True story – I was in Wales with a Welsh friend who said to me, “You wanna learn some Welsh?” I said yes and she replied, “Baaaah.” I said, “That’s only funny if you say it – if I said it, it would have been condescending.”
Last month, my comments about “comics being condescending” were analyzed thoroughly by readers here – and it made me think over what I really meant when I said that. What I mean is this:
When I call dorky guys who obsess over comic art of women with unrealistic body proportions but treat actual women with fear and intolerance, “Loser Fanboys,” I am *absolutely* being condescending.
On the other hand, when I make a joke about lesbian dating and u-hauls, well then that’s tiresome, but acceptable. If *you* make that joke, you are not only being tiresome, you are also being condescending.
To me, condescension is not just talking down to someone, but talking about them in a dismissive, disempowering way. Stereotyping is condescending because it renders an entire group of individuals into a homogenous series of simplistic, often insulting, characteristics.
Erica’s Simple Guide to Condescension:
1) If you are not part of an ethnicity/gender/sexual orientation and you are depicting/referring to that group of people in a way that can be simplified into less than 10 words or one comic panel, you are being condescending.
2) If you are not part of an ethnicity/gender/sexual orientation and you are depicting/referring to that group of people in a sentence that begins with “They,” you are being condescending.
3) If your main character has two adjectives in front of his/her name, you are probably going to be condescending.
This last rule might seem weird, but let me present you with two not-at-all-random examples: Tantric Stripfighter Trina and Executive Assistant Iris. The former is a Tokyopop OEL manga, while the latter is an American comic from Aspen Comics. (And, yes, I’m going to do that thing that irritates the hell out of everyone – use two examples to make a point and act like they typify an entire industry. If that is likely to enrage you and you do not enjoy being enraged, you might want to stop here. You have been warned.)
In Trina, we are introduced to a *Tantric Stripfighter,* for pity’s sake, so you just know there’ll be no racial or gender stereotypes there. In a crucial moment (not really, it’s like the only moment I actually remember from the whole volume) Trina touches the one other woman in the series and “stimulates her pleasure centers,” so, the other woman follows her like a puppy for the rest of the volume. Presumably hoping to be “stimulated” once more. Trina is from a super advanced race that has mastered all sorts of mad fighting skills and energy work and all sorts of cool stuff, but is taken completely unaware when some brainless mooks land on their planet and slaughter everyone. And she wears pasties over her nipples which somehow makes the story suitable for teens.
In Executive Assistant Iris, a submissive Asian secretary is in reality a sex ninja assassin. To make it better, she’s the product of prison-like system in which unwanted Asian girls are trained to be assassin sex ninjas. The ringleader is – of course – a fat Chinese gang boss, with a liver-spotty face who smokes cigars.
Iris has a number of “sisters”; other repressed, silently angry, abused Asian women, who nonetheless fight for the organization that mentally, emotionally (and probably physically) raped them during their childhood. Because that’s what they were trained to do.
It’s not just the exhausting racial stereotypes that make both Trina and Iris condescending – although they certainly contribute. The gender politics are so sad, that I can barely find it in myself to comment on them. And it’s not that the teams that create both these masterpieces are comprised of male writer and male artist. Because that’s, like, a given. It’s that these were published at all.
It is everyone’s fault that condescending crap like this is still on the shelves.
It is the publishers’ fault. Publishers – when you put money into a project that condescends like these do, you are saying, “We approve of this. This speaks for us. ” It can be argued that publishers only publish what sells, which is exactly why I chose these two specific series. I can pretty much *guarantee* than neither of them sold all that well, if at all. And, instead of investing in something groundbreaking, or heck, something marginally less sad, the publisher said that they approved of this utter crap. I’m all for having comic company execs walk around with signs that say, “Why yes, we ARE condescending assholes.”
It’s the fans’ fault. I’m reading Trina and I swear I sprained my eyeballs rolling them so often, what with the constipated dialogue and hole-filled “plot.” With Iris, it was my jaw that took the hit, from yawning. The plot was the same as Dark Angel, with an extra helping of racial stereotyping for flavor. Really, fans – this is OKAY for you? You like being treated like eternal, slightly slow on the uptake 12-year olds? Never once do you look at a series and say – wow, this was insulting to my intelligence and to all Asian women? Never? Why not? What is, in fact, wrong with you? Demand better – buy better – and better will be published. When you buy crap like this and say that it’s fun and I’m “just overreacting” (which I am not, I’m just overthinking – there’s a difference) you are saying that racial and gender stereotypes are okay with you – you have no interest in seeing past them. You think that portraying all women with nearly identical, unrealistic body types and no will of their own, presented crotch and breasts first even if that requires a reshaping of their anatomy, is not only okay – it’s what you want to read. Here, have a “condescending asshole” sign.
It’s the artists’ and writers’ fault. When you draw Asian women with Western body proportions, who serve a fat Chinese triad boss as a sex ninja assassin or are a master of Tantra AND Shaolin martial arts (something I object to because the energy use for these are contrary and you’d probably only make yourself sick trying to do both at once,) you are condescending. Yes, I know you are only making entertainment, not a political statement. And yes, I am very aware that male body types in comics are just as disproportionate and extreme these days. Still, perpetuating stereotypes is not cool, or cute or clever. It’s trite and exhausting. Here’s your “condescending asshole” sign. Wear it proudly.
I am also very well aware that there are gazillions of comics that don’t fall into any of these potholes – superhero comics, manga, indie comics. I’m picking at a scab, but one that’s large enough that we should address it at least once. (“I got this scar reading comics for nearly 40 years.”)
Women do read comics – I dare say I’ve been reading and collecting them longer than most of you reading this column have been alive. Women are not opposed to sex ninja stories, or women with idealized body types in comics. What we want is to not be condescended to. It’s not that hard.
Publish something worth reading, draw/write something worth reading…read something worth reading. That’s all it takes.