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Author Topic: Violence against women in comics is misunderstood  (Read 13670 times)
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Aldous
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« Reply #8 on: January 23, 2007, 05:21:57 AM »

Quote from: nightwing
In that old Spider story, the hero could never have had sex with a woman, but the writer could strip and skewer a woman and have it be accepted as part of the fun.  In the slasher films of the 80s, hot, naked babes were forever being done in by power tools weilded by killers who couldn't penetrate them the old fashioned way.  In both cases, there's a sense of getting around impotence through violence, and that same thing at play today in comics.  It's hard to publish a comic full of sex without legal headaches, but its considerably easier to get away with a comic full of violence.

This is very much an American problem.

I would like to invite you over to my house for a couple of beers, and we could read some European comics.

In the United States, slash marks from a razor across a woman's breast will make it to the mainstream, but if a man stimulates that breast with his mouth in a love scene, it will be cut by the censor. I don't know what it is about America-------but what you are describing is at its worst there.

Quote from: nightwing
In the Golden and Silver Ages, you could get away with making Lois Lane a conniving, snoopy pain the butt because you were writing for young boys who pretty much saw girls that way.  Girls after all were the ones who always wanted to play "tea party" instead of cowboys and Indians. We may have looked up to Superman and Batman as "adults" who could do things we weren't old enough to do yet, but in a very real sense they remained little boys so we could identify with them.  We expected comics to reinforce our worldview (girls = no fun) and so they did.

I have read these observations of yours before, more or less, on the forum, and I think they are really clever, and true (if a little embarrassing to an eight-year-old I once knew).
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« Reply #9 on: January 23, 2007, 01:00:45 PM »

Aldous writes:

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In the United States, slash marks from a razor across a woman's breast will make it to the mainstream, but if a man stimulates that breast with his mouth in a love scene, it will be cut by the censor. I don't know what it is about America-------but what you are describing is at its worst there.

Well I don't think it's necessarily that we're a more bloodthirsty lot than other nations.  At least I hope not.

I believe the psychiatrists in the crowd would say that we have some issues with intimacy.  There seems to be some society-wide shame and anxiety surrounding erotica in general, but sexual release being a very human need, it ends up working itself out one way or the other.  And so, unable to have sex with the girl, we impale her with a power saw.  Problem solved.

I'm not sure I'd argue we need more sex in our entertainment, however.  Because usually when we do get the sex, it's still in combination with violence and cruelty. 

But I'll take that beer and read your comics with an open mind.  :-)  Especially if you've got some Milo Manara in the stack.
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #10 on: January 23, 2007, 02:37:46 PM »

Quote from: SuperMonkey
Female heroes tend to die much worst and graphic deaths than male heroes. When was the last time a male character was raped?

Again, you're assuming male and female psychology are interchangeable. And it isn't.

As I said, the reason rape doesn't happen to men in comics is because surviving sexual violence means something very different to women: it proves the character is emotionally resilient. That's why writers use this device. As I said, women writers use this much more than male writers do BECAUSE they understand this dynamic...just look at any given "Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?" Lifetime TV movie!

And there's no evidence for your statement female characters die in more gruesome ways than male characters. None.

Female characters do tend to die in large events that feature a body count, but that's not so much for psychological reasons but the reality is, unfortunately, female characters are often extensions of male characters (which is one of the problems I'm talking about as being a real problem)  - She-Hulk, Supergirl, Ms. Marvel, etc.

Keith Giffen once famously called the Valkyrie "She-Thor."

In other words, you can bump off Supergirl because her book hasn't sold well since the sixties. But bumping Superman off would be unthinkable. In fact, a chunk of the women that died in CRISIS - Supergirl, Aquagirl, and Huntress, meet this qualification. Batwoman certainly did croak long before Batman. The fact is, unfortunately...Batwoman isn't really NECESSARY. Batman IS.

And as I said, writers often have a problem writing characters that are different from themselves. It may be argued that one of the reasons that POWER MAN has been consistently awful is that white writers often don't know how to write a black main character convincingly.

And if a character isn't written properly, you can't like or care about them.

The problem isn't sick writers. The problem is bad writers.

Quote from: nightwing
So how "tough" was Kyle's girlfriend to get her neck broken and her rump plopped in the salad crisper?  Should I feel admiration for how much that helped her grow as a person?

In that statement I was talking about violence of a sexual nature.

