It makes me sad that I have to pull my soapbox out for this, but I’ve just seen too many stupid comments flying around about a myriad of issues that all involve the same thing:
There are lots of different kinds of hatred, but I think we can all agree that now, more than ever, two forms seem to be dominating out collective consciousness – misanthropy and racism.
We’ll talk about Racism first.
By now, if you don’t know about Donald Sterling, you live under a rock, or you’re renting out the Unabomber’s cabin for the Spring. The (hopefully soon-to-be ex-) owner of the LA Clippers Basketball team said some less-than-appropriate things during a phone call to his alleged mistress, V. Stiviano. During the call, Sterling urged his frequent court-side companion not to bring black people to the games, and to stop associating with them altogether. This was after he mentioned previously asking her to remove all the pictures of black people from her Instagram account. I won’t recap the entire discussion, but suffice it to say that it can concluded that Donald Sterling feels an inherent superiority to African-Americans. Although, it might be argued that he feels superior to everyone, this particular conversation seemed heavily slanted against blacks.
Soon after, it was revealed that this wasn’t the first time Sterling had been called a racist. Somehow, it was overlooked that in 2009, Elgin Baylor filed suit against Sterling for age and race discrimination. In that suit, he alleged that when asked about courting black coaches for the team, Sterling replied that he, “would like to have a White southern coach coaching poor Black players.” However, since he had no documentation, the suit was overturned.
Earlier than that, even, in 2003, the Housing Right Center (and 19 tenants – all black), filed suit in Federal court against Sterling and his property management company. They alleged that Sterling actively blocked renting to “non-Koreans” (because he felt that they, more than any other group, wouldn’t have the courage to complain about a lack of services). When he purchased the Ardmore building, his then property manager, Summer Davenport, testified that when he entered the building, he noted the smell, and noted that it smelled that way because “blacks aren’t clean” and “Mexican’s sit around and drink and smoke all day”. According to Davenport:
Cultivating his image meant no Blacks, no Mexican-Americans, no children (whom Sterling called “brats”) and no government-housing-subsidy recipients as tenants.
So according to the testimony of tenants, Sterling employees made life difficult for residents in some of his new buildings. They refused rent checks, then accused renters of nonpayment. They refused to do repairs for black tenants and harassed them with surprise inspections, threatening residents with eviction for alleged violations of building rules.
Yet somehow, none of us noticed. Why? Because no one “important” was involved. But this time it was different. He called out a specific person, a person of some influence: Magic Johnson. He basically told his mistress not to associate with Magic Johnson anymore in any sort of public way. Because people might talk.
After the release of the recorded call, there was an almost immediate backlash. But I was surprised to find people defending Sterling and his “right to privacy”. We have an interesting concept of privacy these days. “Private” come from the Latin word privus, which means “single, individual” – that means something is only truly private if you keep it only to yourself. If you share it with someone else, it’s no longer private. But that’s not really the point. The real issue is what he said in a conversation he felt would not be made public. That’s when public figures reveal their real selves – when they don’t think anyone else can see them.
What surprised me the most were the people defending his actions (as opposed to his privacy). I got into a rather heated facebook conversation where one of the participants felt like since the African-American members of the Clippers probably used racial epithets against Sterling at some point in the past, it was all good. He added that we should all just get over racism because racism exists on both side. I find this rationale completely flabbergasting. Yes, let’s ignore the problem because it’s worse than we thought. Worse, there’s a tinge of “well it’s OK because they do it too”.
That’s the basic ideal that’s fueling the conflict in the Middle East. “They killed my baby, so I’m going to kill ALL their babies… in the name of <insert deity of choice here>.” Yeah.
Donald Sterling is a racist. Period. And he’s the worst kind of racist – one who pretends not to be or doesn’t believe they are. Just because he doesn’t use the language with which we’re most familiar, doesn’t make it less the truth. I don’t care how many tickets he gives away so he can sleep at night. This sort of behavior is unacceptable, and I believe the Commissioner of the NBA did the right thing by banning him for life.
Now onto Misanthropy.
You’ll note I said “misanthropy” and not “misogyny”. That’s because I’m seeing this door swing both ways, and frankly it’s disturbing. Granted, misogyny is far more prevalent today then it’s male-based counterpart, misandry, but they are both equally distasteful. That said, I’m not really going to go into misandry – I’m only mentioning it because lately it seems like the natural reaction to “woman bashing” is “man bashing”.
