When You Love Something That Doesn't Love You Back
Let's get this out of the way: there is no *perfect* media.
There is no book, tv show, film, or comic that is completely devoid of homophobia, racism, sexism, transphobia, classism, or any other one of the many biases that we've all internalized to varying degrees. It's not that people don't try. It's that these things have all become so ingrained in our culture that it's extremely difficult to separate them from the way we think and communicate, which is a huge part of how we tell stories. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try. It means that we should try, and accept that we're not going to be 100% successful. How we learn from our failures determines how much we can move past them.
But this does mean that participating in our culture means that we're all encountering some toxic messages. And some of those messages are going to be directed at us.
I'm going to talk about comics because that's what I know best.
(I'm also going to talk about misogyny because unfortunately, that's what I know best too).
I love comics. I love the idea of modern-day mythic heroes. People who sacrifice everything for the greater good, who stand up for what's right even when it's difficult. For me, what makes my heroes super isn't their armor or their amazing powers, but the depth of their humanity.
And I think that there are absolutely interesting ways to tell a story about heroes who have fallen, who no longer abide by their own principles or who can't practice what they preach. But there's a big difference between demonstrating that we're all capable of failure, and using women as props to further a character arc. And often, that's what female characters are. They're rewards at the end of a difficult struggle, or tragic losses that the hero must suffer through to motivate him. The narrative treats them as items, something that can belong to another human being. And often the art treats them the same way.
I wonder if she's looking at Spider-Man with longing... because he clearly took off with all of her internal organs.
Sure, it's not real. But the feelings of discouragement, frustration, and dehumanization are all very real. Whether we like it or not, the fantasy presented in the stories we read has a very real influence on the way we live our lives. I'm not suggesting that comics are affirming that it's okay to beat your girlfriend or wife- in the same way they're not affirming that it's possible to be bitten by a spider in order to gain super powers. What's happening is more pervasive. It's a feeling of worthlessness that, when coupled with the structural inequalities that are part of our society, feed into the toxic nature of our culture.
This isn't just an issue of depiction of course.
While there are plenty of female artists and writers in the world, few of them are actually getting work. If they are, it's usually with smaller companies, or on less popular comics. So not only are female characters seen as invaluable, interchangeable, and objectifiable, but the women working in the industry are also undervalued and ignored.
(The above art is by Noelle Stevenson, whose webcomic Nimona is *hopefully* being adapted to film).
This isn't limited to comics.
It's everywhere. Video games has a reputation for being an industry that's full of sexism, but the truth is that no industry is immune. It's so common it feels mundane.
So what are you supposed to do?
Or perhaps a better question is: What CAN you do?
I think about my relationship with comics, and all media, using the same terms I use to define my relationships with people.
The people you love hurt you sometimes. And when they do, you have to ask yourself:
Was this intentional?
Are they sorry?
Will this happen again?
And those aren't always easy questions to answer. I've been in relationships where I believe with all of my heart that things were going to get better (they didn't), that I would be safe if I stayed (I wasn't), and that it would never happen again (it did). It seems silly, but I've found that the lessons that I learned from those experiences, as awful as they were, are applicable pretty much anywhere. Did you boss flip out at you for a mistake that wasn't your fault? Ask yourself those three questions. Did your favorite writer say something extremely racist? Ask yourself those three questions.
You can speak up.
Media criticism is difficult. And a lot of the time it feels like your valid concerns can be drowned out just by people who want to rant and rave without saying anything constructive. But you're not alone. The more you write, the more you engage with the community you're a part of, the more you can find common ground. And within that community are going to be the future writers, producers, and showrunners that will determine the future of the media.