Superpowered Feminism

This was going to be a short post, but there were a lot of good women to link to, so just think of this post as an epic crossover.

Perhaps it’s not intuitive to go to tumblrs commenting on the questionable anatomy of girls in comic books for smart, incisive commentary on feminism and (sometimes inadvertent) misogyny, but man oh man are you missing out.

I follow Escher Girls, a tumblr that collects professional drawings of superheroines that have something terribly wrong with them (the tags include: organless torsos, gratuitous butts, rubber spines, and boobs don’t work that way).  In addition to calling out these bizarre depictions of women, the Escher Girls tumblr fixes some of them with redraws.  Sometimes, they show how a more realistic drawing actually looks stronger and more dynamic, and sometimes they show how contorted a picture is by just reproducing the pose from a different angle (click for larger view).

And, in the last week or so, Escher Girls and Girl in Four Colors have been untangling some problematic discussions of women’s bodies as well as their usual topic of illustrations.  You see, recently someone started a tumblr called The Hawkeye Initiative, which redraws terrible poses for women with gruff, butch Hawkeye as the jumbled up object of desire.

And here’s one observation the Hawkeye Initiative sparked:

I’ve liked some of the redraws where there’s a male/female pose, and people draw Natasha in the “male” role, because it doesn’t look like “wow, she looks masculine,” it looks like, “oh, hey, she looks normal, but what is Hawkeye’s spine doing?” I think it emphasizes how women in comics aren’t problematic because they’re feminine, they’re problematic because a lot of times, they aren’t drawn like human beings.

But Girl in Four Colors was a bit perturbed by the viral attention the Hawkeye Initiative got, compared to the long-running Escher Girls:

People care more about issues of sexual exploitation if that exploitation directly effects men. We see this time and time again in our day-to-day lives… So when that culture sees an instance of a man being objectified, even if that objectification is meant to draw attention to similar treatment of women, it reacts in ways it does not when the subject is female. As I said before, Escher Girls has been highlighting this issue for over a year now, but the focus has remained solely on how this issue effects women. Ami provides smart commentary, her readers have contributed redraws showing ways in which the art can not only be less objectifying but objectively better, and the focus remains on women. The Hawkeye Initiative, meanwhile, shifts the focus to a male character, and in so doing, draws the attention of our male-dominated culture.

And that’s assuming the best intentions of the management and their contributors. Go through the archives and count how many times a variation of “This is hilarious, I had to contribute” is used. Be careful here, friends. There’s some intense ugliness hidden behind why you find this so hilarious, and it’s steeped in misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia.

Girl in Four Colors expands that last point, with examples, in a second post.  Some of the Hawkeye Initiative pictures aren’t satirizing the strange topology of comic book drawings.  They’re just going “Hawkeye in a skirt!  How funny!”  Which reminds me of the opening lines of Madonna’s “What it Feels Like for a Girl

Girls can wear jeans
And cut their hair short
Wear shirts and boots
‘Cause it’s OK to be a boy
But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
‘Cause you think that being a girl is degrading

The Hawkeye Initiative folks are engaging with the criticism and trying to figure out how to pull off more narrowly targeted satire.  Meanwhile, Escher Girls has highlighted another pernicious effect of the way comics objectify women.

In many ways, comics present us with these “damsel in distress” or “I don’t notice that my skirt is too short” or even “Oh, I just see you now, I’m so embarassed that you’re looking up my skirt, stop it!” style fanservice.

The artist makes us, the viewer, into a creep. And if anyone has ever been a victim of creeping, this completely breaks the story for us. It’s one thing to read a story about a character that creeps on another character. (some would argue Edward watching Bella sleep fits this) It’s another thing to describe something, through art or writing that turns us into the creeper in second-person perspective.

What these illustrations are eroticizing is the absence of a woman’s consent to be interacted with sexually.  They’re promoting her own interest and pleasure as irrelevant to the man’s enjoyment, instead of amplifying it as lover and beloved both will the other’s good. And that’s not the only toxic way we do it.  Over at Femspire, Rachel Kay Albers has an excellent essay up titled “Why I Never Play Hard to Get.”

The unfortunate side effect of this poison is the implication that consent can exist between two people even when one says otherwise. This idea is the fount of victim-blaming and the seed from which Todd Akin grows his thought crop. When we structure romantic relationships so that one party is considered a prize of conquest, won only by someone strong enough to fight past objections and overcome enough Nos to reach the Holy Grail of Yes, how can we expect that this blurred view of consent won’t bleed into our sexual relationships, as well? If No means Maybe, I don’t know, I mean… at a bar, in a text, or on a date, when does it starting meaning No again?

When I asked a male friend of mine what he thought about Hard To Get, he told me: “Well, you know, there is a right and a wrong way to play Hard To Get.”

“Enlighten me!”

“It’s fine if she’s all Oh, I don’t know…I’ve been hurt before…let’s take it slow. But I hate when she lays it on too thick. Not just ‘hard’ to get—impossible to get!”

“You mean, when she’s really saying No?”

“Yeah! It really pisses me off. I’m a nice guy, so why does she have to be such a bitch?”

I’m glad that people like Albers, Girl in Four Colors, and Escher Girls are speaking up and making it easier for guys who intend to be nice guys to notice when the culture is leading them astray.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

    People care more about issues of sexual exploitation if that exploitation directly effects men.

    Even granting that, say, Psylocke is exploited – she’s a character on a page, in a comic book that is a complete fantasy. I can understand if someone says it encourages this or that behavior, or provides this or that wrong perception of whatever. But when you say that a character is being sexually exploited, in terms of that character’s well being a reasonable reply seems to be – in terms of that character – ‘so what?’

    To throw another perspective at it: Jean Grey’s been killed and reanimated multiple times now. Is this something I should care about? Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson apparently had their marriage broken up by a pact with the devil. Should I care about their well-being?

    What these illustrations are eroticizing is the absence of a woman’s consent to be interacted with sexually. They’re promoting her own interest and pleasure as irrelevant to the man’s enjoyment, instead of amplifying it as lover and beloved both will the other’s good. And that’s not the only toxic way we do it.

    Lover and beloved both will the other’s good? What’s love got to do with it?

    Now, I know what love has to do with it. You’re Catholic, and so am I. But you’re not exactly dealing with Chuck White here. You’re dealing with a culture that explicitly, happily, eagerly rejects Catholic values most of the time, and for whom virtue ethics is entirely alien. The idea of sex as ‘lover and beloved both willing the other’s good’ is probably as far from the minds of many of the people complaining about these comic depictions as the people drawing it. The very idea of love being a requirement for sex would be laughed at, or denounced as terribly old-fashioned, or hell, itself somehow exploitative.

    In fact, so long as we’re talking about this, I’ll bring up the question that always hits my mind with these topics. Are some sexual fantasies, even when they stay entirely within the realm of fantasy, horrible evils that should be discouraged? A woman who has a sexual rape fantasy – is she broken? Ill? How about a man with a similar fantasy? Should they be ashamed for having these or other fantasies, even if they never act on them, much less tolerate others acting on them?

    Because I think the answer to that question is going to go a long way towards seeing if someone is being consistent. If all bets are off when it comes to sexual fantasies and desires, then it seems like quite a lot of the complaints about fantasy depictions and portrayals lose their bite. Suddenly it’s a matter of taste, there’s nothing wrong with reading and enjoying such stuff so long as you keep proper perspective, and this is no longer about justice and goodness and more about matters of taste.

    But if some fantasies and desires are, in fact, wrong – immoral, evil, etc – then we’re going to be having a very long and interesting conversation about what is and isn’t a Good and Proper desire. That’ll be an interesting can of worms to open.

    • http://ereadingromanticism.wordpress.com Bernadette

      I’d take issue with your reading of the phrase “People care more about issues of sexual exploitation if that exploitation directly effects [sic] men.” I think it’s a bit of a jump to assume that “men” in this context means Hawkeye. The sexually exploitative representation of (fictional) women’s bodies still directly affects the way our culture views and treats real women and their bodies.

      The second question—the question of fantasy—is a complex one. I think the first thing worth pointing out is that most of us can’t choose our sexual fantasies or desires. Thus, it doesn’t seem to make sense to condemn the desires themselves or our having of them. The question, then, becomes whether we would condemn the indulgence in or expression (artistic, sexual, or otherwise) of fantasies that could be understood as degrading, misogynistic, or otherwise objectionable—that is, I suppose, a “can of worms” in itself. However, I wonder if it would be a can of worms more because it is a question of what “Good and Proper desire” is or because it is a question of how art deals with the complicated reality of our sexualities and desires. I’d be much more ready to make a case for the merits of the Marquis de Sade’s work than for Fifty Shades of Gray, despite the fact that the former is decidedly more “offensive” by almost any standard, no matter how sexually “enlightened.” One is engaged in a project with real philosophical, artistic, and even linguistic stakes, the other is poorly-written porn for middle-age, middle-class women that encourages an unquestioning embrace of cultural assumptions about women without bothering to really think through or entertain its own stakes.

      • Irenist

        So, this is really off-topic, but your blog makes me think you are REALLY well qualified to answer the question of what the specifically linguistic stakes that you mentioned in Sade’s project were. Do you care to answer or link to an answer?

