Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

I'm back! And reading! And maybe even blogging! No promises!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Feelin' Venomous.

Comics Should Be Good has another Urban Legends post up.

This one's got a particularly interesting one that involves Venom, who was originally conceived as a woman.

Hey, cool! I think to myself, because the whole Venom character's backstory involving a woman would have been pretty nifty. But then, there's a quote from David Michelinie about the idea, emphasis is mine:

"The cabbie doesn't see the husband and accidentally hits and kills the guy. The woman sees her husband splattered in front of her just as she goes into labor. She loses the child and her mind at the same time, and is institutionalized. Though she eventually gets her mind back, she blames Spider-Man for the death of her husband and her child."

Oh brother. See, this reeks of sexism to me. Even beyond the response that the audience wouldn't buy a woman as a serious threat. Which is idiotic anyway.

But even the premise is horrifically sexist. This isn't the first idea to use the loss of husband and/or children to cause a crazy female villainess (Scarlet Witch anyone?). In fact, I'd say it's one of the most common motivations around.

But when men lose their wives and children? Well, just look at Michael Holt, he's a freakin' *hero*! (He's not the only one either, I'm sure we can all name a few more). So what, when women lose their families they become irrational and crazy? But men find new purpose in their hunt for justice?!

What the hell is that? What? Is it that women care more about families than men do? That family is more intrinsic to a woman's life that she can't define herself without one? That a man's innate protective urge is so strong that when he loses the outlet it goes elsewhere, but a woman's tie to her family is more visceral than protective and she lashes out?!

Hell, the only woman I can think of to lose a husband/child and not go completely fucking nuts was Donna Troy. And well...that's a whole damn other kettle of fish.

Hmm, maybe I'm making too big of a deal with this though. It is just a first idea after all, and he probably wanted a vaguely sympathetic villain.

But as he said, after it was turned down, he came up with Eddie Brock. Eddie Brock is, of course the same concept in reverse, a widower who saw his wife and child killed and blames Spiderman and is gunning for him!

Wait? You mean...he's not?

He's a reporter who's big score got ruined by Spiderman? Who lost his job, got disowned by his father, divorced from his wife?

Heh, we take a concept where Venom is attracted to a human whose taken a serious devastating blow in life and irrationally blames Spiderman. For a woman, the devastating blow is personal, familial, she loses her husband and child. For a man, the blow is *professional*. Everything else he loses is in terms of said professional loss (and father and ex-wife are still alive, damnit).

Why can't the man lose his family? Why can't the woman experience the professional blow?! There should be nothing inherently gendered about either of these scenarios. But someone decided there was. And it's bullshit.

(Besides, how awesome would it be to have a Golden Age Lois Lane style ballbreaker lose everything in that professional capacity and go after Spiderman with all that icy fury? Without any of the innate sympathy that comes from being widowed or losing a child? Just cold, materialistic, control-freak rage? It'd be *fantastic*.)

Oh well, never was a Spider-fan anyway.


  • At May 13, 2006 1:36 AM, Blogger Ragnell said…

    Kali, you're a genius. That last paragraph described exactly what I want in a Wonder Woman villainess -- a woman who blames Diana's preaching for causing her business to go under.

  • At May 13, 2006 1:42 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Hee, it'd be a blast, wouldn't it?

    We've got enough cold, heartless materialistic male villains. I want some bitches too, damnit.

    Besides, ballbreakers are scarier than bereaved widows anyway. :-)

  • At May 13, 2006 1:57 AM, Blogger Steven said…

    "how awesome would it be to have a Golden Age Lois Lane style ballbreaker lose everything in that professional capacity and go after Spiderman with all that icy fury?"

    Change Spiderman to Superman, and that is a dead-on description of Gail Simone's version of Live Wire. And yes, it does rock.

  • At May 13, 2006 2:01 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Ooo, I have a comic to hunt down.

  • At May 13, 2006 3:12 AM, Blogger James Meeley said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At May 13, 2006 3:19 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I see what you're saying, but you're missing one fact from this.

    When they turned the woman into Eddie Brock, they went with a completely different origin instead.

    If it weren't sexist, why *wouldn't* Eddie have the same origin. (If it's good enough for the Punisher, as you say...and the Punisher is at least vaguely a protagonist, which is my point. He's a nut job but a *heroic* one)

    I understand what they were going for with the female venom, but I maintain that a) it's cliched and overdone even in that decade, and b) if it were really meant non-sexist, it would have remained for Eddie Brock.

