Drama comes to the internet: the latest kerfuffle over gender politics hits webcomics

I intentionally try to steer this site away from what can be defined as “politics.” Partly because the first misstep of discussing politics is assuming readers are of the same opinion as you, and typically as an opinion review-writing individual I tend to resent anything that pegs labels. However, I am sorta caught at a dilemma when such “politics” cross into the realm of webcomics and I’m somewhat obliged to talk about it, eventhough most of the time it’s nothing more than internet drama.

So the latest such kerfuffle happened last week when Kate Beaton mentioned, in my opinion using a quite reasonable tone, that she was a little creeped out when guys complimented her with a “Marry me.” As a guy working in a field where women are definitely in the minority, my female colleagues do relate a lot of stories where they’re upset how their gender tends to trump quantifiable achievements. And, let’s face it, comics culture, despite inroads by manga and webcomics, are still a bit of a boy’s club.

This set off a discussion about feminism on the internet. It … pretty much went how you’d expect a “discussion about feminism on the internet” would go. Which then leads us to the latest response, where cartoonists sympathetic with Ms. Beaton’s position start drawing webcomics featuring male genitalia (NSFW). At this point, you suddenly realize: it’s politics as usual. You start with someone trying to tell folks that she’s uncomfortable with people saying “Marry me,” and you end up with drawings of penises.

Which is not unlike the mid-term elections, when you think about it.

Don’t forget to vote on Election Day!

(h/t to reader Dane Thulin and Robot 6)

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About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on November 1, 2010, in The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. I’m slightly confused as I tend to use “want to have your babies” to praise both males and females of the human species.

    I don’t think I’m going to presume someone said this to her in person, e-mailed her or tweeted her this so I’m not sure if this was taken the wrong way or if there was some misunderstanding.

    The bottom line is that if it makes the person uncomfortable then it probably shouldn’t be said or typed. For example if an Irishman came up to me and started banging on about the troubles in a jovial or joshing manner I’d feel pretty uncomfortable. Why I feel uncomfortable is irelevant it is just the mere fact that I feel uncomfortable which should ring alarm bells.

    Sadly this fails to register with many people male and female. I’m sure there just as many monuments to vaginas as there are penises out there…

    • I gotta say that the “have your babies” thing has always seemed creepy to me. Mostly it’s only used as a joke referencing that some number of crazies have actually meant it in the past, but even in joke many people find it creepy but don’t say anything because they understand that it was not meant as such but rather as a more crude, as well as jovial, form of compliment.

      It’s likely that this is the same sense in which the “marry me” comments are said so those making the comments are in the dark as to their offense.

      So really it goes both ways. Wherever you are, though mostly if you’re on the internet, you should be aware of both the possible ways you words can be heard by other, as well as the ways others might have meant their words to be heard. If at least one party in any conversation does this it will save us all from these sort of problems.

      • Manners and proper writing and spelling in the internet are not the rule.
        I pretty much have come to terms with the sea of stupidity that is the wird wide web, might as well enjoy the few islands of lucidity scattered about and do your best to avoid being influenced by the rest.

  2. The biggest issue with feminism on the internet and off for people like me are the false claims that feminists are interested in equality. Asking for preferential treatment, looking for every chance to portray women positively and men negatively (it’s fair to stick to the stats of how many criminals are men b/c those kinds of stereotypes are fine, but any stereotypes about women are unfair), never saying anything about things like Twilight which clearly try to sexualize young men for women’s entertainment, trying to shout down every single statement anyone makes with sexism claims.. it just gets to be too much. I don’t think people want to spend their lives tip-toeing around every single potentially offended group especially with innocuous comments like that.

    The comparison I can think of is when people ask me if I’m offended that people automatically call me “bro” because I’m black. Well.. is it an actual INSULT? Was it said to HARM me? If not wtf am I supposed to be getting offended by? At some point people are going to run out of things to whine about and lose their minds.

