It’s international Women’s Day, yo. To celebrate, let’s watch this video of Judi Dench (M) interrogating Daniel Craig (uh, James Bond) who appears in drag.
“We’re equals, aren’t we, 007?” asks Dame Judi.
Let’s also look at the day in nerd gender relations.
There was much tweeting yesterday about the new TCJ.com and the number of lady contributors. Melinda Beasi at Manga Bookshelf sums up the whole thing, and the comments have it out and then everyone sat down and ate a hearty lunch.
To take it a bit further, The Comics Journal culture has always aspired to wear suede elbow patches and grasp a pipe, and it’s never been too girl-friendly. It wasn’t really girl UNfriendly, either, but I can’t think of a single female writer who has emerged from its pages in recent years — looking at my nearby copy of #300, for instance, the columnists are all guys. It should be noted that Kristy Valenti has been the assistant editor for a while, but she writes a column — an excellent column covering all kinds of comics from an informed viewpoint — but for ComiXology. Last year’s Best American Comics Criticism contained one contribution by a woman, and that was part of some of the flak aimed at the book.
(For recent comics scholars, I did in fact emerge from the pages of the Journal wayyyyyy back in the day — a fact which I’m sure Kim and Gary have been regretting ever since. And writing for the Journal was one of the best learning experiences of my life, and despite the way I now cringe at my youthful typing, I am proud of the work I did.)
From where I sit, a view of comics that doesn’t include women is kind of old fashioned. If there’s one thing that the internet with its unfettered access and wild west ideology has taught us about comics its that women like reading them and making them, no matter what boys think. They like writing about them, too. I have no doubts that the new Comics Comics/TCJ.com will be a thoroughly modern comics site, reflecting the full glory of the worldwide fascination with sequential storytelling. And they do have a bunch of top notch contributors who happen to be ladies. These ladies just weren’t really played up in the launch materials.
And people noticed.
Because like M says in that video, until the answer is yes, we must never stop asking.
Erin Polgreen was among the first to find her dudgeon in order to make it high over the new TCJ, and she responded by launching a tumblr blog called Graphic Ladies to “feature the work of ladies who create and critique comics.” As I often point out, Doing Something is a lot better than just sitting around in a high dudgeon. So Erin Polgreen is our Doer of the Day.
Now turning to yet one more example of Comics Journal culture we have the soon to close message board, which people have looked back on with nostalgia and dread all day. Ben Towle has his own take:
While there were many, many (many!) times that I’d read posts on the old TCJ board that would make me long for a pair of white-hot butter knives to stick in my eye sockets, there are also many many amazing comics, interesting takes on things in the comics world, new cartoonists, and of course just plain entertaining bickering I’d have never experienced except for the “Mos Eisley-esque” chaos of the Comics Journal message board.
I’d generally agree with this assessment. When Tom Spurgeon started it (at a time when the Journal board and the Comicon.com boards were really the entirety of online comics discussion) it was pretty damned cool and the roll call of cartoonists who posted there was amazing. I had some great times in the early years, but then it became The Internet, and as always happens, an echo chamber of jackaknapes soon became embedded there. I got into arguments with them a lot more than I should have — one of my critical comments became something of a rallying cry, an anthology was even named after it — and things got unpleasant, with photoshopped pornographic photos of me, name calling and so on.
Being well acquainted with internet culture, none of this hurt my feelings — although I’m sure I spent a pissed off afternoon or two — but it didn’t encourage me to stick around, either.
There weren’t too many women who posted on the Journal message board. I think me, Jenny Gonzales and a bit later Shaenon T. Garrity were the only real regulars (i don’t go there enough to say who was there in the Dark Ages). I seem to recall that in recent months a controversial column by Shaenon got all these “what does a girl know about comics anyway?” comments.
And in this day and age to see a creator of Shaenon’s stature and intelligence questioned like that on even a PSEUDO official outlet of a trusted name is dissappointing. It makes the place no better than a sewer.
So, in sum, I miss the message board culture of the late 90s, when intelligent things were sometimes discussed, and friendships were made, and facts uncovered. I do not miss the Comics Journal board in particular. And anyway, message boards have been dead for a long time, killed by social media and (blech) Facebook. I miss it, though, because they were manageable, unlike the idea sprawl we’re confronted with every time we wake our screen from sleep.
Sadly, a lot of internet nerd culture — hell, CULTURE — is preoccupied with establishing ideas of masculinity in the crudest and dumbest ways possible. On twitter yesterday, video game writer Matt Hawkins alerted me to the whole PAX/d*ckwolves controversy. Before going on, I should say this is the kind of thing the internet was made for and not in a good way. A tumblr timeline , entitled “The Debacle” has hundreds of entries, so it is not for the squeamish or those with real world time concerns. Short version (as best I can make out) — the immensely popular comic strip Penny Arcade made a rape joke last year. Some objected. An then somehow this got turned into people calling themselves “rape culture” and wearing t-shirts that referenced the rapers — “d*ckwolves” — and a woman who had actually been raped and suffered PTSD not wanting to go, and then people claiming she had never been raped and…well it’s stupid and ugly. You don’t need a degree in psychiatry to know that there’s an aspect to video game culture that’s totally aggro and brutish, and it’s behind a lot of the casual misogyny of various parts of the internet. Time being of the essence, I’ll just point to this very long piece in the Boston Phoenix by Maddy Myers called “Gaming, rape culture, and how I stopped reading Penny Arcade.”
Bottom line, if you’re going to act like a jerk, people are going to think you’re a jerk.
A bigger takeaway is that people are now wondering if PAX is as inclusive as it could be. The show is already a success — three days tickets and Saturday are sold out — but is there a way to maintain the bravado of gaming culture while not being total dillweeds? Feministing has what seems — to the casual observer of the controversy anyway — a fair summation of the culture clash:
Well, to some gamers, the argument of propagating rape culture sounds suspiciously close to the argument used to censor violent video games. The logic is something like this, because violent video games mimic violence, they dull the cultural perception of violence, making it more acceptable and contributing to cultural violence. Gamers, of course, call this out as bullshit. There’s a big distinction between fantasy and reality, and Gamers, myself included, insist that the line is well-policed. The workings of a gun are about as far removed as possible from the workings of a game controller.
So, when feminists (myself included) say that making a shirt or a comic about rape contributes to rape culture, it sounds a lot like the above argument. What the other side doesn’t understand, however, is that there is a critical difference between the argument of feminists and the argument of anti-violence video game censors. For the most part, our argument is not that a rape joke is going to make someone go out and rape. Our argument, instead, is that rape jokes, and allowing people to indentify themselves with a shirt promoting a fictional rapist character, contributes to a culture where rape is accepted, tolerated, and the impact of it diminished. Throughout the response period, Penny Arcade’s creators have demonstrated ignorance of this differentiation, as demonstrated by their ‘response comic.’
To sum up, there is no way to sum up. All of these issues of marginalization, inclusion, hurt feelings, defensiveness, anger and misunderstanding will go on forever and ever. As we can do is keep asking the questions and hoping for a better answer. I’d like to see a comics world where the Magnificent 49ers — women who developed the shojo manga genre with artistry and great stories — are routinely included with EC and Fort Thunder as important schools. We’re pretty much there. But we shouldn’t take it as accomplished, either.
(Above, Aria by Kozue Amano.)
PS: The “Equals” video was written by Jane Goldman, writer of Kick-Ass and X-Men First Class and so on. She is awesome.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.