Technology changes us. As someone once said, those who grow up with a certain technology don’t think of it as innovative technology anymore. We no longer question cars or telephones or the internet. Yet our cultures revolve around these advances, and our habits (and language and policies and landscape) have been shaped by them over the decades. Similarly, babies growing up with iPhones and iPads won’t think twice of touch interfaces, content that responds immediately to their actions, or readily-accessible tangents of information. In fact, they’ll expect it.
There’s a little Luddite in me who is skeptical of new technologies and wishes we could be more mindful of how they’re changing us. Another more Zen part of me knows that time will pass, cultures evolve, and impermanence is a natural part of our everyday lives. And the optimist in me hopes that design and technology can help to create changes in our cultures for the better — so that future generations come to take for granted many of the things we struggle to get today.
In all of this, I still think taking time to unplug is helpful for increasing awareness about how you individually relate to and interact with technology. You will no doubt come back to it, and it may very well offer something new, insightful, or richer on the other side. The holidays, when we can take a reprieve from work/school, when we are busy with friends and family, provide a natural pause and an opportunity to take a short digital sabbatical, or to make friends with the Off Switch.
Coming up with the perfect gift is a fun endeavor: it’s like playing detective and fortune teller and empath all at once. Of course, it’s also a great time of year to support independent creators from all walks of life. Here are some friends & finds from the past year which would make a great gift for the right someone.
Marian Call is a wonder and a trailblazer of an independent musician: last year, she toured all 50 states powered, by her fan, her gumption, and the Twitterverse. Now she’s created and produced a double album called Something Fierce backed by her Donor Circle. My favorite tracks: “Good Morning Moon,” “Coffee by Numbers,” “Perilous Road,” and “Highway Five.”
I was late to TedXAustin and missed Mother Falcon’s performance, but ended up chatting with one of the band members during an intermission. I did get to attend their CD release concert in February, where they played their latest album Alhambra straight through in the acoustically amazing Central Presbyterian Church. I’ve already gushed about their young talent before, and their music always lifts my spirits.
The designs that appear of the Lilly & Louise blog by my former classmate, Leslie Lewis Sigler, always keep me inspired to play with colors, simple concepts, wit, and beautiful type. This year, she’s offering a collection of customizable Holiday cards.
Glade Hensel makes art and greeting cards and has created a to-die for studio and home with her artist hubby, Mark Hensel. (P.S. You can visit and be a voyeur during the annual E.A.S.T. Austin Studio Tours.) I love her colorful witty greeting cards for all occasions, and she has some cute ones perfect for the “holly days.”
Lisa Chow is a former classmate who I didn’t know too well but whose blog I’ve been following since she quit her corporate job to become a full-time artist. She writes in one footnote: “Apparently, you can take the girl out of business but you can’t take the business out of the girl. I think, despite all my lamentations, my business degree gives me an advantage in this crazy art world where too many talented artists rely solely on their work to speak for itself. World, meet…The Business Artist. omgoxymoronmindblown”
Artist, world traveler, and teacher extraordinaire J Muzacz is wrapping up (no pun intended) a 365 drawing-a-day project themed around Japan, the country he’s getting to know and love through this year of ups and downs. He has an IndieGoGo fundraiser for Japan365 up right now to print a book compilation of the drawings and info, with proceeds supporting the tsunami relief efforts that continue to this day. If you order a book as a Christmas gift, he’ll send the recipient a postcard set to let them know they’ll have something special in the mail come March. Or download, and print your own, holiday cards from J’s drawings: he also has a velociraptor and Ho Ho Ho cards available.
If you’re in Austin or SF, you could give the gift of a fun Hour School class on “How to make pasta” or “Motorcycle repair” or “French conversation. Learn with and from friends in an informal setting.
Online webcomic creators are also having many holiday specials right now. Books are always a welcome present; don’t forget to shop your local independent bookstores when you can!
And finally, in addition to mixtapes (digital or analog), and homemade cookies (pre-baked or ready-to-bake mixes), another DIY gift I love in this digital age is a list of your favorite links/blogs/people/projects of the year.
