During our xxxholic roundtable last week, Suat intimated that manga critics were too nice. M. at coffeeandink, in a post titled: “Summary of some recent comments in a discussion of manga, refutes him thus:

GUY #1: Manga critics are much too nice and praise substandard work. Naturally, I feel no need to provide any evidence of this contention. Maybe it is because of all the girls.

GUY #2: Yeah, I don’t like any manga. Even when it’s good, it’s made for girls. No, wait, I do like one manga — it is by a man, and about stereotypical guy stuff. Since it is male, it is gender-neutral, unlike yaoi or shojo, which people only seem to like for political reasons. My reasons for liking things are completely apolitical and entirely justified by intellectual arguments. When women write in detail about relationships, it’s just not aimed at me. When men write in detail about relationships, it shows complex emotional realism.

Also, why don’t you ever talk about boys’ comics?

GUY #2: Once again, I must assert that people are lying about their opinions of manga for political reasons, without evidence or example, and my list of all male great comics artists is completely without political bias. Also, I am going to cite Osamu Tezuka as a great comics artist, even though his career and oeuvre actually contradict everything else I’ve been claiming about audience and identification.

GUY #2: Wait, I haven’t named enough great male comics artists yet.

I am going to continue to assume that girls’ comics = comics about romance is such an obvious statement that it will inform all my thinking and yet never need to be clearly stated.

GUY #1: Whether situations are realistic, how intellectual they are, and how deeply invested the reader becomes in the story are totally objective metrics that are completely independent of all individual tastes and socio-cultural influences.

GUY #3: The problem is an age bias, not just a gender bias. To prove this, for the rest of this comment, I will only talk about comics written by men.

I would submit that this is truly high class snark, and not even a little bit nice.

I had a back and forth discussion with m that I thought I’d reproduce here, at least in part.

Me: I did want to point out though, that, whatever their failings, Suat and Matthias, were both very open to dialogue, and unfailingly polite when contradicted (as, indeed, were people like Melinda and VM with whom they were arguing.)

m: …comments like Suat and Matthias’ are why I basically gave up on looking at comics or manga blogs not specifically recommended by friends. You characterize Suat and Matthias as “very open to dialogue, and unfailingly polite when contradicted,” and indeed they seemed respectful of the people to whom they were directly speaking. But their comments are not open, polite, or respectful; their comments are extremely sexist. By this I don’t mean that they hate women or spoke with any malice or ill intent; I mean that their comments treated men’s responses and men’s experiences as the default and characterized women’s responses and experiences as deviations from the normal, special exceptions, and less meaningful or authoritative than men’s experiences.

They are hardly the worst cases of this I’ve seen, particularly in the comics blogosphere, but I’m not sure you understand the weariness that comes from encountering this over and over and over again–even in cases, such as this one, where these voices are not in the majority. Ultimately, it was a lot less painful and exhausting for me to stick to a different set of blogs and communities, where the readers and writers did not by default consider women’s writing or women’s reading less significant or less interesting than men’s.

Me: I’ve engaged in a number of irritating interactions with mainstream and arts comics readers on behalf of shojo and manga, so I have some sense of how wearying it is to have the same argument over and over — though, obviously, not being a woman, I’m probably not as personally infuriated. In any case, I certainly understand the impulse not to want to engage with that sort of thing. You certainly have no responsibility to tell people they’re wrong on the internet. I wish I was less prone to do that myself, honestly.

Nonetheless, for me — and I’m coming from a slightly different place, as I said — I think it’s worthwhile to try to have people from different kinds of communities talk to each other. That’s going to entail some (though not necessarily equal, alas) frustration for everyone. But I think the results can also be worthwhile — and seemed to me to be so in this case, where the back and forth was fascinating, and brought up a number of really interesting points (I thought Shaenon and Kristy in particular were fascinating on why they felt manga was worthwhile and/or different from Western comics.)

Along those lines, I think its useful to make some distinctions at least. I think calling Matthias’ and Suat’s comments “extremely sexist” is a bit harsh. It’s not hard to find extreme sexism on the web or in life, alas, but does this really qualify? Neither Suat nor Matthias dismisses women’s writing out of hand; in fact, both have read a fair bit of shojo and acknowledge some of its virtues, despite their reservations. Neither categorically dismisses either women’s writing or romance — in fact, elsewhere in comments, Suat basically says his problem with xxxholic isn’t that it is romance, but that it didn’t move him to tears. Both Matthias and Suat express an eagerness to read more by women critics and to think about these issues in greater depth. Suat linked to Melinda Beasi at the end of his original post; Matthias pressed VM for links (and she linked you, among others.)

I just feel like both Matthias and Suat were very much trying to meet their interlocutors halfway — as indeed, were folks like Melinda and Shaenon and VM. I think that’s worth something, and worth respecting, even if, at the end of the day, my own views are much closer to yours than to theirs.

You can read the whole thing, along with some interesting comments from other folks, at M.’s page here.

Tags: , , ,