Saturday, August 1, 2009

Lesbians Have Sex Appeal, Too. Damn. (Also some Batwoman.)

Well. I guess from the amount of times we see girl-on-girl action in movie trailers and television sweeps week, that's probably a given. But we're talking comics here, yo. And specifically the latest issue of The Question (which I will pretend is an issue all its own, because it was way more interesting than the main feature this week).

Actually, let's break parenthetical again. Nothing against the Batwoman feature this week, but it seemed like just a bridge story moving things along. Here, learn a little more about Alice (she's insane, carries a lot of weapons, and isn't your typical Religion of Crime* ringleader), watch Kate's wig come in handy, and then watch her trip on weird gas and get a small clue into her past. Then cliffhanger. Okay. I'm not going to say I was bored with it, because the art is so damn stunning, but I don't feel like much happened in the issue and I'm waiting for the payoff of whatever the hell is going on. Though, to be fair, I did appreciate Kate's little "oh come on, another lunatic that thinks they're from Alice in Wonderland?" moment.

I don't see why that's so weird. Considering the fact that we've got Batman, Robin, Red Robin, Batwoman, Batgirl, the Spoiler, and the Huntress that are all wandering around related to the Bat-Family. Not to mention Manhunter (um, I love Manhunter and will be devoting a future post to her) and whomever else is wandering around Gotham being a vigilante. Do other cities have this many Masks (Keystone, I guess)? So you get a little bit of a repeat with villains. Whatever. Harley's just another card out of the Joker's deck (Har har! See what I did there?).

Anyway, so the co-feature was more interesting than the main feature this week. Again, not in a bad way. Just in a "this is clearly an interim issue" sort of way, and Renee's interim issue was slightly more interesting.

Now, what I mean by sex appeal is this little bit right here:

Aaaaaaaaaaaah! Come on. First off, you're really ruining the idea I had in my head of Renee. (Remember when I had that disccusion with a reader in the comments of that one entry? And I said that Renee strikes me as a butch despite her feminine appearance? Yeah.**) Okay, sure, that was just the idea in my head, fine. But she just doesn't, and hasn't, strike me as the type to do this. She had to practically be goaded into sex in the "Lust" part of Crime Bible, because she was being all "no no, sex is not used this way and I don't approve." Okay, and also issues with Kate and prsotitution, but whatever. Second off ARGH WTF, why? "Here, let me press my breasts up in your face, while appearing vaguely gayish, thus flustering you and making you give me what I want. I have now used both my femininty and my lesbianism as weapons! Because I am incapable of otherwise getting what I want and/or it's just easier this way! Yay!"

By the way, I think the receptionist looked more bemused (like, "did she just try what I think she tried?") than interested. So it was Renee sexing herself up for an arguably straight woman. That's a big assumption on my part, but it's a cherry of meh piled onto my sundae of wtf.

And it's not like this is followed by her kicking some ass. No. The ass kicking came first. In fact, the order of this issue was: Ass kicking/name taking, sex/sexuality objectifying, TASERING.

Head, meet desk.

Look, I've said before (and will say again) that I have faith in the creative team behind Detective Comics right now. If Greg Rucka ever comes to a con near me I will run there squeeing like a fangirl to get him to sign my Crime Bible hardcover (I sadly gave my issues away to an ex-friend) and both versions of Detective Comics #854 that I have (yes, I broke down and bought the second printing, but my pull list was small this week and it's very awesome!).

But that said (again), I'm wary of the way that women and queer women*** are portrayed in "mainstream" media. (Are comics mainstream again?) And I feel like that's a valid wariness, based on a bajillion years (that's an estimate) of negative portrayals.

I feel like I've written this before. Have I written this before?

So I'm hyperaware of the little things. I'm a nitcpicker of women and and queer identity. Context becomes important. The way female characters (and queer characters) are portrayed immediately sets me to Terror Alert Elmo.

Okay, the last few paragraphs have been me rationalizing my negative reaction to that panel. Or explaining. I like to think of it as explaining, since I know that my viewpoint certainly isn't shared by everybody.

Despite that Panel of Doom, I still liked the co-feature more. We got some ass-kicking, some Renee-snarking, and some detectiving. I like the way Renee looks with the mask on more than with the mask off. I can't remember thinking that before, but maybe there's just something about her face (which certainly looks different now than it did before) that doesn't work for me. But, and I think this is what we're seeing here, and some of what Greg Rucka has said in interviews makes me thinks this wil be the case as the series continues, Renee is different without a face. That makes sense. They're all different without their masks, to varying degrees. Usually I don't notice as much, because my favorite characters are that ones that really aren't all that different. But Renee is. And I just don't see Faceless Renee pressing her chest up into the face of a receptionist to get into the back office.

And, finally, I wonder what would have happened if the receptionist had been male. Wait, do male receptionists exist? I mean, besides in situations where it's funny just because they're guys doing "women's work". Yeah. Anyway, I don't find it very subversive to have a lesbian smooshing her mammaries together for another woman, just because it's a same-sex attraction thing. To me it's the same thing as a straight woman doing it to a bouncer in a club. Or even a lesbian doing it to a male bouncer in a club. They're objectifying themselves to serve an end that could probably be served just fine another way. And for all the joking comments I read about Superman's package and Dick Grayson's ass, I don't see them sexing themselves up just to do their jobs.

By the way, none of this is even touching on Renee's racial identity and the hypersexualization of Hispanic women. I'm not going there (today).

Renee is a smart woman and a talented detective. But when push comes to shove, she pushes her chest together and shoves it in this woman's face.

I don't get why.

I mean, I do get why.