I wasn't talking about the good old fashoined, regular kind. We're talking about two different things.

Quote from: nightwing
And I'd argue it's as much about target demographics today as it was in 1955:  writers believe (realize?) that their male readers have some serious issues with females and so they give 'em what they want...dead women, raped women, naked women. 

This is the definition of "begging the question." Assuming your conclusion is true before the argument even begins.

This is a default presumption that many people go into, but I don't buy into it. As I said, the problem with female characters is misunderstood and blanket statements about misogyny among comics fans and writers just isn't an explanation.

Female characters are disposable for a variety of complicated reasons, none of which have anything to do with male comics fans having issues related to women.

Roger Stern had Namor's girlfriend Marrina turn into a sea-monster, but not Namor himself. The reason is because Namor has been a regular part of the Marvel Universe since the 1930s, whereas Marrina was just some chick John Byrne created in the 1980s for Alpha Flight.

Ms. Marvel is another character that frankly, never had a chance, and it had nothing to do with frustrated male comics fans. She was a female version of a male hero...and worse, the head writer on her solo book was Gerry "El Diablo" Conway. Is anybody really shocked she isn't getting a blockbuster movie directed by James Cameron?

Quote from: nightwing
Anyway, my point is you can't simply dismiss this sort of thing as a case of writers not being up to the challenge of writing believable women characters.  There's a difference between making, say, Vicki Vale a tiresome bore and chopping her into 16 pieces.  It's the difference between negligence and malice.

Oh, but you see, these things ARE intimately connected, because as I was saying in the other thread, violence in and of itself is "neutral." It only is ugly and terrible when it can't be connected to character.

Take Mike Grell's LONGBOW HUNTERS. Black Canary in this story was raped and had a vocal chord injury. If Black Canary had been anywhere near three-dimensional in this story, or even characterized correctly, this story could have been a powerful story of overcoming adversity. But it wasn't. It came off as an ugly waste of time because of the failure of the writing and characterization.

Quote from: TELLE
Ironically, in this day of increased acceptance of the comics format (serious graphic novels, strip collections and manga in bookstores and newspaper reviews, etc) I am still ashamed to be identified as someone who reads/collects comic books because of "the culture of the comic shop" and modern superhero fandumb --guilt by association.

This is exactly why everything Nightwing just said in the above post is wrong: circular reasoning.

Step 1: Everyone knows comics readers have issues related to women.
Step 2: Occasionally, violence happens to women in comics.
Step 3: This is because everyone knows comics readers have issues related to women.

By the way, no matter how big an obnoxious person your comic book store owner might be, I assure you, your local tortoiseshell-glasses and argyle clad small press comic store owner is an even bigger one.

Incidentally, I was in Williamsburg in December, the small press capital of the world...and that was quite an experience. I met my brother (who lives in Brooklyn) for a drink at a local watering hole on a Saturday night, and I swear, it was the only time I've ever been the coolest person in an entire bar. The entire hipster scene is gaspingly desperate and unhip.

Quote from: SuperMonkey
One of the reasons why I only buy Graphic Novels and TPBs these days and nearly always from on-line bookstores.

I fail to see how, if you take shipping into account and don't buy immense CostCo sized portions, Amazon and other retailers are anything even close to resembling a bargain. Sure, there's free shipping...if you'd like your books three weeks from now, and sent to you in cigarette wrapper thin packaging so your books are often dog-eared before you even read them.

Compare that to the Friendly Neighborhood Comics Store, where the owner gives me a 15% discount for being a regular, and not only do I have it for that very evening, it's new and undamaged by being sent halfway over the country. And I get a friendly chat with the owner (who knows me and has saved a copy of BLACK RIDER just for me) and a high five with the guy in the business suit that's there relaxing off work, and two teenagers in Metallica shirts arguing about Conan vs. Elric.
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« Reply #11 on: January 23, 2007, 07:02:18 PM »

Julian Perez writes:

Quote
As I said, the reason rape doesn't happen to men in comics is because surviving sexual violence means something very different to women: it proves the character is emotionally resilient. That's why writers use this device. As I said, women writers use this much more than male writers do BECAUSE they understand this dynamic...just look at any given "Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?" Lifetime TV movie!

I'd rather not, thanks. But I agree rape is way overused in romance novels, which I consider the female counterpart to superhero comics.  My wife is a voracious reader of romance novels and she, for one, despises stories where women are raped.  But she must be in the minority, since it keeps selling books.