    However, it clearly wasn't deemed enough of a motivation for a male character for whatever reason.

    And *that* makes it sexist.

  • At May 13, 2006 3:24 AM, Blogger Ragnell said…

    "But when men lose their wives and children? Well, just look at Michael Holt, he's a freakin' *hero*! (He's not the only one either, I'm sure we can all name a few more). So what, when women lose their families they become irrational and crazy? But men find new purpose in their hunt for justice?!"

    "Um... there are male character who've lost thier family and minds and become vengance seeking nut-jobs. I mean, the PUNISHER anyone?"


  • At May 13, 2006 3:37 AM, Blogger James Meeley said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At May 13, 2006 3:58 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    The point is, the Punisher is a protagonist. That makes him, in some sense, the hero of his story. The audience cheers for him, wants him to win. His team ups with other heroes tend to result in temporary alliance against a different threat. The comparison stands.

    Most men with that back story are protagonists, the audience is meant to sympathize.
    The women are made into villains.

    The Punisher is not a villain.

    As for the rest, well, honestly, it's not up to you to define sexism to me. I see it as sexist because that origin was, as cliched as it was, considered appropriate for a female and rejected for a male. Even if Brock's origins are also cliched, that's not the point. The point is that it's a different cliche. One that was never considered for the woman.

    Why should I need direct confirmation? Whatever reason they give, the interpretation is still valid. "We wanted to make the villain less sympathetic" well, what makes the woman more suited toward sympathy than the man?

    "We thought the family motivation wasn't strong enough to provoke the character to this level of villain status", but it was more than enough for a woman. defines sexism as:

    1. Discrimination based on gender, especially discrimination against women.

    2. Attitudes, conditions or behaviors that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender.

    And for whatever the internal motivation behind this (considering it's coming from a creative team that ultimately decided a woman couldn't be perceived as a credible physical threat, it's *not* *remotely* a stretch), the results certainly comply with "sexism".

    Sexism doesn't have to be conscious or deliberate to be sexism. It's usually not. That's what makes it harder to combat.

    For example, a man who doesn't consider himself sexist and yet finds himself *determining* to a woman the innate sexism of a given concept...may not understand the term quite as well as he thinks he does.

  • At May 13, 2006 10:57 AM, Blogger Seth T. Hahne said…

    I dunno Kali, I think you might have a tendancy to see sexism even in benign places. Yes, sexism exists. Yes, there is a place for railing accusations against such. But I think calling sexism on this one loses you some credibility with people who want to be persuaded, who want to understand your greivances, but are still skeptical.

    One of those people would be me. Obviously.

    I've been following links on the When Fangirls Attack site for a while now and while there are a lot of fair questions and criticisms being raised, there is as much thoughtless rhetoric and ghost sightings. It can be frustrating for someone who wants to be sympathetic but doesn't want to give up thinking critically over matters. A lot of it comes off as more propaganda than as useful discussion on how to right a wrong.

    As to this particular post's issue and why we cannot say whether it is sexism or not (on the face of it), I have two (or more) things to say.

    1) While reading your post, The Punisher was the first thing that came to mind as well. The guy is completely unhinged. His mission has nothing to do with justice or rectifying wrongs or helping the world be a better place. He is solely out for vengeance. He is, every step of the way, insane - and made that way by the death of his family.

    And though his popularity bought him protagonist status, he didn't start out that way. He began as a lunatic who was antagonist to heroes. Really, the only difference between his character and Venom's is the object of their wrath. Punisher kills off people that no one wants around anyway. Venom wants to off one of the only people anyone wants around. Still, both characters got their own series and both characters were the protagonists in their own series.

    2) It may be that Marvel didn't want two male characters with almost exactly the same secret origin. Man loses wife and kids and goes crazy for vengeance - are we talking Venom or Punisher? They don't seem to have any fear of having male/female analogs, but maybe didn't want to seem like they were recycling ideas for characters of the same sex.

    3) In any case, if I were the over-sensitive type, I could call foul and point out that Eddie Brock's secret origin is far more sexist than the potential female Venom's was. I mean, seriously. A guy does poorly at his job of reporting the news, gets fired, and blames someone only tangetially related to the point that his only life's goal now is to kill said character? Oh yeah, 'cuz only male characters would be capable of being that stupid. Why weren't they going to have the same origin if Venom was a woman? I smells me some sexism. Really, I can't think of a single female character who turned blazingly psychotic for reasons as petty*.