On to the issue, though. Recently, someone I follow on Twitter, Janelle Asselin (@gimpnelly), found herself subjected to the worse kind of misogyny all because she dared to question the practices if the current editorial team at DC, and the choices they made for a recent re-release of Teen Titans. Her critique focused on, in part, the cover artwork – in which one of the members (specifically Wonder Girl) was drawn with a decidedly adult physique – a critique, I might add, with which I am in total agreement. Aside from the normal “he-man woman hater” rhetoric that’s part and parcel in the Comic Book world, Janelle was threatened with violence and rape.
And while that was certainly bad enough, the immediate reaction of her peer group (which being in comics means that it’s mostly men) was “well that happens” and “we get threatened too”. There wasn’t an outpouring of support, only more of the same. All because she said “that teenaged girl’s boobs look fake”… in a comic book. I mean I’m floored. I don’t know how to respond to this type of behavior. I mean I’ve written about the trials and tribulations of female Cosplayers in the past (The Baying of the Dickwolf), and about how the anonymity of the Internet makes us stupid (back when I wrote for Geek Shui Living). But this is just a whole new level of What The Actual Fuck.
What makes someone think it’s OK to threaten someone with rape? Because they don’t know your real name? Because you think they can’t find you? Because you think it’s funny? I think it’s because you’re an asshole. This is a long standing issue in the gaming/comic world, both among fans and among the industry professionals. They pander to males adolescents because that’s who they think their main target it. I wonder if it’s occurred to them that more young men buy games and comics because they are being targeted at them? We see that girls can be avid fans and consumers when they are targeted: My Little Pony and Disney seemed to have realized this, though they still enforce gender roles.
It stands to reason that if the art in comics were a little more realistic, and less fodder for young men’s… *ahem*… dreams, more girls would buy comics. The same for video games. I mean have you seen the armor in most MMORPG’s? It’s almost comical how little armor they put on the female figures compared to the male. It’s clear that they are objectifying the female form – it would be difficult to deny.
With comic books, though, there is the additional argument that they are presenting, in many cases, what amounts to persons of perfect form. They are heroes, after all, and usually have some sort of supernatural or extraordinary abilities. I mean, it makes sense that Wonder Woman has the body she does, she’s divine. But does she need to ruin around in a bathing suit? I mean Superman is also a perfect specimen, as are Batman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and Green Lantern, but they are almost completely covered (aside from Superman’s odd placement of his underwear). Wonder Woman is wearing a strapless one piece bathing suit. Black Canary is wearing fishnet stocking – because that’s practical gear for a superhero. I can’t come up with a single reason for Power Girl’s “cleavage window” – aside from it being a cleavage window.
So it stands that Ms. Asslin has a valid point. And she was attacked with threats of rape and bodily harm. Not to mention the questioning of her ability to even judge the matter in the first place. The nicest of the insults involved questioning her abilities because she only knew about Batman, or more bluntly, because “girls don’t know anything about comics”. At the end of the day, I think the issues are connected. There is rampant sexism in gaming and comics, and the industry has been turning a blind eye to it for too long. Ms. Asslin has involved the police in her issue (as she should have – bravo to her) and one can only hope that the tremendous asshats that threatened her will soon learn that nothing is “private” anymore.
I have to say that I’m completely flummoxed that either of these situations have people rationalizing the behavior to make it more acceptable. “Sterling’s from a different time”, or “they’re just kids who think it’s funny” just aren’t acceptable. We’ve turned into a society that doesn’t believe that people need to be responsible for their actions. It’s always someone else’s fault. When I was speaking to someone who I considered to be feminist about the “Cosplay is Consent” issue, her response was, “they wouldn’t dress like that if they didn’t want attention,” which to me is the same as saying, “they’re asking for it.” It’s the same with this issues. There’s no justification for racism or misanthropy. It’s just stupid, counter-productive, and god damn it, we’ll never develop Warp Drive and meet the Vulcans if we keep doing stupid shit like this. Stop it already.
And if you aren’t sure if what you’re saying or doing is acceptable, then remember Wheaton’s Law: