The Feminist Agenda

There’s been a lot of talk lately about feminists destroying video games and comics and RPGs. There’s a lot of random fear in people who have no idea what the other side is actually advocating. I know odds are low that any of them will actually read this to expand their knowledge, but the odds are zero if I don’t write it. So what, exactly, do we want in our media?

First, we want more stuff created for us. This shouldn’t be very controversial. If the market can bear it, there’s very little problem for people uninterested in female centric comics and games. I’m talking about Ms. Marvel and Batgirl and Rat Queens with strong female leads, and also Saga and Sex Criminals and Hawkeye with strong female characters with their own agency and agendas that are fully realized human beings and not set dressing. Note that lots of men love these titles as well.

The number of feminist-friendly comics has exploded in the last few years. The market has really noticed that we exist and buy stuff. DC is very late to the game, but even they’ve woken up with the new Batgirl design, Gotham Academy, and a bunch more stuff coming into the pipeline.

We’re hungry to buy stuff that treats women as heroes. We want this stuff published. This is agenda point one.

Point two is, better treatment of women in media that is not explicitly marketed to a female audience. This is largely what Anita Sarkeesian talks about. The classic comics example is “Women in Refrigerators”, which is the trope of killing off women for the sole purpose of motivating the male characters. Very little attention is given to the life of the women and those who were part of her life, and instead the focus is entirely on the male heroes reaction to her. We don’t want our heroes to be beating up prostitutes, committing domestic abuse, using women as trophies to be won, or that kind of thing. We don’t want our women to be sex objects, just there to be gazed at by the men. There’s a massive amount of work explaining why (see: the college of Women’s Studies at your local liberal arts college.)

This is the part where we’re calling for actual industry change. I feel like comics aren’t as regressive in these ways as video games, but there’s a long ways to go. The new 52 Starfire is a classic example of a character turned into a sex object. Also, the recent variant cover to Spider-Woman. Hyper-sexualization of women in mainstream comics is still very common.

For me at least, I have a streak of realism here. When I talk about this, I’m talking about mainstream comics – your Batman, Superman, X-Men lines. I have no issue with a portion of the market existing to serve a very male audience. Things like Lobo, Vampirella, Preacher, Sin City. Dudes, you can keep these. After all, if I argue that there’s a market for female audience comics, then I should accept the argument that there’s a market for male audience comics. I’m not going to read them or talk about them much. Much like Grand Theft Auto and God of War, I know from the start what these are.

I just don’t want to see Grand Theft Auto or Sin City sensibilities in my Green Lantern or Avengers comics. Games and comics both have a bad history of treating women poorly in their mainstream works, and we want to see this stuff relegated to clearly labelled Mature-rated works, and we want a market where this stuff doesn’t leak out into areas where we don’t expect to see it.

I mean, honestly, we hope that people think about it and agree that they aren’t the market for anti-feminist messaging, sure. But we aren’t trying to ban it (or at least most of us.) There’s a world of difference between feminist critique of art, and the angry Mom brigade. Neither of us like Grand Theft Auto much, but they want to stop stores from selling it. We want to convince you that you don’t actually want that junk. If you ignore us, we don’t actually go bother you. We’re largely in our own spaces waiting for you to want to come to us. You don’t listen if you aren’t looking for it anyway.

So that’s it. More media made for a female audience. Better consideration of women in mainstream works. A plea for serious consideration by the male audience as to whether they want to support problematic works. That’s it.

I don’t think there’s many people for whom that agenda destroys their hobby.

GamerGate: Where’s the Beef?

I’ve been doing a lot of research and reflection on GamerGate. For those of you lucky enough to have missed this, this is a movement largely inside the video game community, ostensibly about journalistic ethics. But spend a few minutes trying to wade through the misogyny on display will leave anyone who lived through the 80s saying, “Where’s the beef?”

This is not a video game site, though I’ve been playing video games since my family had a Pong machine when I was very young. It is, however, a site about the intersection of feminism and geek media, and this existential crisis in our neighboring fandom hits a lot of notes that comics fans are extremely familiar with.

I’ve been following Anita’s work since her kickstarter (which I happily backed), and knew who Zoe Quinn was before August, and am friends with several of the peripheral targets. And I’ve read through the GamerGate internal git repository. The whole thing left me wondering, where on earth does all this come from? Why are there so many people, mostly men, ready to jump on this bandwagon that seems so obviously morally suspect from day one?

In other words, how did this culture get this broken?

Thinking back on the history of video games (which Ms. Sarkeesian has done an excellent job discussing), in the 80s and 90s things were mostly benign. Games were played in bedrooms and living rooms and basements, and nobody really cared how many women and girls were controlling Mario. (There were a lot of us, even if the marketing skewed heavily male.) Women were an afterthought and there are things to criticize, but I claim that the culture hadn’t gone crazy yet.

Then online play happened, and something went badly wrong. Ask any women what their experience was like in the early to mid 2000s, up until virtually the present day. The early adopters of services such as XBox Live (and others, but my personal experiences were heavily XBox and PC) were predominantly male and young. And they brought over a very specific young male culture, that we’ve all seen, that was heavy into insulting friends. It’s not awesome but it’s something young, immature men do, where they try and call each other worse and worse names as a bonding exercise.

When women joined in, the men naturally tried to include them in this culture, and called them things like bitch, cunt, and dyke. For most women who were not spending their lives in this context, this was exceptionally hostile. The men didn’t understand this, the women didn’t understand what they were doing, and so women == unpleasantness for the dominant gaming culture. So they started believing it, and escalated their game, and most of the women left. I know I cancelled my Xbox Live account for a long time because online play was just not fun.

And this created a feedback loop with the industry. Women suddenly really didn’t play online games, and online was where the money was. So the games started getting hyper masculinized. Where before the edgy games were like Mortal Kombat, now they were Grand Theft Auto and Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball. Which attracted more men, which amplified the toxic to women culture.

And the people who liked this sort of thing were very happy. They had their gendered space, they had their culture they enjoyed, they got to be assholes with no consequences and people liked them for it. A paradise.

That’s the context for GamerGate. It’s impossible to understand where this comes from without that specific culture.

So, why the sea change? Why did feminism and social justice and liberalism make a comeback?

My theory is MMOs, which ultimately means World of Warcraft. Women /love/ these games. I love these games. Unlike the random companions of the above culture, we started forming persistent communities. These communities started to have women as a reasonable percentage, and when people brought over gamer culture, the women actually had enough backup to shout them down. Sure, there are GamerBro guilds, but that’s not the dominant culture in those games. And the women started teaching the men to not be raging assholes all the time or they’d be the ones ostracized from the group. I’ve seen this dynamic play out time and again over the last decade.

And then when the women all became confident gamers, many of us went back to other games. And instead of just logging out the first time someone called us a fucking slut whore bitch, we had enough strength to stand up and say no, and suddenly some of the men started coming to our defense. And then a lot of them.

And now, for the GamerBro, his culture he loves is actually under assault. His boys’ club where you can be as awful as you want and people think it is funny, where people conform or leave to his view of how people should act, wasn’t like that anymore. He was the one being criticized for the first time. His friends were the ones leaving. He, the serial abuser of everyone, felt under assault. Games weren’t a safe place to level up as an asshole anymore.

This is why, when Melissa McEwan complained about a Penny Arcade strip that tried to make Rape funny, they lost their minds.

This is why, when Elizabeth Sampat made a plea to game developers to skip PAX and go to conventions with a better culture, they felt a need to counterattack.

This is why, when Anita Sarkeesian started making videos about how sometimes video games themselves are misogynistic and can we please pay more attention, they felt a need to discredit and destroy her.

This is why, when a vengeful ex-boyfriend accused Zoe Quinn of sleeping around to get better reviews for her indy games, they were in the perfect place to believe it and feel outraged.

This is why, when the other half of the Internet rose to the defense of all of the above, we entered a holy war.

