plainly and simply parasitical on the obvious or univocal reading

Monday, February 13, 2006

Questioning is NOT Attacking; Relax

Fearsome mythological creatures from fantastic imaginary worlds are no strangers to comics, but generally they appear inside the covers of the books. However, there is a beast that cannot be contained by mere cardstock, who will creep into your mother's basement while you're engrossed in your favorite MMORPG at 3am, grab you, and shake you soul-deep if you're not constantly on the defensive against it. And yet it is entirely imaginary. I'm speaking, of course, of the "Ungrateful Feminist," that horrendous harpy who emerges from the mist to bite the heads off of unsuspecting but well-meaning men who are just trying to help, man.

There has been an alleged sighting of this beast recently, from what I understand, though when people have tried to point out the spot where they saw it, all I can see are a few women with legitimate concerns and a bunch of stalwart defenders running around waving their swords at nothing.

Now, to be less oblique and get down to specifics. I want to state up front that I have no doubts that Mr. Ellis is acting in good faith here. However, and this is an important point to make, I think that those who are bringing critique to the practice of soliciting free work by women in support of a relatively well-known man also do not doubt that he is acting in good faith. Since he is acting, however justly, within the context of a patriarchal societal structure and a very sexist industry, though, it bears commenting--not because of anything he did, but because of the way it already was before he got there. This is why, if you read the critical comments, it's clear that nobody is attacking Mr. Ellis himself, though he and his fans seem to think they are.

I'd like to say that again, for clarity's sake. No one has attacked Warren Ellis here.

Any one of the posts I linked to will get you an impressive list of all the things Mr. Ellis has done for women both in the industry and in his books. In fact, it is because he has a genuine interest in Making Things Better that I think folks assumed he'd be a bit more open to a discussion of some of the more uncomfortable implications, but alas... And why? Why, rather than seeing an opportunity to explore some very important themes about sexism that might actually cut closer to the heart of the problem of women finding paying work in the industry (absent an atmosphere of hostility), do Ellis and his fans immediately get all huffy and defensive? From what I could see, no one was diminishing his accomplishments to date or trying to say he's a lousy feminist or anything. It was a simple musing on the greater implications of a solid offer, not an attempt to bust anybody's chops. And yet people are going on like it's emblematic of Everything That's Wrong With Feminism. So who's blowing what out of proportion? Who's biting whose head off here?

Can't things that are basically good and decent be used as a springboard for broader critical analysis of the surrounding culture without people presuming that the good thing has been attacked? And is it privilege that even allows the very act of questioning or critical commenting to be perceived as an attack in the first place? Maybe it is, though since most of the defensive remarks have also come from women I'm a little hesitant to go there. But what we're talking about when we talk about comics is a creative field, one in which what often separates the successes from the failures is ability to perceive criticism as an opportunity to improve, rather than as a personal attack. It's disingenuous to suggest that critics are just looking for something, anything, to complain about, rather than trying to improve things and push the discussion forward. Rather than attacking, the critics are complimenting, in saying "I believe you really care and want to do good things, so what do you think about this..."

Ahh, I'm running out of steam here, so I can't really even get into the overestimation of the value of exposure, so I would just invite both of my readers to view Mr. Ellis' column whenever it appears, and please, do take the time to check out the banners and click through to the websites of the designers. And hey, if you're in a position to do so, why not offer them paid work? After all, it isn't exposure to the elements that they're after...


LoLo said...

This is the most rational opinion on this latest spatting that I've read. Thanks.

Dan Jacobson said...

Well, thanks for that. I was tempted to just blow it off as a big deal over nothing, but then I thought that this was a conversation worth having. Not necessarily this specific case, but the larger concept that it's okay to be appreciative of the gesture while still being critical of the underlying structures and implications. Everybody wins.

LoLo said...

I agree, that this specific case is really just a jumping off point for the larger issue of it just being okay to question. Especially if, you know, the questioner is someone young who really, honestly, hasn't had enough life experience yet to read all the cues. I have to chuckle because on one hand, the young get snapped at for making assumptions or not being sensitive and then on the other .... well, you know.

If you honestly can't stand to have your actions questioned then I'm thinking that it's probably only fun to hang out with you as long as I agree totally with every single thing you say and do. *yaaaaaaaaaawn*

tekanji said...


Honestly, I don't know jack about Ellis, his intentions, or his work. I really don't care. When I saw that post in the feminist LJ, I saw it as someone raising a question and showing both sides. Then I read the response and was like, "Um... what?" Here comes the strawfeminist again.

I had thought of responding to it myself, but (like I said) I really don't know much about the actual issue. So, thank you for this. And, while I'm at it, thank you for your post on "Refrigerator Culture and Privilege".