Friday, August 03, 2007

Amy Reads the Year (on August 03rd, 2007)

(Or, The Answer to Question Number Three)

Welcome, Gentle Reader, to the month-long one-year blogiversary of Arrogant Self-Reliance! This Humble Author has spanned two blog addresses, two personas, and finally—finally!—has settled Quite Comfortably into this Rather Cozy Space. Over the next month I will endeavor to bring you the highlights—and lowlights—of the past year in pop culture as I readdress some Issues I find Most Important.

Yes, Friends, you’re right: I want to talk about Women in Pop Culture. And today, thanks to the Glories that are When Fangirls Attack and Google Alerts, I’ve stumbled across Quite the EntrĂ©e into Said Discussion.

A few days ago on MotherJones.Com, Charlie Anders wrote this stunning article, “Supergirls Gone Wild: Gender Bias In Comics Shortchanges Superwomen,” which offers a broader discussion of Female Readership in the Comic Book Universe. This idea of Readership has challenged me the past few days, and I have summed up--or rather, expanded--the Woman (in comics) Question into Four Questions.

In the wake of Comic-Con and, even farther and even faster (gratitude, Ms. Bishop), an entire year of discussion about Female Comic Book Readership, the first question of “Do Women Read Comics?” has morphed into ever-spiraling and ever-complicated questions such as: “Why do women *still* read comics?” (question number two) and “If you don’t like it, Ladies, why not *make the comics*?” (question number three) and of course, “Why don’t Women understand that they are *just comics*?” (question number four).

Friends, I am fascinated by both the idea of Female Authorship and the idea of Female Readership, two issues that are Very Important to my Academic Work. I read women’s works, and I read about women reading women’s works. What is more popular culture than the idea of audience? Without audience, there can be no “popular,” and without people, there can be no “culture.” Therefore, by fault of my wacky and illogical logic, “Popular Culture” is, at its heart, dependent on both Authorship *and* Readership.

Fandom, meet my Career. Career, meet my Fandom.

To wit, in answer to Question Number Three in the Rowdy Roundup of Questions for Feisty Female Fans:

You cannot have a book without a reader.

Or,

Books need both Readers *and* Writers.

While I am Ever-Ready to write on A Title Of My Own (Big Barda or The Amazon Princess for me, DC!), and while I am Ever-Writing on A Comic Of My Own (Happy to send Treatments, DC!), these are those ever-illusive and often-proverbial “Pipe Dreams” exactly because they are dreams. Even further, they are dreams exactly because I am, First and Foremost, A Reader: by choice, by trade, by training, by profession, by paycheck, by understanding. Reading is What I Do, and if you may forgive a modest lack of modesty for the moment, I am Exceptional at my job.

But because I am Good at What I Do, I also become, while not Hulk-Smash upset at it, Rather Perturbed by the idea that if I don’t like something that is out there, then rather try and change it, I should just accept what is there and personally make what I want.

That argument, to me, at least, feels Very Similar to the following analogy:

Mr. Reads and I go out to dinner. We both order steak, medium, loaded baked potatoes, smothered onions, and steamed asparagus. Mr. Reads enjoys every bit of his meal except for the asparagus, which he finds to be a bit too raw, and his steak, which is cooked at medium-rare instead of medium. He expresses his concerns, and the restaurant brings him new asparagus, cooks his steak to his liking, and, for his troubles, comps his dessert. I, too, find the asparagus a bit too raw, and find my steak to be medium-rare instead of medium. When I bring my concerns to the restaurant, not only do they not fix my meal, they pack it in a take-home container and tell me to “cook it to my liking” once I get home. As Mr. Reads and I ordered and paid the same amount for *the same meal* we should receive *the same service* for our *same complaints* no?

While this may seem A Bit Over The Top (and very conducive to hunger!), let us take it even further. If Mr. Reads—who is, I Assure You, Gentle Reader, the Kindest and Gentlest of Men—were to offer his complaint to the management with a loud, booming voice, he would be considered an aggressive and masculine specimen. Perhaps he would be considered a Steak Aficionado, even. A Steak Guru, if you will. He certainly knows his steaks, if he can become So Worked Up over an improperly cooked piece of meat! Whereas if I—and I Assure You, Gentle Reader, that despite my Well-Mannered and Gentle Demeanor, I am the More Likely Member of the Reads Family to offer a loud, booming voice—were to do the same, I would be escorted from the premises for my hysterical and inappropriate behavior.

