Saturday, September 29, 2012

What Sword of Sorcery #0 has to do with everything else

When the Amethyst reboot came out last week and we discussed it on Twitter, Anna remarked that it was always the football players and never someone like the chess club who engage in this sort of criminal activity.

And while certainly there is a toxic defensive masculinity in sports culture that mirrors the irresponsibility and criminality in frat houses, our media has by this point depicted and portrayed such behavior to the point that it is a cartoonish stereotype. And while it would be valuable to unpack the mentality of so-called jocks to see where embracing traditional masculinity requires rejecting femininity to the point that actual violence against women becomes a bonding experience among boys, the treatment in Sword of Sorcery #0 does not attempt this. It is five pages of completely superficial stock jock villains.

It is also worth noting, as Lyle did back during the original conversation, that if the villains had been the chess club it would be an interesting commentary on geek culture right now. Because we're seeing the term "friend zone" take on a bitter, acidic meaning. We're seeing a backlash against female-oriented properties like Twilight while male properties such as Transformers movies that are equally terrible get a pass. We're seeing a woman used as the Quintessential Poseur invading the geek community. We're seeing fanatical straight male nerds demand that female-oriented properties such as My Little Pony cater to them rather than female children. Hell, we're seeing the previously female-oriented Wonder Woman be completely repackaged and repurposed for male adults (See how the goddess of womanhood becomes the villainess as nearly all of Diana's supporting cast becomes male) just as we see the love story that appeals to female fans of Superman cut almost completely (See Lois Lane criminally underused in all Superman books since the reboot) from the story. We're seeing women passed over for jobs in the comics and STEM career fields. We're seeing sexual harassment scandals at gaming tournaments, comic conventions and atheist conferences and rape threats over research projects.

Right now, we're seeing in every aspect of geekdom a complete rejection of the feminine that is every bit as disgusting and pervasive as in the stock jock stereotyped cliques, and every bit as dedicated to defining those aspects as masculine in nature rather than neutral.

And it is nothing new.

Thing is, with this rejection of the feminine comes the same criminal behavior we associate with jocks and frat boys. With this rejection of the feminine comes a feeling of entitlement to female bodies. With that feeling of entitlement comes the belief that you can judge and police female bodies. With that feeling of entitlement comes the belief that you can claim and use female bodies as you want. The wicked underbelly of misogyny is the same whether it claims women can't play football or women can't read comics. Any community that despises and rejects women to the extent that geekdom does has it. Any community that hinges its manhood on "No Girls Allowed" has it.

But our media likes to pretend that sort of thing doesn't happen with nerds. The chess club has no creepy guys angry at perceived rejection, who project assholishness on the boys with dates, and who fantasize about hurting the women who should have been theirs but weren't. The chess club is a bunch of soft, sweet, shy guys who get passed over by girls.

The jocks, those are the REAL misogynists.

So that is what bothers me the most, what I personally think the saddest part about Sword of Sorcery is. It perpetuates the othering of misogyny. It is a geek-focused property that allows geeks to safely file the mistreatment of women as something THOSE guys do. It lets them keep on, in this environment, ignoring their own communities in favor of assuming that they are the good ones while the jocks are the bad ones and someday girls like Beryl will come around. It even offers an outsider girl in Amy ("Oooh, I have the superpower to become blonde!" she says sarcastically, rejecting the stereotyped cheerleader haircolor like any good fantasy goth/geek/manic pixie dream girl would) who can "smell pervs like you guys a mile away."

And I know some of you are going "So, you'd be happier with 5 pages of the chess club instead?" and maybe, I don't know. It'd be different. It'd force the audience to examine themselves. As is, this is yet another stereotyped rape scene on the pile, added to a thousand that allow us to read everyday horrors are things done to and by Other People, things we needn't really pause to think deeply about when there's ogre-slaying to be done.


  1. I think part of the reasoning behind jocks as the villains is the physical side of it. The chess club members might be just as likely to see women as commodities rather than people, but the stereotype chess club member both assumes women would not be willing to talk with them, and would be unable to physically restrain their targets like an athlete could.

    Of course, this ignores the fact that a mob mentality both could lend courage to an intended criminal act and give them the strength in numbers to keep their target from escaping, but then again, I'm talking about stereotypes rather than individuals.

