Monday, December 10, 2007

Oh, here's where we differ.

I got linked on Tamora Pierce's blog as a rebuttal to her previous post, and yet another comment got my attention. This one from Tintin about female superhero fansites:
Ah, all right, I think, to be more precise- ironic considering my earlier choice of words- I'm tired of the sense of embattlement I get from these sites. To have to constantly fight to be able enjoy something...I don't understand it.
I'm answering this one here because I think I've zeroed in on the thing people can't seem to understand about feminist superhero fans, and its important enough that I need everyone to read this one:

Enjoyment is the default state.

Once again, I really really like superhero comics. (Particularly Green Lantern.) I get a lot of joy out of them that I don't bother to blog about because I'm too busy enjoying my comics to do so.

And most of the feminist fan bloggers I know feel the same way. When things are good, they are happy and you get one-line posts saying "This is SO AWESOME!" and some incoherent giggling if someone bothers to look up from the issue.

The problem comes when you are reading along, enjoying your comic, and something interferes with that.

That something being a disgusting new costume, a looming refrigerator, a sexist joke, an out-of-character scene, a really fucking stupid editorial direction, the inclusion (often creation) of a character who is nothing but a sexist caricature, a professional saying something unbelievably stupid, a butt/boob/crotch/leg/open-mouth shot that is totally unnecessary and interrupts the flow of a story, an awesome character getting shit on to make a male character look better and so on and so forth.

And when that happens, I stop reading and I fume for a bit. Then I boot up my computer, write about what bothered me, say a few rude things about the professionals, unload a bit and go back to the parts I like. Sometimes the bad outweighs the good in a particular book and I drop it, but on the whole there's usually a lot I like. That is why I keep reading.

Sometimes it takes a bit longer to go back to the parts I like. A day or two. A week. Until the next issue of something else I enjoy comes out. Until a certain creative team change occurs. I know a few people who are waiting on Editor-in-Chief changes to get back to what they like. Usually I just need to unload and analyze a bit, maybe rearrange my purchases or write a letter. (I have to write a letter or email or make sure I post in a place the creator'll find it, because I go into Happy Mode at a convention and know I'll never think of anything that pisses me off there.)

Sometimes I'll enjoy something incredibly on the first reading, and see a problem on reflection of the work or on the second reading, so I'll write about that when it occurs to me. Sometimes I will greatly enjoy something, but criticize a weakness of it anyway because the weakness exists and the story would go from pretty good to FUCKING AWESOME if not for that weakness.

And all superhero fans are like this, to a point. It just gets worse when the complaint or weakness is sexism, though, because that brings a whole bunch of people with stock answers of "Of course you're annoyed by that, superheroes are for guys", "That's the way things are, have been, and always will be," "I LIKE it that way so get lost" "Who invited the GIRL?!" and the ever popular "Sergeant? Throw this smelly little lesbian over the side."

That's where the battle comes in. We want to rant like all fans do. We want to write to the publisher like all fans do and let them know what's going on. But because of the nature of our complaints, that certain things are offensive to women, our opinions get invalidated by a culture that claims that superhero comics are male power fantasies.

So what it all comes down to is not constantly fighting to enjoy something. What it all comes down to is fighting constantly in order to be able to express our opinions about why we didn't enjoy something we should. Its fighting to have those opinions listened to so that our natural enjoyment of the genre will not need to be interrupted again.

That's an important distinction.

Its probably one that someone who doesn't automatically like these stories and characters may find hard to understand. Its definitely one that someone who only knows me through this blog -- my place of venting -- may find hard to understand (though I think I've thrown enough love at Green Lantern that it should be clear). But that's the base of it.



  1. Well, I understand that. And I never thought that this blog was a constant sink of negativity or anything like that anyway. So I'm not suggesting that you should change anything.

    But I would like to point out that it can be fun for people to read about the positive side of things too, especially if the writer has something interesting to say about just how this or that comic is good.

  2. Well said. Of course I love my comics...I wouldn't get them otherwise, and about 90% of the time, I enjoy them enormously. For the most part, I try and be positive when I blog, and if I love something, I'll say so.

    But there is that nagging little 10% of the time, when something just isn't right, and everyone...EVERYONE regardless of gender should have right to say so.

  3. Wahhh Wahhhh. A medium not writen for me sometimes annoys me. Wahhhhhhhh.
    Why dotn you just go watch my little pony raggy? Youd be so much happier.