        • http://ereadingromanticism.wordpress.com Bernadette

          I’d defer to Roland Barthes’s fascinating little book Sade/Fourier/Loyola (and, yes, that last name is a reference to St. Ignatius). Barthes’s argument is multi-faceted, but he argues both that (1) Sade is particularly interested in crimes that, at some level, require language or some sign-system to be understood or even executed (incest, adultery, blasphemy) and (2) Sade’s project is an impossible attempt to say everything just as the libertines in his texts are trying to do everything. Trangression in Sade, far from being solely about “breaking” with systems, is actually about trying to totalize them (to close them off) by exhausting them. Barthes writes:

          The principle of Sadian eroticism is the saturation of every area of the body: one tries to employ (to occupy) every separate part. This is the same problem the sentence faces [...] the (literary, written) sentence is also a body to be catalyzed by filling all its principle sites (subject-verb-complement) with expansions, incidental clauses, subordinates, determinators: of course, this saturation is utopian, for nothing (structurally) permits terminating a sentence: we can always add to it that supplement which will never be the final one [...] similarly, although Sade tries to prolong the inventory of erotic sites incessantly, he knows he cannot close the amorous body, terminate the voluptuous catalysis (finish it off), and exhaust the combination of its units: there is always a supplement of demand, of desire, one tries illusively to exhaust, either by repeating or permeating the figures (accountancy of “acts”), or by crowning the combinative operation (analytical by definition) with an ecstatic feeling of continuity, covering, profession.

          (I realize that was long-winded and vague—sorry. It’s been some time since I’ve actually thought seriously about Sade.)

          • Irenist

            That’s really intriguing, Bernadette. Many thanks for sharing it. Your response prompts lots of further questions to which you could no doubt provide very insightful further answers, but since further contemplating Sade probably isn’t the most edifying thing to ask you to do, I’ll leave off here. Speaking of edification, I see from your comments downthread that you’re in the process of becoming Catholic. Congratulations! May God continue to bless you.

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

        The sexually exploitative representation of (fictional) women’s bodies still directly affects the way our culture views and treats real women and their bodies.

        Like I said – I can understand if someone is saying that depiction X promotes this or that bad behavior or bad perception. At least, there I can at least understand what’s being said.

        But talking about ‘sexually exploiting Black Cat’ just doesn’t add up. She doesn’t exist. And I don’t think the problem is necessarily on my end here – I think, whether intentionally or accidentally, people end up treating fictional characters as people whose well beings we should be sincerely concerned over. In which case, we’ve got bigger problems because a lot of these characters experience far worse.

        So no, I think it’s incorrect to talk about ‘sexually exploiting character (X)’ as if that is itself a wrong, unless it’s also a wrong to kill him/her. Not that I’d accept it even then, but that’s the cost of consistency.

        The second question—the question of fantasy—is a complex one. I think the first thing worth pointing out is that most of us can’t choose our sexual fantasies or desires. Thus, it doesn’t seem to make sense to condemn the desires themselves or our having of them.

        You can skip the condemnation and simply ask: is such a person ‘broken’ for having such desires? A man may not choose to have a big metal hook in place of his hand, but (once upon a time, at least) questions of whether this guy was ‘disabled’ were easy to answer. Yes, he is, as a matter of fact. Captain Hook is disabled, period.

        I don’t think the force behind the question is blunted whatsoever by this qualification. If anything it’s intensified. Not to mention, the question of whether people can choose their sexual fantasies or desires isn’t so open and shut. Maybe not completely, but people can learn some measures of self-control. And if we’re going to call these fantasies disabilities, well, there’s all kinds of ways to control mental disabilities now, however imperfectly. Look at people with depression.

        One is engaged in a project with real philosophical, artistic, and even linguistic stakes, the other is poorly-written porn for middle-age, middle-class women that encourages an unquestioning embrace of cultural assumptions about women without bothering to really think through or entertain its own stakes.

        I don’t think this works. For one thing, ‘philosophical, artistic and linguistic stakes’ are things which yet again get obscured into ‘eye of the beholder’ stuff. Put simply, you can spin anything into philosophical or artistic provocation or statement if you so choose – yes, even the dorky sparkling vampire.

        Likewise, you’re not really evading the judgment of people’s sexual desires and fantasies by trying to condemn the work with regards to its “unquestioning embrace of cultural assumptions about women”. They still like their porn, they still have their fantasies, they still are what they are. You’re telling them that what fantasies they enjoy – even if they’re purely fantasies – should be condemned, and discouraged from being made. Do they find it arousing? Tough. Some sexual fantasies are okay to depict, some are okay to find oneself aroused by – theirs are not.

        In which case, the fact that Black Cat shows a lot of cleavage or may be drawn out of proportion* should hardly register as a problem compared to a thriving out and out porn market with greater reach now than ever.

        (* The ‘this person isn’t drawn realistically’ complaint, with regards to comics, strikes me as a real poor objection. Exaggeration is absolutely common in the medium, in every way. But when it’s done to look sexy, suddenly we should really be concerned? Hard to take seriously.)

        • http://ereadingromanticism.wordpress.com Bernadette

          I suppose my first objection really was that I don’t see the quote you provided saying that someone was “sexually exploiting Blackcat”—I saw it making a statement about larger social ramifications of certain depictions. But regardless of how we read that line, it sounds like we’re roughly on the same page when it comes to substance on that issue.

          On the second point, I think you’re getting to what makes the issue of fantasy truly a fraught one. Is there a difference between “moral condemnation” and saying that someone is “broken”? Is there a difference between “moral condemnation” of an individual’s fantasy and the political and aesthetic condemnation you (rightly) see in my dismissal of Fifty Shades of Gray? I’m inclined to say, in both cases, that there are differences—but subtle ones. I suppose I shy away from the term “broken” not because I necessarily disagree with your point in principle, but because I’m suspicious of the way that type of terminology risks over-pathologizing sexuality and positing a “wholeness” that I’m not totally sure exists in this life. After all, we seem to desire things because we lack something, because we feel an absence. Doesn’t that make all desire a certain expression of “brokenness”?

          In terms of my own condemnation of Fifty Shades, I realize I’m walking a fine line there of lapsing into the very type of discourse I’m condemning. However, I would argue that my condemnation is not of the desires of the readers of the book themselves. My argument is that I think that when it comes to sexual desires we have an obligation to really grapple with them: to come to terms with the other (often non-sexual) desires, wants, and needs that are tied up with them, to face their power and their danger and the reality of their consequences. And the point of such an examination need not need to be to rid ourselves of these desires, but it does seem worth at least understanding them. A woman need not rid herself of rape fantasies in order to think about the ways in which engaging in such fantasies may well be partially a complicated and somewhat doomed attempt to either control the uncontrollable or to carve out a space for sexual pleasure for which she does not feel responsible or guilty. And I don’t think we need sever this from aesthetic concerns; the main aesthetic problem with pornography, after all, is that it doesn’t seem capable of telling the truth about sex. It simplifies its subject so as to make it purely pleasurable—to divorce it from its complexity and from the discomfort and anxiety that, at some level, sex will always call up in us. Pornography does to sex what romance novels do to love, what Oprah et. al. do to spirituality, and what bumper stickers do to politics—in short, it makes it too damn simple.

          As you rightly point out, aesthetic valuations are likely to meet with some diversity of opinion. But so are morals. This, in itself, does not seem reason to abandon arguments for the correctness of a particular aesthetic or moral system. Sure, if everyone was a virtue ethicist, then maybe you’d be free of this issue when talking about morals. But, as you point out, there’s no such consensus; however, I don’t see why that precludes either seeking common ground where it exists or asserting that your moral or aesthetic system is better than the other ones being presented. Certainly framing conversations about representations in aesthetic terms rather than moral ones doesn’t make it any more messy than it already is.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            But regardless of how we read that line, it sounds like we’re roughly on the same page when it comes to substance on that issue.

            Well, we can put that aside then. I’ll simply say that if anyone says something like “Black Cat is being sexually exploited!”, as if a certain amount of respect for the person of Black Cat is being violated, I don’t think it works – she doesn’t exist. And I’ll wait to see if anyone complains when she goes up in an explosion or gets eaten by a dinosaur.

            After all, we seem to desire things because we lack something, because we feel an absence. Doesn’t that make all desire a certain expression of “brokenness”?

            No, because to merely lack something is not to be broken. A hungry person lacks food, but their being hungry is not (certainly from a virtue ethicist standpoint) a sign of their being unhealthy or having a disorder in the appropriate sense of the word.

            If we’re going to hit the point where we put Captain Hook side by side with the hungry man and ask ‘Which one is REALLY the disabled one?’, I think we’re off in the realm of intellectual obfuscation. And if it’s truly that confusing, then where’s this condemnation coming from anyway?

            My argument is that I think that when it comes to sexual desires we have an obligation to really grapple with them: to come to terms with the other (often non-sexual) desires, wants, and needs that are tied up with them, to face their power and their danger and the reality of their consequences.

            Okay – why? Where’s this obligation coming from? The virtue ethicist, the Thomist, the Catholic, etc all have justifications for this line of thinking. But for the purely secular person who has ditched talk of objective morality and purpose being behind sex, etc, what’s this ‘obligation’ talk? Why do they have to satisfy someone else’s valuing for depth and self-investigation? Why can’t they just enjoy their crazy porn and fantasies and fiction without having to meet someone else’s special ‘are you being insightful enough’ standard? Why can’t they admire Black Cat’s rather unrealistic proportions without an earful (well, on the internet, an eyeful) about exploitation?

