No more spandex, please.
November 25, 2006 7:31 PM   Subscribe

Goodbye to comics. One woman's story of a busted vagina, a syzygy, rape pages and why she is no longer working in comics.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (64 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, that's quite a public meltdown after a terrible series of events that would be hell on anyone. Reads like it's been cathartic for her, so I'm glad she at least seems to have gotten to a point where she's standing up for herself a bit more.

*tiptoes away slowly, wishes her well*
posted by mediareport at 8:05 PM on November 25, 2006

You know, I can't help feeling that lack of socialised medicine in America is the problem here, and not comics.
posted by Artw at 8:15 PM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

For folks who're curious, the blogger is Valerie D'Orazio, former DC assistant editor ("Identity Crisis," "New Frontier," "JLA",

Cribbed from Rich Johnston's LITG.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:24 PM on November 25, 2006

Roundup of a few reactions; this one adds a bit of context:

All the more interesting for the fact that the writer was castigated a few months back by female comics bloggers for "actively belittling what feminists are actually fighting for" in regards to the comics industry, and even defending sexism (to paraphrase). In short, there are an awful lot of layers to this story that are going to get peeled back over the next few weeks.

The October 18 post here really takes Valerie to task for apparently making statements like, "To create witchhunts against artists who draw overly buxom women is to work against biological reality" and "To censor men for favorably responding to ample bosoms (or drawing them) is like beating a cat for playing with yarn." Interesting twist. You can't get the full context of Valerie's original remarks since she's deleted her archives.
posted by mediareport at 8:42 PM on November 25, 2006

The rape comic would be Identity Crisis, which I never read but which sounds fucking awful.

(That lead on to Infinte Crisis which I also never read but which also sounds bloody awful. The moral is that big crossover comics dreamed up by editors always suck. )
posted by Artw at 8:53 PM on November 25, 2006

This just reminds me of how awkward it is to read a blog in actual chronological order.
posted by zsazsa at 9:03 PM on November 25, 2006

I feel a ton of sympathy for her and the things that have happened to her, but blaming comics for her poor choices in men (seriously, the guy she was with is a complete douche and she didn't seem to notice until it twas too late) is delusional.

Yes, DC and Marvel have institutionalized sexism. They're boys clubs. Imagine that. They make superhero comics. But those companies didn't do what he did to her.

Gail Simone's response is worthy of note:
This blog is from a women in comics whom I liked very much in the short time I knew her… do wonder about this a lot. Every interview I do with the mainstream press, seemingly, and I turn down a LOT, they seem to want to hear how awfully I’ve been treated by comics and by the men IN comics.

And I haven’t. It’s been quite the reverse. My experiences with comics have been nearly 100% positive, and the few that weren’t, for the most part, had little to do with gender. I know what they want to hear and I just want to tell them to fuck off. I know if I say, well, this editor stuck up for me or this creator was incredible to me, that stuff will never make the article anyway.

But I’ve had enough friends have the opposite experience that I know my own is just a fortunate roll of the dice. But joining a blanket condemnation when these guys have been so unbelievably supportive feels like I’d be a cad.

Anyway, I feel a lot of sadness for this blogger and hope things are brighter for her soon.
As a person, I'm horrified by what's happened to her. As someone who knows many people in the business, I wonder how much of it is her looking for a scapegoat.

(Yes, Identity Crisis is excruciating for long stretches with some very good character bits worked in.)
posted by beaucoupkevin at 9:09 PM on November 25, 2006

I think there are at least three problems in her life. (1) Being mentally ill although still socially-functional, at least some of which could be due to suffering the effects of her father's mental illness (beyond the genetic element). (2) A lack of a financial safety net, either one that's general to the US (such as socialized medicine) or specific to her (such as employment insurance). (3) Working in an industry whose primary market is obsessive personalities and whose financial drivers, as a consequence, are the sort of immoral and ruthless people that devote themselves to making more obsessives, and soaking obsessives out of their limited (see point 2) cash.

On the positive side, she's now well aware of all the above, she's a talented writer--I'd like to read the book she mentioned having written--and this guy Donovan seems to have, once he was brought to the point of realization of her trauma, come through with some cash to help her out for the consequences of the accident he partially caused. (I'm sure her skill as a writer had a lot to do with that realization, too.)

I don't think the rape scene she describes, if it is the one from Identity Crisis, was gratituous to the plot. The story is about the limits of appropriate responses to villainy. Wiping people's memories is, in the story, presented as a less immoral alternative to just killing them outright - an assertion not all characters agree with. The rape and murder victim is well-known to and loved by the heroes of the story, making the choice of not just killing villains more stark, and more difficult. Now personally I don't agree with the code against killing, I don't consider any person to have an unrestrained right to life (rather, a limited right which is forfeit under certain conditions, such as being a bloody-handed supervillain), and if I had to choose a superteam to protect and rule Earth I would choose The Authority over the JLA. However, the characters in the story do place a higher value on the life of villains, and therefore it is important in the story that that choice be as confronting as possible for them, and through them, for the reader. It's not about "how would I deal with Dr Light", it's "how would Batman, and Zatanna, and Green Arrow, deal with Dr Light" and then, how do they deal with each others' choices?