Anyway, I agree with you there's a perception that rape is somehow supposed to make women characters seem stronger (though I don't buy it), and I'll go you one further; the rape of a man is supposed to have the exact opposite effect (though that hardly seems fair and I don't necessarily agree with that cliche either).  This is the real reason men won't get raped in comics; because comics are about male power fantasies, and it'd be hard for most readers to be awed by, lets say, Batman if they knew the Joker once made him his "girlfriend."  Even if it happened 100 issues back. 



Quote
Female characters do tend to die in large events that feature a body count, but that's not so much for psychological reasons but the reality is, unfortunately, female characters are often extensions of male characters (which is one of the problems I'm talking about as being a real problem)  - She-Hulk, Supergirl, Ms. Marvel, etc.

You know, I'm not even worried about those crossover events.  Those things aren't even written so much as assembled from kits.  (And as far as mysogeny goes, if anything, Pantha's decapitation was the height of good taste next to Psycho Pirate getting his eyes poked through his head).  When I think of violence toward women in comics I'm more worried about the dead girlfriends in the fridge, or Sue Dibny's rape and murder.  We expect a body count in a crossover event, but a lot of the worst scenes came from other books, where they were unexpected and unnecessary and ultimately pointless.


Quote
This is exactly why everything Nightwing just said in the above post is wrong: circular reasoning.

Step 1: Everyone knows comics readers have issues related to women.
Step 2: Occasionally, violence happens to women in comics.
Step 3: This is because everyone knows comics readers have issues related to women.

I find it hard to believe a guy of your intelligence could look at what's been on the stands since the 90s and not think sexual exploitation is a huge part of comics.  Lady Death, Vampirella, Ghost, Power Girl, Witchblade and dozens of others that have come and gone...for a while there, the bikini-clad girl with twin automatics threatened to displace guys in masks in capes as the official symbol of comic books.  Comics have swung back to their pulp roots as showcases for cheesecake and softcore porn, and it's all in the demographics.  As audiences got younger, comics were largely de-sexed for the kids, but now that most readers are older, sex is a big deal again. And Sue's rape, Ant Man's impending voyeurism and the like are as much a part of that exploitation as the up-the-crotch shots of Power Girl in flight.

As for public opinion, I ask you: Is it weird for someone over 20 to spend a lot of time and money on picture books?  Yes, frankly (and I can say that 'cause I'm one of them!).  Do most people out there consider comic books juvenile?  Yes, and rightly so.  So when someone sees a grown person reading comic books, and those books feature not only square-jawed cornballs in capes and leotards shooting rays from their fingers, but also scantily clad babes getting dumped in fridges, is it going to seem creepy and sick?  Well, yes, because it is. 

Am I saying comic book writers have a secret agenda to humiliate, denigrate and incite violence against women?  Not really.  But the first thing a writer learns, even a bad one, is to write what sells.  And this crud sells. 

Put it this way: the Spider-Clone saga was bad writing.  Fandom rose up and rejected it, so it was undone.  It's not the only example.  But raping and killing hero girlfriends is now a staple of comics, and if it too is simply a case of bad writing, why don't people reject it and force it to be swept away like Ben Parker?  Because either (a) they don't care or (b) they're fine with it.  And in either case, they deserve the scrutiny of the outside world.

Your argument will be that Spider-Man is essential and Gwen Stacy is not (if I heard right, Gwen's now been figuratively raised from the dead for the express purpose of being raped, which must make her a poster girl of some sort).  But if it's really about disposability, then why not have Bucky raped by Zemo?  Why not have Harry Osborne raped, or Foggy Nelson (he's a natural...he even looks like Ned Beatty!  Cheesy).  I'll tell you why, because there's disposable and then there's disposable.  And in comics, women are more disposable than men. Period.

I'm no feminist, but that sounds like mysogeny to me.







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Aldous
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« Reply #12 on: January 23, 2007, 09:24:28 PM »

Quote from: nightwing
Well I don't think it's necessarily that we're a more bloodthirsty lot than other nations.  At least I hope not.

No, you're not more bloodthirsty than other nations. Rather, I'm talking about that weird juxtapositioning of: hands over eyes when it comes to sexual imagery, and slavering lust when it comes to ultraviolence.

