Thursday, September 07, 2006

Help Me Out Here.

I should have joined in the conversation in this post, but I'm trying to keep to my "Don't Comment While Angry" rule. It's difficult, because whenever I read the discussion, I get to a single comment and freeze in my tracks.

It's a very condescending comment, one that goes out of its way to oversimplify the opposing argument (and completely disregards my oft-stated opinion on Steve Trevor). I try to pass by it, but I can feel my fingernails turn to claws and snakes rustle in my hair. That comment colors every comment after it. It brings out the monster in me. I read through the rage and neutral statements seem like unprovoked attacks. I'm licking my fangs as I formulate my responses, until I realize that if I join in I'll find myself attacking every commenter and making no headway in the process.

To prevent this, I wait a few hours, look again, and freeze again.

The only way to solve this, is to take that comment out of the conversation and study it directly. And I need some help with this.
Once again, finding male companionship is equated with marginalization of female characters.

Sad.
What do you think, readers?

36 comments:

  1. I think many of your commenters should earn an honorary doctorate in Missing The Point. And who are you to argue with such experts? ;-)

    OK, on a more serious note, if I were in your place, I'd see two options. One, reiterate the actual point as clearly & neutrally as possible, or two, ignore it and privately burn them in effigy to feel better.

    I also think option 2 isn't so bad given that Mickle responded so well to that comment & a similar one.

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  2. By the time I had gotten to your entry where all this hullaballoo happened, I felt there was a hefty conversation already about it and, like you, I didn't really know what to say. Actually, I try to stay out of flame wars because I feel its counterproductive.

    I understand what Sandicomm is trying to say. In fact, the other day, I was listening to some of the DC podcasts and heard some of the creators talk about being able to create a character with big breasts, etc, etc, etc. And, I thought to myself that I wonder if this is the way some of these creators create women characters. It's no wonder why Sandicomm feels that the best thing that can happen to a woman in comic books is to get a superhero mate. More often than not, that's the thought, subconscious or not, that's put behind it. And, if you think about the Silver Age, what was one of the Superman Family titles? Superman's GIRL FRIEND Lois Lane. She wasn't crack reporter, but GIRL FRIEND. Now, one can argue that things have changed. But, at the same time, isn't there a saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same?

    Am I making any dang sense here?

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. A commenter said, Once again, finding male companionship is equated with marginalization of female characters.
    Sad.


    To which Ragnell asked, What do you think, readers?

    Well, I think that in situations such as this, a turn to The Smart, Published, And Tenured is the best way to go about it.

    Gayle Rubin's landmark article "The Traffic in Women" (1975) is perhaps the best place for That Doubting Thomas to begin his or her social exploration on the topic of marginalization of women, the historical economy of sex, and women's role in such economies. In particular, the heterosexual, misogynist resolution that all women really need is to find themselves a good man is actually a continuation of patriarchal, patronymic cycles that have existed throughout history.

    Or, to wit, some girls don't like boys. Or don't want a boy. Or need a boy. But they are told, from the moment of birth, that they do, indeed, need to find a man in order to have a good life.

    That is not to say that relationships and romantic storylines aren't good literature (comic books included). But that wasn't the original point made in the original post. The way I read it, Sandicomm was remarking on the continuous, indeed monotonous, conservative heterosexist resolution for all comic book women: they find mates and "settle." That is, as That Particular Author sees it, how the common signal of greatness (i.e. "best thing") is written for a woman in a comic book.

    Understand that I am speaking for myself, and how I read her original statement. With that caveat, I believe what the original post states is not "finding true love is bad," but rather poses the question, why is the romantic relationship the *best* that a female comic book character can hope for? Why not, say, a continuation of life as God's Wrath Incarnate? Or reincarnation? Or how about a pat on the back and a parade down Main Street?

    For example.

    Ciao,
    Amy

    PS sorry for the deleted comment. I hit "publish" too soon.

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  5. as someone already mentioned, I think the comment needs to be considered in context of the quote that preceded it: That the Best thing is... I have many women friends who are not married and not dating (anyone of either sex) and they are happy and content with their lives.

    As a married woman, I can recommend the joy of a relationship, but I wouldn't call it the best way to live. To each his or her own, Your mileage may vary, live and let live and all that.