  4. Some times I like a new costume. ;)

    Kyle is my favorite Lantern, a lot of people heap crap on me for that -- the same way I like Terry from Batman Beyond more then Bruce.

    If you want to continue this conversation, comment on my blogspot about anything and I'll make a Green Lantern topic.

    Always follow your dreams,

  5. As a writer, ask yourself which you prefer to read: criticism of what you're doing wrong; or praise of what you're doing right.

    Now ask yourself if you think the professionals like to read the same things about their work.

  6. Matthew -- I've given it a try from time to time, but anger is the better motivator.

    Ferrous -- Oh, I'm sure they hate it. I have four qualifiers to that answer, though.

    1) I sometimes praise on this blog. You've seen it. There are plenty of positive sites done by positive people out there. Many creators have message boards that act as a sort of cult for them, or their personal websites and the commenters there. They get praise at the conventions from the tons of cheering and autograph hunting.

    They also get money. Money is the nicest bit.

    2) In the meantime, I pay money. When not was worth it to pay money, I have paid the money. When it was not worth it to pay the money, I tell people that.

    3) I'm not heartless, I know how much it sucks to have someone trash your hard work. It also sucks to be enjoying something, paying for something, and then having it ruined by someone adhering to a bullshit misogynistic cliche. So while I can empathize, I can't be entirely on their side on this one.

    And if you'll notice, even though I'm a minor internet writer a lot of successful regular published professionals tear up other people's stuff on their websites. Sometimes they're wrong about what's wrong, sometimes they're right. They're doing this as a reader, though, so its in their rights.

    That is a part of being a writer. Your stuff is out there to be reacted to. Its a risk, and their can be great rewards, but that's what takes guts.

    4) There's a much worse option than being an employed writer who gets trashed a lot.

    There's being an unemployed writer who gets praised a lot.

    Because in the first one, you can tell yourself you're good because you get the job. People are telling you your weak spots. You can listen to them and improve or ignore them as just being wrongheaded, petty, confused or just someone with different tastes.

    However, as a writer who is unemployed there is always that possibility you are surrounded by people being nice to you. There's a possibility that you just aren't talented and nobody has the guts to say so.

    At least with the money coming in, someone thinks you're talented. And its someone who counts.

    With the other option, you might be awesome and just unnoticed but there's always the dreadful suspicion that no one wants to tell you you're not talented.

  7. Not Ragnell, but am a professional writer (journalist). What I like and what I need to hear as a writer are two different things.

    Also, "Why can't you just be nice?" is a defense people are supposed to grow out of after someone criticizes the grammar in their first fanfic.

  8. "Sergeant? Throw this smelly little lesbian over the side."

    Did that actually happen to you?

    BTW glad you're ok. Heard the weather down there was well, rather frightful...

    Hopefully you don't have to work Wednesday afternoon. I know you'll be waiting with anticipation.

  9. Jeff -- (That was a joke about the first LOEG trade, actually.)

    Thanks. It is iced over here like you wouldn't believe. The leafless winter trees in my neighborhood look like the leaves just turned white right now. A lot of them (and power lines) were taken down by the last couple days.

    (And I may have swung Wednesday off, actually)

  10. Oh, I'm not suggesting you tone down your criticism: it's important to point out the bad stuff; and hey, it's your blog, you do what you want.

    I'm just pointing out that positive feedback for the people who get things right is at least as important as negative feedback for the ones who get things wrong if your goal - and the goal of other feminist comics bloggers - is to change things for the better.

    To riff off of something you said earlier: say you're a writer who writes a good story with a strong female character and no one praises you for it. You think you did a good job, but there's still that nagging doubt that you didn't do as good of a job as you suspect; or that your target audience didn't appreciate your writing. A few pats on the back go a long way towards encouraging someone to keep up the good work.

    So I guess my question to you is: have you hugged your favorite writer(s) lately? :-)

  11. Dude, were you here when The Sinestro Corps Special came out?

  12. I agree Ragnell :) I give tons of positive reviews and I nitpick like mad. XD Being feminist is just part of me. I also have issues with continuity errors, characterization, etc.. etc.. :) nething that detracts from my enjoyment of something xD And I write it into my review :] It's not like I exist SIMPLY to hate things xD I dun think "feminist" fangirls are ANY differentt han any other fan who reads stuff and parses it by what they enjoy and what they dun enjoy. :]

  13. Ragnell, you're awesome. Fantastic post.