X-23 vs Outlaw: A Feminist Musing, Of Sorts

File this under nothing to do with anything, but I was reading into some stuff about the Marvelverse after hearing more about Joss Whedon’s upcoming S.H.I.E.L.D series, and things got a bit tangential (as they are want to do after Wikipedia enters things). Long story short, I was reminded of the character X-23 when I learned they’d paired Gambit with her for a while. And, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this.

For those of you even less up-to-date on Marvel than I am, X-23 is the ‘successful’ version of Wolverine, except with boobs instead of mutton chops. She’s a clone of him, with all his powers, except she was actually successfully programmed to be a weapon. The driving interest in her character is that once that program cracks, she sets out to redefine herself as a person. And that’s cool, it’s a neat, interesting idea. But, well, there’s that thing where she can really be most easily described as Wolverine with boobs. She’s not really her own person, she’s another, more popular character… but female. And she has no moral compass or personality, which leads to her always being told what she should or shouldn’t be by stronger male personalities (hence my indecision about how this would work with Gambit, Marvel’s greatest Lothario.) It’s a bit of a mixed message, for sure. They were clearly going for a commentary of some kind, but it gets lost under all the typical comic book cheescake. And boy is she guilty of that:

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Seriously, I haven’t seen such a delicate balance of pleather and unabashed sexualization since Eliza Dushku was a regular on Buffy:

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Unlike Faith, however, whose fashion changes as her character matures and becomes more comfortable with her own self, that is X-23′s post-revelation outfit. Save it’s not exactly her personality that’s getting revealed. So, I guess in the end, she comes across to me as Marvel’s equivalent of a Not Quite Feminist Phil meme. She’s got a lot going right, but then it all gets horribly subverted and Marvel’s left not getting why we’re giving them a funny look.

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Ultimately, she seems sorta like the anti-Outlaw to me. I won’t lie, Outlaw is easily one of my favorite Marvel characters, despite being so minor. And part of that is because of her particular variety of cheesecake, I won’t deny that either. But here’s the thing: Outlaw clearly started out as just a good cheesecake-y character to put across from the very bro Deadpool. She’s not only got only the most generic of mutant powers (some poorly boundaried enhanced strength and durability stuff), but she looks like this:

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And, not only does she dress like a stripper, but her character’s bio specifically includes stripping in her past occupations (before being a person who kills other people, much like X-23). But unlike X-23, who’s supposed to be serious but the sex keeps undermining it, Outlaw’s supposed to be sex, but they keep undercutting it with her actually being a person. The boobs she admits herself are fake, for her own confidence. The hair is a wig. She wears jeans and hoodies these days when not on the job. She has an apartment somewhere. She hates being called by her childhood nickname because she still has esteem issues from it. You know, relatable stuff.  All around, she’s a person poking out from the cheesecake veneer. She’s Inez, and Outlaw is just a veneer and she’s bluntly honest about that.

Heck, let’s compare farther. Here’s a nice tender/quiet moment between X-23 and a male co:

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Gambit: relaxed, at ease. X-23: stiff, vacant gaze, doing her best impersonation of a real doll. Now, one with Outlaw:

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Note how despite there being actual sex involved with Outlaw, she still manages to come across as less of a sexual object than X-23. It’s that, it’s exactly that. X-23 is supposed to be some awesome commentary about finding identity in a world where she’s always been told what to be, which should have been some awesome feminist commentary. Except it gets totally undermined by the cheesecake and the patriarchal ‘guidance.’ Outlaw, in contrast, was supposed to just be a sexy blonde before something happened and they gave her humanity. X-23 makes me uncomfortable, but I root for Outlaw any time she shows back up these days. Funny how that goes, right?

Georg Baselitz and Women’s Inability To Paint

“You have to change people’s perceptions. Baselitz says women don’t paint very well, with a few exceptions. Men don’t paint very well either, with a few exceptions.”

Griselda Pollock

Agreed. Heck, I certainly don’t paint very well, and I do have a penis.