Like all preferences in reading, this is a matter of opinion, taste, and personal degree of compassion. I do agree that comics publishers use rape too often as a story device (but not so often as "I love you therefore I must stay away from you in order to protect you"). I also think that the Spoiler/Black Mask/Robin/Batman story arc was horribly, horribly fucked up by incompetent writing and negligent editing, to the great detriment of the characters - DC's Worst. Story arc. Ever. (Even including Frank Miller's retarded Batman run.) But I liked Identity Crisis.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:18 PM on November 25, 2006

I feel a ton of sympathy for her and the things that have happened to her, but blaming comics for her poor choices in men (seriously, the guy she was with is a complete douche and she didn't seem to notice until it twas too late) is delusional.

There are a couple of major problems in her life, one:

Donovan Paul is sorry, but he cannot help me out with the $15,000 medical bill in the wake of the torn cervix I received when having sex with him.

This is the result of a political problem in our country, not comic books.

The second-to-last time I was intimate with Donovan, I tried his suggestion that I use a lambskin condom instead of latex. Both him & my gyno theorized that perhaps I was allergic to the latex, producing pain and discomfort.

For the first time in my life, I experienced what it was like to have sex and not have a sensation like burning acid.

Friggin' crazy and pretty sad too. I met a girl once who had this problem, lots of sex and she never realized that she could have it without pain until one day when they didn't have a condom.

You can't exactly blame comics for that.

She also seems to have a pretty big problem with other medical issues.


Anyway, the whole comic book industry is an anachronism.
posted by delmoi at 9:23 PM on November 25, 2006

She seems to have come around on the whole "comics industry = evil" thing, remember, and seems tohave ended up in a much more hopeful space after the venting, and the generally supportive response she's gotten.
posted by mediareport at 9:37 PM on November 25, 2006

Also I'd add that pretty much ANY industry that is "fun" and recruits amongst it's fanbase will tend to be sucky and exploitative - practically an invevitable situation if theres a ready supply if people willing to throw themselves at a job for little or no money.
posted by Artw at 9:49 PM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

I read the whole thing, and I'm still confused. So she had a health crisis, or two, and there was this problematic publishing event, and there was some sexual harassment which didn't seem to actually be described, just its consequences. Maybe you need to know the players going in?
posted by dhartung at 9:55 PM on November 25, 2006

I can't even get past the first post. OH GOD BROKEN VAGINA.
posted by honeydew at 9:59 PM on November 25, 2006

Not to be ghoulish, but I can't help but wonder who Donovan Paul really is.

For the record, Identity Crisis was excellent. Infinite Crisis was a train wreck. Make mine Marvel!
posted by EatTheWeek at 10:12 PM on November 25, 2006

I wish she'd gone into the office problem she was having a bit further. It sounded like someone was either playing office politics with her or sexually harrassing her, but it wasn't entirely clear through her writing.

The one case of sexual harrassment/misconduct she did reference was the Julius Schwartz/Colleen Doran incident in which he is alleged to have jumped on her in a company limousine (scroll down to her response to the question "Have you ever dealt with something similar [refering to sexual harrassment]?").
posted by MegoSteve at 10:15 PM on November 25, 2006

EatTheWeak: For the record, Identity Crisis was excellent. Infinite Crisis was a train wreck. Make mine Marvel!

I take it you haven't read Civil War yet? :)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:19 PM on November 25, 2006

aeschenkarnos - Ha! This puts us on the precipice of a derail, but I'm loving Civil War. I'm not loving waiting another six weeks for the next issue. Always figured Tony & Reed were just a little too impressed with themselves.

No accounting for taste in comics, of course. There was a time when Bob Harras could make a living of it, after all.
posted by EatTheWeek at 10:22 PM on November 25, 2006

Well, I read all the posts present. It was unpleasant to read because I find her to be a very unsympathetic narrator. I'm very ambivalent about that.

One of the things that I had a lot of trouble processing when I worked in rape crisis many years ago was that while it was the case that I think the majority of women in our society have been the victims of some sort of sexual violence, there's a minority of women who have been assaulted many, many times under different circumstances. And, of course, there's the minority of women who've never been assaulted at all (by which I mean those who probably truly haven't been assaulted and not including those who are in denial or just failed to recognize it). The latter category tend to have a very rosy view of things. The minority who've been attacked many times have a very, very dark view of things.

But what explains the differences? It's not only socioeconomic, though that plays a large role. Frequent victims from and in much more privileged subcultures exist, too. And we should include in this battered women.

One should not and rationally cannot blame the victim for their assault. The reason should be clear to anyone who takes seriously the problems of moral philosophy and right action, whether or not they recognize their interest as such. What's clear is that an assailant is a person possessing choice and moral capacity who is just as responsible for his actions when he assaults a convenient victims as when he assaults an inconvenient victim. So, to be clear, I'm not blaming the victim for their assault.

But once you've known a frequent victim, and known more than one frequent victim, you begin to sense a pathology. They are convenient victims. More than that, it almost seems like they choose to be convenient victims. Almost, though, is a key word because "choice" is not so black-and-white.

And of course the obvious answer that will surprise no one reading this is that many of these frequent victims, at least, are conditioned to it. Just like so many of us, including myself, find that we have deeply-ingrained habits in our personal choices and in relationships that continue to cause us grief, yet we keep making those bad decisions. We do this because, at some deep level in our subconscious, we prefer the devil we know to the devil we don't.