            I suppose a reply can come in the form of, ‘Well, why not?’ But that just highlights the problem – it’s all about competing wills at that point.

            And I don’t think we need sever this from aesthetic concerns; the main aesthetic problem with pornography, after all, is that it doesn’t seem capable of telling the truth about sex. It simplifies its subject so as to make it purely pleasurable—to divorce it from its complexity and from the discomfort and anxiety that, at some level, sex will always call up in us.

            Alright. Again, I can understand why this is a concern to the groups I’ve mentioned. But putting them and their broad attitude towards nature aside – what’s the concern? Why should they care about the truth about sex? Without that consideration of virtue and objective morals and purposes, what you just said sounds less like a criticism and more like an advertisement. ‘Pleasure, without the complexities, discomfort and anxieties!’ Box that and put a price sticker on it. You’ll make a fortune.

            But, as you point out, there’s no such consensus; however, I don’t see why that precludes either seeking common ground where it exists or asserting that your moral or aesthetic system is better than the other ones being presented.

            Sure, I’m more than happy to encourage the virtue ethicist in their advancing virtue ethics, and the Catholic in advancing Catholicism. I do the same myself. But I cannot, as I said with Irenist, get onboard with these condemnations from a perspective that just wildly falls short of being able to justifiably condemn what it targets. The thrust of the original post here, after all, wasn’t about a call to grapple with our desires – it had more to do with criticizing perceived sexualization (‘exploitation’) in the realm of utter fantasy. Even that criticism isn’t a problem so much as what I see as an attempt to frame it as a Catholic/Virtue Ethicist complaint, when the brunt of the popular condemnation is coming from a source that would find such a view alien.

            ‘Lover and beloved both will the other’s good.’ Great stuff, glorious line – it’s sadly not what’s animating so much of these popular criticisms. That is, for most of the critics, quite an foreign view of sex. Common ground sounds fine and all, but sometimes there’s not enough there to really share – and you run risk of legitimizing a mindset that’s almost as disordered as that you’re criticizing.

          • http://ereadingromanticism.wordpress.com Bernadette

            I don’t disagree with your point that, ultimately, my argument is making moral claims (“understanding the truth of a situation is an objective good,” etc.) that require some sort of meta-ethical grounding. I’m sympathetic to Virtue Ethics (and in the process of becoming Catholic), so I think we’d be much on the same page here in terms of shared value systems.

            I’m also, however, a pragmatist when it comes to making change in the world. I’m with Irenist on embracing common ground where it’s found. (And I think there is enough common ground for the embrace to be viable). It’s possible to have pragmatic ethical discussions based on some shared beliefs—non-consensual sex is a moral evil, truth and self-understandings are goods, etc.—without everyone having to have arrived at those beliefs through the same reasoning (or through equally sound reasoning processes). To put it another way: I could argue until I’m blue in the face with friends and colleagues about why sexual harassment is wrong or we could all agree, for a variety of reasons, that it is wrong and then we could work together to reduce it.

            Similarly, I imagine that I’ll catch the ear of a lot more folks in an academic milieu [which, by force of grad school habit, has become a sort of default imagined audience for me] if I make a case against sexual objectification based on honoring the complexity of experience rather than making a religiously rooted case; the religiously rooted case may well be the intellectually better case, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the most effective one. Why not appeal to an audience based on values that they already hold? I don’t think that the response has to be a simple, binary assertion that my reasoning is right and their reasoning is wrong. While I may believe that the other’s reasoning is less correct than my own, I don’t see why that need necessarily preclude finding moments in which it is, nonetheless, on what I take to be the “right track.”

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            I’m also, however, a pragmatist when it comes to making change in the world. I’m with Irenist on embracing common ground where it’s found.

            Alright, perhaps I’m coming off as hard-headed here. I understand a certain amount of pragmatism – really. I’m not saying that these discussions should always and only proceed from a virtue ethics perspective, or even a Catholic perspective, or even a Christian perspective.

            The problem is that having a narrow, common goal doesn’t mean you have much common ground at all with a person. Sometimes, the differences really are overwhelming, and ‘making common cause’ starts to run risk of entangling one with a view that really doesn’t deserve support to begin with. The tradeoffs really can preclude cooperation, or at least should.

            Why not appeal to an audience based on values that they already hold? I don’t think that the response has to be a simple, binary assertion that my reasoning is right and their reasoning is wrong.

            What if the values they already hold are half the reason you have the problem to begin with? What if they reject the very idea of ‘moral evils’ at heart, and are simply pursuing (consciously or unconsciously) whatever they personally like, period? Notice that you’ve been talking about people who have, essentially, a corrupted view of sex and sexual relations. But if you’re too pragmatic, you’re not really solving the problem so much as replacing it with yet another corrupted view. Or worse, you start turning a blind eye to the very real problems in your allies’ perspective for the sake of pursuing that common goal.

            To put it another way, if you convince the polygamist that he should in fact be monogamous, and the result is he forms an exclusive romantic relationship with his sister, I don’t think you can say you’ve actually made much progress.

            Appealing to the values people already have makes sense to a point, but only to a point. Sometimes those very values are just another aspect of the very problem you’re trying to address, and turning a blind eye to that is just the worse choice. This is a case where I think the ‘common ground’ is ultimately illusory, and not a good idea to sign on to.

          • http://ereadingromanticism.wordpress.com Bernadette

            I suppose I’m less likely to hold that the people in question (say Escher Girls, for instance, but also many secular folk) actually reject the idea of “moral evil.” They might not have a particularly good metaphysical defense for why things are moral evils, but they hold to the existence of moral evils nonetheless. For instance, how many secular folks do you think you could find who would not agree that non-consensual sex is a moral evil? Heck, even if you look at the New Atheism, its arguments are largely predicated upon the assumption that there are moral evils that religion, in fact, propagates instead of diminishing.

            In fact, I’d suggest that far from pursuing “consciously or unconsciously” “whatever they personally like,” most people are “consciously or unconsciously” behaving based on some very basic moral assumptions even if they don’t admit to them. Tapping into those assumptions can, it seems to me, potentially be productive.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            They might not have a particularly good metaphysical defense for why things are moral evils, but they hold to the existence of moral evils nonetheless.

            I’m not nearly so sure. I’m more inclined to believe that they make use of language that suggests there are moral evils, while either knowing what that has to mean given their views, or not really caring at all. It’s not like people become less passionate in pursuing what they themselves know are their own subjective whims.

            Heck, even if you look at the New Atheism, its arguments are largely predicated upon the assumption that there are moral evils that religion, in fact, propagates instead of diminishing.

            And in that case, I think it is explicitly an embrace of effective language while knowing the inconsistencies between their position and the thoughts said language evokes. To put it bluntly: just because a person is a moral nihilist or rejects the actuality of objective good and evil doesn’t mean they’ll swear off the language, or even the image, if it helps them get what they want.

            In fact, I’d suggest that far from pursuing “consciously or unconsciously” “whatever they personally like,” most people are “consciously or unconsciously” behaving based on some very basic moral assumptions even if they don’t admit to them. Tapping into those assumptions can, it seems to me, potentially be productive.

            Now, here I could be more in agreement with the sentiment – many people who think of themselves as utterly secular in the relevant sense, in reality are not. But I simply disagree with the productive way to approach it. Your way seems, to me, to be ‘let them ignore their inconsistencies, or the fundamental problems with their position – at least most of the time – and instead try to channel their rage borne of inconsistency and feeling into positive results’. I can understand the apparent pragmatism of that. I think it is a big mistake most of the time.

            Especially when it’s realized that so many of the problems are precisely borne out of fundamental flaws in perception and philosophy and attitudes to begin with.

        • deiseach

          Suppose Black Cat, or Catwoman, or Power Girl, or Emma Frost were black or Hispanic or lesbian as well as being the superheroine/supervillainess. Would the reduction of their characters to being dressed and posed and given figures that appeal to (what is considered to be) male sexual fantasy be acceptable, or would we be able to discuss why it is problematic to depict someone of group B in that fashion, never mind that they already belong to group A (that is, women)?

          Look, I’ve been reading comics on and off since I was seven. I always preferred boys’ comics because the girls’ comics were, to quote Blackadder, wetter than a haddock’s bathing costume. Boy characters aged twelve got to be General Jumbo, girl characters got to be orphans mistreated by cruel relatives whose dreams consisted of being permitted to go to ballet school.

          I don’t mind characters like Vampirella whose whole raison d’être is to be cheesecake; even when I was an unsophisticated twelve year old in a small country Irish town, I realised that the point of her character was to be attractive and wear as skimpy a “costume” as they could get away with without invoking censorship. The whole guffins about her being an alien vampire (or vampire alien) was only an excuse (and I actually like Vampy, much the same way I like Betty Boop).