The Dichotomy Of Artists and “Minimalism”

I’ve been reading a lot about the new minimalism lately. And by that, I mean about a lifestyle usually assumed by reasonably affluent, tech-savvy young people who are embracing the notion that life is simpler with less stuff. I also know, thanks largely to the design sense of Sir Jonathan Ives of Apple, that design is also currently embracing a renewed love of the minimal. Apple’s industrial design, Microsoft’s paradigm-formerly-known-as-metro, content-centric white-space-rich websites (which you’ll note I’m certainly guilty of). Minimalism is in, and among certain types of people, it’s highly desirable even.

Interestingly, the people who seem to most desire a minimal lifestyle are either A) creative people, or B) people inspired by and consumers of work done by creative peoples. Which leads to the curious realization that minimalism is more or less inherently unsustainable, or at least very willing to turn a hypocritical blind eye.

Robert Rauschenberg, “White Painting.” Now that was minimalism.

What I mean is, you show me a creative person without a billion tiny messy possessions, and I’ll show you a creative person who’s reached the wonderful point of handing all the mess to underlings. Every creative person I know is only a psychological snap away from being a hoarder. Some of them are more organized than others, some much more messy, but they all have a catalog of tools, materials, and resources hidden away that would make your average minimalist go into shock. For example, while I love, love, love the dream of someday having one of those spartan, minimal living environments and living my life from a tablet, a phone, and a Kindle, the only way I could pretend to manage it would be to have an offsite storage for all those pesky things that keep my studio ticking. Just a quick list of things that would have to go:

  1. A dozen tubes of paint, a half dozen brushes, stand oil, linseed oil, and gamsol, glass palette, glass scraper, and rags.
  2. Painting easel
  3. Taboret
  4. Work table
  5. 2 dozen hardboard canvases
  6. 4 primed canvas canvases
  7. Over a dozen finished and unsold paintings
  8. Work table
  9. Cutting matte, box knife, Xacto knife, matte cutter, 3 rulers, t-square
  10. A dozen rattlecans of various fixatives ad adhesives and paints
  11. Two vertical filing cabinets, filled with (among other things):
    • Pens
    • Pencils
    • Charcoal sticks
    • China markers
    • Colored pencils
    • Bookbinding tools
    • Paper stock
    • Ribbon
    • Mixing jars
    • Clamps
    • Label maker
  12. A camera, four lenses, a Quadra two-head kit, barndoors, reflectors, reflector adapters, soft box, strip box, PLM, two stands, background stand, Gorillapod, various gels
  13. Several partially used matte boards and foamcore sheets
  14. Miscellaneous fabric and canvas scraps

And more that I’m surely forgetting. I’ve also just decided to make latex masks, so, I’ve added plaster of paris ad Sculpey to that list. And that’ll need bowls and forms. I don’t even want to count the various types of tape and glues I’ve accumulated. Simply put, the only way to be an artist and also minimalist would be to maroon all your stuff in a remote “studio” and pretend that doesn’t count. That, or just kinda suck at being creative.

And that’s the other catch. For all those minimalist living off a Kindle and some iPads… those are devices made by creative people, who are almost certainly incapable of actually living the fulfilled life they describe, but ironically make that minimal lifestyle possible in the first place. A fact which makes each next smug assertion that a life of less will make a better life grate me more and more. Minimalism is an artform, not a lifestyle. It’s best not to get them confused.

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Approaching Gender Issues In The Classroom

Toward the end of the discussion I explained: “People make all kinds of different decisions about gender. Sometimes, as we grow, we might not want to pick one or the other, and that’s OK; we don’t have to.” I wanted them to begin to see that our lessons were not only about expanding the gender boxes that we’ve been put into, but also questioning or eliminating them altogether.

If you need a break from your family, or just have a few spare minutes, this weekend and want to fill your time with some worthwhile reading, you could do worse than to read about Melissa Bollow Tempel’s approach to gender issues for elementary school kids.

Found via Megan.

In The Wild: EclecticPond’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Hey, look, it that’s shot I did the other month, in a paper. Neato.

