Interlude: Double standards (or How Not To Fail As A Human Being)

I posted yet another meandering demi-rant recently about sexism and bigotry in general, and I guess it might be getting to be a tiresome theme. Sorry about that. But then, this is my blog and I’m tasked with using it as a whetstone to sharpen my writing skills – any skills, on any topic – daily. So that’s what I’ll do. And it’s interesting to me.

This time, I got a comment from our esteemed regular dreameling, a man whose sense of intellectual fairness and self-analysis is matched only inversely by his ability to restrain himself from commenting after I’ve said “to be continued”. I kid, of course, but I’m going ahead with this anyway. dreameling was at once in agreement with some of the criticisms flung in the direction of a recently-published artwork (dare I say, ar-twerk? Looks like I dare), but also had no personal problem with the work itself and actually thought it looked quite nice.

Spider-woman presents ... a new comic book adventure. What?

Which, to be fair, it really did.

My indubitably cultured and philosophically impeccable friend also expressed some concern as to whether this was … I don’t know, a double standard? A conflict of some kind? Hypocrisy? A logical inconsistency? Or – oh, that original sin so loathed by the stupid atheist – the terrible cherry-pick[1]? Something like that, undermining his opinion or making it unacceptable?

[1] You know, that evil and horrible way a person of faith will decide to be kind to people and not steal in accordance with the way the bible says stealing is wrong and being kind is good[2], but will ignore the wacky bits about butchering unbelievers and selling their daughters into slavery. Because apparently when you agree with a philosophy, you have to adhere absolutely to every written tenet of that philosophy ever written by millennia of interpretations and translations and revisions spanning a planet’s-worth of history, people and accompanying agendas. And in case I haven’t made this absolutely and abundantly clear by now, I think anyone who believes that is a fucking idiot right up there on the scale with the people who actually do believe every bit of their chosen holy book as literal, verbatim truth. Or at least any part of it they’re told exists, because they haven’t actually read it themselves.

[2] Not necessarily because the bible says so – I think people of faith are quite capable of arriving at a moral code without the book, but it can provide a foundation and may be something they want to credit. This is too big a debate to enter in a single post. Suffice it to say, I am dubious about the argument that atheists are superior because they “come up with their own” idea of right and wrong in some sort of vacuum, just as I am dubious about the idiot-deist argument that atheists lack morality because they don’t believe in the teachings of the fuzzy wuzzies. Everyone cherry-picks. As long as you’re cherry-picking to be nice to people and rejecting “kill all opponents” as an option, then cherry-picking is fine.

Now, these crimes against rhetoric do exist and they can be negative. Okay, I’m not convinced cherry-picking exists in any negative sense unless you’re psychotic, but I’m sure there are cases. And yes, you can exhibit a double standard, and hold a hypocritical opinion, and even be antisocially inconsistent in what you think is right and wrong.

But the old idea that consistency is the mark of a small mind – or, to be more specific, Emerson’s quote that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines” – is only true in certain contexts. And indeed, it is the “foolish” that is the key word here. It has to be, because it is my life’s work to make some things consistent and consistency is good in a lot of cases.

But in other cases, it is consistency for the sake of consistency, without consideration of context or common sense, that is the problem. It must be avoided, indeed, in any healthy, well-balanced set of opinions. Otherwise, you’re not a rational human being. You’re inflexible at best, and the reed incapable of bending will inevitably shatter. If you’ve arrived at a single sense of right and wrong, a solid division between black and white with no shading in between, and apply it mindlessly to every case and every situation, you’ve failed at being human on a fundamental level. Indeed, as I have said myself: logic, untempered by empathy or common sense, is just compulsiveness.

Of course some things are going to be wrong to some people and right to others. And of course it’s possible to agree with the arguments and points of people opposed to something, and still not be opposed to that thing yourself (and vice versa). That’s known as “seeing things from other people’s point of view”, a basic hallmark of enlightenment, empathy, and intellectual integrity.

