Sunday, July 09, 2006

Because A Thousand Words Wasn't Nearly Enough

My writing skills need work. I'm apparently able to entertain well enough, but when it comes to the true purpose of writing -- getting the message across, I've been falling short.

Case in point, yesterday's link to my cover analysis yielded this response. Kalinara's answer (originally found here) well-summed up my intention, but I can't help but wonder if this could have been avoided.

Take the tail-end of the comment, for example:

When you embrace this cover, you're not embracing a noble view of womanhood. You're embracing the view that a woman can only be noble if she rejects and battles against the sexuality that a male-dominated culture finds threatening.

You see, I agree with the base of Hippokrene's argument. The Femme Fatale is dangerous to men, she's a representation of male fear of female sexuality and the seeming control it has over them. She's an attempt to place responsibility for male actions on the female object of the actions.

However, there's a flipside to it, and that's the path of least resistance. I had a coworker once who tried to use feminine wiles to get mostly male coworkers to make things move a little faster for her. I hated watching it then, and I hate watching it now. Before she went overseas, she trained me to take over her additional duties (Hazardous Waste Disposal -- yuck) and advised me to do the same. I expressed my disgust and told her I'd be doing things my way (which involved scowling, growling and intimidation). But, I admit, it seemed to easy to do. So easy to play the game, play into their hands and expectations. All it took was an upward thrust of the chest, a suggestive tilt of the face, and you had that attention. You had what looked like power. It was a false sense of power, though, based entirely on the attention you got from the man you were speaking to. After you left, he'd not be considering you a coworker he did a favor for. You were an object of desire he got to look at a little while. He got to see your breasts and your smile and your eyes in return for a little attention. He got a little fantasy time, and when you came back, he'd expect the same.

Now, add a few years of doing that, and you sew on a stripe or two. Suddenly, you're Sgt Fatale. You go back to that guy, and he's still Amn Supply. You need something from him, and, according to military hierarchy, you are supposed to be the one in power here, not him. However, he's expecting that smile, that fantasy. Is it right to give that fantasy to him? It may seem harmless, but in order to do so you're sacrificing your own personal earned power of position over the situation for the illusionary power of your sexuality. Come crunch time, and he's breaking a safety rule or a security rule and you need to stop him -- How much authority will you have?

There's an internal struggle in that cover to me, the struggle between two parts of yourself -- the part that has valuable skills and dignity, and the part that wants to get something done the easy way. As I looked at that cover, I saw Osira, a supervillain. Supervillains always take the easy way. She used her sexuality to get ahead. Diana doesn't do that. She's clearly a sexual being, look at her outfit, but in the picture she emphasizes power and strength and rage, not sexuality.

The comment particularly got to me, though, because I suspect it could have been prevented. I wrote that analysis early Friday morning, and briefly played with a point. A point about the usual Good Girl-Bad Girl fight and how this doesn't conform to that dynamic. Normally, in such a cover, we see an emphasis on the Good-Girl's, well, "Goodness" and purity and "Niceness." Diana does not look nice. She looks like she's about to tear those snakes to pieces and then start on Osira. "Good girls" typically resemble pre-Hades Persephone. An innocent, good natural girl who is fighting to avoid being taken advantage of. She is defending her virtue. In such images, the "Good, Pure Woman" is always just as exploited as the "Bad Girl." If anything, with the "Good Girl" it's worse because there's an element of victimization. She's being swept away by unrestrained sexuality and must fight against it.

It makes me sick too. But this cover doesn't have that victimization. Diana shows some control here. She's not the victimized "Good Girl" defending virtue against the "Hussy." She does not represent an extreme. She's a normal, moderate woman who is fighting a twisted extreme of sexuality. Like all supervillains, Osira represents an unhealthy extreme, while our hero represents the healthy middle-ground. The image shows a perverted representation of femininity, of sexuality attempting to sweep Diana away, but she's not going gently or frightened or scrambling to get away. No, she's enraged, and exerting force, and ready to demonstrate not six kinds of violence on her enemy. As her creator himself points out, Diana always breaks free and overpowers her captor.

I was bothered by the comment, a bit discouraged, and genuinely annoyed because I figured that leaving in what I'd discarded would have cleared it up, even if it had disturbed the flow of the writing. I talked it over with some friends. Tekanji, who I remember when she first saw the picture mentioned her eye was drawn to the large snake around Diana's thigh, mentioned there was some Virgin/Whore dichotomy in the picture, Kalinara brought up the awful emphasis on Diana's "virginity", and Soyo perceptively pointed out the extreme polarization of sexuality in our society (which she'd already covered in this essay a few weeks ago). We managed, between the four of us, to pinpoint the difficult position of the artist. You couldn't avoid polarizing the subjects, Diana would not be seen as a moderate persona and it would bring up the Virgin/Whore dynamic if there was no sexualization on Diana's part. But, truly, in a cover with bondage and tentacles is it possible to de-sexualize a woman in a bathing suit? Not a chance. If any more sexualization was added, the Dodsons ran the risk of crossing the line to objectification and truly brining in the Good Girl-Bad Girl imagery as Diana would clearly be exploited. Kalinara and Soyo argued that the complaint of Diana being the pure and chaste woman up against the evil temptress would be less likely in that case, but it would have killed any appreciation I had for the cover. The best possible situation was the one there, with Diana powerful and ready to attack and Osira exploited, but by herself.