    In all honesty, I don't think either origin was sexist but something far worse: weak storytelling.

    4) The only thing in there that seemed like it could be sexist was Salicrup's comment about why Venom should be a man. Believe me, I know from having been there and done that: a woman can potentially be the most frightening thing in one's life-experience. Still, a large black mass with teeth can seem pretty imposing as well (a large part of Venom's visual power was his towering size over Spider-Man), and you know that if Venom was a woman, she'd be lithe and hot and far more sleek than imposing. It's the Marvel Way (tm). Otherwise, she's be Orca and as lame a character as Venom turned out to be, I wouldn't wish that on him/her.

    *though to be honest, I'm sure there are some in Batman's gallery of foes.

    p.s. It's always difficult for me to know how to approach a conversation like this, because the fear is that, as a male, I can't contribute any thoughts in opposition to the stated view without myself being criticized for sexism. Being male, white, straight, and protestant, I find myself in the unenviable position of not being able to comment on issues of race, sex, or religion without being seen as prima-facie racist, sexist, or intolerant. But... I commented anyway :P

  • At May 13, 2006 3:05 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    the dane: That's a fair opinion, and thank you for commenting. Let's see if I can clarify my position here.

    1) You have a point here but I do think that the Punisher, as much of an antagonist as he began, has definitely become a hero sort of character. (Well...anti-hero) It's not a transformation one sees in a female character. Completely unhinged or not, there's enough of a shred of *something* that makes him a viable lead character for the fanboys to cheer on. Where's his female equivalent?

    (The Punisher is a vigilante too. His primary targets are criminals. The woman who loses her family and goes nuts targets *everyone*.)

    2) You have a point here too, except, well honestly, Marvel's used the whole recycled origin many times. How many mutants could you describe in similar circumstances if you wanted to quick some up their history like that, for example:

    Confused and isolated young mutant falls into the hands of an evil group to be manipulated and is eventually redeemed to join the X-Men (or sub-group). Am I talking about Rogue? Richtor? One of a bunch of other mutants?

    The execution is different there and it would be different here.

    I'm not going to say that the comic version of the origin isn't better than their original premise for the character, but I also think that the immediate narrative association between the backstories and the genders (why is the woman immediately associated with family? Why is the man associated with work/professional setback) definitely qualifies as sexist.

    3. Brock's origin was decidedly unoriginal regardless, but it's the association that bothered me. If the woman were proposed with the same origin I wouldn't have had a problem. And honestly while the family stuff isn't as common for a male villain, it is at least as common for a female villain as anything else.

    Went crazy over losing her husband and/or many Marvel villainesses does that describe?

    4) Salicrup's comment is idiotic, but it's obvious sexism. It's dumb enough to be never overlooked.

    But see this, this is indicative of the sort of pervasive treatment women have to deal with in this country and abroad.

    When we're not taken as seriously as men in office positions because we're "probably just going to leave to have children".

    When we're directed toward *empathetic* jobs like teaching and nursing and discouraged from "colder" fields like academia, medicine (!!), law, science...

    There's the pervasive idea in this country that professional women have to somehow balance their careers with motherhood. No responsibility is placed on the father to balance his career with the demands of children. As long as he goes home in the morning, comes home at night with money, he's satisfied his duties. Now what about the mother?

    Look at television sitcoms, notice the portrayal of female and male characters. How many men are workaholics? How many women, and as for those women, how many are portrayed in a positive light?

    How many sitcoms end with the female pregnant or having a baby?

    How many men past the age of twenty-five face questions from co-workers/friends/family about "So when are you going to have kids?"

    How many times in the media does a kid do something horrifying, and both his parents work, does a nutcase blame the kid's horrific behavior on the *father* not being around?

    Why is it a big deal that divorce rates are high? Why are divorce rates blamed for ruining this country? What difference does it make if two people who weren't happy together, split? And why is, when someone remarks that a father has full custody of the children, the first reaction of most people, "Wow, what's wrong with the mother?"

    A unmarried man is a bachelor. An unmarried woman is a spinster. A married man is "tied down", a married woman is...?

    A man who'd rather pursue their career than have children is normal. A woman who wants the same is frigid, an ice-bitch, a ball-breaker, cold and inhuman. The man is normal, but there's something wrong with the woman.

    This is the sort of sexism we see everyday. This is the sort of sexism *I* see every day from men (and even women!) who are nice people in general, and would never consider themselves sexist.

    Almost no one I know is dumb enough to share Salicrup's sentiment, most of whom have gotten their ass kicked by a woman every once in a while. But the other, well I've seen that a lot.

    And it might not seem like a big deal to you, but it's something that builds up for years, decades. It's *stifling* and it's so much harder to fight because it's so "reasonable". There are so many excuses, so much plausible deniability. Of course that's not what they meant.

    But intentions don't matter, results do. And in this case, you have a very clear reflection/reinforcement of the stereotype. Men are about their professional careers, women are about their families.

    Men can lose their families and retain a shred of humanity enough to be a viable protagonist. Even if they began as an antagonist A woman is not only a villain, but an *insane*, irrational, mindless villain to be pitied as much as anything else. And is almost *never* redeemed into a protagonist.

    To me, it's sexist. And far more dangerously so than any of Salicrup's idiot statments, because it's unconscious. It's justifiable. It's excusable. And it's "okay". And it's not going to stop.

    But whether conscious or unconscious, it's really not justifiable. It's not excusable. And more than anything else, it's NOT okay.

    And we're going to make it stop.

  • At May 13, 2006 3:21 PM, Blogger Steven said…

    Kali, allow me.

    Point 1). The Punisher has never, as far as I know, threatened to EAT PEOPLE'S BRAINS. He's not a "role model," but he is a sympathetic vengeance fantasy. He is NOT, however, a monster. Venom is.

    2). Lots and lots of male heroes have "I lost my family tragically" in their origin, from the surprisingly well adjusted (Spider-Man) to the frankly homicidal (Punisher). None of them have ever, I repeat, EATEN SOMEONE'S BRAINS.

    3). Um, yes. You're right. Sexism is not necessarily making active value judgments, or judgments against women. If the writer thought "A woman would never be this petty, better make him a man," that's still sexism. It's just not necessarily misogyny. It's still wrong, though. Woman can too be that petty, (see above). But that's besides the point, because they changed the gender first, then the origin.

    4) Large, powerful women that could physically threaten Spider-Man? She-Hulk, Titania, Lady Deathstryke, Valkyrie... and that's not even leaving the Marvel Universe. Besides, the Venom costume didn't conform to Brock's physique. If Venom were a woman, she could have looked exactly the same! And would have been that much MORE surprising when she revealed her true identity.

    As for your p.s., since you are, I assume, a member of a sex, and have had judgments made about you because of your sex, go right ahead a weigh in on a discussion like this.

  • At May 13, 2006 3:27 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    steven: It's now your fault that I find myself wanting to yell "Eat people's brains" at random intervals.

    I'm very very suggestible.

    And I agree. ESPECIALLY with the P.S.

    Guys are welcome here too. I argue/debate everyone equal opportunity. (Sometimes even if you agree! :-))

  • At May 13, 2006 7:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That a man's innate protective urge is so strong that when he loses the outlet it goes elsewhere, but a woman's tie to her family is more visceral than protective and she lashes out?!

    Ahh, because you see... that's all a woman's SUPPOSED TO HAVE. Or at least, that's the jist I'm catching here. Men can have both families and jobs (Job being Priority One) but women, well.. doesn't it feel like they're saying that family is sort of the default option, isn't it? Well, if she can't be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, well where CAN she be?! Madness!

    Then again, I could be wrong and it's not as bad as all that makes it out to seem.

    -- a woman who blames Diana's preaching for causing her business to go under.

    ... wasn't that in Rucka's run of Wonder Woman or am I remembering something else?

  • At May 13, 2006 7:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Kali: Whew, I thought I was the only one who thought, "Wow, that was hideously sexist" when I read Michelinie's original origin for Venom. I knew that it was a woman, but I assumed it was the same setup as Eddie Brock.

    What sticks in my craw about the original version is that it would have made Spider-Man feel far too guilty than he already did- Under editor Danny Fingeroth's auspices, Michelinie's Spider-Man became a dour guilt ridden tool. Every time Venom was hauled out for the yearly fight, Spidey would sigh about how the villain is all his fault... when if you think about it, Eddie Brock is a loser who refused to accept responsibility for his own actions. Yes, Spider-Man brought the costume from Battleworld. But it was Brock who made it evil, made it kill. When Daniel Way said he wasn't using Brock in the short lived Venom ongoing, he said something to the effect of, "What's his motivation? Unemployment. That's not very interesting."

