Until the answer is yes, we must never stop asking

It’s international Women’s Day, yo. To celebrate, let’s watch this video of Judi Dench (M) interrogating Daniel Craig (uh, James Bond) who appears in drag.

“We’re equals, aren’t we, 007?” asks Dame Judi.

Let’s also look at the day in nerd gender relations.

There was much tweeting yesterday about the new TCJ.com and the number of lady contributors. Melinda Beasi at Manga Bookshelf sums up the whole thing, and the comments have it out and then everyone sat down and ate a hearty lunch.

To take it a bit further, The Comics Journal culture has always aspired to wear suede elbow patches and grasp a pipe, and it’s never been too girl-friendly. It wasn’t really girl UNfriendly, either, but I can’t think of a single female writer who has emerged from its pages in recent years — looking at my nearby copy of #300, for instance, the columnists are all guys. It should be noted that Kristy Valenti has been the assistant editor for a while, but she writes a column — an excellent column covering all kinds of comics from an informed viewpoint — but for ComiXology. Last year’s Best American Comics Criticism contained one contribution by a woman, and that was part of some of the flak aimed at the book.

(For recent comics scholars, I did in fact emerge from the pages of the Journal wayyyyyy back in the day — a fact which I’m sure Kim and Gary have been regretting ever since. And writing for the Journal was one of the best learning experiences of my life, and despite the way I now cringe at my youthful typing, I am proud of the work I did.)

From where I sit, a view of comics that doesn’t include women is kind of old fashioned. If there’s one thing that the internet with its unfettered access and wild west ideology has taught us about comics its that women like reading them and making them, no matter what boys think. They like writing about them, too. I have no doubts that the new Comics Comics/TCJ.com will be a thoroughly modern comics site, reflecting the full glory of the worldwide fascination with sequential storytelling. And they do have a bunch of top notch contributors who happen to be ladies. These ladies just weren’t really played up in the launch materials.

And people noticed.

Because like M says in that video, until the answer is yes, we must never stop asking.

Erin Polgreen was among the first to find her dudgeon in order to make it high over the new TCJ, and she responded by launching a tumblr blog called Graphic Ladies to “feature the work of ladies who create and critique comics.” As I often point out, Doing Something is a lot better than just sitting around in a high dudgeon. So Erin Polgreen is our Doer of the Day.

Now turning to yet one more example of Comics Journal culture we have the soon to close message board, which people have looked back on with nostalgia and dread all day. Ben Towle has his own take:

While there were many, many (many!) times that I’d read posts on the old TCJ board that would make me long for a pair of white-hot butter knives to stick in my eye sockets, there are also many many amazing comics, interesting takes on things in the comics world, new cartoonists, and of course just plain entertaining bickering I’d have never experienced except for the “Mos Eisley-esque” chaos of the Comics Journal message board.


I’d generally agree with this assessment. When Tom Spurgeon started it (at a time when the Journal board and the Comicon.com boards were really the entirety of online comics discussion) it was pretty damned cool and the roll call of cartoonists who posted there was amazing. I had some great times in the early years, but then it became The Internet, and as always happens, an echo chamber of jackaknapes soon became embedded there. I got into arguments with them a lot more than I should have — one of my critical comments became something of a rallying cry, an anthology was even named after it — and things got unpleasant, with photoshopped pornographic photos of me, name calling and so on.

Being well acquainted with internet culture, none of this hurt my feelings — although I’m sure I spent a pissed off afternoon or two — but it didn’t encourage me to stick around, either.

There weren’t too many women who posted on the Journal message board. I think me, Jenny Gonzales and a bit later Shaenon T. Garrity were the only real regulars (i don’t go there enough to say who was there in the Dark Ages). I seem to recall that in recent months a controversial column by Shaenon got all these “what does a girl know about comics anyway?” comments.

And in this day and age to see a creator of Shaenon’s stature and intelligence questioned like that on even a PSEUDO official outlet of a trusted name is dissappointing. It makes the place no better than a sewer.

So, in sum, I miss the message board culture of the late 90s, when intelligent things were sometimes discussed, and friendships were made, and facts uncovered. I do not miss the Comics Journal board in particular. And anyway, message boards have been dead for a long time, killed by social media and (blech) Facebook. I miss it, though, because they were manageable, unlike the idea sprawl we’re confronted with every time we wake our screen from sleep.

