SF Tony Avatar

Life Skills for Fanboys:  Gender Wars

written by Tony DiGerolamo, Copyright 2017

To further my goal of helping fellow fanboys, I have included an index of links of previous columns with their topics.  Don’t take it personal, I’m just trying to help.  Previous columns are indexed at the end.

Are the Gender Wars Here?

So Sargon of Akkad had an interesting satire video called Gender Wars about the Last Jedi.  It pretty much confirmed that I’m never paying to see that movie.  I bailed on the Star Wars franchise after the first prequel.  (Midiclorians killed it for me.)  While I have a bit of first hand knowledge of creating stuff and forgetting your own thread, it appeared to me that Lucas was already losing his touch during Return of the Jedi.  But the interesting thing this time (it seems, because I won’t actually pay to see this movie) is that the Star Wars franchise, like everything in Hollywood, embraced diversity hard.  The end result was just as bad as a homophobic guy trying to overcompensate in front of his friends, except in reverse.  Critics everywhere are holding up the main character as a bastion of new female hero, when clearly, there are some major flaws in the logic of the film and in the franchise as a whole.

Let me just state for the record (because these days you have to do this or get called some kind of misogynist Nazi) that I have no problem with women and/or minorities in position of power or characters or whatever.  People are people, sometimes they’re great, nice, awful, bad and everything in between.

Ideology is Not a Story

Ideology can be in a story just like a theme or a message or an Easter Egg in a video game or whatever, but it can’t be a substitute for a story.  And if you’re dealing with a franchise like Star Wars, that story also can’t fly in the face of the previous story.  See, that’s what the Midiclorians did for me in the prequel.  They flew in the face of what was established in the first movie, which was the Force being a mystical energy, almost like God.  To reduce that to a tangible microbe that you can read with a gadget (and doing in the prequel, when the other movies never mentioned it) flew in the face of the story’s logic and gained the viewer nothing.  Thus, I tipped my hat and bid the Star Wars universe good bye.

The new trend is some kind of hyper-diversity in entertainment.  This happened before, only the trend was in Vertigo Comics, published by DC.  I became keenly aware of this phenomenon in the comic Transmetropolitan.  The main character, modeled after Hunter S. Thompson, runs amok in the future.  He was originally published under a sci-fi imprint and then moved to Vertigo.  The moment the move happened, there was a shift in tone.  Female characters were suddenly shoved to the front and it was sudden.  A character, who had previously been a stripper trapped in a terrible relationship with some kind of cyborg boyfriend, returned as future Hunter’s kickass bodyguard.  But most noticeable was her attitude.  Before she had been kind of fragile, now she was a rock.  Also hammered into the book was more time for future-Hunter’s female assistant, who was basically just like him.  And in addition to all that, the Vertigo books took a much darker tone.   Overall, masculinity was bad, so all male characters were inept, religion was a joke as were any characters that were religious and every aspect of Western Civilization was deconstructed because it was all presented as horrible and bad.

Some of it was good stuff.  There were good points and stories and things that needed to be said, but overall the dreariness of it eventually drove me out.  Nothing was ever good.  Nothing was ever going to be good.  I think the ultimate take on that was Y the Last Man.  (As if say, “Why the last man?  Let’s get rid of them all!”)  I’m sure it was very cathartic for some of the female editors, but Neil Gaiman sure as Hell didn’t need these kind of forced themes to tell great stories in the groundbreaking Sandman series.

It’s a Trend

So with Marvel Comics (and now Star Wars) the trend has returned with a vengeance.  And it is a trend.  Partially revived by the recent sexual harassment scandals and partially bubbling just below the surface of society, there’s a push to “correct” the behavior of the genders, specifically the men.  And while there are absolutely some predators in Hollywood (and have been forever) there are also a lot of flawed people getting their careers chewed up in the crossfire.  I don’t want to get into the specifics (because I’m sure that’s a perfect way of getting quoted out of context), but you have to wonder if it really makes sense for a guy to lose his career over a stupid remark.

Where’s the Line?

What I think hasn’t been discussed in all the hysteria of what’s inappropriate is what IS appropriate behavior.  I had a friend tell me about a date he was on years ago.  He had dated this woman a few times and he took her out dancing.  On the dance floor, he noticed other dancers grabbing their partners by the shoulders and spinning them around.  Thinking it was a cool move and thinking that it would also be cool to do something fun and spontaneous, he tried it.  His date hated the move.  It immediately cast a pall on the evening which ended sooner rather than later.

