Quickies

Skepchick Quickies 9.23

Amanda

Amanda is a science grad student in Boston whose favorite pastimes are having friendly debates and running amok.

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  1. “There was less of a consensus on what girls are better at, and the common answers included … school (8.2%)…”

    Is it a good thing or a bad thing that today’s kids believe girls are better in school?

    On one hand, it’s potentially just as dangerous as the opposite idea, and could lead to boys underperforming in class. But on the other hand, it might serve as a counterweight to the “girls suck at math” meme that seems to exist in the US (I’ve never heard of the idea being promoted anywhere else).

    Thoughts?

    1. It’s both good and bad. Thinking about it a little bit, I came to the conclusion that there’s this “false dilemma” idea in our culture. That if women do something well, it becomes feminized, and we all know that men don’t want to have anything to do with anything feminine, lest you catch “the gay,” or become emasculated. So, it looks like school is becoming feminized.

      But really, that’s not the issue. It shouldn’t matter if something is masculine or feminine. It’s our culture that’s sick; our culture thinks that anything women do is degrading, even to women. It’s this idea that needs to change, not whether either sex is better at school or any activity.

      1. I agree with everything you just said, BlackCat.

        On the surface, I don’t have a problem with the message that “boys are better than girls at things like sports”; in sports that favor strength and speed, boys will tend to outperform girls, with nothing to blame but biology.

        However, I do have a serious problem with using this fact to support the sexist belief that girls playing sports is somehow a bad thing. Male or female, athletes work damned hard to be the best they can be at what they do, and that’s a gender-neutral quality worthy of respect.

        1. foss4us: “On the surface, I don’t have a problem with the message that “boys are better than girls at things like sports”; in sports that favor strength and speed, boys will tend to outperform girls, with nothing to blame but biology.”

          Except I got the impression that the survey being reported was done on largely prepubescent children where the gender differences in physical ability are, as I understand it, far less pronounced. It’s one thing to make the generalization that most adult male athletes will outperform most adult female athletes in the same sport, but to say the same of children strikes me as far less supportable.

          1. Even in professional men’s contact sports, the injury rate is unacceptably high. Perhaps it is worse in some women’s sports, but we ought to address the issue on a broad basis since the cause clearly has something to do with the game.

    2. Stereotypes tend to be bad for everyone, but especially women, regardless of whether they are positive or not. When the stereotype is that women are better at something, it’s used to justify giving them more responsibility. When the stereotype is that men are better at something, it’s used to justify giving them more rewards. So if men are just plain better at math, then of course they should get promotions and higher salaries than women. But if women are just plain better at math, that means it’s their duty to do society’s math even if it means sacrificing other things.

      You already see this with teaching, where women are expected to teach young children for very low wages because they’re considered better at it, while at the college level men are considered better professors so they get to make more money. They still often make less than they would working in the field they teach, but they are not expected to make as much of a sacrifice.

      There is also the problem that when women are stereotypically bad at something, it means that they just shouldn’t do that thing. But when men are stereotypically bad at something, it means we just need to forgive them, never hold them accountable, and never expect better of them. Plenty of people will say that women shouldn’t be politicians or business executives because they’re just too emotional. But then they’ll say that “boys will be boys” when men get into barfights, show up late for work, or commit massive fraud. But their alleged lack of self-control isn’t used to argue that they shouldn’t hold high-power positions.

      There’s also the serious problem that regardless of the stereotype, some girls really aren’t better school.

      So basically stereotypes aren’t good even when they seem good.

  2. American comics have always had some significant issues with costumes and fan service. It seems like the problem has become worse recently because sales and interest generally have tanked in the face of increasing competition (due to both international comics and the growth of new entertainment media, especially games).

    This has led some creators to “return to basics”, or, in simpler terms, target all the more narrowly their core demographic.

    The emphasis on selling sex has really damaged the depth of a lot of media over time. It’s a simple matter of budgets; you only have so much money, time, and labor to expend on the project. Spending more of it focused on appearances and panels with no real meaning outside of sex appeal means there is less leftover for actual plot and characterization. This represents a serious shift in the ordinary equal balance of power between the artist and the writer.

    If anyone is feeling depressed about comics and looking for inspiration, I’d recommend picking up some manga. Looking at the entire market, the number of different titles and diversity thereof is almost intimidating. Shounen (boys) and shoujo (girls) demographics are both well established, and there are smaller but nonetheless vibrant markets for adults (seinen and josei).

    Much of the difference between shounen and shoujo titles is their writing emphasis. Shounen tends to be more plot oriented, with a lot of effort put into keeping the story consistently moving at a fast pace. Shoujo, on the other hand, is typically more character oriented and places deeper attention on how events and interpersonal interaction is changing the characters. Even so, there are many series that defy these conventions and have a lot of cross-gender appeal.