I think the reason that I find personal narratives of a victim's view of the universe so deeply unsympathetic is because I think they are entrenching rather than empowering. The victim's view is in some sense comforting. It's just barely possible that this writer has been a meek and cheery person who has never in her life complained to anyone about how the deck has been so badly stacked against her and was unwilling to even recognize it herself. If so, then this narrative is empowering. But if this is just a more public version of mantra of complaints that she's been repeating in her head for most of her life, then it's just another step along that path and no real change.

It's also the case that in addition to the habitual victim frequently finding themselves in situations where they are assaulted, they also (understandably, though falsely) begin to view everyone through a very cynical lens. This undermines them in two ways. First, it overstates their weak position and encourages their sense of helplessness. Second, it discourages potential (or indeed, former) allies as they are mistaken for enemies. I think there are at least two possible examples in her narrative of this. First, while the psychology is obvious behind why her vaginal injury takes on a great symbolic importance representing the misogyny she's experienced—so much so, she frames her narrative around it—the truth is that it was an accident with no one at fault and her lover not the least an assailant, symbolic or otherwise. Occasionally maladroit, yes. An assailant, no. She also sees her doctor as an assaulting male—a conclusion possibly correct but based upon her presentation I have my doubts. For that matter, there's also the example of the writer she dubs "Willy Wonka". Supposedly her friend and ally, he too spurns her.

Of course her narrative wouldn't have the force it has if it had more shades of grey. But that brings forth the question of what the narrative is for. If it exists to have dramatic impetus in its own right, then what's included and ignored only has to obey the dictates of its aesthetics. On the other hand, if this narrative is intended to be useful to herself, then shades of grey for a person who's long lived in a world of black-and-white might be more effective. And lest you claim that her live has been shades of grey, I think the proof otherwise is that it has been a life coccooned within the comic book universe of heroes and villains. Just the universe she understands best.

At any rate, the thing is, you can't really change other people. This blog may well have some positive influence on what is undoubtedly a very sexist comic industry. But she's left the industry. Whatever change she initiates won't affect her own life very much. Somehow, she has to overcome the conditioning of her childhood and the years of habituation to learn to see the world a different way and to live a different life. That won't make misogyny go away, sadly, but it will equip her better to deal with it and protect herself.

I've found that I can't deal very well with this type of personality. Well, actually, I can deal very well with them in limited, clinical situations. In that context I can keep my intellectual comprehension of the matter at the fore, be the most helpful person to the other person as possible, and then disengage. Longer term contact, or personal contact in my private life, however, my own emotions come to the forefront. And those emotions are mostly frustration and sadness that, sadly, easily mutate into contempt. Because you can't say "please, just try changing these few things and see what happens" over and over and over without result before becoming angry. Well, I can't.

I had a partner who, for a short time, really looked to be plunging into an addiction problem. I'd dated recovering addicts before—I found their self-control reassuring. This was the only time I've experienced someone starting to spin out-of-control. And it terrified me. Worse, I realized instantly that I simply did not have the mindset that would allow me to stick around to help. I realized immediately that I had zero-tolerance, which shocked the hell out of me. I think of myself as loving and generous—other people think of me as loving and generous. But, no. And this was deeply appalling and shameful to me because to be brutally honest, I'm a fucked-up person myself and I'm grateful beyond measure for those people who've stayed by my side even though my ability to change habits has been incremental and very, very slow. I have no right to be impatient. Yet I am.

In the end, it makes me terribly sad to think of all the people out there for whom their lives are long strings of misery. And there's so many of them. While the proximate causes may in many cases be first causes and at the very least aggravating, I don't have a lot of confidence that eliminating most of them will eliminate all such unhappiness. My observation has been that happiness is only loosely coupled to environment. It may be telling that while I have a number of objections to stoicism, when my father was going through a particularly bad period I sent him a copy of Epictetus's Discourses. Ultimately, I think the only true power we have is over ourselves.

At any rate, I hope y'all will excuse such a long comment, even for me. Her blog raised a lot of issues and I know I'm not the only person who will read it and be unsympathetic even though we recognize that validity of her complaints.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:34 PM on November 25, 2006 [16 favorites]

I wish she'd gone into the office problem she was having a bit further. It sounded like someone was either playing office politics with her or sexually harrassing her, but it wasn't entirely clear through her writing.

She mentions early on that she changed names and sequence of events for narrative purposed and to avoid getting sued. Since the people and events in the blog aren't exactly secret, she probably didn't touch on that stuff in order to avoid geting sued.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:42 PM on November 25, 2006

the truth is that it was an accident with no one at fault and her lover not the least an assailant, symbolic or otherwise.

Did you miss the parts where she is saying he's a good man and it's not his fault?

But that brings forth the question of what the narrative is for.

As she mentions in an early post:

This is merely an outlet to spew the bile that has accumulated in my system, and if, at the end, it looks like anything worthwhile, I might pull it together for some sort of publication.

I've found that I can't deal very well with this type of personality.

It's not about you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:59 PM on November 25, 2006

"Did you miss the parts where she is saying he's a good man and it's not his fault?"

No. But it was an afterword. As I say, she frames her narrative within this incident. She does seem intellectually ambivalent about casting him in any villainous role, but she's not the least ambivalent subconsciously. It's very clear both in the broad and narrow strokes of what she has to say.

"It's not about you."

