Escher Girls: bodies don’t work that way….

This great Tumblr blog collates and critiques the frequently absurd representations of women in comics. This is an issue which seems to have come to new-found prominence partly through social media, with the much shared Avengers graphic below only the tip of the iceberg as far as online critique and parody is concerned. However Escher Girls (subtitle: “float like a buttlerfly, sting like a WTF?”) addresses the more extreme aspects of this beyond the sexualisation that is disturbing in its ubiquity. It’s quite shocking to see these representations of anatomically impossible women, with figures that would require a complete lack of internal organs, presented adjacent to one another. They seem much more mundane, less pronounced in their sinister absurdity, when embedded in the comic itself – or so I write as a 29 year old male who’s been reading comics like this for two decades… read the blog here and see what you think – also marvel at the nastiness of the legal threats directed towards the author by one of the artists whose work she is critiquing.

(via RawRGG.com)

(via RawRGG.com)


Categories: Mediated Matters

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19 replies »

  1. Good point – but, writing as an 11 stone knock-kneed book-reader who regularly risks both lycra (cycling) and neoprene (kayaking), doesn’t it cut both ways (so to speak)? The male characters seem equally impossible and ridiculous (and, taken as ideals, unattainable) on both sides. I know little of this academically, but don’t the stereotypes come in pairs?

    • I think it’s hard to recognise that point without slipping into politically tone deaf “but men are oppressed too” rhetoric, which I suspect is why some people (including myself) get uncomfortable with it being pointed out…

  2. Yes, I can see that – in one way. Representations of women as in the above are much more likely to be related to inappropriate sexualisation and sexual violence against women than the representations of men are to be related to sexual harm of men. So one major harm will weight down mainly on women. But isn’t it more complicated than that? Firstly, men – at least some men – really are “oppressed”, have life destroying body issues, etc., and suffer all the stress associated with this. Right through from primates to us, competition among males is horribly destructive for most males. Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, the idea that gender stereotypes come in pairs can still be an important point effecting women directly: aren’t big, muscly, aggressive or controlling men the logical *counterpart* of passive women who are seen to be “asking for it”? You’ve got to have both, at least implicitly, to make one or the other dangerous.

  3. I see what you’re saying about the pairing but I think it risks overstating the case – I think there are some modes of representation which are paired in this way and they’re certainly obvious in comics but that contemporary body norms are shifting and multiplying in a way which resists easy ‘pairing’ e.g. if you accept that ‘metrosexuality’ (horrible word but useful short hand for a complex trend) has become normative, at least in some social spheres, then what does this pair with? Also you put the point I was trying to make really effectively – men obviously are oppressed in some ways but, at the risk of sounding obnoxiously blunt, I think this oppression is much less important (and circumscribed) than that of women for precisely this reason:

    “Representations of women as in the above are much more likely to be related to inappropriate sexualisation and sexual violence against women than the representations of men are to be related to sexual harm of men”

  4. I don’t think that’s too blunt, I take the point. The “metrosexuality” thing (which as a poor village boy I thought “this must have something to do with trains”, the first time I heard it…) definitely complicates it. But I think I still disagree with the relevance of the moral point in two ways. Firstly, sexual harm is not the only kind of harm, so on what grounds are we comparing sexual harm with, say, the harm involved in male suicides based on body image or sexuality, or the harm involved in male genetic predispositions to lower life expectancies? The other concern is that even if we accept that sexual harm of women has moral priority, this doesn’t mean that it has explanatory priority, even in an explanation of itself. It could be (and I suspect this is the case) that sexual violence against women is a consequence of other more complicated sorts of social relationship. And these two points may be connected: if it turns out that sexual violence against women is the consequence of a social dynamic which also includes other, terrible harms against men and women, then I’m not sure I see what the point is in treating the different harms as competing moral claims – the social dynamic is bad all-round. One might even see the potential for a certain kind of solidarity in this.

    • Weirdly, given our recent debates, my problem with what you’re saying is with the politics not the theory – I don’t think they’re competing moral claims and it seems obviously possible to me to advocate on these issues without framing it like this. But I think responding to a discussion of female body representation by replying that “men have these issues too!” gives succour to a men’s rights movement that is, on the most charitable interpretation, deeply reactionary. I guess this claim is ultimately an empirical one. I like the idea of solidarity in this but I just don’t see it as possible given the actually existing state of gender politics.

  5. (I have no doubt I just reinvented multiple wheels, by the way!)

  6. I’m sure what you say about the rhetorical state of the gender issue in certain quarters is entirely accurate. But I don’t think I can be held to account for what the reactionary male-ists would say if they were to misread my point. (Which isn’t to say that they aren’t interesting as an object for social science.) As for solidarity, don’t plenty of politically active feminists, and politically active women, actually strive for it? In the Green movement, in the socialist movement, etc.

    • Well if I’m being really pedantic to make a point, I’d suggest you obviously can be held to account in this way but I’d agree with your suggestion that you shouldn’t be – I guess I’m making a suggestion about how, in this instance, analysis of political context enters into discussion about the moral equivalence of two similar social trends.