The DC Comics Universe recently “rebooted” 52 of their comics, e.g. starting over with origin issues #1. It gave them a great chance to redesign some characters, create compelling new stories, and reach a larger audience. While I was aware of the buzz they were creating, what really caught my attention has been the backlash they’ve gotten from mishandling their female characters. They’ve redesigned some of their female characters by nixing their interesting storylines and visually stereotyping them to reach the same audience they’ve already started to lose to other media. In fact, they’re alienating a lot of potential new readers with their choices.
This post is a recap of the debates, how it relates to female representation in mass media, and an offer of some rays of hope.
Recapping the Debacle
Comics editor Laura Hudson does a good job of critiquing the reboots of Catwoman and Starfire in “Red Hood and the Outlaws” and explaining the biggest issue with the sexed-up superheroes: the problem is not that female characters are shown as sexually liberated and having fun with their sexuality, but the focus in these comics is not on the female character and what she wants but rather the male reader and what he wants. Plus, it’s the same message over and over again.
Most of all, what I keep coming back to is that superhero comics are nothing if not aspirational. They are full of heroes that inspire us to be better, to think more things are possible, to imagine a world where we can become something amazing. But this is what comics like this tell me about myself, as a lady: They tell me that I can be beautiful and powerful, but only if I wear as few clothes as possible. They tell me that I can have exciting adventures, as long as I have enormous breasts that I constantly contort to display to the people around me. They tell me I can be sexually adventurous and pursue my physical desires, as long as I do it in ways that feel inauthentic and contrived to appeal to men and kind of creep me out. When I look at these images, that is what I hear, and I don’t think I even realized how much until this week.
In many ways, the constant barrage of this type of imagery (and characterization) is not unlike the sh*tty neighborhood I used to live in where every time I walked down the street, random people I didn’t know shouted obscene comments about my body and told me they wanted to have sex with me. And you know, maybe a lot of those guys thought they were complimenting me. Maybe they thought I had tried to look pretty that day and they were telling me I had succeeded in that goal. Maybe they thought we were having a frank and sexually liberated exchange of ideas. I’m willing to be really, really generous and believe that’s where they were coming from. But in the end, it doesn’t matter that they didn’t know it was creepy; it doesn’t matter that they “didn’t get it,” because every single day I lived there they made me feel like less of a person.
That is how I feel when I read these comics.
And I’m tired.
Below is how comic book creators tell us a male Lantern looks, and how a female Lantern looks. On the right, Deviant Artist Bionarri gives us a glimpse of what we’d never see in mainstream comics—if the double standards were actually flipped.
One good thing that has come of controversy is the spur for artists to reimagine their versions of the costumed heros: DC Fifty-Too, Project: Rooftop, Aaron Diaz’s redesign series on his blog. I particularly that Diaz’s character redesigns are driven by character and story…what a novel idea! He even considers the practicality of their costumes–gasp!
Andrew Wheeler writes that the individual case of Catwoman’s reboot may not be a problem, but when looked at within the larger context of DC’s reboot (only 7 of the 52 are female heros, and only a couple of those 7 feature powerful, independent women leads whose storylines aren’t exploitative).
“The problem with the DC reboot is that it’s not leaving much room for anything else. The reboot was meant to help the publisher find new readers, and female comic readers represent a massive audience that DC hasn’t successfully tapped in to. Female characters are a good way to reach those readers, because underrepresented groups like to be recognised. Catwoman would have been a smart title to re-engineer to capture those readers. Instead it’s the most insular exercise in fanboy pandering this side of Green Lantern…But it’s not the sole responsibility of women to somehow get themselves hired so they can write books that their nieces might buy. Men – yes, even straight ones – will have to make an actual effort to establish that diverse landscape in which some of the female characters do wear pants for 20 whole pages. Diversity doesn’t happen because you think it should. Diversity happens when you make it happen. DC has said several times that one of its aims with the reboot was ‘to diversify as much as possible’. The question we have to ask is, what stopped you?”
It’s an argument that’s been made a thousand times before, but for some reason it still needs to be made. I’ll just say this: The comic industry is growing. Reading graphic novels doesn’t have the stigma it used to. Girls and women of every age are picking up Blankets, Walking Dead, Batwoman, Kick-Ass. Schools carry copies of Essex County and Infinite Kung-Fu. Everyone is looking for heroes to love the way generations before loved Batman and Spider-Man. We don’t have to accept the things that offend us. We can speak out, we can hold artists accountable. Most of all, we can create newer and better comics. Our characters can be as diverse as we want. We can make real women with strength, integrity, faults and wicked-sweet costumes so that girls all over the world have something to hold on to when everything else is uncertain.