          But the whole point of The Hawkeye Initiative is to pose a male hero in the same clothing and the same poses as the female heroes are routinely dressed and posed (we’ll ignore the 70s comics garb some of the males got lumbered with because the 70s were trippy), and to show how this is unthinkable to present male characters – who are every bit as fantastic, unrealistic, and imaginary – in the same way. Wolverine has an amped-up healing factor, Superman is invulnerable; in the comics world, they don’t need full-body costumes. But can you really imagine Wolvie – all 5 feet 6 inches of him – being given a costume anything like Emma Frost’s ( a few strips of fabric bindings and high heels)? Even though he could use the help in height that high heels would give?

          Yes, the characters are imaginary. But when you’re reading comics when you’re ten, and your choices are boys get to do, girls get to suffer; then you’re eighteen, and twenty, and thirty, and the choices still are: boys get to do, girls get to be stuffed in the refrigerator as plot engines of motivation for the male characters’ vengeance arc, or they get to be eye-candy – is it any surprise “girls don’t read comics”?

          • deiseach

            Also, leaving aside the whole debate about sexuality and sexualisation, what Escher Girls is demonstrating is that the artists cannot actually draw.

            They get female anatomy laughably wrong (the infamous swivel spines), they can’t do perspective, they have no notion how hands grasp or weapons are held.

            It has got nothing to do with imaginary characters in fantasy worlds; fine art paintings of goddesses are of imaginary characters in fantasy worlds. But they are supposed to be drawing human females, even superpowered human females, and they can’t do it. They draw as if they’ve never seen a pair of real breasts before – behold, I give you the uniboob!

            No, she’s not wearing a costume – that tan-coloured area is meant to be naked flesh, and the only covering she has is the metallic armour. And she’s not an alien – she’s supposed to be a completely human modern woman. We’re meant to be getting a top-down view of her cleavage. Ladies, do we really need to point out – breasts don’t work like that?

            It’s the anatomical failures (legs growing straight out of the side of the torso, arms impossibly long, lack of hips, spines that can bend 270 degrees) that Escher Girls is criticising; and all these are not alone ignored, but encouraged – all for the sake of making the images sexy by ballooning up the breasts and buttocks, miles of flowing locks of hair, and pouty red lips.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            Alright. Going down a list here.

            1: I think it is ridiculous to point at a given artist’s work, where he’s making use of exaggerated figures, etc, and from that complain that the artist ‘can’t draw’. Especially when we’re talking about comic books and cartoons, where rapt attention to anatomical detail is rarely much of a concern anyway. This is on the level of doing X-ray sketches of Charles Schultz’s characters and going off on the size of those skulls – it’s a petty complaint.

            2: If you think the problem of anatomy is exclusive to female characters, you’re just misinformed. Here’s a name you should know, even from Escher Girls: Rob Liefeld. Just watch that man try to draw feet, or try to draw any male figure that he’s told is ‘muscular’. Anatomically, it’s a train wreck many times – and while he’s famous for it, he’s not the only one it afflicts. But it’s also okay, because it’s not like anyone cares that much that the artist is getting the human muscle groups strictly accurate, anymore than they care that Cyclops’ power actually sounds kind of ridiculous when you explain what he’s able to do.

            3: Finally, insofar as the big assault is coming on these artists’ actual drawing abilities (Ohoho, look at their poor anatomy, they’re bad artists!), let me state this unequivocally.

            Drawing. Ain’t. Easy.

            So many of these criticisms are delivered by people who make it sound like it’s simple to draw a really nice, visually appealing piece of art that achieves all of the desired effects AND is raptly anatomically accurate on top of it all – oh, and in the case of comics, to also get it done under what can be fairly tight deadlines. It’s really not that simple.

            Sometimes artists really do cut corners – they trace. They cover up details with the environment. They draw the viewer’s eyes away from flaws. Other times, they simply have a style to their art – they exaggerate intentionally for effect, including for sexiness, because that’s what they like to draw. I think he’s a windbag most of the time, but John Kricfalusi will go on and on about his preferred style of art (and he does think he’s drawing sexy women), but while his characters are, anatomically, usually best described as monstrosities, it quickly becomes clear that he knows all this and he just likes to draw that way. He aims for Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones, and considering that, he draws and animates very well.

            Some artists are also lazy. But even for most of the lazy ones, what they do isn’t very easy. Which is why I find this spotlight on anatomical accuracy to just not go very far, since it so often comes from people who make it sound like everything could be corrected with just a few more minutes of work. You can make some legitimate complaints, but you can also make a lot of illegitimate ones.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            Suppose Black Cat, or Catwoman, or Power Girl, or Emma Frost were black or Hispanic or lesbian as well as being the superheroine/supervillainess.

            Black Cat’s bisexual. One of the Batwomen is a lesbian. And what, you don’t think (african) Storm gets drawn sexy? Or (asian) Psylocke? You can’t possibly be telling me that lesbian/bi or non-white female characters don’t get drawn this way when they show up in comics. If you ARE telling me this, all I can say is – you’ve been misinformed.

            But the whole point of The Hawkeye Initiative is to pose a male hero in the same clothing and the same poses as the female heroes are routinely dressed and posed (we’ll ignore the 70s comics garb some of the males got lumbered with because the 70s were trippy), and to show how this is unthinkable to present male characters – who are every bit as fantastic, unrealistic, and imaginary – in the same way.

            And that’s pretty much why the Hawkeye Initiative is mostly getting the rep of ‘Haha, Hawkeye looks ridiculous’ than it registering as some illustration of grave offense, all intentions aside. Yes, men and women have different tastes when it comes to sexy. What is appealing for a man to be doing isn’t necessarily appealing for a woman to be doing, or vice versa.

            I think the complaint of ‘X wears high heels but Hawkeye doesn’t!’ is just ridiculous. Yes, there are clothing choices that are popular with one gender or the other, not both. Is THAT now offensive too? If Jubilee puts on lipstick, does that mean Xavier has to now? And if so, why? Because unless we pretend there’s no differences between men and women and every clothing choice is strictly unisex, the war is lost?

            I’ve said repeatedly in this thread that, from various perspectives, I can get behind these complaints – but I simply can’t do so from the secular feminist perspective. But *this* kind of complaint, I can’t even get behind from a Catholic perspective. Maybe I’m misunderstanding you. Maybe you’re miscommunicating. If you told me that the point of HI was to draw attention to the poses and the general depiction, I could get behind things to one point, from one point of view. But when you cite as a complaint ‘The girls wear high heels sometimes but the boys never do!’, that’s when things start to seem like a parody of a position.

            By the way, go check out what Namor wears on a regular basis. On the flipside, take a look at guys like Juggernaut. That’s one thing you see very, very often with male characters, and not so much with females: being in an outfit that doesn’t make you look sexy, but does make you look like an idiot.

            But when you’re reading comics when you’re ten, and your choices are boys get to do, girls get to suffer; then you’re eighteen, and twenty, and thirty, and the choices still are: boys get to do, girls get to be stuffed in the refrigerator as plot engines of motivation for the male characters’ vengeance arc, or they get to be eye-candy – is it any surprise “girls don’t read comics”?

            First, if that were truly the case – yes, it would be a surprise. Because it’s not as if women or people who write comics that women may want to read are barred from making them – especially over the past 10+ years, where online publishing is a very real option, and multiple online comics do enjoy some considerable amount of success. If now, in the age of digital drawing tools and digital distribution, you find your choices lacking, then you have far less warrant to complain to DC or Marvel or even Dark Horse than you would have decades ago. Even previously, such a thing could have been done. Tap that market Marvel/DC aren’t tapping. Or try to create it. If either is truly as possible as so many imply.

            Second, there’s no lack of truly powerful women in comics. Yes, they get drawn sexy many times. But it’s not as if Power Girl is the constant damsel in distress, or Jean Grey was some weak fragile bunny (she was a world-ending terror), etc. It’s not like Wonder Woman’s role is ‘end up butchered in a refrigerator’ – that trope is less about ‘females in comics’ and more about ‘unsuperpowered love interests of males in comics’. You could also do a trope about how parents of superpowered people end up in comics – there’s orphans all over the place.

            Third, it’s not really a zero sum game. If the concern were truly about simply having more options, there wouldn’t be so much of a focus on how comic X should change – there’d simply be a request for comic Y to show up, and they would in all likelihood co-exist. Instead, the mere existence of Comic X, or Comics with appeal X, is verboten and something to be done away with. And one more time, I can understand many criticisms of the sexualizing, etc, from various perspectives (I won’t list them again). From others, it’s far less about justice or ‘doing what’s right’ and far more, on that perspective, about ‘I like this, and other people should like this too’. And that is hard to take seriously in the right away.

          • deiseach

            Exactly – drawing is not easy. So, to be a professional artist, making a living from doing representations, you need to be trained.

            If they drew tables, cars, buildings and dogs in the same style, it would be so apparent that the drawing was wrong it wouldn’t be permitted to go out on the cover.

            But drawing a cover where the female human has one mass of flesh on her chest instead of two discrete breasts is okay?

            And yes, Liefeld did dreadful work. I don’t know how he was let get away with it. It was as unrealistic and grotesque for the male characters as the female, which is some going.

            But the point is not that we’re objecting to characters being sexy, or sexy characters, or characters showing a bit of skin. What we’re objecting to is (a) bad basic drawing where it’s not just a matter of ‘hands/feet/expressions are tough to draw’, it’s ‘this is not how spines or breasts or hands work’ and (b) disproportionately it is female characters in the cheesecake style, the Stripperific costumes and the ‘stick out your tits and wiggle your ass’ pose. Compare the costumes of Cyclops and Emma Frost on this cover (and this is Emma in one of her more covered-up versions that I’ve seen).

