Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Monday, October 22, 2007

If It Please the Court...

Apropos of pretty much nothing, Ragnell's post here reminds me of a different counter-argument that I see a lot when it comes to feminist complaints, particularly in the form of T&A and unrealistic body image and stupid get the idea. I'm sure you can guess what it is.

It happens to men, too.

Okay, you know what, this post is not going to argue that statement. You see, I've learned something from law school. There's something called a summary judgment.

Here is a quick overview. Another definition is available here.

Here, let me explain my understanding of it in layman's terms. (Do keep in mind that I AM new at all this.) Okay, basically a motion for summary judgment is filed before a trial starts, in which one side essentially says "Okay, these are my facts and these are the other side's facts. Even if everything the other side claims is true, a reasonable jury could not find in their favor according to the law." The judge then looks at the facts and then may decide that this is the case and offer a ruling without the question of the evidence and facts ever going to the jury.

Pretty clear?


So that's what I want to do with this argument. Sure we're not in a courtroom, and this isn't a matter of law, but that won't stop us from applying the basic concept, right? Let's assume the aforementioned counter-argument is true.

Let's set aside any argument about cultural and societal assumptions and pressures and anything regarding context and the emotional response of the readers of each gender. Let's assume for the moment that "it happens to men, too" is absolutely and unequivocably true.

How is that a defense against a feminist assertion for change?

It happens to men, too. So we're assuming that most male readers understand exactly how it feels to look at a caricaturized version of yourself that is unachievable, impossible, promotes unrealistic standards of beauty, reduces them to a sex object or a non-entity unimportant for their own agency. That male readers understand that feeling of frustration and emptiness and resignation at the sheer unlikeliness of finding a character that they can identify with and can be their own power fantasy without seeing them abused or degraded or marginalized in some form.

It could be true. I'm not a man and I'm not a telepath. I don't know.

But what I do know is that if this statement is indeed true, that is more reason to change things. Because there is no reason for a significant portion to feel this way. There simply isn't. We all should be able to enjoy good stories and power fantasies without having to constantly wonder "did this happen because of my gender?" We all should be able to see characters that represent idealized versions of ourselves without feeling like they're empty caricatures meant for someone else's eyes, and we all should be able to unequivocably enjoy our hobby.

If this situation is the same for men, men can speak up and change it with us! There is nothing that says a triumph for us couldn't also be a triumph for you if you make your voices heard. If Superman's gigantic pecs makes you feel the same empty frustration and gives you that dull sinking pit in your stomach that makes you feel slightly nauseous even as you try to squint around it and enjoy the story anyway, then that's just another reason for change! We don't need to be unhappy!

Of course, that's assuming that the men arguing this actually DO believe what they're saying and actually are made as unhappy by the portrayals and depictions of men as many feminists are about women. If this turns out not to be the case, if in fact the evidence does not support this defense...

Well, that'll be something for the jury to decide, won't it?


  • At October 22, 2007 9:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Actuakky it is true, especially in marvel, but DC's guilty of it too. I have to go Kalinara but you already know some of my arguments on this and I don't BS

  • At October 22, 2007 12:25 PM, Blogger SallyP said…

    Is this the reason so many of the boys were hysterical about the depiction of Citizen Steel's wang? It made them feel "disempowered?"

    I'm just going to go over in the corner,and snicker quietly to myself.

  • At October 22, 2007 12:47 PM, Blogger Thomwade said…

    I think the idealized body part happens for both men and women in comics. Most super folks are idealized. But the costumes and T&A for women characters just do not happen as much for men.

    I do not have a problem with the idealized body thing...but the costumes for women tend emphasize certain aspects of idealized bodies and even down do how certain artists draw said idealized bodies (in specific poses and so on). I think this is the true problem, and that if the women were costumed more like the men, and not given pin-up poses at every turn, much of comic criticism would be non-existent.

  • At October 22, 2007 2:12 PM, Blogger Eudaimo said…

    Sorry, this will be long.

    Proceeding with your legal analogy, I do not think that your argument wins on summary adjudication. (Technically not summary judgment, since there are other defenses that you are not moving on at this time).

    There is a "feminist claim." A defense is: "Men in comics are presented with equal T&A, unrealistic bodies and silly costumes." (For simplicity, "The Male Defense")

    Your response appears to be that The Male Defense is not a defense, but a separate claim that they are welcome to "file."

