Sex in DC: What’s Love Got to Do with It?

This is me, jumping on the currently-most-popular bandwagon in internet geekdom.

The DC Reboot.

If you don’t follow the comics industry, DC is one of the two biggest publishing houses (the other being Marvel). DC brings us Batman, Superman, Catwoman, Teen Titans, and a slew of other heroes and villains. Due to the decline in readership and sales, DC decided to recreate, or “reboot”, 52 characters and storylines.

The first few titles released over the last two weeks have met with a backlash of public outrage. The reason? The female characters are now mere porn stars.

Everyone knows that sex sells, and that isn’t really the issue here. What the internet is screaming over is the treatment of sex and sexuality in these volumes. And it isn’t just the women in the audience spewing vitriol; a large part of the male readership is also disgusted.

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DC stated that it wanted to create, among other things, sexually liberated female characters. I heartily support sexual liberation; I believe that we labor under a great deal of bondage regarding our sexuality. The difference is in how I and DC define “liberation”.

Is it liberating to put a woman in an outfit that would not survive a shallow, indrawn breath? I can assure you that even for the alien female characters, those outfits would not survive a single step in the dressing room, let alone a battle. Why give her that outfit? It does her no good in any portion of the storyline, and she would not choose it for herself because she knows that needs a garment that will hold up under whatever activity she does. Ah; it isn’t for the story. It’s for the audience. When a woman is dressed by someone else to sexually provoke the audience, is she liberated?

Is it liberating to put a substantial amount of focus on a woman’s sexuality? If she constantly moans about not having or boyfriend or lover, to the point that half the pages include at least a mention of it, I doubt she is liberated. If a goodly portion of her screen-time revolves around enticing men or engaging in sex, it falls flat in the reading. We readers feel that the editor is a pimp requiring the characters to put for the audience, and we are about as satisfied as if we were Johns.

Is it liberating to require a woman to demand sex? Women do have natural sexual urges, but I would argue that a truly liberated woman can say “No” as easily as she can say “Yes.” A liberated woman can choose her partner(s) as carefully as she wishes. Writing a character who cannot refuse any opportunity to get laid is not liberating. Additionally, writing a character who is incapable of caring about her sexual encounters is not writing a liberated woman. Whores and slaves cannot care about who bangs them; free women do care about those with  whom they make love.

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Why do we read comics at all? What started the fandom? I would venture it was the characters and the stories. We all want a hero, someone to save us from torment and show us how to stand tall. We want inspiration and encouragement and hope that a brighter day can and will come. We needed larger-than-life, beyond-human figures to provide perspective on daily human life. Aliens come to our world show us how human we are and how we can maximize our humanity.

Superheroes are those individuals who decided to use what they had to do what they saw needed to be done. They showed us the best and worst of themselves, thus enabling us to see the best and worst in ourselves. They usually won, but not always. Evil had a face, a name, and it could be stopped by someone determined enough to figure out a way.

Even the shift to allow for villains to have their own stories maintained the driving force of character. We want an interesting protagonist, one we can in some way identify with. Sometimes, we want to know more about the ones we vilify so that we can better root for the hero. Sometimes we have compassion and understanding for these archetypes of people. We want to know what they’re up to and why they’re doing it, and we wonder how much longer they will survive against the good guy.

Through it all, what keeps readers coming back is the character and the story. We find our entertainment in all the complex simplicity of heroes who fight crime and struggle to keep the rent paid. And yes, we want our heroes to look good. They are, after all, the ideal we strive for.

How many of us grew up wanting to be Superman or Batgirl? How many of us wanted to be the hero fighting Bad Guys, Saving The Day, and Getting the Girl/Guy? We wanted to be as attractive as they are, and we wanted to be as good as they are. Reading their stories inspired us and told us what to look for in ourselves and in others.

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The shift we see in the DC reboot is troublesome because readers are so invested in the characters and stories. Yes, we want attractive characters who live The Good Life, and most of us don’t mind being able to sigh (or whatever) over just how attractive a character is, but that’s not our real purpose in reading comics.

We want stories.

We want realistic characters.

We want to be able to see ourselves in the panels.

Those of us who are liberated from sexual bondage know that sex is a beautiful thing that must be honored in order to be enjoyed. When love turns to gratification, there is no purpose. When sex does not further the character’s development or the plot, it becomes cheap and meaningless. And we are bored with that.

We do not want gratuitous shots of anatomy that give us no idea of who the character is.

We do not want ridiculous poses that serve no developmental purpose.

We do not want shallow, callow characters who don’t connect with the other characters or the audience.