I say "juxtaposition" because I've only just bought a "Heavy Metal" comic book published in the United States (the American version of "Metal Hurlant") and the European story I bought it for has been clumsily censored  Angry, and is a great example of what I mean. The comic is by a favourite artist of mine, and has men with decaying faces, freaky robots, and very violent scenes. All of this beautiful artwork is left intact. Yet the couple of brief sex scenes have been censored with strategically placed blockouts. Something's twisted here, and it's not the comic.

Quote from: nightwing
But I'll take that beer and read your comics with an open mind.  :-)  Especially if you've got some Milo Manara in the stack.

Well, as a matter of fact I do. I have a stack of Milo Manara, most of them in their original Italian.

Quote from: nightwing
..... what's been on the stands since the 90s and not think sexual exploitation is a huge part of comics.  Lady Death, Vampirella .....

Someone has a problem with Vampirella?! I only know her from the old Warren comics. I know there was a newer version (?) but I haven't seen that. But what's wrong with sexual exploitation as such? Men like to look at women. That's a no-brainer. (Men are also sexually exploited by women. Men are not the evil sex, and women the good. That's the impression I'm getting. And it's wrong.) Show me a male teenager who wouldn't like reading a comic about a voluptuous swimsuit-clad female vampire Shocked and her supernatural adventures. But yes, it would be a shame if the "niche" became the whole shop.

Quote from: nightwing
Is it weird for someone over 20 to spend a lot of time and money on picture books?  Yes, frankly .....

I totally disagree. Comics are a wonderful art form.

Quote from: nightwing
Put it this way: the Spider-Clone saga was bad writing.  Fandom rose up and rejected it, so it was undone.

Will someone please explain what the "Spider-Clone saga" is - ? - because the last time I saw a clone in "Spider-Man" was when they brought back Gwen in the mid-70s.

Quote from: nightwing
...he even looks like Ned Beatty!

But can Foggy make pig noises?? I don't really agree with the whole misogyny thing, Nightwing, because just as many women hate men as men hate women.

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TELLE
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« Reply #13 on: January 23, 2007, 10:35:42 PM »


Quote
As for public opinion, I ask you: Is it weird for someone over 20 to spend a lot of time and money on picture books?

Nightwing, you had me until "yes" --unless you mean this is the public's perception only.  I don't think it's weird --although I miss the outsider edge that even reading superhero comics used to give.  When I say I'm embarrassed, I mean only a little bit, inside, and I see it as a sign of weakness, a holdover from junior high and my depths of nerd-dom.  As well, I see the vestiges of superhero fandom, and their buying habits, as something to be embarassed for (well, maybe pity is better) since I've been there.  I am very proud of my love of comics.  My attitude is generally pretty punk and "f--- you" about things I like that may meet with scorn or censor from others socially.  By the same token, bartenders who find out I'm into comics might get a withering glare or curt disclaimer if they try to talk about Civil War or 52 with me (listen to me, the big hard ass).  Not that I ever worry if I'm the coolest person in the room or not. 

Quote
By the way, no matter how big an obnoxious person your comic book store owner might be, I assure you, your local tortoiseshell-glasses and argyle clad small press comic store owner is an even bigger one.

You can assure me all you want! Smiley  I'm on friendly terms with both, but have no idea how it may break down across the board.  I don't know if I'd call someone an obnoxious person just because he prefers to sell ugly superhero comics to teenagers while ignoring "small press" comics and a wider range of higher quality, better looking, better written material.  I'd just be a little sad.


Quote
Compare that to the Friendly Neighborhood Comics Store, where the owner gives me a 15% discount for being a regular, and not only do I have it for that very evening, it's new and undamaged by being sent halfway over the country. And I get a friendly chat with the owner (who knows me and has saved a copy of BLACK RIDER just for me) and a high five with the guy in the business suit that's there relaxing off work, and two teenagers in Metallica shirts arguing about Conan vs. Elric.

My local "Androids Dungeon"-type store has all the trappings of the stereotyped hole-in-the-wall with dirty carpet, lifesize cardboard cutouts of superheros, and crappy tables taking up much of the store for roleplaying games (and not the sexy adult kind).  However, it is run by two well-adjusted young women with a smart & passionate retailers' eye on the manga and anime markets, who also at least pay lip-service (and devote shelf-space) to some "small press" comics.  But I never go there.