    There are a number of problems with that argument. The biggest is that "The feminist claim" is undefined here. Your reasoning is persuasive only insofar as The Feminist Claim is that unrealistic bodies are a per se wrong. I have occassionally heard that argument before, but rarely.

    A more accurate and meaningful construction of the Feminist Claim would be that women are disparately displayed in comic books. I see that argument a lot. It also aligns with every discrimination statute I am aware of. When complaining of sexism and misogyny, it is not enough to complain of negative treatment. One must show Disparate Negative Treatment.

    With the correct construction of the Feminist Complaint, the Male Defense is legally effective, if only factually questionable.

    You also make a side-argument that: if the Male Defense is true, men must also feel like "sex objects" or "Unimportant for their own agency."

    That argument is arguably more significant to the summary judgment motion as an implicit attack on the facts supporting the Male Defense: "If men do not feel marginalized, their treatment probably is disparate, so the Male Defense is wrong." (It is acceptable to win on SJ by showing that the other sides facts cannot be true.)

    That argument has its weaknesses as well, and it ultimately fails, but for the sake of brevity, I will omit a discussion of an argument that was never truly made.

  • At October 22, 2007 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    There was hysteria over Citizen Steel? I read a lot of jokes, but I didn't see hysteria.

  • At October 22, 2007 4:23 PM, Blogger kalinara said…


    You just made a very long reply based on a claim I did not actually make, anyway. If you'll note my original document (paragraph 4),

    So that's what I want to do with this argument. Sure we're not in a courtroom, and this isn't a matter of law, but that won't stop us from applying the basic concept, right? Let's assume the aforementioned counter-argument is true.

    Now, grammatical questionability of my emphasized sentence aside, notice where I said "applying the basic concept". And that this "isn't a matter of law". Your entire argument about whether or not this is a summary judgment (or adjudication) is a pointless waste of your time.

    I did not ever put forth that this was an actual attempt at a summary judgment analysis. This is not a motion for summary judgment/adjudication, nor is it a case brief or memorandum.

    This is a persuasive argument that claims to use a technique derived from summary judgment in order to address a particular counter-argument. This technique can be summed up as "Even if your argument is correct, you're wrong."

    As for "the feminist claim", you're wrong there as well though, because there isn't one single feminist claim involved in feminist issues. If this were a real complaint, the focus would be on whether the portrayals in the comic book have produced a quantifiable harm that can be remedied. Feminism never has to be addressed as an issue in that case, if anything it would be a general negligent infliction of emotional distress tort claim, with a specific remedy in "draw less harmful depictions of women". Sure, it probably wouldn't WORK, but we're dealing with hypotheticals here anyway. (And it's got about as much chance as your general and ill-defined "Feminist Claim".)

    In the case of claiming that the images are harmful, the Male Defense as you call it would NOT be an adequate defense, as it does nothing to mitigate potential liability.

    It would, in a sense, be as though I sued you for being the cause of my car accident and you defended with the claim that you were injured too. Being injured in the same accident might function as a counter-claim (if you could assert my comparative/contributory negligence) but it would not be an adequate defense if you were not making such a counter-claim.

    As for whether men truly feel like sex objects and thus do suffer comparable harm, that's not an issue here either. This summary judgment derived form of argument (again, I specifically note an application of the technique, not that this is an attempt at an actual legal claim) assumes that yes, men feel the same way. And ultimately argues that that is no reason NOT to change things.

  • At October 22, 2007 5:10 PM, Blogger Ami Angelwings said…

    I totally agree with you :D

    I dunno why "it happens to men too" matters AT ALL. :\

  • At October 22, 2007 6:22 PM, Blogger Eudaimo said…

    Hi Kalinara,
    Thank you for taking the time to respond. I find the conversation topic to be very interesting, so I hope it continues.

    I may have been unclear and overly wordy in my prior comment. Hopefully, I can clarify:

    I did not intend to suggest that your argument must rigorously follow civil procedure. Nor do I think that my argument is inextricably linked to the law. I only continued with your summary judgment concept because I found it to be a very elegant way to examine these issue.

    With that said, I do maintain that your argument does not hold water:

    We can agree that there are several feminist complaints with comics.

    We can also agree that there are several counter-arguments to those complaints.

