Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Chorus Member

I'm watching all of the outrage I linked get described as herdthink, cliquish, and just a general hivemind. Honestly, though, herdthink? Don't these people know anything about comics or communities? Birds of a feather and all that. People with like minds link each other and friend each other and react in much the same way. So, people linking Devil Doll are, on the whole, reacting like she does. Communities build on communities like a chain. You read someone and someone else reads you, you link someone and that someone who reads you also links them and the someone who reads that someone links them and so on. Some posts don't get linked. Some get linked once. Some get linked multiple times and some things become an internet fad in themselves, to the point that ten years and ten thousand links later someone writes a quote on a picture of his cat and everyone laughs, but almost nobody knows the origin of the phrase.

This particular outrage went a long way and through blogs I've never seen before. It's burned fast and bright. I linked Lisa on Wednesday, Devil Doll posted on Thursday and Thursday night and it carried through the movie fandoms. When I got home I had so many links I had to take another day to compile them in a separate post (figured it would be easier if people could link it if they were interested in responses, and that it wouldn't detract from the other discussions). This didn't happen because of follow the leader, it happened because it resonated with a lot of people. A lot of people saw that post and had the same reaction to the pictures, so they linked it. And it travels on.

Its incredible, though, how some things can get people talking. A lot of these are new blogs, but a lot of these are people I read every day. Blogs I constantly monitor, some of them are regular WFA commenters. There's such a range of interests there, and opinions. One person likes cheesecake to a certain point, another thinks its all bad and a third is okay so long as the problem is writing. They post and rant and analyze and argue amongst themselves until something happens, something big, to make a large number of these different voices speak in chorus.

But to some people, all outrage is the same. Even though there are different players using different arguments in each fight. Even though there are alliances drawn and redrawn every day (I watch this every day -- I've seen bloggers engage in bitter fights with and then become the darlings of the Fan Feminist Community over a period of a month), somehow the last three major outrages are proof of a growing hive mentality and my website is somehow the center of this.

When I see people like Kalinara and Livia, who have completely different approaches to their Feminism debate on the same side, I don't call that a hive mentality. I don't call Colleen Doran and AriellaDrake using the same talking point (coincidentally, it was "feminists are not a monolithic entity") a hive mentality. I call it a fricking miracle.

Yes, there's been a lot of buzzing. There's all out rage over stuff I never thought twice over, which I don't mind. I enjoy watching a good fight (though I thought that the deleting of complaints was more offensive than the statue). Its annoying when its coupled with complete and utter ignorance of things I figured were pretty important. Plus there's the trashing of a hobby I love by outsiders. The fans who think that non-American comics are somehow less sexist are getting on my fucking nerves here. Have they never seen an anime or manga-based toy?

That's nothing, however, to the people who go through the links and think that there's a swarm a drones following some Alien Amazon Queen in her outrage. The communities doesn't work that way, not on this scale.

Anyway, the initial shock seems to be subsiding, and I'm seeing more thoughtful responses. I will admit I used to be more thoughtful, though.

I was thinking about it as I answered this person with a link to a previous post.

I think I may be at the point where, if I could muster the energy to sort through my archives, i could answer everyone with a past post, because we're seeing so many things I've seen since I started blogging. I just finished reading Where the Girls Are, which goes over the history of Feminism and the Mass Media from the 60s to the 90s. It all looked so familiar. Same old song, only I experienced those thirty years in just three years it seems with comics alone.

Kalinara and I are the only people who have read every link at When Fangirls Attack as they were posted. No one else knew us in those first couple of days, but we read everything as we posted and even if we were forced to skim we went back and read it.

I read every single link I linked on that stupid statue. I've read every single anti-feminist link I've put on there and I treasure them as I find them. They're conversation builders. People answer them, and rant and rave and rationalize and agree and disagree and keep talking. Someone asked me if I ever ran out of outraged. I told her I did all the time, but I enjoyed a good fight so that kept me going.

But I'm just getting so sick and tired of hearing the same stupid arguments over and over again from people who thinking they are new and haven't been addressed before. People who think they're clever and that such an "insight" will stop others in their tracks. People who are dismissive.

