Sunday, July 01, 2007

Heinz's Dilemma

I really, really, really should be asleep. Or at least trying to get to sleep.

But I think I've figured out why so much of the recent conversations about "offensive" covers and whatnot have been bugging me so much.

After I finished writing an overly long response to ami's questions about girl gazing, I realized that what bothered me about the other responses was not just that they weren't really thinking about what it's like to be the woman being watched, blah, blah blah. But that they answered an open ended question as if the only two responses were "yes" and "no."

I can't condemn girl watching - when it's done with all the caveats they include - but a I can't completely condone it either. Not because I think their wanting to do it is wrong or anything but healthy and even good, but because life is messy and complicated and their intent and actions and being deserving of happiness themselves aren't the only factors.

But most of all because I don't see it as a "yes or no" question.

ami partly presents it as a "yes or no" question herself with her first line and by talking about when men watching her makes her uncomfortable and when it doesn't, and by talking about what she does when she looks at guys. But she also presents the possibility that it's something more by not coming to a conclusion and by not repeating "Is it just a harmless sport or can it be harrassment sometimes? :|" - a line paraphrased from the original article - after her final "What do other ppl think? :3"

What I think is more complicated and less concrete than any answer to her first question could ever be.

Joel, however, starts out by saying:

I think there's a line between an appreciative look that's harmless... and an outright ogle that creeps someone out.

and everyone else agrees.

I don't. Or at least, I don't think that the line is solid and clear and always in the same place.

I don't the line is even where the conversation should always be focused on.

A woman was near death.... There was one drug that....might save her....the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to produce. ....The sick woman's husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together.....half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said, "No..." So Heinz...broke into the man's store to steal the drug for his wife.

Should Heinz have broken into the laboratory to steal the drug for his wife? Why or why not?

Why is this the question that is always asked? Why is Heinz's the only one whose actions are scrutinized?

Why are we always asking "is this offensive or not?" as if that was only question that applied? Why are we constantly turning others thoughts into this pigeon hole of "condemn or condone?" when even their own clear answer to that question is contradicted by the nuances within their rant?

"Offensive" suggests a solid, clear line. But that's not what I'm getting from most of the complaints I'm reading. Even the ones condemning DC, Marvel, the world, whatever. Perhaps I simply need to be more thorough in my WFA link-reading, but most of the rants that I read (that are longer than a sentence or two) contain a multitude of ideas that go beyond a simple yes or no answer.

In the end, agreeing on whether the answer is "yes" or "no" is not the most important issue. The variety of people supporting the campaign for a memorial for Stephanie Brown - many despite their own feelings on the matter - shows that better than anything else. Because the real question is not something as simple as "should DC give Stephanie a memorial?" the real question is messy and complicated with no clear answer. It's "what can we do to make this better?" and "how can we change was so obviously needs to be changed?" and "how do we even begin such a task, much less finish it?"

Examples and narratives are useful, and that's why we talk about covers and art and story and character development and everything else. But we aren't making guidelines. We shouldn't be making guidelines. The question isn't "is this offensive or not?" Nor is it "what about this is offensive and what isn't?" The question isn't even "what about this challenges sexism, racism, the status quo, etc. and what supports it?" The questions are "What does this mean? What do people take away from this? Where is it's place in all the other narratives of our lives?"

The fact that sexism is often our focus does not necessarily change these questions into the kind with clear yes or no answers.

Just because we have to make decisions ("support the Girl Wonder crusade or not?") or feel the need to take a stand ("the Heroes for Hire cover is/is not degrading") doesn't mean that we always have to answer yes or no questions in everything we write.

It doesn't have to be Feminism Vs. Zombies*. It can be fun and silly and stupid and sexist - all at the same time.

*betty, please don't take that to mean that I didn't really, really, love what you wrote, because I did.


Ami Angelwings said...


I didn't mean to imply that it was just "yes or no"

I just wanted to hear how ppl felt about the topic. :o

Betty said...

I'm just tickled that you linked to my post.

I agree with you entirely. I'd love to see more acceptance of ambiguity and acknowledgements that thing can be problematic, yet awesome, or that there can be diversity of viewpoints.

I think there may be a bit of a built in bias in blogging toward unambiguous positions. You want to hold a position that can be summarized in a one paragraph quote.

Mickle said...


I didn't think you did! That's why I figured you left it open ended in your last line instead of paraphrasing the article again. I just found it interesting that all your commentors only picked up on the "yes or no" from the article and completely ignored the way you increasingly treated it as a more amorphous question.


that's a good point as to why it happens.

I also think that a part of it is that when you disagree with someone, the "boy" - ie more socially accepted response - is to debate ad nasuem and pick apart the other persons arguments rather than spend some time actually thinking about what they are saying.

I get sucked into as much as anyone else. In part because absolutes tend to bug me anyway, so I'll find myself acting almost like the devil's advocate (even though I hate people who do that as well) whenever people say stupid stuff like "the zombie MJ is ironic!" while ignoring people (me) pointing out that the irony is diluted by rampant sexism, etc. I know I come across as more emphatic and hard-nosed than I really feel in those conversations. It's not that I don't see the irony and the funny, it's just that it's not all that I see and I get annoyed that people seem to think I'm crazy for seeing more.