Insofar as this is a forum for commenting on one's thoughts and reactions to the post's link, that's exactly what it's about. So there's that. But you might also notice that a description of my own feelings and experiences account for a small portion of what I wrote. There's probably a strong narcissist involved in this discussion, but it's not me. Thanks anyway.

"This is merely an outlet to spew the bile that has accumulated in my system..."

Which indicates that it's intended to be a form of self-therapy. But it's bad therapy, I think. I could be wrong. She could be the sort of person for whom spilling this bile is empowering and healing. But the ratio of people who falsely believe this to be the case to those for whom it is actually the case is very large. Many people are in love with their bile.

I make this about her and her personality and not as much about sexism in general and in the comics industry in particular because that's what she does. Her narrative in that blog encompasses most of her life history, from early childhood to the present. It's not as much a description or an accounting of the sexism she's experienced all her life as it is an accounting of how it's damaged her psyche. The blog is about her inner world. That's clear as day.

If it really were primarily about sexism, my reaction to it and my engagement with it would be very different. All of my adult life I've been active in fighting sexism. I've been an activist in several different capacities, I write on the issue constantly, and I'm more aware of institutional sexism than most men I've known. There's no way to overstate the problem. There's no way to overstate the severity and scope of the problem of sexual violence against women.

And I do think she's doing some good with this blog. Sympathetic to everyone or not, ultimately she's more sympathetic to the audience than the comic industry is. I have zero interest in comics or graphic novels, so the fact of rape storylines in comics comes as a shock to me. In an alternate universe I'd hope that it's an empowering and challenging look at rape and not voyeurism. But given our culture, and for God's sake given comic book culture, we know it's voyeurism. To shine some light on this and to show that it doesn't exist in a vacuum, to see that it mirrors an institutional sexism in the industry, well, that's a good thing. But that's not why she wrote this, and if it had been why she'd have written it differently and more effective to that purpose. And I guess that bothers me, as well, in that this productive use of her writing is probably (though not definitely) a means to the end which is simply a catechism of her misery.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:41 AM on November 26, 2006

Insightful comments Etheral.
posted by pwedza at 1:02 AM on November 26, 2006

Also, please permit me to mention my contempt for the term 'meh.'

posted by pwedza at 1:04 AM on November 26, 2006

Christ. Someone could post a three-step method for cold fusion, and I've no doubt that some mefite or another would make a "meh" post about it. Folks are so hard to impress nowadays!

I found bits of this blog tedious - for instance, it seems like her panic alarm should have gone off a little quicker when it looked like The Blue Pills were messing her up. And if what they planned on subjecting Sue Dibny to was such an outrage, maybe she could have saved the character while Identity Crisis was still getting batted around the boardroom.

I didn't read that wrong, did I? She was around for the very early stages of that project. Comic projects fall apart and change shape for all kinds of reasons. There was a time that Kevin Smith was supposed to take over the Amazing Spider-Man. There was a time that Wolverine was meant to be a highly evolved wolverine with claws that telescoped into his gloves. Plenty of monkey wrenches could have been thrown into Identity Crisis.

This is a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking, I realize. If she lacked the grit to voice her concerns at that time, then perhaps now she will shake that behavior off. It sounds like courage beyond her blog will be in great need in the months to come.

Tiresome as I found bits of this, I read the whole damn thing. Like Ethereal Bligh, I detect touches of victim mentality in her writing. But in the end, I do wish her the best, and hope that she soon learns to do more than just experience her misery - considering that she spent decades around tales of heroism against impossible odds, she shouldn't be short on inspiration.
posted by EatTheWeek at 1:08 AM on November 26, 2006

pwedza - we should petition mat to rename the board "Mehtafilter"
posted by EatTheWeek at 1:10 AM on November 26, 2006

In an alternate universe I'd hope that it's an empowering and challenging look at rape and not voyeurism. But given our culture, and for God's sake given comic book culture, we know it's voyeurism

That sounds like it's probably applicable in this case, but I really don't think its fair to paint all comic book depictions of rape with the same brush.
posted by juv3nal at 1:18 AM on November 26, 2006

here, here!!
posted by pwedza at 1:21 AM on November 26, 2006

In related news: the new French Superheroine & 2007 presidential hopeful.
posted by pwedza at 1:37 AM on November 26, 2006

I had read this a few days ago and was thinking about posting it myself. The thing that bothered me is that I had a relative who was uninsured and ran up a huge medical bill and relied on his family to bail him out, I sort of felt there was something selfish about being single and uninsured. I'm not even sure if Donovan has any moral or legal obligation to help bail her out, that he is I find remarkable.
posted by bobo123 at 1:38 AM on November 26, 2006

"I'm not even sure if Donovan has any moral or legal obligation to help bail her out, that he is I find remarkable."

