I had a happy thought today.
Bear with me. This will take some explaining.
I’m watching another “women in comics controversy” in the community. This is what I do. I watch and I collect links and I react. I’m seeing people get offended, and people react to that offense, and people react to the reaction to that offense. I used to see these things in waves, but tonight I’m seeing it in levels.
I’m seeing the first level, where the creator of the controversy is. This is where the writer of the Playboy article and the model who posed are sitting at and how they see things. They very likely didn’t expect a problem, and won’t interact with us. But they’re the start of this.
I’m seeing the second level where the first person looked at the cover and went “Uhh….” and posted it on their blog. The level where a ton of Wonder Woman fans looked at it on that blog and either went “Uhhh…” or “Oooo…” The level where someone gets either offended or pleased, and writes from the point of view of someone who was directly affected by the work. These reactions to the first post (in comments or other posts) that talk directly about the work being critiqued rather than the critic.
I’m seeing the third level where someone who didn’t really care either way about the material looked at the reactions and went “Oh, come ON! Lighten up!” or “Look at this example of the fanboy mentality!” This is the level where someone first reacted to the reactions. This is where someone who would have seen that cover and gone on with their life if not for having seen someone on the second level. Most people seem to think things get out of hand at the second level, the initial wave of offended reactions, but they’re wrong. This is the level where things get out of hand. This is the level where we still get opinions, but the point of giving your opinion is not to say something about the cover of Playboy, or the article, or the model, or the writer, or even the character The point of giving your opinion is to say something about the people who have reacted to the cover. Usually people generalized about entire genders here.
I’m seeing the fourth level, where someone sees the third level occupants attacking the second level occupants and feels a need to defend them with “I don’t care myself but I see where they’re coming from” attitude. There will be a lot of back and forth between the third and fourth level from this point on.
I’m seeing this lead to the ever-annoying fifth-level. Here people watch the occupants of the second, third, and fourth levels interact, then decide that it is a community issue and that they must give their opinion because they are members of the community. This level is characterized by a phrase such as “If you want my opinion…” followed by a paragraph on why they don’t particularly care but see so-and-so’s point of view. (As a linkblogger, I really hate this level.)
Stepping back a bit, I’m seeing the beginning of the sixth level. Here people see the other five levels as some incoherent mass of people arguing, and wonder what the huge fuss is about. At this level, people care more about giving their opinion on the controversy than on the material. There’s more generalizing about the nature of women and men and fans, but there’s a detachment from the down and dirty. Someone at the sixth level is above the fight but fascinated by it. This level is characterized, when discussing sexism in comics, by some variation of “The women are upset again.”
I’m used to these six levels. At these six levels there are feelings of discomfort, disgust, misery, rage, frustration and exasperation.
Stepping back a bit more, I’m seeing the whispers of a seventh level. Possibly the level the major companies are at, what they could be seeing that results in their fumbling attempts to court female readers. A point of view where it doesn’t matter that we’re fighting about Playboy or Amazons Attack or Mary Jane Watson or anything else. A point of view where you don’t even care that so many people are dismissing it all as “The women are upset again” because you realize that the important word in that sentence is again.
At this level, there’s joy.
This is the level when you realize that all of this fighting is because women are talking about superhero comics.
And that they do so regularly, vigorously, and as emphatically as male fans do.
And that that in itself challenges the stereotypes. That that in itself gets attention. That that in itself is revolutionary.
That was my happy thought.