And it’s something we all fail at, from time to time.

Of course, usually an issue can have any number and combination of dissenting opinions, and that’s great. Sooner or later, though, there’s only a limited number of actions to be taken in resolution of the issue. And those actions will only mesh with some of those opinions. What happens then?

For example, what do we do about Spider-woman’s butt?

Spider-woman presents ... a new comic book adventure. What?

Opinions are like arseholes: it’s all in how you “present” them.

See, you’re free to think whatever you like about it, but if tacit approval and publication of this sort of art promotes the objectification of women and the further normalisation of their status as secondary citizens, then this sort of work needs to be frowned upon more actively, even banned (or the less extreme practice of “voting with the wallet” needs to come into play, but it tends to amount to the same thing). And this doesn’t mesh with the opinions of anyone who has no problem with the art personally, even if they agree with the objections in theory. It also doesn’t mesh with the basically liberated way most Western societies are set up, regarding artistic expression and public consumption of sex. But that’s not a static thing. And let’s make one thing clear here: this is not a real person, in this picture. It’s exploitation, objectification, of an entirely imaginary fantasy ideal.

So what happens? We all have opinions and that’s wonderful. But what happens when only one group of people can get what they want?

Or, as I call it, “the real world”.

Spider-woman presents ... a new comic book adventure. What?

I think you can see it in the background of this picture. Did you even see that there was a background? Look at all those office buildings Spider-woman is showing her taint to. Best Thursday coffee break ever, am I right guys?

Of course, in practice, what will happen is that we’ll argue about it forever, too many people will scream about it if they try to ban such art, so things will just continue the way they have. People may become less willing to consume this sort of art in public, and it will go underground like every other kind of subversive, pornographic or otherwise fetish art. But it won’t actually go away. Is that what people want it to do anyway? Go away? Where do we draw that line?

Maybe, as sensibilities change, artwork like this will lose popularity and will enter the history books like so many other art styles have in the past, to be replaced by new styles and subjects. In fact, this is more or less inevitable as tastes and attitudes change and the decades and centuries go by, regardless of the impetus and specific taboos in play. There is no end state here.

Spider-woman presents ... a new comic book adventure. What?

There’s no end state here either, although there is an end, and it’s gotten some people in a state.

But that’s practice, not theory. That’s going to be different in every case. The purest form of opinion is going to be what we all know subconsciously, but don’t really think about: there’s seven billion of us, and seven billion unique opinions, each of them with a near-infinity of permutations depending on the context.

Narrowing those permutations uniformly down to a single static opinion and expecting it to be applicable to every instance of an issue or situation is just insane.

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43 Responses to Interlude: Double standards (or How Not To Fail As A Human Being)

  1. stchucky says:

    Alternative caption: “Hey Jerry, she’s back again.” *long coffee slurp*

  2. dreameling says:

    Did you forget to write the text?

    I kid, of course. I saw the captions.

    Lots to chew on here. Sadly, though, I gotta work right now, so be back later. Ditto for that other post. (That’s right, I only came in here to make a cheap joke.)

    Off to work.

    Now.

    Gotta go.

    Please, help me.

    Someone.

    Anyone…

  3. JonathanBloom says:

    Comics are about extremes, they always have been. Look at the golden age Spiderman, Superman or Batman storylines and you’ll see that everyone; young, old, men and women are all in some way extraordinary. There is nary an “ugly” person in sight and everyone has some sort of extra special skill or physical aspect to them. Most people will ignore them because by the standards today they’re frankly quaint.

    But once we hit the 80’s to present day, all this still remains true. Cherry picking Spider-Woman’s buns as the issue now seems silly, when every single character has been drawn and drafted to their sexual and physical extreme. As Maddox pointed out in the video, they’re nearly always drawn nude and then just body painted with their costumes. Most artists make a point to have Batman be half-nude at least once in a comic to showcase his ridonkulous abs. Even characters like Doc Ock, who were a punchline for the longest time over their weight, have been transformed into hunky stand ins for Spiderman!

