Sunday, February 05, 2012

batgirl in bondage

It takes a lot to offend me. Having survived a fundy Christian upbringing and a liberal arts education with my existentialism intact, I have a strongly live-and-let-live attitude toward the world and its denizens. I decided a long time ago that people are crazy, and there's nothing I can do about it, and I'm not going to waste my time or energy getting upset about it.

But gosh darn it, sometimes folks just don't make sense to me. And I'm going to try to talk about fan art--specifically the depiction of ostensibly strong female characters in demeaning or abusive situations--in a logical way, in the futile-but-persistent hope that somebody somewhere will be enlightened.

I have a DeviantArt account. I post pictures of my costumes and sewing work there. Because the largest portion of what I do is superhero stuff, I attract a lot of cosplayers and fans of superheroines. I also attract a certain type of viewer who, to put it in the most reductive terms, has a fetish for women in tight shiny clothes. I accept this. I'm not so naive or defensive to squeal "Eww, how dare you look at a hot woman in a skin-tight costume as a sexual object! You perv!" No. Sexuality is a part of the human animal, and I make no judgments on artists or fans who happen to prefer PVC. All my life I've attracted men who like tough chicks (one of my early stalkers actually had a "crush" fetish), and I've learnt to deal with it, emotionally and confrontationally, should the situation arise.



I do, however, draw a line at people who join Deviant Art just to collect dirty pictures. If I find an image of mine has been saved to a gallery that is clearly nothing but a stroke collection--for instance, when the owner is not making any art of his own, just saving pictures of girls being tied up or squeezed into latex... well, that's not what I do, and I'd rather not be associated with it. I block those users from my account. Small protest, given the impossibility of policing the internet, but that's what makes me feel better.

Two days ago a piece of art came into my inbox via one of the fan-galleries I belong to. I'm not going to link to it, because I don't want the artist getting any more attention or views on my account. Suffice to say it depicted "Batgal," full-frontal naked except for her mask and some chains, inside a prison cell with the "Jocker" gripping her around the shoulders with one arm and his other hand groping her crotch. The female figure is frightened and humiliated; she is crying and wearing an open-mouth gag that prevents her from closing her mouth or speaking; she can only drool. The white-faced male character is leering at the viewer, who is looking in from outside the cell.

The story accompanying this image described how the head of the prison contacted the police commissioner about getting a 'volunteer' to service the inmates. Commissioner "Gorden" summons Batgal, who cheerfully agrees to help the inmates, having no idea what she just volunteered for. The commissioner then drugs her and drags her to the prison, where she is bound and subjected to all kinds of degradation--still with her mask on. Thus, Gorden is able to vicariously gloat over this "bitch" and/or "slut" getting "what she deserves," "never knowing it was his own daughter."

I want to apologize for subjecting my readers to that. But I have a point to make.

I know many adults engage in consensual bondage and domination play. I got no problem with that. I know of another artist on dA who does a very fine job of portraying such an adult relationship. His work is here (and yes it is very erotic in nature--don't click if you don't want to see.)

But the "Batgal" work of fiction is a different ball of wax. First and foremost, it depicts abduction and rape. Batgal is drugged and never given the opportunity to consent, because no sane person would consent to such treatment by dangerous criminals. Even after she is awake, she's gagged and cannot speak. She is reduced to a doll, an object to be used, an inhuman thing. Hell, not even an animal should be used like that.

Compounding the degradation--and the titillation, for those of that bent--are two extra twists. First, the line, "he never knew it was his own daughter." That irks me because of its implication that the female is chattel, and what is done to her--aside from being a violent assault on a sentient creature--somehow damages her worth and by extension, the reputation of her father. It's a common enough theme in violent porn, but it's especially salient in comic-book fantasy, which already has a tendency to downgrade the women to eye-candy or fuck-toys, and/or rape, kill, or depower them to further the heroics of the menfolk.