What's interesting to me is that, in my view, he had an obligation as her partner but not because he was responsible. The latter idea I find very wrongheaded. From her description, it doesn't sound like he had any way to be aware of what was happening, even if she was, which isn't clear, either. So an equivalent situation would be, say, a woman-on-top situation where the man's penis is inadvertently damaged, by bending backwards, or a partial slip-out and scrunch. I wouldn't ever think of the woman as being responsible unless we were already aware of some problem and she didn't alter her behavior. But if it just happened? I'd think of it as an accident. And if I was just dating the woman and not partners with her (however that difference would be reckoned—in my case, it's always been the difference between living apart and living together) I wouldn't expect her to help me out financially because of the medical expenses. But it sure does seem to me that she believes that Donovan has a responsibility to her that's a function of the accident and not their relationship. But maybe I misunderstand and it's about their relationship.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:48 AM on November 26, 2006

A (preliminary) list of all characters at DC and Marvel superhero Comics that have been sexually assaulted.
posted by hindmost at 1:50 AM on November 26, 2006

Let me try that again.
posted by hindmost at 1:51 AM on November 26, 2006

I think the plot device of "evil character sexually assaulting a woman" is endemic to action narratives in any media. This happens quite a bit in film as well. It's partly an extension of the general trend for the villain to place the hero's female partner in peril - in other words it's our contemporary culture's extreme version of Dirk Dastardly tieing up the heroine on the railroad tracks so Dudley Do-right has to spring into action. I've actually seen it more often in action films than in comics - in fact, a modified version happened in the last action film I saw "District 13."

It's used, in my opinion, in part to tap into a primal, short-sighted part of the male brain. I used to work with a sexual-assault crisis counseling group on a college campus. We did a lot of public and large group speaking. One of the topics we would discuss with groups of men, after talking about the importance of communication and respecting boundaries, was that if a partner or friend confided in them that they had experienced sexual assault that a response of violence or revenge was counter-productive. Many men, when they find out someone close to them has been hurt, focus on how they can exact revenge or seek justice. It's a somewhat natural response, but we tried to point out that their friend or partner needs focus and support, not vengeance. Some people in our counseling group felt the desire for action or revenge belittled the victim and gave them the status of property - I think that can be a bit short-sighted, but I understand the feeling, as again the quest for vengeance takes the focus away from helping and re-empowering the person who has been hurt.

In a story setting (and again, this happens in comics, movies and novels with equal frequency) the problem I have with sexually assaulting a character (always female) in an action adventure narrative is that the reader knows that just revenge is coming. And that's where the creepiness seeps in - the rape becomes just a device to allow the reader to feel righteous about the eventual, often gruesome, death of the villain. The victim becomes a one-dimensional cypher meaning "justice" so the hero can be justified in acting out our grotesque fantasies. In many ways when this happens in a story, I actually end up feeling like the writer is justifying the rape because the outcome is our cathartic pleasure in brutally killing the perpetrator. Lots of movies feature scenes of sexual assault or brutal murder of the female character so the hero can have revenge: Rob Roy and Braveheart spring to mind for some reason. This really became a stock characteristic of the psycho villain for a long time in films: that he was a rapist. I am still really sensitive to this story manipulation as the real-life consequences and aftermath of an assault have nothing to do with throwing the attacker over a cliff.

I think there are action adventure writers in comics who stay away from this bad storytelling (Straczynski's run on Spider-man featured a refreshingly self-directed Mary Jane, anyway) as well as many comics which have nothing to do with action adventure in the superhero sense at all.
posted by Slothrop at 2:12 AM on November 26, 2006 [2 favorites]

Where, where?

Meh, anglosaxons who don't know how to spell "hear, hear". Just imagine them in the House of Commons calling "here, here".

(That's my contempt for your contempt if that were not clear)
posted by jouke at 2:16 AM on November 26, 2006

"I actually end up feeling like the writer is justifying the rape because the outcome is our cathartic pleasure in brutally killing the perpetrator."

Yes, that's the heart of the matter. And see how the woman factors into this? As a mere instrumentality. It's revealing.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:32 AM on November 26, 2006

Ethereal Bligh, please accept my apologies for my past criticism of you. Every word of your first comment was worth reading.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:21 AM on November 26, 2006

*cough* Carol Sobocinski *cough*
posted by squidfartz at 3:47 AM on November 26, 2006

She's crazier than someone at a card table with LaRouche signs taped to it.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:38 AM on November 26, 2006

it seems like her panic alarm should have gone off a little quicker when it looked like The Blue Pills were messing her up.

Maybe you've never been on the recieving end of this situation, When highly educated doctor guy tells you that you need the little blue pills in order to get better, your first assumption is that he knows what he's talking about. Oh, sure, maybe you google the drug name or pick up a book at Barnes N' Noble or something. You're not a complete sheep. But guess what? They tell you exactly the same thing the doctor told you. So you take the drug and there are side effects, but you keep on taking it because it seems to be the only option. If you try a different drug, it may be even worse. Now, of course, there are those alternative medicine people over there with their St. John's Wort and their Coenzyme Q10 and what not. You could go that route. But haven't you heard that that stuff gets contaminated because it's not regulated by the FDA and studies show that it doesn't work very well? And it can get very expensive and insurance doesn't cover it and if you start taking that stuff before you've even done a decent trial run (a minimum of three months. It takes that long for it to build up in your system and for you to adapt to the side effects, you know. The doctor said so.) on the blue pills, then that's a clear sign that you simply don't want to get better. Or worse, that you're just plain paranoid. And when the side effects don't go away and instead get scarier, any idiot can see that they're psychosomatic because the studies all show that that drug just doesn't do those things. Simply isn't possible.