I'm losing my temper with them. I've seen it so damned often. I've seen it from people who have seen it themselves. I've seen the fannishness. I've seen the absurdity. I've seen the hypocrisy. I linked it all and fumed as I did.

When I started blogging Feminism, I got complimented on my patience and my accessibility. Now more often I'm described as crazy, overreacting, and over the top. I'm also getting linked as the feminist poster girl for conversations I never weighed in on. That's weird. I'm losing readers for my focus sharpening (to the point I'm livejournalling all of my non-comics stuff) even as WFA is gaining them. That's weird, because this blog was originally for everything and WFA was born of specialization.

Oh, and for those of you who don't think ranting about Power Girl's boobs ever did anyone any good. I got politically aware through the Fan Feminists I've met and the places my comic book articles were linked. So don't tell me this is a waste of energy. This kind of thinking reverberates into real life, whether you're the one carrying it from fandom to reality or you've taken it from fandom to reality.

They mirror each other. Just as we're in a backlash against the Women's Movement in the political media, we seem to be in the midst of the backlash from Women in Refrigerators still. As the companies and the fanboys get meaner, louder, and more explicit, so do the Feminists. They attack from all sides, so do the Feminists. The companies attack each other, the fanboys attack each other, the antifeminists attack the Feminists who attack other Feminists who attack antifeminists who attack fanboys and feminists who team up to attack the companies. Its become a wild repetitive dance where the music just gets faster and faster and we change partners and costumes in mid-twirl.

Its all the same old song, a little bit louder and a little bit worse each time. Each time you hear the part where they throw us a great female character, its better than before. Each time they then kill her off, its just a bit worse than before. Each piece of cheesecake is just a bit worse than the last. Each part where someone waves their hand and dismisses someone with "Its just a comic book", "Its for men anyway", "You should be blogging about women in the Middle East instead" and "Well, I'M a WOMAN and I'm not offended" is just a little bit louder and a little bit worse than the last time I heard it, and that was the worst part of the dance to begin with.

There's one good point.

As I told someone earlier, I disagree with Girl-Wonder.org members vocally and regularly. But I don't dismiss them. Being dismissed unites people in rage against the dismisser. Douglas, in the aforementioned book, notes how being dismissed by the news media in the beginning of the women's movement drew women of many different ideologies together. They made a common enemy of themselves.

I think that's the driving force behind the recent surge in comic book feminist blogging. The companies are dismissing us. With every fetish statue, porn-inspired cover, male-focused marketing campaign, pink ghetto and closed fridge door they're dismissing women as superhero fans. Then when we stand up and say "We're here! We've been here! And it would be nice if you didn't actively try to run us out of here!" we're accused of asking for special treatment, and dismissed again. After you notice too much of that (and you can't stop noticing it) you either take the hint and leave or (held captive by your love of the basic concepts of the genre, your appreciation for the medium, and your desperate fannish need to cling to your childhood dreams) you decide you've had enough and write rude letters to Peter Tomasi about the lack of female characters in Green Lantern.

At the same time, a hundred other women decide they've had enough, and sent in postcards about the Spoiler.

Now, we have more women who've decided they've had enough. Some are probably taking the hint, while others are sending letters (ranging from the polite to disgusted to enraged) to the helpfully provided addresses.

I like that. That's progress. That means the dance hall's getting crowded, even as (or probably because) the music's getting faster. We haven't hit the breaking point, though. Or we've passed it. I'm not sure I'd recognize the breaking point, but I figure its some point after somebody sends 12 T-Shirts to a major publisher addressed to the most scantily clad female characters, or sends them pink printouts of the resumes of feminist sci-fi novelists, along with what series they'd be best suited to write.

In the meantime, once this outrage dies down and people return to their respective blogging habits, I'll appreciate having the variety back. See, not every WFA link makes it to the major news and commentary sites so many people may not realize it but there are a lot of very different people in the comics blogosphere, even fi they seem to turn into an echo chamber when united through special provocation. Even then, it lasts for a day or so and some of the most incredible things you've ever read come through once people get their heads about them. Some of the most amazingly stupid things as well. The variety returns.


  1. As I told someone earlier, I disagree with Girl-Wonder.org members vocally and regularly.

    I like that. Not being disagreed with; I secretly believe I'm right all the time and everyone else is just stubborn. I like that you disagree with ma as an individual with an individual opinions, not as "the g-w set."

  2. As always, well said. I do like that idea near the end about sending lists of feminist writers with comics they'd be good for. Not that its a guarentee of anything, since I'm sure there were plenty of people who probably thought Jodi Piccoult was a good fit for Wonder Woman...

  3. I'm far too lazy to read all of that, and far too dumb to remember the beginning by the time I get to the end.

    But, I think you should end with "This is SPARTA!"

  4. So many good things in this post, but this?

    I got politically aware through the Fan Feminists I've met and the places my comic book articles were linked. So don't tell me this is a waste of energy. This kind of thinking reverberates into real life, whether you're the one carrying it from fandom to reality or you've taken it from fandom to reality.

    YES. Thankyou.

  5. What I enjoy most about fandom, in all its forms, is the fact that is discussion and dialouge.
    That things are discussed and meta'd and etc.

    And the unity I've seen over the past few days has made me feel really good, knowing that the community of Feminist Fans is so widespread and diverse. Just like seeing the dismissal and discouragement makes me feel... not so good.

    I'm really glad there are people like you who raises the awareness and I'm happy to be a part of it.

  6. I must admit to being a bit bemused. What was about this tawdry little piece of porcelain that hit such a nerve? It is more than past time that the comic book companies come to their senses and realize that they aren't going to be wooing women readers when they are simultaneously slapping them in the face with mind-bogglingly sexist images.

    The fanboys are nervous. Good. It's time to grow up.

  7. What was about this tawdry little piece of porcelain that hit such a nerve?

    My guess is that it's because of the timing with the release of Spider-man 3. Mary Jane is an iconic movie character now, and the difference between Raimi's portrayal in Spider-man 1 & 2[*] and the portrayal in the statue is stark enough that even casual movie-goers can see the contrast and see how disturbing it is. That's my personal best guess at an explanation for why it moved outside of the comics blogs and onto sites like Pandagon and Feministe, at least.

    [*] I still haven't seen Spider-man 3 yet so I can't comment on MJ's portrayal there. Maybe this weekend.

  8. argh. Stupid fingers and stupid brain. That should read "Raimi's vision and Dunst's portrayal" not "Raimi's portrayal". Need more coffee.

  9. Honestly, because it's been so big, I have been avoiding the statue controversy like the plague. I don't have a new criticism to offer.

  10. Please keep up the good work, Ragnell. I've got a 5-year-old comic book fan at home and she needs people like you. Thank you for fighting the good fight.

  11. What was about this tawdry little piece of porcelain that hit such a nerve?

    My guess is its accessibility.

    It's a statue. You look at it. You see its awful absurdity.

    It's not like a collected edition you have find and read and look for that one panel a blogger mentioned.

    That's why this whole thing has gotten so huge: You don't have to read comics, or indeed, know a damn thing about them to have an opinion.

    The statue exists on its own in a way printed material cannot. And THAT is why this has spread like wildfire to places comic books never get touched.

  12. I second Thom. Only reason I haven't blogged about this whole mess myself is that I really have nothing new to add to the conversation.

    But seriously... from one who has seen mothers tell their daughters not to look at the funny books because they were for boys and want to scream on the floor of the comic shop... this kind of thinking that we are must remain some kind of He-Man Girl-Haters Club has got to stop.

  13. Yeah, I'm not a very prolific blogger to begin with, but I've been avoiding this debacle myself as well. I got nuthin' to add.

    Very good post, Ragnell. We need more writers like you in the blogosphere.

  14. you're scene, but not herd.

  15. Thanks for this post, Ragnell, and for making your voice heard. Not because you speak for the Hive Mind, or because you always have the One True Way - but because you're a smart feminist and good, thought-provoking writer. And because you're an ally when the misogynist crap is weighing down too heavy on all of us.

