Super Girls, Chocolate Men, and My Very Own Misogyny

Supergirl

[NOTE: I may be wading into perilous waters with this post, but I hope, whatever your feelings on these matters, you’ll read it all the way through and not just reflexively dismiss me as an unworthy ally. Your comments are welcome, preferably here rather than on Facebook or elsewhere.]

A few days ago, I saw an artist post a Supergirl drawing to his feed on Facebook. It was definitely cheesecake, so some folks would react to it like it was an assault on all that is holy, but it was just a simple pinup with an old-style sweet sexiness to it.

The first comment under the picture was from some guy who wrote, “More like SuperBITCH!!!”

I was taken aback. I’ve seen stupid. I’ve seen misogynistic. But what the fuck was in this asshole’s head when he wrote that? Did he think he was complimenting the artist’s work somehow? Did he think he was making a boisterous positive statement about the hot superhero in the drawing? Did he think what he was saying was edgy or cool and made him look good? What the fuck was he trying to communicate? Surely it wasn’t “I’m a pathetic shithead,” which was what I saw him saying.

I don’t know if the artist was annoyed, if he let the comment stand on his page, or if he might have even agreed with the comment (whatever weird message it held). But all of that was secondary to my confusion about what was in that guy’s head and the bleak disquiet I felt seeing him express it.

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I posted the above on Facebook. Ironically, my very next post was apparently so misogynistic that it inspired another writer (whom I share real world friends with and have a good amount of respect for) to kick me off his friends list:

Make a chocolate Benedict Cumberbatch and that’s apparently drool-worthy. Make a chocolate Scarlett Johansson though and the night will be filled with torches and pitchforks and undergrad screeds.

This was inspired, of course, by the existence of an actual chocolate Cumberbatch which I was seeing posted all over my feed by leering women, many of whom, based on their comments, really liked the idea of eating them some Benedict.

Chocolate Cumberbatch

My beloved Nydia posted a link about the dapper confection and commented, “Fun stuff! Now it would be fair to make a life-size chocolate Scarlett Johansson sculpture to please the boys too, lol.” And the two of us talked about how some people would flip their lids if the statue were of an actress, and if men were commenting all over the place about how much they’d like to eat her. In fact, some of the women drooling after chocolate Cumberbatch routinely complain about men objectifying women.

Thus was my post born.

Now, to be honest, I vacillated mightily about posting my comment. I knew it would probably offend some people, but I think some people are too easily offended and I try not to censor myself for their benefit. I thought it might get me kicked off a friends list or two, which I was fine with…until it cost me someone I actually enjoyed having in my feed. And I thought it might result in some discussion about issues of sexism and objectivism which are issues I’m actively parsing in order to figure out what I believe about them. I also thought the comment was funny. Whether it was or not is a matter of opinion, but it was certainly written with a light heart.

The first negative response: “Well, there’s a reason for that. People who look like Benedict Cumberbatch are far less often raped, paid 23% less, or beaten to shit by a spouse only to have the police suggest, ‘Try to work it out and stop bothering the neighbors.’ So while acknowledging your point in a Platonically perfect world, in reality I’m okay with choccy Ben and still a bit squicky with choccy Scarlett.”

Sorry, if objectification is objectively bad, then no one should do it. It’s not, logically, okay for one gender to do while complaining that the other gender should not. It’s not a matter of “punching up” and “punching down;” if it’s punching, nobody should be punching anybody. Bitching about it while doing it yourself is hypocrisy.

Now, understand that it’s possible to say “what’s bad for the gander is bad for the goose” without meaning that all things are thus equivalent. Certainly, if objectification is oppressive, women are far, far more oppressed than men, and men whining about women oppressing them is (usually) ludicrous. There’s no equivalency. But if the behavior is oppressive, it’s oppressive.

But is objectification oppression?