I've gone through this shit not once, not twice, but dozens of times. I can't tell you how many doctors and health care types I've pissed off. When I have this argument with them, I'm as polite as humanly possible and I never ever raise my voice, but still, it always pisses them off to no end, the very idea that someone would challenge them on this stuff. I was - I shit you not - once refused treatment and booted out of a doctor's office simply because I refused to rule out the possiblity that I would once again pursue alternative treatments.

And even now, affter fifteen years, of this crap, I'm not immune to the pressure. Six months ago, I had a doctor half a step away from convincing me to try the latest neurontin knock off, even though I had all sorts of misgivings about it. Doctor pressure is a very powerful force.
posted by Clay201 at 4:57 AM on November 26, 2006

I don't believe a word of it
posted by A189Nut at 5:30 AM on November 26, 2006

Thanks EB, that was insightful and interesting.

Slothrop: I actually end up feeling like the writer is justifying the rape because the outcome is our cathartic pleasure in brutally killing the perpetrator.

In Identity Crisis though, we the readers were denied that just revenge - as we almost always are, in DC and Marvel comics. No matter how bad the actions of a supervillian, for marketing reasons, they must stay around, and therefore, a tenous and philosophically superficial over-respect for villain's lives is spun up to support it.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:36 AM on November 26, 2006

Prior to clicking the link, I thought this post was going to be about Mary Fleener, Lydia Lunch, or Julie Doucet.
posted by Smart Dalek at 6:29 AM on November 26, 2006

Oh, yeah. Some of my prior links MNSFW.
posted by Smart Dalek at 6:33 AM on November 26, 2006

I think the introduction of rape or sexual assault in a female character's backstory is sometimes to make things more "realistic" in a writer's eyes. "Realism" has been very important in comics in the past decade or fifteen or twenty years, and when a whole bunch of male writers hear pretty often about how 1 in 6 or 5 or 3 women are sexually assaulted, they decide to include sexual assault in the female's backstory too, because then their character is more gritty and realistic and accessible!

It is overplayed and overdone and more-than-slightly misogynistic how so many strong women seem to have to go through sexual assault to either make them strong or break them after they've become strong. Especially when it's done after they've gained their powers or whatnot, since if you're a superhero, the whole point is you can defend yourself from that sort of thing. But, if we do accept that a good number of women in real life are hurt, then why is it misogynistic to say the same issues aren't going on in the comics world and superwomen there aren't doing their damnedest to eliminate them?

Of course, the idea of confronting sexual assault in an empowering manner in the superhero realities implies that you have writers and artists who know how to do that, and evidence thus far is that very little of them do.

What I'm saying is that introducing sexual assault does not necessarily have to be denigrating or a deus ex machina for drama. When handled well it can be a valid plot point.
posted by Anonymous at 6:33 AM on November 26, 2006

But once you've known a frequent victim, and known more than one frequent victim, you begin to sense a pathology. They are convenient victims. More than that, it almost seems like they choose to be convenient victims. Almost, though, is a key word because "choice" is not so black-and-white.

Ugh, I know a girl like this. I wouldn't say she's the victim of unwanted sexual assault (that I know of) but she's certainly been the victim of physical assault and taken a huge amount of shit from guys, and then she just keeps going and making the same obvious mistakes over and over and it's like. ugh.
posted by delmoi at 8:48 AM on November 26, 2006

"What I'm saying is that introducing sexual assault does not necessarily have to be denigrating or a deus ex machina for drama. When handled well it can be a valid plot point."

Absolutely. I'm not sure anyone is saying otherwise, though.

Dworkin's viewpoint aside, the same thing can be said for depictions of sexuality. I'm sex-positive and a feminist/antisexist, and so I believe strongly that all sorts of depictions of sex, and the body, ranging from casual to artistic to pornographic, can be healthy and empowering. But the sad truth is that most of them aren't—at least this can certainly be said about porn. Porn usually does have a misogynist component; and when it doesn't inherently, there's still the problem that a sexist audience interprets it in such a way that the result is the same. Because, here too, it comes down to seeing women as nothing more than a means to an end.

So you've also got the problem that the comic audience may not be, as a group, very well positioned to benefit from what we'd all agree is a "good" and useful depiction of rape. Even then, it still might simply be voyeurism for the majority of the audience.

And thanks for the kind comments above.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:52 AM on November 26, 2006

A lurker emailed a link to a journal article which he feels speaks directly and strongly to many of the issues about which I wrote in my first comment.

Those interested really should read it—it's worth it. But in a nutshell it's a comprehensive survey argument that victims of trauma, especially repeated childhood trauma (and especially of certain varieties), have complex interrelated psychological and physiological processes which strongly encourage them to repeat the trauma in one form or another.

Plagiarizing myself, I'll just cut-and-paste what I wrote back to my correspondent after reading this paper:

"I just read the paper. One idea I take from it that may be salient to the arguments I make against her narrative is that—if I'm right in my assessment—then her narrative and all the effort and time she's spending on it may be just another form of reinforcing reenactment. That's an idea that itself deserves some rigorous scrutiny: the act of telling a narrative (or recapitulating one internally) is in some ways itself a dissociative state that very well may create within the brain conditions very similar to those experienced during the events of the narrative. When the topic is a traumatic incident, then creating/reciting such a narrative may well be something very close to actual reenactment. For those so inclined and otherwise unable to engage in an actual reenactment, the telling of a narrative may be a convenient substitute. Thus, this blog writer who has moved into a novel situation where she doesn't seem to have a male with which to recapitulate her trauma is able to both tell herself she's empowering herself and healing while continuing reenactment in a covert manner. Which is all a fancy and detailed way of describing why victim narratives strike me as doing more harm than good for most narrators."
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:28 AM on November 26, 2006

Sorry for repeat comments.

