I want you all to read this, and then read it again and imagine my voice (I’m an Alto with a slow Pennsylvania/Oklahoma accent). Then read it aloud to yourself, because you need to get this burned into your heads whether you are a fan or a creator.
When people criticize a sample of writing as sexist, they are not criticizing the writer personally. They are criticizing writing sample. More specifically, they are criticizing the idea espoused in that writing sample, and idea which is quite likely such an ingrained trope that the writer never thought twice about.
(This goes for art, too. We know how you learned to draw and that its second nature. There are problems with the way you learned to draw, not with you personally. We love you and think you are a special and valuable person, even if you draw comic books for a living.)
Cheap shots at artists aside (No, seriously, I love artists and am resisting a much funnier joke right now out of that love even though I absolutely adore the irony of making potshots at a broad group of professionals while lecturing fandom on taking criticism too personally), the thing that you need to understand when reading about social issues is the nature of racist, sexist, and homophobic cliches. (Yes, I just said the three most offensive words that creators can hear about their work.) They’ve been around a very very long time. They’re not just in comics. They are everywhere. They are clinging to the roots of our culture, permeating every aspect of our lives and affecting us in invisible ways. They slipped into our stories during less thoughtful times and stuck with us. They are in the first stories we learn as children and we recycle these cliches in our dreams every night, and in the back of our minds every day.
The word “normalize” comes up in social analysis a lot. That’s what it means. The cliches are so common, so ingrained that every repetition of the idea makes it more and more acceptable.
Every repetition. That’s bedtime stories, that’s pinup art, that’s jokes, that’s music, that’s commercials, that’s comic books.
You are not immune to being affected by these cliches. You are not immune if you think you are enlightened. You are not immune if you spend your Weekend mornings stuffing envelopes for RAINN. You are not immune if you have a shelf of GLAAD awards. You are not immune if you are married to a black lesbian pagan and spent your honeymoon raising money for Save Darfur. Hell, you’re not immune if you are a black lesbian pagan who spent her honeymoon raising money for Save Darfur. You’ve still been exposed countless times to the “bad boy-good girl” romance which screws over the “Nice Guy”, to a world of superheroes where all the Asian characters have cultural powers, to the “strong woman” who only became strong because she was raped, the black sidekick who plays nursemaid to the white male lead, to “real men don’t cry,” to gay relationships where one character becomes the “man” and the other becomes “the woman”, to the single gay character who dies tragically after very little on-screen romance, and a host of other stupid fictions that serve to shove real people into boxes because they are so common everyone thinks they are truths.
You are immune if you were born in a subterranean cave on Mars and abandoned by your parents to be raised by a Martian wolfsquito pack and are just now having your first exposure to humanity in which case you probably have much bigger problems than people criticizing your favorite writer, and you should stop reading and attend to them right now.
Now I know what some of you are thinking. I just called someone’s art cliche, I called it bad. It means that they are bad at their job. Their job is a personal creative one that they pour a lot of themselves into, and I just called the results bad. That means that they are bad that is a personal insult. Not necessarily. Even Da Vinci didn’t churn out The Last Supper everytime he picked up a brush, everyone has their off days. Yes, some of the people who make comic books are astoundingly bad at their jobs. Some of them, however, just aren’t delivering their best and when they aren’t, they have a tendency to fall back on what’s easy to write. The familiar, the formulaic, the cliche, the standard and all too often the insulting plotline that makes the deadline.
It happens, and when it happens, no matter how wonderful a person the creator is. No matter if they attend church/temple/circle/etc every session, donate all of their profits to AIDS research and spend weekday afternoons volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club, its open for criticism because it is an instance where more crap has entered the bloodstream of society and the only way to fix this is to point it out so that fans know to recognize it and not let it affect them and so that creators know to prevent it in the future.
I know, I know. “Its just a comic.” But that and a lifetime of “just a bedtime story”, “just a movie”, “just a commercial”, “just a joke”, and so on adds up to a lot of crap in our society to sift through, and if anyone wants to do anything about that they have to start somewhere.