Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Oh No, Not Again

I honestly don’t really have the time to keep addressing yet another example of sexism in comics, it’s been nearly 15 years of this, I feel like a broken record. But. Here we are and here I am and there are a few “arguments” I think need to be countered. Again.

The first problem is how often I see directly contradictory ideas offered as trump cards in discussions about sexually objectifying images of female characters.  Somehow an image is both “realistic, some women really look like that!” and also “not meant to be realistic, they’re fictional and exaggerated for effect!”. These two things don’t go together. Either they’re realistic or they’re not. Hint: they are not. If you’re going to argue that they’re supposed to be exaggerated, fine, but then you’re going to have to acknowledge WHY they’re exaggerated, what bits tend to be exaggerated, for what audience, and how that might inform the objectification criticism.

If you’re going to argue that things like the brokeback pose, impractical outfits whose sole purpose is cleavage/butt definition, are deliberately exaggerated for effect…ok. But you don’t then get to argue that it’s somehow also “realistic”, or that that exaggeration isn’t for a very specific purpose. Otherwise they’d be exaggerating brain size or non-sexual characteristics. The purpose is sexual objectification. Own it.

This goes to another argument that also uses two conflicting ideas. Namely that comics are “for” a male audience, therefore the women are depicted this way to appeal to male readers who apparently only want one body type and only “sexy” images of said characters. This is followed up by saying male characters are also exaggerated therefore it’s equal. Only that’s not possible IF the audience is supposedly straight male. Because if that’s the case, then the women being drawn that way is so that they exist as sexual fantasies and the men are drawn that way to be heroic ideals. Those two things are not the same and they are inherently unequal. The purpose of the exaggeration is very different. It just is.

I also don’t buy the argument that “super” characteristics automatically means one extremely exaggerated body type for women, all the time, that just happens to be very porn-y. On books that are not porn or even porn “lite”. Theoretically the point of super hero comics is telling sequential stories about super hero’s. Sex MAY occur in those stories, but they don’t exist as a vehicle for sex. Porn, on the other hand, is about sex, not story. This isn’t a particularly difficult distinction.

However, when you show women the way a lot of comics covers do, that line gets hella blurred. There’s very little story reason so many of them are posed in a titillating fashion and most of the time it does nothing for the character, either. Because it’s not about them being sexy on their terms for themselves, it’s about being perceived as sexy by others. It’s for an audience, for a viewer, not for the character.
Look, I don’t have any issue with sexy images of women. I like them, I draw them myself. I like porn, I enjoy porn comics. And newsflash: lots of porn comics are far sexier than any of these mainstream covers, with better proportions, art, and layout. So the problem isn’t sex, sexiness, boob size, or even exaggerated proportions.

The problem is WHY they are exaggerated, who is exaggerated, what the context is, who is doing the image and from what pov, and what it conveys. What, exactly, is the point of all these sexy women on comic book covers?  A cover is supposed to give a reader an idea of what the book is going to be like, to appeal to them, to invite them into the story. If your story is “hey, lookit some boobies” terrific. But if it’s a more complex look at how characters with powers deal with the world? Your cover should reflect that idea. Otherwise, what are you conveying? That you’ll get a good story about complex, interesting characters…or a pseudo-porn?

If the latter, just admit it and go for it. Stop being coy or pretending it’s something else. And if it’s not, then give your female characters the same respect you give the male characters and define them by something other than exaggerated visual depictions. At the very least it’s a lazy and trope-tastic art style that repels a lot of potential readers who might otherwise want to check out these stories, if they had any idea what the stories would actually be like. I mean, supes are supposedly “modern myths”, right? That sounds like they’re supposed to be taken just a tad more seriously than Skinemax. So maybe the covers should reflect that. Or not, but pick a direction and own it.

At least with something like Busty Cops or Taken by Bigfoot I know what the hell I’m getting into. They aren’t pretending to be anything else. Comics seem to want this both ways and it’s just insulting at this point. 

Something else that’s insulting? Accusing critiques of vendetta’s, biases, and not being qualified to discuss material in their own field…because they explain why a cover may not be working the way it’s intended. In comics, covers are marketing tools as well as story extensions. It is completely valid to look at one and question whether it is successful and if not, why not. And if the person doing the critiquing happens to have actually edited comics for a living? Yeah, you should pay attention, not throw temper tantrums. Our experience, knowledge, and expertise is absolutely relevant…and I really have to wonder about someone who thinks an informed critique is LESS valid than a reactionary Twitter fit. Let alone some tinfoil hat conspiracy against one of the top two publishers in comics.