Sadly, a lot of internet nerd culture — hell, CULTURE — is preoccupied with establishing ideas of masculinity in the crudest and dumbest ways possible. On twitter yesterday, video game writer Matt Hawkins alerted me to the whole PAX/d*ckwolves controversy. Before going on, I should say this is the kind of thing the internet was made for and not in a good way. A tumblr timeline , entitled “The Debacle” has hundreds of entries, so it is not for the squeamish or those with real world time concerns. Short version (as best I can make out) — the immensely popular comic strip Penny Arcade made a rape joke last year. Some objected. An then somehow this got turned into people calling themselves “rape culture” and wearing t-shirts that referenced the rapers — “d*ckwolves” — and a woman who had actually been raped and suffered PTSD not wanting to go, and then people claiming she had never been raped and…well it’s stupid and ugly. You don’t need a degree in psychiatry to know that there’s an aspect to video game culture that’s totally aggro and brutish, and it’s behind a lot of the casual misogyny of various parts of the internet. Time being of the essence, I’ll just point to this very long piece in the Boston Phoenix by Maddy Myers called “Gaming, rape culture, and how I stopped reading Penny Arcade.”

Bottom line, if you’re going to act like a jerk, people are going to think you’re a jerk.

A bigger takeaway is that people are now wondering if PAX is as inclusive as it could be. The show is already a success — three days tickets and Saturday are sold out — but is there a way to maintain the bravado of gaming culture while not being total dillweeds? Feministing has what seems — to the casual observer of the controversy anyway — a fair summation of the culture clash:

Well, to some gamers, the argument of propagating rape culture sounds suspiciously close to the argument used to censor violent video games. The logic is something like this, because violent video games mimic violence, they dull the cultural perception of violence, making it more acceptable and contributing to cultural violence. Gamers, of course, call this out as bullshit. There’s a big distinction between fantasy and reality, and Gamers, myself included, insist that the line is well-policed. The workings of a gun are about as far removed as possible from the workings of a game controller.

So, when feminists (myself included) say that making a shirt or a comic about rape contributes to rape culture, it sounds a lot like the above argument. What the other side doesn’t understand, however, is that there is a critical difference between the argument of feminists and the argument of anti-violence video game censors. For the most part, our argument is not that a rape joke is going to make someone go out and rape. Our argument, instead, is that rape jokes, and allowing people to indentify themselves with a shirt promoting a fictional rapist character, contributes to a culture where rape is accepted, tolerated, and the impact of it diminished. Throughout the response period, Penny Arcade’s creators have demonstrated ignorance of this differentiation, as demonstrated by their ‘response comic.’


To sum up, there is no way to sum up. All of these issues of marginalization, inclusion, hurt feelings, defensiveness, anger and misunderstanding will go on forever and ever. As we can do is keep asking the questions and hoping for a better answer. I’d like to see a comics world where the Magnificent 49ers — women who developed the shojo manga genre with artistry and great stories — are routinely included with EC and Fort Thunder as important schools. We’re pretty much there. But we shouldn’t take it as accomplished, either.

201103080331 Until the answer is yes, we must never stop asking
(Above, Aria by Kozue Amano.)

PS: The “Equals” video was written by Jane Goldman, writer of Kick-Ass and X-Men First Class and so on. She is awesome.

Comments

  1. Erica Friedman contributed to one of the TCJ-adjacent projects, correct? And not only is she a woman, she’s also a feminist, a manga publisher, a creator, and a champion of GLBT rights.

    Also, let’s not forget the gals at Sequential Tart (of which I was a part way back in the day) who are still doing their thing, with a smaller but still strong influence. I don’t know if any of them were ever asked to write for TCJ, but their work has always been thoughtful and important in shaping me as a comics reader.

  2. Thanks for the shout-out, Trish. Yes, I contributed to TCJ, by way of Hooded Utilitarian, which has now been shed by TCJ and moved to a space of it’s own.

    I’m proud to be part of the HU lineup, and overall, HU has a fair number of women as columnists. Maybe not 50%, but definitely more than TCJ currently has.

    I thought this article tied up all the various strands perfectly. We’re *not* equal yet, we are not on solid footing, but we’re getting there. For those of us subjected to the pornographic rage of mental 12-year olds, it sometimes seems not fast enough, or not *enough* enough. But we do have to acknowledge steps we’ve taken, ground we’ve gain, respect we’ve carved out merely by not backing down in the face of insanity.

    The fact that I cannot name a single female journalist/blogger who has *not* received hate male merely because she was female is an indication that there is still a long way to go.