  16. It made the New York Post on Wednesday. Devildoll got namechecked, and they referenced a few others.

  17. So, here is what I've learned from the comics blogosphere over the past couple of weeks:

    1. If one woman complains about sexism in superhero comics, she should be ignored because superhero comics are for men, and there's not enough female interest in the genre to merit consideration.

    2. If many, many, many women complain about sexism in superhero comics, they should be ignored since they're all expressing similar opinions and are thus mindless sheep. Because it's not possible that so many women could actually be interested female comic book characters.

    And people keep telling me there's no misogyny in comics!

  18. An excellent article. Personally I think this is the case of two seperate battles, dovetailing in one subject. Women for a very long time have had their concerns dismissed, marginalized etc. Fans of both the medium of comics, and the genre of superheroes have had much the same done to them by those who do not share our love. There is a mentality amongst many, some of them sadly fans themselves that we are wrong and wasteful of our time and energy to care so much about "fictional characters." That was largely the message back in the nineties when a vocal contingent of fans took DC to task for its treatment of Hal Jordan.
    There is a lot of bad out there. Both in broadstrokes regarding the way the corporate end of comics treats both it's properties and its fans, and in specific with the way female characters and fans are treated.
    However I think that there is one permanent good. Thanks to the internet it is possible for each of us to feel a little less alone. It is possible to make our voices better heard even if sometimes only to each other.
    As regards the specific issue of female comic fans, I will simply say don't lose heart. There really are male comic fans who are not intimidated by your presence and who in fact are glad your hear. Every voice in the comic fan community is important and the more diverse we are the more interesting and fun it is.


    (IsA Finer Worldtoo much to ask for?)

  19. This is my favorite post.

    Here's why.

    Not sure I would have ever called myself a Feminist in any context, at least that's just not a word I'd have ever used to describe myself. Closest I'd use is "common-sensist" and barely at that as a few years ago I really wouldn'thave reacted much to alot of the things going on in the funnies. Real life? Hell yea I'd react. Whether it be protests, donations, call-ins, or letter writing, etc. It was just the right thing to do because I was raised knowing people are equal regardless of what's under their underpants. But that's y'know real-life.
    The funnies? Never dawned on me.

    Sure, there were stories I really liked, characters or events that resonated with me for reasons I wouldn't describe other than "They're cool when written by so-and-so" and there were writers and artists who would annoy the hell out of me.

    But then I discovered the internets and being both bored (and shy) reading other people's blogs was MUCH more interesting than having to participate in IRC or whatever. And it's your blog among others that helped me put a finger about things that bugged the heck out of me, and trends that originally had gotten me fed up to the point of quitting comics for a couple of years. And if it weren't for said blogs helping to put the word out, and most importantly pointing me towards the proper channels to give that feedback and knowing that I wasn't a single voice complaining to a brick wall, and that I really should quit comics again because otherwise they depress/annoy the crap outta me.

    Is it herd-speak? Not any more than it's herd-speak whenever people of like opinions express it together. And you know what? It's good that there sometimes are disagreement among those people. Because if everyone saw everything exactly the right way it would be hella boring.

    Except for me, as I'm right ALL THE TIME. Especially when I'm wrong. :)

  20. Dear Ragnell,

    I think this is definitely one of your finer posts. I respect how you have handled the situation, and how you have expressed the issues involved therein.

    However, unlike other commenters on this post, I, for whatever reason, have been galvenized by this MJ statue. I will turn my moldering and somewhat-defunct livejournal into a comics blog. I haven't been following the controversy, unfortunately, because this is AP season, but I think that everyone who has an opinion on this subject should be heard, even if there's nothing new to say. The louder we are, the more people both inside and outside the comics industry will realize it's time for a change.

  21. I'm not sure which is funnier, that statue or the sound of a hundred feminists in a panicky uproar over what's a blindingly obvious JOKE to any normal person. How oversensitive and insecure does a person need to be to get enraged over a comical representation of a third-string supporting character?

    I get this image of you folks watching Married With Children and screaming at the TV screen until you're blue in the face. "*huff* I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS! *huff* PEG BUNDY IS A DISGRACE!"