The second extra-nasty tweak in this porn fiction is that Batgal is supposed to be a superhero, a strong independent female, fighting for the right and able to take care of herself. Unfortunately, in real life any woman who tried to go out on the street and fight crime solo probably would end up raped and murdered, but comic heroines are supposed to have better lives than that. Women read comics for the same reason men do--because humans have never lost their need for heroes, for the godlike warrior and his/her triumph over the evil that men do to each other. Since Batgal--or Wonder Woman, or Power Girl, or whoever--is supposed to be stronger and more capable than the average male around her, there's a certain nasty vindictiveness in fantasizing about her brought down.

Did I use too many words there? Here's another way to say it: men who feel inadequate about themselves cannot bear to see a woman succeed. The only way to balm their egos is to fantasize about putting her back in her place. The more successful the woman, the farther and more satisfying her fall.

That's why I take it personally when I see this stuff. I'm a strong woman. I'm not particularly rich or powerful, but I know I've stepped on a few toes in my time. I know there are guys--and women--who mutter "Bitch!" behind my back because I don't conform to their expectations. I am not a belligerent person. I don't start confrontations, but I finish them. And on some level, some day, I know the odds are good I will run into a male who won't back down and then I'll probably get the shit kicked out of me. But by god, I'm going to take a pound of flesh with me.

So. I'm here to say, these portrayals are NOT okay. They are NOT harmless fantasy. Ask yourself, would it be okay to portray a black man being abused like this? Not in any society I want to live in. That's why I get really sick and tired of people defending this stuff as "just a fantasy" or "'freedom of speech" or whatever. It's misogynistic propaganda, just as harmful as racist memorabilia and white-supremacist hate-mongering.

I wanted to end this post with some call to positive action, but darned if I can think of one. I don't think all men are evil and I don't think all comic-book readers are fetishistic misogynists, but I do think that many comic-book shops are dark quiet places where such deviations are allowed to fester and grow. I've seen way too many examples to delude myself on that point.

I don't want to see this stuff accepted and normalized, either. Many racists throughout history have not been malicious or violent people; just indifferent, or good at rationalizing the status quo for their own comfort. Sexism is the same thing--an unthinking, innate assumption of superiority based on gender. Every year, some guy in my kung-fu class takes it upon himself to step on my feet, and he does it without ever thinking he's out of line... he just casually shoulders me aside because how could a woman give good fighting advice to another woman? They always look surprised when I call them on it. The smarter ones have the grace to be ashamed.

Boycotting DC and Marvel until they hire a percentage of female writers and artists, proportionate to their readership, would be a good start, but I'm not involved enough in the circles to encourage such a thing. Also, I don't know if enough of the readership would get behind this issue to make it viable. Menfolk who share my stance on this issue--who maybe prefer depictions of their sexual parters as, you know, talking, thinking, partners in the act--you can help by not looking at this stuff, not downloading it, not spreading it around.

Copyright law is under a lot of examination this year, partly because of the movie industry trying to control distribution, but I can't help thinking that a little controlled copyright violation would do the trick. There's a bit of uproar over the "relaunch" of the DC universe--Harley Quinn unrecognizable in hot pants and a corset, Starfire an amnesiac slut-bunny, Catwoman screwing Batman on the back splash page of her own title. Maybe a really gifted writer should undertake to rework those stories on the net, show the DC management how they should have been handled, á là The Phantom Edit.

Maybe I'll make up some flyers and pass them around at Planet Comicon--which I am attending, Overland Park, March 24th. Little cards that say, "This image is degrading to women," which I can then hand to artists, and hopefully start a fistfight. (I should probably wear comfortable shoes that day.) Maybe I'll put links on all my web images of superheroine costumes, pointing back to this post. I don't know.

7 comments:

Asa Maria Bradley said...

Thank you for this post. I especially like how you point out that the "it's art" defense doesn't work, because we wouldn't accept the same situation if the "victim" was a minority rather than a woman.

We need to speak up when things are wrong, and I'm so glad you did.

