Why A Criticism of a Comic Book Cover Doesn’t Mean
Feminists Want to Ruin Comics Forever
If you’re not already aware of the resulting shitstorm from Janelle Asselin’s commentary regarding the 16-year-old Wonder Girl cover from the relaunch of Teen Titans, here’s a quick re-cap. Asselin, a veteran in the comic book industry, criticized the depiction of Wonder Girl’s breasts and thighs, pointing out they aren’t anatomically correct. She claims far-reaching implications for teen girls, the targeted readership. Her critique overall isn’t bad. She presents valid issues regarding the anatomy of a 16-year-old girl, the coloring, the shading, and the setting and random placement of props that make the new cover of Teen Titans disorienting.
Asselin also touches on the fact that the team’s placement is, well, wonky. Robin, the most recognizable of the Teen Titans, is relegated to the background, while the breasts are presented front and center. Raven, who isn’t known for her sexy outfits, is stuck in the middle of the background, almost as an afterthought. The cover truly is poorly executed, especially for an Issue 1 relaunch of a title that DC just doesn’t seem to know what to do with.
However, according to male comic readers, artists, and trilby-sporting “nice guys,” Asselin’s critique is just another example of feminists ruining their club.
As a woman who has been writing about geek and pop culture for almost ten years, it makes me so angry that in the past decade, we have had to become accustomed to rape threats (which Asselin has received) or various insults, simply because we also choose to seek refuge in a subculture dedicated to the things we love. It is unacceptable that we’ve had to desensitize ourselves as women in the industry, that we’re unable to calmly discuss something without being told we’re on our periods, or that we simply just don’t deserve equal treatment because “girls don’t exist on the Internet.”
courtesy of Themarysue.com
I grew up on a steady diet of Star Wars, science fiction and horror literature (and Pink Floyd). My family has entire dinner conversations comprised of quotes from various movies that we love. My fiancé and I got into a relationship because we both love geek culture. My bonus kids are knee deep in Skylanders, Star Wars, Angry Birds, and Teen Titans. Sassypants, age eight, has told us repeatedly, “I don’t mind being a nerd. Being a nerd is cool. You and daddy are nerds, and you’re the coolest people I know.”
However, this latest blow-up over a basic issue that we all should be able to discuss civilly makes me want to shelter Sassypants from the very kindred spirits who should be her cohorts. The way her brethren are behaving ISN’T cool. It’s horrific. How sad, that while an eight-year-old girl is discovering her identity, she isn’t welcomed by the tribe she chooses.
As a female in the industry, I am aware of the cheesecake; of the fact that it’s still funny to make fun of fat girls in cosplay; that Felicia Day had to change her tone when she was sponsored by Microsoft; I’m aware of the fact that if I express any feminist views, if I draw attention to something problematic, then I’m a “Jabba the Hut feminazi” who is intent on destroying the boy’s club.
If I praise Wonder Girl for being beautiful, and say there’s no problem with overtly sexualizing a teenager, then I’m one of the boys, and I’m allowed to sit at their figurative table for a day or two. If, on the other hand, I call out the issue that natural breasts, especially those on a 16-year-old girl, just don’t look like that, then I am seen as a humorless, ugly, overweight, disgusting, smelly, breeding cow.
As a mother figure, I am acutely aware of how unacceptable it truly is for us to continue to trivialize these issues. If Sassypants decides that she wants to dress as Starfire at a con, why should I fear that she’ll be sexually harassed? Why shouldn’t she be able to enjoy a day among her peers without worrying that some men will assume she is asking for physical contact simply because her outfit consists of a breastplate and a short skirt?
One thing that comes up countless times in the comment sections of these articles is the so-called “devil’s advocate.” This is the guy who, in the course of white knighting, tells us women that it’s unreasonable to use the general term “men” because that paints ALL men as misogynistic twerps. That makes us harpies. It proves that they are RIGHT when they say that ALL women in the industry want to take away their rightful ownership of nerdom.
This isn’t helpful.
This is, in fact, very problematic.
I have noticed that when I interview a female artist, I don’t hesitate when asking questions at all, but when I interview a male, I hold back, often to the detriment of the article. The reason is simple: I don’t get rape threats from women. I’ve never been at a convention where a woman has told me that I look disgusting and no one would want to screw me. I’ve never gotten an email from a woman who told me they found where I live and they will come and dismember me as I sleep, with an attachment of my apartment on Google maps.
I guess what bothers me is that yet again, we’re trying to have a meaningful discussion on the Internet about sexual harassment in geek culture, and the salient points are derailed because we’re all tumblr-pseudo-feminist bloggers. Even if we make a valid point – that men in geek culture need to do better–it’s minimized because we’ve all gotten our periods today. And remember, it’s not really ALL men that do this, so it’s okay to ignore it.
“Treat people the way you want to be treated with respect, how hard is that? Sounds like a bunch of feminists from Code Pink jacked this thread. They think they have more entitlements than men.”
“Ah, these comments are a great example of feminists who endlessly complain about their ‘plight’ yet will never do anything about it. Stop complaining about everything and go do something about it, no one wants to hear your shit.”
“Very nitpicky, the cover is fine, the guy is a really good artist and he’s just giving fans what they expect, sexy super heroes, even if she is a teen, she is still in the realm of super heroes and its sorta expected. I honestly cannot really make out the proportion problems she states in the article, its just stylistic.”
Men of nerd culture, do you remember what it was like before it was mainstream to obsess over the X-Men? Remember how excited you were to be able to find someone who shared the passion of tabletop RPGs, of painting Warhammer figures, of sharing Magic cards? Remember how you felt when you realized you had to hide your passions from people for fear of being victimized? Remember how, while it may have only been one or two of the athletes at your school that picked on you, you constantly used the term “Jocks” to talk about people who insulted you?
We can determine the identity of the people who harass us most. For women, we get harassed mostly by men. In my case, ONLY men. Men are the reason I’m afraid to go to cons, I’m afraid to take a young girl like Sassypants to a comic book store, that I’m afraid to write about geeky gaming stuff and attach my name or face.
Women like Janelle Asselin are the reason why I’m NOT hiding anymore. Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K, and we have a chance to change it. You want to stop hearing women whine about unrealistic body parts? Start calling out the dickwolves who perpetuate the stereotypes. Instead of attacking women in the comment sections, why not point out, in reasonable terms, why misogyny is just not cool in a culture that is supposed to be inclusive? I’m not expecting you to white knight me. I am expecting you to treat me as an equal, just like I treat you when we meet up in PvP matches. I am expecting you to do better.
I expect you to raise your children correctly, so that when Sassypants becomes an adult, she isn’t afraid to cosplay at a convention because the prevailing mindset is that simply wearing a costume that might contain a skirt or v-shaped neckline is her “asking for it.” I expect you to teach your son that superheroes protect everyone. I expect you to tell your son that Wonder Girl is someone to look up to, not because she is physically attractive, but because she is strong, fierce, and knows that the other guys in the Teen Titan squad – the family members that she chose, just like the nerdy ones that Sassypants is choosing – have her back.