Not to belabor the point, but all this goes a ways toward explaining something that is otherwise fairly puzzling to me: that she identifies her narrative with OJ's book. This batterer and murderer and his narrative is an extreme example of the misogyny she's indicting and in that respect a very inappropriate model for her narrative. But note also that although she describes long periods of time when she must have lived with her mother, the woman is essentially completely absent from her narrative. While, in contrast, her father seems to have defined her entire life. His interests became her interests. She identified with her abuser. She identifies with OJ, too.

As a victim of childhood abuse myself, I understand well these competing models of powerless victim and omnipotent abuser. These are the primary senses of self presented to the child abuse sufferer. The latter, at least as an object of fantasy, is obviously more attractive. Which would you want to be?

I had a short period at the beginning of my marriage (17 years ago) where I found myself recapitulating and inflicting the emotionally abusive behaviors that I had suffered as a child. Through a lot of effort and a bit of luck I was able to break through and learn to avoid acting this way and it's never arisen again as a problem in that or subsequent relationships. I've discovered other ways to screw up relationships. :) But while I broke, I think, the connection between the psychological pathology and behavior, I don't think all the underlying psychological pathology is gone. All this is to arrive at this confession: I remain fascinated, perhaps even enthralled, with the act of violent transgression. What does it mean to destroy a person, ten people, a thousand people? Is it profound or is it trivial? The thing is, I know what I think and believe: it's trivial.

Socrates asked Thrasymachus, "If I told you that the life of each person in Athens could be decided by me, would you think that I'm powerful? Before you say, 'yes', consider: I can stab any man in the back at the market. Do you still see that as powerful?" (This is paraphrase.)

Violence is trivial. But then, if you've been a victim of it, you know it's not. It changes lives. Forever. And so, on the other hand, it's all-powerful. Couple that with the other idea that it's trivial, that it only takes the decision to be violent, that anyone can do it, and right there for the victim of abuse is one very convenient path to supposed strength. If not acting upon it, identifying with it offers some psychological solace. And in the context of the paper to which I linked, it is its own version of reenactment.

And, finally, here is perhaps one of the strongest reasons I have difficulty being sympathetic to frequent victims and often feel contempt. I'm ashamed to have to admit it.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:04 AM on November 26, 2006

Just imagine them in the House of Commons calling "here, here".

I'm not sure I would 'hear' the difference.

Still, I refuse to indulge in a "meh."
posted by pwedza at 11:08 AM on November 26, 2006

Clay201 - Yikes. That sounds rough.

Couple years back, I had some blue pills of my own. Things seemed cool as I built up the dose in my blood, and I even believe I saw some benefits. Then came the day where I had a pretty burly flu bug that I dumped some Theraflu on.

Oops. I spent the rest of the week in-fucking-sane. I was done with the blue pills after that. But I can still remember what it felt like before I went on them. After resisting the whole idea of head medicine for years, I found myself so miserable and desperate that I would have accepted any path out of the dark.

So I may have judged our dear blogger a bit harshly. Her writing today makes it sound like she was aware of her problem as she was having it. This might not have been the case at the time.
posted by EatTheWeek at 12:17 PM on November 26, 2006

I understand where EB's coming from (and am myself confused about the conflicting emotions Valerie's been putting on display so readily for us), but think he's going a bit too far in assuming he understands completely what's going on inside her head. A bit more room for uncertainty is called for in our analyses, I think.

Anyway, folks interested in the intersection of childhood abuse, sexuality and comics should definitely check out Jokes and the Unconscious, the new graphic novel by Daphne Gottlieb and Diane DiMassa (of Hothead Paisan fame). I finished it this afternoon and found it very moving, with many pages stopping me in my tracks with smart, emotional scenes that really cut through you. Neil Gaiman likes it, too.
posted by mediareport at 3:44 PM on November 26, 2006

Bligh, i'm creeped out by how much people have decided to parse her mental states and praise or crucify her for said states. It's pretty obvious there's issues, do we really need need to go over them, isn't that up to her and therapist? And the fact that some people are finding her unsympathetic because she decided to stop being so quiet and nice and just tell her story and how that's somehow bad. Or not bad if she doesn't X.

Terrible things happened to her because of a certain attitude that men have towards women in the superhero industry, and it's a reocurring theme and she's being painted as doing something terrible. That's just messed up.

Ultimately, I thought it was a damn good piece of writing, which is why I linked to it. There's a ton over overlapping things going on: how men can effect women, parents effect children, rich effect poor (the mom being absent due to the parents having to work two jobs at odd shift), how these things can be codified into a system and then effectively used to damage an individual enough to drive them batshitinsane in hundred different little ways, how those enforcing the system are a little crazy too and how this dirty little patchwork quilt so neatly covers the superhero comic book industry. If any of these superheroes would come to life, they'd be appalled at these antics.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:24 PM on November 26, 2006

Blatcher, if we don't need to go over her issues, then why would we be reading all about them?

