Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Responsibility to Educate

One of the things that happens when you write about Stuff is that people ask you questions about Stuff.  

About a year ago, I wrote about the portrayal of Batwoman, Kate Kane, femininity, etc. and received a lot of comments on that post.  One of the comments (if you don't feel like reading the link) got angry at me for calling Kate Kane a femme (I think the commenter misunderstood, personally, because I was only calling Batwoman a femme) and we got into a "discussion" about gender theory.  I asked the commenter to inform us, since she (self-identified as a she) was very angry and not very clear.  The response I got was that it's not her responsibility to educate.  I agree.  In fact, I said:
I'm not here to delve into the trenches of critical gender theory, I'm here to use my background of critical gender theory, my love of pop culture and comic culture, and my personal experiences to rant, rave, and/or praise the comics (and comic-related things) that I read and see.
The same stays true (though obviously expanded from comics).  Obviously, writing the blog  - and ranting a lot on twitter - means I want to share my viewpoints with a larger audience.  And to that extent, I always welcome questions and conversations.  

But how much are we - whatever the we is that's being tokenized - expected by people to educate just because we exist?  If someone says a homophobic comment, do I have to tell them why they're being a homophobe, or can I just walk away?  Is it my responsibility, as self-identifying gay person, to step up?  Is a straight person expected to step up, too?  I honestly don't think they are.  A straight person may choose to say something, but I think that if they were to walk away there would be a lot less judgment on them.  

I hate to say that it feels like it's very much "us vs. them", but it too-often does.  And sometimes the us are part of the them (I am white and I have white privilege, and that means I will often be part of Them, and that's something I deal with) and that's something a lot of people have the ability to ignore.  

When I talk about a comic book or video game's portrayal of gender and sexuality, it's because I choose to.  But a lot of times, particularly when talking about issues of non-binary gender identity, I feel like it's because I have to.  There aren't enough people saying these things. 

I thought about this question a lot over the last weekend, at PAX East.  I was frustrated - not by anyone in particular - by this idea that you have to speak up when something negative occurs, that you have to work to educate the community, because they won't educate themselves.  Why won't they educate themselves?

Because they don't have to.

I think about Audrey Lourde's The Master's Tools a lot. I think about the heavy gender assumptions that go along with a lot of the critical gender and sexuality pieces I read about things I'm interested in.  I think about all of the very feminine teenage girls on television who are coming our or defying labels, and I think about Franky Fitzgerald and how she's one of the most radical characters on scripted television since Lieutenant Uhura.  

Franky Fitzgerald, from series five of Skins.

It makes me think I have a lot to say.  But that's my choice.  Right?

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