    But to make Venom the result of a random accident because some guy was trying to get a look at Spidey? God, that's lame. And it's been done before. And Spider-Man would never have forgiven himself for the death of her unborn child. I just think it would have cast too much of a pall on the character that far too many of his writers and editors, in the past 20 years, have forgotten IS supposed to be fun once in a while.

  • At May 14, 2006 1:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    First, I really really gotta agree with Dan here. Just everything.

    Second, I also agree that the original origin is both sexist and cliche. They just had to add in the detail that she lost the baby, didn't they?

    Third, *fifty*? Wow, I got some archives to catch up on.

  • At May 14, 2006 2:02 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    carla: yeah, that's how it comes across to me too. Frustrating, isn't it?

    dan: Honestly, I think a woman under Eddie Brock's setup would be a lot of fun. But And yeah, guilt ridden tool is never a good look for Spiderman.

    ununnilium: Of *course* she had to lose the baby, it's the final straw to make her lose her mind!

    Because women haven't survived such a terrible loss before and remained sane...wait...

  • At May 14, 2006 12:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I disagree. I think losing one's family is logical motivation for hatred. It would have worked just fine for Eddie Brock too, but making professional humiliation and unemployment a motivation for villainy also seems a fair impetus to revenge. For either a man or a woman.

    I think Venom, either as a man or woman, and with either of these origins and motivations, has the potential to be an interesting villain.

    Also, as to the editorial decision regarding the character, I think it was the right one. Venom did not end up as a woman, the character ended up as a specific type of man. Not an ordinary, 5'9 skinny man like Peter Parker, but a big, hulking powerlifter that looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was, as you'll recall, at the height of his popularity when the character of Venom was introduced. Eddie Brock, as a civilian, was in tune with the times where Schwarzenegger was putting out blockbuster year after year, the Ultimate Warrior was selling merchandise by the truckload and the "macho man" image was a hot seller.

  • At May 14, 2006 2:14 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    anon: I'm not trying to say it's not a logical motivation.

    I'm not even trying to say they didn't make the right decision making him a man if that's the character design they prefered.

    What I don't like is how gendered the concept is presented, the woman loses her family (for good), the man loses his livelihood.

    The losing of the husband/child is, for a female villain, the epitome of cliche and really, in my opinion, quite sexist. Your mileage may vary of course.

  • At May 15, 2006 12:30 PM, Blogger Seth T. Hahne said…

    Fair enough. I'm torn here. I like what you've said, but I'm still skeptical. Let me mull it over some more.

    I do have a couple questions though:
    1) Is there any time that you wouldn't consider the motivation of a woman to madness via her family's sudden demise to be sexist?
    2) Could you name some of the female villains in the Marvel U who were motivated to madness in this fashion? I can't actually think of any - not that I'm fully awake and alert right now... I know the idea sounds cliche to me too, but I honestly can't remember any female villains of the sort you describe.

    And some brief comments. Of one issue you mention, I think the problem is not that women are asked how they expect to balance motherhood and career, but that men aren't asked how they expect to balance fatherhood and career. Women have raised and maintained the bar when it comes to childrearing and we shouldn't lower the bar to accomodate men. I think this is what's being done when we complain that we ask women to consider how to properly balance these two responsibilities. We're focusing on the right problem, but from the exact wrong perspective. If anything, I should be mad that our culture doesn't seem to trust men with the kind of responsibility that is the duty of all who procreate. That a father should be satisfied in simply doing something as menial and unimportant as work or career? Our culture has lied to us and we have believed en masse. It's pitiful, but I don't think its women who are the real losers here... at least not on this particular question.

    You also remarked about there not being enough women workaholics being portrayed in a positive light. I really can't speak to this much as I've largely abandoned sitcom television, but I am curious how any workaholic could be portrayed in a positive light. It's really just an incredibly sad existence - and most of the workaholics I know use their careers as a blind, to help them avoid the pain of living. Really workaholism is just like alcoholism, only affecting you mind and stomach lining instead of your liver.

    I get the kids question ALL THE TIME. It's really kind of annoying but I get it on all sides. Co-workers, friends, and family. Actually, less from family than anyone else, but still... Maybe we just run in different circles, but men around me who would rather seek career than family actually are looked down upon, or at least thought of as slightly queer (not in the gay way).

    Hm, maybe that's the problem. In the particular culture that is my immediate reference point, things are different than you describe. Or at least my perception of things reflects a difference. I should probably try to broaden my horizons beyond what I see and experience and start considering more seriously the world as others describe it. In any case, thanks for the thoughts.

  • At May 15, 2006 3:43 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    1) Honestly, if there were more men (portrayed as villains) with the same backstory. And if there were women portrayed as heroes.

    If I could think of *one* female version of Michael Holt.

    Hell, at this point, I'd take a female equivalent of the Punisher.

    I'm pretty easy really, I just want the set-up to be portrayed more equally across the genders.

    The idea that women are somehow more tied to their families than men is also (as you say) insulting to men. Men not being trusted with the responsibility. Hell, it's like men aren't trusted with the *emotion*. Which is ridiculous.

    The Punisher, I'll admit, at least has the craziness element, but he's not really as crazy as the women (he sticks to bad guys), and sure, guys like Michael Holt, well, it's in character for him to become a hero and channel that emotion outward. But there are women out there like that too. And men whose bond with their wives/children are so visceral that they'd go the other way.

    2) Okay, these are pretty much off the top of my head, going by what friends have told me about series as I'm not much of a Marvel reader.

    The obvious one is the Scarlet Witch. The loss of her children (real or no) is pretty much the impetus for the House of M stuff.

    The death of Lady Deathstrike's lover is a primary motivation for her going crazy and deciding Wolverine's Adamantium was from a process stolen from her father.

    Ma Gnucci seems to have a better grasp of reality, but it says something that she's more vengeful against the Punisher for the death of her sons, rather than being a multiple amputee. I admit, she's a bit more of a stretch.(The main villainess Athena in Batman Family has a similar sort of motivation for continuing pursuit against Batman, though he didn't kill them, he's blamed for their deaths).

    Gilded Lily was already a bit villainous, but her primary motivation became revenge for the death of her husband.

    Ghost Rider's Lilith is in pursuit of her children as a primary motivation for all the havoc she wreaks.

    And so on and so forth. I'm sure you'll disagree on some of these choices, and I admit that it's not really fair to loop all of these characters together when their levels of sanity, the level of importance the family connection in the backstory actually has to the character, and their personal reactions are so different.

    But in another sense the idea is so damn common, from ghost stories to greek tragedies, to Shakespeare, to literature, to movies, to comics that it's very hard to give the variations on this theme a fair shake, no matter how interesting or original the take is.

    Which isn't fair, but it's true. I wouldn't actually argue any of the aforementioned characters are innately sexist, but there is at least something of a recurring theme.
    That said, for me, the specific Venom incident strikes me as very sexist. From the way it's set up: the woman is helpless, powerless to stop any of the events. The only thing she's done to cause these events is to be pregnant.

    Maybe it'd be one thing if her family had been specifically targeted, but her husband's death was a cheap accident on the part of some guy who was so into the battle above that a human on the road is insignificant.

    Now when you've got a pregnant woman in action movies or comics, her role is to be one of two things, a victim or a vessel. Either she'll end up a point of suffering for the hero somehow (hostage sometimes) or the child she carries will be somehow very important.

    In this case, it's actually closer to the second. The child dies but is, with her husband, the impetus for the complete transformation of the woman. Pregnant women lose their purpose once they're either killed, rescued, or the baby is delivered. In this case, the losing of her child, symbolically does the same thing. Whatever her original personality is, whatever she was, doesn't matter because with the loss of her family (and her narrative purpose) she's now made into a new role/identity completely.

    Brock's transformation is about him. His power, his arrogance, his entitlement. They all mold the way he sees the world and this gets reflected in his Venom persona.

    This unnamed woman though, what personality do we see reflected in her backstory? What's specific to her point of view in that history?

    She loses a husband and child but...that doesn't tell us anything about her. We learn more about her husband (willing to take extreme risks for his wife) and the damn cabbie (more interested in the fantasy, in the fight above his head, than in reality) than we do about her.

    And by the time she loses it...well, what's the point of learning anything beyond "angry widow-mother".

    And that's sexist to me. The idea that the angry widowed woman who loses a child becoming a villainess is so damn common in our literature that THAT counts for a personality in and of itself, and there is no need to develop her further.

    As a man Eddie Brock needed (and got) more of a backstory than that. As a woman, this nameless person didn't. Maybe it's not meant that way, but I read that as sexist.