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            But drawing a cover where the female human has one mass of flesh on her chest instead of two discrete breasts is okay?

            Does it look good to the person who isn’t going over it with a magnifying glass? Then sure, it really is okay, because most people aren’t going to do that.

            And your link for this example didn’t work previously. But I can imagine what it was anyway.

            And yes, Liefeld did dreadful work. I don’t know how he was let get away with it. It was as unrealistic and grotesque for the male characters as the female, which is some going.

            Well, put that in perspective here: Liefeld wasn’t some guy who drew 1 comic. He was a very, very commonly used artist, who did a tremendous amount of work. He also had and has his fans. People bought and liked what he produced, even while so many critics mocked him.

            It’s almost as if actual anatomical accuracy isn’t a big deal to many consumers, isn’t it?

            To use another popular example: Thomas Kinkade. Everyone loves to bash his art. Oh, it’s so tacky. It’s overcolored. It’s this, it’s that, it’s all these things.

            Man, what a terrible artist. How could he sleep, with all these criticisms of what he produced? The answer would apparently be ‘On a giant pile of money.’ because for all those criticisms, he was still supremely popular.

            But the point is not that we’re objecting to characters being sexy, or sexy characters, or characters showing a bit of skin. What we’re objecting to is (a) bad basic drawing where it’s not just a matter of ‘hands/feet/expressions are tough to draw’, it’s ‘this is not how spines or breasts or hands work’

            Again – so long as it looks good (and it clearly does look good to many people), most of the time the goal is reached. Also again, anatomical accuracy isn’t the goal anyway. It’s effect, it’s exaggeration. If it conveys the right look the to average viewer – sexy or violent or powerful or whatever – then ‘this is not how spines work’ doesn’t matter.

            (b) disproportionately it is female characters in the cheesecake style, the Stripperific costumes and the ‘stick out your tits and wiggle your ass’ pose.

            Right. So? Again, this is a secular ‘so?’. I can lay into comics better than most people here if I’m going at them from an Aristotilean or Catholic perspective. As much as I like creative media, I actually buy few comics precisely because I don’t want to support many of the themes and attitudes I see included. I won’t even buy the titles that are ‘good’ because I object to how comic industries treat their properties. (Imagine if, say, there were Adult Mickey cartoons where Mickey Mouse was killing people brutally or having lots of vulgar sex or cursing, etc, in addition to being the adorable Mouse-4-Kids he is. Well, that’s a reality with DC/Marvel comics. I don’t like how the young child is introduced to the adorable Incredible Hulk, and the door is now open for him to encounter the rapist/cannibal one in Ultimate Universe.)

            But from the secular view – alright. So people don’t like those comics? Don’t buy them. They’re trashy? Too bad, a lot of people like that. Are you going to try and make people not like those comics? Alright, go for it – but it’s not really about ‘justice’ or anything at the end of the day from that perspective, but imposing your will. And yours is no better than anyone else’s.

            Same deal for ‘should men not find these displays attractive / tempting / worth their attention and money?’

            Compare the costumes of Cyclops and Emma Frost on this cover (and this is Emma in one of her more covered-up versions that I’ve seen).

            Bad comparison for one reason: Emma Frost’s character is absolutely expressly that of a woman who out and out *tries* to look like some ridiculous stripper. Seriously, she has breast implants and that’s canon. She’s had plastic surgery like crazy. If anything your complaint there should be that a woman who’s had as much surgery as she has should actually look kind of horrific and should also be bonkers. Except there you’d have a problem, because Frost IS bonkers.

            Second, while Cyclops certainly looks covered up in that arc, take a good look at Namor. I’m not going to pretend that’s the norm for men in comics, but again, it does happen. They also end up looking stupid or with ‘bodies don’t work that way’ in all kinds of ways – to make them look powerful, to make them look alien, etc.

            Finally, you say ‘disproportionate’, as if there’s a ‘proper’ proportion out there. But again, there isn’t – certainly not on the secular view, ultimately. The proportions are what they are.

    • Irenist

      Are some sexual fantasies, even when they stay entirely within the realm of fantasy, horrible evils that should be discouraged?

      Fanning the flames of concupiscence is never helpful: encouraging yourself to become more lustful (or greedy, or wrathful) leads to vice and to vicious acts.

      You’re dealing with a culture that explicitly, happily, eagerly rejects Catholic values most of the time, and for whom virtue ethics is entirely alien. The idea of sex as ‘lover and beloved both willing the other’s good’ is probably as far from the minds of many of the people complaining about these comic depictions as the people drawing it. The very idea of love being a requirement for sex would be laughed at, or denounced as terribly old-fashioned, or hell, itself somehow exploitative.

      Yeah, that’s a pretty big problem we’ve got. Although I hasten to concede that the eras when Peripatetic and Scholastic virtue ethics were academically ascendant were hardly paradises of respectful treatment of women, outside of courtly love literature and other more chivalrous contexts. IMHO, virtue ethics has a lot to teach modern secular types, but secular feminists also often offer valuable helps to getting a much-needed clue that privileged me is quite grateful for.

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

        Fanning the flames of concupiscence is never helpful: encouraging yourself to become more lustful (or greedy, or wrathful) leads to vice and to vicious acts.

        Sure, I can see why you’d say that from a Catholic or Natural Law or Christian point of view. But we’re not dealing with people who accept those contexts by and large.

        IMHO, virtue ethics has a lot to teach modern secular types, but secular feminists also often offer valuable helps to getting a much-needed clue that privileged me is quite grateful for.

        Except quite a lot of that ‘secularism’ has landed us exactly where we are right now. That’s part of the problem I’m trying to highlight here – divorced from those virtue ethics, the Catholic rooting, etc, there’s just not much to get all worked up about over these topics of fantasy, other than what amounts to an almost pure conflict of wills. People’s fantasies are what they are, and we’ve made sexual desire/fantasy utterly sacred to the point where no one’s sexual fantasies can really be considered immoral or wrong or disordered, at least if they don’t act on them (really, just what desires you can act on and still be accepted by society has gotten broader, and probably hasn’t yet stopped.)

        But we’re supposed to be all outraged when popular media caters to the desires and fantasies of some subset of the population? Why? Again, I understand why from the virtue ethics or Catholic or, etc, perspective. From the utterly secular view? It’s far harder to see. No, that’s too weak – I don’t think there’s any reason to care there other than someone else’s force of will.

        You call yourself ‘privileged’. But you’re, apparently, someone who subscribes to a theistic view of morality where such a thing can be a concern. Take that view away, and there’s little reason to be concerned that you have too much privilege. If anything you should be worried that you don’t have enough.

        • Irenist

          But we’re supposed to be all outraged when popular media caters to the desires and fantasies of some subset of the population? Why? Again, I understand why from the virtue ethics or Catholic or, etc, perspective. From the utterly secular view? It’s far harder to see. No, that’s too weak – I don’t think there’s any reason to care there other than someone else’s force of will.

          I mostly agree with this. I certainly don’t feel especially outraged by any of this; I just think it’s obviously pernicious from the POV of my own Catholic virtue ethicist worldview, which worldview is, as you point out, not exactly that popular. I don’t think there’s any good ground to, e.g., ban all the hyper-objectifying media around us. But I do think that there are precincts in which no one has the slightest interest in or respect for Catholic virtue ethics, where feminist arguments that much of this stuff both makes women feel terrible and makes men into the kinds of guys that make women feel terrible are more likely to get a hearing and maybe lead to some voluntary changes in behavior. That’s pretty great, and I applaud it.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            But I do think that there are precincts in which no one has the slightest interest in or respect for Catholic virtue ethics, where feminist arguments that much of this stuff both makes women feel terrible and makes men into the kinds of guys that make women feel terrible are more likely to get a hearing and maybe lead to some voluntary changes in behavior. That’s pretty great, and I applaud it.

            And I do not.

            It’s like applauding a rapist being thrown in prison – over an unrelated accusation, and unjustly in the context of it. I suppose you can look at the entire situation and regard it as a kind of cosmic justice, but at the end of the day he was imprisoned for the wrong reason, and that itself is a big concern.

            I find that to be exactly parallel with egging on ‘secular feminist’ condemnations of such things, turning an utter blind eye to the intellectual inconsistencies and failings of the position they’re operating from, in the name of… what? Clumsily, hamfistedly, accidentally attaining something in the general direction of what may be called progress from a virtue ethicist position? It’s like voting for candidates who are progressively more and more unhinged from justice or truth because, pragmatically, at least they may stumble in the direction of ‘right result, wrong reason’ more often than the other guy.

            And then we all act stunned when we realize we’ve unleashed a freaking monster.

            I don’t think it’s right to do that. In fact, I think it’s wrong even on Aristotilean grounds.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            I want to add on something.

            But I do think that there are precincts in which no one has the slightest interest in or respect for Catholic virtue ethics, where feminist arguments that much of this stuff both makes women feel terrible and makes men into the kinds of guys that make women feel terrible are more likely to get a hearing and maybe lead to some voluntary changes in behavior.

            First, even if X makes someone ‘feel terrible’, it doesn’t mean X is bad. Sometimes the problem is with the person, not with X. Some people like entertainment – totally fictional comics or the like – that I find crappy, or offensive, or abhorrent. Is the problem with the entertainment, or with me? Especially when we’re playing with the ‘secular’ tools, the answer is not clear. And for a long time the answer has been ‘it’s with you – let people like what they like.’

            Second, there’s something you left out with your description. ‘The stuff that makes women feel terrible, liked by guys who make women feel terrible, may be changed voluntarily.’ And what’s the very popular method and outcome of achieving that voluntary behavior?

            Trying to (and sometimes succeeding in) making men feel terrible.

            Right on back to the will.

    • Arizona Mike

      I give you serious props for the Chuck White reference.

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

        I’m glad someone else knows the name. Talented guy before my time – I actually came across him when he was referenced in George Carlin bit (way back in Carlin’s early days), and the name stuck with me.

    • Iota

      Crude,
      “But when you say that a character is being sexually exploited, in terms of that character’s well being a reasonable reply seems to be – in terms of that character – ‘so what?’”

      a) To refer to characters as if they were people and existed is a standard convention of character analysis. It also lampshades a fact that is kind of important – that we are empathic beings and literature wants to hack into this empathy. While reading, at least one of the possible goals is to make me the character for the duration of the book/comic/movie.
      b) More importantly – I think part of the reason people’s (mainly women’s) hackles go up is because this is in no way necessary for the plot while at the same time depicting an experience many women have and do not like.

      Being eaten by a dinosaur is obviously different, in that it’s never likely to happen to the reader and even if we just stick to murder as such, it’s there because the plot demands that it me there. If you’re reading a whodunit, there’s no reason to complain someone gets killed because, well, that’s how these books work (if you want to complain, complain about the existence of the genre). If, on the other hand, bunches of characters die gruesome and horrible deaths for no reason, I’m going to think the book is meant for people who like to imagine pain and torture – a piece of literature for sociopaths, camouflaged as something else on the bookshelf.

      (And yes, the existence of certain kinds of literature, movies, and other products of culture makes me extremely uncomfortable. Because the very idea that there are people – significant numbers of them – to whom X or Y appeals kind of makes my blood go cold.)

      And this is where it gets sort of uncomfortable. Becaouse, you see, I wouldn’t go up in arms abut a female character being objectified (yes, I’m sticking to the linguistic convention) in a piece of pornography. I would object to pornography as such (being Catholic), but wouldn’t be terribly shocked that people are sexually objectified in it. Sort of to be expected.

      But when I pick up a video game, a book, a movie or a comic (well, I don’t do these but it fits on the list) that I have no particular reason to expect to be porn and it turns out to be kind of porn, while also exploiting my empathy to make me enter the charterer role first… let’s say I begin to assume I’m not supposed to be reading SF or fantasy. Or watch most music videos these days. Or, in fact, consume a bunch of other culture products.

      Now, whether you personally feel/are/should be concerned about that is kind of your business.

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

        To refer to characters as if they were people and existed is a standard convention of character analysis.

        Sure. It just doesn’t work in this particular context, for the reasons I’ve stated. I think there’s a big difference between ‘Cyclops was mean to Psylocke, by Psylocke was in the right’ and ‘Psylocke is being sexually exploited!’ Especially since, in the latter case, it’s less about character analysis, and more about the artist relating to their characters. No one ever says Tolkien was mistreating his orcs. (Or if there are, I think they’re being silly.)

        More importantly – I think part of the reason people’s (mainly women’s) hackles go up is because this is in no way necessary for the plot while at the same time depicting an experience many women have and do not like.

        Okay, it’s not necessary for the plot. So what? They’re pleasant to look at for many. I mean, it’s not like these things are being drawn and the gut reaction from many is to despise them (otherwise this problem would have solved itself.) Sure, I can understand various complaints about this from some perspectives, as I’ve said. I’ll even endorse them. But once we’re off into the land of the utterly secular? “Some people don’t like this kind of fiction. Others do.” That seems to be the beginning and end of it.

        Depicting an experience many women have and do not like? Even granting that – same response. Why does that matter at all? Why is it assumed that the proper response is ‘change those comics!’ or ‘change the people who like them!’ instead of ‘change the people who dislike them!’? Or better yet, ‘Don’t read those comics.’? I can understand why the Catholic, the Christian, the various religious, the virtue ethicist, the Aristotilean, all may complain. Objective morality, the will of the Creator, and so on. That should turn people’s heads and get their attention, if they (in my view, rightly) accept such.

        The will of the heads of the Women’s Studies departments? The collective will of Tumblr? Far less of a source for anyone to be concerned about, save for those who already agree with their subjective whims, or who feel threatened by them. And if it comes down to that, well… then it’s not really quite the noble concern everyone suggests it is, at the end of the day.

        If, on the other hand, bunches of characters die gruesome and horrible deaths for no reason, I’m going to think the book is meant for people who like to imagine pain and torture – a piece of literature for sociopaths, camouflaged as something else on the bookshelf.

        No doubt. There are books like that – rather popular ones, in fact. Typically loaded with sex too, but heavier on the butchery, rape, etc. Written and drawn by very well-known, popular names in the comics industry as well. These men are not pariahs. Probably not even by feminists.

        But when I pick up a video game, a book, a movie or a comic (well, I don’t do these but it fits on the list) that I have no particular reason to expect to be porn and it turns out to be kind of porn, while also exploiting my empathy to make me enter the charterer role first… let’s say I begin to assume I’m not supposed to be reading SF or fantasy. Or watch most music videos these days. Or, in fact, consume a bunch of other culture products.

        Man, I don’t know. You say you ‘don’t do these’, and that may be part of the problem. Sexy comic heroines isn’t some well-kept secret of the genre. Sexy girls in video games is not new. I’m also not sure it’s rightly called ‘pornography’, unless you mean a form of porn that’s all over the place.

        On the flipside, why is it ‘I shouldn’t consume these culture products (Animation, comic books, video games)’ and not ‘I shouldn’t consume these specific culture products’? There’s no sexualized heroines in Hellboy (frankly, the art doesn’t lend itself to that – and it’s beautiful art.) There’s no soft-core porn in SimCity.

        Anyway, let me explain the direction I’m coming from here – I think you understand, but I may be unintentionally obscuring my view. I understand the complaints about sexualization. I agree, in part, with Leah’s criticisms. But I understand, and I agree, from a Catholic perspective, or an Aristotilean perspective. I can find common ground with a broadly Christian or even theistic perspective on these topics. On such views, I can lay into comics and video games all day.

        But that spread of perspectives is simply alien to the secular feminist perspective prompting so many of these objections for so many people. And on THAT perspective, once it’s analyzed, it becomes far harder to really take seriously.

        • Iota

          Jumbled out of order, but I think responding that way makes sense:

          > No one ever says Tolkien was mistreating his orcs. (Or if there are, I think they’re being silly.)

          Okay, so we established you think they are silly. (In case you wanted to know – people do/did/will say “Tolkien was mean to orcs” – it’s part of some forms of literary analysis. They might have just dressed up in more jargon.). You just probably don’t read them.

          > Sexy girls in video games is not new.
          Yes, and it irritates me mightily as a long time woman gamer. I’ll spare you the rant.

          > ‘I shouldn’t consume these specific culture products’?
          Because at some point I get fed up with having to spend time sifting through stuff that is not just not targeted to my demographic (that’s understandable) but targeted against it. If a certain class of products consistently makes makes me feel like I’m wasting my money to be insulated, I drop it.

          > So what?
          Why not?
          Let me explain: you’re asking what, In the realm of the completely secular, do those discussions accomplish. My response is: the same things as most other discussions everywhere. Not much but maybe something for the individuals involved.
          You’re clearly commenting in a combox on a blog and it’s clearly not likely to solve any major world crisis (sorry Leah). You’re still doing it. In the same fashion, people talking about forms of character development, character depiction or other stuff, like, say the “Unfortunate Implications” trope here) are having a conversation. It’s not likely to do much in terms of world impact. It might change a few books or other products.

          It might, occasionally, lead people to consider the idea that there are certain standards of either craft or morality or whatever that they don’t want to breach from that point onward. I’m not adverse to people having those kinds of realizations and, I think unlike you (this is the vibe I get), I don’t always react badly to the word feminism. I think feminism as an intellectual movement is unsustainable at its core, but I also think people have to do their own legwork in developing mentally and morally, and if they are at the stop called “secular feminism” I’m not adverse to pitching them some of my intellectual goods in a language they understand.

          Also, it sometimes helps to create a platform where people with a completely alien ideologies get to come together to solve (or even just discuss) a thing they all see as a problem. They might also realize, in the process, that the other side does not eat babies, run around with torches and pitchforks, or burn people for fun on weekends.

          Building bridges over divisions is kind of important if you want anyone from that other side to ever walk onto yours. Of course, there is the possibility you don’t…

          And I’d be wary of a kind of completely anachronistic view of Christian morality being besieged especially now. As far as I remember, folk songs in the Middle Ages could get VERY raunchy. I’m sure there were no Women Studies Departments then but there were probably women (and possibly even men?) who found that rather problematic. I think some Lives of the Saints could be kind of instructive here.

