

Karen Peltier said...

firefly- yeah, things seem to be in pretty muddied waters as far as whats "ok" for women to do and how they should be portrayed.
but my thing with gender roles in comics is, i dont care who's interested in who, I just want a good story. i'd bet most writers feel like the inclusion of a character who isnt straight means that it has to be a story about the character's not straight-ness, and thats just a whole other can of worms.

ink- your post brought up a lot of good points, and im glad you realize the absurdity of Scott's fake statistics. It's not about the number of times these things have happened, but that they do and how creepy it is for someone to try and justify that with "well, it only happens X times out of X comics and besides, women just love to cling to the role of the victim" (did you read the comments on his entry? creep central)

James Meeley said...

It's not about the number of times these things have happened, but that they do and how creepy it is for someone to try and justify that with "well, it only happens X times out of X comics and besides, women just love to cling to the role of the victim" (did you read the comments on his entry? creep central)

Well, as one of the "creep central" who commented on Scott's very well-stated post, I feel I should say something here.

It seems you missed the entire point of what he (and I) wrote. Neither, nor I, am trying to "justify away" the creepy feeling some get at reading a superhero comic with a rape story. Merely that some of the claims and supposed facts about such stories (and those who write and/or read them) are so outlandishly absurd, it boarders on the stereotype of the harpy feminist caricature, who relies more on vitriol and histronics, than honest and intellegent discussion.

Neither Scott or I have ever claimed someone hasn't a right to NOT LIKE rape stories in superhero comics. That is a very personal view and not something that can be debated. You feel what you feel and no one has the right to tell you otherwise.

However, while a person has the right to feel what they will, they do not have the right to let that feeling cause them to slander the names of others, or make provably false claims, concerning the issue of rape stories in superhero comics.

"80% of all female characters in superhero comics have been raped" isn't just some phony line Scott and I created to be an imitaive example of what has been said. That was something someone (claiming to be a feminist) actually said. This is why Scott puts out his figures. To show that such claim are provably false.

Your claim that "it's important to notice that rape as a means for female ascension to superhero ranks is just the easiest traumatic origin story that most writers can come up with for women" is another one of those self-same easily disprovable claims. How you can say MOST writers come up with this to empower female heroes, when you can't even give any kind of supportive evidence, and even claim you aren't exactly highly knowledgable with female superheroes, is no better than that SGL piece saying that you can count on the fact all "strong" female characters in superhero comics have been raped.

The problem that I think lies at the heart of all this gender politicing and feminist theory in superhero comics, is bacause, in real life, women have pretty much won all the big battles. The right to vote, the right to work, the right to their bodies, the right to more equality, ect. Most of these things have been decided and women have won. So, what's a feminist crusader to do now, without such big dragons to slay? Go after the minute ones, of course.

The problem is, that these smaller issues (like rape in superhero comics) won't be taken as seriously by the mass public, in the way women have the right to vote was. So, they need to make it seem a greater battle than it actually is. It's not just cliched writing to use a rape in a story, it is proof of the publisher and creator harboring misogynistic feelings towards real women, that they use the fictional ones that way. It's not just a writing trope that comes up at time in the work, but "80% of all female charcaters in superhero comics have been raped!"

You see, the victimization women felt under TRUE inequality has to be seen here, whether it actually exists or not, so others (the fence-sitters and the indifferent) will side with the feminist crusaders. So, they must be seen as vicitim by the "evil" comic makers, to get the same support that won women the right to vote. And that's the trap. To find being a victim empowering. To see being a victim as the way to get your way.

Of course, all that is undone, when someone like Scott Anderson comes along with his facts and figures to disprove such claims and show the crusaders for the stereotypical hysterical
harpies that they not only are acting like, but supposedly hate being viewed as so much, which is why he is hated so much by them.

You admitted that SGL's claims were "wayyy too rash," and you are correct. But you made some of your own, bused off the same disprovable belief system, that has caused feminists to say things like "80% of all female characters in superhero comics have been raped!" These beliefs are deeply ingrained in the movement and its dogma. Because feminsts have learned and taught the next gerneation that by acting out like a victim, people will change things more how you would like. That there is POWER in being (or acting out as) a victim. Until THAT chnages, we will need people like Scott Anderson, to pull out the true facts and figures to give any sense of balance to all of it.

Personally, for me, the answer to all of this is very simple. If you don't like rape in superhero comics, don't read ones that use it. You have the power to not read it. You have the power to vote with your dollar (which a publisher will listen to a lot more, than some online spleen venting). Of course, you still might not get everything done the way you want, but then, I don't remember any of us being promised an offense or "creepy feeling" free life.

Just one "creep's" thoughts...

Karen Peltier said...

tl/dr, just bein real.

brandon said...

Maybe it's just a different kind of community, but can I talk about how fucking lame it is for other comic bloggers to not comment but link to their post?

brandon said...

PS: I really don't see how a big long list of rapes or non-raps is any smarter or stupider than the stuff self-declared feminists were saying on the matter. One doesn't need facts, but a moderately familiar sense of popular-culture to see the problematic and pervasive amount of rape-as-origin/rape-as-event stories in comics, tv, books etc.