Art can make a difference. It can change lives.
So why make the same old, stupid shit?
Ms. Snarky agrees, shares her own tale of growing up being told that the Transformer Happy Meal toys are not for her, and deftly responds to the most common reader comments that have been springing up to dismiss articles criticizing the reboot:
“Shut up, you stupid feminazis! I like sexy comics. And boobs!”
“If you don’t like what’s happening in comics, you don’t have to read them.”
“What are you so upset about? It’s just a sex scene! You must be a prude.”
“You must have a problem with sexually liberated women.”
“It’s just a comic. Geez, why are you so upset over something that’s just entertainment?”
“Well, Catwoman’s a villain, so really, what does it matter if she’s all sexed up? She has no morals.”
“I understand why women get upset, but this is always going to be in comics, and women have to understand that, too.”
Of the last, here’s Ms. Snarky’s response:
This is the one that quiet honestly, upsets me the most. It’s the response that seems supportive on the surface, but the underlying message is that all us hysterical women are just freaking out for no reason. What we just don’t understand is that men like what they like, and so we have to smile and put up with a little objectification now and then if we’re going to be comic book readers.
You know what? No. I am sick and tired of being told that what I want and need from my comics comes second to what men want to read. I have been a fan of comics for almost my entire life. I’ve paid my money for not only the books themselves, but the movies, the toys, the clothes. I’ve spent hours reading comics, discussing comics, loving comics. Why on Earth is my opinion and what I want to see in comics so much less valuable than someone else’s? Just because I was born with a different set of reproductive organs, I have to be passive in what I read, while a certain sector of men get to be catered to? That’s bullshit, plain and simple, and I am not okay with it. Yeah, this is the Twenty-First Century, and I am liberated with a mind and voice of my own, and I’m not just going to sit down, shut up, and be reduced to my parts because hey, comics are really for boys.
While it’s easy for some of these responses to be dismissed as “rants” because they are written by women, there is validity to their stories and their critiques. What the dismissive commenters are actually doing is gaslighting. A recent article by Yashar Ali explores the roots of our culture’s perception of women as crazy and emotionally unstable and introduces the term gaslighting.
A remark intended to shut you down like, “Calm down, you’re overreacting,” after you just addressed someone else’s bad behavior, is emotional manipulation, pure and simple.
And this is the sort of emotional manipulation that feeds an epidemic in our country, an epidemic that defines women as crazy, irrational, overly sensitive, unhinged. This epidemic helps fuel the idea that women need only the slightest provocation to unleash their (crazy) emotions. It’s patently false and unfair.
I think it’s time to separate inconsiderate behavior from emotional manipulation, and we need to use a word not found in our normal vocabulary.
I want to introduce a helpful term to identify these reactions: gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a term often used by mental health professionals (I am not one) to describe manipulative behavior used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they’re crazy.
These articles, conversations, and critiques (and even the “rants”) are valid and useful. While comics are maybe the most obvious example of these issues of underrepresentation and misrepresentation, the messages are widespread in mass media. There’s a new documentary called Miss Representation about these issues, well worth your time:
Females: 51% population / 17% Congress
And if the media can degrade and stereotype the most powerful women in the world, what does that say about how they view any woman?
1 – Female creators. The Womanthology project, Kickstarted by Renae de Liz, showcases the talents of many many women who are in the comics industry and who love comics and who create comics. The theme of the first book is “HEROIC”. Here are some of her thoughts:
“I do agree that tones of female empowerment belong here. However I would like the theme to shy away from anything even subtly toned “girl power” or anything that makes the people seeing the title think “oh jeez, this is a book about female empowerment” because in my opinion, it slightly lessens the impact we’ll make. I feel the very fact that over 100 women (and counting!) have joined together in less than 3 days to create this, and the very fact it’s called “Womanthology” is empowering to comic book women enough, believe me! There are a lot of comic professionals silently watching to see what we do. First of all because they’re shell shocked we gathered in force & pretty much got a publisher so fast, but also because of the fact we’re not touting ‘Yay! Girl Power’ ‘Down with Males’ ‘Female empowerment!’ all over the place, like many many expect. This has piqued their interest enough to take it at face value as not just a “comic book made by women”, but as a “comic book”. We don’t want to preach to them about female empowerment in the book, we want to show them. We want to silently gather and smack them in the face with what we can accomplish as women.