  • At May 15, 2006 5:49 PM, Blogger Seth T. Hahne said…

    Omigosh, i've figured it out. It doesn't have anything to do with sexism. It's really just a huge misunderstanding of the differentiation of species on the part of the authors of low fiction (in this case, comics). These authors to have taken hold of the belief that women, in the midst of their pregnancy, cease to be human and become, well, bears. We all know how the rule of the forest is that one must never implicate oneslef betwixt a mother bear and her cub - lest she go mad with rage. Or perhaps that was part of Venom Lass's untold backstory: "On a cool winter night when the pale moon shone as a full disc in its luminensce, Teresa was mauled by an enraged she-bear - only to awaken on the succeeding morn with no wounds at all, replaced with a curse of lycanthropy!"

    Anyway, I do see your point that, traditionally, women are portrayed as incrediblly attached to their matronly roles to the extent that violent interruption of that role may cause madness. I'm not sure if the portrayal of this attachment is so bad a thing as the lack of like portrayal in male characters (apparently, men are also bears - as male bears are generally known to show much less attachment to offspring than female bears).

    Hm, thinking about it though, at least with Marvel women, mothers lose their children to story points all the time and by-and-large soldier on without fracturing their psyche. Compared to the list of those who go mad and dipped their lives into villainy, the sane are far more impressive. The most notable character you have is the Scarlet Witch (whose madness doesn't actually have to do with losing her children but is pretty much shown to be a direct product of her reality-altering power - her madness comes from her inability to any longer discern reality), but all the others are pretty smalltime. On the other side of the coin, you have Jean Grey, Mary Jane, Sue Richards, Medusa (of the Inhumans), etc. They've all lost children and remained good, strong, and sane. Granted, losing the child wasn't part of their origin-story, but that just shows how weak these other characters are - that such a loss would define them as characters does not reflect poorly on women, but only shows that they are weak characters. You could make a case that it reflects poorly on the human frame that people can go mad and turn to villainy.

    Really, I can see how the use of the device can betray a sexist attitude on the part of the author. But I don't think it has to. Not even in the case of Venom. We just don't have enough information. We don't know that Edith Brock's story wouldn't have been re-written as Eddie's evidently was. Maybe it would have been. Maybe not. Maybe Michelinie does harbour conscious or subconscious sexist tendancies. The thing is, with the scant information avail us, we can't tell.

    We can tell that he uses trite cliches, but we can't tell if they're truly sexist or if we're just reading our own context into them.

  • At May 15, 2006 6:43 PM, Blogger Seth T. Hahne said…

    p.s. Kali, I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the fact that you're willing to field my questions like this. That you take the time is rocking cool.

    p.p.s. Do you have a lot of people calling you Kalimari? Whenever the wifish one asks what I'm reading when on your site, I always accidentally call you the delectable squid-food. So now she associates calimari with thoughtful female comic-blogging. So yeah.

  • At May 15, 2006 9:32 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    dane: I can see what you're saying, but I still think that the concept, as presented, is sexist. :-) I think we'll have to agree to disagree though. :-)

    as to the PS: Discussions tend to be fun! Even when there's disagreement.

    Especially when there's disagreement actually. :-)

    And yeah. That's actually where my screen name came about. "Calimari" was taken, so I changed letters around and anagrammed it until I got something that worked. :-)

    Apparently it's also a village near Calcutta, which is vaguely amusing to me.

    The nice thing about it is when I google myself (which I do. Because I'm an egotist), 80% of the time the results are actually me. :-)

  • At May 15, 2006 10:25 PM, Blogger Steven said…

    I was trying to think of a male villain who was inspired to villainy by the tragic loss of his wife and unborn child...

    The Joker.

    At least, according to the Killing Joke, and even that's questionable.

    But still...

  • At May 16, 2006 3:32 AM, Blogger James Meeley said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At May 16, 2006 3:43 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    steven: Heh, the Joker's never completely trustworthy. But it's as plausible as any he'd ever given.

    I really liked the Robin issue where he kept trying to blame his psychosis on a dead pet.

    There's really the root of our disagreement, I reckon. For me, intentions don't matter as much because they're easily clouded and easily misrepresented. I don't know these people so all I can go by for intent is hearsay really.

    Consequences and results are what matters to me, because they're what I can see and experience for myself.

    For me, the intentions might have been pure, but the result reeks of (admittedly, probably unintentional) sexism.