    To me, the comment was a reaction to that and it's a point I agree with. As for the point that to say that means female characters are being marginalized, maybe or maybe not. It's certainly worth debating.

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  6. Being one of the commenters in the other thread – and I’m guessing one of the ones arj wants burned in effigy – I’d just like to take to heart not posting when you’re angry. I already did that once here: I felt that Mickle jumped all over me for bringing up Spider-Man, and in my response to her, used the phrase “rape aficionado,” which I regret and apologize for. I stand by my points, but wish I’d phrased that one clause less provocatively. No one’s mentioned it, but I’ve been feeling bad about it ever since.

    And maybe, as arj says (about someone, at least, and I suspect I’m included), I’m missing the point. But I’ve reread Sandicomm’s original post a dozen times at least, and I don’t see anything I can accept at face value. From here, it seems not so much missing the point as thinking the point hasn’t been sufficiently proven, and may in fact be too broad to prove, anyway.

    The more I think about it, the “best thing that can happen to a character,” male or female, is entirely subjective – and in a serialized medium, necessarily ephemeral. For instance, of the examples Amy mentions, the first has been portrayed more as punishment than reward (for Jim Corrigan and Hal Jordan, at least), the second signals the end of a character (although I think it was the eventual reward of Linda Strauss, the female Dr. Fate of the ’80s) and the third lasts for an afternoon with no lasting effects at all.

    A love interest, male or female, isn’t the end of a story – rather, it can be the springboard for countless stories. It’s not the condition itself that marginalizes female characters once they’re paired up, it’s the way the writer treats them once it happens. Maybe it will happen with Ororo in Black Panther; I don’t read the book so can’t comment on it. But I don’t expect it to happen with Snow White in Fables; in fact, it seems to me that Bigby is the one who needs the relationship more than Snow.

    Both couples got married, but I trust Willingham to write a more believable couple once they cross the threshhold.

    Arj, if you want to burn me in effigy, go right ahead. And Ragnell, if I’m not welcome here, just say the word and I’ll go. But I’m thinking that this is more a case of getting off on the wrong foot than a deeper disagreement.

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  7. re: "Once again, finding male companionship is equated with marginalization of female characters.

    Sad.


    What do you think, readers?"


    Considering your often very casual and unnecessary usage of sarcasm and condescension when stating your points (even before anyone has had a chance to respond), not only do I stand by what I said, I'd challenge you to reconsider your own delivery if this is how you respond to others'.

    As far as the substance of my comment, it wasn't meant to ignore anything. As someone else mentioned, it was relative to the statements that were made in the then-present conversation.

    Those statements were made by someone other than yourself, if I'm not mistaken.

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  8. Here's a question,

    how many A/B list female characters have an automatic association to a mate relative to the number of A/B list male characters that have an automatic association to a mate?

    For example,

    Superman is automatically associated with Lois Lane, but Batman doesn't have anyone automatically associated to him.

    Sue Storm/Richards is automatically associated with Reed Richards, but Wonder Woman (at least to the general public)doesn't have anyone automatically associated with him.

    In short, how many A/B list female characters have a love interest vs A/B list male characters?

    I think having those figures will shed some light on whether or not comics really does envision that the best thing to happen to a female superhero is to find a mate.

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  9. Sue Storm/Richards is automatically associated with Reed Richards, but Wonder Woman (at least to the general public)doesn't have anyone automatically associated with him.

    sorry, that should be her.

    I hope ragnell doesn't take a typo to mean that I'm sexist.

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  10. Hi, Rob,
    You said, The more I think about it, the “best thing that can happen to a character,” male or female, is entirely subjective – and in a serialized medium, necessarily ephemeral.

    Of course it's subjective. That's entirely the point, isn't it? And again, I'm speaking off the top of my hat here, as I'm interpreting what someone else has said, but I believe the original question was *why* is that "the best thing that can happen to a female character"? The same way that Ms. Simone saw the continuous rape and torture of the superhero's girlfriend to advance the storyline, there is the "ultimate end" of romance and love for the female comic book character.
    Of course, there is that throughout history. I would never quibble with that. But I think it speaks to a larger concern of *why*. *Why* must heterosexual love and relationship be the end all for the female character, in comic books or no? The only other option is death (look at that tradition in 19th/early twentieth century literature, for example, in The Awakening, The Woman Who Did, etc.). If we look at the classical hero's journey (and what better basis for the superhero?), it usually ends with a reunion with family (not always the heterosexual mate), and then a good death. I would think that for a character like, say, Wonder Woman, a heterosexual relationship is not perhaps the "best thing" for her in the end, but rather, a reunion on Paradise Island after fighting the good fight is.
    But that's just me.

