Sunday, December 2, 2012

In Which I Make the Joker Talk About Sexism

Anyone with interest in the geek community and access to the Internet in these past few weeks has probably noticed a disturbing trend: male creators and enthusiasts telling women where they can and can't belong in the subculture, or making godawful comments about female characters, only to have their comments waved away as satire or lauded as speaking the truth. Whether it's creator Tony Harris blasting attractive women for daring to be at comic conventions in costume, CNN giving Joe Peacock space to complain about how women who don't know enough about geekdom are "poachers," or the recent unearthing of writer/director James Gunn's appalling post about "The 50 Superheroes You Most Want to Have Sex With" - which featured, among other things, calling teen moms easy and a "joke" that was either about the corrective rape of a lesbian or the idea that homosexuality is a choice - which was dismissed by dudebros and even industry professionals across the board as "satire," it's a hostile world for women who like comics.

While Gunn issued an apology, the outcry from female fans and creators and men who aren't jackasses has done little to shame either Tony Harris or Joe Peacock.  Peacock actually wrote another blog post talking about what a great guy the sexist, transphobic Harris was, while upholding his own belief that women who are at comic cons for reasons that don't meet Peacock's arbitrary standards are predators and bad people.

The geek community has already responded far better than I ever could, from comic writer Gail Simone countering Harris's hate by starting Cosplay Appreciation Day to author John Scalzi's brilliant post "Who Gets to Be a Geek?  Anyone Who Wants to Be," among others.  Webcomic creator David Willis also graced cyberspace with the Shortpacked! strip "Courage," demonstrating just how low the jerks who think they're taking a brave stand against evil womenfolk really are.

But small and poorly worded though my voice may be, I know what it's like to be viewed by pigs in my fandom as a piece of meat who exists only for their sexual fantasies.  I know what it's like to slave over a costume for a convention only to find pictures of myself online afterward mocking my looks and ogling my ass. I know the paralyzing fear of walking into a new comic shop for the first time as a woman, waiting for the other shoe to drop the whole time I'm shopping.  Thank you, thank you, Bob's Comic Castle and Empire Comics, for not being the sort of shop that drives female fans away.  So as a cosplayer, a female geek, and a decent human being, I knew I wanted to speak out, and to do so in costume.

So I chose the most unlikely of my cosplay creations to do that.


Why the Joker?  Why not speak out as Wonder Woman, a feminist icon, or as Harley Quinn, a character who already gets fandom hatred, being viewed by some as a female Joker knock-off or an annoying victim who serves to normalize domestic abuse?

First and foremost, I just love the Joker.  He's the quintessential comic villain, Heath Ledger gave him the best performance I've ever seen in a comic to film adaptation, and he's my favorite of all the cosplays I've made.  And I intended that cosplay as a female variation of villain, so I spent a lot of time during its construction imagining the Joker as a woman, and how the other criminals of Gotham and comic fandom itself would view a Clown Princess instead of a Clown Prince.

The Joker is not the intuitive choice to talk about sexism.  My genderbent incarnation is still crude, hateful, and sadistic.  She makes the cissexist assumption that sex and gender are the same thing, and is concerned less with the negative impact of misogyny on women as a whole, and more on how sexist treatment affects her alone.  She is interested in violence rather than education, and counters hatred with more hatred.  She may have traded her Y chromosome for an X, but her newfound sex doesn't make her any less of an asshole.

And even she can see that holding women in a subculture to a different standard than men and ascribing nefarious motives based solely on affecting men to women's actions is not okay.

Or, to make a long explanation short: When you've crossed the line so far that even a homicidal super villain says, "Dude, not cool," it's time to re-examine your life choices.

I hope I've made it work.  The Joker is a beloved character who constantly graces the top of Best Villain Lists.  Theoretically, turning the character female shouldn't cause that respect to waver, but in a world where female fans are constantly questioned about having the "right" knowledge or being too pretty to conform to stereotypes, who knows?  Maybe she'd prove herself as a "real" villain girl.  Certainly enough women who've spoken out against this chauvinistic stupidity have been told that they're not the ones being talked about, that they're the real fans.  But the thing is, no one has the right to declare himself King Geek and say who can and can't live in the kingdom.  Bullshit like that hurts us all, and if you engage in it, I may not shove a Diva Cup down your throat, but I will lose all respect for you.
Special thanks to Ryn Bailey for helping out while I was writing the script!

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