  3. Hate male. Wow, no Freudian subtext there….no sirree.

    “Hate mail” obviously. I really need to have more coffee.

  4. Don’t know if it matters but I am technically on the TCJ roster myself, and technically a woman. (shrug)

  5. Chris Hero says:

    I was with you 100% on everything until the Penny Arcade/ disckwolves stuff. That entire controversy has been the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. Yeah, I’m a male, and I know that means I’m not allowed to have an opinion on this, but while watching it unfold, it sure seemed like someone accused the PA guys of being pro-rape and how can you defend yourself against the accusation of having an opinion you don’t have?

    I want more women contributing to tcj.com. I want to read the opinions of more women and read the comics of more women. But I also think people who think Penny Arcade is pro-rape or rape apologists or whatever are people who are just looking for an excuse to be self-righteous jerks.

  6. Chris, I think the original Penny Arcade was a total tempest in a teapot but the response from some fans has been pretty revolting.

  7. Chris Hero, you break my heart.

    Rape culture does not necessitate actively promoting rape. However, making *hilarious* jokes about rape AND THEN SELLING MERCH OF THE JOKE, OPENLY TAUNTING RAPE SURVIVORS does make one a more active participant in rape culture.

    This IS rape culture, it’s all around us. Taking actions that make light of rape makes one part of the problem.

    People standing up to respected community leaders who are falling short are NOT being self-righteous jerks, Chris. You know what’s worse than being accused of promoting rape? PROMOTING RAPE.

  8. Dept. of British: it’s Dame Judi or Dame Judi Dench, never Dame Dench.

  9. Chris Hero says:

    @The Beat

    Yeah, it’s a tempest in a teapot. And yeah, some fans are going to be assholes and defend this shit blindly….and no woman should *ever* be accused of fabricating a rape story or not being attractive enough to be raped or whatever. Really, the PA guys should have never mentioned anyone was offended and just gone on to the next joke because all they did was open the door for a lot of people to be assholes to those who actually have been raped. Are there women who fabricate tales of being raped? Probably, but there are a lot of people who fabricate all kinds of stories. It doesn’t mean we should treat any other woman who claims to have been raped with anything other than sympathy and nurturing.

    @darrylayo

    What joke did the Penny Arcade guys make about rape? They made a joke about doing quests in a video game and they included a throwaway line about a man being raped by a fictional character. It wasn’t making light of actual rape and if you think it was, you’re reading waaaay too far into it. You, darrylayo, are being a self-righteous jerk. NO ONE IS PROMOTING RAPE. Saying someone is just because you’re reading too far into a joke is ridiculous.

  10. Okay Chris. They didn’t make fun of actual rape, they made fun of a FICTIONAL rape.

    You want to come back to this discussion after you’ve had your coffee? I’ll wait.

  11. darryl, you rock. m/ (no sarcasm)

  12. Andrew Farago says:

    Great article, Heidi. There have been a lot of changes for the better in the past decade, but there’s still a lot of progress to be made.

    Shaenon’s middle initial is “K,” FYI.

  13. I thought the complaints about the lack of women writers at TCJ.com were maybe a little premature, but that in no way means I thought it wasn’t an important thing to bring up. It’s absolutely worth talking about.

    I’ve been delighted with how many women are writing about comics in recent years. In my small way, I have been doing this for a while, and I love that I’m just one voice among the many now. But that doesn’t mean that I’m still not part of a pretty small minority.

    But yeah, certainly, if women want to write for TCJ.com, they should be given the opportunity. A diversity of opinions and perspectives is only a good thing.

  14. The Penny Arcade strip isn’t a joke about rape at all. It’s a joke about a prisoner going through the worst imaginable torture, and the “hero” who refuses to save him because his “quest” is already fulfilled. It’s a joke about the arbitrary ridiculousness of video games tasks. They use rape (by a made-up fantastic creature DESIGNED to rape to maximum effect) because, next to murder, it’s pretty much agreed upon to be the worst thing that can happen to someone. They’re not making fun of rape victims; if anything, they’re saying it’s horrible to be one.

    Characters in Penny Arcade get violently murdered all the time. Would anyone be as hurried to attack them if survivors of attempted murder pitched a fit because Gabe was beheaded by a ninja goblin? Probably not, because it would be ridiculous. This is just as ridiculous, and I was completely on their side until they made shirts, and began openly taunting those that had been offended. I thought they crossed a line there, and as two reasonably intelligent people, they should’ve known it would be hitting the hornet’s nest of the deeply misogynistic gamer culture with needless stones.