I mean, I’ve been editing comics for nearly 15 years. I’m not going to pretend I haven’t or that my CV isn’t something you should consider when I offer an opinion. You don’t have to agree with me, but yes, I do think my background gives my perspective some weight and at the very least some consideration if I talk about things like how covers are developed and how important what that imagery conveys is. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

Can you disagree with a woman in comics without it being sexist? Yep. But not by assuming they don't know what they're talking about because they're a woman, or claiming they have an "agenda" for discussing sexism, harassment, or the ramifications of sexual objectification in pop culture. Unless the "agenda" you're talking about is making comics culture less toxic. 

Finally, if you send rape threats because someone criticized a comic book cover (or for ANY reason) I can only assume you left your sanity in roughly the same location as your brain. Firmly and perpetually up your own ass.


  1. Here's the thing, I think where I parted company with Asselin's article and went from "yes, yes, I agree" to "aaaand here come the eyerolls" was when she said the artists cartoon boobs were specifically implants and that "you shouldn't give a teenage girl implants". The leap from some douche drawing cartoon boobs on a comic to the assumption that he is purposefully trying to undermine teen girl body image by intentionally drawing implants on a teen was ridiculous. She had me then she lost me with that bit of horseshit. Generally, I agree with her and think the reaction to her post was outrageous. But as with most of these articles, she went too far. Like a while back when people(and by people I mean women who blog about comics) got outraged about that "friend zone" comment in that Superman comic. Seriously? When women bloggers get just as upset over the rape threats of idiot fanboys as they do with Clark Kent saying "friend zone", then the moral high ground has been lost. Logical discussion is lost. Common sense is lost. Asselin undermined her own credibility with that little tidbit of idiocy. Which is a shame because 90 percent of what she said was spot on.

  2. People are allowed to discuss both, rape threats and the use of "friend zone" if they feel they have something relevant to discuss about it. You don't really get to dictate what is and is not important for others to get "upset" about, in your subjective opinion.

    Further, other people discussing things you don't think they should, or going "too far" is...not really relevant? I mean, it is to you, but it's not necessarily to anyone else.

    She didn't say he was doing so purposely, she said that the way they were drawn, proportionally and shape-wise, are more like implants. That's how she sees it and it's valid to say so. She didn't leap anywhere, she was discussing media images. It's actually not a leap to discuss how the depiction of a teenage girl's body factors into cultural beauty standards. It's right there, they exist together.

    You keep using words like "idiocy", "ridiculous", "outrage"...over things you disagree with. But you've given no evidence they are objectively things that no one should discuss or even be outraged over. Just your opinion. If you think one person expressing an opinion you don't like undermines all other things anyone ever discusses...that doesn't make a whole lot of logical sense, either.

    If you can agree with 90% of the piece, the part you disagree with shouldn't undermine everything else you do. That still exists. You just don't agree with that part. Which is fine, you're entitled, but it doesn't make it a "ridiculous" point just based on your say so. There's a lot of evidence that we are over sexualizing teen girls, and younger, in all kinds of ways. From toys to clothes to how we show them in the media/pop culture. You disagree this is an example of it, ok. But I don't see anything to indicate that your argument is more valid.

    Also? Rape threats aren't "idiot fanboys". That's going too far, way farther than anything in the article. And yet you dismiss one and rail against the other. I'd consider rethinking your position.

  3. Wow, thanks for responding to what you wanted to hear as opposed to what I actually said.

    " If you think one person expressing an opinion you don't like undermines all other things anyone ever discusses...that doesn't make a whole lot of logical sense, either."

    Actually, it does. If someone says "I think gun violence is bad" and then goes on to talk about their membership in the KKK, do I dismiss the point about gun violence being bad? No, I dismiss the person from that point on and go have a conversation with someone about gun violence who doesn't go off the rails into nonsense in the same breath they used to make a salient point.

    "Rape threats aren't "idiot fanboys". That's going too far, way farther than anything in the article. And yet you dismiss one and rail against the other. I'd consider rethinking your position."

    Actually, I was pretty clear on my feelings for idiot fanboys and rape threats. I dislike both. Not sure how I wasn't clear on that and your interpretation of what I said is just plain odd. Also, you keep using the word "opinion" as both a positive and a negative. My opinion is exactly that, my opinion. Just like what you wrote is your opinion, just like what Asselin wrote is her opinion. Are their good opinions and bad opinions, you seem to want to be the arbiter of that in this particular space so I'll leave that to you to discern.

    " You don't really get to dictate what is and is not important for others to get "upset" about"

    Again, another odd interpretation you make based on, well, nothing I said. Can people talk about and get upset about friend zoning and rape threats? All the live long day. But when people equate the two, then that person opens themselves up to looking, yes, ridiculous. By any objective standards of the word ridiculous. If I reacted the same way to both in a crowd, I would, understandably, look like an idiot as well as offend any actual survivors of rape.