To me, it seems that terrible things happened to her throughout her whole life, almost none of which are more than tangentially related to the comics industry (like 'I dated a guy who collected comics and he was a tool', and 'my dad was insane and HE INTRODUCED ME TO COMICS') but because of her own weird obsession with comics, she has tied it all into one 'oh oh how the comics industry affected me' thing. Even though the original events were nasty, it feels almost like a conspiracy theory by the end, which makes it easy to dismiss the whole story as 'crazy woman sees everyone as violent misogynists'.

I missed almost all of the 'ton of overlapping things' because I don't know anything about her, and it doesn't come through in her blog. Perhaps if you wanted to focus on this angle, you needed to include something else that gave the background details like her mother's absence?

(effect != affect)
posted by jacalata at 4:46 PM on November 26, 2006

Blatcher, if we don't need to go over her issues, then why would we be reading all about them?

Not sure what you mean here, but I thought the larger issues were more important than this specific person's.

she has tied it all into one 'oh oh how the comics industry affected me'

That's a part of it and it's one of the main points of the piece: there's a misogynistic vibe going through superhero comics and its industry. This is how it effected one woman. I don't think she's blaming comics for all her problems, but I do think she was driven batty by various forces in and around them. I'm not saying, oh, look at the poor woman, pity her, but rather, that she grew up in a certain society and it affected her badly. I don't think that is unique to women (superhero comics can have an equally but different effect on men)but rather that women have been unique abused by the industry.

Also, I didn't know anything about her either until someone linked to various info about her. Her mother's absence was obvious, by, as Bligh mentioned, her lack of mention.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:48 PM on November 26, 2006

Oh yeah, Valerie, the writer of the linked blog, emailed me and asked to post this for her:

Just dropping a line to say that I've read the comments, and, frankly, if I am going to pursue writing about controversial topics then I better damn well learn to parse stuff like some of your reactions and just deal. While there are some points you have made that I agree with to an extent, like the need to break the cycle of abuse and for victims to be more proactive in this regard, there are others that obviously I don't agree with. But that's what I think is fascinating about writing -- two different people can read the same thing and come away with two completely different opinions. I'm damn proud of the fact that I'm here, I survived, I'm healthy, employed, I'm not a drug addict or an alcoholic, have many friends, and that I was blessed with the ability to process the lemons life's thrown my way by writing something worthwhile. And yes, I have been conflicted in the past regarding feminist issues in comics -- mostly because I "just wanted to get along" and not face the sort of reaction that I've seen from some people on this board. And that was cowardly on my part, and that was what my blog was trying to rectify. But after hundreds of positive and supportive emails from both men and women both in the industry and in the fandom, I have to accept that this is the other side of the coin, and respect you for your opinions, and leave it at that. God bless you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:10 PM on November 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Kindofsortof interesting story. She opens by saying how with a little editing she hopes to turn those blog posts into a book...

In my head I was reading as though this would eventually be a book - I couldn't get through the first three posts. As a blog, fine enough. I doubt any publisher would pickup an author who's writing was so awful.

Lots of disjointed thoughts. Lots of, lots of...well, I felt like I was reading a high schooler's attempt at a book.

Just awful.
posted by ASM at 2:29 AM on November 27, 2006

I doubt any publisher would pickup an author who's writing was so awful.

Seems like some kind of natural law that a sentence criticizing someone's writing on the Web must have a glaring error in it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:48 AM on November 27, 2006

ASM is right though - there is no book in this.
posted by Artw at 7:55 AM on November 27, 2006

The title My Enablers Tell Me They Love Me has a 10.2% chance of being a bestselling title!
posted by cillit bang at 9:56 AM on November 27, 2006



The behemoth of a comic book company has announced a new imprint entitled "Minx," targeted at female readers who may not be attracted to superheroes or manga, but whom have interest in the medium of comic books. Minx launches in May.

"It’s time we got teenage girls reading comics,” said Karen Berger, a senior vice president at DC Comics, told the "Times."

posted by Artw at 1:13 PM on November 27, 2006

I was fascinated by her story, and to prove it, here I am still thinking about it some days later.

I do think there's an interesting autobiography in there, maybe not the way it was presented online, but I'd read it. Her father looked like a superhero! That bit's still freaking me out. The bits where she compares herself to Jesus? That too.

For some reason I find myself compelled to know what she looks like, but I can't find a picture of her online anywhere.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:45 PM on November 27, 2006

I cannot imagine living in a world that revolves around comics to the degree described in this blog. That is not a normative statement, and I realize that someone could say the same thing to me about skiing or ultimate, Comics just never even seemed capable of inspiring that kind of devotion in me, much less actually doing so.
posted by mistermoore at 3:04 AM on November 28, 2006

It's interesting to me that there's a group of people in the world who are very motivated to promote awareness of the statistic of what a huge percentage of women will be sexually assaulted within their lifetimes and another presumably overlapping group of people talking about the quantity of female characters in comics who have been sexually assaulted. That strikes me as somewhat dissonant.

Clearly it's worth examining whether those incidents are portrayed reasonably and not salaciously or dismissively, but there seem like a lot of people who aren't looking at it with that kind of subtlety.

Ambrose - that's always my reaction to a personal story of any notable length without an accompanying photo. I don't know if it's some mental need for Personal Connection or an expectation that years of newspaper/magazine articles have left on me.
posted by phearlez at 6:04 PM on November 28, 2006

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