Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Gatekeepers

Every so often someone makes the argument that we shouldn't give so much attention to the little things that bugs us/that aren't obviously sexist/that may not be sexist because it lessens our credibility when the really important stuff happens.

For example:

BONUS: Something Comics Fans Should Never Do Again

React to any expression of female sexuality on a comic book cover as something that inherently denegrates the character's integrity or the character's ability to be perceived as an "ass-kicker". This is dangerous because it makes complaints about legitimately sexist garbage like the MJ statue and HFH #13 more likely to be ignored.


I say "Bullshit."

This statement is dangerously close to filling a bingo square by alluding to the "but what are you doing about x,y,z?/it's just comics!" argument. A sentiment that is dismissive of feminist theory and how the status quo is maintained: all the little things that seem inconsequential often help create the foundation for the bigger things. Do I really need to remind anyone that comics itself is considered by many to be one of those "little things?"

As I've argued before, it's exactly because our visual definitions of male and female vulnerability/strength are so different that someone - several people - felt as though the Heroes for Hire cover would be be appropriate. Whether or not you think the wedding story line is just good fun or not, there is a parallel between the Black Canary cover and the Heroes for Hire cover. Both show normally competent women looking vulnerable and they do so by playing to stereotypes. That one is a joke while the other is not* does not mean that there is not room to question the reasoning behind doing either cover - or story line.

To argue that one should only complain about the "legitimately sexist garbage" raises the question of who decides what is "legitimately sexist garbage." When this sentiment is paired with the argument that false complaints damage feminists' reputation, the implication is that our "male default" society - not women or feminists themselves - has the final say in what is worthy of discussion. Simply arguing that someone is wasting space with their argument, or saying that you think that they shouldn't say or do something, is not in and of itself an attempt to silence feminist or female voices. But when it's combined with the suggestion that we should not make that argument because we must defer to the prejudices of the culture we are critiquing, it comes dangerously close to doing so.

The assumption that people will be turned off of "legitimate" complaints because the same people are making "non-legitimate" complaints is another example of having a different standard for a non-privileged group than for privileged groups. People demonstrate quite often that they are capable of understanding that disagreement on one issue does not always mean disagreement on every issue.

There is also the sexist implication that men are less capable of doing this than women - at least when it comes to sexism.** If I recall correctly, the first few men mocking the original complaint are not exactly known for being virulently anti-feminist. I seriously doubt complaints such as these dramatically alter how they view feminism. I think that men are quite capable of figuring out what is sexist and what isn't, and so disagreements among feminists (or between feminists and "I'm not a feminist, but..."s) are hardly going to befuddle them in a manner similar to when sitcom husbands are faced with housework.

How does this fit with my agreement with Kalinara's statement that:

A man telling a woman what she should or should not find sexist is proving he doesn't understand the meaning of the word.


Note how Kalinara phrased her declaration. It's not so much about men not having a right to an opinion on what it sexist, it's about a man - or anyone, really - telling a woman that she should have a particular opinion. Lynxara's argument bugs me because she*** isn't just saying that pervyficgirl is wrong, she's saying that she should only talk about things that Lynxara thinks are sexist. Lynxara may believe that the Black Canary wedding story line and covers are merely an "expression of female sexuality" but pervyficgirl obviously does not. (And however mockworthy her name may or may not be, one can hardly accuse her of being anti-sex.) There's a fine distinction between arguing with or dismissing a complaint, and claiming to speak for everyone or being the voice of authority. It's certainly extra levels of stupidity when the topic is sexism and it's men that are doing it, but it isn't a good argument when anyone does it.

This leaves us with just one remotely valid argument, which is that such complaints often support feminist stereotypes. Well, yes, they can, but they only do because it's anti-feminists who often have the floor. They only do so because schools and the media tend to teach parodies of feminism, not actual feminism; it's not that simply being exposed to these arguments make people think that all of feminism is bunk, but that this is often the only feminism they see. Not voicing these concerns will not mean that people won't see feminism this way, it will simply mean that other arguments will be taken out of context instead.

Arguing that this means we should concede ground for reasons of strategy ignores the fact that the best defense is a good offense. One could just as well argue that a wider number of complainants and longer list of demands strikes more fear into the hearts of our enemies, and that having such a long list is often a better bargaining strategy than only making the demands nearest and dearest to your heart.

No, the better argument is to encourage people to write clearly and carefully when they write about the more nuanced feminist complaints, not to ask them not to make such complaints at all.

*******

*I actually think it's quite likely that the HfH was meant to be a parody of sorts, at least when it comes to the artist's intent, but the general consensus seems to be that it is not. Which just goes to show how unimportant intent really is.

**The other assumption is that non-feminists (male and female) will view such criticism differently than feminists will. This is true, and may be an argument for being more careful when making more controversial arguments, but it's not a valid argument for not making them at all.

***So it occurred to me part way through writing this that I assumed lynxara to be a woman, when I have no idea if lynxara is a he or a she. Since it doesn't really change the point of my argument, just whether or not lynxara's statement pisses me off or really pisses me off, I'm leaving my silly assumptions in as an example of this.

8 comments:

Revena said...

Yes, thank you!

Elena said...

(*wild applause*)

Tamora Pierce said...

Thank you so much for saying this! I kept thinking that the argument, that we ought to back off "smaller" issues in favor of "important" ones, was messed up, but I simply could not find coherent words to refute it (other than obscene ones). You've said it perfectly!