If “sexiness” is integral to the story, then let it have an actual function! Sprinkle it in like choice seasoning; don’t dull us with too much spice and not enough meal. If there is more pepper than potato, we have a problem.

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I find it interesting that as many men as women are disgusted with the recent comic issues. Many of the comments I have read state outright hatred for the female characters, frustration with the lack of coherent story, confusion about how the sex scenes are portrayed (as in, that’s not even anatomically probable), anger at the removal of all that made the characters wonderful to begin with, exasperation at wooden characters, and despair at not feeling comfortable with introducing their children to the comics they once enjoyed so much.

Numerous comments also revolve around the supposed target audience for this reboot. Stereotypically, older boys and young men read superhero comics. What DC seems to have missed is that those original 14-35 year-olds are now husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They still love their childhood favorites, and they don’t want to see them destroyed for the sake of a new crop of sexually-jaded post-pubescents.

What continues to amaze me is how few of the traditional comic publishers grasp the size and variety of their female readership. There are a lot of female readers out there who are every bit as invested in superheroes as the males. And we don’t appreciate having our own sexuality trashed.

A sexually liberated woman understands her body well. She knows what is normal, what is pleasing, and where the proper boundaries are. She knows how far to push and when to say, “Here and no further.” She appreciates what makes her female and refuses all attempts to make her less, in any form or fashion. And the sexually liberated male is, not so coincidentally, of the same mindset. He respects himself as much as he respects her self. Together, they create a healthy balance.

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When a character’s main selling point becomes her ability to gratify “natural urges,” she can no longer be “real.” We can no longer identify with her and we can no longer care about what happens to her. She becomes an inflatable doll that we keep in the corner or under the bed and would really rather no one knew we had. Comics become that dirty habit that we hide, giving fuel to the argument that only masturbating boys living in Mom’s basement read that stuff.

Earlier I mentioned that most of us started reading comics because we learned more about ourselves through them. What do these new versions tell us about ourselves? Who can we be, according to this?

I see a tale of twisted expectations, wherein the most desirable individuals are the least real. I see a tale of hollow existence, where right and wrong don’t matter and sexual gratification trumps passion and love. I see a world become The Wasteland in which humanity is utterly lost.

Are there any heroes left?

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PSA via SaS

I hope that you’ve been reading my serial, Swords and Sigils. One of the recent comments on SaS made me smile and then sigh. I was working up a response to that comment, and it became rather longer than I thought was appropriate for a comment thread, and thus we have a blog post. The reader mentioned that he would like to be able to comfort the character who is currently hurting, who has been hurting for so long that she finally broke under the strain of her internal wounds.

My first reaction was, “Yay! I have created a believable character with whom my audience identifies and about whom they care!”

My second reaction was to think about the people In Real Life who don’t get that kind of care.

I’ve personally known two suicides in my life. Both were young men on the cusp of greatness. They were talented, popular, and bright stars in the world. And both of them had some wound that they felt they couldn’t share with anyone, that they thought could never be healed. They chose to end their lives because they couldn’t share those things with anyone.

Now, both of those young men had loving families and friends. Why would they throw all that away? No one was beating them, using them, or oppressing them. They had resources readily available to them for counseling, encouragement, relaxation, talking, all that. But somehow, everyone missed the fact that each of these brilliant young men was hurting.

I know about trying to be strong enough, to be tough enough to take care of myself. I know about presenting that perfect mask to the world so that no one ever sees the mess I really am. And if I had not had friends who cared enough to brave my defenses and I had not made the choice to trust them, bad things would have happened.

Do people in your life know that you can be trusted? Do your family members know that they can come to you and unload their deepest wounds without censure? Do your friends think that they can be real around you? Are you willing to let someone fall on you for a little while?

It’s true that only the person experiencing the wound can deal with it; we all have to face our hurts and seek healing. We can’t expect someone else to make our bodies or souls regenerate. But for a time, we all need someone to help us. For a season or a moment, we need to let go of our strength and rest in someone else’s.

It’s scary when someone we’ve always respected as strong shows a weakness. We poor creatures of habit tend to settle on our expectations that things should not change. A strong person suddenly becoming not-strong tweaks our simple notions rather painfully. Yet I would argue that allowing ourselves to be weak upon occasion makes us stronger in the long run.

As with any vulnerable creature, we humans need a safe place to rest while we express that weakness.

Will you be a safe place for someone else? I spent much of my life refusing to “enable” the weeping-willows I met in life, mostly because I was upset that they wouldn’t do the same for me. Why should I let them soak my shoulders with their shallow woes when they would run the moment I tried to talk about my legitimate concerns? You can probably determine who was being shallow in this scenario.