Still don’t believe This Humble Author? Then one final extreme:

Mr. Reads and I, both unhappy with our meals despite dessert compensation for Mr. Reads (which This Humble Author did not get to enjoy since she was Tossed Out of Said Restaurant on her posterior), come home and write negative reviews of Said Restaurant on the Internet. Mr. Reads finds a commiserating audience who also has had Similar Problems with Said Restaurant. I, too, find a core of like-minded individuals who sympathize with my Tossing. Then my review is spammed by trolls begging to know Who The @#$! Do I Think I Am for daring to review negatively Their Favorite Restaurant. My review is plastered on site after site as a Bad Example of Restaurant Reviewing, and is held up as The Classic Example of How Women Take Everything To Extremes. While I was willing to give Said Restaurant another chance, I no longer want to take the chance of sitting Anywhere Near these fellow restaurant-attendees.

Extreme, I know. Perhaps silly, and certainly flawed. But Gentle Reader, this is *what it feels like* when I am told that if I don’t like the way comic books are being written, then I should just write my own. Rather than fight against change, these naysayers instead believe that a small ghettoized space is appropriate for those who feel as if comics do not portray women, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, differently abled, and others enough.

It’s not enough. It’s never enough.

I’ve heard them all already, the arguments, the beliefs, the statistics, the decrying that There Are More Male Comic Book Readers than Female Comic Book Readers, or, There Are More Male Comic Book Writers than Female Comic Book Writers, or, Superheroes are Symbolic so it Doesn’t Matter if 90% of them are white males.

To which I say, There *should* be more Women writing Comic Books, and there *should* be more Diversity in Comic Books, because if there is, there is a Very Strong Probability that there will be More Readers.

I don’t believe that Only Women can write great female characters, nor do I believe that all titles with a woman as lead—Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, Catwoman—should go to Women Writers. This is a further example of the ghettoizing of which I spoke earlier. Nor do I believe that Men cannot write Great Female Characters. I point to Mr. Rucka, Mr. Whedon, Mr. McKeever, Mr. Vaughan, and many, many others to belie this misconception. So, too, do we need more writers such as These Great Ones. But I do believe that the system, as a whole, is flawed. That the system is comfortable. Also, as I am Ever The Optimist, I believe the system can expand.

Further representation, Gentle Reader. Further discussion. Open marketplace of ideas and emotions and critiques.

Friends, I love Comic Books. I love Superhero Comic Books. I love the symbolism, the idea that the Outsider—the Alien, the Orphan, the Goddess-Made-Of-Clay, the Ultimate Other—is the person to point out injustice. I love that Cape Books make me believe in something Greater, something Mythic, something Colossal. I love that Superheroes are Larger Than Life, and that they make the characters, and the readers, aspire to Great Things. I love the gaudiness of the costumes, the extremes of the plots, the fact that Outlandishness and Utter Fantasy often come to stand for Gritty Reality and are Archetypal Discussions relevant to every time period, even Ours. I love that Superman has three weaknesses and Wonder Woman has none.

I love Batman because he is dark and challenging and not very friendly at all. I love Superman because Kal-El/Superman is the mask and Clark Kent is The Real Deal. I love Hellboy because he makes mistakes, over and over again, and still fights the good fight. I love Daredevil because sometimes, his Catholicism conflicts with his desire for vengeance, and sometimes, it supplements it. I can identify with these male characters because I see parts of them in me.

But.

But, these characters have had the benefits of More Good Writing than Not. They haven’t been tossed aside as lightly as some of their Sisters have. They haven’t been reduced to the Representation of Their Bodies as some of their Sisters have. That is not to say that they don’t have Bodies Issues Of Their Own. Of course they do. These are Comic Books. Everything is Larger Than Life, a Bit More Fantastical.