    You also said, A love interest, male or female, isn’t the end of a story – rather, it can be the springboard for countless stories.
    It’s not the condition itself that marginalizes female characters once they’re paired up, it’s the way the writer treats them once it happens.


    And again, I don't believe anyone's saying that a love interest or relationship is bad. There is a HUGE difference between having a love interest or forming a relationship and having the female character get married off at the end of her book (the "best thing" that could happen to her, no?). Love and relationships are the basis of any good story. But it seems that the female character *must* be heterosexually mated.

    But I don’t expect it to happen with Snow White in Fables; in fact, it seems to me that Bigby is the one who needs the relationship more than Snow.

    When you say "I don't expect it to happen," do you mean "the marginalization of the female characters"? Just not clear, but I will respond as if that's what this means. If I misunderstood, I apologize. I think we (you and I) are looking at the same issue from two different sides. You see love, relationship, and marriage in the comic book as good. I do, too. I am the biggest, fluffiest romantic, one who swooned when Bigby finally got his act together. And I agree, he needs Snow more than she needs him.
    But that's not the issue at hand. *Why* was there the "marriage imperative" for Snow? Was it because she, as a single mother, *had* to get married? Or was it because she and Bigby loved each other?
    I believe they love each other, and that the marriage was the melding of two like minds. But there is a larger question here of why marriage is the best thing to happen to a female character, and why impulsive heterosexuality is a constant in comic books, in literature, in the world.
    It's the compulsion that I personally quibble with.
    I'm not angry with you, nor am I being defensive. I think you raised some very valid questions. But I think Sandicomm raised a very valid point as well, one that I think is evident in the world at large. My examples, perhaps, were rather tongue in cheek, but do speak to a larger issue at hand. There seem to be more options for the male character than the female.
    Ciao,
    Amy

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  11. Wonder Woman/Steve Trevor is pretty well known to the general public, at least, to the public who saw the Lynda Carter series.

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  12. I'll post more later, but yes, Amy, I meant that I don't expect Snow to be marginalized by her marriage. Sorry I wasn't clear.

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  13. really? I only remembered Steve Trevor when he was reinroduced in the Justice League carton. Besides, the Lynda Carter series ended over twenty years ago :) there's a whole generation of people out there that haven't seen the show.

    I think it's fair to say that Steve isn't equal in prominence to Clark/Lois, Reed/Sue, Peter/MJ.

    In any case, can anyone make tat list?

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  14. I guess I can see that romantic relationship/marriage motivation much more clearly in the older comics cited (like the Lois Lane series of the Silver Age), but not so much in the modern books.

    Granted, the issue hasn't really been on my radar, but since it's been raised on this blog and others, it's given me the chance to assess where things are at. When I try to take in all of the characters and titles being published, no female character really pops into my head who's motivation is to find a guy and/or get married.

    Granted, it's a powerfully ingrained drive to find a "love connection", so that's bound to become at least part of any character's story (male or female), so when the characters do find love and companionship, I don't necessarily see that development as a marginalization or ending of the character's story.

    I apologize if none of that make sense, or if I've missed the point. I can definitely see good points on both sides of the discussion.

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  15. It's always been my opinion that characters in super-hero books need to be defined by their actions and not by who they are/aren't with.

    It's why I like Steve Trevor. Because the writers who "Got" him could easily answer that question with something along the lines of "A dashing sort of chap who goes on adventures with Wonder Woman." instead of "He's Wonder Woman's love interest". The first answer tells me what he -does- rather than who he -is-. He's not defined by Wonder Woman, and Wonder Woman should not be defined by him. I hate it when romantic interests are just used as props. Example: don't TELL me why Peter Parker loves Mary Jane. SHOW ME!

    Should a star (Male or Female) be paired up with a supporting cast member? Well.. if they're actually characters and not props, the question is far more an exciting one.