I tell this story because I have to ask, “Did my friend sexually harass his date that night?”  I mean, since the line is pretty blurry she could’ve certainly told people that was the case.  He did touch her in that moment without her permission.  I guess my friend could’ve asked.  He also could’ve asked every time he was going to do something.  I don’t think his date would’ve enjoyed that either.  In fact, I think under different circumstances, she might’ve been swept off her feet by the maneuver.  Perhaps if she had seen it first, thought it was cool and then it happened.  Who knows?  People are complex and nuanced.  It could’ve just as easily ended with her storming out in a huff never seeing him again.

Part of the Problem

I think part of the problem (and this is in no way meant to undercut people who have experienced horrific criminal sexual assault or harassment) is that men evolved to have very direct power and women very indirect.  So for women to maintain control in a relationship, on a date or in their interactions with men, the line, by necessity, needs to be blurred so that women at any time can point and say, “No!  You’ve crossed the line!”  Because if the line were definitive, I think most men I know would run right up to it, see if the woman was willing to give them sex and if not, they’d move on.  So, for instance, if it was suddenly decided that the only acceptable way to act while dating was that you had to go on three dates and only at the end of the third date could you ask for sex, most men would have a lot of three dates and I imagine most women would have a lot of two’s.  Because both genders would know the deal and both would take advantage to their maximum benefit.

I don’t think you can completely unblur the line because everyone is different, however, being back on the dating sites again—  Well, there are a lot of mixed signals going.  Women constantly pushing for relationships, while men pretend to be interested in relationships because who else are you going to date?  That’s every woman on the site except for two, who are probably bots.  And it’s not that even all women necessarily WANT a relationship all the time, but they don’t want to cheapen their brand.

Middle Ground

There needs to be some middle ground here.  On the one hand, we’ve got to acknowledge and investigate these guys that prey on women.  But we also have to acknowledge a dude making an off color remark (especially if he isn’t in a position of power) may be rude and obnoxious, but it shouldn’t be a career ender.  And while we’re acknowledging that there are men that use intimidation and aggression in bad ways to manipulate women, we also have to acknowledge that there are women that do it in different, indirect ways that are no less damaging.  And how we might address these highly complex and nuanced things in relationships would make a great story, but to force a bunch of characters from previously oppressed groups into positions of power without the context and the why, isn’t going to work.

You can’t just flip over the chess board and say, “Now we’re using the rules for Checkers.”  Change happens slowly.  Painfully slow.  Move too fast and you merely end up causing more pain that you’ll have to change down the road.  Or worse, you end up making the pendulum swing back even harder.  I think Social Justice Warriors are headed for a comeuppance that’s going to greatly damage their various causes.  They have some points, just like these movies have some points, but they can be better made on their own.  Simply.  Plainly.  I think it would’ve been much more effective, rather than change Star Wars, to launch a new franchise of movies where female characters are in charge.  And when I say female characters, I don’t mean women acting like men, but women acting like women.

Unfortunately, that requires bold, creative vision that Hollywood doesn’t seem to have these days.

I don’t really have many answers in this column, except to say, think more, react less and let’s just try to be honest with each other.

Merry Christmas, fanboys!

Previous Columns

Obesity at Cons
The Art of Conversation
The Line Between Fans and Pros
Geek Elitism
Convention Panels
Convention Volunteers
Food Gifts
Women and Cons
Get Your Room Party Together
Stop Bringing Your Kids to Cons
The Face of Geek Needs Work
Fixing the Face of Geek
Franchise Worship
Presenting Your Project
The New Image?
Stop Trying to Make Geek Cool
 Rethinking the Comic Book Con
Zombie Stories Should Still Be About People
Geek Stereotypes and the Big Bang Theory
Con Locations
Traveling to Cons on the Cheap
Con Economics
Comics, Sexism and Trolling
Searching for the Words
How to Fix Comics?  Stop Reading Them
Shopping at the Con
The Hollywood Double Edged Sword
Beware the Geek Scams
Success Kills
In Response to Chuck Dixon, Paul Rivoche and Janelle Asselin
Fanboy Reporters
Dealing with Critics and Haters in the Internet Age
Who Are the Creepers?
The Cosplayer Treaty of 2014: A Proposal
Female Thor
Comics’ Non-News
Geek Feminists and DC’s T-Shirts
Cosplay Blowback
Charlie Hebdo and the Other Stuff You Should Know
Customer Service
The Intolerant Internet
Superhero Movie Moral Compass
Why Hillary Lost
Creators and Politics

Political Nerd Rage