As Super-Monkey notes, most comics I want can be ordered online.  The discounts range from 10 to 50 percent off with free shipping over $30 (usually the price of one or two books).  Never had a dog-eared or damaged copy.  Usually takes between 2 days and 2 weeks for newer releases.  If I went to the local comic shop, I would be in danger of high-fiving someone (do people really do that?  why?) and they probably wouldn't have what I want, since most shops don't order anything unless its picked out of Previews 3 months earlier, or unless its published by the big 2 (or 3) superhero publishers in a monthly format.  If I want a fun experience, I'll go to a clean shop like the Beguiling in Toronto which has a fantastic selection of comics from all over the world.  I'm sure someone there might be talking about Conan vs Elric, and someone might be wearing a suit and relaxing after work, but this might happen in any well-stocked bookstore.

Anyway, I think we may be missing points of agreement here:

-Julian agrees that many are poorly written but balks at blanket charges of misogyny in modern superhero comic books

-Nightwing questions the biased nature of sexualized violence in modern superhero comic books but chalks it up to market forces

-Aldous sees nothing wrong with sex in the comics but agrees there is something wrong with U.S. culture

Synthesis, anyone?


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JulianPerez
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« Reply #14 on: January 23, 2007, 11:27:13 PM »

Incidentally, I was just noticing on the "letters page" in the Women in Refrigerators site...that those writers and artists that do indeed say the problem is comics fans being malajusted are the very writers I don't usually care for. Mark Waid comes to mind. The reason I suspect this is so, is because if you don't see characterization as the problem, OF COURSE you're not going to do anything about it.

If there's anything I find tiresome, it's writers saying "it's all the fans' fault." Whether it is about a high death toll for female characters, or because of the success or failures of their projects.

Yeah, sure, fans didn't take to your new series. Life's not fair. The question is, what are YOU gonna do about it?

Quote from: nightwing
Your argument will be that Spider-Man is essential and Gwen Stacy is not (if I heard right, Gwen's now been figuratively raised from the dead for the express purpose of being raped, which must make her a poster girl of some sort).  But if it's really about disposability, then why not have Bucky raped by Zemo?  Why not have Harry Osborne raped, or Foggy Nelson (he's a natural...he even looks like Ned Beatty!  ).  I'll tell you why, because there's disposable and then there's disposable.  And in comics, women are more disposable than men. Period.

Yeah, that's what I'm saying, more or less.

To be perfectly frank, the only reason anybody remembers Gwen is because she died. Ditto for Mar-Vell.

Quote from: TELLE
You can assure me all you want!   I'm on friendly terms with both, but have no idea how it may break down across the board.  I don't know if I'd call someone an obnoxious person just because he prefers to sell ugly superhero comics to teenagers while ignoring "small press" comics and a wider range of higher quality, better looking, better written material.  I'd just be a little sad.

Comic book store owners may be weird old guys, but the Williamsburg comics people are deserving of an SNL skit.

It's like the unholy mating of the snotty record store clerk who gives you a "look" when you buy an Abba CD, and that nitwit at the bookstore who prattles on about Nietzche that's only seems smart if you're really, really stupid.

Maybe in Canada, they're more polite. Everybody else is, so why not?

Quote from: TELLE
As Super-Monkey notes, most comics I want can be ordered online.  The discounts range from 10 to 50 percent off with free shipping over $30 (usually the price of one or two books).  Never had a dog-eared or damaged copy. 

I'm glad you've had such a run of luck, but if you use free shipping, they don't provide you with packaging materials or even a sheet of poppy paper. You might not have had any damaged books, but it will happen sooner or later.

Yeah, you get a 10%-50% discount, but unless you buy in bulk, shipping should eat up the savings. And if you go with the cheap shipping, is 10%-50% worth the wait, which in my experience, was once up to five weeks?

I do agree with you that the primary advantage of the online stores is selection, especially if you're looking for something out of the ordinary. Thanks to MILE HIGH COMICS, I've got a complete run of SON OF SATAN.
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« Reply #15 on: January 24, 2007, 12:41:07 AM »

Quote
I fail to see how, if you take shipping into account and don't buy immense CostCo sized portions, Amazon and other retailers are anything even close to resembling a bargain. Sure, there's free shipping...if you'd like your books three weeks from now, and sent to you in cigarette wrapper thin packaging so your books are often dog-eared before you even read them.

Let me guess, you never ordered from Amazon right? Cheesy

All their books, free shipping or not come in the same great packaging.
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