    1. I think it goes deeper than that though.

      I've always grown up straddling both geek culture and jock culture. Every male in my family was in the military and both my father and brother were extraordinary athletes. My brother was the kid who made varsity football at age 14 and he ran with that crowd. I was trained in theater and spent most of my afternoons holed up in rehearsal halls or academic clubs with many guys who (if they aren't gay) who were all brilliant and brainy and what stereotypically we would view as "geeks."

      In many respects, the misogyny that would run rampant was almost worse because there was almost this complete sense of denial of the pain that could be inflicted. Many of these men assumed that because they weren't hitting a woman physically that they couldn't actually hurt her.

      As a 16 year old, a trusted friend of mine---a guy who was as "geeky" as they came and was not physically intimidating at all in a stereotypical way---was driving me home from a get together and took a detour for 50 minutes where he simply drove me around neighborhoods and exploded in rage and emotion that I didn't return his feelings. I asked him repeatedly to please take me home. I told him he was scaring me. Because believe me---physically intimidating or not---I was FRIGHTENED. I wanted to go home and he would not take me home. I'm 30 years old now and I still remember that night vividly and how scared I was.

      I think the overall point here is that somewhere along the line---and it's been a gradual, building, aggregate process---our culture decided that there were different rules for men who self-identified as "geeks" or even "average joes."

      A man will rake a woman over the coals for turning down the advances of an "average" or "dorky" guy. Culturally, we punish women over and over again in narratives and in our romantic comedies for not "seeing" the worth and value in the shy guy in the corner without the fancy car or the hot body. Cee Lo will create hit songs like, "I guess the change in my pocket wasn't enough so F*** you and F*** her too." Millions of people will download the song and sing about what "that bitch."

      Yet, a woman be presented as anything other than a male fantasy packaged utterly and completely for male objectification? Get rid of her. She's not good enough. Or, as Ragnell has shown through example---rip the narrative apart and punish those female characters until their entire narratives have been ripped to shreds and re-branded for male consumption only.

      I've experienced some of the worst misogyny I have ever witnessed in geek culture. And I went to a Big Ten College and attended frat parties. I've known enough "jocks" and been around enough of that stereotypical "frat boy" to know how bad it can be out there. To know just how deeply gross the behavior can get. And yet, I can honestly say that some of the things I've witnessed in geek culture from men trump some of the worst things I saw at a Frat Party in college surrounded by jocks.

      And they get away with it. And the reason they get away with it is because the culture has decided that they are "different."--Mary

  2. Wow, brilliant observation, Lisa. I never thought of this "us versus them" mentality among geek guys. But everything you point out makes a lot of sense. Well done.

  3. I think a lot less of Joss Whedon's feminism than I used to, but in his portrayal of the Buffy villain Warren Meers he absolutely nailed this crap. And then got denounced by an element of his fanbase for betraying and stereotyping said fanbase and siding with the evil popular kids...

    1. I think he did and he didn't.

      I think Warren's initial appearance in "I was Made to love you" where he made the robot and stalked his ex was a good example of showing how truly dangerous the "hurt by a girl geek" stigma is. And obviously Warren went to deep levels if true evil as season 6 progressed.

      But remember...Spike was basically presented as "the rejected nerd who becomes a basass" the narrative. William was a total geek and the narrative did glorify William becoming a vampire who then became "cool" and a "badass."

      We were meant to view Spike as highly sympathetic. Remember that Whedon painted him as the only vampire capable if feeling love even without a soul even in his relationship with Dru. And Whedon allowed him to basically be the savior for Buffy in the series finale.

      Now, problematic issues aside....I like Spike. Mainly because Marsters sold it like no one's business. But I do think you can argue that the choice to present Spike has the "rejected geek" when he was a human (remember the whole "you are beneath me") is telling.

    2. Sorry that last comment about Whedon was from Mary.

  4. Personally, my favorite take on men trying to take over MLP is this Shortpacked strip:

    Also, I personally haven't seen where the Twilight series is being hated significantly more than the Transformers movies. If it is happening, I think it's because the Twilight series is viewed as having a much more warped view of sexuality and relationships (which, now that I think about it, is debatable). Transformers is viewed as more "conventional" bad, so to speak. Whether this is true are not is another matter entirely.