    We'll probably have to agree to disagree. :-)

    PS. (Aww, well, I wouldn't want to try to compete with Heidi anyway. :-))

  • At May 16, 2006 4:56 AM, Blogger Ragnell said…

    "And where did they say the woman couldn't be a credible threat?"

    Umm.. That was in the original CSBG article.

  • At May 16, 2006 9:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I have to agree with kalinara. It's not what you mean to do, it's what you do that matters in the final analysis.

  • At May 17, 2006 10:54 AM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    The "widow driven mad by grief" is a pretty old literary archetype / cliche. Love it or hate it - and I'm gonna hazard a guess your name isn't under the "Love it" column, Kali :-) - but it's been around a long time. [I thought there were at least a few Greek myths with that motif, but I'm blanking on names.]

    Now, "widow driven mad by grief who then gains superpowers?" That, I'll concede, may be a more recent motif. :-)

    Anyway, to my mind it's one of those things where individual examples of this motif are not the problem; it's the recurring pattern which is a problem. It's not sexist to say a woman is driven mad by grief in this manner; but to say this keeps happening to women - and only to women? Yeah, then that becomes a stereotype. Coupled with the stereotype about how men deal with the same loss - "FRANK SMASH!" - and you have at best lazy writing and at worst overt (if unconscious) sexism.

    Plus it gets into what we said about Beau Smith: a lot of it boils down to how well the writer takes a cliche - especially an "offensive" one - and develops it into a real character that the audience cares about. Here, we have only the original premise to judge: we have no idea how well the writer might've been able to develop it, to redeem the cliche.

  • At May 17, 2006 1:33 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    ferrous: yeah, pretty much you nailed my problem with it. I admit I could be being unfair and that maybe the cliche could have been turned on its head. I doubt it though. I think you can usually tell if that's going to happen by the way the premise is presented. This one didn't seem that way to me. YMMV.

  • At July 27, 2009 9:31 AM, Anonymous Blues said…

    This is way out of date but I'm checking your blog now for the first time.

    Anyway, what you fail to take into account is amazing. This is the backstory for a villain. A woman loses child/husband(should be glad he even got a mention) and blames someone that had little to do with it, is the backstory for a villain.

    The same backstory but she copes well with it, wouldn't be a story at all, for either a hero or villain. It'd just be blah. If you're curious, this is one of the backstories for the joker. Scarecrows is unrelated but its pretty stupid too(sans child).

    Anyway, both lois and Iris were fine when they lost their husband, and very few characters have kids(especially two decades ago).

  • At July 27, 2009 9:32 AM, Anonymous Blues said…

    This is way out of date but I'm checking your blog now for the first time.

    Anyway, what you fail to take into account is amazing. This is the backstory for a villain. A woman loses child/husband(should be glad he even got a mention) and blames someone that had little to do with it, is the backstory for a villain.

    The same backstory but she copes well with it, wouldn't be a story at all, for either a hero or villain. It'd just be blah. If you're curious, this is one of the backstories for the joker. Scarecrows is unrelated but its pretty stupid too(sans child).

    Anyway, both lois and Iris were fine when they lost their husband, and very few characters have kids(especially two decades ago).

  • At July 27, 2009 11:33 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    It might be wise to read the comments, as I believe some of your points came up already, but I'll respond fresh as well.

    The backstory seems to work well enough as a backstory for Mr. Terrific. Or the Punisher. (To be fair, he's debatably more of an anti-hero.)

    If it is sufficient for a male hero, there's no reason it can't be sufficient for a female hero.

    Real women have experienced the loss of family/child without becoming villains, but somehow that doesn't tend to happen for female comic book characters.

    As for the Joker, well, I'll take your word for it, as I've never been sure WHAT his background is and I believe that's the point. I would hesitate at using ONE potential backstory to prove an argument.

    It's true that Iris and Lois dealt with losing their husbands well, but I don't think that actually counters my point, which is that there is a general gender divide when it comes to this particular backstory, which primarily leads to female villains and male heroes.

    This isn't a backstory element for Lois or Iris, and so the storyline gets dealt with differently.

    (Out of fairness, I'll point out that the new Bulleteer had the loss of her husband as heroic motivation. So that's one at least.)

  • At June 25, 2011 9:04 PM, Anonymous sinus infection remedies said…

    Pretty great write-up. I simply Digging your site and desired to say that I’ve actually loved studying your blogpost. Any method I’ll be signing as much as your feed and I feel you’ll submit as soon as extra in the near future.


Post a Comment

<< Home