    Depending on the title, fan-service ranges from almost non-existent to pretty much the entire point. Shoujo comics with too much fan service typically get labelled as smut, even though they’re not obviously deficient compared to their peers. In many cases, it’s a difference of whether the author was willing to take a romance scene just one step farther than what was ‘acceptable’ in another context.

  3. The anime market, which is driven by manga (with which i’m very unfamiliar), is at some junctures, doing really well at passing Bechdel’s Test and at other times, so falling prey to fan service that it sucks my breath out. For a strong female lead character with barely one fan service scene, Moribito would be hard to beat. For strong female leads with mind-numbing fan service (more panty shots than a lingerie catalog!), Najica Blitz Tactics. A friend and I just finished watching the first season of “High School of the Dead”, zombie apocalypse setting, strong characters of both sexes with a good plot and, i kid you not, bullet-time ballet for breasts. We lost many brain cells in that sequence.

    Beyond anime, there’s my obsession with running a fantasy rpg setting, which brings up the use of miniatures. Ever try finding nicely crafted female figures that weren’t armor class ogle? It just doesn’t seem to end…

    1. High School of the Dead is a bizarre, self-contradictory series when analyzed from a feminist viewpoint. The lead four characters are all portrayed as strong and quick-witted, with the women just as much so as the men. (It’s a survival story, so there’s a selection effect going on there.)

      However, the fan service is almost entirely oriented to male viewers. It’s not so much that the women go around ridiculously dressed. Rather, it’s that the camera (and thus viewer) find absurd angles and scenes to snoop in on.

      Although the anime adaptation is pretty faithful to the manga, I think there’s something about putting the scenes into motion that pushed the fan service even further over the top.

      Sometimes I have to wonder how many men would actually complain if these shows were equal opportunity fan service.

  4. Comic books used to be something read only by targeted niche audiences. Action, war, superhero, and horror comics were usually the province of adolescent boys, while romance comics were targeted at adolescent girls. Then comics “grew up.” Isn’t it time we left the adolescent fantasies in the past as well?

    1. It’s a shame, isn’t it? And it hurts me more than most, because I’m more or less in that age-range where the growing-up happened. I’m old enough to remember ‘Super Friends’ AND ‘The Dark Knight Returns” but a bit too young for when Green Arrow caught Speedy doing drugs.

      For awhile, comics grew up with me. And then, at some point, I kept growing up and the comic books didn’t… at least not where it comes to their view of women. And beyond the obvious insult to women, it is an insult to men too because the people writing and editing the comic books have decided that their readers can only see women as strippers or damsels in distress. The whole “Madonna/whore” dichotomy that seemed foolish and simplistic to me years and years ago, and that’s as far as some comic book creators are willing to go.

      1. I think we have to be careful about generalizing the entire industry here. Most of what folks are (rightfully to a large extent) complaining about comes from the super-hero genre, or oftentimes fantasy and horror. But, there is a great deal of diversity in comics even today that avoids the largely head-in-the-sand approach that people like Dan Didio of DC Comics take. Books like Persepolis, Locke & Key, Scalped, The Walking Dead, etc. really put together some amazing, unconventional stories with characters that don’t usually fall within easy stereotypes, including the ladies.

        As for the “madonna/whore” dichotomy, I’d have to say Frank Miller (he of the aforementioned Dark Knight Returns) definitely contributed to the “whore” side of that comic industry’s take on women.

        Oh, and as Scott McCloud says in a comment on Comicsbeat.com:

        ‘Based on the emails and links I’m getting from promising newcomers, and dispatches from classrooms, MOST of the emerging generation of young cartoonists are women.

        ‘It might be hard to see for fans with superhero goggles on, but if you look at the big picture, we’re actually doing pretty good. Those Manga kids from the early aughts are finally growing up.

        ‘I’m optimistic that gender ratios will continue balancing out this decade. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to imagine a scenario where we eventually hit 50%.

        ‘And if that happens, there’s no guarantee we won’t just keep going.’

        There’s more to comics today than Marvel and DC.

      2. I don’t know if it can be an insult when it’s giving the audience what thy want/expect. This is what many (going off personal experience) most comic readers want. When I showed my roommate the new Starfire his only response was ‘So what? Dude she looks fucking awesome.’

        The way women are portrayed isn’t what the target audience finds insulting. Having it pointed out is. That line of the article linking the depiction of women in comics with ‘Oh yeah. I love it, baby’ women in porn was spot on. Both groups will almost readily admit the portrayal of women is way off but since it’s fantasy in both cases there’s nothing wrong and will accuse you of everything from neo-nazism to puritanism and ever point in between.

        If you’re disappointed with the ‘big names’ you could always branch out. Me I’ve almost completely switched over to mangas. Takes some patience and my favorites (sadly) never print reliably but there are some truly epic mangas out there that treat their characters like more than stand-ins for the reader’s penis and sex fantasies. The same is true of western comics, of course but aside from Living Dead I can’t remember reading any recently.

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