Friday, February 6, 2015

Feminism and the A-Force: A Short Outburst

I get updates from a message thread for a freelancing gig I work. They chime to my phone, and when something interesting happens on the Internet, I get 40,000 messages every thirty seconds. So when Marvel announced the formation of A-Force, the first all-female Avengers team, my phone vibrated ceaselessly. But I couldn't read beyond the first four or so replies. 

Because the very first reply was a male, and all it said was, "Hot."

The second and third comments focused on how hilarious and exciting the resulting Rule 34 would be. 

And then I muted the conversation, and I haven't read back to catch up. I frequently forget that nerd culture is often (and historically, has notoriously been) unkind to women. I speak almost incessantly about feminism and feminist issues, because they matter to me - to us all, I like to think - but I rarely associate with people who bring home for me the reality of it. Most of the male nerds I know believe that and act like women are people, and most of the female nerds I know share my feminist sensibilities - but those 20 seconds of threaded responses to what is really quite an exciting announcement (despite its debut on The View, of all places) really knocked me down a few pegs. 

In a nerd community that was supposed to be populated by socially conscious nerds, writers, gamers, and artists, the immediate and omnidirectional response was to reduce the female characters of the A-Force - many of whom have their own long, exciting, and storied pasts - to sex objects. My point here is not about the comic art, or about the characters' costumes, which, yes, are frequently sexualized- it's about the content. 

Marvel has no shortage of remarkable, talented, complex female characters, though I am not well-versed enough in the canon to frame a very solid discussion about female representation in the comics. In my experience, from what small fragments of the Marvel Universe that I have read, and from a feminist perspective, women frequently have reason to be at worst, ambivalent, and at best, pleased with Marvel's portrayal of female characters (consider recent publications like Ms. Marvel)  and comics have been often at the forefront of social progress. 

The formation of the A-Force, while not terribly groundbreaking inside the Marvel Universe due to the long presence of characters like She-Hulk and Captain Marvel, is an important precedent in the wider, more movie-centric fan base. It's important because Marvel currently has no plans for a Black Widow movie. It's important because Agent Carter is suffering in the ratings, in spite of its immediate and sweeping online following. It's important because Meninists are a thing now, for some Godforsaken reason. It's important because little girls need more in a role model than a Disney princess can offer. It's important because grown women need that, too. 

And yet. And yet, the first response in a large group of educated, well-written nerds is "Hot," and "Can't wait for the Internet to make porn out of that." Are you shitting me? Seriously? Not, "That's so exciting!" or "How bold!" or "About time!" or even a speculative, "I wonder why?" Nothing. Am I too hard on people? Probably. Do I read too much into statements that lacked such a sexist, derogatory intent? It's possible, but I would argue that the language we use, even in jest, is important, because it reflects real life. Because, as I am reminded, a huge subset of people still believe that feminism is just angry victims railing against phantoms that haven't existed since women got the vote. Because a huge subset of humans don't, very fundamentally, believe that woman are anything more than sexual objects that exist exclusively for the entertainment of the male gaze. 

My last point in this shattered, depressed rant is for nerds who say such things. I'm not going to yell at you and shake my fist at the sky over your words. Instead, I want you to consider one thing. Just one. Every time you say something like that - every time you allude to women existing only for the sexual pleasure of men, or reduce triumphs for female equality like the A-Force into the brunt of crude Internet jokes - every time you do this, a woman in your life, a woman that you know, and trust, and respect, and love, silently decides she cannot trust you. 

So, kudos, Marvel, for the A-Force, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

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