    • Dorian Cornelius Jasper

      I don’t think feminism as an issue actually came into play until a bunch of angry guys blew Kate Beaton’s comments out of proportion. It only became a feminist thing when a bunch of guys started ganging up on a lady. The issue has nothing to do with your complaints, but with that in mind, reading your comment really says a lot about what’s wrong with the masculinist movement.

      And that’s the fact that you guys don’t pay any attention to anything and make it all about you.

      • “Ganging up on a lady”. By that do you mean voicing an opinion different from hers? See my previous statement:

        “trying to shout down every single statement anyone makes with sexism claims”

        • Dorian Cornelius Jasper

          Frankly? I’d think applying your statement to the “differing opinion” side is a better fit.

          Especially since your comment came out of left field and seems directed at shutting off any opinion differing from your own. A little whiny if you prefer. If you’re offended by my conclusion then fine.

          No point tip-toeing around it.

          • What conclusion? This thread is a good example of the double standard:

            “And that’s the fact that you guys don’t pay any attention to anything and make it all about you.” – Dorian

            “We men are pretty obtuse. There’s no denying it. We’re not wired to seek deeper meanings and correlations to things.” – Drezz

            Note that if either of these statements had been made about men there would be outrage. Where are the cries of sexism over Drezz saying that men are idiots?

          • Dorian Cornelius Jasper

            I’m not defending Drezz, but I stand by my comment. I wasn’t talking about all men, I was referring specifically to painfully outspoken masculinists. “You guys.” And if you’re not the kind of guy who’d cause a shitstorm over a little game like “Hey Baby” then I guess I misread. Or the Team Liquid sexism hullaballo. Or any other typical internet feminism-masculinism kerfluffle of the week. But honestly, just about anytime there’s even a whiff of a feminist topic brewing on the internet, a bunch of guys start crying sexism against the feminists almost on reflex. Whether or not they have anything meaningful to add to the particular incident gets dropped by the wayside. It’s maddening. And let’s face it, outside of a few “white knighting” comments nobody’s going to confuse me for a feminist. I just think it’s a darn sight silly for some guy to come in, ranting about a bunch of anecdotal feminist (straw women?) and Twilight (the only people that defend that are the hardcore fans, the rest have long been squicked out by the author’s weird kinks and Mormonism) of all things when all that happened was a webcomicker got creeped out and guys started a big passive-aggressive starestomp because she had the nerve to be creeped out. Sure, they have every right to disagree with her, but if a person creeps someone out then at least person ought to have the decency to stop creeping the other person out and not get all panty-bunched over it. And my conclusion was that your comment was pretty hypocritical, you basically started a rant over an incident that, by your own standard, would have been construed as an innocuous comment had it been made by a guy. Complaining about double-standards means nothing if you ignore your own. But yes, you’re right about Drezz, he’s got some anti-male sexist issues to work out. And you, I think, need to realize that the sexism debate isn’t about you or your unfortunate social circumstances which prevent you from properly criticizing something as terrible as Twilight or whether or not you’re insulted by being called “bro” because you’re black. I mean come on.

          • Dorian Cornelius Jasper

            EDIT: Sorry for the Doublepost.

            Let’s just stop this, this nesting scheme can’t handle it and poor El Santo did nothing to deserve the tl;dr I dumped on his blog’s lap. I see what you mean but honestly I see more guys complaining than gals at this point. Might be because I swim in gamer circles, I dunno.

  3. I admire the webcomics “community” and it’s willingness to stand proud and tall and shouting out as one for ideas and positions they’re sure will get them praised and/or won’t alienate too many of their readers.

    You just don’t see that sort of ideological bravery too often.

  4. I saw this less as a gender issue and more of a respect one. It’s really disheartening when you work your butt off to make nice things to share with others, only to get comments like “They make nice comics but I wouldn’t hit that,” which is an actual comment I’ve seen… Even comments like “I’d have your babies” cross the line. Male or female, it’s a creepy thing to say. I’ve been asked if I’m single more than once in the last few weeks, honestly it makes me want to rip someone’s face off.

    If people would stop hiding behind the internet and start talking with/ about people with the same tone that they do to a person face-to-face, we’d all get along much better.