          • Iota

            Clicked Post too quickly:

            Should be: “I’m wasting my money to be insulted” and the link is here.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            You just probably don’t read them.

            Or maybe I’ve read them, and I think their approach is ridiculous.

            Because at some point I get fed up with having to spend time sifting through stuff that is not just not targeted to my demographic (that’s understandable) but targeted against it. If a certain class of products consistently makes makes me feel like I’m wasting my money to be insulated, I drop it.

            Alright, so what you need are better search methods. It’s not like if you want to find a comic that appeals to you, you need to brute force go out there with a shovel and dig through a big pile of jumbled comics, reading each before finding the one that works. There’s other methods – and those methods eliminate the necessity of ‘make less of these kinds of comics!’ as an option.

            Unless the goal IS to get rid of the comics you don’t like, rather than find ones you do.

            Let me explain: you’re asking what, In the realm of the completely secular, do those discussions accomplish. My response is: the same things as most other discussions everywhere.

            You misunderstand. I can entirely get WHY, even on a secular view, someone would raise a fuss or do this or that. It’s about imposing their will. They want X, and they’ll do what they can to get to X. But at that point, we’ve stripped away the veneer of ‘justice!’ or ‘morality!’ or ‘it’s right!’ or, etc, and gotten to the bland, pedestrian, age-old heart of the matter.

            I think unlike you (this is the vibe I get), I don’t always react badly to the word feminism.

            Actually, no. Rather, I’ll have an initial reaction, but I’ll check it and wait and see what’s being said. That’s why throughout this entire conversation I’ve been qualifying myself all over the place, explaining that I can completely understand various objections from certain perspectives, but from others (‘secular feminist’ I said, not merely ‘feminist’) it’s all kind of a sham and I’m not going to make believe it’s otherwise. I’ve even discussed why I do so, while recognizing the pragmatic appeals some can make. I disagree with most people’s pragmatism here. I think it only causes more problems.

            Also, it sometimes helps to create a platform where people with a completely alien ideologies get to come together to solve (or even just discuss) a thing they all see as a problem. They might also realize, in the process, that the other side does not eat babies, run around with torches and pitchforks, or burn people for fun on weekends.

            Or they might start to turn a blind eye to the baby eating.

            I’ve said in this thread that I’m all in favor of ‘common ground’ and ‘common cause’ in the right situations. But sometimes, really, there’s just not enough there. Sometimes the perspectives are, in fact, so far apart from each other that allying for a ‘common cause’ is poorly thought out.

            Imagine this situation: a man is accused of stealing bread for his family. He’s sentenced to 5 years in prison. Group A and B absolutely oppose this sentence and want it overturned. Group A thinks the sentence is too harsh, and wants it reduced to 30 days. Group B thinks the sentence is too merciful – they want his arm chopped off and for him to be in prison for 10 years, not 5.

            Does it make sense for group A and B to say ‘we have a common cause!’? After all, they both want the man’s sentence overturned. But no, despite that, they really don’t have all that much in common and it’s ridiculous to pretend otherwise.

            With topics like this, I think it is a mistake to oppose warped view of sex A with a group that wants to replace it with warped view of sex B. Sometimes the right answer is ‘you’re both wrong’. In fact, sometimes the right answer may be ‘the problem that underlies view A also underlies view B, you opponents of A. Think it over.’ Sometimes the pragmatic choice isn’t very pragmatic at all, but convenient for other reasons.

            And I’d be wary of a kind of completely anachronistic view of Christian morality being besieged especially now.

            You can say it’s been besieged multiple times all throughout history, and it’s not going to change my responses here. I’ve nowhere pretended that we’ve fallen from some utterly idyllic height in the past 2000 years – I think things were better in the recent past, but the past also had its problems. On the flipside, the past having had its problems doesn’t do much to change the fact that very real problems exist right now either.

          • Iota

            Crude,
            ‘make less of these kinds of comics!’
            Fundamentally, I’d like to see more of certain kinds of stuff because I think it’s better craft that way and yes, it is more right. The less of other stuff isn’t a goal, it would possibly be a consequence (in terms of market share). And I’m largely looking for having discussions with individual people, as appropriate, rather than some sort of mass movement of whatever.
            My presence and interaction on this blog are a kind of aberration since I generally refrain from talking to random strangers on the internet.

            Unless the goal IS to get rid of the comics you don’t like, rather than find ones you do.
            For me it’s mostly taking to actual, living people I know who write or generally pursue artistic creation to tell them what I think about it (assuming they ask). And to have an opinion (that is less just squishy intuition and more verbalized) for when I’m doing it.

            But since not all people can have friends who will discuss everything I ever want to know or should be challenged about, spaces where stuff is being discussed are simply useful as an ersatz for the people I can’t meet (but maybe should). Since this is how I operate, I’m willing to assume there are also some other people operating similarly.
            And, quite frankly, given my line of work, narratology (for example) has provided some of the vocabulary I need anyhow.

            And I don’t even think you can “get rid” stuff you don’t like in a culture, without the voluntary cooperation of the majority. You can deleglize it. But that is mostly silly. I might be persuaded that delegalizing some particularly gruesome or violent stuff makes sense, possibly (hint: I’m not American, no 1st Amendment here), but even then the end result isn’t that it disappears – it’s that it’s illegal.

            In fact, sometimes the right answer may be ‘the problem that underlies view A also underlies view B, you opponents of A. Think it over.’

            Which is what I would try to communicate, if asked and given both enough time and audience-willingness-to-listen. But in order to even be asked I assume I have to be sort of conversant with the language the other side speaks.

            Or they might start to turn a blind eye to the baby eating.

            I suspect we probably disagree quite fundamentally on how much good is a bridge. Possibly because we live in different places. Possibly for some other reason. I don’t think responding at length would be productive… If, for some reason you really want me to, please signal.

    • jenesaispas

      I didn’t know there was ever a Catholic comic, thanks for that!

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

        Glad to pass on the name. For any animation fans reading, I’ll also mention that Osamu Tezuka did some EWTN work.

        For the record, for a modern and rather Catholic-friendly comic, I’d also recommend Mike Mignola’s Hellboy series. Pretty much utterly without sexual objectification. Well-written stories, and one of the few places you’ll see Catholic priests and themes show up in positive lights. In fact, I’ve read that Hellboy himself is Catholic.

        • Arizona Mike

          Hellboy is explicitly stated to be Catholic – the man carries a rosary around, for Heaven’s sake. Mike Mignola, his creator, is a Catholic as well.

      • Arizona Mike

        As an older Catholic who attended parochial school, I can remember when we got our copies of “Treasure Chest” in class and the sisters would let us read them on Friday during study time – one of the best parts of the school week!

        “Treasure Chest” was very well done – the Church was an innovator in using the comic book format for education, and a lot of the heavy-hitter artists and writers who worked for DC, Marvel, EC Comics, and Charlton Comics moonlighted for Treasure Chest (guys like Reed Crandall, Graham Ingals, Joe Orlando, and Murphy Anderson. Each issue would have stories from Catholic history, lives of the saints (I remember reading this story about St. Martin de Porres in 1962 – http://dspace.wrlc.org/view/ImgViewer?img=1&url=http://dspace.wrlc.org/doc/manifest/2041/29567), famous Catholic writers, scientists, musicians, etc., science, math, history, theology, as well as riddles, jokes, and other stuff.

        Looking through some of the old issues, I was surprised at how many issues back in the early 1960s when I was reading it (yes, I’m as old as grit) dealt forthrightly with social justice issues such as civil rights, integration, etc. – Like this story, “The Saint for Racial Integration” published back in January, 1961:

        http://dspace.wrlc.org/view/ImgViewer?url=http://dspace.wrlc.org/doc/manifest/2041/29105 (and Part 2, http://dspace.wrlc.org/view/ImgViewer?img=1&url=http://dspace.wrlc.org/doc/manifest/2041/29125

        - bear in mind, this was in a comic book that was distributed nationally throughout America, including parochial schools in the deep south. Pretty progressive for its time, and this story was originally published back in the 1950s.

        Check out this 1946 story on St. Albertus Magnus, patron saint of scientists:

        http://dspace.wrlc.org/view/ImgViewer?img=1&url=http://dspace.wrlc.org/doc/manifest/2041/26449

        All the issues are on-line through American Catholic University, and you can search by subject: http://www.aladin0.wrlc.org/gsdl/cgi-bin/library?e=d-01000-00—off-0treasure–00-1–0-10-0—0—0prompt-10—4——-0-1l–11-en-50—20-home—01-3-1-00-0-0-11-0-0utfZz-8-00&a=q

        Chuck White was the star of a long-running adventure series, which was pretty forward-looking for its time – Chuck was a cheerful young man who was always up for an adventure, but also kind and thoughtful in his actions. His pals were multiracial (unusual for a comic that began in the early 1960s) and depicted in a non-stereotypical fashion, and Chuck’s parents were explicitly shown to be in a Catholic/Protestant mixed-marriage. The series dealt with a lot of issues that were of concern to kids.

        Now that the Pope is on Twitter, it would be nice if the Church looked back at older media that we used to use. I would love to see the Catholic Church return to using comic books for the new evangelization – what kid, or adult, won’t pick up a comic book and look at it? We can’t cede the territory to Jack Chick and his ilk.