When I posted about the Supergirl drawing, and the blatantly misogynistic response it received, someone commented, “We cannot objectify women and then be surprised when it turns hostile.” But I don’t think that’s true.

I think we can, and do, objectify women (and men) all the time without it causing hostility in most people. We’re all objects to people who don’t know us. The first thing we notice about another human being is usually whether we’re attracted to them or not, and that determination may change as we get to know them but it never goes away. And we can’t help but assess a person based on the information at hand, which is often just a visual and maybe a cursory interaction.

We’re all sexual beings, and we’re attracted to what we’re attracted to. We give a lot of thought to what we’re attracted to, and we’re inspired by what we’re attracted to. And so, what we’re attracted to shows up in our art, and that is a natural, human impulse. So is fantasy, so is idealization.

Objectification isn’t the problem. Dehumanization is. The artist drew a sexy Supergirl, an object of fantasy and desire, but that did no damage to Supergirl nor to any actual women. He got pleasure out of drawing her, there was nothing disrespectful in the act, and a lot of the folks who saw the image probably enjoyed it. The idiot who sees it and reacts to it in a dehumanizing, misogynistic way isn’t created by the drawing, and neither it nor the artist have any responsibility for his reaction. He’s just a fuckwit and that’s on him.

None of which is to say we don’t have vast systemic issues as a culture which contribute to the formation of fuckwits like him and which are undeniably damaging to women (and men). Objectification certainly plays a role when taken to unhealthy extremes, but to blame it as an innate cause is, I believe, a red herring.

Do you disagree? I shouldn’t have to say this, but that’s okay. I am not going to demonize you for having a different take on this, and in an ideal world I wouldn’t have to worry about being demonized either. As I said above, I’m still trying to figure these things out, and I’m always willing to listen. But just because you think you’ve codified the definitions and terms of debate does not mean that you are correct, nor does it mean that everyone has to accept your definitions and terms. This is a big tangled knot of a subject. Maybe a sexy Supergirl picture really is an affront to women and to civilization and I’m just not able to see it.

Or maybe it’s not, and there are actually much bigger things wrong that aren’t actually affected by such a drawing at all. And maybe those are the things we should focus on.

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4 comments on “Super Girls, Chocolate Men, and My Very Own Misogyny

  1. nydiacarioca says:

    One curious thing about the Benedict Cumberbatch statue is that we both posted about it almost at the same time, one without knowing that the other would do it (another of our fun syncs), and the reactions were completely different on my wall. I guess that’s because I’m a woman, and so that’s “okay”, while you, being a cis white straight male, have no right, so they think, to express your opinion on the subject.

    I find it absolutely outrageous, and at this point, very boring, the way that artists of all stripes are being treated for their take on female characters. Especially in the comics industry, but also in literature. Objectification has always existed, in art and real life – as you said, that’s how we perceive others at first. That’s how we get attracted (and that’s so personal) or not to the ones we will eventually date. We do that all the time, especially in the era we live today, with so much exposure on TV and Internet. Or will anyone deny that they drooled, and talked about it, when seeing a hot actor, actress, model or singer on the media? Is it wrong? On Facebook I see several women posting pictures of hot men on their walls (sometimes with a funny “you’re welcome” caption) and all the girls go “Whoa, hot!”, *giggles*. Then the same women complain when a male friend posts a sensual female image on their own wall.

    The problem is not how sexy a character is portrayed, the problem is how someone looks at it, and that’s not based on the art itself, but on his/her cultural, familiar, social background, and frankly, how fucked up their minds are. It’s what women have been talking about for years about rape. People shouldn’t tell women not to wear a sexy skirt, you have to tell some men how to respect them no matter what they dress. The same goes for art. People can’t censor or want to tell how an artist will draw or write about their female characters. The problem is not there. It’s a lack of respect to an artist’s creativity and talent. There’s this great article posted not long ago about how hypocritical some people get on this matter: http://www.theouthousers.com/index.php/news/131231-liefeld-campbell-chin-others-call-for-stand-against-artists-being-crucified-in-wake-of-frank-cho-spider-gwen-controversy.html

    I love “old school” artists who draw women in their gorgeous, sexy and highly desirable style. They pay tribute to the human body in a wonderful way. Their style echoes the traditional painters and sculptors like Michelangelo, Da Vinci, to mention a few, whose figures were voluptuous and absolutely obvious in their sexuality. I’m afraid these traditional artists wouldn’t survive the witch hunt today.