    It is unlikely that any one counter-argument would refute every single feminist complaint or even that it would attempt to. A counter argument does not need to "win" the argument. It only needs to refute a single point.

    In the feminist comic discussion, a counter-argument has been raised that "men are also unrealistically portrayed in comics." I will be daring and suggest that a major point of your post is that you believe that counter argument is ineffective.

    But for a counter argument to be thrown out, you can't just show me that it doesn't defeat every argument. You have to show that it doesn't defeat any argument.

    So my point is this: It is definitely a feminist complaint that women in comics are sexualized in a way that is disparate from men. If it could be shown that men in comics are treated the same as women, that complaint falls apart.

    So, you may be correct that unrealistic body images are harmful to everyone. It just isn't relevant to the above complaint/counter.

  • At October 22, 2007 6:37 PM, Blogger Eudaimo said…

    I should say, along with the above comment seeking to clarify my first comment, I wrote a response to some substantive issues in your comment.

    I thought better of posting them at fearing length and unnecessary confusion. Please let me know if you would like me to expand the conversation by posting those thoughts, as well.


  • At October 22, 2007 6:49 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Eudaimo: You would be correct if we were actually refering to the court of law. But we're referring to a general debate/discussion. There's no legal issue here.

    The fact is however, that this argument is not intended to prove that the male defense would not defeat any argument. (And that's not precisely true anyway. A defense against battery would not be used in a negligence case, for example.)

    In this case, the argument "it happens to men, too" is specifically used against only one kind of complaint, which is "these depictions of women are upsetting and harmful and should be changed." Discrimination/Sexism might end up being the reason it's considered harmful, but it really isn't. When you see women arguing about this sort of thing, it's not about clinical definitions of sexism or discrimination, it's about "reading this made me feel bad." That's not something that "it happens to men too" can argue with in real life. Regardless of the intricacies of the court of law.

    What it comes down to is that the only real claim made is "it is harmful and it should be changed." "It happens to men too" is not an adequate counter-argument to the need for change, so the technique can be used here. Even if it would nod in the court of law. (Which of course it wouldn't, as no one in their right mind would push an NIED claim without a discrimination claim as well. :-))

  • At October 22, 2007 6:54 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I have a very open comment policy here. :-) But if you're not certain whether it's too divergent, long, or confusing for this post's comments, feel free to email it to me at and we can continue talking about it there. :-)

  • At October 22, 2007 7:28 PM, Blogger Eudaimo said…

    To summarize: I think the source of our disagreement is a factual one: I think men are using the counter to argue against the idea that "women are being short changed." I think you believe the argument is being used to counter the idea that "the images are per se bad." I am glad that we've found the root of the contention, and don't feel particularly motivated to resolve the factual question now that we are on the same logical page. I will simply agree that "To the extent that the latter occurs, I think we can agree that the counter is flawed."

    A few more substantive ramblings from me:

    You would be correct if we were actually refering to the court of law. But we're referring to a general debate/discussion. There's no legal issue here.

    Kalinara, you construe my argument as somehow being limited to legal logic. I don't see why.

    The fact is however, that this argument is not intended to prove that the male defense would not defeat any argument. (And that's not precisely true anyway. A defense against battery would not be used in a negligence case, for example.)

    Fair enough: I took it as assumed that we meant "any argument on the table," and I think disparate treatment of women in comics is definitely "on the table."

    In this case, the argument "it happens to men, too" is specifically used against only one kind of complaint, which is "these depictions of women are upsetting and harmful and should be changed."

    See above, but I definitely disagree that it is only being used against one kind of complaint. When one uses the word sexist or misogynist, one is inherently claiming disparity (and not just general badness). I'm not suggesting that you used either of those terms (today), but it cannot be denied that they come up daily in feminist comic critique.

    By the way, I'll reiterate that this has nothing to do with the law. At all. I'm not talking about any real legal procedures, statutes to be violated or torts. I'm just talking about the mechanics of social debate/argument/logic.

  • At October 22, 2007 7:34 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Eudaimo, when you spend two posts arguing about the merits of actual summary judgment and the application to a possible case, I'm not sure how you can NOT be talking about legal issues. :-)

    Summary judgment's a court procedure. We're essentially arguing about the application of said procedure. But that procedure is a COURT mechanism, and we really haven't drifted from that topic. That's not really something that comes up in social debate, y'know? :-)

    But since you're probably right about our disagreement being factual now, we probably should just agree to disagree. :-)

  • At October 22, 2007 7:40 PM, Blogger Eudaimo said…

    We should probably add "whether any post of mine besides my first related to Summary Judgment procedure" to the list of things to disagree about.