    And it’s here that I think we get a total communication breakdown: the vocal and angry crowd that screams sexism will only acknowledge Bats and others as “male empowerement” and not at all a problem, but then having the exact same treatment for the female characters and it’s suddenly demeaning and hateful. Nevermind the fact that most, if not all, of these male characters are presented as inferior in power and mostly respectful (or playfully smitten like Spidey to Storm) towards the female characters. Imagine the shitstorm that would happen if Wonder Woman was suddenly presented as a slightly overweight, “normal” woman.

    I agree fully with Maddox on the dangers of denying sexuality. None of these characters should exist in a bubble and this kind of butthurt over them utilizing everything they have without any kind of guilt over doing so just screams to me of comic book slutshaming.

    And yes, you’ll always get shitty writers and artists who are only interested in cheap tits and ass shots, but right now comics are pretty much better than they’ve ever been. The most critically acclaimed series like The Walking Dead or Fables feature incredibly well rounded characters of all genders and species, yet they’re overlooked because of cheap and easy clicks that this kind of empty outrage generates.

    • stchucky says:

      And it’s here that I think we get a total communication breakdown: the vocal and angry crowd that screams sexism will only acknowledge Bats and others as “male empowerement” and not at all a problem, but then having the exact same treatment for the female characters and it’s suddenly demeaning and hateful. Nevermind the fact that most, if not all, of these male characters are presented as inferior in power and mostly respectful (or playfully smitten like Spidey to Storm) towards the female characters. Imagine the shitstorm that would happen if Wonder Woman was suddenly presented as a slightly overweight, “normal” woman.

      I think, as dreameling was saying, that the difference lies in the fact that the industry still believes single straight men are the massively dominant market force here, and so requires its (dominantly male?) artists to follow these trends that aren’t actually trends.

      I’m dubious about the “a guy drew this horizontal-pec’d Captain America for a (perceived) male audience, catering to a male need to fantasise about being buff” argument. I can very easily see that as being just as backwards and offensive as “a guy drew this stripper and erased the pole and called her ‘Catwoman’ for a (perceived) male audience, catering to a male need to fantasise about super-fit strippers”.

      But I’m not that much of a comics guru. I prefer my Deadpool to have less than 150kg of muscle, but I can ignore it when he inevitably and illogically has more. That’s about it. I would certainly be bored if they started using “ordinary” people in their art, same as I would be if Disney / Pixar stopped making their cartoons stylised.

      The truth does seem to be an ingrained cultural bias assuming men are already automatically ahead (which seems fair enough, since we often are). Just as a woman saying she was raped by a man gets horrified sympathy and a man saying he was raped by a woman gets a cynical high-five (I exaggerate, but you know the cliché), a woman crying that a female superhero is demeaning gets attention while a man crying that a male superhero is demeaning gets a “what, you don’t like horizontal pecs? Maybe My Little Pony would be more your speed.”

      It is still a female superhero drawn by a male, on the assumption that males will be buying the art, and a male superhero drawn by a male, on the assumption that males will be buying the art. I think that does make a difference. I just think the difference is bullshit.

  4. aaronthepatriot says:

    I was and remain VERY DISAPPOINTED in that Spider Woman picture.

    I mean seriously, her face is REALLY oddly shaped. Look at it. You didn’t notice her face before, did you…LOL

    Too long and blocky, or something. I am disappoint.

    • stchucky says:

      Actually, I quite liked the face. It seems completely flat from the nose up, in a weird way … but other than that, it’s nice.

      • aaronthepatriot says:

        Yeah good call, that’s what it is. Weirdly flat block of an upper face, doesn’t seem to match the lower face. I can’t give it a pass on the basis of “other than that”. It is what it is, and it ain’t nothing on dat azz.

      • stchucky says:

        True enough.