  7. I’m not sure I follow the argument now.

  8. You’re treating it like a moral issue, I’m treating it as a political one.

  9. I’m not sure how I’m treating it as a moral issue. I’m happy to ignore “morality” (a la Bernard Williams) and talk only about politics. (There is of course an old problem with moralistic as opposed to realistic politics…) But both “moral” and political positions which are trying to be critical should be based on good sociological explanations – otherwise they are just insubstantial “intentions”.

    • I’m not sure what we’re arguing about! I don’t disagree with your initial claim that ludicrous representations of male bodies cause problems for men. You don’t seem to disagree with mine that this oppression is in a way less important and more circumscribed.

  10. I’m not clear about what your criteria are for *comparing* oppression of men and women – which Is necessary if you’re going to say something about their relative “importance” or “circumscription”. If your criteria are moral or political (including legal) criteria, I think this is irrelevant to sociology. If they are sociological criteria, then I doubt that oppression of women is more causally important than oppression of men, because I don’t think it’s possible to abstract them from each other, or from the set of underlying social processes and mechanisms of which they are (in abstraction) effects and which (taken together) they are partly constitutive. This is *not* “holism”, but you don’t have to be a holist to think we need to pay attention to causal complexity in social science. (Michael Mann is good on this…)

    If we give up on rigorous, causally complex explanations, there is no point doing sociology. There ought to be more to it than the moral outrage of memes, otherwise we’re just the other side of the Daily Mail coin. I also think it’s pointless to have moral or political views that do not pay this same attention, but this is a separate point – which perhaps I didn’t separate enough above.

  11. You’re the one who introduced the comparison! In fact this entire conversation is a response to you making that comparison.

    My original response to your comment: “I think it’s hard to recognise that point without slipping into politically tone deaf “but men are oppressed too” rhetoric, which I suspect is why some people (including myself) get uncomfortable with it being pointed out….”

    I haven’t disagreed with the content of your claim, I’ve only said that (a) it’s not an issue I see as a political priority (b) advocating for the claim risks inadvertently lending support to groups, opposition to whom I do see as a political priority.

    Beyond disagreeing with how I draw conclusions about which political issues I see as a priority I’m not really sure what your point is. Being a sociologist doesn’t exhaust either my social or personal identity. It doesn’t even exhaust my identity as a blogger, though I could see how the fact we’re having this conversation on a blog called ‘the sociological imagination’ might suggest otherwise.

  12. My original comparison was between the representations of men and women on offer, which I then tried to suggest might be best analysed together sociologically. This isn’t the same as me comparing – and favouring, as you do – one or the other morally or politically. This is a very important distinction.

    Of course you are free to prioritize by whatever criteria suit you, but ‘advocating’ in whatever direction is a shot in the dark, with likely minimal effects, without its being informed by the kind of sociological analysis I’ve suggested. Why do you think ignoring part of the sociological picture is more likely to have good effects than including it? Don’t reactionary male-ists like a good, fully adversarial scrap – and wouldn’t confuse them if we were to be painfully fair-minded about it all?

    Finally, politically speaking, not all feminists have felt the need to prioritize as harshly as you seem to want to: perhaps we’re repeating the middle class feminist (you) versus socialist/Marxian/Marxist feminist (me) debate – ?

    (Maybe some of this is for the coffee we’ve never got round to having?…)

  13. My original comparison was between the representations of men and women on offer, which I then tried to suggest might be best analysed together sociologically. This isn’t the same as me comparing – and favouring, as you do – one or the other morally or politically. This is a very important distinction.

    Of course you are free to prioritize by whatever criteria suit you, but ‘advocating’ in whatever direction is a shot in the dark, with likely minimal effects, without its being informed by the kind of sociological analysis I’ve suggested. Why do you think ignoring part of the sociological picture is more likely to have good effects than including it? Don’t reactionary male-ists like a good, fully adversarial scrap – and wouldn’t it confuse them if we were to be painfully fair-minded about it all?

    Finally, politically speaking, not all feminists have felt the need to prioritize as harshly as you seem to want to: perhaps we’re repeating the middle class feminist (you) versus socialist/Marxian/Marxist feminist (me) debate – ?

    (Maybe some of this is for the coffee we’ve never got round to having?…)

  14. Sure, will give me time to think about what do I actually believe here qua sociologist – what sociological content there has been to my claim (which I’ve basically just been restating) concerns the empirical growth of the men’s rights movement, as a social movement, as well as theoretical claim about how discursive agenda setting can escape the intentions of agents party to it (e.g. liberal critics of Islam inadvertently contributing to Islamophobia or ‘liberal’ interventionists strengthening the conservative agenda after 9/11). If you’re talking very specifically about the origins and operation of gender based harm via cultural representations, I honestly have no idea, I’ve never really thought about it in any serious way or read any relevant literature, beyond an MA feminist theory module I took years ago. If you read back to the opening post, it was a plug for an interesting blog and a brief statement of what I took to be the ‘sinister absurdity’ of these representations when presented side-by-side, not a considered contribution to the sociology of gender.

  15. Ok. Apologies for hitting “post” twice.

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