Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Disturbing Double Standard

I think I need to join a feminist site where I can just rant off all I want without fear of bringing the site too down.

Then again, some of my highest traffic draws are from When Fangirls Attack so maybe I'd just better leave well enough alone.

Either way, I don't have my Spider-Man/Black Cat fallout aggression worked through quite yet, so here's another rant.

Those of you in the mood for something lighter perhaps involving Green Lantern, try a classic.

Those of you with complaints, please read this primer on feminism first.

Thank you.

Read the Ranting
Was reading an old review of Guardian Devil, and the reviewer pointed out something. I had to open my copy and reread it, but she was dead on. Foggy Nelson was raped during that storyline. The villain drugged him and then coerced him into bed while his judgment was impaired, forced him to break trust with his girlfriend Liz.

This becomes part of the (aptly named by Kitty) "You Touched My Stuff" plotline where we examine Matt's reactions to this. He is concerned that his friend is in jail, and that his friend's lovelife has been screwed up. He's not the least bit concerned that his friend was taken advantage of under the influence (when he was not capable of giving consent), and they even make a prison rape joke during the prison interview.

Kalinara has pointed out, more than once, that Cyclops was mind-controlled into bed by Psylocke in X-Men once. Cyclops has no psionic abilities. He has no defense against that. He was in an exclusive relationship (marriage by then?) at that point. Even if he were attracted to the woman (someone pointed out to me once that he did want her, which doesn't mean shit because attraction does not equal consent and Cyclops should never be penalized for being a man who thinks beyond his libido), there was no way he would have given consent. When the others find out, was Psylocke ostracized and branded a supervillain like she should have been? No. She was told to stay away from Jean's property like a good girl, and was allowed to continue to play.

From these examples, we can draw some conclusions about comic book men. Apparently, they are wondrous creatures. They can physically and mentally violated, forced to betray the trust of the women they loved and then be blamed for it but they immediately bounce back the next day. So, clearly, there is no reason to offer them shock or sympathy in this case. Or even to confront the perpetrators of these crimes.

Now, I don't know how real men feel about this. They are a strange people with unfathomable minds. I leave it to men to draw their own conclusions on how this affects their gender.

But here's the thing, it's damaging all the same from a female point of view. Whenever guys joke that they "wouldn't mind" this experience, they are trivializing rape. By showing this experience, and not depicting the proper horror in the mood, they are trivializing the experience. By not showing proper attention from the supporting cast, they are indicating that it's not something to worry about. And by not showing the accountability of the offender, they are essentially saying this is not a crime at all.

This is subtly enforcing the monumentally insane idea that "being forced to have sex against your will is not that big a deal."

This is all bad enough. Then they go and use the double-standard, wherein the female characters experience the same trauma and their entire life is spent in recovery, while a male character doesn't even blink and it becomes a footnote to his history that is rarely, if ever, brought up.

Does anyone else find this insulting as fuck?

Damn it. It looks like even superhero women are so overemotional and delicate that the most horrific trauma imaginable for a woman doesn't make a dent in a man's thick psyche. Either male characters as so much stronger that they recover almost instantly from a trauma that is life-defining for a female character, or this crime doesn't matter when the perpetrator's a female and the victim's male.

Oh, and those of you who are forming "Well, it's like that in comics, where you get desensitized..." please keep in mind that you are making the primary argument against using rape as a plotline, and further infantilizing the overwhelming number of female characters who have it as a life-defining moment.

This just plain sucks for both genders.

Writers who have no fucking clue how to handle this issue should not handle it in any form.


  1. Gods yes. And particularly in the case of the Cyclops example, or with Nightwing in his own book (which most fans do consider rape), the rapist not only is not punished for her actions but are allowed to remain *heroes*.


    And the only conclusion I can draw from this is that either a) raping a man is somehow not a serious crime, which leads into the problems you've detailed. Women are so much more sensitive and fragile than men that suffering rape is so much more crippling and traumatizing than it is for a male victim.

    or b) Women can't be rapists.

    Now consider *that* notion, that:

    Women can't be rapists. Because they're so much weaker/more fragile/more ineffectual than men, that there is no way they could overpower a man and force the reactions they want out of them.

    Clearly if a man is raped by a woman, it's because deep down he wants it. Because he had an orgasm or something (ignoring that such reactions are merely responses to external stimulus, which *can* be forced upon a person, and as such would be undoubtedly traumatic).

    A woman is so much less than a man, so if she does manage to overpower a man, it's because he wanted it.

    Is it just me or is that a singularly insulting, revolting idea ever. It completely dismisses women of any sort of power or ability to exercise power over men. It's sickening and ridiculous. Anyone can be a rapist, anyone can be raped.

    And whether you're a man or a woman, whether you're unattractive or incredibly hot, if you rape someone, you better the fuck have to face consequences for it.