To get, you must give. You must sow in order to reap. If you want to have trusted friends, you must be a trusted friend. This does not mean that you become a garbage dump for everyone and anyone to trash. You have to be wise and particularly seek out relationships. Some of the people you become close to might surprise you. I’m a middle-class, “white bread” yuppie; what am I doing being best friends with ex-gang members, drug dealers, and cons? Yet these have become some of my dearest friends, along with a few who are much more like me.

Seek out relationships and be willing to give without getting. But also, don’t overlook the random, one-off moments when you can give comfort to someone in need. Maybe you’re in a public place, and you see someone crying in the corner. Don’t ignore them. Maybe they will tell you to go away, that they don’t want to talk to you, but let them know that someone noticed and that someone cared enough to stop and say something. Even if you don’t think it amounts to anything, that moment could be definitive for that person.

I recall a friend from college who started the same year I did but took off the second year. I hardly heard from him at all, though I sent emails at least once a month. I ended most of my messages with “Keep in touch,” primarily to urge my friend to be nice and reply to me, because wasn’t it rude of him to be ignoring me like that? When he came back to the university, he told me that he had been hospitalized for severe depression. And my emails, with that simple (if selfish) closing entreaty for contact, had helped him through some of his darkest moments.

Never underestimate the impact that you can have in someone’s life. Take an extra moment to look someone in the eye. Be brave enough to let someone weep in your arms. Be wise enough to keep your mouth shut while they work through it. Take a chance and love someone through your actions.

Maybe you won’t prevent a suicide. After all, the person has to choose to accept what you offer. But if no one offers comfort, what then? If no one, even out of poor motives, reaches out to them, what then?

We’re all human and all in at least occasional need of someone to turn to. Be the person that others can turn to, and you will find people to whom you can turn. I would urge you to seek out someone of your own gender to build the deepest relationships with; there are some things best shared between women or between men. I can’t really understand what it’s like for a man to struggle with X, Y, or Z, and he will always have difficulty understanding my concerns. That is not to say that cross-gender friendships can’t be life-savers; they can. You should have both in your life.

To wrap this up, if you can care about a fictitious character, you can care about a real person. You can make a difference in someone’s life. You could be the difference. So please, please, please don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you know is hurting.

I love having friends, pt 2

Part of the reason I’m not putting thoughtful posts up here …. I Tweet too much.

 

ladyaaron: Next on the agenda: Write. Nano-style. If the first draft sucks, it’s just gonna have to suck. That’s why revisions were invented.

sharontherose: @ladyaaron *applauds*

ladyaaron: @sharontherose Thank you, thank you. 🙂

sharontherose: @ladyaaron I am so proud of and happy for you! ^_^

ladyaaron: @sharontherose Thank you! I’m getting there. I just have to get off my butt and ignore Mario.

sharontherose: @ladyaaron Mario the man-ho. Always playing games with your heart.

ladyaaron: @sharontherose And my mind.

sharontherose: @ladyaaron Dude, he’s not even into you. Everyone knows his princess is in another castle. He just likes to get his game on and stomp around.

ladyaaron: @sharontherose *cries* you’re right! 😦 I feel so USED!

sharontherose: @ladyaaron *hugs* there, there, dear. We’ve all been played by his power games. But we’re stronger than that.

ladyaaron: @sharontherose I simply must move on from him!

sharontherose: @ladyaaron You can build your OWN darn castle. He’s not the boss of you!

ladyaaron: @sharontherose I SHOULD build my own castle. Without the pipes and stuff.

LLStories: @ladyaaron @sharontherose – But WITH lava in the basement, right?

ladyaaron: @LLStories @sharontherose Absolutely. I can’t resist a hot bath.

sharontherose: @ladyaaron @llstories Why, you’re right. It’s hammer time! *muzak*

LLStories: @sharontherose @ladyaaron – I don’t know that I’d start lobbing hammers all over your shiny new Mario-free castle.

ladyaaron: @LLStories @sharontherose That’s okay. The hammers amazingly enough only kill ghosts and bad guys. They never hurt the scenery.

sharontherose: @ladyaaron @llstories or ding the floors. I love hardwood, but it shows the wear so quickly! Specialized hammers are a must.

ladyaaron: @sharontherose @LLstories I know a company in Japan that manufactures such specialty hammers…

sharontherose: @ladyaaron @llstories do they come with a return function? If I’m in the middle of #amwriting, I’d hate to have to stop & pick up the hammer

ladyaaron: @sharontherose No, but the same company makes these killer boomerangs. Like the hammers, they do considerable damage to Mario.

sharontherose: @ladyaaron @llstories Sweet! Well, have a couple on hand, and thus be prepared for that blackhearted plumber. Otherwise, forget him!

ladyaaron: @sharontherose I am. He’s not going to get the best of me this time!

