mad: Jason Todd says a lot of things (Jason Todd)
[personal profile] mad posting in [community profile] scans_daily
I had a very negative reaction to the preview for Birds of Prey #3, and wrote about it on my Tumblr, but am re-posting it here, with images added for illustrative purposes.

In total this post contains about one page's worth of art/panels from the BoP #3 previews, maybe a bit over. (Most of them are from the preview on the DC Comics website, but one is from the preview on IGN.) Also, I've included the cover art to Gotham City Sirens #9.

Fair warning: this post contexts a lot of text.

The Penguin is injured and hallucinated that the Birds are...well, doing this:

This book is breaking my heart. I’m so tired of Ed Benes’ art. I’m tired of Huntress’s stupid belly window costume. I’m tired of the Birds sporting wedgies and their asses being constantly tilted toward the camera, and I’m tired of all the Birds’ faces looking the same. (That the Gail Simone’s writing here has the characters stripping/seducing, even in a villain’s hallucination, is also alienating and tiresome.)

It’s not something that’s limited to Benes, of course, but some comic book artists have the profoundly irritating habit of making most women’s faces look the same, while giving a huge amount of character to men’s faces. Check out the Penguin, and then look at all the women’s faces. It’s a similar thing with Guillem March in Gotham City Sirens. Dudes like the Riddler and Penguin get personality and individuality in their faces, but the women’s faces are kept as bland as possible.

It sucks that while we have TWO books featuring female team-ups in Gotham, both are mired in cheesecake that, in my opinion, gets in the way of the storytelling. It pulls me out of the story and kills my enjoyment. It especially sucks as a reader, because both books are written by people whose work I usually like, and characters I’m interested in following.

I realize that cheesecake and difficulty drawing women’s faces is by no means limited to these particular comics. I haven’t been reading GCS, and it’s been a while since I’ve even bothered to look at a preview of it, so for all I know, the art’s changed over time. But what I did see when the series launched was enough to put me off the book. (Also, the constant high heels on Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.)

I’m just tired of wanting to read books about female characters I like, and having to put up with excessive cheesecake. I don’t even MIND cheesecake or beefcake when it’s done well and doesn’t overpower the story. In the right context, I can enjoy it. But when it’s constant and mindless cheesecake in superhero stories, it grates on my nerves.

And it’s not just because it’s tiresome to constantly see your heroes and favourite characters sexually objectified for readers who are not me (just in case I needed reminding that mainstream comics don’t really care whether or not they have me for an audience), but because I see parallels to how women are objectified elsewhere.

I’m not even really talking about porn or other things aimed at straight men, where you do see those kinds of spine-injuring postures and objectification. I’m talking about how every magazine and advertisement aimed at WOMEN do similar things: soft lighting, make-up and airbrushing, eliminating any visual hint of “flaws” and personality. The Penguin's face could only belong to one person, and that is Oswald "Penguin" Cobblepot. Oracle, Huntress, Canary, and Dove, on the other hand? Put the same hair colour/style and mask on all of them and they all look exactly the same. The Penguin gets loads of detail and individuality on his face. But attempt to give a woman that same level of detail in a drawing, and people will probably view it as ugly.

Culturally, we give men permission to get wrinkles, grow stubble, and leave their grey hair un-dyed. We allow and enjoy visual representation of individuality and personality in men, we allow them the chance to prove their worth outside of their looks. We can love and enjoy, say, Jonah Hex, as a protagonist and hero, and we can love and enjoy Two-Face as a villain. But a woman? She must be beautiful, and if she’s not, chances are that her entire motivation and personality are wrapped up in the fact that she’s not conventionally attractive.

I can’t remember where I read it, but someone once said that women don’t wear make-up to look pretty, they wear make-up to feel human.

Perhaps that’s an oversimplification and is not a universal explanation for every woman who puts on make-up, or for every comic artist who simplifies women’s faces to the point where they all look the same, or for every magazine that photoshops away every wrinkle and smidgen of fat off of women’s bodies. It’s hard to articulate, but there’s always an implicit rule that women who don’t fit into the conventionally attractive mold will be rejected, individually and by society. That threat of rejection, of being dismissed, seen as sub-human, unworthy of any consideration or respect, it’s in male gaze, it’s in superhero comics, it’s in advertising, it’s in consumerism, it’s in products/magazines/advertising/other content aimed at women, it’s in the news and politics, it’s in strangers’ eyes, and it’s in the mirror. Every day. Often it’s subtle and easily ignored or goes entirely unnoticed, often it’s not and it doesn’t.

There’s a reason why I’d rather pick up Birds of Prey than Cosmo or whatever. It’s because I expect a superhero book to pull me in and make me forget about that crap, to make me feel at least a little bit empowered. It’s a superhero fantasy, and it should be fun, exciting and inspiring, not aggravating and tiring.

I realize that this is a very personal reaction to certain styles of art, that some find it difficult to draw women’s faces, and that there are other forces at work besides an artist’s particular style. Not everyone may think along these lines or feel this way, but when I read this preview of BoP, all I felt was tired. It’s not just a problem of one artist I don’t like on one book I should like, but just another facet of a much larger problem that manifests so frequently in comics, and practically everywhere one looks. When I say I’m tired of mindless cheesecake in superhero comics, it’s not just because it’s a problem in comics, but because I see it as a part of a continuum of a larger problem.

I’m tired of it.

Try to imagine what this scene would look like if the male character were swapped for a female one, and the female characters for male ones. If it were Batman and Superman sexily posing and stripping for a daydreaming, fully-clothed (non-spandexed, non-sexualized) Catwoman being creepy, DC would likely never publish it because it’d probably be seen as too demeaning to their favourite superhero guys.

You’d never see a beefcake equivalent to Gotham City Sirens, where every cover has, say, Dick Grayson, Roy Harper, and Wally West sexily and seductively posing together, with their skintight costumes highlighting their nipples, crotches and butts all at the same time. Despite how (b)romantic Superman/Batman can get, you’ll never see the same kind of sexual objectification of them in that book.

And if you believe that men are equally objectified and idealized as women are in superhero comics, you should compare and contrast. (Men are idealized as being “strong”, women are idealized as being “sexy”. Not the same thing, not equal.)

I have no idea what Gail Simone was aiming for when writing the scene we see in the BoP #3 preview, but it doesn’t appeal to me. In a recent interview, she talked about Ed Benes’ art:

That said, he is of the Brazilian tradition, so his art is always hugely sexy and sexually charged. It can be a bit much for some, but I never sense the, you know, the hate that some artists bring to their sexy drawings. Again, it’s like the Suicide Girls, and I’ve used them as an example before. What they do is so free of the kind of self- and other-loathing that infuses so much porn and cheesecake. It’s more about a sense of joy and freedom, and the effect is different.

I guess Your Mileage May Vary. I don’t see “joy and freedom” in it, but rather the same old trappings.

Date: 2010-07-17 10:13 am (UTC)
valtyr: (Nightcrawler)
From: [personal profile] valtyr
To say someone's feelings are valid means that it is okay for them to feel that way; to invalidate someone's feelings is to shut them down and tell them their feelings aren't okay.

In this particular discussion, the argument is that the creators didn't mean to be sexist and exploitative, so we should not find sexism and exploitation in the work.

But the work is there, and people respond to it; to say a person who finds this work sexist and is offended by it is wrong and their offense is not valid is wrong. That's a key point to a lot of discussions that are had here; people who say "I don't find this offensive," don't usually get into massive arguments - it's people who say "I don't find this offensive, therefore it is not offensive and you are wrong," who get trouble.

Date: 2010-07-17 10:41 am (UTC)
arbre_rieur: (DC Nation)
From: [personal profile] arbre_rieur
I can't agree that a person's offense can never be wrong. People can misinterpret a work, through misunderstanding or ignorance.

To use a non-hypothetical comics example, in the first issue of Milestone's HARDWARE, the protagonist says while confronting some trigger-happy white police officers, "How very white of you." According to the writer, a number of readers were offended by this line, viewing it as prejudiced remark. Some even called him racist. These readers didn't realize that "How white of you" was an actual figure of speech used in the real world as a compliment, which made Hardware's usage of it ironic.

Those offended readers were simply wrong. There's no way around that. Their offense stemmed from misinterpreting a line, a line whose actual meaning would have been clear with a broader cultural awareness. They were simply wrong about the meaning of the line of dialogue. I don't see how you can jump from there to their offense being valid.

Date: 2010-07-17 11:03 am (UTC)
valtyr: (Chicken)
From: [personal profile] valtyr
I think we may be arguing slightly at cross-purposes.

[personal profile] pitseleh did place their assertion that "if someone is offended, it is valid" in the context of "author intent" and "the context of the story".

You can't invalidate a person's offence because the offender didn't mean to offend, is the point here.

Date: 2010-07-17 08:59 pm (UTC)
arbre_rieur: (DC Nation)
From: [personal profile] arbre_rieur
I agree about intent but not about context. Context can alter the meaning of a story, a scene, or a line. You used context yourself to clarify what [personal profile] pitseleh meant. The original poster makes the point that the context of the dream sequence, the fact that there are plenty of similar cheesecake moments outside of the dream, is a factor in their negative reaction. My HARDWARE example is an instance where the context came from the wider world rather than elsewhere in the story, but the point is context's ability to drastically alter the meaning of what we read. If a lack of context can cause something to be misread, and if offense stems from that misreading, I think pointing out the context, correcting the misreading, does invalidate the offense.

"You can't invalidate a person's offence because the offender didn't mean to offend, is the point here."

I completely agree with this.

Date: 2010-07-17 09:23 pm (UTC)
valtyr: (cap close up)
From: [personal profile] valtyr
If a lack of context can cause something to be misread, and if offense stems from that misreading, I think pointing out the context, correcting the misreading, does invalidate the offense.

Hm. I'm not sure that invalidate is correct, really. If we are presented with an image that appears offensive, and then find out the image has been cropped to remove an element that would have alleviated the offence, I don't think the offence is invalid - we were responding to what we perceived. If we get greater context on the image that means we are then not offended, I don't think that means we were wrong to be offended by what we saw. If I make myself clear? Sorry, this paragraph is a tad involved.

Date: 2010-07-18 09:56 am (UTC)
arbre_rieur: (DC Nation)
From: [personal profile] arbre_rieur
I get what you're saying. Offense at the cropped image is justified and understandable. But would it really be out of place for someone to tell us, "There's nothing to be offended about in the uncropped version, taken in its entirety"?

Date: 2010-07-18 10:25 am (UTC)
valtyr: (Default)
From: [personal profile] valtyr
No, I don't think that would be wrong, but providing necessary context does not necessarily invalidate the feelings? I mean, I think it's perfectly possible to be "That looks shitty and I can see why you're upset,[ie your feelings are valid] but there's some context you might not be aware of which I think alters the meaning of the scene."

And you know, some people might feel the context is not sufficient. Say, Ultimate Captain America goaded the Hulk with yells of "Those guys said you're a sissyboy." And someone might well find that panel offensive. In the larger context, Ult Cap is deliberately striking at Banner's weak spot of sexual insecurity; he does a similar thing later by suggesting Banner's girlfriend is cheating, again striking against his sexual insecurity. I find that totally consistent with Ult Cap's characterization, and while I'm sure I'd raise my eyebrows hard at the individual panel, in context it doesn't offend me. However, I can quite understand the position of people who say "I don't like a story where Captain America uses homophobia to win fights, and I am offended." I mean, that's not wrong. Just because I think the context excuses it, doesn't mean they do.

It's entirely possible that a lot of people who'd read HARDWARE didn't know the 'mighty white of you' phrase. You seem to be assuming the people who weren't offended understood the context and thus were not offended - but what if they didn't understand the context, thought it was racist, and thought that was awesome? (I'm reminded of Stewart Lee saying he didn't like to make jokes about Muslims. Not because he was afraid of Muslims, but because he was afraid of Islamophobes thinking he was on their side. A creator should also consider how his work could be misinterpreted, although obviously it's impossible to be exhaustive.)

And there are times when context has context - like, if you go "Oh another fucking women stuffed in the fridge," and people go "Well you see in the context of the story it was very necessary for that character to die like a putz right then" and the context beyond that is, context always seems to justify fridging women, isn't that funny?

So I feel, honestly, that saying someone is wrong to be offended is almost invariably a bad thing, and it's dismissive and belittling.


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