  15. When I first read the PA “defenses” what struck me is how easily people can venture into the realm of humor known as the “cold joke” : http://bit.ly/htw6Mw

    Some humor is dehumanizing and issued from a position of power. To really *get* a cold joke you have to enter that position of power. We can find humor in the most shocking things, and it can even be therapeutic, if it’s safely in the past. But when one makes a rape joke, it’s a joke about a crime as it’s happening.

  16. Thanks for this article, Heidi.

  17. John A says:

    Heh. Women.

  18. michael says:

    I think Ferguson on the Late Late show held my opinion on this day being oddly in conjunction with, Fat Tuesday aka, Mardi Gras, basically partying where a women’s importance seems to be the least of everyone’s attention.

    Whoever came up with this day, should probably rethink it and make it another day, at least here in America.

  19. Andrew Farago says:

    International Women’s Day is always March 8; Mardi Gras only falls on that date once in a great while. Is it more ridiculous to have them on the same date once in a while or to alter the Women’s Day schedule just because it lands on a day when fratboys are going to be rowdier than usual?

  20. Pantsless Pete says:

    The thing about the dickwolves affair is that it struck me as there was a lot if people getting offended for the sake of being offended.

    Yes, video game culture is weirdly over masculinised and mysogynistic and homophobic and also racist in some really weird ways and it deserves to be called out on these things and a lot of the response was unwarrented.

    On the other hand, in this case, it’s also fair to call out a lot of the other side of the argument sophomoric college activist pseudo-feminism that needs to realise you don’t get to be on a high horse just because you claim you have one.

    Dickwolves.

    Jesus.

  21. See this is what I don’t understand, can’t understand, will never understand.

    Offense was made. Offense was deepend with each passing episode. Who are YOU to decide when and to what degree people should be offended? Who are you to decide how much people who are taunted about their real-life traumas are permitted to speak out against those who mock them? And for that matter, who are you to decide whether those of us who are fortunate enough not to undergo such traumas yet possessed of enough conscience to find it appalling may state unity with the aggrieved?

    In other words, stop being offended at other people’s genuine pain and try to LEARN for once in your life.

  22. Pantsless Pete says:

    That’s the exact issue, though.

    At what point does the claim to speak from a priviliged position make you immune to criticism for weakening that position by trivialising it?

    At what point can we say ‘You’re being a little mastubatory about this because yelling about penny arcades dickwolves and the fact they responded to a blog post is more fun that writing about actual issues? Because even if you have a valid point, Dickwolves a monstorously stupid place to pick your battles?’

    We have a duty to confront racism, sexism and homophobia where ever we find it and the eventual response of video game fans here is worth discussing. We don’t have a duty to support intellectually thin blogsplosions which is what a lot of these blogs seem to be arguing and making a dash for high moral ground when the thinness of the argument gets examined.

  23. As of today (3-9-11), that “fair summation” link does not work.

  24. Pantsless Pete says:

    On another note, the manga 49ers are a huge deal. Just not in American comics sphere.

    The issue that kind of emerges with getting them western exposure is one you get with a lot of important older manga; They don’t really fall under any publishers balliwick. They’re not commerical enough for half the manga publishers, being around 30-40 years old, and not arty enough for the other, being kinda pulpy girl comics that aren’t eccentric enough to be picked up on that front.

  25. Even w/o knowing the name of the person quoted, I’ve responded to her/his quotation in this essay:

    http://arche-arc.blogspot.com/2011/03/rape-and-essence.html

    But here’s the part dealing only with that quote.

    ‘This, however, is specious. If a feminist is concerned that rape jokes contribute to a culture where rape is accepted and tolerated, this concern does not exist in an intellectual vacuum: she/he is obviously concerned that greater tolerance will lead to a greater incidence of real rape-attacks. When the speaker says that “our argument is not that a rape joke is going to make someone go out and rape,” she/he is being disingenuous. Anti-violence censors, whether of video games or any other entertainment, don’t universally believe in a direct “monkey see monkey do” effect, in which a viewer sees rape depicted in a video game and then immediately quests for in search of a maiden to ravage. Their entire argument hinges upon the phenomenon called “desensitization,” just as much as feminists opposing rape or related forms of misogyny– and, somewhere down the line, the result of this desensitization is going to be real violence, if not specifically male-over-female violence’

  26. I think the truly offensive thing about it isn’t that you* are creating a desensitized “climate for rape.”

    It’s that, in refusing to acknowledge any capacity for shame over the issue (and shame is, in fact, a proven motivator for action, more proven than violence in media), you’re giving intellectual cover for rapists.