    • I think this and what Grey said earlier gets to the heart of the matter. People tend to take what other people write, both in print and on the internet, out of context in ways never thought imaginable and the case of an artist asking people to dignify her with a modicum of respect is a great example of this.

      Instead, she gets hounded and the issue gets turned into something it never was. Sad really :(

    • It’s why I use the name I do, not readily apparent as feminine. I don’t want people to think of my gender first and my art a distant second (if at all).

      Women get judged on their appearances first. To any men who brush it off or get angry with Kate Beaton, imagine for a moment that anything you do is tied up in your hottness or not-ness. Sure, “have my babies” is low on the Offense-O-Meter, but it’s that coupled with constant comments about appearance (good or bad), shag-ability, and availablity. It gets tiresome. “Tits or GTFO” and such.

  5. Politics; who will subjugate who. What a strange thing to talk about, especially on web comic blog.

    El Santo, I feel it’s outrageous telling everyone to vote; I do not vote nor ever will because I find it against my principles.
    I will never use a suggestion box to pray for coercion against people that disagree with an ideology or begging at the feet of demagogues for freedom by using the very fantasy that I wish to be free from.

    You can never force people to do good, because without choice- there can be no good.

    • I wonder how many people actually vote for those reasons rather than the more likely, as well as more sane ones. Believe it or not most people don’t vote for or against an ideology or hold any faith in those “demagogues”.

      Telling someone “to vote”, as many put it today, is not telling them to cast a ballot (though it is safe to assume that most think that when they are saying it). It might be that the ballot they choose is simply to abstain from the whole thing because they see it as ridiculous, and in that choice they are still “voting” in some sense.

      The statement, “remember to vote”, is a reminder that you have choice; that no matter how ridiculous the system of government we live in is, it still offers something that most other systems past have failed to give, in major decisions as well as basic ones, and that was a voice to state your choice.

  6. If you’re in the spot light, and your piece is hot, you’ll get both welcome and unwelcome attention. Been that way since forever.

    And to try to put a stopper (or filter) the anonymous voices from the net is exacerbating the flaming hive. You’ll quell those who meant well and irk the trolls.

  7. While it should be said that anyone working on the internet really should learn to shrug off the trolls and creeps because feeding them just causes a frenzy, it wouldn’t be without also mentioning that Kate Beaton was in no way wrong in her opinion on such comments. Creepy is as creepy does.

    Seeing as how in both realms there is little to show for all the squabbling and pointless talk, then it should also be said that Internet politics are only different from actual politics in that you don’t have to wear a phony smile when confronting someone in debate. You don’t have to wear a face at all.

  8. I’d also like to direct at least someone’s attention to a couple finds of mine while using stumbleupon for no real reason but that I just came across them both this hour and they both blew my mind.
    His Face All Red:

    http://emcarroll.com/comics/faceallred/01.html

    Josh and Imp:

    http://www.jinxville.com/joshnimp/comic.htm

    El Santo, have you ever considered a segment or two on webcomic short stories? There are some very nice ones out there and I could supply a list easy.

  9. Weird, because this, to me, doesn’t really seem to be about politics.

    I have seen “I want to have your babies” used in pretty much every gender combination, but still, it’s hard to argue that there’s no sexual content there, and call me old fashioned, but in my mind you don’t make sexual comments to people who aren’t comfortable with sexual comments.

    That’s just politeness.

  10. This whole thing sounds like a great opportunity to sell a few “I wanna have Kate Beaton’s babies” T-Shirts.

    Ch-Ching!

  11. I’ve always found the ‘babies’ statement to be awkward and immature and coming from the mouth of another guy, absolutely idiotic.

    We men are pretty obtuse. There’s no denying it. We’re not wired to seek deeper meanings and correlations to things. That’s why a lot of these throwaway type statements don’t hold any weight with us and we shrug them off. Yet, to a woman – it’s highly offensive and insulting.

    There may even be men who find it insulting, and a number of women who don’t – but the point is, someone felt creeped out by an inappropriate comment one too many times and had enough. Then some people took offense to the retaliation, and the battle began.

    Think of it in this manner. If you’re a man, and Kate was your daughter, who is a talented artist, and some random guys start posting that they want to have her babies… what do you think would happen?
    ;)

    • It’s not annoying for women because we “seek deeper meanings and correlations to things”. It’s not because women are inherently more delicate with our lady sensibilities. It’s just sheer volume of inapproriate comments with a sidedish of special vitriol saved for females.

      Like this horrifying link. Whatever you might think of Kate Harding’s politics, and I don’t agree with all of them, you’ve got to admit that shit is chilling. Men get abuse, too, but it’s rarely the kind of sexualized hatred women get. And let’s not forget Kathy Sierra. She is the reason I disagree with the whole “just ignore trolls and they’ll go away” thinking. Actively driving them out is better, IMO. Otherwise they just breed and fester all over the place and shut down voices.

      So that’s the extreme end, but the “everyday” stuff is just annoying. It’s like that group of guys I used to play D&D with who would sexualize EVERYTHING a female player said. “Oh, you’re gonna cast Magic Missle! I got a Magic Missle for you, baby! Hurr hurr. That’s what SHE said!”

      I understand Kate Beaton’s frustration.

      • I actually find that the zombie theory applies when it comes to “driving out” trolls. I.e. the more noise you make the more you’ll attract them.

        I still believe that why Kate felt uncomfortable is irrelevant but that the main point is that she feels a little uncomfortable. That alone should be a polite cue to give it a rest.

        However if we’re on the subject, I would say that the people who do subject women like Kate and Kathy Sierra to this kind of abuse aren’t exactly the most socially advanced individuals in the world.

        As stuff like comics and gaming gradually go more mainstream the demographics are getting better but for the most part we have to admit that a few gents and ladies who are in this scene haven’t get the best social skills, have suffered bullying of some kind in the course of their lives, suffer from low self esteem, narccism and some form of ADHD.

        Thus on that basis is it any wonder that we have stuff like this occuring?

        • It is true that trolls love to cause mayhem, but trolls also flourish in areas they go unchallenged and even supported by other trolls,. Driving them out isn’t only rebutting them once in comments. It’s more of a community response: you’ve got a well-moderated forum or site headed by a person/people with zero tolerance for troll BS, and you’ve got a commenting community who pile on these thugs and make the environment unhospitable to gross comments.

        • oh, and it’s easy to say that the most vicious of trolls are simply an aberration, a minority to be ignored. Like someone dismissing all the general misogyny in your standard YouTube comments, because “those people are just weird degenerates and don’t speak for the majority” etc. But the truth is, these kind of things are depressingly more common than most people think, because if you are not the target of this kind of abuse it is easy for you to have the privelege of ignoring it.

          • Thats a very good point but I get abuse as well purely down to my nationality. You go to the Economist or to youtube and anything either political or even sport that has England or is related to the troubles, empire, etc and you usually get the same old tired dinosaurs banging on about imperialism this and English scum that.

            It is almost as if, like gender, being born English is kind of like having a target painted on your back. I don’t defend my corner because frankly I don’t really give a tinkers cuss what some chap who wants to give me a hard time just because I happen to come from England thinks but this tends to follow one around like a bad smell on the internet.

            So sadly I do have the privilege of ignoring this kind of stuff. The snide comments, the up front abuse, the fact that apparently it is my fault personally that x, y and z happened. Some of it is banter, of course it is, but bloody hell does it make me uncomfortable. I mean can’t we all get along?!

            That is why I understand that this kind of stuff shouldn’t even be said in the first place precisely because it makes one feel uncomfortable. Would I want to bang on about Schindlers List in front of an Israeli? No. Would I want to go into depth about the Srebrenica massacre with someone from Bosnia? Of course not. So that is why I think “why would you even want to say something ender related which will make a girl feel uncomfortable?!”

            In reality though gender also does transcend into real life I do accept that and in many aspects Western society has yet to fully evolve how we’d like it to. For example did you know that we’ve only just got our [i]first openly gay sportsman in team sport[u]in the world[/u][/i]*?

            Think about that for a second. Over 40 years of advancement for gay rights and we’re barely able to get someone in sport to come out of the closet? Being openly gay and playing in top flight professional team sports is still a stigma and that is a scandal.

            In no way am I marginalising this incident or its ramifications but I believe equality needs to be advanced on all fronts and I feel sometimes we tend to focus too much on the obvious and neglect everything else.

            (*Gavin Thomas is his name look him up! Mickey Rourke is doing a film on him.)

          • (Sorry when I say Gavin Thomas I meant Gareth Thomas and as a rugby fan and an admirer of such an amazing player for shame!!!.)

  12. I was surprised to find this post in Kate’s twitter history (apparently it wasn’t sent to my feed for some reason?):

    “Just to add, some of you took ‘have your babies’ too singularly and literally. It was an example I thought would get the point across.
    Oct 27, 2010 02:49 AM GMT”

    Not to drag this thing out, but apparently we *all* have to choose our words more carefully–how much of this kerfuffle was spent trying to defend a the semantics of what is meant to be a compliment, completely distracting people from her point?

    Anyway my real goal here was to plug that I had also made a comic, but it may be that I also missed the point.

  13. I think there’s a case of missing the underlying issue here. People nowadays only want to associate sexism with a “stay in the kitchen, woman” attitude, much as they want to believe that racism is only purpetrated by skin-heads. The fact of the matter is that nearly all people respond to people differently based on sex and race. I’m not saying it’s bad, per se; it just is what it is. I think it’s frankly very important that men respond to women and women to men the way they do (you know, continuation of the species and all that.)

    However, mixing sex with business is very disrespectful, and yet the culture still allows sexual treatment of female professionals. If a man draws a comic, he’s an artist. If a woman draws a comic, she’s a woman artist. It is not fair for male readers to respond to her gender first and her art second. She is NOT putting her comic online in order to flirt with you. Responding in a way that brings the author/artist’s sex into the equation is rude, end of discussion. And I’ll say that to all genders and orientation – it’s still rude if a woman approaches a man in this way (or same sex variations). Whether or not he minds doesn’t stop it from being rude. Some people think rude is funny. Other people do not.

    Before I started comicking, I considered hiding my gender because I didn’t want to be thought of as a “woman” artist. I wanted to be given the benefit of the doubt due to me that I was making “real” art, not “art for women/by a woman.” I decided against that because I’m not ashamed of being female and I do want equality for women.

    Unless the work is about gender issues, the artist’s gender really shouldn’t affect how you’re looking at their work. If it doesn’t, good for you. If it does, maybe you should think about why.

  14. I am disgusted by the commenters who seek to minimalize the issues. “I see it not as much an issue of ___ as with general____.”

    NO.

    Listen to what she is saying. It is an unwanted sexual advance no matter how you try and rationalize or minimize it.

    You don’t get to define the issue for the person who is subjected to it.
    When a put-upon person is explaining that they feel put-upon an also why they feel that way, you DO NOT get to ignore them and say that their feelings are somehow wrong.

    Learn some respect and EARN the title “gentlemen.”

  15. Anyone who makes blanket statements based on gender (or anything, really) is an idiot. But don’t forget: this is the internet. Complete anonymity turns regular dudes and chicks into ***holes bigger than goatse. Instantly.

    I think it’s most offensive is when someone makes claims about their own gender in an attempt to either make themselves seem more honorable (“yeah, we men are like that sometimes . . . but I’m not1!1! dateplz?!?) or justify their behavior (“Us women are emotional creatures, you can’t blame me for flaming everyone”).

    Seriously. If you have a problem, deal with it yourself. Don’t project your own shortcomings (THAT WHAT SHE SAID) onto your peers.

  1. Pingback: Hard Graft - Cats & Dogs: stop arguing over Kate Beaton.

  2. Pingback: Webcomic Overlook’s Webcomic Moments of 2010 « The Webcomic Overlook

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