    Anyway, thank you for being such a courteous host. Fun, though it is, I somehow doubt I will be paid for this time ;)

  • At October 22, 2007 7:41 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Sorry. Shoulda made sure there was a contract. ;-)

  • At October 22, 2007 10:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Court or not, the facts are plain as day.

    Sexism and misogyny are rampant in the comic books and the comic book business.

    I don't always agree with every case that gets brought up, but a preponderance of the evidence shows it to be a fact.

    I rule for the Plaintiffs.

    Alan Coil

  • At October 23, 2007 12:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I believe the valid point of this discussion is that if the counter arguement is valid; which it is for me personally; men should be advocateing just as much as women. IMOO they should anyway.

    I believe they don't because men are taught to internalize.

    This really, again IMOO is a matter not of law but of advocacy, To that end I suggest a email and formal petition stateing at least the following:

    Though sexualization & objectifacation of the sexes is part of the culture and indeed enjoyed, it should observe the following within the industry.

    A. Such should never be done disparageingly or in a deliberate failing of standards, bethey in writing or art, come about unintentionally
    A.1. That this Standard be applyed across all genders and orientations with equality.
    A.2. That in acord with Americans with Disabilities Act media requirements, this apply also to said disabled and specificly aviod de-sexualization.

    B. That ALL types of relationships, especially those of any Sexual nature but not limmited to that criteria alone: be aproached respectfully.

    C. That such topics as Rape, Incest, Molestation, Abuse, Trauma physical or otherwise, and any other topic deemd serious or sensative in nature be treated as such and under no circumstance be used as a story gimic.
    C.1. That again ,as in A this should apply universaly.
    C.2. That such a story and its ramifcations be acknowledged openly, maturely and long term.
    C.3. The disregard of this should bring serious and actual Editorial and costumer response in a timely manner.

    D. That this should be added to the Comic Code, not as a restraint or limit, but a quality standard to aspire

    E. That with the adoption of these article by the industry, we, the fans and costomers not be remiss in continued advocacy.

    If you are of like mind email me and I will fomally Draft this. But only if I don't stand alone. which would be extremely disapointing.
    My thanks.

  • At October 23, 2007 5:10 PM, Blogger darknessatnoon said…

    I think the misunderstanding lies in the way the complaint has been phrased in an exclusively (second wave) feminist idiom.

    The "it happens to men too" argument is deployed out of an intuition that the "it's sexist because women are portrayed as sex toys argument" is insufficient to address the real problem. One way of phrasing your concern might be to say "I have a problem with the way women are represented in this culture of high narcissism." Or, "in late Liberalism, female bodies are represented as..." ... "and this shames me."

  • At October 23, 2007 5:56 PM, Blogger Scott said…

    See, I've usually seen the "it happens to men, too" argument used to defend, not against issues of body image portrayal, but more frequently with regard to the "women in refrigerators" syndrome, or violence against female characters in general.

    In that context, it seems like it might actually have some standing (assuming the argument were true), on the face of it, since the logical outcome of saying that violence towards fictional characters is a harmful thing regardless of whether it's applied disparately across sexes is to say that authors can't put *any* of their characters through the ringer physically for dramatic effect.

    Now, it could certainly be argued that it's high time for a moratorium on certain types of violence (rape, torture, etc.) against *any* characters for a while, but ridding the superhero genre of fights and people getting beaten up just isn't going to happen. I think the claim to be made here *is* based on disparate treatment rather than universal harm.

    For example, my beef with the Hood pistol whipping Tigra had less to do with the simple fact of Tigra getting beaten up and more to do with 1) the fact that it was highly sexualized, whether by Bendis or Yu I really don't care, and 2) it's disparate treatment by sex, since I have *never* seen a male protagonist on the receiving end of a beatdown be less defiant or scream that much - not to mention 3) that it struck me as disrespectful to Tigra as a character and suggestive that she was simply wimpy compared to, say, Wolverine, although on the books she's just as fast and many times stronger.


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