This is why it’s not a consumer revolt, it’s not about ethics in journalism. It’s not even really directly about misogyny, though that’s a lot closer to the mark. It’s about trying to bring back a dated, toxic, dead boys club culture. Which can’t come back. There’s no means for that to happen. We’re not going to apologize and we’re not giving the keys to the clubhouse back and leaving. We don’t want to. We never wanted to let you have them in the first place. Your culture was the anomaly that lived longer than was necessary, and sorry, you’ve got to cope with that.

Note that our side of the movement (amusingly dubbed Social Justice Warriors by the GamerGate bros) isn’t saying companies can’t produce games like Grand Theft Auto. We’re saying if they do, we’re going to call them out on what they’re doing and say we don’t like it. It’s okay, they don’t need our approval. We aren’t gods. We won’t play their games, and when do you care about someone insulting you? It’s all you do to everyone else.

In the internal memos of GamerGate, one of the state goals is for the SJWs to apologize. For what? For existing? For playing games? For not rolling over or leaving when someone calls us a fucking whore slut pussy? Because to be honest, we feel like you owe us a massive apology for how you’ve acted for the last 15 god damned years, and it’s about time you’re losing the stranglehold on the hobby you used to have.

Me? I’m feeling like it’s starting to be okay to play some games again. And I couldn’t be more excited.

Marvel’s Axel Alonso on female characters

An interesting interview with Marvel’s Editor in Chief on recent feminist trends in Marvel comics:

Sample quote: “I want to make sure I have books like Ms Marvel and Black Widow that I’m proud about and could give to my daughter. But at the same time I don’t want to be the PC police and say you can’t be naughty; you can’t be fun.”

Which is actually just fine with me. Sometimes they’ll cross a line into unpleasantness, like the Spider-Woman alternate cover (discussed in the link as well), and we’ll say we don’t like it. But clearly they’re trying and releasing a lot more feminist friendly product than ever before, and that shows up in how much I’m invested in Marvel. (Both emotionally and financially.)

Daredevil #7

Daredevil #7(Spoilers ahead for Daredevil #7)

Marvel’s Original Sin gave creators a chance to explore unanswered questions in their characters’ pasts. Most of them whiffed on making this interesting, but the gold medal goes to Daredevil.

A key part of Daredevil (Matt Murdock) is his background of being raised by a single father. Which is by itself interesting, especially given the era it was originally written in. The open question is, what happened to his mother? Why did she leave them?

Very long term readers know that Matt’s mom had since become a nun. But until this issue we never knew why.

And inside is a very well handled treatment of what’s now understood as postpartum depression. It’s a very scary chemical imbalance that used to be dismissed as ‘baby blues’, as discussed in the comics. As an adult women whose had several friends deal with this issue, none of his is a surprise to me, but I imagine a lot of readers really had no idea this was a thing and how it worked. And to really make the point they devote the letters page to a very informative FAQ from the group Postpartum Support International.

Feminism is about a lot of things, but one of them is how ‘women issues’ are often not talked about in mainstream media. You just don’t see serious discussions of this in pop culture, let alone superhero comics. So kudos to the Daredevil team for making a good story and also an informative one. I didn’t see this coming at all, and I’m delighted!

Where’s Gamora?

I really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy, and not a small part of that is that the heart of the story centers around Gamora. Peter Quill is the goofy everyman, but the plot and motivation is driven by the most dangerous woman in the Universe. So it’s with great annoyance that I share this link. What is wrong with you, Marvel Marketing Department? How does it make sense to have team shots that include Drax, who is really just a tag-along on a personal vendetta, and leave out Gamora?

Filed under, this is why we need feminism.


A lot of news has been buzzing about Marvel announcing that, for reasons yet to be unveiled, soon Thor will be a woman. And a lot of the criticism has essentially been, if you want diversity, why not create a new character instead of changing an existing one?

After all, if you created a new female Spider-Man, you’d get the same kind of press, right?

How many of them know that, in Amazing Spider-Man #4, Marvel just did that?