        Maybe that’s her mask’s super identity-hiding power. As with every other half-masked superhero, the mouth and chin is lovely and well-defined and you’d probably have no difficulty recognising her on the street (especially if she went down and started presenting to you that way…), but the mask just hides everything! Even depth!

      • dreameling says:

        I’m with Chucky on this one. I dig the face. It’s also signature Manara.

        But I only just now noticed that she has frigging webbing growing out of her armpit. That is totally gross! (I’ll let you decide what’s more sexist about that statement: that I noticed the webbing only belatedly or that I clearly think that women should shave their armpits.)

      • stchucky says:

        I was wondering what the webbing was. Is it so she can glide? Did she steal the costume from Banshee?

  5. aaronthepatriot says:

    “Maybe that’s her mask’s super identity-hiding power. As with every other half-masked superhero, the mouth and chin is lovely and well-defined and you’d probably have no difficulty recognising her on the street (especially if she went down and started presenting to you that way…), but the mask just hides everything! Even depth!”

    Genius!

    So now, to seriously weigh in here, this sort of pose is used over and over again by “empowered”, wealthy, “successful”, famous women all throughout our pop culture. Apparently it’s part of what they want to display to be who they are. REAL women, not just artwork. So, it has to get a pass IMO. Personally it doesn’t matter whether men are posed similarly to no outrage. What matters is that men and women are different, as are all people obviously but I’m speaking in general terms. We tend to behave differently, science tells us we have different ideal sources of sexual stimulation (visual vs. auditory for one example), when we have sex we typically have different things done to us…I mean it’s all just silly to me but maybe this is Monday morning talking.

    I would love to find out that women find me sexy. I’m sure some do, specifically one but there must be others. It does not demean me to be thought of as sexy, and the same goes for a woman. If you CHOOSE for it to demean you then sure, it will. If you CHOOSE to be proud of succeeding at what nature compels you to do (reproduce your genetic material, of which attraction is the first stage), that seems the wiser course to me.

    *shrugs* personally I never thought of comic books as sexy.

    • stchucky says:

      So now, to seriously weigh in here, this sort of pose is used over and over again by “empowered”, wealthy, “successful”, famous women all throughout our pop culture. Apparently it’s part of what they want to display to be who they are. REAL women, not just artwork.

      This takes me back to a Spinal Tap conversation about album covers. “So if it was a woman pushing the glove in a man’s face, it wouldn’t be sexist.”

      http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/237538/This-Is-Spinal-Tap-Movie-Clip-Smell-The-Glove.html

      It does not demean me to be thought of as sexy, and the same goes for a woman. If you CHOOSE for it to demean you then sure, it will. If you CHOOSE to be proud of succeeding at what nature compels you to do (reproduce your genetic material, of which attraction is the first stage), that seems the wiser course to me.

      An excellent point. Now if we could just get people to get with the program.

  6. aaronthepatriot says:

    “But I only just now noticed that she has frigging webbing growing out of her armpit. That is totally gross! (I’ll let you decide what’s more sexist about that statement: that I noticed the webbing only belatedly or that I clearly think that women should shave their armpits.)”

    LOL

    I thought that was part of the suit. In fact, since she IS wearing a suit, it kinda HAS to be part of the suit. No?

    • dreameling says:

      I don’t know, man. In the Sam Raimi movies, the webbing is part of Spider-Man, in the original comics and the reboot movies, it’s a device. So who knows what they’ve done with the Spider-Woman reboot. But why would it even be part of her suit? If it’s for lift when she wants to glide from rooftop to rooftop, then it’s the worst fucking idea ever. Decoration, then? Three words: Epic. Fashion. Fail. And if it’s physiological, it’s like the most inconvenient superpower ever.

      Spider-Woman’s butt is soooo not the problem here.

      • aaronthepatriot says:

        Totally agreed, I’m just telling you it has to be from her suit because she’s like wearing one…unless her pits are bare? In the Sam Raimi movies were his pits bare? Urk.