    To think that by not depicting sexy female characters in any type of art will make sick awful people stop having sick awful thoughts or attitudes towards women is naïve. That will never happen. Denying a woman her sexuality so men won’t lust over her is stupid and dangerous.

    There is room for every single style, from prudish to explicit, and it’s no one business how a creator sees their creations. To teach men and women how to appreciate and enjoy the human body as desirable as they are without being assholes is the point.

    And at last, honestly, if someone unfriends you because they might consider you a misogynist, this person knows absolutely nothing about you. At all. I would never date and love you for such a long time if you were otherwise. Their loss.

  2. Tim Byrd says:

    I literally just saw a writer on Facebook complaining about the way Sofia Vergara was spun on a pedestal at the Emmys, while in her very next post she shared a shirtless picture of Benedict Cumberbatch which she said she was putting by her computer “for inspiration.”

  3. Russ Brookshire says:

    In anticipation of the screen adaptation, I recently reread Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”, with the intent of putting together in my mind just what the screenplay might look like. I came to the conclusion that the screenwriters have quite a task ahead of them!

    One of the themes that Heinlein explores in this novel is marriage, relationships, and how men and women interact in polite society. Luna is shown as something of a frontier society, and as such men outnumber women by quite a factor. What is different is how this disparity affects the relationship between men and women – “women are scarce, and call tune”. A woman can walk late at night without fear, can reject a man, or bed a man, at her discretion. A man who makes untoward advances, however, was likely to be shown the nearest door – into vacuum.

    What I found to be interesting was the corollary that Heinlein recognized from this particular setup: it became not just socially acceptable, but socially expected, to recognize a woman’s physical desirability. An introduction, as described: “I stopped three paces away to look her up and down and whistle. She held her pose, then nodded to thank me but abruptly – bored with compliments, no doubt. Shorty waited till formality was over…”

    Tim’s blog reminded me of my reaction on reading these passages: I felt that there was no way that a modern screenwriter could include that brief interchange. Despite this being a SF piece, set in a future society, modern audiences cannot help but interpret the wolf whistle in but one way. Heinlein was showing that objectification was normal, that we are pleased to hear that we are found to be attractive, and that the danger lies not in the expression of a compliment, but rather when that compliment is actually a veiled threat.

  4. maebius says:

    I agree with Nydia and you, Tim, in that Artists should be able to express their Art freely. It is the judgement of the Viewer to be offended or not, which is entirely non-dependant on the artist’s intent. We ARE sexual creatures, but with brains.

    I’m reminded of a quote I read looong long ago that dealt with “gentleman’s manners” in this topic, and it applies here. forgive the paraphrase, but it went ” A gentleman may say Ladies First and then enjoy the view. A Lady who thinks he’s cute will sashay just that little bit more in respectful reply”. There’s no harm in it, if both parties are in on the game.

    Likewise for Heinlein. He may have some odd and “edgy” views about how Men & Women act in his novels, it would cause quite the sh*tstorm if they were translated to a mainstream audience, sadly. Even if you disagree with the views, what happened to “friendly debate?!” Sigh.
    Sometimes, folks forget the right of me, or you, to disagree, but still get along in general.

    … is objectification oppression? No.
    The issue happens when the subjective “lines” between the two are compared.
    Alexander Pope quotes – “Tis with our judgements as our watches, none Go just alike, yet each believes his own.” I think that’s Awesome!

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