Congratulations, by the way, to my lovely friends over at ETC for their write-up here. They work hard and deserve all the attention they can get. They also deserve a bit better fact checking on name-spelling, but, for a labor-of-love publication, one can’t judge too harshly.

Romeo and Juliet still starts its proper run next week, with shows on the 15th, 16th, 17th, 22nd, 23rd, and 24th at 7:30pm. Matinees on the 17th and 24th can be had at 2:00pm with cast and staff talk-backs after. More information over on their site, yos.

 

 

In the Wild: London Evening Standard

Today’s first in the wild is this shot of Nick owling on Marc’s garage, used as the key photo to illustrate a story on physical action memes by the rather lovely Emma McCarthy (@Miss_McCarthy) for the London Evening Standard.

Original shot via my Flickr here.

Model: Nick Henry (@friction). Photo: Marc Lebryk & Zed Martinez

Art, Sex, and Society: Part 3 – Sex and Gender

This is part 3 of a 4 part series, see the previous two parts below.

This is part 3 of my series of posts discussing art and sexuality. The first part is mostly a prologue, or a preamble, explaining why these came about and how they’ll break down. Last time I laid out the way I view art and the terminology I’ll use to discuss that world. This time I’m going to talk about the sex side of things, and likewise establish some vocabulary so we can have a concise post after this free of the muddiness that usually darkens posts trying to talk about this stuff.

So let’s get going here.

The first thing I think is important to discuss when talking sex and sexuality is the difference between sex and gender. Both get used pretty sloppily in society as a whole, and as such it’s hard to use them in a way where the meaning you meant is the one people assume you did. Part of the confusion is that gender and sex are often treated as interchangeable, an unfortunate side-effect of a very narrow-minded history of usage. Sex is pretty straight forward, and refers to one’s primary genetic sex– traditionally male or female, although there’s also intersex and a few other rarer genetic expressions that muddy up that particular pool. Gender means “kind,” and so gets applied to sex as different genders, but the most common way it’s used in language is literally in language, to refer to the “masculinity” or “femininity” of a word, an idea tracing all the way back to Aristotle. Gender is then, actually, the way we talk about the differences between the sexes.

So, for the next article, and in my own use, this is how it breaks down:

  • Sex: Is the primary genetic expression of a person. Either that, or the interaction between them, when used as a verb.
  • Gender: Is the way a person identifies themselves. This is an important distinction to be able to make once issues like transgender and transvestite enter into things. Just because you’re swinging dick doesn’t mean you identify as “masculine.” Nor does it mean you should have to, because gender is, put softly, fucked up.

I’m going to make a pretty assertive set of statements now. One is that there is in fact a difference between males and females. or rather, several. And they all come down to genetic expression and hormones. If you don’t believe men and women are different, all you need to do is take off their pants.

That’s where differences should stop. It’s unfortunate that they don’t, and that’s where our use of gender steps in. Between historical, anthropological, and societal differences and expectations of people based on what sexual phenotype they exhibit, we have a set of preconceptions about what makes a person “a man” or a “woman.” But, within every society, these gender roles and expectations will exist to varying degrees, and will frequently impact any discussion about sex and its application and purpose. Sexism is the big term bandied about, but I’d say genderism is a term we should also be aware of, as the pressure to conform to narrow gender roles is probably damaging our society more than sexism itself. Speaking of sexism, though, let’s move on to the next part of this discussion.

Talking about sex in our society even beyond sex versus gender has some problems, because we use one term indiscriminately for three separate ideas. Namely, who we address our own desires and impulses regarding sexual intercourse and our comfort with those, how we are treated based on our apparent sex type, and how we as a society treat the idea of sexual attraction. For convenience, let’s break these ideas down like into these three terms:

  • Sexuality is how we identify our urges, how we act upon them, and how comfortable we are acknowledging them and accepting them.
  • Sexism is a type of discrimination based on preconceptions about what people with different sexual attributes roles are in society.
  • Sexualism is how society pushes for and address sexual attraction as a necessary, or at least important, force.