Alicia said...

Female, by the by. It's all in the LJ info.

You kinda missed my point. It's not that I think we should turn a blind eye to "small sexisms" in comics. It annoys me when folks cry sexism when I think there is legitimately none, by any reasonable standard. I do not think "this offends me so it's sexist" is a reasonable standard, and I don't care who does. We have to be objective to some degree about things that we want to see changed in objective terms, or the dialogue rapidly becomes meaningless. If you want to advance your position, you do so based on facts, not opinions.

The fact is, the industry gatekeepers are male, and most men are, shall we say, not fond of listening to feminist claims. If you cry "wolf" when nothing objectionable is going on, that's their cue to stop listening to everything. At least, if you really get into the rough-and-tumble corners of comics fandom (like /co/) those are the exact arguments advanced for why "feminist bullshit" should be ignored. Writing more clearly and carefully helps advocating any opinion, yes, but opinions don't change much of anything. Facts do.

Now, I don't really give a damn what pervyficgirl or whoever talks about in a general sense (is that who I was posting about? I seriously do not know, you tell me). It's their corner of the net, they may blog as they see fit. So will I. If I think her posts are kinda goofy and would prefer she didn't make them, I'll say so. She'll probably keep posting the same stuff. The internet's beautiful like that.

Now, it's true I won't link to or call out specific people when ranting about, because I personally think that's rude. Not saying you're rude-- you're clearly considering my post in the context of some huge, well-organized debate about feminism in comics, so I shall respond in kind, insofar as I'm able. I can respect your rebuttal enough to grant that concession, as it is remarkably well-written.

Just note that I don't take this terribly seriously and never intended to participate in The Great Online Feminist Debate to begin with. There's a certain assumption that if you're blogging at all, you obviously want lots and lots of attention, which I don't really give a damn about-- I write for the amusement of my flist, usually in hyperbolic fashion, and nothing else. But far be it from me to not be a good sport now that When Fangirls Attack has decided I'm part of the dialogue.

I'm sorry my post pissed you off, but I don't intend to change my opinion and you haven't convinced me I'm wrong. Your rebuttal rests on logical assumptions about feminism I don't agree with and will never agree with.

If it makes you feel better, my post was a hyperbolic rant, and does not actually represent my own personal well-reasoned opinion. Rest assured I do not actually want to run disagreeing bloggers off the internet, even if I think they are doing harm. They generally make it a more interesting place, and give me more to rant about.

(Also, please don't invite me to post my actual well-reasoned opinion on the matter; I have neither the time nor interest in doing so, since I don't really care what you think of me as a person or feminist. I have a book to publish before 7/24, and I have already spent more time in responding to you than I actually should've.)

salymander said...

Oh absolutely. Thank you.

Ami Angelwings said...

*cheers* :D

That was well written and thought ou :3

notintheface said...

I think the key is not so much ignoring or backing off small offenses completely as much as it is treating them differently than the larger ones. A guy looking at a girl for two seconds too long is not the same as a guy threatening to rape her or even a guy making harassing comments, so it's important not to take the latter two's offenses out on the former. The ire level should match the offense level.

Mickle said...

Alicia

(by the by - looked at the LJ info, didn't see it. dunno if it's because I'm not on LJ or bc I'm unfamiliar with it)

"It annoys me when folks cry sexism when I think there is legitimately none, by any reasonable standard."

Yeah, well, it annoys me when people do a lot of things. But I try not to say "people shouldn't call things sexist unless I think they are". I can't say I'm perfect about doing this, but I try to address each argument rather than implying blanket, nonsensical statements. Because how the fuck is anyone supposed to know what meets your standard of "legitimately sexist" anyway?

"The fact is, the industry gatekeepers are male, and most men are, shall we say, not fond of listening to feminist claims."

And twice in about the same number of days, I come across the assumption that any complaints about comics (or whatever) are only useful if they change men's minds. Once again, bullshit. My voice and arguments are important even when they are ignored by the likes of Joe Quesada - which they pretty much are even when they are valid and addressed directly to him.

"Now, it's true I won't link to or call out specific people when ranting about, because I personally think that's rude"

Personally, I find that clarity helps. It does mean that I'm more rude than I ought to be sometimes, but I take that to mean I should think twice before I'm rude - not that it's ok to be rude if you do the net equivalent of doing it behind someone's back.

"Just note that I don't take this terribly seriously and never intended to participate in The Great Online Feminist Debate to begin with."

Then why are you here? Because it looks very much to me like you are participating. Whether you mean to or not, you're sounding much like the trolls that come over and say "not that I care or think this is important or anything, but you all suck."

"There's a certain assumption that if you're blogging at all, you obviously want lots and lots of attention, which I don't really give a damn about-"

Why the hell would you assume the rest of us do then?

"If it makes you feel better, my post was a hyperbolic rant, and does not actually represent my own personal well-reasoned opinion. Rest assured I do not actually want to run disagreeing bloggers off the internet, even if I think they are doing harm."

Being a feminist - of the crazier variety, no less - I am insanely literal minded and had in fact thought your words indicated some vast conspiracy to duct tape feminist's mouths or launch DOS attacks against feminist blogs. Glad you set me straight.

notintheface

Once again, who gets to to determine the amount of ire that is appropriate? Who determines the amount of ire being given off by a particular post?