I *want* that Fantastical. I crave it. That’s why I am, First and Foremost, A Reader Of Comics. But Fantastical is *not* the same as Stereotypical. Fantastical is *not* the same as Ridiculous Representation.

And therein lies the difference.

8 comments:

Shelly said...

Good post. And a lot to digest.

Oh, and congrats on the blogiversary. :)

Amy Reads said...

Hi Shelly,
Good post. And a lot to digest.

Thanks! I think the comic book community (online or otherwise) is both its own greatest ally and its own worst enemy, particularly in that the divide seems to be so often gender related.

Oh, and congrats on the blogiversary. :)

Huzzah! This and dissertation progress. Who would have thought the two would Go Together? :)
Ciao,
Amy

Ami Angelwings said...

:O

Great post :D

Those are great analogies too! :)

And true, even tho I think some ppl will say those analogies dun work for stupid reasons that they're reaching for XD

But it IS true ;-;

Lea said...

Ebert's Law. Criticism does not depend on being able to produce better results. I know what good art looks like even though I haven't drawn anything halfway decent since I was thirteen.

SallyP said...

Beautifully reasoned and presented as usual. And politely! Which of course means that you'll still be vilified as one of "those" feminists.

*sigh*

When will the boys realize that we really don't want to break or take away their toys, we just want to clean them up a little and play too?

Amy Reads said...

Hi Ami,
So sorry for the delayed response. I went out of town and did much of my blog writing offline, so I'm rather behind on my commentary.

:O
Great post :D
Those are great analogies too! :)


Thanks! Mr. Reads made an Even Better Analogy, but I felt it was his and not mine, so therefore I didn't share.

And true, even tho I think some ppl will say those analogies dun work for stupid reasons that they're reaching for XD
But it IS true ;-;


It's very true, esp. in the reaction to situations based solely on gender. It seems all rather arbitrary when one boils it down to that, no?
Ciao,
Amy

Amy Reads said...

Hi Lea,
I apologize for taking so long to respond. I am currently out of town, and spent quite a few days preparing for said trip.

Ebert's Law. Criticism does not depend on being able to produce better results. I know what good art looks like even though I haven't drawn anything halfway decent since I was thirteen.

Very true! And I particularly don't like the "those who can't, teach" or "those who can't, critique" arguments, which are Rather Silly when boiled down. I know what constitutes Good Art, but I certainly can't make it! Does that make my opinion any less valid?

Further, during situations like these, I think of something I heard during my high school teaching stint: teachers make the worst students. I don't know if the sentiment is applicable to artists, writers, etc. and criticism, but it's definitely something to think about.
Ciao,
Amy

Amy Reads said...

Hi Sally,
I apologize for taking so long to respond. I am currently away from home, and several days were spent preparing (i.e. packing and laundry, laundry, laundry!) for said trip.

Beautifully reasoned and presented as usual. And politely!

Thanks, Friend! Flattery will Get You Everywhere, you realize :)

Which of course means that you'll still be vilified as one of "those" feminists.

!!!

Too late for that, I'm afraid. I was branded with my scarlet F Some Time Back.

*sigh*
When will the boys realize that we really don't want to break or take away their toys, we just want to clean them up a little and play too?


It's such a silly argument that I'm surprised it still gets anywhere. Well, it's such a silly *series* of arguments, the "My wife thinks it's okay," or "I don't think it's sexist at all," or "Why don't you complain about real things?" or the classic, "if you don't like it, make the comics." My feeling is that the last is a Sneaky Way Out of "If you don't like it, change it," which is *exactly* what feminist--that is, male and female feminists--readers of comic books are doing.

The saddest part of it all is that most male comic book readers I encounter in The Real World are, in fact, delighted to meet me, a female comic book enthusiast, i.e. A Fangirl. Although they occasionally assume I don't know my stuff (recommending Wonder Woman to me, say, or Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane) or are surprised to hear I adore The Ultimates, bloodthirsty So-and-So that I am, they are *always* delighted to find another fan, and--dare I assume?--a fangirl in the boys' clubhouse. Why the internet responds differently I've yet to ascertain.

Ah well.
Ciao,
Amy