“Untitled #38″ by Bill Hendersen

So, for example, if you’re complain about sex in relation to the work of Australian photographer Bill Hensen, you’re probably talking about sexualism. Because he’s shooting nude photographs of pubescent individuals. If you’ve read much about Hensen, how he gets permission from the custodians as well as the models, how they’re all on set together, and how what he’s exploring is that awkward transition from a non-sexual person into sexual beings, you’d know that the truth is his work speaks out about sexuality, not sexualism. I’ll go into more next post when we talk about how all three aspects of sex and their bastard cousin gender affect art, and how we should address them, but this is a pretty notorious example of where the language to adequately discuss these thoughts is typically broken down.

 

Before we wrap up this segment, though, I need to get a few things out of the way. Sex and gender are complicated issues, and they overlap and feed into each other a lot. And worst still, we’ve arrived where we have for a variety of reasons. Some you can almost wrap your head around (the statistical likelihood of a man being larger or stronger making them more historically preferred for combat, for example), some much less so (religiously established patriarchies come to mind). It’s not a subject you can be impartial on. I’ll try to give things a fair shake when I can, but I’m going to declare my biases here and now so you can expect them:

I think gender roles suck. I’m generally considered an effeminate guy for a variety of reasons, including my penchant for suits, how I wear rings, that I don’t trim my nails short, etc… Even intellectuals who should really know better will sometimes joke about me being “a girl,” which really helps show that the notion of gender is so ingrained in us we’re often unaware of it. That’s dangerous. And, it’s increasingly affecting both genders as more and more men want to break away from this backwards notion of being emotionally distant, liking cars and contact sports, and all the other baggage that makes a person “a man.”

I think the Women’s Flat Track Association has currently proposed the most fair definition of sex and gender I’ve heard yet when they defined what counts as a “woman” for the ladies’ roller derby. The breakdown? If you identify and live as a woman, and have hormone levels a medical provider is willing to say fall within medically acceptable for that identification, you’re a woman. Same if you’re a man. I’m going to go one step further: if you’re intersex or otherwise compelled to not identify with other, preferring to be neuter, go for it. Gender identification is a big ball of complication that just gets in the way of us all just being folk and having to decide what we think of each other based on who we actually are.

Such things are apparently dangerous.

If the only reason you think genders need to be treated differently is because a holy book told you so, I will despise you. If you claim to be Christian and still believe that, I’ll despise you twice for mixing up Old Testament ideaologies with the much more progressive teachings of the New Testament just because they serve your confirmation bias.

Also, be aware I do identify as a feminist. I also identify with and advocate men’s rights. I do this because the goal of both are to make sure that regardless of your genetic junk, everyone gets treated the same. They both have their failings. It’s not hard to find examples of hard feminism where to restore power to women men become victimized (my mom cheers for the protagonist in Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” I side with Glenn Sacks’ assessment that if you can flip the genders and become outraged, it’s not feminism.) That said, men’s rights aren’t princes either, and if I see one more poorly argued stance against raped laws because of the possibility the girl might be lying (something which should never be assumed, given the nature of that form of crime and how it affects the victims and their psyche), I’m going to scream. But, in theory, both want to create a truly level playing field, so I believe in both. Women have a worst time with sexism, but I’d both sexes are now truly under attack by genderism, especially as its wielded in commercial material.

And that’s exactly what next post is about. See you then.

Art, Sex, and Society: Part 1, a Problem of Clarity

So, it’s no secret to any long-term readers that sex in its various forms and concerns is a big topic for me. At least it shouldn’t, what with my long-running series of chicken skull clad nudes, a painting series exploring lust and relationships, and some freelance work for a softcore porn group. Heck, even the title of this blog is a reference to it:

Suzie, every alchemical fuck’s a Masaccio exchange: sex for desire, desire for obscenity, and ultimately desire for pain.