    All I can say is that you have done a lot more damage to your cause with your irrational, completely overblown reaction than that statue could ever do.

  22. I really like this post.

    As the one who posted a quip from devildoll's discussion of it in an LJ community called "metaquotes". And watched as many outsiders got drawn into the discussion through that outlet. I can understand the amazement.

    One thing most of the mainstream coverage has missed is this wasn't some obscure figurine in an adult corner of the web. Many Sideshow defenders try to play this off as fangirls digging into obscura to find an outrage. B---sh-t. Sideshow put it on their Spiderman 3 tie-in page, with a link to the movie site, doing everything they could to ensure it turned up on google searches. It wasn't presented in the context of an adults only figure with ties to sexualized anime, it was flogged with the movie.

    I notice you both praise the outrage yet seem vaguely annoyed that outsiders are daring to discuss a topic you considered your turf. I question this part:

    "Its annoying when its coupled with complete and utter ignorance of things I figured were pretty important...I'm just getting so sick and tired of hearing the same stupid arguments over and over again from people who thinking they are new and haven't been addressed before..."

    I realize this is mostly directed at defenders of sexism who always say the same thing, but the art of comics is mass culture and so called outsiders can make insightful observations without being dedicated fans. I would argue that fan insularity, a somewhat jealous gaurding of it's allegedly marginal status, is part of what perpetuates the problem.

    I feel the significance is the insightful outrage of alleged outsiders. People who don't specialize in comic book sexism and/or aren't desensitized by the usual excuses are still able to articulately why this was creepy, inappropriate and hostile towards a female audience.

    As Liviapenn says in a post

    "...it's interesting to go and compare the initial reaction on Devildoll's journal to the initial reaction here on g-w.org. Here, yeah, some people were like "WTF!!!" but all in all, it was just a slightly bigger blip on the radar...It's important, I think, and a little sad to note-- nobody *here* organized a comment-brigade or a letter-writing campaign. Because to us, from our POV, the statue was gross, but kinda business as usual. The people in devildoll's comments-- they did that, they're the ones that took that extra step. That's how shocking the MJ statue looks *from the outside*. And I think that's something that is important for comics creators and comics shop owners and comics retailers to realize...They don't realize *how they look* to people that aren't familiar enough with the superhero comics industry to know that this crap is just business as usual. *That's* what makes this a big deal."

  23. "I just finished reading Where the Girls Are"

    I love, love, love that book.

    All those thousands of dollars spent on my fancy-ass college education were well worth it even if the only tangible benefit was that I was exposed to Susan Douglass, Arlie Hochschild, and so many others years - if not decades - before I would have stumbled across them by myself.

    Besides, if I'm going to pay to go to class, could there possibly be a better use of my money than spending it on someone grading my paper about Star Wars, Inspector Gadget, and feminism?

    Anyway, back on topic. Speaking of which, why do all these shit-storms happen when I go on breaks? Hmmm...maybe because there are always shit-storms and because I've been taking too many damn breaks lately.

    Sallyp - what jer and others have said.

    I also think it's because of the actual way in which the statue degrades/makes fun of MJ. Anon is right about this being a "joke" - but the punchline isn't feminists, or even just women in general, it's more specifically all the women who actually do the laundry. Wives and mothers who often feel besieged on all sides - it often feels to them as though both feminists and chuavanists dismiss their choices and the hard work they do.

    Unlike the picture that the statue was based on, statue MJ doesn't actually look like she even knows how to do the laundry. Everything about the statue is a joke - down to the way she's holding the costume even more daintily than she was in the original art. I can see the original picture appealing to a lot of people on non-sexist/fetishing levels because home life, love, and sex are deservedly intertwined - and for most people home life still means the wife/girlfriend doing most of the "taking care of the home" thing. Not that the original art didn't have problems, but somehow every little change (where did her smile go?) makes what was questionable to begin with even worse.

    A lot of people that wouldn't get (or want to get) the more abstract idea that, as a part of a larger culture, the original art could be degrading, will see the statue as insulting. Not because of hivethink or some feminist tells them so, but because it mocks the real work most women do every day.