    "She didn't say he was doing so purposely"

    She spoke in absolutes. Then she took it further by tweeting how "creepy" it was for an artist to draw implants on a teen girl. There's a none too subtle accusation being made there. You can choose to ignore the implication if you want. But please don't try to pretend it isn't there when it’s on the internet for all to see.

    As far as reconsidering my position: nah, I'm good. Instead, I'd offer the advice that saying one smart thing doesn't ward off criticism of the several questionable things said in its wake. But given that you seem to be one of “those” people on the internet who’s more concerned with saying something than talking about something, I can see this is all a waste of both our time. And being the internet and all, I should have known better. Cheers.

    1. ::sigh:: You keep making false equivalencies and acting like all opinions are equal, while not backing yours up with anything. Janelle, on the other hand, backs her up with years of experience as a comic book editor who is discussing why the strategy of a comic cover like that matters in a larger context. I'd give her opinion more weight based on that, since you're an Anon commenter I don't know at all.

      Your KKK/gun violence analogy doesn't make any sense. That would be comparing apples to chairs. Janelle, however, was discussing what messages our pop culture images convey, and specifically what they convey to audiences, both actual and potential, such as teen girls, When you sexually objectify a teen girl character it exists in a larger framework.

      Therefore, the anatomy kind of is really relevant. And whether the artist intended to or not, drawing her breasts that way is the main focus of the piece and sexualizes the character along specific lines. I don't think he gave teen girls any thought when he drew it. Doesn't mean that it isn't a problem. It's called context. Which you are ignoring.

      Here's the thing: rape threats and "friend zone" are not the same. But. They do exist within an overall framework of sexism aimed at women. "Friend zone" as a term is often used derogatorily, as though men are entitled to sex with women they want, and it's somehow wrong for women to not see them that way. So, it's related in the sense that both things come from a general attitude of entitlement to women's bodies.

      I don't know the scene you're talking about or the "outrage" you're discussing. As an example, I find it weak, since it's really just about your interpretation of something and not indicative of what may have been under discussion.

      I mean, did you read my above piece? I was pretty clear on my stance and what I think the context of these things mean. And I didn't actually mention Janelle's piece, though I am referencing some things about it in a general way because this basically happens any time a woman discusses this topic.

      I got the impression that the things you didn't like in her piece were more important than the rape threats because you spent the bulk of your comment talking about how "idiotic" one part of her piece was and other female bloggers losing the moral high ground...and saved one word "outrageous" for "the reaction to her piece" and then said "idiot fanboy rape threats". That doesn't suggest that the most important thing about the situation is the reaction, it suggest that your personal disagreement with one aspect of her piece, and your irritation with what you feel is "female bloggers" overreacting is. That's how I got that.

      If you require everyone who discusses a topic to always agree with you, or present their ideas the way you want them to, you're going to miss out on useful information and perspectives you may not be considering. Just because something seems nitpicky to you doesn't mean it actually is. Sometimes you need to think about where they're coming from a little more closely, and consider that your perspective is the one that's off.

      I mean, look at your own statements. You're implying that she must have meant something worse than "creepy" and was accusing the artist of something she never said. But your interpretation of the image is "fair" and her's is not. Why? What's that based on? You've literally given me no examples or evidence. So why should I take an Anon's word for it over a professional who commissioned covers for a living?

    2. I don't know, I think it's way worse for people to get so angry at someone discussing a comics cover that they send rape threats...than for people to get upset about the term "friend zone". I only have your word for it that they're treating it "the same way" they treat rape. Mostly it just looks like you think people should discuss things in the order of importance you place them. Which no one is required to do.

      Where am I getting this from? Your words. You wrote things, published them, and I interpreted them. You know, the same way you did Janelle's piece and made conclusions of your own? Ones I think are kind of spurious? That's how this works. I'm not required to agree with you or find your argument compelling.

      You can think whatever you want about me, that's fine. As for being one of "those" people..my only interest is in holding my industry accountable for how it presents itself, the quality of its work, and how it treats those who work and participate in it.

      The issue here isn't whether or not you agree with her piece. The issue is that by writing it people thought it was hunky dory to claim all kinds of wild crap, like anti-DC conspiracies, assume she has no qualifications to give a critique, and then all that fun sexism and rape threats.

      If people had just civilly disagreed with her piece we wouldn't be here. But instead people went off the rails because she pointed to some issue with a cover that are kind of obvious. And what you are concentrating on? Like one line from her piece.

      It's a perspective issue, and you need some.

  4. I review movies and tv shows and what baffles me are the people who were claiming she wasn't being fair because she wasn't saying the GOOD things about the cover. Since when did criticism mean you need to find good things to say to balance the bad? If you only find negative things to say about a work you find to be bad, it's fine to focus on the negative as long as you explain your reasoning and give good examples. That's what she did and she did it straightforwardly.

  5. Thanks for continuing to make these same points; hopefully some day you won't have to.