    1. The difference is that the disdain directed at the young women who like Twilight is highly gendered. Transformers is viewed as being bad but the men who go to see it aren't literally treated like pariahs in our culture. Whereas, when thousands of young fans stormed Comic Con last summer for the Twilight panel they were literally stalked and laughed and made to feel unwelcome. Even though tecnically Twilight is about as genre as it gets and had every right to have a presence at Comic Con like any other male property.

      Also, I'm no fan of Twilight, but I strongly disagree that the Twilight series has a more warped view of sex and relationships than male dominated geek culture.

      There are actual writers at DC comics who will quote without any sense or irony or shame that misogynist piece of trash that is the "Man of steel, Woman of Kleenex" satire and use it as a weapon against a human vagina that can't "take a pounding hard enough." That's not even talking about how gross the FANS are. Actual DC writers will say this shit.

      Whereas, Twilight, with all it's faults actually gave Bella agency over her own body. Yes, there was the fear that Edward would hurt her during sex. But it was HIS fear. It was not HER fear. And she was treated as a PERSON (not just a vagina) who was able to express control over her own body and CHOOSE to have sex with the man she loved through her own agency. At the end of the time, Twilight has many, many, many flaws. I could wrote a book on them. But I think the warped view on sex and relationships right now is coming from somewhere else.

    2. Thank you. I didn't know about some of the stuff you talked about, mostly because I try to keep away from some of the more noxious aspects of fandom. I know that this means that I probably shouldn't have talking about things I don't know enough about, but I did want to point out how most of what I've heard came out to me.

      I also hadn't thought about Bella quite that way before. Most reviews that you read focus on her obsessive and frankly self destructive behavior. But now that I think about it, is she really any worse than, say, Scott Summers? Oh, she's is quite a screwed up character, but I can't believe that there arn't more writers that haven't tried to call attention to Scott's warped way of dealing with women.

    3. My biggest problem with Bella is that she doesn't have self-confidence and I don't like the way the narratives often obsessively focus on how "plain" and "unworthy" she feels in relation to Edward. The narrative spends a lot of time focusing on how she feels unworthy of him and that's my biggest issue with the series.

      The series has many flaws. But I also think that, in general, our culture is much harder on female protagonists that have destructive behavior than we are on men.

      You make a good point about Scott. What about Bruce Wayne? No one goes to see Batman and comes out saying, "Oh that Bruce Wayne is such a pathetic loser." Instead they think he's a hero that rose above his personal sins and mistakes. i highly doubt people would be even half as sympathetic to a female protagonist. Notice that we are very sympathetic to Catwoman but why is that? Is that because she is ultimately portrayed as being so sexy and alluring? Men tend to forgive women in narratives only when it's on THEIR terms.

      I am not a fan of Twilight. (I've been the films because I have a 15 year old cousin who really loves the movies and one of the things my sister and I do for her is take her to movies.) But I also laugh out loud when people try to say it's more damaging for women than the way relationships and sex are presented in male dominated geek culture.

      Trust me, any culture that still uses "Man of STeel, women of Kleenex" as any kind of reference point when talking about sex is way worse.


  5. Daniel Clowes is pretty great at depicting the misogyny in geek culture, and how the "outsiders" and "losers" aren't any more heroic because of their nerd status. Randy Mulholland in his webcomic Something Positive, too.

  6. The rampant misogyny expressed by the "nerd" culture always used to surprise me...until I realized that every suppressed group secretly wants a chance to go out and suppress someone else. Or at least, it seems that way.

    I get so tired of this kind of crap sometimes.

  7. All one has to do is turn to today's headlines to see that there are monsters in every clique...why comic book writers (and especially a WOMAN in this case!) are afraid to realize that rapists come in all shapes & forms is beyond me.

  8. Good post. I myself have noticed what seems to be a latent sexism among geeks. For example, characters like Wonder Woman are held to different standards and criticized for things that apply just as much to many male characters.

    One problem with the geek community (and many other groups as well), is a lack of self-examination. Geeks tend to see themselves as the superior, but persecuted minority. Decades of TV shows and movies about sympathetic nerds, written by writers who are geeks themselves, has reinforced that. Over the years, I've had the displeasure of talking to many geeks who just seemed hateful and antisocial.