Holly said...

Thank you for commenting. Nice to hear the answering *ping* when it's something that matters.

Anonymous said...

In response to Asa, it's often permitted as a "joke" for a man to get beaten or even brutally mutilated beyond repair while utterly insufferable if done to a woman. There are a great many things wrong with our society and we'd do well not to forget any while pointing out some.

Like you said, we need to speak up when things are wrong and I'm glad you have, Holly. Just like bringing up this issue when it's appropriate and I think in terms of Mysoginy and Misandry it is indeed appropriate.

Holly said...

Captain Anonymous, I don't know what Comedy *you've* been watching, but I can't think of any example of beating/mutilation I would call funny. I guess Jackass and his ilk will try to pass that stuff off as a 'joke' but I certainly wouldn't condone it.

Abuse is abuse, that was kind of my point. Please don't try to redirect the issue.

Anonymous said...

Abuse is disgusting ~ in any form.

However, if you are going to walk around any con and bash the work of talented artists (commercial or otherwise) by passing out flyers saying 'this image is degrading to women', it's doubtful people would take you seriously. It's more likely to garner the rolling of eyes and the label of 'man hater'. As well intended as your cause may be...

Maybe you should take your own advice and stay on the topic of abuse and pass out flyers on that issue instead. I agree wholeheartedly with you on that. The Batgirl image you described sounds horrific and that kind of behavior should never be accepted.

Unfortunately, the tone of your blog post sounds a bit immature and makes me wonder how serous you are about doing something about this. On one hand you mention how you're not belligerent, but on the other you say you're going finish any confrontation and take a pound of flesh with you.

Well, someday, I hope you'll grow enough as a person to simply walk away from petty confrontations and not try to start fistfights that do not benefit anyone. If you really care about the issue of abuse, you'll actually look into it and do something worthwhile that will make a difference in someone's life.

Holly said...

I'm just going to start answering dissenting comments with links to definitions of the logical fallacies they are using--I've been meaning to memorize those, anyway. This one is an 'ad hoc' or personal attack, fallacy.

http://www.logicalfallacies.info/relevance/ad-hominem/

Granted it's couched in condescending pseudo-helpful terms, but it's an attack, nonetheless. I've noticed that "immature" is one of the new code words men use in place of "hysterical" these days.

Flair-avalone said...

Thank you. I'm glad to find that someone else here has seen the error of such things and is willing to speak up about it.

I myself have not been quiet about what i'm seeing out there when it comes to the it's only art defense. No i'm not the one to throw the first punch or comment. people do idiotic things, fine. Thats livable even. When it gets to the point that it is defending it when what truly is being seen is just plain a walking contradiction? I may not say it to that person, but i will not agree that that person cannot be aware of such an action.

The new reboot im more than glad that you brought up. Harley Quinn.... she is no longer the harley Quinn i know and love and grew up with. Her backstory is rewritten, her outfit.... frankly makes no sense to what she signifies.

She is entirely no longer Harley quinn. Named for the renaissance/victorian harlequins of their time. True i can see the stretch they are going for, once there was a group of assassins that worked under the guise of harlequins in the early victorian era. However for her.... it's a stretch.... one to large to truly measure. IF the original costume had been kept it would make sense. not to mention the black is gone completely, disregarding the color scheme and turning her into a mardi gras of today pinup girl.

I do not know much about the revamped catwoman or others for i couldn't bring myself to accept the change of the beloved love crazed physchiatrist she once was.

Apologies for the tangient, However i find it sad that people of today can go. " oh its just fantasy." when in truth BDSM and other such sexual relations are not like that. I do have freinds that i know personally would agree wholeheartedly with the point you make.

There is a difference between consented submission for pleasure, and forced submission for humilitiation.

then it is not art, then it is reality that no one truly wants. No one wants to see that happen, we can pretend it doesnt exist... it goes back to the saying..

" it's all fun and games until someone gets hurts... then its not funny at all."