        But yes, Epic Fashion Fail, you won’t hear me disagree!

      • dreameling says:

        But yes, Epic Fashion Fail, you won’t hear me disagree!

        Honey, that webby biatch’s got nothin’ on us, uh uh.

  7. dreameling says:

    For example, what do we do about Spider-woman’s butt?

    I say we do nothing about it. I’m undoubtedly starting to sound like a broken record, but I do not think Spider-woman’s butt is the problem. It’s legit art, it’s legit to create it, and it’s legit to like it. Art does not need to be progressive or fair or anything the artist does not want it to be (well, within some reason).

    Instead, what we should do is want more fully rounded female characters in movies, comics, video games, and other media. We should want more female characters that can be and do all the different and varied stuff that male characters are entitled to by default. We should want a different proportion of female sex objects versus active female subjects. And I say “want”, rather than, for example, “demand”, because it really needs to start from wanting it.

    The objectified, oversexualized female characters will still be around, but they will no longer be the template.

    See, you’re free to think whatever you like about it, but if tacit approval and publication of this sort of art promotes the objectification of women and the further normalisation of their status as secondary citizens, then this sort of work needs to be frowned upon more actively, even banned (or the less extreme practice of “voting with the wallet” needs to come into play, but it tends to amount to the same thing). And this doesn’t mesh with the opinions of anyone who has no problem with the art personally, even if they agree with the objections in theory. It also doesn’t mesh with the basically liberated way most Western societies are set up, regarding artistic expression and public consumption of sex.

    I think it can mesh. We are all perfectly capable of understanding that our personal preferences and opinions may not and need not always align with broader social or cultural norms and policies. This is precisely where that “what’s good for the individual vs. what’s good for society” split comes into play. I like Spider-woman’s butt, I genuinely do, but I understand that it should not define female representation at large, and I’m totally ok with that. Neither should it be banned or repressed, though, because that shit just never works (re: religion).

    The truth does seem to be an ingrained cultural bias assuming men are already automatically ahead (which seems fair enough, since we often are). Just as a woman saying she was raped by a man gets horrified sympathy and a man saying he was raped by a woman gets a cynical high-five (I exaggerate, but you know the cliché), a woman crying that a female superhero is demeaning gets attention while a man crying that a male superhero is demeaning gets a “what, you don’t like horizontal pecs? Maybe My Little Pony would be more your speed.”

    The flip side of that is that a woman saying she was raped by a man is equally likely to get blamed for it, and a woman crying a female superhero is demeaning gets not just attention but a shitload of nerd rage and utterly vicious online abuse (including rape threats). Male rape and repressive male stereotypes are serious shit, nothing trivial about them, but women do seem to have it a bit worse.

    our esteemed regular dreameling, a man whose sense of intellectual fairness and self-analysis is matched only inversely by his ability to restrain himself from commenting after I’ve said “to be continued”

    Awww. That’s sweetest pandering I’ve gotten all week. Thanks, man.

  8. aaronthepatriot says:

    “And Hatboy’s Law has something to say about the concept of “winning” a discussion, I*I*RC. *girn*”

    Hence the quotes I used. However, until I see proof otherwise, Godwin’s Law trumps Hatboy’s Law. Typically a discussion isn’t “won”, but if your opponent has to invoke Hitler in a way that is at ALL exaggerating, you have won, Hatboy’s Law or no Hatboy’s Law.

  9. aaronthepatriot says:

    dreameling: “*coffee slurp*” [1]

    Oh I see how it is, I come to your defense and you sit back and let me take the heat whilst you sip away. Duly noted, sir.

    [1] There have been so many coffee slurps in this thread I had to be clear whose was upsetting me.

  10. aaronthepatriot says:

    “*slurp*

    *clink*

    *zip*

    *fap fap fap fap fap fap fap fap*”

    Not even Hitler would ruin Chucky’s blog as bad as we have. For shame….

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