Talk To Me, Folks

This is an open invitation for reader feedback. I realize that this means the trolls will come out, but them’s the breaks.

As a writer, it’s important for me to know my craft and to seek technical excellence in what I do. Same as any other skill, really. I read journals and blog and Tweets and anything I can that might help me understand how to write better, with greater purpose and focused intent. A few of the things I’ve read recently have been on the same topic, one near and dear to my heart: strong female protagonists.

What really stood out to me about these mentions of female MCs was the assertion that they come in one of two flavors: frail or manly. And after a quick review of the kinds of things I’ve read (and written, I’ll be honest), that tends to hold true. Your female lead is either hopeless without her strong (usually male) supporters or is Rambo without the Y chromosome.

In graphic novels (particularly American), female leads are powerful and sexual. I’m sure most have heard the gripes that super-heroines are over-boobed for the job, and I certainly agree with that. Moreover, consider how those characters are posed. My chiropractor would love for me to maintain that kind of posture because he would be assured of steady business. I hurt just thinking about how those characters pose in every panel.

And I think that the reason those female characters get stuck with those attributes is that someone (artist, writer, producer) is trying to compensate for the She-Man effect. These female characters are strong physically and often forceful in personality. So they “obviously” are not feminine. Slap on improbable anatomy and use Gumby for the pose model, and presto, feminine! Right?

This got me to thinking about what makes a woman a strong person. The stereotype is that women are weaker in all ways compared to men, and just about every culture in history has reinforced that to some degree. Yet we all know at least one woman we would consider “strong”. So what goes into that personal definition?

Does a woman have to sacrifice her femininity to be strong? It certainly seems that way with my character, Sarta. Looking at her picture, you might not even realize that she’s a woman under all that muscle. Her reserve and aloof manner are also not in keeping with the “ideal” feminine character. So is Sarta a She-Man?

Are aggressive women unfeminine? Can a woman like guns and swords and fighting and dislike frills and romance novels and still be a woman? Who would believe a tale that tall?

And who would find such a woman attractive? In nearly all of the stories with “strong” women that I can think of, the knee-cap-busting woman has a love interest. Quite often, she is steamily involved with that man. I look around at Real Life and I see a huge difference in perception. “Realistic” female characters are doe-eyed ingenues with enough spunk to be interesting yet still needing the male characters to save the day. Fantasy females sling swords and promise hot sex.

Which led me to wonder how men see this matter. Do men find “strong” women attractive? As in the kind of attractive that leads to til-death-do-us-part, or just a novel sort of attraction that wears off after a while? So what do men think about the women warriors depicted in fiction and movies and games? I’ve seen plenty of examples of males bedding warrior females, but I seldom see it last in a plausible way. The writing forces the characters to stay together and proclaims that they are happy, but it kinda falls flat. Unlike her cleavage, which remains as upright at 85 as it did at 15. Is it plausible that a real man would want to be with a real woman who was like that?

While Sarta is not intended to be a romantic character, I do have a few other women in my mental lineup who will kick butt, take names, and have a happily despite it all ending. Am I setting myself up for just another trope? What would it take for a female character to be believable as both strong and womanly? Do I just damn the torpedoes and full steam ahead?

Talk to me, folks. What do you think about this?

I love having friends …

me: ding dong

R: B’s Body Bag Bureau, how may I help you?

me: I need a body bag in XXL, please

do you have pink?

R: I have three shades, which would you like? I have a lovely rose pink, pastel, and neon.

I also have styles for his and hers.

And for those of you who appreciate murder as a couple, there are connected bags for two.

me: Oooh, rose pink sounds just about perfect! I’ll have to think about the couples package, though … too soon to tell just yet

but this one will be for him; it’s to celebrate the death of his masulinity

R: I offer special discounts for buying in bulk.

Might that be of use to you?

me: It just might; I will need to check my budget. Can I get a price list?

I like being able to plan ahead

R: Certainly, m’dear. I offer 10% discounts on 100 to 1000 count sets of bags, 20% from 1001 -> 2000

and 50% off on 10,000 and up

me: Just the thought sends my ambitions soaring! I have to start small, though, so I’m probably going to go for the first tier right now

but I will definitely keep the others in mind for when I expand my business!

R: Excellent. First time buyers get a buy 10, get 1 free special. All color products permitted as well as styles.

Even the dead should look good, you know.

me: Wow; I am so glad I let my fingers do the walking to your door! ^_^ I don’t suppose you carry backhoes?

R: Yes, I have back hoes and full sized industry ploughs.

me: exxxxxxxcellent …..

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