  2. i dont know about anywhere else, but i know that in georgia a man CANNOT be raped under the law, though i'm sure there are other words that mean the same thing.

    i see what you're saying here, but it's kinda double-standardy to be pissed when they don't make a big deal out of it AND pissed when they do make a big deal out of it.

    nevertheless, i thought both stories were weak, and the product of unimaginative writers. "ooooh, i had a superhero character get raped. i'm soooo edgy." dragging superheroes through the much HAS BEEN DONE. and it's been done MUCH BETTER.

  3. The big problem here is that the majority of men would not see being forced/duped into having sex with a hot babe as rape, even if it was written as such. They simply would not understand what the issue was.

    The only way of writing it so that it would actually be seen as a violation is if they were raped by another man. Then I think you'd get a rather different reaction.

  4. Was that Cyclops story Claremont? Or was it post-Claremont? Because that sounds like the type of thing he'd do (especially in his later years).

    Anyway, I think you're absolutely right - rape is a touchy subject and it needs to be handled delicately. Superhero comics are not built to handle delicate subjects - they're built to hit you over the head repeatedly with something.

    You're right, too, about the women getting to stay "heroes" despite the fact that they violated someone (maybe even a team-mate). A male "hero" in that situation would be forced out in disgrace if not thrown in prison (as he should be), while women get a pass. Its not only not fair, it's not "realistic" - and as much as I hate faux-realism in my comics, if you're going to throw something like rape in there you sure as hell better be treating it realistically.

  5. I want to defend the use of rape in Nightwing as being a little more nuanced than you or Kalinara give it credit for.

    The Tarantula did NOT go unpunished. Yes, for a few issues, Nightwing fought crime with her, but that was because, I think, he didn't want to admit what happened to him. But in issue #100, Nightwing brings her in to the police. True, he brings her in for killing Blockbuster, not for his rape, but that doesn't mean he's shrugged off the rape, even if he refuses to admit it ever happened.

    Arguably, he's still dealing with it. He's pretty much felt like failure since issue 93 (and Chemo didn't help), and I doubt it's just because he watched Blockbuster die. He's seen lots of vigilantes kill crooks (Huntress, Nite-Wing), and that has never made him want to renounce being Nightwing before. Like Kalinara likes, I think he is dealing with the rape sub-textually, rather than saying out loud every issue, "This reminds me of the time I was raped."

    But I get, and agree, with the larger point. In comics, women seem to be motivated by violence done to them, men by violence done to other women, which would suggest that women are more natural victims, and that's wrong.

    I do find it a little odd that, because of the implicit gender politics, people have a problem with the amount of rape in stories, but I haven't heard anyone complain about the amount of CANABALISM going on in comics right now that's played for laughs (Grodd and Marval Zombies come to mind immediately)

  6. I think that the component that's missing when you compare male/female rape in comics is the violence. That's what separates them - Cyclops doesn't have a knife to his throat, and is not pinned against an alley wall.

    Not to get too Camille Paglia about it, but it's also - at some base level - about the penetrative act. It's about invasion and violation, and
    soesn't happen in these cases. The men are not penetrated.

    Though there are double starnards at work, I agree. How about this old one applied in a new setting: for the men, it's basically infidelity and "OK" because a guy that sleeps around is a stud ... it's traumatic for the woman because a woman that sleeps around is a whore.

    For women, it's a trauma. For Cyclops, it's an excuse.

  7. Well, I think there's also the problem that men would handle rape differently from women. Men don't expect to be raped, many don't think it possible, at least, not from a woman. I think there's the distinct probability that a man, when raped, would not understand it as such.

    But, let's say that the guy does come away from this with the expected feelings of violation. What does he in our society, do? I think the first expectation is probably that he'd suppress the feelings, possibly attributing it to his own weaknesses, thus setting the stage for any number of self-deprecating neuroses.

    Let's say, then, that he reports it instead. To my knowledge (which is pretty limited on the subject), no woman has ever been convicted of raping an adult man. For all that rape trials often become "he said/she said" affairs," there's always at least the chance of conviction. A defense attorney need only parade the victim's sexual history and the assertion that a man wouldn't get an erection if he wasn't consenting to get a not guilty verdict. Is it true? Not in the least. Is it convincing? To an American jury who already doubts a woman's ability to rape a man, who sees a man who can't fight off a woman as weak and "asking for it," it's damn convincing. I can't imagine that victims of this sort of crime would find much sympathy.

    There's also the difficulty that date rape or drugged rape not only has elements which make testimony harder to believe (memory loss, distortions), but I think it's generally perceived as somehow softer, less wrong, than 'regular' rape. The frat who lives next door to me is notorious for date rape, to the point where it has become a running joke among most of the student body. I can't imagine your "typical" brutalization rape being treated in such a fashion.