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  16. re: "It's why I like Steve Trevor. Because the writers who "Got" him could easily answer that question with something along the lines of "A dashing sort of chap who goes on adventures with Wonder Woman." instead of "He's Wonder Woman's love interest". The first answer tells me what he -does- rather than who he -is-. He's not defined by Wonder Woman, and Wonder Woman should not be defined by him."

    I don't think it should be an either/or kinda thing.

    "Trevor: A dashing adventurer and Wonder Woman's current love-interest."

    But if it is a question of one or the other, I guess I agree with you.

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  17. To West:

    Well, I didn't mean my argument to come off as a mutually exclusive thing. it goes back to my needing for writers to understand and show what the characters -do- rather than just assigning what they -are- and leaving it at that.

    It's like if Lois Lane was from here on out just referred to as Superman's wife. Hah! She's way more than that. I think that's probably why they want to get rid of Mary Jane over at the Marvel neck of the woods. Writers either can't, won't, or are afraid to assigning her an active trait outside of filling in the "Wife" role.

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  18. re: "Well, I didn't mean my argument to come off as a mutually exclusive thing."

    r.nav, no doubt. But I concede that there are a lot of binary-thinking individuals who WILL see it (and write it) that way.

    So, I feel you.

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  19. Hi Ty,
    You asked, In short, how many A/B list female characters have a love interest vs A/B list male characters?

    I guess the question is, how do you define A/B list female characters? I personally will go with characters that are popular enough to hold their own books/be major characters on a team.

    In DC:
    Wonder Woman (Golden Age: Steve Trevor; recent runs, no one--which I absolutely adore--although JLA #0 shows future Diana about to get married)
    Raven (Beast Boy, yes?)
    Donna Troy (ugh, I can't keep up with all of the versions of Donna, but she's been married at least once)
    Oracle (paired with Nightwing; gets engaged at the end of his book, then no longer engaged in OYL jump?)
    Black Canary (almost always paired with Green Arrow)
    Huntress (paired with Nightwing in a one-night stand that came back to haunt her; also goes out with random guy in BoP as "payment" for his help; also Arsenal and The Question)
    Catwoman (Bruce Wayne/Batman, Slam Bradley, possibly Sam Bradley, and who the heck is the father of her baby, anyhow??)
    Supergirl (I'm going to talk about Linda in my own blog, but Kara hasn't really been paired, so yay!)
    Wonder Girl (Conner/Superboy)
    Renee Montoya (lesbian, so counters the heterosexual imperative, but her relationship with Kathy is complicating 52)
    Hawkgirl (Hawkman)
    Stargirl (Captain Marvel, and there's the whole weird "age" issue)
    Starfire (Nightwing again; he just gets around!)
    Sasha Bordeaux/Black Queen (Bruce Wayne and Mr. Terrific)

    Help me think of some others!
    Ciao,
    Amy

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  20. Donna Troy (ugh, I can't keep up with all of the versions of Donna, but she's been married at least once)

    His name was Terry Long, and he was the creepiest character in the ENTIRE DC UNIVERSE. At least, he struck me as creepy. He was written somewhere between a Mary Sue & a cry for help.

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  21. Skimming over most of the discussion here...

    My own take is that 1) it's completely missing the point being made- that it's bad that female characters tend to be "retired" once they hook up; and 2) it's sort of a veiled, passive-aggressive attack. It translates to, "SIGH... look at you unreasonable people, fighting against love." It creates a straw man unrelated to the ACTUAL point.

    --furikku from LJ

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  22. Apropos of nothing, Amy pretty much nailed the bullseye on why Fables makes me uncomfortable.

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  23. furikku's first point may be true.

    Missing the point, while unfortunate, isn't, in and of itself, offensive.

    The second point that is remiscent of the first in that it misses the point of my statement. It's not an attack, passive or otherwise.

    I think there's something sad about intepreting the coupling of fictional characters as the sexual marginalization of ONE of them. Now, whether that's what was going on or not, it's a point of some substance, as others came to the same conclusion.

    If that's enough to leave anyone here incensed, again, I suggest that these same people leave their own more venomous and sarcastic comments to themselves in any future conversations... with anyone.

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  24. Amy wrote:

    And again, I'm speaking off the top of my hat here, as I'm interpreting what someone else has said, but I believe the original question was *why* is that "the best thing that can happen to a female character"?