  1. Ragnell...

    Okay, sit down. No, really. Here, have some coffee. Wait, no, have some cocoa.

    Now look. Listen to me. You've come to a good spot here, and I just want to help you stay there, because I've seen you angst over your writing before.

    The interpetation of the cover you posted is no less amazing because someone disagrees with it. In fact, even accepting that you should have made you position clearer-- it's still a DAMN fine piece of writing.

    You are your own worse critic. I'm MY own worse critic. Hell, a few typos likely exscaped me before posting this, and it'll bug me.

    When we over indulge our internal critic, we let the critisim of others hit us even harder. And not only does that impeed our self image, but it leaves you open to shadow writers-- people who want you to be a proxy for them, either in lieu of writing themselves or to extend their own ego.

    I had a jijit-su pulled on me on a writing list once. someone offered a crit... but it wasn't really a crit when I looked at it.

    It was an op-ed piece about self-definition. And the critic was trying to inject it with some of her own qualifiers. I very nearly let her, because she phased it as a crit and I was having a bad day.

    But like I always do, I let my gut have a chance to react, not the stupid programming getting in its way. I had said what I wanted to say. A few people changed that viewpoint later, and even helped me refine it-- but at the time I wrote the piece, that was the clearest I could make myself, and it was a good piece of writing-- not because it sold (it did) but because it expressed the idea. My intent was reflected in the writing.

    That essay-- that was a damn fine essay. Some of the crits you got will help you refine or redefine your view. But those are topics for another essay. They are not a reason to belittle a GOOD PIECE OF WRITING.

    Because that just gets in the way of more good writing, now doesn't it?

    Okay. All I wanted to say. As I said, I agree with most of this post, but felt you needed to hear that.

  2. A post that will live forever in the annals of ironic comment spam.

    Bill Burns

  3. "The best possible situation was the one there, with Diana powerful and ready to attack and Osira exploited, but by herself."

    Or...a different cover.


    I don't think your writing skills are falling short in terms of getting your meaning across - in general, I think you've jumped to a slightly difference audience and you are still adjusting.

    Maybe it's just me, but I didn't realize the original article was written by you and was a little surprised to see that it was. I got to it from the link at WFA, not the link on your blog, and I was killing time before work, so I only skimmed it. So, again, maybe it's just me.

    Lyle, however, called me insightful recently, and it went to my head, so.....

    It seems to me that you've changed your voice for your new audience, which was probably needed, but since some of your usual fans are disagreeing about things that you actually agree with them on, I wonder if you haven't tempered your voice a bit too much. Especially seeing as you switched from what has become a very feminist leaning site to a more general one, I can see how that would easily happen.

    (So that you won't be second guessing every single little detail...) I'm especially wondering why you ended instead of started with "I love this cover." The way you did it gives us the first impression of you as someone who is lecturing. The other way would have let us know that you are human and had a very emotional response to the cover, which you are trying to understand. The latter seems to be more what you do on your blog (though I'd need to reread more posts to be sure) - partly cause it's a bloggy thing to do. Instead the article comes across as you you are trying to instruct from a place of authority, and that tends to make people less sympathetic when they disagree.

    I can see lots of reasons why a very bloggy style article wouldn't be appropraite, but I think you may have gone a bit too far in the other direction this time, and that that is where the trouble started.

    'Course, I don't know how you manage to get done everything that you get done.... I mean, god forbid that you not be perfect all the time - at everything -all at the same time. :)

  4. I thought both the Newsarama and this post were great critical essays. It pinpointed a problem I have with another character, too. I think sometimes people are just going to get a different interpretation and reaction, no matter what you write. Subtle critiques can get lost. When I made my complaints about Teen Titan's Rose in a particular scene in a ComicBloc thread on women in comics, one person immediately went to the extreme of thinking I wanted all women to act like chaste, sweet Mary Marvels, defending "edginess" and "variety." Yeah, Pantha's just like Mary Marvel. :P

    I also think it might be adjusting to a different audience. I'm terribly pretentious and name-drop heavy, dense critical names and ideas often, so trying to adjust myself to something like ComicBloc was tricky. And even then I got the "it's just comics!" response. How can you do a deep critique and get the people who think it'd be "too much," and those who do appreciate it? So it's always a challenge to write for two audiences who expect two different ways of writing.

  5. Your writing style is just fine. You delve into complicated ideas and there is a lot to be said about them. You're in my favorites folder.

  6. If your concern is, "Damn, I could've stated my point more clearly:" hey, every writer has that response. I've lost count of the number of times I've tried to make a point in half-a-dozen paragraphs, only to have someone else express it more clearly in a single sentence. Take note of what you did wrong or what you could've made clearer and learn from your experience.

    If your concern is, "Someone didn't get my point or disagreed with me, I must not have stated it properly:" in the former case, there will always be people who don't get what you write, so you can't sweat pleasing all the people all the time; while the latter suggests an arrogant presumption that you were right in the first place and to disagree with you must mean they didn't understand you. :-) Either way, you shouldn't necessarily presume you need to change your writing style, just your mindset.