I too am not a big fan of "victim" talk, but wow..."acting out like a victim"? How does one act like a victim? That's as weird as making a blanket statement about "feminists" as if they represent one, all-in-agreement contingency...you're playin' yourself SGL.

James Meeley said...

One doesn't need facts, but a moderately familiar sense of popular-culture to see the problematic and pervasive amount of rape-as-origin/rape-as-event stories in comics, tv, books etc.

But one needs facts to put it in the proper perspective. To make a blatant statement that "most writers" use it, or "you can be sure a strong female character is superhero comics are raped," certainly seems to be coming from the perspective that this is wome wide-spread epidemic, which is EVERYWHERE.

Yet, when you look at the true facts and figures, that people like Scott Anderson puts out, you see it is not some gigantic evil monster that is forcing itself on the unknowing populace. Merely something that is irritating a very small community of a small fandom, which is completely within their own power to deal with or not (i.e. they don't have to buy/read/support comics that have rape stories in them).

A "moderately familiar sense of popular-culture" is hardly enough validation to make some of the statements claimed as facts (or as self-evident truths) that I've seen many comic bloggers make over the years. So, I guess there's more to Scott Anderson's point about "lazy bloggers" than one might first suspect.

How does one act like a victim? That's as weird as making a blanket statement about "feminists" as if they represent one, all-in-agreement contingency...you're playin' yourself SGL.

Oh, it is easy to act out like a victim. You haven't seen comic fans online whine about a writer's story on one of their favorite characters, then spout off something like "they raped my childhood!"?

As for the blanket statement on feminism in this, well, I personally think that many of those who lay claim to being feminists and do act out as the victim, aren't really feminists, myself. They use the term to prop up their own petty views and beliefs, as if to use the cause of feminism as a shield to protect them from criticism.

Unfortunately, I don't see many actual feminists stepping up to call those people out on that (Scott Anderson being one of the few to do so). So, if actual feminists don't like the way they are coming off in the eyes of others who aren't holding to their strict line of dogma, maybe they should do some "house cleaning" and make sure people who want to use feminism, for what is ultimate just a self-absorbed sense of fan entitlement, aren't held in with the actual movement, simply because their outlandish whining is supposedly being done on behalf of feminism.

Maybe it's just a different kind of community, but can I talk about how fucking lame it is for other comic bloggers to not comment but link to their post?

Actually, depending on whom you talk with, that's actually a more respctful option. WSome folks don't like huge comments that are pretty much a blog post in themselves, being put into their comment section. Not saying you are on of those, but I've seen people who've taken issue with it (even to the point of "passing policies" at their blog saying it won't be acceptable). So, perhaps Charles and Scott are merely trying to be considerate to the fact that huge comments in the comment section isn't something every blogger might appreciate.

I, of course, have no such consideration, though, as you no doubt can tell. ;)

akabillyocean said...

"So, if actual feminists don't like the way they are coming off in the eyes of others who aren't holding to their strict line of dogma, maybe they should do some "house cleaning"

Yikes!

Greg Shore said...

You can't expect people to back you on principle unless you're actually standing on principle.

"but it's important to notice that rape as a means for female ascension to superhero ranks is just the easiest traumatic origin story that most writers can come up with for women."

I don't get how you can complain about Scott's "fake" statistics (incomplete or from a small sample size perhaps, but not fake), and then arbitrarily state it's "the easiest ..."

Rape is not the easiest traumatic super-hero story if only because to get rape through you need a publisher who's okay with some sort of reference to sex in the origin story.

The easiest is the same as it is for males "My family was killed because..."

Everyone can appreciate it, nobody gets insensitive about it... it's worked for Batman. It's the guaranteed sell.

See the Wanted movie for example.

You might not care about facts, but if you want other people to care about your issue then you have to care about the truth.

The truth isn't that it's a particularly common origin, a particularly common event or that it's a required part of every writer's resume.

The truth is it isn't even a boy's club thing, plenty of raping happens in romance novels.

The truth is the prevalence need not be an issue since most rape victims want people to be more aware of the dangers and it can't hurt them to have a role model. I have a close personal friend who was raped as young woman and that made Red Sonja immensely personal and inspiring to her.

The truth is lazy writers who can get away with it sometimes show a creepy disregard for the seriousness of the issue but using rape as a "unimaginable trauma" and trying to make it sexy while disregarding all the consequences because they don't want to deal with it as a real issue, they just want the sexy and short cut and it's kind of creepy how comfortable they've gotten with it.

Perpetuating easily debunked myths about how common it is won't help your cause.

Please stop it, it's upsetting for people who care about this stuff and don't want to see it being dismissed because you wanted to exaggerate for attention.

big-wired said...

... oh WOW, James boy... that's some seriously stupid comments there. I don't think it's proper to call calling out BS in comics as playing the victim.

It's called... calling out BS in comics.

But hey, you're a guy, so you don't have to deal with that too much, you can just dismiss it all and stand atop your high mountain, sigh, and shake your head as all the rabble rousers point out what's wrong.

Also, that comment about feminists and doing some house cleaning?

Seriously insulting and stupid.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the post, but because I love that piece of art I feel the need to point out that it's by Greg Staples, not Simon Bisley.