But I don't like why.


*Still the stupidest name ever.
**Since I now feel this is necessary: all identity labels I apply to characters are opinion only based on a whole slew of personal experience, quasi-boring academic reading, and kneejerk reactions. I welcome discussion on the topic, but I'm not saying I'm any expert on anything ever, especially not something as fluid as personal sexual identity.
*** I use queer women for lack of better term to encompass lesbians, bisexual women, and trans women at whatever phase of transitioning they are at. I'm also concerned with the portrayal of queer men, but less so because it's just a personal thing. And that doesn't even get into the whole can of worms that is the spectrum of gender identity. So please take the term "queer women" to mean whatever you want it to mean that is vaguely feminine and vaguely interested in same sex relationships.

9 comments:

  1. I kinda figured she was implying she was going in for some kind of booty call by playing up the ditzy flirty girl angle, because you can't just flirt with a random female receptionist and hope she takes the lesbian bait.

    It also bugs me that the men in the first panel of that page were staring after Renee in the same manner as the receptionist, implying that whatever it is she just did, she did it twice getting in the building.

    I'm going to pretend they're all just thinking, "Wow, that is a bitchin' hat."

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think Jamie is correct that there's a definite implication she's done this to enter the building as well.

    I wasn't especially affronted by the fact: I can understand it as a ploy to gain access and, even as your article implies, it may be a tactic I might look down upon in real life but it's not exactly uncommon. I don't feel this is an example of hypersexualisation as a result: although these problems certainly do exist in the media, especially for women with ethnic minority backgrounds. Compared to the genuine objectification you see in a number of comics, this panel has context and meaning.

    It should be added that, although we might disdain such behaviour in a common real world context; Renee does have a very serious purpose, as well.

    I even slightly enjoyed the fact that it was a queer women flexing her sexuality with another woman, albeit to set a straight receptionist a bit off balance while she drops a name. I think it's very clear from the last panel that Renee is enjoying, rather than demeaning herself.

    However, I understand your reaction because it sits oddly with the character in my own mind as well. I think a number of women PIs might do this, but I'm not so sure Renee would. I suppose it jars my perception of Renee as a somewhat butch character too, even if she is playing a role.

    I'm not saying the lines are so distinct that a butch woman cannot use her sexuality in this fashion, and Renee is quite feminine in many ways, but in all honesty I'd expect her to be drawing attention to herself in a different fashion, based upon experience and prior examples of her character; especially the way in which she carries herself, in Gotham Central.

    It's odd as well because the story and artist is clearly sensitive to the more butch side of her, in #854. Because it's Greg Rucka writing her, and allowing for some graphical artistic variation as well, I'm tempted to think that my own unambiguous desire to see a positive butch lesbian might be prompting an overreaction to what is, of course, has been a more complex characterisation.

    Greg Rucka has commented, to my understanding, that Renee has a strong sexuality, that can sometimes play as an impediment to her happiness. I think the panels above are an instance to express that side of herself although the effort ends up fudged because of the non threatening role she may be playing: even implying that she's a floozy Varga has sent to "entertain" Mr Chandless, inferring that it may be common, given his trade in exploitation. So what we have is a character, non-character, moment; in the context of a full arc it might not be so glaring, but as a gay female fan I am left wishing she'd show off her arms more.

    ReplyDelete
  3. @Jaime Well, it is a bitchin' hat... but yes, I think this scene of her entering the building was made worse for me with the way she's drown (belly shirts?) and ogled now.

    @trypr I don't really find context and meaning in this panel, particularly because, as you said, it seems to conflict with the character of Renee Montoya. If this were Kate Kane, I'd probably be annoyed but not quite so affronted; they've already shown us her using her sexuality to get things done. Same for Black Canary, Huntress, Zatanna, etc. It's that it's Renee that makes this so much worse for me, and I sort of use that as a jumping off point to express my frustrations about this kind of scene in general.

    It's that whole "use what you've got" mentality that doesn't sit right with me. And in real life, I wouldn't be making a judgment on the woman using herself like that (probably, depending on the situation), but on the society that still thinks an attractive woman is some kind of currency (ironic given the story). But in the context of a book that's being thought out, plotted, and written by someone, I wish it had gone a different way.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Aside from the usual insightful, personalized comments that led me to think of this topic and this story in new-ish (and better-ish) ways, this was my favourite remark: "a cherry of meh piled onto my sundae of wtf."

    Would make a great blog title. Just sayin'.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Renee's characterisation has changed a lot since Gotham Central, where I first knew and loved her. I would say, though, that she reverts to that original persona when she donns her mask. This is interesting, in a way. Maybe she's less like spiderman and more like superman- once the mask goes on, the things that truly make her Renee come out. Once it's off, she's a civilian who uses a persona to further the aims of the Mask. This isn't her on down time, this isn't how she really is. I think it might be fair to say that the real renee is completely subsumed by her alias at the moment. Montoya was always about the job, after all.

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
  8. Aside from the usual insightful, personalized comments that led me to think of this topic and this story in new-ish (and better-ish) ways, this was my favourite remark: "a cherry of meh piled onto my sundae of wtf."

    Would make a great blog title. Just sayin'.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I kinda figured she was implying she was going in for some kind of booty call by playing up the ditzy flirty girl angle, because you can't just flirt with a random female receptionist and hope she takes the lesbian bait.

    It also bugs me that the men in the first panel of that page were staring after Renee in the same manner as the receptionist, implying that whatever it is she just did, she did it twice getting in the building.

    I'm going to pretend they're all just thinking, "Wow, that is a bitchin' hat."

    ReplyDelete