- “Perfect Tan (Bikini Atoll),” by Machines of Loving Grace

And, as you might expect from someone who’s personal work goes into this subject a lot, I tend to spend a lot of time reading about and arguing sex and sexuality, its place in our society, its relationship to feminism (and with that, feminism’s relationship to the men’s rights movement), and its relationship to art and, more-so still, to the commercially-oriented field of modern photography. Recently, for example, I was called out for my stance on nude therapist Sarah White for having an overly-simplistic and socio-normative take on the issue. Which was fair. The language and ideas I conveyed in the post were pretty far from what I intended to, leaving a very unsatisfying final position on the matter. So, I decided I needed to spend some more time pondering this. It’s never a good thing when you’re unable to adequately express your thoughts about a recurring subject and theme of preference.

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Weekend Politics: The Plight of Planned Parenthood

 

I’m not often a political person. For better or worse, that’s a truth. I have many beliefs, but tend to take a passive stance on supporting them. But, there’re a few things I have pretty staunch stances on, and one of those is what often gets pejoratively dismissed as a pro-choice stance. But, what I stand firm on more is the necessity of keeping abortion legal. Even discounting that abortions rates have, all on their own, been going down steadily for years and years, outlawing abortion won’t actually stop it. It’ll just make it ridiculously more dangerous to women. According to one set of numbers I’ve seen, maternal mortality rate is 275 times higher in countries where abortion is legal. And that’s the conservative number, for some countries with legal abortion the mortality rate is closer to 1600 times less. And, never mind that education about the proper use of contraceptives is a factor which does actually decrease the number of abortions performed a year (in some numbers from Januray, 54% of women who got abortions were using contraceptives, but among those women only 13% of pill users and 14% of condom users admitted they were using them correctly). Nevermind that if you don’t believe in abortion, you just need to teach kids the alternatives to it, like safe sex, responsibility, or adoption.

But, over this topic, Planned Parenthood is under attack both here in Indiana, and thanks to us on a national level as well. And, this is bad. Not just because attacking abortion is dangerous, but because abortion is only one of very few services Planned Parenthood is offering. Now, I’m not a lady folk, and I haven’t relied on them personally, so, I’m not going to try and sell their importance to you. It’d ring a bit hollow. Instead, I’ll send you to a post from a lady who does use them, and other ladies who do.

http://www.racialicious.com/2011/03/01/support-planned-parenthood

Now, for my part, the bits below are some of the key highlights to pay attention to:

However, almost nothing has been said about how for many women, Planned Parenthood is their primary care provider. I can go to my neighborhood clinic or the emergency room, and walk out with hundreds of dollars in bills for a cough that still won’t go away.  But at Planned Parenthood, I can let them know that I am low on cash, and they will normally find a way to help me that stays in budget.

 

Now, consider for a second, the alternative. As we saw earlier this year, Kermit Gosnell was indicted on murder charges for the shop of horrors he ran masquerading as a medical clinic. He performed abortions that were unsafe, took extravagant amounts of money from women who were desperate, and didn’t even provide them with the most basic of care.  Not only are House Representatives cutting the funding for preventative measures to reduce the number of abortions performed, but they are also delivering women into yet another era of dirty back alley clinics and unlicensed people preying on desperation.

 

So, I don’t especially care right now what your stance is, pro-choice or pro-life. Neither side should be for this. By attempting to outlaw abortion, more women will die. If you’re pro-life, I urge you to talk to people in your life about the need for safe medicine, and about options like adoption. If you’re pro-choice, I urge you to have exactly those same talks, and to especially consider adoption over abortion after the first nine weeks or so. What no one should want is to make it any harder for women in this country to get safe medical treatment, OK?

Statistics on abortion in America here: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html

Some information on it globally here: http://isla.igc.org/Features/Globalization/AbortionsEng.html

 

You Are Not A Photographer

Pointed out to me by local actual photographer Paul D’Andrea (good guy, that Paul, and a damn fine shooter), is this Tumblr: You Are Not A Photographer. It’s apparently a collection of awful photos with running commentary from the female cast of Gilligan’s Island. About photos taken by people who should not be allowed to call themselves photographers. In the modern world where even a cheap DSLR can take good pictures, we’ve been seeing a massive inflation of the number of people who are “photographers,” leading to oft-criticized things like visual overload in our culture and the devaluing of professional photography as a career.

Still, the Tumblr is funny as hell. Good find.