“Also, another reason why I think an unexpected theme would be best. My experience in comics, while I haven’t been exactly looked down upon (often) or ignored for jobs because I’m a woman, I HAVE been under the impression that I am easily ‘shuttled off’ to kids books, girl books, books about women because I am female. Nothing at all is wrong with those types of books, in fact I LOVE them, but I ALSO love Batman, and X men, and Superman, and Hulk… I would like a shot to draw them someday. And if you look at the history of women drawing those type of books, it’s 99% men. I’m not saying that people have been discriminatory, more like they already have the expectations that since I’m a woman, I want to only draw those certain types of books. I would like to someday help shatter that expectation and show that women can draw anything, not just girl books. So I feel picking an unexpected more universal theme would help with that. Show everyone that we can draw (and write) ANYTHING.
“I would like to say that this project is not about the exclusion of men, or saying one gender is better than the other, or picking on men, or anything at all negative. The focus of this whole project is to have fun creating something together as women that will shine a spotlight on women in comics & help a good cause.”
2 – The diversification of comics in general. When I was in a comic book store recently, I was relieved to see a wall of comics that yes, were dominated by Marvel and DC, but which were also neighbored by Dark Horse and IDW and Image Comics and manga. Yes, DC and Marvel have the lockdown on superheroes, and they need a reality check. But they are going to find more and more competition if they don’t meet the needs of a more diverse audience. (If you are going to have to pick up any of the DC female superheroes, Greg Rucka/J.H. William’s recent Batwoman Detective series are top-notch.)
“These days, geek girls are finding one another and showing up at conventions and comic shops, faster and more vocally than the boys were prepared for, I think. And it’s a good thing. But it’s tough. In a way we’re invading a safe space that once belonged to boys who, at least in their youth, were most comfortable away from those bizarre female aliens. And I know what it’s like to have a safe space, and to have that space invaded by people who make me uncomfortable (not because they’re evil, but because I’m socially awkward around them, and I’m suddenly a little less free to be myself, bound by awkwardness). So I can empathize with the confusion of this new world for the boys and the suspicions that accompany it. I’m not surprised this demographic change comes with its rubs and scrapes.
“And honestly, certain parts of geek culture are slow to catch up to the fact that we’re here — women have suddenly altered the makeup of the audience, but women are only beginning to become a significant percentage of content creators. So there are lurches and bumps and internet flame wars along the way to learning to live in a larger community, a community that was a male-dominated outgroup and is now much larger and more diverse than existing social constructs are prepared to grapple with.”
4 – Web comics. There is a plethora of good comics online these days, and because there are no gatekeepers, it’s quite easy to read a LOT of work from female creators, and to find strong female characters in comics written & drawn by both men and women. It’s almost unfair to list any web comics because there are so many, but a few of my recent reads as a starting point and example:
Galaxion by Tara Tallan has a spaceship crew that is 50/50 gender split and who are led by females.
One of the great things about the internet bringing creators and fans together is that people who don’t see themselves in media a lot have a better chance of getting themselves heard directly by people who can fix things.
“If you are a woman, if you’re a person of colour, if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, if you are a person of size, if you are a person of intelligence, if you are a person of integrity, then you are considered a minority in this world.
“…And it’s going to be really hard to find messages of self-love and support anywhere. Especially women’s and gay men’s culture. It’s all about how you have to look a certain way or else you’re worthless. You know when you look in the mirror and you think ‘oh, I’m so fat, I’m so old, I’m so ugly’, don’t you know, that’s not your authentic self? But that is billions upon billions of dollars of advertising, magazines, movies, billboards, all geared to make you feel shitty about yourself so that you will take your hard earned money and spend it at the mall on some turn-around creme that doesn’t turn around shit.
“When you don’t have self-esteem you will hesitate before you do anything in your life. You will hesitate to go for the job you really wanna go for, you will hesitate to ask for a raise, you will hesitate to call yourself an American, you will hesitate to report a rape, you will hesitate to defend yourself when you are discriminated against because of your race, your sexuality, your size, your gender. You will hesitate to vote, you will hesitate to dream. For us to have self-esteem is truly an act of revolution and our revolution is long overdue.”