    Unfortunately, this opens up another potential double-standard: if people would lack sympathy for a male rape victim because they think that women are physically too weak to rape men, do they grant artificial sympathy to women victims because they perceive them as too weak to fight a man off? If we're to question the assertion that a woman is too weak to rape a man (a statement with which I disagree, particularly in situations where the man has been drugged, which is essentially what we're talking about with Foggy Nelson and Cyclops), then we're forced to question the corollary. If women are strong enough to rape men, why aren't they strong enough to fight male rapists off?

    I think what this ought to lead to is the elimination of the idea of physical strength/weakness being a key factor in rape assessment. There are all sorts of strength and weakness, and most of them can be exploited to coerce people into sexual acts. Rape is about power--gaining it, demonstrating it, and maintaining it. It's not about who's stronger, it's about who can exert power over their victims. I think that, once people realize that, rape seems very different.

    What it all comes down to is that rape is a complicated issue, and people are going to have complicated reactions to it. To some degree, women are taught what to expect from rape, or at least to expect that it can happen to them. Men aren't afforded this preemptionary education, and while they may have the same reactions, are more inclined not to understand the event as rape, and less inclined even than female victims to report the event. It'd take quite a lot to portray a realistic woman-on-man rape in comics, or in any medium, and I think trying to reduce any of these situations to typical scenarios is a mistake.

  8. Generally, I think part of it is an assumption that, if the victim has an orgasm it can't be rape... because those are always good things. (I swear I read somewhere that female victims sometime experience an orgasm, something that causes plenty more internal conflict. It's an involuntary physical reaction, but they wonder if they secretly enjoyed it or really did bring it upon themselves.)

    Kalinara noted how male statutory rape victims are treated, especially if the accused is a hot woman, with comedians joking about how stupid the victim must be to complain about having such a woman.

    Not to get too Camille Paglia about it, but it's also - at some base level - about the penetrative act. It's about invasion and violation, and
    soesn't happen in these cases. The men are not penetrated.

    OTOH, men can be made to feel threatened over the thought of being drugged by another man with the intention of performing oral sex on him when he cannot object... take out the possibility of the senario being "hot" if there were consent... how would things go if Karma used mind control to have... say Doug Ramsey have sex with her before she lost all that weight?

  9. Marionette, I respect you and your writing immensely, but I'm not sure I can articulate the deep offense I felt at your comments. I understand that you probably didn't intend them to be nearly as offensive as I read them, but it's still palpably twisting my gut.

    I think you're painting with both too broad and too stereotypical a brush.

  10. "b) Women can't be rapists."

    To put a finer point on it, the assumption is hot women can't be rapists. The narrow-mindedness of the writers is to assume "What man in his right mind wouldn't want to bang Psylocke?" Mark hit the nail on the head by saying it's not so much the involuntary sex as it is the violence that makes rape of female characters a "big deal."

    The assumption is Cyclops, Foggy, Nightwing, and any fanboy reading along just needs a little prompting to "give in" to their true desires. Foggy being drugged and seduced by a villain is different than if she'd smashed his head in with a brick, stuck a gun in his mouth, and told him she'd kill him if he ever told anyone. If he tried to fight back, but was pinned down, helpless, and got smacked around for defying her, leading to introspective "I wasn't man enough" moments, then there would be a comparison.

    Imagine if we had an origin of Lady Deathstrike where we learned the reason she finally decided to go to the Mojoverse and have Spiral give her adamantium bones and claws was because one night she got really drunk and slept with some dude she found really attractive but she already had a boyfriend. How much impact would that have? In essence, that's what Foggy and Cyclops's stories are.

    What seems to be the issue is male rape isn't being properly portrayed as a man being forced to do something against his will. Unfortunately, to make a successful male rape story resonate with fans, the rapist would have to be a man or an unattractive female like Orca the Whalewoman.

  11. Ragnell, your post (and thoughts about comic book men) and these comments got me thinking:

    What seems to be the issue is male rape isn't being properly portrayed as a man being forced to do something against his will.--Jake

    The only way of writing it so that it would actually be seen as a violation is if they were raped by another man. Then I think you'd get a rather different reaction.--Marionette

    Though metaphorical, (in that it didn't involve a sexual act), I think Superman's mind control by Max Lord is relevant. ML subjected Superman to a "mind-rape": ML violated Superman's thoughts, placed the superhero totally under his control, and, most importantly, made Superman do whatever he wanted him to do. Superman was totally under ML's domination.

    However, there has been no major textual comment in the DCU about the violating nature of what occurred that I can recall. What's more, Wonder Woman is facing public disapproval and a murder charge because Superman thinks the public will go apesh*t if they find out that he was turned into a destructive weapon by one of the bad guys.