        Bring back Treasure Chest!

  • Mark Ferris

    Read your link ‘Why I never play hard to get”
    I believe you need a new reading list.
    If you are going to be Catholic, you will need to learn never to look back, lest you turn to stone.

    • Irenist

      “The thought for today is one which I discovered in Epicurus; for I am wont to cross over even into the enemy’s camp – not as a deserter, but as a scout.”
      –Seneca the Younger (a member of the Epicureans’ rival school, the Stoics)

      Esteem truth wherever it is to be found, and no matter who says it.

      • Mark Ferris

        My mistake. I thought she was looking to these other posts for inspiration.
        I for one, do not agree with finding ‘truth wherever it is to be found’ as it begs the question, how do you know it when you see it? Of course, it took me 50 yrs of life to realize that I am not the appointed judge of ‘truth’. We are the students, not the teachers.

        • Mark Ferris

          Ok, that came out a bit strong again and Tom’s reply is well stated. My problem with the internet is that everyone is an expert. I simply feel Leah would be better served by taking her inspiration from elsewhere, especially in her formative years.

          • Val

            Yeah, we certainly wouldn’t want a new and impressionable Catholic to seriously engage any ideas outside the bubble of her adopted ideology.

    • Tom

      Aquinas took his inspiration from Aristotle, Averroes and Maimonides, and he’s the best theologian/philosopher we’ve managed who’s not in the Bible. Now, Leah’s no Aquinas (and who is?) but the same principle should apply.

  • Brian

    I just wanted to point out that many of your links don’t work–you’ll have to fix them.

    • NB

      Leah seems to have had the rotten luck of writing the post prior to Tumblr going down for unscheduled maintainance this afternoon (although it has been having other problems lately), hence the broken links.

  • Tom

    None of the eschergirls links seem to work, and it seems they don’t work for Brian, either.

    My one question about the reimagining of Hawkeye in the sexy poses is that I don’t know if they think the sexualization of Hawkeye is okay. I have this same thought when I see the racebending projects that take primarily white movies and recast them with minorities. Is their point that it’s not okay to make an cast originally composed of minorities full of whites and that it’s also not okay to make an originally white cast full of minorities in the same way ? Or is it that both switches are okay?

    On a related note, I’ve certainly seen some sexed-up depictions of male characters, often imagining them in gay or quasi-gay positions. Would eschergirls approve of that? There can exist a converse double-standard in feminist communities where it’s perfectly okay for a woman to sleep around (because it’s empowering or it’s wrong to fear or reject female sexuality), but a man who does the same is held to be a chauvinistic, sexist oaf. This is as much a double standard as the original.

    For this reason, I feel stuck as a Catholic in debates over slut-shaming. Yes, it’s morally wrong for a girl to be “a slut”, but on the other hand it’s just as wrong for a guy to do the same, and it’s probably not charitable or helpful to call girls “sluts” or men “chauvinistic pigs” in the first place. So I (and most faithful Catholics, I would assume), are left with a third option.

    • Dan

      I think the eschergirls web server is down; I googled it and still got a “server not found” error.

    • Tom

      And I’d like to thank you for your appraisal of “nice guys” as “intending to be nice but lead astray by the culture” rather than “the Devil Incarnate”.

  • grok87

    I think it’s a really nice coincidence that you wrote this really interesting post today which happens to be the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
    I was not that familiar with the story but apparently an image on a cloak is involved

    http://divineoffice.org/
    “He immediately opened up his white mantle, and as all the different Castilian roses scattered to the ground, there was drawn on the cloak and suddenly appeared the precious image of the ever virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the same manner as it is today and is kept in her shrine of Tepeyac.”

    Thomas Cahill in the “Mysteries of the Middle Ages”:
    http://www.amazon.com/Mysteries-Middle-Ages-Feminism-Catholic/dp/073933431X
    “By placing the image of the Virgin Mary at the center of their churches and their lives, medieval people exalted womanhood to a level unknown in any previous society. For the first time, men began to treat women with dignity and women took up professions that had always been closed to them.”
    cheers,
    grok

    • Irenist

      I suspect the Middle Ages were far less dark and benighted than the Whig History myths would have them, but still far grubbier and more cruel than those of us (like me) who dote over our Chesterton and Tolkien would prefer to admit to ourselves.

      • JohnE_o

        Along those lines, anyone who romanticizes the Middle Ages should take the opportunity to live in a Third World village without electricity or running water for a couple of years.

        • jenesaispas

          It was definitely better than the “Dark Ages” though.

        • Val

          Contrary to the misperceptions of those who don’t, those of us who do engage in such romance are quite well aware of the realities – harsh and otherwise – of ancient cultures.

      • jose

        Average life expectancy and the ratio of children who make it into adulthood should quickly dissipate any romantic notion of medieval europe.

        Minoan culture, on the other hand…

      • grok87

        I think there is something to that comment about the Whigs. Here’s the wikipedia link on life-expectancy
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_expectancy
        the middle ages don’t seem particularly bad, aside from the 1300s when the Black Plague was raging.

        • Alan

          Um, yeah if you happen to be an English Aristocrat who managed to make it to adulthood – what about for the rest of the population?

          • Acn

            Life is great if you’re a rich, straight, white, cis, christian man?

            Weird.

  • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

    I am bothered by Albers post about playing hard to get. Thinking about it, it seems like the most common answer a woman should give to a man’s advances is Maybe. I mean dating relationships should be serious. They often carry sexual expectations, even if it is not intercourse, so you should not be going into them frequently. So a true Yes should be rare. On the other hand a firm No should also be rare. You might not be interested right now but who knows? There will be some cases where you think, “If you bother me again I am calling the police” but those should be rare as well. It should be more common to say, “Not now, but who knows about the future.”

    So Albers seems like she wants to restrict women to saying Yes or a firm No or be accused of contributing to a rape culture. That seems to eliminate what should be the most common response. The No (but who knows?) response.

    It also seems to rule out persistence as a way of discerning whether a guy is serious. But that seems like a good thing to do. A woman wants to know if he is acting on a short term impulse or if he is really stuck on her forsaking all others. How are you going to know that unless you wait a bit and see if he persists? There is a reason why persistence is in the romantic movies. It is a sign of love. She seems to think of it as a sign of sexual deviance.

    The truth is that when consent is the only thing needed for sex then men are going to try and manufacture consent in strange ways. That is going to mess up the dating process big time. Yes it will create a rape culture. But you should not try and fix it by messing up the dating process even more. Playing hard to get is rational. It gives you time to think and gather more evidence. Putting pressure on yourself to make a final answer right away is a recipe for bad decisions and guilt for when you do let that persistent man wear you down.

    • ACN

      “The truth is that when consent is the only thing needed for sex then men are going to try and manufacture consent in strange ways. That is going to mess up the dating process big time. Yes it will create a rape culture. But you should not try and fix it by messing up the dating process even more.”

      I am completely boggled.

      And here I was thinking that men could men the independent, dare I say free-willed, choice NOT to rape people. Luckily Randy is around to mansplain to me how wrong I was. Those men just can’t control themselves!

      • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

        You are right. Men can’t control themselves. They have desires towards evil. Some of those desires involve sex. When a society deems consensual sex among singles to be immoral then consent matters less. So there is not the same temptation to get a woman drunk or pressure her or play any of the games that are played to get that short term consent to have sex. Often those games go right up to the line of rape and sometimes cross it.

        If you understand that even if you get consent that the girl’s family is still going to literally kill you and the law will be on their side then you don’t go there. Some guys still will but it is a very different mindset. If the only options are rape and marriage then one isn’t going to slip from one to the other. If society says aggressively pressuring a woman is accepted, as long as some vague line is not cross that makes it forced sex, then more rape will happen.

        Will that happen with all men? No. Some will always be perfect gentlemen. Still gentlemen don’t grow on trees. They need to be raised to respect women and respect sex. The two go together. When society says it is OK to go around breaking hearts and it is OK for them to break yours then people are going to do that and end up with a very low view of the opposite sex. I must say your comment shows a low view of men ( I assume you are a woman). That is where it leads.

        • ACN

          “You are right. Men can’t control themselves. They have desires towards evil. ”

          Bullshit.

          The problem with rapists is that they’re rapists. If you think rapists magically disappear because you lock women’s genitals up behind the key of her father with a shotgun, you’re just abjectly wrong. You’re living in the magical fantasy land where abstinence only education prevent intercourse, and “just say no” stops drug use.

          Women are capable of making decisions about their sexuality without the approval of their parents or family. They aren’t delicate little flowers who need you to protect them from their own decision making, and men aren’t rape-robots who need the threat of violence to be kept in line.

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            Chesterton talked about the sinfulness of man being the only Catholic doctrine that can be objectively proved. You can call it BS but anyone who watches the news can see that there is evil in the heart of man. Anyone who pays attention to his or her own impulses knows it too.

            I believe in evil but I also believe in grace. So yes, I do believe people who have a propensity to commit evil are less likely to do so when raised in an environment of love and respect. I know because I am such a person. That is not treating men as “rape-robots.” It is calling them to a higher moral standard. Same with women. Respecting the sacredness of their sexuality does not make them less. It expects them to be more.


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