Thursday, October 20, 2011

Okay, now you're starting to piss me off.

Scott Lobdell--who was actually responsible for 90s X-Men books that I liked (That I liked a lot)--did an interview with Newsarama recently. He had some words to say about the Starfire complains:
What surprised me was that it almost caused the Internet to melt.

 Mostly, what has surprised me has been the very vulgar way that people believe they are coming to the defense of Kori: they hurl words like "slut" and "whore" and expressions too disgusting to repeat here that are only used to demean women. 

Lets consider an imaginary woman who has more than one or two lovers. Is it fair to label her with dismissive and derogatory language? Because we disagree with the choices she makes, to do what she wants with her own body? Are we still at a place in society where we're going to call a woman — any woman — names that reinforce gender inequality?

See what he did there?

This guy made a creative work that portrayed a woman. Someone criticized their portrayal of those women, and they caught it. They turned the criticism around, changed it, and then lobbed it at the subject of their work.

Most people would call that a Strawman (or Strawfeminist) argument, but what they did here was much more specific. They positioned themselves not as the defenders of their own artistic visions, but as the True Defenders of Womanhood. In their new narrative, they are knights in shining armor defending attractive women from jealous, judgmental catty witches.

But really, they are doing exactly the opposite. They're defending themselves. They're pulling the subject of their work in between them and their critic and using them like a shield.

Now, I won't deny that there are some critics who go into slutshaming. Ridiculous judgments about real-life women who get their photos taken, who sign on for racy videos, or who dress a certain way that come out when criticizing a fictional portrayal of a woman or when discussing the appropriateness of a piece of art. (A protest video, for example, or a racy poster hung up in a place of work.) This does happen.

Thing is this defense gets pulled out when there's legitimate complaints going around to address. (But oddly, never does this defense get pulled out when straight men are gathered and making "hurr hurr" comments about the subject of the work.) It's pulled out to ignore those complaints, and position the creator/artist as the truly enlightened lover of women, and anyone made uncomfortable by this as a shrill fairy tale villain. We see it again and again, and you know what? It works.

It freaking works, because it puts the critic on the defensive. If the critic has a legitimate complaint, it's usually because they recognize that women are people and that real women are hurt by terms like "Slut" or "whore" and by encouraging a culture that judges based on clothing and appearance even if the work in question is entirely fictional.

Of course, with fiction we can always say "You WROTE every word she said and created every pose!" and continue the same way. But if the work in question features a real woman, a model or an actress or a girl who may or may not have agreed to the video? Oh, it's an effective defense right there. And it may just shut down the conversation.

Except, if the creator in question really had such a thoughtful attitude about what he was putting out, wouldn't he engage the actual complaints in a thoughtful manner? There's differences in taking a picture of yourself in a low cut dress, taking a picture of yourself in a low cut dress that focuses on your cleavage, a woman in a low cut dress with her consent, taking a picture of a woman in a low cut dress with her consent that focuses on her cleavage, taking a picture of a woman in a low cut dress without her consent and taking a picture of a woman in low cut dress without her consent that focuses on her cleavage without even getting INTO the politics of putting "Hey, Dudez! BOOBIES!!!" in glitter across the top (and who may have done this with who's knowledge). An intelligent man who had really considered the implications of his art would be ready to discuss it without directing criticism of his actions (the angle of the photo, the intent of the project itself) towards his model (who could be completely onboard, but that doesn't magically make the work feminist, or of any artistic value).

He could at least address his own actions, if his own actions are so defensible, before he tries to direct all attention towards the morality of his subject or women in general.

There's just something weasely about the whole tactic, and we see it ALL the time, from comics to commercials, to what sort of images are displayed at work, to just calling out a guy for leering at a stranger on the street. ("What's your problem with showing a little boob?" Nothing, my problem is with showing your eyes so far out of their sockets.) The default for some men seems to be to remove yourself from the equation and point all the complaints at the woman, rather than answer for your own behavior.