    In Marvel's X-Men: Deadly Genesis #3, the villain manipulates Rachel Grey's mind, using her as a "conduit" to read other people's thoughts. When she recovers from the experience, this is what she shouts at the villain: "Bastard! You mind-raping son of a ...!"

    Yeah, I'd say there's a double standard at work, here. If ML had mind-controlled a female hero, the connection between a "mind-rape" and a "real" rape would have explicitely been made.

  12. Marionette pretty much expressed my exact thoughts on the subject. I'm sure most guys would look at in the same way that I do:

    Raped by Dr. Light = emotional trauma.
    Raped by Psylocke = blog entry.

  13. >>I do find it a little odd that, because of the implicit gender politics, people have a problem with the amount of rape in stories, but I haven't heard anyone complain about the amount of CANABALISM going on in comics right now that's played for laughs (Grodd and Marval Zombies come to mind immediately) <<<

    I'll tell you what. When my sister, mother, friend, daughter, niece or myself get eaten by cannibals, and the public's first response is the eaten person shouldn't have looked so delicious, then I'll take up the cause against Canabalism.

  14. I don't mean to be too much of a comic book geek, but because I love Psylocke so much, I have to say: she never had sex with Cyclops. She was trying to seduce him, but as far as I know (and I certainly could be wrong), they never did anything. Jean got up in her grill before she could do anything.

    If you want to look at examples of females "raping" males with their minds, you can still look to Cyclops. Wasn't what Emma Frost did to him rape? And they're now together - it's Sally Jupiter all over again! Nobody suggests that what Emma did was wrong, however, because the God Of All Comics, Morrison, wrote it. I'm just wondering if that fits into your definition, which I think is valid.

    And your point about Foggy is spot-on as well, especially because I just re-read the first Typhoid Mary story. She pretty much rapes Matt Murdock himself, so the symmetry in Foggy's case is there, but no one ever commented on it while the story was happening.

    Interesting stuff, as usual.

  15. Actually, I carefully reread Emma Frost's part. She was in his head, but he was a willing participant it seems. She kept cajoling him with "it's only thoughts.."

    It's more like a psychiatrist taking advantage of a patient than a lack of consent issue. It could be argued that Scott was in no condition to give consent, there, though.

  16. Melchior, good catch!

    "However, there has been no major textual comment in the DCU about the violating nature of what occurred that I can recall."

    Actually, there is, but in a clever bit of writing, it happened before the Sacrifice storyline. In Adventures of Superman, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman gather to discuss Dr. Light and the mind-wipes. While the guys dither over what should have been done, Wonder Woman coldly states they should have killed him. And later, faced with a similar situation, she does exactly that. Otherwise, yeah, it's been pretty sub-textual, but it's there

  17. Your post reminded me of something else that bothered me in the "Guardian Devil" storyline- the portrayal of the two women in Foggy's life. "Razor" Sharpe, his birth mother and Nelson and Murdock's boss and his girlfriend, Liz Osborn.

    When Foggy is set up for murder, "Razor" cuts him off to protect her firm. Now, as originally created by Karl Kesel, Sharpe was a ball-breaker, but over the course of his run she was showing to be a little more three dimensional and moral as initially portrayed. Not in Smith's world, though- she's a bitch who will sell out her own son to save her ass.

    And then there's Liz Osborn. In the last issue of "Guardian Devil" there's a flashback to where Foggy is in jail and Liz visits him. Liz frowns at him, tells him it's over, she can't forgive him, you got what you deserved, and walks away. Leaves him there. Message: women- if you screw up once, they will have no sympathy or understanding or support. And since Foggy was set up, there's no follow up to that.

    Jesus, how does Smith even HAVE a wife?

  18. "they are essentially saying this is not a crime at all."

    Depends to what degree you consider a crime to be acting against an individual or a community standard, I'd conjecture.

    If the guy in question brushes off being pushed into sex by a telepath, or being [groped/buggered with a dildo] whilst [drunk/unconscious], the argument can be made that there isn't a case to answer. People tend to resent being interpolated as victims when -- had they been in full control -- they wouldn't have been bothered by what took place; especially when malice isn't perceived. It's less "not understanding" something as violation (which is loaded terminology suggesting a deficiency) and more not feeling violated.

    On the other hand, a community may not wish to endorse the notion that consent can be retroactive.

  19. The rape of Dick Grayson was the most angering thing I’ve seen and I was there to watch Jason Todd die (before they shamelessly brought him back) and Barbara Gordon shot, stripped and crippled for life. This however was more horrific because it was never dealt with. I think DC should be ashamed of themselves. Even the comic stip For Better or For Worse deals with the concept of assault with more maturity and responsibly (and they have less space to do it in.) Rape is a crime. No matter the gender of the victim if they say no, or don’t willingly consent that’s rape. For vigilantes motivated by vengeance it’s pitiful to witness these characters do nothing. What they did to Nightwing was unforgivable.