So it seems everyone and his brother wants to comment on how “overblown” and “out of proportion” the reaction to the Mary Jane Washerwoman statue is. I’ve been watching these blow-ups for a while now, and it stuck to the normal lifecycle of a major outrage. One or two people notice it at first, and are ignored until a well-known and widely-read person blogs about it and suddenly complaints are popping up all over the blogosphere. The outrage heats for a varying amount of time, depending not on the degree of the insult but on the popularity of the person who blogged about it combined with the popularity of the people who picked it up.
For the purposes of the Mary Jane as Washerwoman statue, Devil Doll has a few hundred people watching her blog. Apparently, a large number of them are interested in Mary Jane Watson-Parker (the Spiderman movie just opened, after all) and how she’s portrayed in a statue. Each of those friends have friends and are members of communities. Because of the friendslist that allows people to instantly read all of their friends’ livejournals in one place, word travels fast when it starts traveling on livejournal. When it has legs, it goes far.
This statue has legs.
We compiled the links on WFA as fast as we could, including the first few posts saying this is no big deal. This continued for a day or so when suddenly the first major criticism broke. Prior to the first major criticism, this was me tracking a meme across livejournal. It spread just like those little quizzes and games do. It was taking over my website, but I was trying to keep it separate from the other matters. It would have traveled a bit farther, then died out.
Then a well-read blogger opened his metaphorical mouth and dismissed the outrage as a hive mentality. He connected it to a previous dispute and suddenly a whole lot of people who were suspiciously quiet up until now joined in, denouncing the “hysterical flocking fangirls” and the “humorless prudish feminists” in long posts championing the rights of masculinity and the nobility of open sexuality. A little after that, the scandal reached a few major liberal blogs and Boing Boing (not because of the size of the dispute, but because two individuals mailed the links to those blogs). The Boing Boing link brought the average Boing Boing reader to When Fangirls Attack.
That’s when all Hell broke loose.
Devil Doll’s livejournal was overrun with negative comments, including multiple comments from a single person. She was forced to freeze the post from all of the fuss. Other posts on the original set of links were trolled mercilessly, even WFA got a few rude comments (which were met by puzzlement, because surely that’s like yelling at the laundry basket for a discolored shirt). Posts started popping up all over the blogosphere, again focused on denouncing the “hysterical flocking fangirls” and “humorless prudish feminazis.”
It was frustrating to many, because this was the point in the lifecycle of an outrage where the seed of disgust grows to bear the fruit of the intellect, and the sheer size of this outrage gave way to harvest of beautiful and thoughtful fan analysis that was sadly ignored by critics too willing to write the entire issue off as a woman thing, the fangirls flocking and frenzying around another cause, the Bacchanites losing their patience with Orpheus and tearing him to pieces over a refusal to cater to their fannish whims, ingrates who ignored all the beauty he was capable of in their insatiable bloodlust.
In addition to drawing attention to the naturally bestial nature of the fangirl, these Trolls of Sanity did their best to ensure the true injustices of the world would not be dwarfed by the spectre of this statue! As well as being told that our time was better spent blogging about Darfur, the Middle East, the crime rate, domestic violence, child abuse, little old ladies being unable to cross the street and the proverbial partridge in a pear tree, we were reminded that the statue were made by boys for boys and that we were being unreasonable and selfish when we complained about the perpetuation of a centuries-old stereotype created specifically to keep women in their place. We were taught that because there were worse portrayals of women in comic books, that this was certainly nothing to get bothered about. We were duly informed that sexism was then norm in superhero comics and that this was no big deal. We had the option simply not the buy it. (Who knew?) We were asked to explain exactly what we did want from comics, because all of this negativity was turning away potential allies. We were told that we had a point, but to please calm down because it was unsettling and unbecoming of young ladies and gentlemen. We were asking for special treatment. We were a special minority. We were ignoring the sad plight of the straight white horny male comic book reader, frustrated because he couldn’t indulge his appreciation for the sexuality of a fictional woman without being swarmed by wild women, enraged Amazons out for blood!
Indeed, the level of outrage at the statue seems minuscule in comparison to the level of outrage generated by the outrage at the statue.
In the past few days, fangirls have been treated to the indignities of anonymous commenters insulting their appearance and motives. Fangirls find themselves answering trolls who never stuck around to hear the ready-made retorts to their flawed arguments. Fangirls have been unable to prevent complete strangers from invading their blogs, ignoring all actual points from the original post and intellectually masturbating to strawmen in the comments. Fangirls suddenly find themselves on the defense, after months and years of blogging without trouble, they are suddenly swamped with trolls with varying strategies and seemingly varying motivations, but with the common goal of shutting down all discourse on the implications of this statue.
Fanboys have emerged from their message boards, their own blogging communities, their mom’s basements and their well-worn spots in the woodwork to enter our previously woman-safe places and our previously woman-safe spaces, stand on the highest point and shout at the top of their lungs: THERE’S NOTHING TO BE UPSET ABOUT!!! THIS ISN’T WORTH TALKING ABOUT!!! WHY ARE YOU WASTING YOUR TIME ON THIS STUPID SUBJECT YOU HYSTERICAL GIRL-CREATURE!!!
Despite being the supposedly logical sex, they don’t seem to think that complaining about someone else complaining too much is an even bigger waste of time than complaining in the first place.
Someone hit a nerve. Someone tapped a well of something while we were raging through the wilderness. These complaints breached a deep reservoir of guilt or fear that lay just beneath the surface of fandom. It bubbled up from that reservoir and spilled on the loudest and wildest of the women, a warning to the rest of us to play along like nice little girls and think twice before tapping away at our little keyboards.
For some people, this is shocking, because they’ve complained and analyzed and ranted and aside from when Girl-Wonder.org got trolled by 4chan (which was an active call to terrorize them), we haven’t seen this sort of reaction. It’s been feared. I regularly ask people to unlock entries on livejournal so I could link them. For the first time today that request was met with reluctance.
Personally, I’m feeling pretty powerful.
I’ve been called a shitkicker and there’s no denying the impulse, but I sincerely feel that this backlash is a sign that we are on the right track. These people are going out of their way to shut us up. They are dropping insults on multiple blogs, they are creating user accounts to get past blogs that don’t allow anonymous commenters, they are dedicating their energy to writing pages and pages of text that willfully misses the point in the effort to exhaust the original poster. I just saw someone break down on this very blog, asking why everyone was so intent on ignoring the problems of the industry. We’re getting mainstream attention. Political feminists are blogging this. It’s getting into newspapers. They are officially freaked out and trying to push us down.
It’s tempting to compromise. It’s tempting to retreat entirely to even less known woman-safe places and woman-safe places and debate these matters at a safe distance from the average fanboy. However, that won’t do anyone any good and it would be wasting an incredible opportunity.
This little statue has gotten us more attention than ever before. This is not like Batwoman, when the attention was on the company. This time the attention is on the complaints. Don’t squander this. Blog about women in comics. Complain about women in comics. Rave about women in comics. Rant about women in comics. Go to your comic book store and start talking about women in comics. Go to a convention and be visible. Ask about a female character at a panel. Ask about the statue at a panel. Write letters. And when you meet resistance, push back.
Don’t squander this. This is pure gold, even if it is covered in toxic waste.