Meet Silk, aka Cindy Moon, who was also in the room when Peter got bit by a radioactive spider, and also got bit herself. And, cleverly using some plotlines from circa 2001, she was promptly collected and hidden away until now. One could analyze all of this, but it’s basically what’s required to do the story, and I try and cut a little slack and just go with it.

Has this been on the evening news or the USA today? No. It does a good job at validating those that claim that there’s something to changing Thor and having Falcon become the new Captain America that a new character wouldn’t accomplish.

As to the actual Silk character – we don’t get a lot of personality yet, beyond someone traumatized, for good reason. She seems roughly to have the same power set as Peter, with her character points spent slightly differently (not as strong, faster and with better spider-sense. Kind of the typical ‘girl’ stats, annoyingly enough.) We’ll have to wait a bit to really get to know her. But Dan Slott’s a good writer in general, so it’ll probably work out.

And taken on it’s own – not comparing it to the Thor and Cap press releases, which aren’t even published stories yet – it does increase diversity in the Spider-verse. There aren’t a ton of Asian-American superhero women out there (mostly in the X-books). Here’s hoping she hits a chord with fans and sticks around more than other attemps, such as Araña (aka Spider-Girl) from a few years back. (I loved Spider-Girl, but her book got cancelled and she’s struggled to get into supporting casts since.)


Link: Feminist comic pull list

From my favorite queer women website, Mey shares her excellent pull list:

I might have to check out Red Sonja, but the rest of them get an enthusiastic thumbs up. I’d also add in:

Batgirl, by Gail Simone. Not only is Batgirl a kick-ass woman who is a great, never-say-die role model, but one of the main supporting cast is a very well handled trans woman.

Princeless, by Jeremy Whitley. This is a fun, kid-friendly comic about a Princess and her companions who go around subverting the Patriarchy, basically. It hits all the right notes!

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. Because, Buffy. I could write an essay on why Buffy is the greatest feminist icon of the first decade of the 21st century, and maybe I will someday, and the comics carry on the story. Not as good as the show, but that’s a high bar, and they’re still quite enjoyable. Angel & Faith is a companion book, and there’s little reason not to get both.

There’s so many good feminist comics out there! There hardly seems to be a reason to care about the piles of macho nonsense that used to be the dominant life form in comics.

The Wicked and the Divine

The Wicked and the Divine #1I’ve been a bit quiet lately, but I just read The Wicked and the Divine #1, and have to make at least a brief post. There’s always a handful of books that everyone agrees are the cream of the crop. Right now that includes Saga, Rat Queens, Hawkeye, Astro City… and add to these kinds of lists, The Wicked and the Divine. Yes, it’s that good.

The creative team of Gillen and McKelvie have an excellent track record. Recently they were behind the very good Young Avengers series. Before that, though, they did two volumes of a unique title called Phonogram. It’s about magic and music and a very particular time and place. I don’t know that time or place at all, but they have such obvious passion for the art they are creating, it’s still on my list of my favorite comic works of all time. (Both of them, but especially the second one, Singles Club.) It’s this kind of work that keeps me reading comics.

The Wicked and the Divine is not Phonogram – Gillen has an essay in the back that’s essentially saying this – but it has the good parts in common. There’s a raw passion driving this title that you rarely see. The god-characters are a little more real than real somehow. We mostly see the Lucifer character, but that’s more than okay – she leaps off the page in a uniquely compelling way.

We’ve seen a lot of comics about mythology crashing into the modern world. I’m very pleased to say this is not any of those other ones. It’s not Sandman, it’s not Fables, it’s not Crossing Midnight. It’s a fresh and individual voice, of singular quality.

This is what we’re looking for, people. I could give a plot summary, but that’s not the point. If you want something really different and compelling, if you like mythology and the unexplained, if you want charismatic characters, give this one a try. Just click on the pretty picture, or go to your friendly local comic store (or if you’re in Chicago, go to my friendly local comic store, only don’t, because like a lot of them Alley Cat sold out by 5pm on Wednesday, yay pre-orders!) But the point is, if you’re looking for recommendations, this gets my highest, you know what to do.