    Well, Sandicomm’s original question was actually a statement: that getting a mate is the best thing to happen to a female character. Some people chose to ask the question “Why is it the best thing for female characters?” and others chose to ask the question “is that really the best thing for female characters, and if so, does that make them different from male characters?” Both groups are responding to the statement with a question, but they’re different questions.

    I think it’s interesting that we’re looking at these things as endpoints for the characters, when in reality, the best thing to happen is that the character’s stories don’t end at all, whether in death, marriage, reincarnation, or the hula-hoop marathon to end all hula-hoop marathons. It’s in Wonder Woman’s best interest to keep getting published, whether she’s single, married, has super powers, or just uses kung-fu in a kickin’ jumpsuit.

    (I’d prefer her unattached too, by the way.)

    I think there’s another question that we should be asking, in fact. Romance doesn’t have to marginalize female characters. I’m no WW scholar, but I don’t think Steve Trevor ever pushed Diana out of her stories or hobbled her character (I could be very wrong on this, and god knows what grief she was given in the Kanigher years). I’ve always thought Saturn Girl in the Legion was the stronger and more assertive half of her marriage to Lightning Lad, and, as I said before, I expect Snow White will continue to be the well-drawn character she’s always been in Fables. So my question is this: If other paired-off female characters aren’t being written this way, why not?

    My guess is that it’s Steve Trevor syndrome. A lot of writers shy away from using Trevor in the fear that, if they show Wonder Woman saving his bacon too often, he’ll seem weak and unworthy of her. But in the situations they’d get into together, there’s really no way he can pull his own weight. What to do?

    It’s a tightrope, and some writers are more successful at walking it than others. But I’d say that has more to do with their skill (and their awareness of the problem Trevor and his counterparts pose) than any systemic problem in comics.

    And ultimately, that’s where this all leads me. If I’ve got a problem with the way Ororo is portrayed, I have to lay it at the feet of the writer, not comics in general. If Zeb Wells writes a lazy, stereotypical story, that’s his fault, not Greg Rucka’s. And vice versa. There’s no sense in laying the sins of Frank Miller at the feet of Kurt Busiek.

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  25. Rob S -- Wasn't referring to you, don't sweat it.

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  26. West -- (I hardly consider my use of sarcasm unnecessary) Were it simply condescension, I wouldn't have been so annoyed. Some of my favorite blogs are run by condescending elitists.

    No, what got me on your comment was the complete reduction of my own concerns to an extremist position, which I will not stand for. I stated my points about Storm twice, and both times depended heavily on factors aside from man + woman, even though her treatment as a female character was a large part of the concern.

    I offered up Sandicomm's comment as food for further thought and discussion from an earlier unformed post, and rather than look into it or discuss it, you used the same dismissive tone you used in the Storm argument, going back to the similar wording ("For you, being a part of a couple = marginalization") of an erroneous assumption. You even stated, "once again." It was so obvious that you were referring back to our earlier disagreement that even Lois Lane wouldn't miss it.

    As for ignoring, it seems pretty obvious as I am a known shipper of several male-female pairs that you have completely ignored many of my earlier posts.

    I deal in complex thoughts and viewpoints on this blog. I have since the start. I'll offer a half-formed or vague statement up for discussion, but I'll be damned if I'm going to let simplifying an already complex argument go by without calling you on it.

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  27. re: "I offered up Sandicomm's comment as food for further thought and discussion from an earlier unformed post, and rather than look into it or discuss it,"

    I can stop right there.

    You are so blind. I read every damned word every damned time I comment on something. You love to tell someone they're not "look[ing] into something," despite how much detail they've put into their comments and opinions. You do yourself and others a disservice.

    So screw it. You don't hear me and I'm tired of typing up posts just to have you claim I'm ignoring your points... which I usually address in detail. I made a short comment, instead and you said just what you always say.

    More power to you, Ragnell. Peace.

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  28. "Arj, if you want to burn me in effigy, go right ahead. And Ragnell, if I’m not welcome here, just say the word and I’ll go. But I’m thinking that this is more a case of getting off on the wrong foot than a deeper disagreement."

