Thursday, August 10, 2006

Crossposted from Comic-Bloc

I can't seem to keep out of these arguments, this one's about Pantha, but I ended up with some insights I thought I'd share. I'm arguing with this guy, not about specifics, but on dismissing the sexism argument at the outset. Here's my argument:
There's a wealth of symbolism and story cliches that enforce gender roles that people are thinking of when they bring this up. They are also thinking of superficially similar situations with men where things were treated differently. Instead of arguing these points with valid counters -- men who have been injured SPECIFICALLY to bring angst to a female character, which is the actual equivalent of the Fridge accusation; or reasons the character may have been considered disposable -- you're just plain dismissive of the person arguing because heaven forfend, someone may have brought up sexism.

Here's the thing, we live in a society with still very strict gender roles, as a guy you must know this -- its it socially acceptable for you to wear certain clothing, to express certain emotions? Well, on the female side we experience our own problems, where you are not expected to be able to do a certain job (science, math) or think a certain way (mechanically, logically) as well because of your gender. Sexism still exists, as we still have assumptions in our society about behavior that's proper for a man yet is not proper for a woman, and vice versa.

Since society has these gender roles and presuppositions, they are going to show up in stories also. Probably moreso than they show in real life. It's worth examining a female role in a story and how it may differ from a male role, sometimes it turns out to be inconsequential, yes (I can think of a few anti-Arisia posts I had to read twice before I decided it wasn't a putting the blame on the woman attitude so much as a "The main character can do no wrong" attitude), rarely does it turn out to be malicious (Actually, I can't think of an instance where I've believed a moment of sexism in comics to be intentional or malicious), but sometimes it needs to be looked into and changed.

You can't simply dismiss the argument offhand because sexism comes up. You have to actually address the person's concerns on a mature level. It's not only perfectly acceptable to examine the possibility of sexism, it's downright important to consider the option, not only in the stuff you dislike but also in the stories that you do like, and in your own attitude. Considering the possibility does not lead to conclusion that it exists and even more importantly, Concluding that it exists does not imply that it was malicious, or that the writer is a bad person or an unskilled writer, just that the cliche appeared. Gender roles are a common storytelling tool, but they're restrictive for all characters and looking into them opens up creative opportunities by expanding your range of character types and situations.

Again, I personally disagree with JLG on Pantha's death. I don't even think that a Fridge moment is necessarily a bad thing (I do think it's a terrible thing when we only see women on the one side of that narrative tool. And at the moment I can come up with men injured to give angst to other men before I can think of men injured or killed to give angst to women). But that's no reason to dismiss his concerns out of hand as "Freaking out over a female character."
What do you think? Effective, or cause for more defensiveness?


  1. Your post is eminently reasonable, to my thinking. Any defensiveness arising therefrom won't have been the result of a considered reading.

  2. I totally give up. Who the heck is Pantha? Wasn't that the name of a character in Thundercats? I didn't watch a lot of cartoons in the '80s...

  3. I found your post to be very well-written and carefully worded. It is clear you put a lot of thought into your argument.


    I'm only judging this person from the few posts I read following your comicbloc link, and I'm fairly confident that there is no chance and hell you will get a comparable response. I can see why you reactively take the opposing side to this guy even if you agree with him.

  4. ARGH. Typos, typos, typos...
    I meant to say...

    "...comicbloc link, BUT I'm..."
    " chance IN hell..."

  5. re: "What do you think? Effective, or cause for more defensiveness?"

    You effectively made your point, if that's what you're asking.

    As to whether it'll sink into the right brains and stick, is another question.

    As far as defensiveness is concerned, I don't think your response (based solely on what you posted here) seemed too reactionary. I see no reason why a reasonable, rational human-being would react to it with defensiveness... unless he wasn't dismissing all claims of sexism out-of-hand.

    In other words: Ya done gud.

  6. for Elayne.

  7. I don't know how you have the tolerance to deal with people like this. When someone interprets pointing out trends of sexism in writing as "blanket accusations" of sexism ... That's the point where I give up and save my sanity. :P I have a ton of respect for your level of patience.

  8. I think it was an excellent response. A little minor, itty, bitty nitpick, though.

    You said:
    Actually, I can't think of an instance where I've believed a moment of sexism in comics to be intentional or malicious

    Frank Miller. If nothing else, the ASBR script shows that he both intentionally objectifies women, and does it in a malicious fashion.

    No, it's not him thinking, "Today I'll be maliciously sexist!" but rather that he intentionally objectifies women, and does it in such a "these women are here for our wank material" way that I can't not feel that malice is directed towards my gender.

    But, anyway, for trying to make your point to the poster, it's possible that even a passing mention of Miller would derail the point you were trying to make.

    And, let me say again, it was a good one. Very fair, I think, very gentle, but still firm on the importance of, at the very least, asking the question, "Is there sexism here?"

  9. Good Lord, that's like Toy Soldier all over again...

  10. (Tek -- Shh, it would hurt my point :))

    Well, it didn't help, he just got more defensive (and stopped spellchecking).

    Still, it's kind of fun, especially given how crazy he drove me in that Survey thread.

  11. I have a question, if I may.

    Can sexism be intentional but not malicious?

    To me, the Mother of Champions character introduced in 52 falls under this category. It'd be pretty hard to make the argument that she isn't a sexist character, but I felt that that was the point, you know?

    If you can be intentionally sexist, but not malicious, is that acceptable? Or rather, would that be an acceptable defense to accusations of sexism?

    (I wanted to make sure to bring that up because you know that there would be someone saying "But, you see, what Miller was doing with Vicki Vale was a commentary...")

  12. Derek -- Well, I'm not sure how MOC will turn out, but thinking of the Bulleteer I'm not sure using sexism to comment on sexism technically counts as sexism.

    (And Miller screwed the pooch on his commentary excuse when he let the sexism bleed through in his script descriptions. I cite Beau Smith's WW/Xena crossover script, where they had a swimming scene, and a fight where the heroines switched clothes -- and it was a point that Ares was being a sexist pig during this, but the script was written professionally.)

  13. I may get flayed for this, but I didn't find anything so bad about Miller's script lines re: ol' girl's booty.

    He suggested an ass shot and said the character had a great ass.

    Comics are FULL of "Soul Train angles" that highlight the best aspects of the characters' bodies.

    In fact, after reviewing the definition of "sexism," I reject the claim that Miller's comment was an example of it.

  14. Thanks Darko! So she came out of the Bulked Up, Evil and Talking mess? No wonder I didn't remember her. So wow, all this discussion based on the death of a character so minor that regular DC readers like me don't even remember her?

  15. Yep, I'm that kind of crazy. :P

  16. With regards to the Frank Miller thing:

    From reading the pre-release interviews, it seems like he wants ALL STAR to be a kind of "babes of the DCU" calendar with as much "fan service" as will fit, which is sexist or at least strongly promotes the objectification of the female form in pop art. But that said, it looks like (in his own immature and arguably ineffective way) he is trying to write these "babes" as well rounded characters. Vicki Vale as a character does not seem to bad. Yes she did the whole "I'm going on a date..." thing but she also stood up to the cops and followed her story lead, etc. She is not one to be intimidated. And Black Canary is obviously meant to be a "strong" person.

    OK maybe the writing sucks but not necessarily because it's demeaning. But the art, which Miller does seem to have a hand in, is clearly meant to serve a different purpose (as Tekanji pointed out). How he internally justifies this approach is a mystery to me - maybe he assumes all good women should be sexy and responsive to his needs?

  17. I had similar thoughts about Vicki Vale's abilities.