    You’re not a rapist, and you’re not creating rapists, you’re just apologizing for them. That’s bad enough.

    * not any “you” specifically, but the rape joker generally

  27. Thank you Trevor, I was about to say something similar.

    We live in a society where the New York Times has recently published some news commentary that implies an 11-year-old girl was maybe slightly responsible for her GANG RAPE. Making light of rape in any context makes such statements not only common but an acceptable attitude to take.

  28. The 11-year-old was gang raped by 18 boys/men while some taped in on their phones.

  29. I have to assume Trevor’s incoherent comment is directed at me as I don’t think anyone else used the word “desensitization.”

    Since it is so incoherent I don’t know what point it’s directed at. If it’s the paragraph I printed here, the point of that section is simply that the quoted speaker is being disingenuous in her/his distinction between feminists and anti-violence censors. Both groups, as much as does Trevor, wish to maximize shame as a social means to keep rape from happening; to make potential rapists aware that they shouldn’t expect to commit such a crime and then sail through the legal system. I am not opposed to the use of shame, and nothing I’ve said even slightly implies that.

  30. Before someone thinks I didn’t read this part by Trevor:

    “* not any “you” specifically, but the rape joker generally”

    I found that incoherent too. If you mean the PENNY ARCADE guys, why not say that?

  31. I’m not sure the coherence problem is on the other end, Gene. When he says “not any ‘you’ specifically,” you’ve assumed it must mean you specifically, and then the Penny Arcade guy specifically.

    I’m not sure why you’re looking for a specific person for him to be addressing when he says he’s not addressing any one specific person, but a general category.

  32. I thought I wrote clearly, but if someone finds it incoherent, that’s a true statement, at least for them. Can’t argue with that.

    When I quoted Gene it was just conversational quoting, not to be some jeering sneering quote-flinger. Anyways, if the whole comment is incoherent such things scarcely matter.

  33. kdb said:

    “I’m not sure why you’re looking for a specific person for him to be addressing when he says he’s not addressing any one specific person, but a general category.”

    Probably because TA’s post followed mine, used a term that struck me as an indirect reference to my post (as he just acknowledged), and another poster chimed in agreement, as if in reaction to my post as well.

    If all was but the Falling-Domino Chain of Coincidence, I can accept that. But I maintain that others could have read the dominos as I did: hence, I clarified, if only for my own satisfaction.

  34. And your clarification again tries to figure out who specifically he was referring to, even when quoting him saying he wasn’t referring to anyone specifically.

    But never mind.

  35. Dear kdb,
    Sometimes skim milk masquerades as cream.

  36. The Beat says:

    Gene, come off it — Trevor says “you not specifically’ and then you get all up in taking it specifically.

  37. Skim milk isn’t that crafty, generally speaking.

    But complaining that you don’t understand what something means because you can’t figure out why it’s not openly saying what you think it might be secretly saying, even when it openly says it’s not doing that, just cycles back to my first point: Perhaps the coherence problem is with the reader here.

  38. Got it. It’s peffectly coherent to say “you” on a thread where no one has told a rape joke, and then say that “you” applies to “the rape joker.”

    If the poster doesn’t want to be clear by starting out, “to the guys who joked about rape or wore dickwolf T-shirts,” that’s his prerogative.

    Never said I didn’t “understand;” I considered the possibility that the poster didn’t mean anyone here specifically, but his odd phrasing didn’t absolutely rule out a covert shot.

    So I clarified what I wrote. Period.

  39. Right, Gene. When you said, “I found that incoherent too. If you mean the PENNY ARCADE guys, why not say that?” you were merely clarifying that you understood what was being said, by saying it was incoherent and asking a question that was contradicted by the text you quoted. Of course.

    It must be because you’re unfamiliar with the generic “you,” even when it’s specified to be such — or perhaps because you didn’t actually want an answer to your question.

    Have fun storming the castle, sir.

  40. JodiLovesPinball says:

    This conversation has become so inane I had to go watch Deliverance to wake myself up. Love that Ned Beatty.

  41. I noted earlier this year that the sexist little chickens at TCJ had closed up their decade-old message board and merely linked it as an old archive to their main page.
    But more recently they’ve now also killed that link.
    Probably their next cowardly move will be to deny that it even existed at all.

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