    No, I think you had an interesting point about Peter Parker, though I don't know Spider-Man well enough to decide for myself if I agree w/ you or not. But I don't understand how you bringing up Spider-Man was missing the point. Consider yourself, at least in my book, flaming effigy free. :)

    I was more annoyed with the people who oversimplified the argument about the fact that women are often solely defined by their relationships to others (either girlfriend, wife, sister, daughter, but especially as mate or romantic attachment). It's not about simply finding male companionship. It's the subtle messages inherent throughout our culture (including comics, but also everywhere) that havin' a man is the best thing that could possibly happen to us wimmin, and that chance at perfection gets ruined when we get sexually violated.

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  29. Glad to hear I'm not a pariah. But if you need it, the "golden ratio" for effigies is 70% straw, 30% oily rags.

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  30. First, apologies for littering Ragnell's comment section with so many of my own comments. But you offered such an intriguing space to discuss such an intriguing topic, Ma'am, and I thank you for it.

    Now, Rob, I agree with so much that you have so eloquently said, and I appreciate your thoughtful response to my babblings (I've just--just!--quit smoking in the last week, so I feel that I don't come across very coherent At All, so wrapped up in nicotine craving I am!). But to comment on something specifically,
    you said, It’s in Wonder Woman’s best interest to keep getting published, whether she’s single, married, has super powers, or just uses kung-fu in a kickin’ jumpsuit.

    And I say, Amen. Yes, please. I've heard some scuttlebutt In The World regarding WW's waning popularity, and it breaks my very heart. I think conversations like this and the many others I've spotted in the blogosphere over the past few weeks have renewed my faith that WW, and other such titles, will remain In The World.
    Gratitude, Rob, Ragnell, and others.
    Ciao,
    Amy

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  31. I guess my immediate reaction is that there has to be a better way to disagree then going, "sigh, there you go again".

    Condescension is a tool of polemics, not discussion; and while it certainly has it's place, I don't really like it when it's used on somebody you know is going to attempt to reply.

    anyway, part of my problem is that I don't really read modern superhero books; my window into the universe of superheros comes from my dad's collection of comics, which is almost entirely made of marvel books and spans roughly 1967 through 1970.

    What';s interesting to me is how many male characters of the time defined/were defined as succesful when they got a mate;

    Spider-Man, Namor, Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Johnny Storm, Namor and Thor all defined long-term success in terms of entering heterosexual relationships, (Perhaps because they were so succesful in all other fields? After all, Thor can pretty much pummel anybody on the planet, but whether he'll actually get together with a mortal girl, that's another story.

    On the other hand, the Avengers, Iron Man and Nick Fury generally weren't too interested in romantic relationships. Even Wanda was pretty much Celibate.

    While the first part seems pretty much indisputable, I'm not sure that female characters show much more pressure to get married then male ones.

    On the other hand, as I mentioned, my sample is highly skewed.

    One thing that would be interesting to look at is minor characters who couldn' hold onto their own series. When a character retires from the superhero biz, are they more likely to get married if they're female?

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  32. Oh, and r.nav:

    Chris Sims feels feels the same about Terry Long as you do.

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  33. Christopher -- It's possible my sample's skewed, and being interfered with by the real-life pressure on women to marry, the pressure that says you can win a Nobel Prize but still won't be happy until you get married and have babies.

    Still, I get the overall general impression that Sandicomm does. I suppose a double-sided list would be in order to serttle thigns (that was one of our reasons for starting the Damned List), but my last project is draining enough as it is, I'm not about to embark on another one.

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  34. Alright, I'm going to chip in. I'm not sure it's a good idea, but oh well.

    Just looking at West's comment, by itself, and not considering the argument it was made in (which is what you wanted us to do, I think), I don't see anything wrong with it.

    Maybe it's the way I'm reading it, but to me, West is expressing the opinion that it's wrong to immediately catgeorize a woman finding male companionship as a method through which the female character will be marginalized.

    That sounds right to me. It may be that, in the case of T'Challa and Storm, Hudlin will devalue Storm to make Panther look better. Heck it may have already happened in that "Black Panther and Storm visit Latveria" issue, though I thought that made Panther look overly macho and just stupid more than anything.

    But it seems to me, we need to wait and see. if the characters can be written as equals, then I don't see a problem with it.

    And now, I'm going to run away very fast.

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  35. Calvin-- True, in and of itself, it's not a problemetic comment. I think on reflection its the referencing back to his response to my original argument about Storm and Black Panther, which was about the move from potential lead to supporting cast that got my goat. The oversimplification thing.

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