Friday, April 20, 2007

Am I Bitter or Am I Property?

There are so many posts brewing in my head or sitting half written as I try to take enough breaks to get my point across without stretching into endless babble. This was one of them. It got kicked into overdrive by the news that the female character in Planet Hulk, who'd taken the time to accept the character, has been killed. And was in fact created to be killed in order to give Hulk something to angst about.

Yes, that's right, this is my: Women in Refrigerator Post.

I've been thinking about it for a very good while. But I couldn't find the words to explain my confusion about it all. Because I hadn't taken it for granted that 'the gf' gets it in the end. My conscious memory of a dead girlfriend is Jean Grey. And she just keeps coming back.

But pushing past that, among the various other swirling thoughts in my head; aside from the group thoughts involving mythology and how the destruction or fear of destruction of family/loved ones is a normal goad for the hero; my mind's been going to Xena and Gabrielle.

Gabrielle got captured, got in trouble, etc often enough. But she's a side-kick. She's support cast. She did her best to take care of herself in the beginning and learned to take care of herself more over time. But danger to Gabrielle always raised the stakes.

From there my mind went to Batman and Robin, specifically Jason Todd, and how his death became something that further goads the Dark Knight on his mission.

And then I had this thought - what would happen if we could get through to male writers about creating or promoting female characters just for the sake of the male character's angst. Would they actually get it once we got them to listen? Would they see the imbalance?

But then I realized we'd probably end up with something like this:

Mike Sherman's eyes went wide. He felt his stomach try to convulse, breath wooshing out his mouth. The knife in his torso burned like fire. Across the room he met his wife's gaze. And then he looked down to see her clenched fists.

Her clenched glowing fists.

Darkness came in spots, but that was long enough for him to see Julia wipe the floor with the thugs. Strength in her every movement, powerful, graceful - they didn't stand a chance. Should never have stood a chance.


He blinked open eyes he hadn't realized were closed and reached out to with a smile at her in approval.


Darkness. The dull weight of his body.

"I love you, Mike."

And then there was darkness and something spectral leading him on.

Maybe I'm bitter? Would it not be a turn around situation, wherein the male pov is still represented as superior, the woman seems weak for waiting until someone she cares about was injured and the male is more heroic for dying with 'class'.

It's a good thing I didn't try to think of how they might turn a rape back towards the male pov.

Still, there's the imbalance again, the unfairness, the trivialization of women (which I will discuss in yet another brewing post). Why aren't male characters represented as weak for failing to protect people who depend on them and love them? I like Spiderman's story as well as the next Spiderman fan, but that kind of scenario isn't what I'm thinking of. The Death of Uncle Ben is heavily weighted in 'actions have consequences'.

I'm talking about girlfriends dying. Not side-kicks, not people who know the risks in a real and gritty way, but girlfriends. Girlfriends that are somehow easily replaceable because they're not a family member or team member and who seem to come with the ready made excuse that either they weren't the main characters true love or worse that they were.

It's like those stories about a boy and his dog. One dog dies but it's more than possible that if the right smart, caring dog came along, the boy's heart will be healed and all will be well until the next time we want to pluck said boy's heartstrings.

Gwen Stacy replaced with Mary Jane. Lassie replaced with Benji. Alex replaced by Donna Troy.

I've read that heroes are so powerful that it's hard to believe they could ever actually be in jeopardy and so placing people they love, weaker people, in peril , ups the stakes. And also that people the hero cares for are more personal than the city, or the earth or the galaxy or even just one office building.

But there has to be something more. There had to be some element that's not being owned up to1. Because if the person in peril was the hero's male best friend; I think writers would be the subject of a whole lot of wank on various message boards.

Heck, I think if the person in peril was a fellow hero, a male hero, who was somehow weaker than the main character of focus or more susceptible to the villain's powers we'd still see fuss. And I think the fuss is all in male perception. The industry doesn't think their male readers would want the shock of thinking 'But I'm an accountant/barista/college student/ work in retail, does than mean I'm weak!'

And yet it seems quite frankly a logical choice to me, to up the stakes by having a team mate or hero work partner be in danger. It'd be someone well liked, someone trusted and still someone put in danger by their very association to the hero. Isn't that easier than the second option, which is to come up with intelligent ways villains could overtake the hero? If it really is too difficult for the writers to think up trials and tortures for the main character or to even believe the main character would take the destruction of a building or town or city or world under their protection personally, then why not throw some of the friend/men folk in danger?2

While I personally don't believe in a memorial in the Bat-cave for Stephanie Brown, I begin to see clearer why her supporters don't want her to be just another Woman in the Refrigerator. Cause she's not even a good WiR subject at that, since Bruce doesn't seem to think of her at all, not even as a goad. To set up the dynamics of comicverse so that a murdered woman is a goad to justice, and then ignore Stephanie Brown must seem the ultimate jockstrap slap in the face.


1 - Women as property. So that a violation of the chosen woman in a man's life is violation of ownership and not just the woman in danger. It's a territorial challenge.

2- Yes, I'm well aware that at least one person is likely to give me an example of a male character who had a male friend put in jeopardy. I ask it not be related to that friend's race, religion, or sexual identity, however, as those are different sort of 'make the hero feel helpless' topics. I'm discussing direct threat and action. Also Batman in Emperor Joker doesn't count since it's not a direct threat against Superman, given that he wasn't told/taunted about it. Actually, Batman/Superman don't get any exception at all. They raised children Dick together. They're practically married.

No comments: